The Pale Blue Dot
Seen from 6 billion kilometers (3.7 billion miles), Earth appears as a tiny dot (the circled bluish-white speck) within the darkness of deep space. This photograph was taken in 1990 by Voyager 1 on its way out of the solar system. This pale blue dot, barely recognizable from this distance, is the only home we’ve ever known.
In a commencement address delivered May 11, 1996, Carl Sagan talked about the deeper meaning of this photograph:
“From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here, that’s home, that’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out his or her lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.
Our posturing, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”
We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us
This cartoon appeared in the early 1970’s and was used as an Earth Day poster. Although it was addressing our pollution of the environment, the war in Vietnam was still raging and crime in cities was at an all-time high. We were disillusioned not only with an unjust war, but with the government itself, and our soldiers - many of whom were our brothers and friends - were coming home to a culture of drugs and more violence. The love-peace movement was a reaction to the negative forces prevalent at the time. The cartoon was speaking to us on many levels: if we want to end violence in the world, we must end violence in ourselves.
There was a soul searching, a yearning, spreading through our generation. We felt betrayed by our government, our religious traditions, even our rights as human beings were under attack. The general feeling was ‘if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem’. Many young people were on the move, black folks stopped processing their hair, and white kids stopped getting military haircuts. My own hair was half way down my back, even though I worked at a prestigious bank on Wall Street. It was not a fashion statement - we were all going natural. Dropping out, searching for an alternative America, exploring Eastern thought, and connecting through music. The radio was for us what the Internet is today - and a million people showed up at Woodstock.
The Journey Continues
I began reading Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahamsa Yogananda. This book turned out to be a great blessing to me. It contains a wealth of knowledge on yoga. But the thing that I took away from this simple monks writing was the strong sense of surrender to the moment. The subtle power that moves all things was in perfect harmony. Everything is unfolding from this Divine creative source. Yogananda spoke of the importance of practice:
“The rejuvenating effects of sleep are due to man’s temporary unawareness of body and breathing. The sleeping man becomes a yogi each night he unconsciously performs the yogic rite of releasing himself from bodily identification and of merging the life force with healing currents in the main brain region and the six sub-dynamos of the spinal centers. The sleeper thus dips unknowingly into the reservoir of cosmic energy which sustains all life.
The voluntary yogi performs a simple, natural process consciously, not unconsciously, like the slow paced sleeper. The yogi uses his technique to saturate and feed all his physical cells with undecaying light and keep them in a magnetized state.
Realized knowledge alone destroys ignorance.
Knowledge cannot spring up by any means other than inquiry Who am I?”
Yogananda spoke about his love for the Himalayas and that it was here that the Masters and Sages came for retreat. About the same time I came across an article in the Times about a valley in the Nepalese Himalayas called Pokhara. What had once been a seven day hike from Kathmandu (the Capital of Nepal) through almost impenetrable terrain was now accessible by one day bus ride.
In two weeks time I had my visa for India, Nepal and backpack and found myself on that bus on one of the most hair-raising trips along narrow revines with 1000 ft drops.
It was already beginning to rain when I departed the bus and hiked up to the lake in the Pokhara valley. I popped open my tent which was like an igloo with an insect, snake proof floor keeping me snug and dry as the storm raged outside.
I awoke to a pitch dark morning. Unzipping my door I could see every star in the heavens. As I sat in meditation on the cosmos the rising sun struck the highest point of the highest peak with brilliant red and as I sat in the cool dark pool of the valley the entire Himalayas was slowly revealed in all of its majesty and grandeur, seemingly aflame in the glow of the rising sun. It was an unforgettable sight!
Pokhara lies on a plateau some twenty-five hundred feet above sea level, under the shadow of the awesome Annapurna range. On a clear day, you can see the massive giants of the Himalayas to a distance of over a hundred and fifty miles.
I felt quite at home and enjoyed a silent peace as I explored this beautiful valley.
But every time I asked "Where are the Gurus?" The answer came, "They are all in America."
Back in New York I began to experiment with a technique of my own, cobbled together from various sources.
During my morning shower I would take the shower head off so there was a single stream of water. And beginning with a breathing exercise called the breath of fire I would rock slightly back and forth under that stream of water, moving it from the base of my spine to the crown of my head.
I had been doing this for a few minutes, when suddenly a brilliant white light brighter than sunlight appeared at an angle above my head. It was a piercing light that lit up every cell in my body. Wave after wave of bliss pulsated up my spine. A nearly unbearable nectar flooded my entire being. My soul, reaching into the light, exploded in joy, soaring outward without perimeter.
There was the strongest feeling of intimacy, the realization that I am complete as I am. It was so obvious and simple! A reunion of love, the realization of my real nature, a connection with all forms of life, feelings beyond words - a love known in my heart of hearts, but forgotten. The same energy flowing through me flowed through everything. Knowing by being, a wisdom inherent in myself, an overflowing of ecstatic bliss. A state of non-grasping, of joyful non-attachment, of inner ease and freedom. Indescribable, yet wonderfully real. In this moment, absolute tranquility. And no limit to this moment, therefore eternal delight. It’s just this!
Gradually, the experience began to subside. There remained an after-image in my mind, as though I had been staring into the sun. “This is what is supposed to happen in meditation,” I thought, although I still didn’t understand what meditation was. I had set up a little space under my loft bed, painted everything white and made an altar there, the way I had seen it done in the temples in India, with candles and a picture of Ramana Maharshi. As I sat there, a beautiful indigo blue star flashed in the dark spot of my mind. And the most profound peace filled my entire being. In the stillness of the Infinite Presence, the mind is silent.
I didn’t speak for several weeks, not because I had taken a vow of silence, but because I was filled with such tranquility that I had no inclination to speak. The silence of the presense of the Witness was now foreground and thoughts were background. This way of being was profoundly comforting and fulfilling. I felt that I had come home. It would still be awhile before I would understand what I had just experienced, that this had been a classic experience of the awakening of the kundalini energy. And then it would take much more time to develop and mature in a deeper understanding of my Self.
The Perfect Way
I came to understand my Self, to trust my Self. Everything was unfolding perfectly in the present moment. Now I could read the immortal words of Seng-Ts’an (Third Patriarch of Chan, 6th century C.E.) and see how they applied to me in every day activity. The words vibrated within me, a re-cognition of truth.
The Perfect Way is difficult only for those who pick and choose;
Do not like, do not dislike; all will then be clear.
Make a hairbreadth difference, and Heaven and Earth are set apart;
If you want the truth to stand clear before you, never be for or against.
The struggle between “for” and “against” is the mind’s worst disease…
The more you talk about It, and the more you think about It, the further from It you go;
Stop talking, stop thinking, and there is nothing you will not understand…
There is no need to seek Truth; only stop having views…
The practice is difficult because we pick and choose! Yes, we are for and against, we don’t see the deep truth of the Self, this is what disturbs the mind’s essential peace. The Self is perfect like vast space, the sutras tell us; it has no too little or too much. I had been chasing after entanglements as though they were real things. All my attempts to stop activity had filled me with activity.
Without the experience of Oneness, I was always caught in some extreme. Not knowing this unity, I had let conflict lead me astray.
Look inward, and in a flash you will return to the source and find meaning. If all thought-objects disappear, the thinking subject drops away. The ultimate Truth about both extremes is that they are the one Self. In its essence the Self is all-embracing. It is as wrong to call it easy as to call it hard.
Let things take their own course. Let your nature blend with the Self and wander in it freely, undisturbed. Don’t fall into the unwise practice of not liking. Not liking brings weariness of spirit.
In the “That I Am” are no separate things,
The wise throughout all the ages have access
To this Primal Truth;
For it is not a thing with extension in Time or Space;
A moment and an eon for it are one.
Whether we see it or fail to see it,
It is manifest always and everywhere.
The very small is as the very large when
Boundaries are forgotten:
The very large is as the very small,
Here limitations have no place.
Being is an aspect of Non-being;
Non-being is an aspect of Being.
In regions of thought where it is not so,
The mind does ill to dwell.
The One is none other than the All,
The All none other than the One.
Take your stand on this, and the rest will follow
Of its own accord;
To trust in the Self is the “That I Am”
The “That I Am” is to trust in the Self.
I have spoken, but in vain;
For what can words tell of things that have no
Yesterday, tomorrow, or today?
The Seven Steps
I felt that I had gone as far as I could without a teacher. I had read that when the student was ready, the meeting would take place. I had been reading Elisabeth Haich’s book Initiation, where she tells of the value not only of the teacher, but of initiation by the teacher into kundalini meditation. I felt that I had the classic experience, but didn’t know anything about the process or even how to continue in the best way. In her insightful autobiographical novel, I found this wonderful metaphor of the process of the rising of the kundalini, which validated my own experience. She writes:
“To my great amazement, it begins to get light about me. It gets lighter and lighter, and in the growing brightness I see a remarkable landscape. Before me a high mountain, with a steep, stony, narrow path leading up to it. I know this path leads to the goal, to the divine state. Without hesitating I start to follow it.
The path leads through friendly countryside, higher and higher. I climb untiringly until the charming green landscape lies behind me and gradually I reach the inhospitable region of the high mountains.
The pathway gets even steeper, narrower and stonier, but I climb with astonishing ease, so light as if I were gliding.
The inhabited territory lies behind me. My horizon widens, and I see everything far below me. But there is no time to look around. I continue on the path. After many curves, the narrow pathway ends in front of a short stairway with seven steps. Each step is twice as high as the one before.
I stand there alone in front of these seven steps and know I must climb them.
The first step is low. I must conquer the weight of my body in order to lift myself up on to it. I succeed easily.
The second step is somewhat higher and awakens the resistance of my body. I had long ago conquered the forces of the body, and so this step causes me no trouble.
The third is noticeably higher. In order to conquer this one I have to conquer my feelings. As I become master of my feelings, I am on the third step.
As I face the fourth step, which is surprisingly high, thoughts of doubt overwhelm me. “How will I be able to climb it? Have I enough power?” Then I realize that my doubts are weakening me, paralyzing me. But doubt is a thought! So I must conquer my thoughts in order to master doubt. I think of absolutely nothing. And as my thoughts disappear, my doubts disappear, too. And I am on the fourth step.
Curiously, I feel I have grown much larger while I have been climbing these steps. Each time I have gone up a step, I’ve grown some more, and now I’m much, much larger than I was at the beginning. Now I face the fifth step, which, even though I’ve grown a great deal, is so high that I can get up only by using both hands and feet. As I pull myself up with great difficulty, I suddenly find to my great surprise that I have no body any longer. Everything in me or about me that was material has disappeared, and I am invisible spirit.
The sixth step is very, very high, and a new difficulty awaits me. I have no body, no hands with which to hang on, and no feet with which to push myself up.
I look about me for some way to do it, and as I turn around, I suddenly see the whole world spread out below me! Country after country . . . city after city . . . looking like toys . . . and houses with countless people living in them. Infinite love for them all seizes me and I am pained to think of all the people who would have to travel the pathway of recognition . . . feeling their way forward in the darkness . . .
And wonder of wonders . . . the moment universal love floods my heart, I am raised up and find myself on the sixth step.
Now I stand before the last and highest step of all. It is just as high as I am. I long to rise up and this wish fills my whole being, in vain.
As I look around me, I find to my great surprise that I’m not alone. At this very moment a being similar to myself reaches the sixth step and begs me to help him up to the seventh. I understand his tremendous desire. Forgetting my own longing to reach the seventh step, I try to help him reach his goal.
But the very moment I forget my own wish, I suddenly find that I am up on the seventh step . . . I don’t know how . . . and my companion is no longer there. He has disappeared without leaving a trace.”
She goes on to describe this state of recognition:
”I realize that everyone and everything is living in me! The universe is in me, for everything that is, is living in me. Everything that is, I am. In everything that I love, I love myself. And suddenly I realize that everything I have always believed I didn’t love was what I had not yet recognized within myself! Now that I recognize myself perfectly, I love everything and everyone equally, I am one with them, I am ‘I’ in everything, in all . . . there is no longer any struggle, any regret, any suffering . . . no decay, no end, no death!
And while I am resting within myself, my eternal being fills space and everything living in it.
I am the only Reality. I am Life. I Am That I Am!”
Wow! Yes! I Am That I Am.
I resigned from my lucrative job on Wall Street, sold my apartment, bought a car, and headed out on the road. Free at last, free at last. My plan was to make my headquarters in the mountains of Colorado. I had met some Tibetans who were building a meditation center in Boulder. It seemed like a good place to make a new start.
- As vast and unlimited as the outward flowing consciousness is, the inward turned consciousness is just as unlimited.
- When the self as Witness sees the whole body and the entire universe as Consciousness, he experiences Supreme Awakening.
- It is possible to experience the Self as pure consciousness, apart from any content. From this psychological space, the Self has a panoramic view of all the personality contents.
- We habitually identify with the body. When we develop the practice of detaching the consciousness from the limits of the body, we develop a sense of all pervasiveness.
- Meditation on the lighting-like Kundalini energy arising from the muladhara chakra at the base of the spine and successively piercing through all the chakras or centers of energy until it dissolves in Brahmarandhra chakra at the top of the head, gives knowledge of the divine “I” consciousness. This is known as prana-kundalini.
Return to the Witness of the breath.
In your imagination, see the space around you.
Move up and away from the room you are in and see it and the building that contains it.
See the building now as you rise higher and higher.
From this high space above, see your neighborhood, houses, streets, trees, parks, people, cars, and rising still higher, oceans, countries, and the clouds.
Still rising, now see planet Earth, the blue and white jewel rotating in vast space.
As you move away from it, Earth becoming smaller and smaller, other planets appear: bright Venus, red Mars, massive Jupiter, and the entire solar system.
All these billions of stars constitute but one galaxy in the universe.
It is one among an unknown number of other galaxies reaching out in every direction to infinity.
Rest in the witness of this expansive consciousness for a few minutes.