A Childhood and Its Moments
Gilles Farcet: Let’s begin at the beginning, or at least what should be a beginning since, in fact, that experience whose praises you sing is situated outside of time. It is my understanding that even when you were a little boy, unusual inner experiences that others would not hesitate to qualify as “mystical” were common events to you.
Stephen Jourdain: Uh-huh (Steve inhales deeply). It was only decades later that I became aware of the rarity of my experiences. The tendencies I had assumed were universal unfortunately turned out to be anything but that. In fact, my memory goes back a long way, from when I was no more than a year and a half old. I have crystal clear memories of that early period. One thing is certain: I was already endowed with all the interior equipment with which, fifteen years later, I would receive the “rocker,” when that “thing” fell on my head during adolescence. It would seem that I was more or less born fully assembled which, I came to realize later, is not the case with most people. At one and a half years, the inner me was perfectly established and I was fully conscious of myself without, of course, knowing the words or concepts with which I could have tried to express my experiences. Thus, I clearly remember having experienced what I’ll call my first “moment” at the age of one and one-half while I was with my grandfather and amusing myself by trying to push a piece of gravel through a sewer grate-a very diverting and educational game! These “moments” continued throughout my childhood, cropping up almost daily, so often so that I did not live one privileged instant but thousands of them.
GF: Can you describe the characteristics of these “moments”? What would happen?
SJ: The moments were very different. Let me make one thing clear: the content of the awakening is one and indivisible. The original illumination diversified itself little by little without its oneness being challenged. As to these “moments” or “privileged instants,” their content can be extremely diverse. Let’s say that they always appear in the form of an abrupt and totally unexpected rupture. You can’t prepare yourself for one; they hit you on the noggin without a word of warning.
GF: A rupture? In regards to what?
SJ: In regards to the quality of habitual perception, these moments always come with a profound bliss although there are nuances. But let’s say these moments of bliss are nevertheless abnormal and unjustifiable in their intensity, their sharpness and the manner in which they differentiate themselves radically from ordinary perception which, let me clarify this point, is at its most acute in a little child. That an adult’s perception is dulled is to be expected, isn’t it? For a “big person,” such an experience would appear like a spot of gold on a priest’s gray cape. But a small child’s perception operates marvelously. However, these moments are so sharp in the intensity that they make even that small child’s faculties appear uniformly dull. As to the exact contents of these experiences – here are thousands! In several instances, the primary duality of “me” and “the others” vanishes.
Undoubtedly, that’s what many people today wish to evoke when speaking about “the fusion of subject and object,” an expression that strikes me as, at the very least, totally inadequate.
SJ: There is certainly a union of the subject and the object but they do not “fuse,” they do not disappear in some kind of undistinguishable magma. What’s miraculous in these experiences is that, without in the least losing my identity, in legitimately remaining who I am, I become the table, the stove, or the mountain, or the entire landscape, which, in turn, remains integrally itself. A remains A, B remains B, and yet A is in the heart of B, B in the heart of A. If both terms cancelled out each other’s original nature in this fusion, there would be no miracle, there wouldn’t be anything at all. This point seems important to me to the extent that, ordinarily, I find it poorly understood. If one believes what one reads or hears, if John becomes the tree, the tree, such as it is, is consumed, as is John.
But that’s not it! John remains entirely himself, the tree remains the tree, and yet there is union. It is in this coexistence of fusion and maintenance of the intrinsic identities of both parties where the miracle resides. If an annihilated A fuses with an annihilated B, there’s really not much to fuss about. The extraordinary thing is that two completely different things can be truly joined while each, at the same time, maintains its original nature.
GF: Therefore, this miracle constitutes one of the characteristics of these “instants.”
SJ: Yes. Ordinarily we always feel the rupture between ego and non-ego to be more or less obscure. There’s a kind of primitive break between our inner reality and the rest. At these “moments,” the rupture is abolished. Once again, it is not a question of the simple abolition of duality, but rather the sudden appearance of a unity in the heart of the duality. One derives from this an important impression of a healthy, legitimate duality. From what I’ve heard, a number of teachings or approaches insist on a “nonduality.” Yet, if a falsified duality exists, there also exists a completely legitimate duality that manifests itself not only in space but also in time. Ordinarily, there seems to be a lot of insistence on spatial duality–certainly there is that which separates me from the tree, but there is also that which separates me from what I was or what I will be, that which, for example, separates me from my death. After all, a man’s life is very important! My death is an object that is, in its way, more solid and, for me, more real than the tree which means nothing to me! The duality is there; it manifests itself in space and time, and it is in space and time that the duality is either healthy or corrupt. In my opinion, it is a grave tactical error to set people going in an assault on duality without clarifying the difference between a healthy duality and a corrupt one. They run as much risk of hurting, or even destroying, themselves as they do of being saved. One cannot deny duality, since it is the principle of life. Certainly, a false duality that is the product of a given individual’s mind should be destroyed. I repeat and insist: duality, to the extent that it is a duplicate of reality, a dreamlike and personally fabricated duality, must be ruthlessly destroyed. But when this veil, in the center of which we habitually evolve, is consumed, when this enormous subjective bubble bursts, what is then left? What will you see once you’re outside the bubble? The world, plainly and simply. There is something! There is me and the tree. Duality exists.
GF: Duality remains in a different fashion.
GF: If I follow you, there is a duality in itself real, which you qualify as healthy . . .
SJ: Healthy, simple, and divine!
GF: As well as an unhealthy, unreal duality that is merely the product of our subjectivity.
SJ: This duality thing is a complex phenomenon. I’ll try to sum up the situation. What at one time would have been called the “soul”-a term that’s fallen into disuse and, at any rate, was clumsily used with one saying, “I have a soul” instead of “I am a soul” -which I call our spiritual essence-is the unique source of everything. It is our essence that is at the origin of what we call the “world” -and by that term I mean not only the so-called exterior reality, but also my spirit, the spirit in my body, my body in the world; and all this together conveyed by time. In other words, everything springs from our innermost selves. Our essence is creative. Originally, that is to say right now, immediately-I’m not speaking about an historic origin but the instantaneous origin-this source that’s within me generates the world: it produces perceptible reality as well as my spirit and my body.
To the extent that we abide there, we are at center-stage of the creation of the world, that is to say, the Eden-like phase of things. Then, instantaneously-and this is where everything gets spoiled-a second creation takes place. For our source is, so to speak, the double, in this second creation, it is I, personally, Steve Jourdain who is the father of the world. I claim both paternity and credit for it, while in the first type of creation, everything issues from my innermost self but in an impersonal way with no personal intervention on my part. At any rate, it is impossible for me to take credit for it. In short, there are two sources: the first, legitimate, which while being the foundation of the person, functions in such a way that that person cannot in any manner claim that he is responsible for what springs forth.
GF: Therefore, an impersonal source.
SJ: To qualify it as such would be improper, since we are at the very center of the person! That’s exactly the paradox, the miraculous paradox. Well, let us say a nonpersonal source in the sense that the ego appropriates absolutely nothing whatsoever.
GF: And the other source, polluted.
SJ: From which proceeds this counterfeit world, this pale copy of a reality-interior and exterior-in which we live. This second source falsifies everything all at once. The falsification takes place from birth; it’s already there when the infant emerges from the mother’s body. So much so that, from the start, we live in a state of permanent hallucination, in the torrent gushing from this impure source.
GF: Let’s go back to your childhood experiences. These “breakthroughs” were thus an integral part of your daily life?
SJ: Yes, and while certain of them were spontaneous, there were others that I elicited. I knew how to make this or that interior gesture that was to lead to one experience or another. It was a game for me to which I dedicated a good hour a day to playing, the way other children play with blocks.
GF: You played with consciousness.
SJ: In a manner of speaking. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t call it that because we are not talking about awakening but about experience. It’s not about the vision of the sea but, say, the sand dune. My entire childhood was dominated by this atmosphere. I didn’t speak about it to my parents because it was part of the secrets of my childhood. Be that as it may, since each individual spontaneously considers himself universal, I thought everybody experienced what I was experiencing. Much later, when I was around thirty and began to talk about it, I was very surprised to discover that my childhood experiences were completely out of the ordinary.
GF: You thought everybody was awakened?
SJ: No, no. Let’s not confuse the various inner experiences with the awakening itself-the vision of the sand dune and that of the sea. I knew very well that the people I met were not awakened. That which had “produced” itself, if I can put it that way, for me at the age of sixteen had not been produced for them. On the other hand, for me it was a foregone conclusion that everyone had experienced what I had during childhood. Discovering that this was not so came as one of the greatest surprises of my life and was, at the same time, very disquieting. For, after all, what happened to me at sixteen seemed to have depended on pure luck. There would be one chance in a billion that such a thing could occur. One in a billion is not much, but it is something, after all. But I discovered that almost nobody else had even an inkling! As a result, it became even harder for me to share with others what I had experienced. I already had the feeling that an abyss separated me from others, but that chasm then became infinitely wide.
GF: Before going further, I have a question about your remembrance of things. You say your memories go back a long way. Do the experiences we’re talking about favor that kind of long term memory?
SJ: Yes, and I would even say that to a certain extent I never was a child. In fact, when comparing myself at one and a half and at sixteen, a fraction of a second before the awakening, I do not see any difference. I was exactly the same. In fact, I think my memories go back even further. Fine, that’s not important, I say that in passing, but to the extent that one can accord the slightest reality to intrauterine life, I have memories of that life, too.
An Awakened Adolescent.
GF: Is reading the great authors a requisite of the awakening?
SJ: In any case, it can’t do any harm. Let’s get one thing straight: I’m not saying it’s absolutely essential to read these authors-and there are others-nor even that it’s indispensable in itself to be interested in literature. Yet the terrain must be prepared, the garden cultivated, the sensibility refined . . . One cannot misinterpret the importance of culture in the profoundest sense of the word. Of course, literature, Rimbaud, Proust, and all the others also participate in hallucination and sleep, but it’s a good way to dream. And it’s hard to wake up when you’ve dreamed badly. In my humble opinion-which is,to be sure, highly pretentious-for a Westerner, reading Rimbaud is more practical than reading I don’t know which “Sri Whatshisname.”
GF: I see you then as a sensitive, curious, cultivated adolescent-And then the awakening is sprung on you, if I can put it that way. Would you be kind enough to try to describe this non-event one more time?
SJ: I’ll try to put it another way-for my own ears if for no one else’s. The psychological circumstances were very precise. It “produced” itself one evening. Several days earlier, I had discovered Descartes’ famous statement: “I think, therefore I am,” and I had the intuition that it concealed-at least for me-a secret of enormous importance. I felt I was directly, in my very essence, involved in this formula. On this “great evening,” then, I was trying to extract the secret from this statement. Apparently, I approached it in the same manner as one does with koans-a word I wouldn’t discover until I was fifty years old. My approach was very realistic-let me mention in passing that one of the characteristics of my dream is to be extremely pragmatic: when I want to kill a fly, I grab a newspaper and swat it. Most people act that way, you say. As to material things, yes, but not when it concerns the spiritual. By that, I mean that when they encounter the “illusion,” they try to suppress the “Illusion,” in general, rather than confront themselves with their illusion. It’s like trying to liquidate the entire species of flies when swatting the one that’s bothering you. In short, I came to grips with my problem in a practical manner. “I think, therefore I am”: instead of examining the question of “Being,” “Thought,” and their relationships, I made myself the subject of the sentence, referring to the living reality of these words in me. I tried to grasp that formula, not intellectually, but with my very life. I pursued this effort for half an hour, an hour, until exhaustion. My intellectual faculties cried for mercy, I felt as if I were dragging myself along on bloodied knees and said to myself, “You’re crazy! Give it up! In the state you’re in, you don’t have the slightest chance of penetrating the mystery of that sentence.”
Yet, I did persist beyond good sense, showing a considerable aptitude for folly. Nevertheless, it would appear that this inner capacity to drive myself on like a madman was not without its virtues, for, all of a sudden, everything exploded. How can I describe the sudden nature, the total abruptness of the “event”? I detest using the word “supernatural,” but it’s the only one I can find that properly describes the suddenness of the awakening. With indescribable rapidity, I passed through to the other side of the mirror and found myself waking to an infinite wakefulness in my very center, in the center of that wakefulness which, itself, wasn’t an object but an intemporal act I was able to perform. I knew that I knew all there was to be known, that I had attained the infinite value, touched the essence of the essence of all things and of myself. . . I knew.
What did I know? Impossible to say. Let’s try nonetheless to define the phenomenon more precisely. That indivisible unity which is the awakening has, despite everything, several names: me, being, consciousness, infinite value. But, to cap that indivisible unity, there is something more important and that relates to knowledge. Not only I am but I know. In a sense, “I know” precedes “I am.” Knowledge is the strongest piece on the chessboard of the absolute and it’s irreversible: it’s as impossible to unlearn this intimate act as to unlearn riding a bicycle. I’ve insisted on the indivisible nature of the awakening. Still, and here again we must come upon a paradox: as soon as this other, interior light flashes, it rapidly gives birth to a certain number of “powers.”
It’s true that the great joys susceptible of being generated by that infinite, inexplicable, unjustifiable value are completely unheard of. Compared to these joys, the greatest pleasure accessible on earth in the usual conscious state is nothing but straw and dust. But these joys are themselves nothing but straw and dust in relation to the unjustifiable, supreme quality, the inexplicable infinite value. Seeing this value supplies nothing; one doesn’t approach it in the hope of any gain. One could speak of lack of involvement as with moral value. One doesn’t do good in order to be rewarded; one does it for goodness’ sake.
GF: From a certain point of view, yes. Still, if I do a good deed, even in the most unselfish way, it’s because the simple fact of doing good permits me to maintain an inner state that’s much more precious to me than what I’d feel after doing evil.
SJ: Excellent observation. Let’s be clear: the awakening does in no way constitute an end. One can only attain it by passing backwards through all intentions, all motivations-including that of attaining the awakening. One must strip oneself of all one’s intentions, all one’s wishes, even the highest. One doesn’t move towards the awakening, for if one can invoke even the slightest argument for moving towards awakening, one turns his back to it. In fact, the infinite value, once again, offers nothing. That leaves the problem you’ve just posed. It’s an objection one is certainly entitled to make: “You’re in the process of telling me that this value offers nothing in the usual sense of the term, but would you tolerate, even for a second, having someone deprive you of it?” The answer is an immediate and resounding: No! I wouldn’t tolerate it for a second. It’s the most precious asset in the world.
GF: That’s a paradox.
SJ: Yes? So what? In the end, why should I give a damn if there’s a paradox? What’s important to me is to describe the phenomenon, not try to explain it.
GF: There’s another objection people always make: Isn’t the awakening selfish?
SJ: In a sense, yes, absolutely. If the awakening withers in me, I will die spiritually. I care about it more than anything else as if it were my very essence-for the simple reason that it is my essence. Thus, on the one hand, I’m my own man. On the other, in accomplishing the spiritual act that allows me to induce the awakening, the infinite value. I’m no longer strictly my own man. The underlying reason for which I accomplish this gesture is of another order, it’s nonselfish, universal-but I cannot really explain it.
GF: Since we’re talking about selfishness, has the experience made you regard other people differently?
SJ: That’s a profound question. Among the faculties, powers, or savoir-faire inherent in the awakening I spoke of earlier, there’s the immediate and exhaustive knowledge of the structures of the normal state of consciousness. The very make-up of the awakening inscribes the knowledge of, on the one hand, the act through which the awakening will engender itself and, on the other, the nature of the error or falsification from which the normal state of consciousness proceeds. From the moment the awakening produces itself, you know more about the six billion inhabitants of the planet than they know themselves because you know the exact nature of the dream they are dreaming. You know the mechanism of the hallucination that holds them spellbound. All that because this mechanism is precisely the same for everyone.
GF: You’re speaking in a general manner, but, here and now, I’m sitting across from you, my wife is also sitting across from you. Does the awakening give you any particular sensibility or faculty of perception about each person you encounter?
SJ: You’ve just asked me a very indiscreet question. In order to respond, I need to return to this non-event that is the experience we’re talking about. It’s perfectly obvious that the awakening burned the psychological being that I was. But since, at the same time, it burned the flame with which it burned that being, nothingness returned to nothingness and the psychological being that I was escaped intact and unharmed. A universal destruction takes place at the moment of the awakening, but since that destruction is itself implicated in the range of what is destroyed, the universal sword thrust stabs itself so thoroughly that the psychological being rises again, healthy and whole. Thus the awakening is a thrust for nothing, so to speak, whose sole effect is to eliminate all the rot, and separate the wrong duality from the right one. The psychological being annihilated in the fire of the awakening is reborn, covered with the dew of the dawn of creation. Fundamentally, as I already said, absolutely nothing has happened. I became me. Nothing changed, everything changed.
As to the question you just asked, from a psychological standpoint, it’s obvious that I have an intuition about the interior atmosphere in which the person I’m speaking to evolves. But this is a rational, explicable intuition. On the other hand, I’ve had abominable experiences, so abominable that I hesitate to mention them. Sometimes I have a direct access to some one else’s consciousness-a devastating experience because I see the corruption and, moreover, its variables. The coloration of the corruption isn’t always the same. If I were a Christian, I’d say I see Satan. I avoid, or should I say flee, these appalling visions because they’re so painful. I can be with someone refined and brilliant and suddenly, without meaning to, I fathom his putrefaction. Moreover, that doesn’t necessarily happen in the person’s presence. Take careful note that I recognized my own corruption prior to the awakening! Nevertheless, I want to vomit into the toilet. These are horrible experiences, really, that I could compare to the horror that seizes me when I try to remember, to regain the sensation of sleep. You know, in a certain sense, the awakening evolves gradually as one lives it. The sun rises and remains the sun, but it’s not exactly the same color at noon as at dawn or at five o’clock in the evening. In the same manner, there’s a sort of full day to the awakening. The sun of the awakening that rose for the adolescent Jourdain has since continued its course and modified its glow. After forty years, I no longer have a body. By that I mean I am no longer situated in a body. Evidently, if someone mentions my foot, I’m not going to confuse it with the table! But my body, as an experience, no longer exists; the fundamental modification has taken place. It’s accompanied, moreover, by a modification of spatial perception. In the same manner, I no longer have a spirit. It has been a good thirty years since “my spirit,” in the usual sense of the term, totally disappeared. And about a year ago, I said to myself: “Shit, I no longer have a spirit, no longer have a body. How in the hell will I be able to explain all that to someone who has a spirit and a body and who, to boot, snoozes? I’ve got to remember what it’s like to have a spirit and a body.” Thus, I made a great effort, all alone in the kitchen, and suddenly I remembered-once again, I found myself incorporated, I became once again a spirit in a body. That only lasted a few seconds but I almost croaked!
Fine, okay, it’s a matter of a universal experience, almost everyone lives in this manner and I myself spent sixteen years like that and stood it very well. But there in the kitchen, I couldn’t stand it at all, it was a dreadful shock. I felt as if a layer of spiritual ammonia had spread over me. It was a moment of inner agony. All this to say that those times when, suddenly and without wanting to probe the consciousness of the guy I’m talking to, I experience the same sort of agony; suddenly, and with my soul, I receive the unmentionable stench of the everyday of consciousness full in the face—a stench that obviously isn’t detected by those who wallow in the cesspool and have never escaped it. Really, it’s a horrible odor of decadence and carrion. Obviously, it’s not a physical odor, but a stench that, as spiritual as it might be, is no less nauseating. Reeking is not exclusive to the material world. A spiritual stench exists and it’s dreadful. Let’s talk about something else, shall we?
Writing the Awakening.
…I had to retake the road traveled by philosophers for the last several thousand years to confront and solve the various philosophical enigmas. To a certain extent, I have succeeded in this task. Once the thing was intellectually got hold of, it was a matter of expressing it and thus having recourse to words. Therefore, I had to learn to write-not make grammatical errors and, above all, initiate myself to the oh so important usage of the semicolon (a must in French literature). That took a while-years, to be exact. Once one knows how to write more or less, it is necessary to pay attention not only to the meaning, but also to the color of the words. Two synonymous terms do not have the same color. It’s this attention to the color of words that differentiates the writer from someone who merely writes. The latter naively believes he has expressed his idea as soon as the sentence is grammatically correct and the words are logically aligned. But that’s not so! The act of writing begins when the intuition of the qualitative aura of the word, beyond its intellectual sense, springs forth.
GF: What you say makes me think of something Jean Sullivan wrote: “Swindling: to convince others that the words aren’t very important because the spiritual reality is inexpressible and, thereby, to justify the platitude of mechanical associations. Yet, without language, that is to say with neither action nor creation, there is nothing.”
SJ: That’s brilliant! Brilliant! That leads us to another problem about which there’s a lot to say and, preferably, say well. There exists a presumption as vile as it is widespread according to which the indescribable character of the interior experience authorizes us to give up when it comes to putting it into words. This presumption serves as an excuse for the enunciation of all sorts of platitudes and the collapse of language. It’s the most vulgar alibi of thought. It exhibits unheard of naivete and thoughtlessness. Such statements, if they can be excused coming from a child of twelve, are intolerable when they come from the mouth of a man who’s reached the age of twenty-five, thirty, or even sixty-five! Every supposed adult uttering such idiocies deserves to be spanked.
First question: are human thought and language adequate to grasp the reality we’re talking about? Personally, I’ve always had the clear intuition that the response would be affirmative. To a certain extent, human thought and language can transmit this reality. I would not have sweated blood for forty years trying to say this thing if I didn’t have faith in its expressible nature. Therefore, let’s sweep away these presumptions once and for all. Second question: why is it describable and conceivable? This ultimate self is conceivable because it is the legitimate conception of itself. There’s no difference between the awakening and the awakening justly conceiving of itself. The same process is at work. Now, is the conception by which the self apprehends itself beyond the spoken word or at its very center? As far as I’m concerned, it is definitely at the center of the spoken word-a word that’s not human but preverbal, a language which, though original, is no less of a language. The perfect adaptation of the human word to this prehuman language isn’t extraordinary if one accepts the idea that, in the beginning, there was the word. I am the word! The word is perfectly adapted to God because God is the word.
GF: The presumption you denounce is part and parcel of the primary anti-intellectualism existing in spiritual circles. There again, taking as pretext the fundamentally irrational character of the ultimate experience, many people have an annoying tendency to cut short all attempts at zeroing in on the question by denouncing it as “intellectual” -an adjective that, in their mouths, is as loaded with horror as the epithet “communist” was in the conservative America of the 1950s.
SJ: There you have it! Once again, it is a question of a shameful facility. Thus, another judgment of saying that that thing would be out of the range of human thought-to say “everything is in everything,” and other prefabricated expressions, is like addressing only the “popular masses.” That well justifies reason, particularly against what is most noble in intelligence and sensibility. One tramples intelligence and sensibility with delight and in clear conscience. Plato? Sheer rubbish! Descartes? Into the hopper! Ah, it’s useful to feel oneself justified to thus trash all the attempts by exceptional men to approach and formulate the essential! It is useful and shameful. For if it’s true that neither Plato nor Descartes nor Kant made the ultimate breakthrough of which I’m talking, there’s still the fact that, by putting to work the higher faculties of the human spirit, they approached it. In the same manner that no legless man can hope to win the New York marathon, no intellectual cripple could pretend to make the quantum leap by which one becomes oneself.
GF: Among the people supposed to have attained the awakening or approached it, history and tradition present us, on the one hand, examples of very refined, intelligent, cultivated beings and, on the other, with examples of uneducated monks sweeping the cloister-humble characters living that which the literate and the wise men speak of without having had the experience.
SJ: That’s exactly right, but there’s no contradiction between those two extremes. When I speak of a man using the noblest
and highest faculties of his spirit, I’m not referring to an inflated ego. Any and every child of man has the possibility, the right, and the duty to measure himself, be it clumsily, against the major enigmas of philosophy. The value of this process doesn’t reside in the fact that it can result in thick books or subtle considerations, but in the process itself. One can well imagine an extremely simple and totally uncultivated type initially asking himself all sorts of naive questions and finally arriving at the essential one: “I am! What is me?” and alone in his shepherd’s cottage, tackling this enigma barehanded. Undoubtedly, the shrewd Parisian intellectuals would double up laughing faced with such naivete. Yet, it’s precisely in this manner that one should proceed. Thus, I see nothing absurd or shocking in the idea that a monk or an uneducated peasant could open himself to this reality. It took me thirty years to learn what a koan is, yet it was precisely this instrument that I had used without knowing it. Descartes’ cogito was my Koan. Still, I wasn’t a great philosopher. I was a sixteen-year-old kid. Yet, it remains a fact that the action and the usage of certain faculties were present.
GF: You say the sun rose because the sky was ready. Why was the sky, your sky, ready? For, after all, everyone doesn’t land into the awakening at sixteen . . .
GF: Let’s take the famous example of Ramana Maharshi. As he himself testifies, the Maharshi was a very lively youth, not particularly interested in spiritual matters until that famous night when the awakening happened to him at the age of sixteen. According to the Hindu perspective, this young man was an old soul, a highly evolved being. His precocious awakening had been preceded by spiritual preparation accomplished during numerous previous incarnations. The concept of “reincarnation” is certainly much more subtle than that which we generally UIiderstand in the West. The Hindus can thusly “explain” the awakening in an unruly kid. Where do you stand with respect to this kind of consideration?
SJ: First, let me tell you what my position has been for a long time-there’s indubitably a relation between the extraordinary energy I expended during my battle with Descartes’ Cogito, the madness and stubbornness I showed even when I was nearly passing out, and the eruption of the awakening. The nature of this relationship remains highly mysterious since I can in no way consider that it was a matter of cause and effect. The cause, it’s the awakening! The fact remains that the awakening is born in a precise intellectual context consisting in an intense effort necessarily doomed to failure to pierce a mystery that included in itself the notion of “me,” of “I am,” and of “thought.” Moreover, there were circumstances relative to my sensibility. After having experienced at the end of my childhood, a slight loss of sensitivity, I took to reading Rimbaud. Thus, I lived in a world that made me profoundly vibrate second after second. In short, there was an intellectual disposition and a disposition of my sensibilities that were inseparable. Neither sensibility alone nor the intellectual approach alone would have led me anywhere.
But in the end, all that explains nothing. At this point, I’ve formulated a hypothesis: if I passed on to the other side, it’s because these two categories of circumstances made me take a detour, without my knowing it, to another world, that of the unborn where the “spiritual colors,” apparently endowed with creative power, emerged to allow me to accomplish the interior gesture in the proper way.
GF: But where do you stand in regards to the concepts of reincarnation, of evolution?
SJ: First of all, my vision changed when I became conscious of the extraordinary privileges I had enjoyed since birth. As I said, I thought people, if they were asleep, slept the sleep of the just right at the zenith of the dream. Once I realized this wasn’t the case I, at the same time, became conscious of a truth that is not very heartening: people are not born equal; their chances of awakening are unequal. Some are gifted, others are not. It’s atrocious, scandalous, but that’s the way it is. To the extent that the scandal poses a question, one would very much like to find explanations. For a long time, the people I saw harped on the ancient idea of the “old soul” refined by numerous previous lives. Given my family origins, I violently rejected all that, saw it as superstition, like flying saucers, and other hocus pocus that only merited my scorn. This didn’t keep me from looking for explanations myself. As far as these stories of reincarnation are concerned, if I weren’t extremely cautious about my human insights, about what inhabits me, I would, in the end, be inclined to take them very seriously. There exist, in fact, in the very texture of my experience, elements that I can legitimately interpret, without total affirmation, in terms of reincarnation and previous lives.
GF: What do you mean? What are you alluding to?
SJ: You know, when the awakening erupts, it’s a purely spiritual fire. Then an unexpected phenomenon occurs, which is that this spiritual fire suddenly inflames perception in its totality. It’s then that the multidimensional attention intervenes. The extraordinary richness of the landscape in which we evolve appears and one is capable of paying attention to a hundred billion things at once-that’s accompanied by a prodigious undoing of the world’s hierarchy. When the awakening spreads the fire throughout the entire field of perception, a series of totally unknown qualities appears. Just as no one can have a true foretaste of awakening before it erupts, no one can know what the perception of these qualitative beings can be before having seen them. These qualitative beings are simply not part of usual human perception. To put it in humorous terms, let’s say that that makes forty years that, with my soul and not my eyes, I “see things” no one else sees. And that makes forty years that I ask myself what the nature is of the things I see, without ever getting a satisfactory response. I am overwhelmed with love for what I see but simply do not know what it all means. When I was a real estate agent, I went through situations worthy of the Marx Brothers. I had to cover my eyes in order to be able to continue functioning in my profession. I would almost have fallen to my knees to issue a prayer, “Oh marvelous joys, oh marvelous fairies, marvelous angels, stop assailing me, bug off so I can make my phone call about Mrs. Thingamabob’s apartment.” It was an aberrant situation, so laughable that I’d sometimes frankly crack up. Yet that was my life for a very long time. In short, I see these things without knowing what they are. I call them the “one things,” for they’re indivisible. Nevertheless, qualifying them that way, I have neither designated nor described them. Sometimes I speak of angels with regret because of my anticlerical ancestry. I don’t know the words. . . Fairies? That doesn’t sound very serious. But despite all my problems with vocabulary, the fact is there there are these damn, formidable angels assailing me. These “things” that are equivalent to an unimaginable thrust of joy.
GF: You see that all day long?
SJ: It floats in my perception constantly, functioning like an old-fashioned bathtub water heater. There’s the pilot light and if you turn the button-psscch! Everything ignites. I carefully maintain myself in the state of the pilot light, for if the water heater ignites entirely, my functioning, as far as daily life goes, is out of the question.
GF: Could you be more precise about what you see?
SJ: Yes, what are these things that I’m seeing? First, I see them with my soul, my spiritual essence. It’s a matter of direct perception, alongside which the most extreme human joys appear insignificant. It’s a dagger’s thrust of bliss. In a word, these things that my soul sees, that make it tremble with joy, are something other than my soul while at the same time being nothing other than it. There’s absolute identification between my soul and them-these things are more me than I am. On the other hand, my soul exists and contemplates them. It’s thus a matter of a very strange relationship, leaving the great question: What, in God’s name, do I see? I’ve often said to myself that it closely resembles the vision of previous lives. These qualitative beings are one and indivisible but resemble windows overlooking a landscape. The window is one, but through it, I perceive things that I cannot really identify-a great mix, like the great mix of human events and human lives. It’s not unthinkable that, through these qualitative beings, I’m put in direct contact with entire segments of human lives. Is it a question of my previous lives, other lives? I don’t know a damned thing. But there’s something there that could give credit to this idea that reincarnation exists. By that I mean that even if no one had told me about it, the perception of these things could have given rise to this notion in me. I have the impression of perceiving all that across immense temporal distances. Thus, in the very texture of my experience, there are elements susceptible to being rationally explained in terms of reincarnation. Nevertheless, I’m not at all certain about this, and, moreover, don’t think that anyone can be.
GF: It’s not unusual for awakened ones to put aside a time for meditation, give themselves, each day, an hour or thirty minutes of silence to regenerate themselves. I do not have the impression that’s the case with you.
SJ: First of all, it’s necessary to grasp that the awakening comes first in relation to the ecstatic and legitimate effects it induces. The supreme knowledge is of a radically different essence than the ecstasies and other extraordinary joys it’s likely to induce. It would be dangerous to concentrate on the ecstasies.
GF: Moreover, all spiritual traditions warn against this temptation.
SJ: Oh, really? So much the better, for it’s very important. From the moment the awakening sets fire to everything, there’s a danger of perversion at the very heart of the thing. The relationship between the awakening and the ecstasies that it induces exclude all attachment to the latter. The principal danger lying in wait for the awakened one is that he’ll get attached to the awakening. Certainly, when the awakening erupts in someone, the life of that person becomes a dialogue between that supreme knowledge and himself. The merest attachment to the awakening signifies the destruction of the awakening. In fact, it presents a trap that’s very easy to avoid, one in which you can’t fall if one is awakened. On the other hand, the trap of the ecstasies is less clearly marked. I have found myself in that position: for six months, I did a lot of stupid things and my experience wavered. I was totally forewarned of the danger of attachment, but when the ecstasies pounce on you, it’s humanly impossible not to regret them. It’s a very pernicious phenomenon-let’s say the awakening is God and the ecstasies are heaven. On the one hand, I’m loyal to God since I have
no attachment to Him at all. On the other hand, I allow myself to be captivated by the heaven that God induces. Therein lies a subtle possibility of perversion. Heaven is merely an extension of God. To attach oneself to heaven and regret it is, in truth, to attach oneself to God and regret it-which is to say, to kill God. That’s what happened to me for awhile. I therefore took the most extreme measures to protect the awakening from the tragic tactical error consisting in attaching oneself to the ecstasy. It was very difficult, but I succeeded. Therefore, I absolutely no longer look for ecstasy. As it turns out, it’s always there in a latent state. I don’t try at all to plunge into it. Once again, the pilot light is there and that suffices. If it ignites, so much the better. If it does not, tough luck. I don’t give a damn!
GF: You never meditate, then?
SJ: No. At most I make minor corrections. The awakening is a living thing, not a comfortable armchair to sit in. The powers of sleep are always present; the devil is always there, except that he has lost all his vigor, all his power. Thus, from time to time, I make small spiritual adjustments; I straighten out the course, as I’ve done all my life. But it’s not a problem; I know how to do it and, for thirty years, I have behaved in such a way that the awakening hasn’t budged.
GF: Obvious question: where’s your death in all that, Mr. Jourdain?
SJ: Obvious question, obvious answer, and nevertheless always surprising:
death = the-thought-of-death = nothingness
Once you’ve emptied death of all objective substratum, of all reality, it can no longer frighten you much. Death is a pure thought, a pure extension of my spiritual essence and thus. . . nothing! What about my physical death? Same thing! I don’t believe in any way whatsoever in the existence of a physical reality. I don’t believe in it intellectually or philosophically and, above all, emotionally. People talk to me about the physical body; I don’t know what that means. ‘Just the same,” one exclaims, “you have a body, organs.” No! Those are conventions, thoughts one should erase. The blackboard of knowledge must be blank. Everything must be erased and, among the things erased, figure my organs, my heart, the bullet that’s going to go through me and kill me, my death, and the universe. All that must be constantly eradicated; the blackboard itself must be erased. And that’s all I have to say about death.
GF: About death perhaps-but Gilles’ death, Steve’s, your wife’s?
SJ: I can’t compromise and am obliged to answer sharply: that future you talk about in which you’ll die and I’ll die is an extension of the principle “me.” In itself, it has no reality whatsoever. There’s no objective substratum and thus no death that’s pure thought. Even when you’re taking your last breath, I’ll tell you the same thing-it’s pure thought. One must, imperatively and for practical reasons of spiritual survival, treat the problem in that manner. I can only reject what your question designates. Doing this, I reject the question itself, he who poses it, and he who responds to it. It’s very important to approach things this way. In fact, it’s one’s chance of survival and eternity. I’m going to concede a point and admit that death is a real thing. The only victory that one can hope to have over death resides in its perception as pure thought. That’s all.
The Dream at the Center of the Dream
GF: You speak about the fundamental process by which I secrete my own reality. To defuse this incessant process of secretion, or at least to see it for what it is-an infernal mechanism that I operate myself-would amount to an awakening of myself. But the process of secreting an imaginary reality lies at the very center of the latter. We don’t even live the dream; we dream it. For example, I can come down to the kitchen in the morning, find you making coffee and say to myself, “Oh, Steve doesn’t seem too receptive; he appears in a foul mood; he’s mad at me.” And from there it’s possible to continue to think, “Of course, it’s my fault, I don’t know how to conduct myself correctly, I abuse his hospitality,” etc., etc, while you are quite simply making coffee without feeling the least bit of animosity towards me. In this case, I ascribe an emotion to you; I don’t see, I think. Most psychological problems and emotional disturbances cause our dream to seem more like a nightmare than sweet reverie, born from a propensity to think in the very center of this thought that is our existence. Not content to dream, we dream in the darkest depths of the dream.
SJ: Now there’s a very pertinent remark! At the heart of the embryo of mental health that reveals to our self the unreality of its personal productions-and which thus prevents you from taking the mental image of your wife for your wife-there’s a delirium of interpretation that’s more or less serious.
GF: That’s ordinary madness. Not to mention a persecution complex, what one considers psychological problems; all of us let our imaginations run wild, more or less, without that being considered the least bit pathological.,Most of the problems our existences are filled with could be avoided if we stopped thinking and began seeing. We’re the ones who transform the dream into a nightmare.
SJ: Exactly. Let’s put aside the awakening and stay within the domain of the relative: it’s important to dream well, to dream happily. If the dream itself is corrupt, there’s not a chance in a billion that it will explode. If people corrected the way they situate themselves in relation to their reality, they’d eliminate ninety-eight percent of their “problems.” That would not be the awakening, but a harmonious dream. They would be close to the zenith of the dream and in a position to burst it.
The Importance of Dreaming Well
GF: Isn’t the first step, then, the most urgent, to become normal, to eradicate in oneself the functions that corrupt the dream?
SJ: You’re absolutely right. I never thought of that!
GF: You understand-I see the danger coming-certain readers of our dialogue are going to knock themselves out uselessly trying to pierce the bubble even though they dream very badly, are nowhere close to the “zenith of the dream,” to use your expression, but somewhere in the lower depths. Wouldn’t the first job, the only pertinent one, until the new order, be to force oneself to dream well?
SJ: You’re right. I suffer from a grave handicap where teaching is concerned: my life stopped, for all intents and purposes, when I was sixteen. Moreover, I was a very happy child and adolescent. Not that I was devoid of problems, but I handled them very well and only made a slight deal of them. In short, from my birth to the awakening, I always dreamed very well. So much so that I gravely underestimated the nature and fullness of the problems to which people fall victim. I judge the extent to which the dream itself is perverted. Even Satan is capable of degenerating. Once again, we’re alone and it’s we ourselves who, without knowing it, make up the questions and the responses. If, at night, I dream that a wolf devours me, I’m relieved next morning to substantiate the unreality of the wolf and of me devoured. That’s equivalent to recognizing that I am both the wolf and its victim. Both are creations of my dream. Also, if one could make people conscious that they are the creators of their relative existence and the problems it comprises, one would already have taken a large giant step. No use looking further: the great drama for human beings is to not feel they’re sufficiently loved, to not feel sufficiently appreciated by their family, their friends, etc., etc. If one could, for example, show the person who feels scorned that he himself generates the scorn, generates those who scorn him, and keeps this hallucination alive second after second, one would completely rid him of his problem. The dream would remain a dream, the fundamental hallucination would remain an hallucination, but it would considerably assuage itself. Then it would even be possible for a little light of the awakening to filter into the heart of the dream. That is certainly the first job that one must accomplish to be truly effective. But on this subject, I can only verify my handicap.