Philip Jacobs - The Pathless Path
Interview by Iain McNay
Iain: Hello and welcome to Conscious TV. I’m Iain McNay and my guest today is Philip Jacobs. I first saw Philip a couple of years ago after I went to what’s called a Turning Evening at Colet House in West London, and what that is really… is kind of whirling dervishes and Philip is the Sheikh of the group in London and it was the most….every one there is English, or I think they’re all English and it’s just an extraordinary experience. I had at the back of my mind to do an interview with Philip about his life and about the Turning and it’s taken a bit of time, as it often does with Conscious TV for things to come together, but he’s now here in the studio with me and I’m looking forward to this interview very much. To start with he’s written some books, ‘One Self: Life as a Means of Transformation,’ and ‘Being the Teaching of Advaita: A Basic Introduction,’ and the one I like the most, which isn’t published yet, which I had a pre-copy here, if you like, which will be published, I hope next year in 2014. ‘A Pathless Path: A Journey To The Place Never Left,’ which is mainly autobiographical.
So, we’re going to look at Philip’s life and his spiritual journey and a little about the Turning and many other things that come up in our limited time of an hour.
So, let’s start with your childhood where you had a great love of nature. You liked finding wild places. I think you lived by the Thames and you’d get on a boat, go in the middle of the Thames and find somewhere really quiet to hang out.
Philip: I grew up in a town called East Molesey. Our house was along a little river called The Ember and it was great because we had this great long river frontage and as children, I had a brother and a sister and we all had our own boats so, all the time, all through the summer and the winter we used to go off and have these adventures. We used to have sea battles with children from further down the river. It just gave me such a love of nature seeing the way the river changed and the seasons changed and how the snow used to come and the frost and then the nettles rose up in the springtime. It just sort of got me off to being in such a lovely environment… instilled a great love of nature in me right from the beginning.
Iain: Mmmmm, and then you were given a book by a guy called Lobsang Rampa. I hadn’t heard of him before..it was called The Third Eye, and that really opened things up for you didn’t it in terms of the spiritual world?
Philip: It did, because at the time I was away at boarding school and boarding school is pretty dire (laughs), because it’s a sort of world of getting up at seven in the morning and studying French verbs and nineteenth century English history and playing rugger out on the sports field and….I’d been interested in oriental arts since I was about eleven. My brother and I had both been buying buddhas and Tibetan things with our pocket money. Then one day my mother sent me this book by Lobsang Rampa, called, ‘The Third Eye.’ He was supposedly a Tibetan Lama but what I didn’t know at the time was, he was actually the son of a plumber from Plimpton in Devon. (Philip and Iain laugh).
But what he wrote was miraculous enough to inspire my fourteen-year old mind and it was suddenly like this whole new world opened up and I thought, ‘Why, why didn’t no-one tell me that this other world existed?’ Reading the Bhagavad-Gita at that time wouldn’t have had that much impression on me and it needed to be something very overly miraculous.
Iain: Yeah and at fourteen that’s quite something because most boys of fourteen are thinking of something completely different.
Philip: I think it was…well, you have to remember that in the 1960’s and since the Beatles had gone in to eastern mysticism, it was very much around everywhere and also my father had died of cancer at home when I was nine and that had sort of made me start looking in other directions. So, I was no longer just taking life on it’s surface value and I was sort of wondering where he’d gone and what it was all about. So, I definitely started looking by that time.
Iain: I think your mother sent you a book by Frances Roles and that again opened something didn’t it?
Philip: Yeah….that was because I wrote a poem inspired by Lobsang Rampa which got into the school magazine and then my mother, being a proud mother, showed it to all her friends and by a series of coincidences it found it’s way to Dr. Frances Roles, who had been a follower of a Russian writer, P.D. Ouspensky. He sent me this book called, ‘Waking Up,’ which he had written about a system of meditation from the Advaita Tradition. So, that sort of followed on from Lobsang Rampa and his waking up book became my bible for the next couple of years.
Iain: And you actually went to his centre in Colet House in West London and you, you started to learn meditation at sixteen years old.
Philip: Yeah, I wanted to learn it when I was fourteen, when I first read the book but I think they thought that I was too young so, I had to wait till Dr. Roles agreed to initiate me when I was sixteen. Then I had to escape from boarding school because it wasn’t popular thing to go off and learn a form of meditation in London. Eventually, I had to threaten my mother, I said, ‘If you don’t write to the headmaster a letter. saying that I want to learn to meditate, I’m going anyway and I’ll get into trouble.’ So reluctantly she wrote a letter saying she granted her permission. Then, I went up to London and Dr. Roles taught me how to meditate.
Iain: But what is a school Headmaster of a boarding school say when a boy wants to go and meditate. It’s an unusual thing for a boy to have that desire.
Philip: I think it was outside of their remit and I think generally they found me a bit difficult to understand. Two examples of that were after I’d learned to meditate the Prefects used to wake me up half an hour before everyone else so I could do my meditation, which was very nice of them and when I had my own room a bit later…once the House Master came in early in the morning to wake me up and I was sitting in the half-lotus position, then the Deputy House Master came in a couple of weeks later and I was still in the half-lotus position and then they were overheard to say, ‘It’s best to leave Jacobs’ to himself.’ So after that, they just sort of…….I did get completely left to myself and I could really do want I wanted.
Iain: And did you find a lot of peace in meditation at that point?
Philip: I did! It was fantastic because, I don’t know if you know boarding school life?......In the morning you’re sort of fast asleep, having a lovely dream, but you’re at home or by the river and suddenly a Prefect comes in and says, ‘Right! Three to get out of bed!’ and blows the whistle…and then it’s down to lots of rows of wash basins and then down to a noisy dining hall. But getting up that half
an hour before everyone, and then initially I used to meditate down in the school chapel and then I went into the dining hall and it was like there was an inner glow, so, no longer were you a victim of the dining hall, it was like you were looking out on the dining hall from a sense of stillness. I’d also been a very rebellious adolescent and I was quite a troublemaker and I suddenly started to see from the Masters’ point of view and suddenly started to realize they probably didn’t want to be School Masters and they were just trying to earn their living – so it was like there was this sudden shift in perspective to seeing it from other peoples points of view. So, most of my adolescent angst started to evaporate at that point.
Iain: It was interesting, just to briefly cover what was happening at Colet House. Dr. Frances Roles…he’d learnt from Ouspensky and Ouspensky had of course been a student of Gurdjieff before that and there was also a connection with the Marharishi wasn’t there and the Marharishi taught at Colet House one time when he was over?
Philip: Yeah and just to give you a brief potted history. Ouspensky had always been interested in the study of consciousness, and by consciousness he meant the awareness we have behind our thoughts and our feelings and our desires. He’d written quite an intelligent book right back at the start of the twentieth century and then he’d gone off to India looking for methods to access that consciousness more fully, but he didn’t find what he was looking for. Then WW1 broke out and he had to go back to Russia where he was mobilized. Then he met this enigmatic Greek teacher called Gurdjieff and for a while he thought he’d found what he was looking for in Gurdjieff’s teachings but gradually their paths deviated and I think Ouspensky strongly disagreed with Gurdjieff’s methods, which could be quite violent. So Ouspensky carried on separately and he partly developed his own ideas and partly taught what he’d learned from Gurdjieff. Towards the end of his life, it was like he went right beyond what he’d been teaching, he went right beyond what he learned from Gurdjieff. Right at the end, he said, ‘I abandon the system and you must reconstruct it all from the very beginning.’ This threw people in to a bit of confusion because they’d become so dependent on the particular metaphors that he had been teaching. He privately prepared some of his followers, one of whom was Dr. Roles after his death, to find what he’d actually been looking for in the first place.
Ouspensky died in 1947 and it wasn’t till 1961 that Dr. Roles made contact with Advaita or non-dual tradition in India, which has existed for many hundreds of years as an advisory tradition. The Marharishi was a step in the process of that meeting. Ouspensky had told Dr. Roles to look for a method that involved repeating one word. Those were Ouspenskys’ own actual words. So when he met the Marharishi he realized that he’d found the method that Ouspensky had asked him to look for.
Iain: The Marharishi worked with a mantra too..yeah.
Philip: Yes…a mantra with meditation.
Then the Marharishi introduced Dr. Roles, a bit later to the head of his tradition which was in India, they have this…..the Advaita tradition which was originally founded by someone called Shankara, somewhere around the sixth to the ninth century, no-ones quite sure when he set up four seats of learning. So you have one of the North, South, West and East and the Marharishi introduced Dr. Roles to the Shankara of The North. He became his guide and Advaita teacher for about the next twenty years…yes…so it gradually started to evolve and in Ouspenskys day it was very strict. It was known as an esoteric school and when…just before Dr. Roles died he said, ‘ Our role as an esoteric school is over, no more secrecy. I want the Colet House of the future to be a place, like a cell of self-knowledge, that people can come to for rest and refreshment, and particularly for young people for whom life’s very difficult today.’ So it went through a path or process of evolution.
Iain: And one of the things that you learnt there, which I think was Ouspensky and Gurdjieff, was this Self-remembering. How was that to start with you, for you, Self-remembering?
Philip: It was a……Self-remembering was the whole key cornerstone of what Gurdjieff had taught and what Ouspensky taught, but apparently…obviously I never knew Ouspensky, because he died long before I was born, but he found it very difficult to convey what he meant and at the time, I think people had a lot of trouble understanding what he was trying to convey. I personally don’t use the term anymore, it sort of belongs to history but my understanding of it is; you have an identity in time, which in my case is Philip. Philip is a man, Philip is an artist, Philip does all the sort of Philip things and the Philip identity is always changing. So, when Philip was five, Philip liked certain things and then it keeps changing and evolving. But behind that, behind I am Philip is just the pure sense of I Am, or the pure sense of Being. So, it isn’t obscure, it is so universal. When you’re five there’s something looking out through your eyes, which is exactly the same as when you’re fifty-five, it’s totally timeless, it doesn’t change, it’s totally still. It’s totally unaffected by what goes on in the changing drama. So, my understanding of Self-remembering is remembering that behind it all, I’m not just Philip, I’m this great stillness that lies behind Philip and which is universal and common to all of us.
Iain: Is that something you felt you were aware of when you started to meditate at sixteen years old?
Philip: When I was very young and when I was out in nature, I used to have these moments of intense happiness, when it was just like happiness would arise for no reason. It often happened like when I was… I remember one occasion when I was watching this raging storm at sea. I was just standing watching it and I was about ten years old I think, or nine, and I remember watching it and thinking,’ Just remember this sensation that you’re feeling now, remember it, remember it when you’re at school and you’re in a Maths lesson.’ (Philip and Iain laugh)
So that was my early understanding of Self-remembering, that it’s just your natural state, it’s who you are. The other state, the, I am Philip is superimposed on top of that and it’s a very fluid thing which just changes when you go to sleep at night, it completely disappears. So, I think more and more…….when you’re….often at first…….. the deeper state is like the background and the I am Something or I am Philip is in the foreground but I think as life goes on there’s a subtle switching between the two.
Iain: So, as we talk now, are you aware of the background? How is it now?
Philip: The background is always there. It’s like, it’s like you’re looking out from the background.
Iain: So that’s with you most of the time? This looking out the….what I would call maybe, the vastness, what you would call more the peacefulness.
Philip: I sort of think it’s with everyone all the time, they just don’t know it…
Iain: They’re not aware of it….yeah.
Philip: It’s what is looking out? What is seeing through your eyes? What is hearing? There’s just this mis-identification of what’s actually happening. Most non-dual teachings are simply pointing out what’s actually happening now as opposed to what you think is happening now or what your mind’s superimposed on that.
So it’s actually happening to everyone all the time.
Iain: The other thing that you mentioned in the autobiography which I…reminded me of something I used to do when I lived in a Community many years ago was the Stop exercise, where you ring a bell and everyone had to stop and I lived in this Community for a time in Northern Italy and that was so effective, you’re busy doing what you’re doing and the bell goes for thirty seconds you just stop and it reminds you, doesn’t it? It takes you in to stillness you see the stillness or feel the stillness.
Philip: Yes, yes. Dr. Roles used to do that sometimes. He’d shout Stop! And we’d all freeze…(laughs), but I find it’s like when you see something incredibly beautiful in nature or a work of art, it has the same effect. It just suddenly the moving mind stops and you’re in a state of awe at it. (Iain agrees).
Iain: Yes. I don’t want to keep the whole thing biographical but I’m just getting some triggers here. You’re committed to because the other thing that Ouspensky was really very commited to was this Turning. Do you want to just talk us through that? How that….
Philip: I’ll talk you through that.
In the early twentieth century Ouspensky had visited the Mevlevi Dervishes in Turkey, mostly in Instanbul, several times, and he writes about them in two of his books. He had meetings with some of the sheikhs and so he always saw dervish turning as…he thought it was a method again, for accessing this deeper sense of Self. In 1963, that was shortly after Dr. Roles had made contact with the Advaita tradition, one of the Colet House members had a Turkish boy working on her farm and he had an uncle who was a Mevlevi dervish out in Turkey. He invited some of the Colet House members out to a ceremony in Konya.
Because what had happened is, back in the 1920’s, Kemal Ataturk, the then ruler of Turkey, had banned all Dervish orders and all Sufi orders and all fortune tellers and anything he thought was holding Turkey back from being a modern western nation. It was shortly after the Ottoman Empire had ended and he was trying to move Turkey on. So, prior to that most towns had, what is known as a Mevlevi Tekeh, which is a place where the whirling dervishes whirled. After that it all had to go secret, so the poor dervishes, if they were caught turning they could go to prison. So they had to draw the curtains and turn secretly on their living room carpet.
In the late 50s’ it was just starting to be allowed again as a tourist attraction and they were having these annual ceremonies in Konya in Turkey, which is where Jalal al-Din Rumi had lived, he was the founder of the Mevlevi, and so three of the Colet House members went out to the ceremony. They caught the eye of the Sheikh, who was presiding over the ceremony in Konya. He was a Mevlevihanes Sheikh. He’d been a Mevlevi since he was a little boy and his name was Resuhi Baykara. Afterwards he talked to the Colet House members and they asked him, would he be prepared to come over to London and teach the Turning to western people. He went and spoke to his Sheikh, who was a man called Munaichelabi and Munaichelabi said, ‘Yes you must teach the Turning in London.’ And so Resuhi came over and he was a civil servant, he’d only got a months’ annual holiday, so he trained sixty people in a month to do this very difficult movement and to learn all the prayers and all the ceremonial. Then, by the time he went back at the end of it, the Turning and the Mevlevi tradition was up and running at Colet House, where it’s been taught and practiced ever since. But he was very radical and very far seeing at the time, because in Turkey, at the time, it was only taught to men and he came over and taught it to both men and women together.
Philip: So, I think he probably got into a bit of trouble from hard liners when he went home again.
Iain: And this Turning was something that was very attractive to you as well, wasn’t it?
Philip: When I was sixteen, just after I’d learned to meditate on a half-term holiday, I went up and watched a public ceremony and watching it just made me so happy. It was a bit like watching a rock concert, in a way. It was live music and it was just something that really..…I went away just beaming all over my face and I thought if it can do that for someone watching it, what must it be like to actually turn?
Iain: Yeah…We were talking earlier, I want to make a separate program about the Turners, so we won’t go into too much detail on that but…I was looking at my notes from your book and your life became very busy. You were up at five o’clock in the morning to learn the Turning, and then you had your full day and your meditation and earning your living and everything else, and you said you had just incredible energy afterwards, with the Turning.
Philip: Yeah, when I was learning it, I was doing my degree show for my textile course in Liberty’s in Regent Street, we were down in the basement. I used to go in about nine o’clock, all sort of beaming, like I’d been up all day and the other art students had just crawled out of bed. So it did give me this amazing energy just doing the training.
Iain: Yeah…and you also said around this time that, ‘I began to notice that life appeared to be unfolding like a drama or a play, much like a multi-dimensional jigsaw puzzle, where everything appeared to slot together to form one whole.’
Philip: That’s the most amazing thing I’ve learnt about life, which is often quite difficult to convey is; at one time I thought that I was this separate person, weaving my way through life and you had to manipulate things or things wouldn’t go your way, or you might meet an accident and that’s a very frightening view of life. The way it turned around and how it appears now is, there isn’t a separate Philip trying to manipulate a separate life. It’s like it’s one immaculately produced movie or drama and I’m just watching it unfold as Philip. I’m not doing anything or creating anything. It’s just like I’m amazed at the precision of how things unfold. Even the things, which at the time that seem to be total absolute disasters, then I look back a year or two later and I think, ‘My God, if that hadn’t happened, this would never have happened.’ (Iain agrees)….and then once you’ve got that….it takes a while for that view to percolate down through all your Being.
But once it does percolate, then you have a much lighter view of life. You’re not pushing and pulling it and trusting it as it unfolds from moment to moment.
Iain: But you see, how does this fit in with being on a spiritual path and as many of us do, think,’ Ahh, we’re working our way towards clearing our personality, shedding traumas whatever, and one day we will be enlightened, we will be One. It’s like the separateness is working towards the Oneness but from what you’re saying, it isn’t quite like that, is it?
Philip: I don’t see it like that. I sort of see the two identities, I am something or I am Philip on the line of time and then there is the pure beingness, you might say it’s here for convenience say. (Holds hand in front of him at shoulder height). On the line of time, (His arm moves from right to left at waist height), you’re always going to be in process and so now you will have boarding school traumas that you’ll process and relationship traumas that you process and probably when you’re eighty years old, you get put in an old peoples’ home and there’s more trauma…(Philip and Iain laugh).
Iain: Even more traumas…laughing.
Philip: So at that level you’re never going to resolve things. It’s always going to be one process after another process. What I think you notice at a certain point is what you are is always there, independent of any process so, you can do all the spiritual exercises you want and that will happen in your particular drama or movie. Whatever’s on your particular film, might happen to include being a Whirling Dervish, it might include meditating, it might include going to church. Whatever’s right for you will happen but at a certain point you’ll notice that what you really are has always been there, almost at right angles to that line of time.
The great stillness isn’t along here, (his arm moves along an imaginary line from right to left), waiting to be realized. The great stillness was looking out from your eyes right from the beginning. So it’s almost like…. on the line of time you exhaust the process, you exhaust the process of looking for something in time, until you actually come to the realization that it isn’t time, it’s always been looking out through your eyes.
Iain: Dr. Roles died and in the last year of his life you talk quite a lot in the book about how he saw things differently from…..it had been a bottom up approach and he now saw it as a top down approach.
Philip: Yeah. I was sort of aware in his last year in particular, that he was getting very frustrated with us, because for a long time he had taught the Ouspensky system, the Ouspensky-Gurdjieff system, then he gradually introduced the Advaita in to it. For a long time I think he tried to look at Advaita from an Ouspensky point of view and then he suddenly realised that the Advaita viewpoint was completely different to the Ouspensky one. He described the Ouspensky teaching as a bottom up system and Advaita as top down.
So the more he went into this, the more he discovered, and the more he tried to convey to us something new he’d discovered but I could see him getting really frustrated because we kept going back to the old metaphors and then almost a day before he died, almost his last words were something like, ‘ We’ve had everything upside down and back to front. The need now is for simplicity, there’s only one consciousness. The levels…the levels of impediment to that consciousness is…everything is that consciousness, that is what we have to feel and know.’
So, that was like his parting message, everything is that consciousness. There’s only one consciousness. Back then it was quite a radical thing to say, nowadays, almost everyone is saying it…(Iain agrees). So my particular interest back then, that was 1982, was what worked away in me, was to discover what he meant. I wanted to find what he had discovered.
Iain: Yeah, one thing you talk again about in the book, is when you were writing a paper with Peter Fenwick and Peter Fenwick got you to be really precise with the language, because it’s so difficult to get…even writing one sentence, you can get caught and get the wording slightly wrong, which gives you an impression. I don’t know whether you remember what that case was?
Philip: I remember it. Yeah..probably can’t remember the exact words…I probably can actually. I’d been working with Peter Fenwick for quite a few years, writing papers and doing meetings and we used to write the paper together. I used to go over to his house for supper and then by the end of the day we’d have a paper done. One day I wrote the paper before I went to him and I wrote, ‘We have a responsibility to manifest the truth,’ and he said, ‘The paper’s great apart from that one phrase.’ So I was able to pick out that phrase that responsibility implied a sense of separateness, a dual-ship, so he made me take…he made me find out what I’d done wrong and then I removed it. Then we never worked together again, because he’d played his role.
Iain: This precision of how you say and how you think and how you write is so important, isn’t it?
Iain: Yeah…and I’m just picking things out that interest me from the biography here and you started to research an aspect of the Advaita teaching known as Antahkara.
Iain: Yes, which I haven’t heard that name before, but it’s like the inner vehicle of the soul. Just talk us through that.
Philip: Yeah…in the Advaita tradition, there are different levels of identity. For many people you don’t need all these levels, you just need the sense of oneness and people get it instantly. But in most non-dual traditions reality is portrayed as manifesting through a series of levels, all be it metaphorical. It’s a bit like from the bottom up, there appears to be lots of levels, from the top down there aren’t any levels, there’s just Oneness.
And, with the individual, again this is traditional Advaita, the way the one consciousness manifests as an individual is through, what’s known as the inner vehicle. So, Antah…karana, Kar, the word Kar is….in India they have these big temple chariots called Kars and we get our word motorcar from it, which is a vehicle for a motor! Whereas Aham in Sanskrit, which means I, just the pure sense of I, so Ahamkara means vehicle for your sense of I. So inner vehicle is the Indian equivalent of the Christian concept of a soul, so, it’s like, yes it’s a vehicle through which consciousness manifests as an individual in the drama of consciousness.
If you’re going for total Oneness then you don’t even get stuck at the Antahkarana. It’s quite a useful in life, it’s quite a useful thing in understanding the mechanism.
Iain: So it’s not who we really are ultimately…
Philip: It’s not who you really are.
Iain: …but it’s like a half-way house, is that right somehow?
Philip: Yeah, yeah. Some people need a half-way house, (Iain agrees), other people don’t. But it’s quite a useful way of explaining things to people who want explanations. Ultimately, anything less than the whole, the totality, is a limitation.
Iain: Yes, yes, and in the school I’ve been in for many years, it’s known as the personal essence. And I found that remarkably helpful actually and it took me a long time to realize that wasn’t ultimately who I was, but on a human level it helps to take me away from the gross identification of the I. So..it has for me anyway…yeah, it has a value it’s very useful.
Philip: In the Ouspensky tradition they had essence and personality you see. Essence is a deeper sense of Self but it’s still not the ultimate.
Iain: Yes, yes, and this book points out this thing here where you, after Turning you would maybe…. you would be having personal relationship problems with your girlfriend at the time, whatever (Philip laughs). You go in to Turning, you’d be in a curse, you would come out of it half-an-hour later and someone would say to you, ‘Are you okay Philip?’ And you would say, ‘What a preposterous question. Of course I’m all right!’ It’s like it kind of…what would happen, would it dissolve or would you realize who you really were or…?
Philip: That particular occasion was very powerful. It was when I was twenty-eight and I was always having romantic traumas back then. (Laughs). But it was after a big relationship break up and it probably was the worse day of my life, I think.
Then I went and Turned and the next day I went and Turned in the Mukabele, the ceremony and by the end of it I just felt so happy and I knew I was having a trauma but the trauma was all going on over there somewhere, (points away from himself), and I was just in this great happiness and the lady, a good friend of mine called Annie, came up to me and said to me, ‘Are you all right?’ and I thought what a ridiculous question. (Iain and Philip laugh).
The trauma was over there (again pointing away from himself), and it is Turning, which is such a lovely way of accessing the great stillness that then manifests in time and space as a great happiness.
Iain: And the way of course, the trauma is always over there. If it’s anywhere, it’s over there but we forget somehow don’t we? We get so absorbed in the trauma and the drama, the dramas of the situation, that it seems that we are consumed by it.
Philip: Yeah…There’s a lovely metaphor I heard Timothy Freke say, ‘Life is like a journey from A to B, and on that journey you’ll go through swamps and jungles and deserts and the open road and everyone sort of has that journey. And when you’re on the open road and everyone thinks, you think, ‘Oh, I’m really enlightened and I’m doing really well,’ and then suddenly you find yourself in the inevitable swamp again and things don’t look so bright.’ So, Life has a way, however much you think you’ve gone beyond it or you’ve transcended suffering, Life knows how to put you right back in it again. So, it’s like, never get complacent about it. It can always draw you back in again, if that’s part of the movie.
Iain: And you of course had a good example of this because you got very sick didn’t you, you got Lymes disease, which….
Philip: Yeah, yeah.
Iain: …really knocked you out at times.
Philip: Yes. I had about twenty-one years of illness, which before that, I remember a friend and I both got ill at the same time and we were probably a bit too blissful for our own good I think. Then we suddenly got this illness, which was completely overpowering. Life could suddenly look very bleak and so it was almost like the non-dual realization had to permeate down through all different aspects of life…so…you almost have to go into the bleak places, as the dark places as well as the other place, then you start to see them both as the same thing but you have to go there.
Iain: Yes, on a human level that’s quite challenging at times….
Philip: That’s quite challenging…it has been challenging.
Iain: Yes, and you talk about there’s four levels don’t you? Just explain the four levels.
Philip: That’s in the Advaita tradition again, if you just want Oneness forget this (both of them laugh), just go for Oneness, but if you want, again….how consciousness manifests as a creation…. In the Christian tradition they have, in the early Christian church they had body, soul and spirit and that’s a very good concept, because if you’re just a body-soul, then God is (points upward) up there somewhere with body, soul and spirit, God and your deepest identity is one and the same thing. So, your spirit is the same as the universal spirit. In the Advaita tradition they have Physical, Subtle, Causal and Divine. Physical is flesh and bones (he smacks his leg), body and world. Subtle is your psyche, so that’s your feeling and thinking processes, so it’s also, it’s the dream world at night. So it’s private to you and that’s sort of what’s often referred to I think, in Zen as the mind-body mechanism and for many people the identity stops at the mind-body mechanism. So, if somebody says, ‘Who are you?’ You will both identify with both body and mind, but when you’re thinking and when you’re feeling, there’s also, an awareness behind that of the thinking and the feeling. It’s what we talked about earlier. There’s an identity behind the moving mind, behind the changing personality which doesn’t change, which is always still and that equates in the Advaita tradition of the Causal level and it’s also the realm of dreamless sleep. So sleep with dreams at night, when you’re in this dream world is Subtle level and then at a certain point that disappears and there’s total timelessness. When you go into deep sleep or meditation there’s no time at all. So, you can fall asleep at midnight and wake up at seven and it’s like it’s almost instantaneous, no time has happened. That’s referred to as the Causal level and the Divine level is really just a fuller understanding of that and the Divine refers to the ground of All Being. With the Causal, it’s like you’ve accessed this inner stillness and you’re looking out on the world from the point of view of stillness, like I described in the dining hall at school, but there’s still a subtle subject-object because there’s still…. you’re stillness looking out on the manifest world. With the Divine, it’s like the subject and object duality collapses and you realize that everything you perceive as external is actually taking place within this stillness, that is yourself.
Iain: I think that, that is also known as the Absolute-is that right?
Iain: Yes…and you find these four levels still helpful or do you feel that now that’s not relevant to you?
Philip: I find them really helpful still, really helpful and when you’re explaining this again, it is a wonderful metaphor to use. And it’s so brilliant at understanding different aspects of life and things like suffering and all the things that happen.
Iain: Yes, yeah, I almost feel we should make a separate program about how you handled your illness because it brought up so many things and so there’s many…so much depth there but one of the things I really liked was the way that you and I think we all have that as part of the aging process too, for me certainly, you can’t do what you used to do and you find things that bring you joy. I love the stories that you talk about the two main things you found that brought you joy when you were so ill was that..if you remember what they are, so…..
Philip: They were dinosaur hunting…..
Iain: Dinosaur hunting! And there was one about things being swept down the river. So, talk about the dinosaur hunting, that’s tremendous stuff.
Philip: I love dinosaur hunting. I’ve always loved looking for things and finding things. It’s a bit like….a metaphor for the whole drama of consciousness, how consciousness manifests as apparent separateness and then it has to rediscover itself. When I was younger I used to love climbing mountains in the snow and things and when I got poorly I couldn’t do that anymore, but I could still walk along my favourite bit of beach looking for dinosaur bones. This became such an absorbing passion that soon I was often discovering whole skeletons embedded in the hard rock.
Iain: That’s right, you’ve got this story, you found this whole skeleton..was it whole?
Iain: It’s a fossil, not the actual…
Philip: It’s a fossil. I found first of all….I found lots and lots of bones, great limb bones and vertebra. Once I was walking along with a girlfriend on the beach and I just found this, and I said, ‘Oh, I’ve found a vertebra.’ It was just a single vertebra in the clay and I got my chisel out and started chiseling away and then it became another vertebra, and then it became another one and it became another one and I thought, ‘Oh, I’ve got a row of vertebra,’ and then I suddenly found ribs were going off it and I thought, ‘ Hang on, I’ve got a skeleton here.’ Then this very famous fossil hunter called Steve Etches came along, he caught me at it and he said, ‘ Oh dear,’ he said,’ you’re doing what the Victorians do, you’re just collecting the backbone.’
So then, he helped me excavate the whole thing and you have to chisel out a huge, huge great, sort of slab. You have to dig a trench in the rock with chisels. It took about a couple of weeks to do and then you get chisels underneath the slabs and eventually it comes up in sections, then you had to get a boat to carry it back down the beach.
Iain: So, you’ve got a dinosaur at home now?
Philip: I’ve actually got friends looking after the dinosaur at the moment. (He laughs).
I had to move house a couple of years ago to a smaller house, so most of my dinosaurs are being looked after at the moment.
Iain: And how old is that Dinosaur then?
Philip: She’s 150 million years, give or take a million.
Iain: It’s extraordinary.
Philip: I’ve got about, probably, bits of fifty different reptiles and dinosaurs. It’s a wonderful thing to do. It’s so wonderful, you sort of get the chisel under a slab and then you lift it up and you just don’t know what’s going to be underneath it. a bit like opening your Christmas presents.
Iain: And the other thing you loved doing was I think, it’s the Medway, there was……
Philip: Oh yeah, clay pipes.
Iain: Yes, clay pipes you used to find.
Philip: I used to stay with some friends in the Medway and they’d dug up several clay pipes in their gardens, beautiful things, like models, like acorns. So, I started researching, that how in Victorian times, rubbish was taken down the Thames in barges and then it was dumped into these muddy creeks in the Medway towns and places like Sittingbourne. So, I’d go off exploring all these muddy creeks and you’d find all the Victorian rubbish, just oozing out of the ground in the muddy banks. The thing I did love was the clay pipes, because in the late nineteenth century they were very ornate and they had famous peoples’ heads as the bowl. So it was people like Lord Baden-Powell and Buffalo Bill. It was just so fascinating. (Iain laughs).
Iain: Yes…Well I’m going to invite you back because in a way we’ve only covered part of your story and it’s almost like the highlights. So, if you are able to do that I’d love to invite you back.
Philip: I’d love to, thank you.
Iain: Also we need to make a separate program about the Turning. My idea was to get some fellow Turners and also some footage, just make a whole program there. I’m looking at the clock and the element of time, which is the bottom of the four levels is unfortunately catching up with you…catching up with us.
So Philip, I want to thank you very much for coming in to Conscious TV and I’m going to show your two books again. ‘Being the Teaching of Advaita: A Basic Introduction’ and ‘One Self: Life as a Means of Transformation.’ I think from memory this is the one that has quite a lot about your illness and about how you handled that. Someone who is a bit poorly, as you put it and you were more than a bit poorly at times. This is such an insight in to how to handle very difficult physical situations. Thank you again Philip.
Philip: Thank you very much.
Iain: And thank you everyone out there for watching Conscious TV and I hope we see you again soon. Goodbye.
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