Nicholas Hagger +A + -A = The Great Nothing
Interview by Iain McNay
Iain: Hello and welcome once more to conscious.tv. I’m Iain McNay, and today my guest is Nicholas Hagger. Hi Nicholas.
Iain: Nicholas has written an extraordinary number of books. He has written over forty books, and I have some of them here to show you. And these books are real books. They’re not like flimsy paperbacks. These are proper books [flicking through pages]. So I’m going to show you some of them, but we’re going to feature two books primarily in our programme today. So the first one is The light of civilisation: How the vision of God has inspired all the great civilisations; and The Universe and the Light: A new view of the Universe and reality, which is very Conscious TV, of course. And The Rise and Fall of Civilisations: Why civilisations rise and fall and what happens when they end. The New Philosophy of Universalism: The infinite and the law of order. And The New Philosophy of Literature: The fundamental theme and unity of world literature - sub titled the vision of the infinite and the Universalist tradition. And his latest two, which are kind of autobiographical to a large extent, but contain many interesting stories and much wisdom, and is the basis of our programme today. Two books, My Double life One: This dark wood, a journey into light, it is just out on “O Books.” And My double Life Two: A rainbow over the hills, the vision of unity. That’s eleven hundred pages, so they’re both interesting reads, but you have to have more than the odd afternoon to get through this lot, maybe a three week holiday somewhere might do it. So Nicholas one of the things you said to me that I liked, the night we had dinner, was that every book you have written has been part of your own journey. It’s not like you were writing the books to make a few bob, or to make a point, they were important to you in themselves.
Nicholas: That’s right. I had this extraordinary experience in London in 1971, which we may talk about later, were I encountered the light, and I wanted to know more about it. And so I set off… I was based in literature at the time, but I set off into mysticism and had a look to see what other mystics had done, went into history and found that this experience was behind civilisations, went into philosophy and found that it was actually behind metaphysics. So although my course has been a literary one I have branched off into seven disciplines all together, but the common theme in all of them, is this fundamental experience I mentioned earlier.
Iain: Seven tracks to the one, that’s basically what you were telling me earlier.
Nicholas: That’s right, and so the rainbow has seven bands, and so a rainbow over the hills, is the idea of seven disciplines, within the rainbow.
Iain: You have got an extraordinary mind, because I was… I’ve only obviously dipped into most of these books, because it would take me weeks to read them all, but your attention to detail, and the way you want to get things in the right order, and the way you want to see what’s behind something that’s already happened… you must realise you have a very rare ability in your mind.
Nicholas: Well thank you very much. I’ve kept a diary since 1963, that’s a daily diary - a page a day - and so a lot of what I’ve encountered is in the diary. And I thought rather than do a kind of retrospective view in these two books, I would have a verbatim, on the day vivid details and so there are quotations from the diaries. We mentioned this experience I had in 1971, and by the end of 1973, the end of the first volume, I‘d had sixteen experiences in all, and then in part two, another seventy - seven. So it totals ninety - three experiences, and they are all diarised quotations, in order to get to the feel of how it was on the day, rather than me looking back now, years later. There is an appendix at the end where they are all catalogued and page numbered and so on for easy reference.
Iain: Let’s have a look at a little bit of your life in terms of some of the more significant events. In 1965 you had gone to Japan to explore the Japanese culture to some extent, but you also spent some time in some Japanese temples, meditating.
Nicholas: Yes, I did. I went to a meditation hall, with a Japanese called Haga, same name as me, H-a-g- a, but not spelled the same way as I am - which was weird - to two Zen temples. I meditated with the Japanese and I sensed there was something to find. I didn’t actually find it there but I nearly did, and I sensed that it was worth pursuing. I’d been to a stone garden, I’ve got a picture of it here actually [picking up one of his books and indicating] – the Ryōan-ji stone temple, which is a Zen garden. You see that there are stones and there are rocks, and what it’s saying is that all existence was the same. The stuff of existence is stone, in terms of the image. That struck an echo. I had had perhaps four experiences of the one before that when I was seven, when I looked at frosty stars and felt at one with the universe, and one when I was fifteen…
Iain: Ok, so how was that? You were seven years old and felt at one with the universe, did it feel strange to you or did it….
Nicholas: It did feel strange. I can still see myself there now. It was dark, and I was in a friend’s garden, and I’m there now and can see it so vividly, and the stars were incredibly bright, and I felt in total harmony with everything. It felt as though I was in the universe, and the universe was in me somehow, that I’d shifted almost outside myself.
Iain: It’s quite touching that you can go back, and you’re there now.
Nicholas: I’ve got a good memory. I can remember being in my pram during the war, outside the post office. I was probably two, or two and a half. That seems to be one of the things I’ve been blessed with, that I can retrieve these things that have happened. When I was fifteen, I was staying with my cousin, in Merrow near Guildford, and we used to walk on the golf course, I was lying in the long grass amid the daisies, meadow brown butterflies and so on. The sun was out, the bees were humming all around me, and again I felt this blending into the one. The sky, the grass, it was all one, and then later on…
Iain: You see a lot of people do have these experiences, and because it is outside the normality of what they’ve learned of how life is, they tend to dismiss them and forget about them, but they obviously stayed with you.
Nicholas: They are a part of a pattern, and that’s what the two books are trying to do. The word pattern is in one of the sub titles – episodes and patterns in a writer’s life. So I ‘ve been trying to detect a pattern. I think we all have a pattern, and if we think about it, and we start recalling these experiences, they do make a pattern. The third one that I had was when I was at college, on a particularly fraught day when I was giving up law to change to literature which was what I wanted to do, and I had a letter which I took down to the lake, and obviously in a higher state of consciousness than normal, because of the significance of the day. The lake there in the college grounds had weeping willows, a perfect summer’s day. The sky reflected in the lake, chestnuts, and again I had this strong sense that I had become the universe, and the universe was almost within me. It was quite extraordinary. I looked into the lake, and my reflection in the lake, the sky, helped to blend it all together. I had a similar experience just before I went to Japan in a forest pond, where I looked into the pond and saw the ground, the sky, and the ground and the sky blended together really, and became one. And so all this - getting back to Japan - struck a chord, and then in September 1965 in Japan, I had a strange dream, were I was going down a well. I was in a Turkish Byzantine café which was subject to an earthquake - we had earthquakes in Japan - and it was ruined. The top floor came down, and I woke up thinking that these were images of a centre-shift happening from the ego to a deeper part of myself. The following month I did actually have this experience of the round white sun or light in my mind, I was filled with this all morning. That was something new, and that really set me thinking. I was writing a long poem at the time ‘The Silence’, and some of this went into the silence.
Iain: Great name for a poem ‘The Silence’.
Nicholas: Thank You.
Iain: And how long is the poem?
Nicholas: It’s between fourteen and fifteen hundred lines, written in the modernist manner. In those days, in the sixties, we were emerging from TS Elliott, Pound and Yeats. I visited Pound in the nineteen seventies in Rapallo and discussed my work with him, so it’s a more modernist style, chopped up juxtaposition, and not as I do today, which is more fluent.
Iain: So tell us about Japan.
Nicholas: Japan was very interesting. I was extremely privileged. I was a professor. I didn’t know I was a professor until I arrived. I was appointed as a lecturer by the British Council. They greeted me at the airport. In fact, I had a deputation, three in tails. I said, “Who is that come to greet somebody? Look they are in tails.” It was for me. They bowed and said welcome to Japan Professor Hagger, and then it dawned on me that I was the first Professor, since William Empson at these two universities. I also taught at Tokyo University. So that was three universities, and I was tutor to the Vice Governor of the Bank of Japan. I wrote speeches for the Governor, and I taught the second son of Emperor Hirohito, Prince Hitachi, for three and a half, four years – taught him world history. So it was like, in terms of England, teaching at Oxford, Cambridge and London Universities, teaching Princess Margaret in the old way of thinking – number two rather than number one heir, as it were - and teaching at the Bank of England. An extraordinary privileged position. I also used to go to the Ministry of International Trade and Industry because they had few people there who were able to do this sort of thing. There weren’t many English men around in Japan, in nineteen sixty-three to sixty-seven, when I was there.
Iain: And how did you get to do the meditation retreats in the Zen temples?
Nicholas: One of my colleagues, who was Dr Blythe, the leading English exponent of Zen Buddhism at the time, had written books, had been very ill. In fact, he died when I was there. I only met him once in the corridor – he was too ill to work – he’d come in on the rare occasion. And I’d said to him, “I’m very interested in Zen Buddhism, I would like to go and experience it”. And he fixed up - he wasn’t able to take me himself - for me to be taken. I was escorted in. There was a meditation, and this fearsome man with an enormous stick, went around beating people into wakefulness. I kept my back firmly against the wall. On the train on the way back, the fellow who came with me said, “Why do you think they were beaten”? I thought, and I said, “Well they all spoke, because they went up one after the other.” There was this Koan which went - There was a man clinging to it with his teeth to a branch. His master comes by and says “good morning”, and he has to reply. What does he reply? So twenty or thirty went up and gave their version of what he should have said. They were all beaten, came back. They said to me, “Would you like to go up?” I said, “No thank you [laughing]. I stayed where I was.
Iain: When you say beaten, it’s more like a hit, isn’t it?
Iain: The word beaten has different connotations these days. It’s a whack with a bamboo stick.
Nicholas: Yes, but it was quite a fierce whack with this wide stick. So I said on the train. The answer is a silence. They are trying to teach you that words can’t get you to reality. To utter words is to be beaten. So to avoid being beaten, just be silent, and of course that ties in with ‘The Silence’, the poem I was writing.
Iain: Didn’t you spend several days meditating there?
Nicholas: Yes, I did.
Iain: At one of the temples there.
Nicholas: Yes, I did.
Iain: And how was that? Here you are, you’re a Professor, and you have a strong mind, and you’re sitting there, you’re not speaking, and you’re going in and meditating. How was that for you?
Nicholas: It was stimulating, because the way of reason is not the only way. There is the irrational, and it made me very aware of the irrational. There is more to reality in the irrational than there is through reason. Reason is not the path to reality. I get into deep water with some of my friends over this. There are sceptics. Frank Tuohy, the novelist and short story writer who I went to China with, turned up in another university in Japan – very sceptical, no time for reality as we would describe it. The way of reason led to a dead end. I don’t want to talk too much about his own problems, but it didn’t bring him fulfilment. He hit the buffers. Whereas the irrational was the way.
Iain: Was it hard for you to just sit there, and do nothing for several hours at a time?
Nicholas: No. I went with the flow. I was keen to do it, to try and get to enlightenment – Satori, the Japanese word for it. But then if we fast forward through Libya, to London, all that paid off in 1971 in London.
Iain: There was something else that happened in Japan where you were first introduced to a formula.
Iain: Tell us about that.
Nicholas: Yes. Junzaburo Nishiwaki is Japan’s TS Elliot, and he wrote January in Kyoto in 1921. He was looked on as a type of demi god. And he was Professor Emeritus at one of my universities. I was taken to see him, and had a long talk with him. He met me round the corner form the university by arrangement in a bar with sawdust on the floor. We drank Saki, and he asked was there anything else I needed to know. I said I came to Japan to discover the wisdom of Japan. What do you think the wisdom of Japan is, the wisdom of the east? In front of me was ‘Encounter’, the magazine, with a business reply card. He took the business reply card and he wrote on it “+A + -A = 0”. Over the “0” he wrote “great nothing”. There is a picture of it in the book, of the card, in volume one. He explained to me the Absolute is where there is no difference. This echoed with all the Zen experience, the Zen stone garden. I knew immediately what he was talking about, the Absolute is where there is no difference, +A + -A = 0. So +A + -A; life death; day night; time eternity. I began to see everything was in contraries, and opposites, pairs of opposites. That formula I found very, very helpful in my thinking because “0”, the great nothing – in fact nothingness in Japan, is a plenitude, a fullness, more of that in philosophy. I found it very, very helpful that all opposites and contradictions are reconciled. The episodes in the two volumes are pairs of opposites. So in each volume you may have fifteen episodes… I believe that we live our life through episodes. So my first episode was family and war. We were being bombed during the war, and the family was a safety, war was danger, and obviously opposites there. But the war came to an end, we moved on, and had another episode. I think our memories are linked with our episodes. For pairs of opposites I brought this in… [reaching for cones on the table].
Iain: Yes, explain the cones.
Nicholas: This is a pine cone, and this is a spruce cone. The pine cone has eight clock-wise spirals and thirteen counter-clockwise, but we won’t go into that so much now. The spruce cone, I want to dwell on these scales, and the scales are in pairs. This scale (pointing at cone) is complimented by another one there, and I see this as a kind of image of the self. Down at the bottom is the first episode as it were – in volume one we have fifteen episodes, and in volume two, another fifteen. There are forty-two pairs of opposites in a spruce cone, so I’m up to about here, about thirty, so with a very full life, one might approach forty-two. The pairs are arranged like that, and I think we have memories arranged like that. For example, I have memories from the war… This [cone] is a very, very compelling image for the self, its memories, the episodes, the structure of the self, the structure of the life we lead, so there’s a picture of a cone very early on in volume one.
Iain: This thing about the polarities, the opposites, I also find fascinating. People say, well we’re all looking for peace in life, that’s true, we are. But in a way, unless you have the chaos as well, you don’t have the polarity to understand the peace.
Iain: That is something missing, for me, in a lot of the teachings. It’s about trying to bring us to something, or trying to encourage us to move towards something, but that’s not the full picture is it?
Nicholas: No it isn’t, you need both sides. I wrote two poetic epics. The first one I discussed with Ezra Pound, Overlord, it was about the last year of the second world war. The reason I did this, apart from the fact that I was being bombed when I was a child, trying to work out why Hitler was trying to kill me, and this was a chance to go into it, the last year of the war, and to embroider on the mythology of Christ and Satan, and Christian values as it were, to have a look at them having being challenged by Hitler. What I was trying to get to the bottom of, was why Auschwitz happened. How The One could allow the evil of Auschwitz? War and peace to Tolstoy were opposites. Tolstoy did his own ‘War and Peace’, and Overlord is my attempt to do a kind of ‘War and Peace’. I agree with you, if there is peace, there has to be war, because of these pairs of opposites. We live in opposites. That doesn’t mean we are Manichean. The Manichean outlook is that good and evil are quite separate, distinct, and fight a draw. In terms of football it’s one-one at the end, no victor. If you are a non-dualist as I am, you are as well, there is a fundamental reconciliation, +A + -A = 0, the great nothing which is the “O” [letter] of O Books - is based on that…
Iain: I never realised that. That’s how John Hunt got the “O” [letter].
Nicholas: Exactly, which is why my work has resonated so much with him, as you can imagine. There is always that “O” [letter] that’s reconciling the +A and the -A.
Iain: We haven’t got time to go into this in detail now, but if you take two of the central figures from the second world was, Hitler and Stalin. Hitler had a strong spiritual side which he investigated when he was very young. It came out in the end, he was a monster, but it wasn’t as if there wasn’t some kind of spiritual side there as well, obviously well hidden. You were telling me the other day that you spent an afternoon with Stalin’s daughter.
Nicholas: Yes, I did.
Iain: And there’s possible evidence that Stalin had a relationship with, or knew Gurdjieff in their early days. That’s so fascinating that someone who again turns out to be, in the eyes of the world, an evil monster and killed many, many people possibly had a spiritual side.
Nicholas: In 1889, Gurdjieff and Stalin were supposed to have lived together. It’s a bit sketchy and to what extent it can be said with certainty we’re not sure, but it’s out there on the internet, which evidence might not be conclusive, but it’s certainly been said. I was saying when I was doing Overlord about the second world war, I could certainly do with meeting Eva Braun to find out what ‘The Berghof’ was like inside. And I could certainly do with meeting Stalin’s daughter to find out what ‘The Kremlin’ was like on the inside. I was astonished when I was written to and told that Stalin’s daughter had seen some of my books and wanted – this was Svetlana Stalin and wanted to meet me, and was living in Cornwall. I did meet her, and spent five hours with her. She wanted me to write a book about her mother who committed suicide in 1932. What Svetlana was telling me was that she stood up to Stalin – ‘32 was before the great purge - but the famine had begun; the repression had begun, and apparently his wife was saying to Stalin, you shouldn’t do this. There was a dinner and Stalin said, “Hey you, drink!” to his second wife. And his wife said “Don’t you hey me” and flounced out of the room. Mrs Molotov spent a couple of hours calming her down and left assuming she was alright. She was found shot the next morning in a pool of blood in her bedroom. Whether it was suicide, or whether it was murder, whether this was Stalin telling somebody… who knows. Svetlana left some papers with me on this, and then disappeared to America, and of course has died. I’ve still got these papers.
Iain: Anyway, we are going off course. It’s so fascinating talking to you, we’re going off course. Let’s come back here. What you realised - I think this was in Japan or shortly after Japan - was that [reading from notes] “you came to understand that you could not get to the goal of the quest, reality, The One, until you had undergone a transformation from sensual attachments, followed by illumination.” What impact did that have on you when you realised you had to let go of sensual attachments?
Nicholas: It happened to me. It was a way of loss. In the mystic way you are awakened, and after the awakening, there has to be a sort of purgation, or inner purification where you are detached slightly from the senses, and that grows the soul, or the inner part of yourself. If that detachment doesn’t happen, the inner soul can’t grow. It happened to me. I was in Libya, the University of Libya, and the Gaddafi revolution happened. I went to work in the morning of the Gaddafi revolution, wondered why I was the only car in the streets. Got to work, gates were closed. Turned round, came home. Saw soldiers shooting in the air, then the revolution came up, and I had to go back through the revolution - all this is in the book. That was a very stressful time. I was arrested ten days after the revolution and taken to the radio station. They had articles I had written before the revolution – all this is in the book. It preyed on my wife’s mind, more than it did on mine actually. It meant she went back to England, and I was left on my own there. Gaddafi and I had a relationship at a distance through a student I’d sent to him, which again is in the book. To cut a long story short, I was very nearly executed. I was taken to a villa and had to talk my way out of this leading figure behind the regime, with a gun. After all that, the Libyan Ambassador who was involved in the execution set up, became Heath’s press secretary. In London I found out I was Heath’s unofficial ambassador for Africa, working really to prevent Africa from going Russian or Chinese. Surveillance squads were the norm while I was this... I mean, if you’re in politics like that, then other countries keep an eye on you. So I was living in quite difficult conditions; that’s when the experience happened on 10th September 1971.
Iain: What I’m trying to get at Nicholas, was there an awareness in you that you were letting go of sensual attachments, or was this a process?
Nicholas: It’s a process.
Iain: I know that, but was it a process that looking back you realised, that it had happened?
Nicholas: Yes, more that, but you can see… in fact, at that time I was looking to see what other people had experienced, and I found this book [shows book] by Evelyn Underhill Mysticism which goes through all the mystics, in all the cultures, or some of the mystics, mainly the Christian mystics. I found that very helpful. That charts the mystic way. I could see from her analysis of what had happened to others that this is what happened to you. So I was prepared to that extent from her. On this particular day, if I can just dwell on 10th September 1971, the analogy is Pascal, who wrote, “In the year of grace 1654 from 10.30 to 12.30 in the evening, fire, tears of joy”. He had had this experience of the inner fire. It was so important to him, that what I’ve just quoted, he cut out the parchment, embroidered it in the inside of his doublet, sewed it in the inside of his doublet, and wore it for the last eight years of his life. He also went into a monastery, in fact a Jainist convent. What happened to me in 1971 was similar to the Pascal experience as I see it. I was actually reading this book, holding this very book [Underhill’s Mysticism]. I was living in Knightsbridge in a house with single rooms, with a number of people, and also in the house was quite an elderly Viennese artist, Margaret, who had brought the light, or firelight tradition from the Austro Hungarian empire with her. She used to come and knock on my door, and come and sit from time to time. I happened to be reading about St Theresa and Madame Guyon at the time when she came in. She just said, “Lie down, close your eyes and wait, and tell me what you see”. She acted like a kind of spiritual director. This was about 5 to 5.30 in the evening. For about an hour and a half I saw this tree of light coming from out of water. And then it gathered as it were, and for an hour the light was like a sun inside myself, more or less as what I experienced in Japan, but with many, many visions. Later on that evening I wrote a poem, trying to distance myself from it. Would you like me to read it?
Iain: Yes, because you have many, many poems and books of poems.
Nicholas: Yes, 1500 hundred poems, and 300 classical odes, 2 poetic epics, and 5 verse plays, so quite a lot. This poem was written on that evening 10th September 1971, and it’s called ‘Visions, Golden Flower, Golden Flower, Celestial Curtain’.
That weekend I lay down and breathed at twilight
Looked into my closed eyes, saw white light flowing upwards
A tree of white fire flickering, then a spring opened in me
For an hour bright visions wobbled up like bubbles
From a great height, a centre of light, a gold white flower shining like a dahlia
The centre and source of my being
A Chrysanthemum, a sun, a fountain of white light
Strange patterns, old masters I was not certain I’d seen before, old Gods
I was refreshed
After this I feel on my knees in the dark and breathed, I surrender to the white point
It changed into a celestial curtain, blown in the wind like the aurora borealis
I feel limp, an afterglow in each moist finger
So that was trying to catch what happened to me on that particular evening. After that I wanted to find out what the other mystics had done, so I began researching into those like Pascal who had had the experience. And one of the books you showed, The light of civilisation, in fact the first book, The fire and the stones of which The light of civilisation is an update of the first part, that went into all the experiences in the last 5000 years. I could have done with that book on that evening, because that would have shown me what others had found in many different cultures and civilisations from 2600 BC to the present.
Iain: Because what happens in the different cultures and religions are very similar. There may be different interpretation in those different cultures and religions, but the practicality of what happens is…
Nicholas: John Donne put it very well that truth is on a hill as it were, and you must about and about go. On the hill, is one truth [demonstrates with hands], and different religions are getting there, they’ve all got their own experience. That’s how I see it, that the experience of the light is in every single religion. It’s in Hinduism, every tradition, but it’s the fundamental oneness of the experience, and so that’s one of the seven disciplines in the rainbow, comparative religion. Comparative religion is all unified, but I saw that religions are very important to civilisations. And I looked into history, and 25 civilisations, and looked at the starts of civilisations, and found that the fire light migrates from a previous civilisation into ours. For example, in our own civilisation, the European civilisation, we got it from the Israelite civilisation which produced the bible, and so our view of God as light has come from there. But each of the 25 civilisations has a previous civilisation that passed the light on. So actually the vision of the light is very, very important to the growth of civilisations.
Iain: Shall I show your chart?
Iain: I don’t know how this is going to come up, maybe we’ll do a still at the end, and maybe insert it. You better explain it as you unfold it. This document is remarkable…
Nicholas: [unfolding a very long the document] this is in the back of the Fire and the stones, which was my first book, in 1991.
Iain: We’re not going to see the details on here…
Nicholas: It’s a 7 feet long chart. So down to here… basically this is in that book, The Rise and fall of Civilisations that you showed earlier. So down here [pointing at chart] we have 25 civilisations, and the European is number 11, and each one goes through 61 stages. I started by thinking, well we had a Renaissance, European civilisations had a Renaissance, what other civilisations did? And so I plotted in where they all had a renaissance. And then I thought, they all had an empire, where did they have an empire? I put in the empire, and so on. So I built up 61 stages, and I said all along, I’m going to give this up if it doesn’t work. But to my astonishment, it did work. The idea for this came out of that experience in 1971. I discovered new powers, and I had sleep inspiration. Twice, I had the idea for this in sleep. Lawrence van Der Post told me when I visited him many years ago, that if it comes from a deep place, it must be taken seriously, and if it comes from sleep, it must be taken seriously.
Iain: You’ve actually said something very important there… say that again. Anything that comes from sleep…
Nicholas: Must be taken seriously…
Iain: … because that comes from the sub conscious…?
Nicholas: It comes from a very deep place. So here we have 61 stages, parallel stages going through, and 25 civilisations going through it, and the religions are part of the growth of each civilisation. And when the religion, or the light within the religion begins to fail, it goes down. Decay begins, the civilisation declines.
Iain: Where is our current western civilisation in that?
Nicholas: We’re stage 43, if you look at across the top, and we’re going into a union, a European union. The European civilisation is going into the European union, and it’s bad news for those who want to come out of the European union. But the history tells us that there is actually going to be a United States of Europe. And as I see it there is going to be 50 - 50 European states - the same as the USA. Eventually a world state, which will be democratic, but this is not in our lifetime, this is farther ahead. So all this could be a world state [pointing at document], with representatives from all these places voting, as in the United Nations.
Iain: And all this, as you say, is originally coming out of the experience of the light.
Iain: …which is an expression of Oneness.
Nicholas: This was fed to me as a kind of new power after the experience. Ted Hughes was in correspondence with me all through the 90’s, and he said to me that I had discovered the law of history. He was very taken with that. All I can say is if you have this experience, of awakening, leading to purgation, leading to illumination, leading to the unitive life where you see the world as a union, as a unity… the second book is the vision of unity. You go from the dark wood, to a vision of unity, then all these new powers seem to come in. You see how things work in a very strange way. I went into philosophy after that. In metaphysics there are four layers. There is the one, which is nothingness, and that part is into non being, which passes into being, so each has the seed or the potential; and being passes with the ‘Big Bang’ into existence, so there is a kind of process. There is something before the ‘Big Bang’. We’re told by Hawking and others that there is nothing before the ‘Big Bang’ because time began with the ‘Big Bang’ and you can’t think of the timeless. But I’m sorry, you can, and this is what I learned in Japan. This is the wisdom of the East, that there is a +A + -A, the timeless + time = zero. The two are together. There is a process, a manifestation from the one reality into time.
Iain: And you’ve had dark times, which on a personal basis have been hard for you, but somehow you’ve had the strength to get through them.
Nicholas: The illumination helped. But looking back now I would say, you have to go through some sort of a process to shed the clutter, so the inner reality and being, the universal being… this is coming to universalism. This is what the universalists look on … Christians would say the soul…the universal being is the deeper self, beyond the rational and social ego, which does make all these connections, and sees all the disciplines as a unity.
Iain: There’s a quote from Yeats which I pulled out of your book, that I liked “The mystical life is at the centre of all that I do, and all that I think, and all that I write”. That’s pretty much the case with you, isn’t?
Nicholas: Yes. The mystic life… I formalised as universalism. Now, when I was an under graduate, existentialism was what all the under graduates were interested in. There were six main existentialists. They all had different interpretations and shades of opinion. But existentialism has reached an end really now, and universalism is the one in seven disciplines, it’s seeing how the seven disciplines all connect to The One.
Iain: They have the same source, but a different expression in the world.
Nicholas: That’s right. For example, it’s the Oneness of human kind in history. It’s the Oneness of all the religions. At the same time there is this dimension, it’s not holism – holism is more at the social level, seeing in the whole, seeing the whole. Universalism has this other aspect of relating to The One. The One light or reality which is outside. How The One has affected history for example, in terms of the civilisations. How The One challenges the temporary philosophy that is linguistic and analytical, and doesn’t have very much to say about the metaphysical. And it’s bringing all that back. So universalism has a contribution in all the disciplines, but it all comes out of this fundamental journey from a dark wood towards light, and a vision of unity. And this transformation that it brings about where the rational social ego, which the universities are very strong on, is quietly replaced by the irrational that I discovered in Japan. The universal being which universalists regard as the deeper part of oneself, through which one perceives unity, if you perceive through the reason, you perceive differences. The intellect is very good at making distinctions. But if you perceive at a deeper level then you perceive unity. You perceive things coming together. What Coleridge referred to as approaching The One. That is something I’ve been at pains to use. All my books are really on that theme.
Iain: You see there is a point on everyone’s journey where the irrational starts to become the rational.
Iain: Because as the picture gets bigger, I know for myself, I’m thinking of course, that makes complete sense, I now understand something bigger. It’s this thing, unfortunately in society, we seem to be put down very narrow streets in our education, not so much our life experience, but our interpretation, we’re encouraged from life experience… it takes something away. It seems very young children do have this ability, this inherent thing to see… reality is so much bigger. In the detail of our society it gets lost and narrow.
Nicholas: I’ve hesitated to put labels on it, some people would say God. I’ve tried to say The One and reality because I’m a poet I’ve tried to describe it as it is, and not attribute it to someone else’s interpretation. And in fact, after that experience in 1971, I was very quick to consider that it might be the imagination. So I was seeing my imagination, I was united with my imagination. The visions were imaginative visions. But on reflection I think, no. There is a kind of tide of light around us. I’m very struck by knowing the Brain of Britain who appeared somewhere where I was working as a colleague, and announced he’d just won the Brain of Britain award for Britain’s leading general knowledge contestant. He’d done it two years running.
Iain: So he had the best general knowledge in Britain?
Nicholas: Yes. I said to him how are you able to answer all of these questions? He said I don’t know. I’ve not read anything. It just floats into me. He said there is a universal mind all around us right now, and if you open to it, you answer the questions. I said ok, so tell me about the family of Amenhotep the Fourth. He came out, and I wrote it down, went off to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, looked it up, and it was all right. How did he find that? And so I think just as there might be a universal mind, I don’t know, I’m just passing that on as a story, I’m not saying that is how people win Mastermind – he came second in Mastermind I think, and Brain of Britain twice. I do think that the Higgs Field for example, is around and is invisible. The radio and television waves are between us now and are invisible. Ether was supposed to be what carried the light in the nineteenth century. Einstein wrote a paper in 1920 ‘Ether and the theory of Relativity’, so it was being considered as recently as 1920, so it could be that this tide of light gives us our ability to heal, gives us things in our sleep. I still regard it as reality and as The One rather than put a label on it.
Iain: Nicholas the clock, in fact, the clock has stopped over there, I don’t know whether the light sabotaged the clock [smiling], but unfortunately I have a watch, and we need to stop now. Our time is virtually up. It has been fascinating, thank you very much you brought a different aspect to conscious.tv, we haven’t really had this before. I’m not going to show all the books I have at the beginning, but I’ll show the pile, and remind viewers, that Nicholas has written over forty books. Some are over here [showing a pile of books]. The ones that are the newest books, which to a large extent are autobiographical, he’s covered a lot of bits of them so far in this interview is My Double life One: This dark wood, a journey into light. And in part two, which is double the size, My Double life two: A rainbow over the hills, the vision of unity. If you get these, as I said at the beginning, you will need at least a three week holiday to do them justice. You also have a book of collected poems; do you want to show that to the camera there?
Nicholas: Yes, Collected Poems.
Iain: 58-2005. And you’ve written 1500 poems.
Nicholas: Just under…
Iain: Fantastic. Thanks again Nicholas for coming onto conscious.tv.
Nicholas: Thank you.
Iain: Thanks everyone out there for watching us, and I hope we see you all again soon. Goodbye.
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