Bart Marshall – Only This Emptiness
Interview by Iain McNay
Iain: Hello and welcome again to Conscious TV. I’m Iain McNay and today my guest is Bart Marshall.
Bart: Hello Iain.
Iain: And we actually first invited Bart about 4 or 5 years ago – he’s on a list of people and, every now and again, we check whether they’re coming to the UK. And then he decided to come to the UK on a fleeting visit to Ireland, which is brilliant, so he’s in the studio with us today. And what I’ve also liked very much is a book by David Newman, who was very much helped by Bart; he mentions Bart quite a few times, David, when he had an opening that was quite difficult for him a few years ago. So that gave me an extra incentive to meet and interview Bart.
Bart himself has a book out, which is called ‘The Perennial Way’, and it’s new English versions of various sutras. Which is a book that you dip in and out of but it’s something that I’m enjoying reading bits and pieces of. And maybe we’ll get Bart to read something from here later on.
So we’re going to talk about your life, where you are, reality, enlightenment, whatever else comes up…
Bart: [laughs] That covers a lot of territory, doesn’t it?!
Iain: … we’ll keep it an open space.
I’d like to start with the Vietnam War…
Iain: … because you were a soldier – was it a soldier?
Iain: – in the Vietnam War. What was that like? You must’ve been conscripted and quite young…
Bart: No, actually I was a young, dumb volunteer. I volunteered 5 or 6 times to get to the “belly of the beast,” as I call it. I figured, as long as I was going in, I would get to the essence of what war and soldiering was all about. And that’s something you’re only curious about when you’re very young, which is why armies are made up of very young men.
Bart: You get a little bit older and that seems kind of stupid. But at the time I was in that phase of life where you’re after adventure and think you can’t be killed. So I joined Special Forces and volunteered for Vietnam, and once there I volunteered for special missions within Special Forces, and just generally did enough stupid things that I should have been killed but somehow managed to not be. But what good came out of it for me, was that at the very end of my tour – I only had two weeks left on my tour – I was wounded in such a way – I was blown up – that it propelled me into an infinite, clear blackness that felt like home. And that really marks the beginning of my spiritual journey. Before that I was this young, dumb kid who did what I just described. After that I was filled with questions about life and death and, from then on, I was seeking what, 37 years later, finally was granted.
Iain: You also – on some notes I picked up from various places you talked about time would stop – in the firefights – time would stop…
Bart: Oh yes.
Iain: … talk about that. With someone who doesn’t understand anything about spiritual matters, what that was like at the time. Time would stop.
Bart: It quite literally did. I think the mind stopped. I think when things were very intense in a firefight and you can hear the bullets cracking like popcorn above your head, and the foliage is falling on you because the leaves are being shredded by the bullets, and there is nothing else going on, no other thoughts are possible, and so it’s just one of many ways that the mind can be stopped, that your head can be stopped. It’s not one that is prescriptive – you wouldn’t tell a seeker to go out and get yourself under fire – but if you happen to find yourself in a situation like that, one of the side-effects of it can be that the mind stops, time stops, everything stops. Now I had no paradigm, no framework, within which that made any sense whatsoever. I could only report the fact of it - that there was only now, that there really was nothing other than right this fraction of a second now. And I couldn’t ever forget that this is possible, that this is an experience that can happen.
Iain: And was that a thought that you shared with your fellow soldiers?
Bart: Enough to realise that they did not have my same level of curiosity or experience.
Bart: And that’s continued to be the case. Sometimes I have run across other soldiers who have had similar experiences, where they would have… let’s just call it a spiritual opening of some kind during battle, but that’s relatively rare. But it’s something that I think can happen for some people.
Iain: What’s it like to shoot a gun – machine gun, or whatever you –
Iain: – and realise you’re killing people? What’s the feeling?
Bart: That was very difficult for me, actually, even though I put myself in a position where that was what was expected. Something inside me rebelled against that and I didn’t want to do it, even as I was doing it. And, in the case of the Vietnam War, I never had to actually see someone who I was shooting at, which is fortunate, because of the jungle foliage. I operated in the jungle mountains and we were generally just shooting in the direction of where we thought the bullets were coming from, and very rarely even got glimpses of the enemy, let alone take a direct bead on him.
But I did not go to shoot and kill. I went to put myself in danger of being killed. That’s something that I’ve learned recently, relatively recently, years after I’d been there. What I was after was the experience of being in life-and-death jeopardy myself, not in being someone who was going to take someone’s life. That was something that I didn’t want to do.
Iain: So unconsciously, you realise now, you were putting yourself in this situation of life and death, to experience that.
Bart: Yes, yes.
Iain: Wow, that’s quite a realisation, isn’t it?
Bart: Yes, yes. I didn’t realise that’s what I was up to at the time but that was it.
Iain: Yeah. And when this shell landed near you and you got injured, you talked about “clear and brilliant blackness that felt like home. I would have gladly stayed in that blackness.”
Iain: Just tell us what you can remember about that.
Bart: It was this absolute comfort. Absolute, I would say, being embraced by the blackness. Held in a loving way by the blackness. And it was… the infinite aspect of it was also extremely compelling. Ordinarily when we think of blackness we think of a cloistered kind of blackness, like being in a coal mine, or without lights or something. But it wasn’t a cloistered blackness. There was the sensation that this was everything and it went on forever. It was black but also full of light. There was light lighting blackness but nothing was visible because there was nothing to reflect the light. So there was a feeling of light within infinite blackness and that light held you as well. But there was nothing to see and nothing to experience because there was nothing for light to reflect off of, nothing for mind to reflect off of.
Bart: And, coming out of it was just… A pinpoint of light started to appear and pulsate in an upper corner of experience. And it gradually pulsated a little bit more, and a little bit brighter, and a little bit brighter. And then a sound became associated with it and eventually I could hear that it was my name, someone saying my name, and it was one of the Montagnards who was with me, one of our troops, and he was saying, “Sergeant Marshall! Sergeant Marshall!” And that started pulling me back into… life. And, when I opened my eyes, he said, “I think you dead!” He meant “I thought you were dead”, but I thought “I think I’m dead too!”
Bart: [both laugh] This is, you know, that’s what it was. It was death – and it was beautiful.
Iain: Mm. But that changed something in you quite dramatically, didn’t it?
Bart: Absolutely. Nothing was ever the same after that. I couldn’t be that same person who had gone into the “soldiering’ experience.” It was the times… it was the late 60s when I came home and so drugs and spirituality were very much a part of the culture then. And gurus were appearing from India and that sort of thing. And LSD, I took LSD a number of times. And all of this sort of fed into that experience. I was looking for an explanation for that experience, and Eastern philosophy seemed to reflect that. I could find echoes there - I think they’re talking about that... And LSD gave me insights as well.
Bart: So I was dumped into a milieu, a milieu where I was allowed to be a seeker. It was sort of, “easy” to look into this experience, whereas if it had happened in the 40s, or something, all this would not have been available to me. The possible explanations were not as easily available.
Iain: So would it be true to say that you were trying again to find that experience of the blackness?
Bart: Yes. Although at that point, I think it would be an overstatement to say I was looking to duplicate it or get back to it. But I wanted to understand what it was and what my place in it was. I was still very much a self, still very much a separate entity that wanted to understand things and know things, and that thought it was separate from the blackness. And so I think my goal then was to understand, so that this which still lived [indicates himself] could understand what happened.
Bart: It was only later – actually much later when the final experience happened – that I became that, and that’s much different than understanding it. [laughs]
Iain: So you tried TM and Zazen and –
Bart: Oh yes, absolutely.
Iain: And was there anything that was particularly helpful, in terms of it took you to a depth that you understood this more?
Bart: Hmm… I was so eclectic in my search – I looked in every corner and turned over every rock. There was no one thing I could point to. I stuck with TM for quite a while. I never was a TM teacher but I went to a 6-week teacher training thing with Maharishi, and that sort of thing. But I think, as we talked about last night, I think the overriding thing that pushed me through all of this and finally culminated in something happening was this one-pointed desire to understand what was going on. And other things just started to fall away. The different steps that I took along the way, I think, are much less important than the impetus and the momentum that made me take steps, regardless of what they were.
I looked into a lot of, what now appear to me, very foolish places to look, but I’m not worried about that now. You know, being a fool for God doesn’t matter. Some of the books I bought and looked into and some of the things I thought were worth studying are ridiculous to me now! But there’s no regrets, everything works in the direction of waking up, if your desire is to wake up. The Divine will place in your path those things which you need to pass through in order to wake up. As long as you have this one-pointed desire.
Iain: “Being a fool for God doesn’t matter.”
Iain: That’s a great quote! [both laugh] I think we all do foolish things on the search, don’t we?
Bart: Don’t we! Yeah.
Iain: At the time they just seem… the right thing to do!
So, after about 20 years, you hit a kind of a wall.
Iain: So what was that like? You, kind of, you tried really hard, in your own way, to understand and you hit a wall. So what was that like, that wall?
Bart: Well, as I said, I was doing lots of different things, looking into every avenue I could think of that might bear fruit, and there came a point where I thought I’d done everything I thought I could do, and it just hadn’t worked. And I thought “Well, it’s just not going to happen for me. Whatever it is that these masters are talking about, it’s not for me. You know, it’s not going to be part of my life.” And I, kind of, threw up my hands. But it wasn’t a genuine surrender, it was a sour grapes sort of thing. “OK, well if I can’t have it, then I don’t want it! To hell with you, I’m going back to a ‘normal’ life!”
Iain: So it was a reaction against?
Bart: It was a reaction against. Right. An “I’ve wasted 20 years!” kind of feeling, rather than a genuine surrender of any kind. I would look at my bookshelf with hundreds of spiritual books on it and I had no interest in pulling any of them off the shelf. I would sit in meditation and feel frustrated and think “Why am I doing this? This is stupid, it doesn’t work!” So it was those sorts of feelings. And I just stopped. And I didn’t want to talk about it anymore, I didn’t want to read anything about it. I didn’t want to make any gestures in that direction. I felt like my efforts had been spurned by the Divine and so now [laughs] I’m not going to work on Maggie’s Farm no more!
Bart: Yeah. And so I stayed in that place for… it wasn’t really very long. If I say a year, you know, it might have been a year. But it was a very fruitful place to be, in the sense that I left myself open for the next big thing that would happen for me. And that was meeting Richard Rose. That was the Divine’s gesture back to me. I was rejecting going to any teachings or lectures, or anything like that, and when a friend at work tried to get me to go to this lecture by someone who said they had spent some time with a Zen master, I said, “No, I don’t want to go.” But then the videotape of that lecture was given to me, and I watched it, and it was a tape of someone talking about Richard Rose.
And so he came into my life and – wow! Here was a teacher that I could work with. And my 5 years that I spent studying with, and about, Rose, I think, was very instrumental in putting my feet solidly on a path that would get me there. He didn’t have the specific thing that he taught. He taught a meta-path: how to be a seeker. How to hold your head in such a way that grace might smile upon you.
Iain: That’s the thing, isn’t it: grace might smile upon you!
Bart: Might smile upon you.
Iain: No guarantees!
Bart: No guarantees, right. Nothing works, that’s the… We do all these things hoping that something’s going to work, that all of a sudden we’ll stumble on that “right” thing that works, and finally we discover that nothing works. These are just things that we’re doing while we’re waiting for grace to either smile upon us or not.
Iain: And what were the things that he did to help you to hold your head up while you waited?
Bart: I think one of the things was what I’ve mentioned before a couple of times about becoming a sure vector in the direction that you want to go. Instead of having a lot of scattered desires in life, which we all do – we want to be comfortable financially, we want to have relationships, we want to have families, we want to do well in our job, we want admiration, we want all these different things, we want lots of things to feed back into the character, that reinforce the character. And the Divine is kind, it says, “OK, I’m going to try to give you all those things, but if you want Truth at the same time it’s going to be really hard. But if you want Truth at all costs, if you’re willing to let those other things fall away, if you want Truth at all costs, that I can give you relatively quickly.”
Iain: And what did “Truth at all costs” mean to you?
Bart: It meant surrendering the desire for anything else. I didn’t have to physically surrender anything, that was not asked, but I had to be ready to have it taken from me.
Iain: You’re, kind of, letting go, can we say that?
Bart: Yes. I talk about – I think one of the cornerstones of any spiritual path is prayer. And by prayer I mean a constant communion with whatever one considers the higher power. The higher power is not the character, is not the small self, obviously, we all know that, we all intuit that. We don’t do. Things that come into our life come unbidden, whether they’re good or bad, we know that. We do very small actions for very large things to come into our life. Something else is doing that. I just say “Stay in constant contact with that power, that’s where the power is.”
You know, you can talk to it any way you want, you can call it any kind of bad name you want, you can curse it, but just recognise that that is where the power lies. And constantly ask for what it is that you want. And, if you want Truth, constantly ask for that and say, “I want Truth at all costs and I’m willing to have anything be taken from my life that is blocking that. Any obstructions to that, please take it from me. This is my prayer: whatever blocks Truth, take it from me.” The willingness to have that taken away.
Iain: Are you praying to anything or anyone specifically, or prayer just to life?
Bart: One might say prayer to life, but I feel that it’s… Ultimately – you don’t realise this until after that prayer is answered – ultimately, you are praying to yourself, you’re praying to that which you truly are. But it feels more like a prayer that’s going this way [indicates movement towards his own chest], even as you pray it feels like it’s going this way. Because I think we all intuit that this is where God is [indicates chest], God is not in some heaven or some distant universe, God resides here. And, even before realisation, we know that, something knows that. And this is where you pray, into the innermost, capital “H” Here, ground zero, the GPS point of whatever we consider “Here,” the closest we can get. And that’s where the prayer is directed.
And if the prayer is one-pointed, and you only have one prayer, it literally can be answered instantly.
Iain: Because you also, in notes I’ve picked up, you went through a period of borderline depression, as you called it.
Iain: Was that before or after Richard Rose?
Bart: It was after Richard Rose.
Iain: Yeah. So he got Alzheimers, didn’t he, after 5 years?
Bart: He did.
Iain: He couldn’t teach you anymore.
Bart: I was in my mid-40s when I met him and he was, you know, getting on up in years. And so I only had 5 years of him being a viable teacher where I could communicate with him. And then he was stricken with Alzheimers, which was a koan for me. You know, a Zen master and an enlightened man, how can he have Alzheimers and have his mind taken from him? It was something I didn’t understand.
Bart: But I came to understand that it’s just another way for the body to die and that enlightenment doesn’t protect you from things, doesn’t protect you from anything, doesn’t protect the body from anything.
Bart: And so it really has nothing to do with that which Rose truly was, and that which we all truly are. It’s nothing to do with what the body is up to. And so after that 5 years, as Rose deteriorated, I still, of course, was doing everything I could think of on my own. And, again, reached a point where I hit a wall. It wasn’t the same as that wall we previously just talked about, it was a totally different kind of wall. I’d come to understand everything that could be understood by the mind about that which we call spiritual, and that put me in a position of not being able to believe in the world anymore. Nothing that I had been taught did I believe anymore. In other words, I came to the point of not knowing anything, being completely uncertain of everything, being completely in doubt about everything that I ever thought I knew, and yet I didn’t know the Truth. And so there’s this very… uncomfortable place, that I call being “a man without a country,” where I no longer had my former life and my former beliefs and my former world, and I had nothing to replace it with.
Iain: It’s a no-man-land – a no-person-land.
Bart: A no-person-land, exactly.
Bart: And along with that was a feeling of hopelessness, that this was an unresolvable condition. And, here again, I don’t have a good sense of time but I’ll say a couple of years, this probably lasted for a couple of years.
Iain: And you just had to keep going, I guess.
Bart: Just had to keep going because there is no return route.
Bart: You know, it’s like being on a transatlantic flight, you know, solo flight, and you reach a point where you don’t have enough gas to get back. There’s no way back, you have to go forward. And so that’s the good thing about it, you have to either redouble your efforts and resolve to move forward or… I guess you could just give up and collapse and become a puddle, but I don’t think that’s what happens to most people who hit that point, you just have to go forward. There is no resolution except forward at all costs.
Iain: You keep trying in your own way –
Bart: You keep trying in your own way.
Iain: – and looking, and try to be open.
Bart: Yeah. And, for me – here, again, the hand of the Divine is in everything, I say that all the time - things happened that made me redouble my efforts at that point. After a couple of years of desperation and feeling depressed, or whatever.
I should back up just a little bit. Richard Rose was a marvelously committed teacher. His whole life was dedicated to “passing it on,” as he said, and the only thing he ever wanted in return was to see the fruits of that labour, to see some of his students wake up, and he was well into Alzheimers and that had not happened. But at a certain point, when he had had Alzheimers for 3 or 4 years, students of his started to wake up.
And so friends of mine, who I had been studying under Rose with, started waking up – and you’ve interviewed a couple of them.
Iain: Bob Ferguson and Art Ticknor, yeah.
Bart: Bob Ferguson and Art Ticknor, and there were a couple of others in that same time frame. And this had a marvelous effect on me. On the one hand, I was incredibly jealous: So what am I? Chopped liver?! You know? [both laugh] These guys were waking up, you know, why not me? And I got really…! [clenches fists] Of course, I was also really happy for them, obviously, it’s wonderful! This is real! I knew these guys before, and now I see that they have what I’ve wanted all these years. So that had this effect of propelling me.
Iain: You saw a possibility.
Bart: Yeah. It became tangible in a way that it never had done before.
Iain: Yeah, yeah, I understand.
Bart: Because, “Oh my God, these are regular guys like me!” You know, I think we all have this idea, even if we’re really hot and heavy on the spiritual path, we all have this idea that it’s for special people and it’s for these ancient masters that have now become iconic and have religions named after them and everything. We secretly don’t think we’re worthy, even though we’re going at it tooth and nail, we secretly don’t think we’re worthy.
There’s something about having, “ordinary people,” your friends who you know a lot about, start to wake up. You say “Wait a minute, this is for everybody, this can be for me, this can really happen!”
Bart: So I think that was a very valuable experience on my path.
Iain: So you ended up flying to England…
Bart: I did.
Iain: … to Salisbury. Which is interesting because Renate and I are good friends with Gillian and Catherine Noyce, who produced this book, among other books, ‘David in Salisbury’, so we know Salisbury.
Bart: Oh yeah.
Iain: Yeah. So tell us what happened. You flew to Salisbury for a long weekend…
Bart: Well, there was another part of this “final push,” you might say. At the time I was in my late 50s and Richard Rose had always said, always taught, “if this doesn’t happen to you before you’re 30, you might as well forget it”. And then his students got older –
Iain: Is that what he said?!
Bart: He said, “This is for young…” His point was that, at a certain point in life, your head begins to harden and you think you are who you are and you’re no longer flexible and open to new information, nor are you… I think, in his words “your head hardens” is the best I can say.
Bart: And he thought that happened around 30. And then, when his students got a little older, he upped it to 40 but he never went beyond that. And I didn’t meet him until I was 44, 45 or something, so I already thought that I was, you know, a hopeless case. And by the time I was in my late 50s, I really felt desperate – and part of that hopelessness I described earlier was my age. But I went on, I said, “OK, I’ve got one more push in me”. And part of that final push was to go to a workshop with Douglas Harding in Salisbury, 10 years ago almost exactly.
And that proved to be the final straw. The workshop was marvelous. Meeting Douglas was absolutely wonderful, this incredible man, incredible teacher. Then on the plane ride back from the workshop, coming back to the States, 30,000 feet over the Atlantic, what I had been asking for for 37 years was finally given.
Iain: So what actually happened?
Bart: Well I might back up a few hours before that… The previous day –
Iain: Sorry to interrupt…
Bart: Not at all.
Iain: … but maybe we’ll just explain briefly that – I met Douglas once many years ago before he died, and we do have a programme on Conscious TV by Richard Lang –
Iain: – because he – it’s ‘The Headless Way’.
Iain: So we don’t need to go into the detail of what he did but just talk us through, kind of, what you feel was the important thing that happened. If you can.
Bart: Well, I’ll say 3 things that I think were important, for me. And one, of course, is Douglas’ teachings, which I was familiar with before I went. And that is, as you say, “The Headless Way.” It’s a kinetic way of understanding Truth, or experiencing Truth, which is our experience, always. And that is that this is just clear emptiness within which the world arises. And that is our everyday experience: there is no face here, there is no head here. There are mirrors and reflective surfaces that tell us there is, but that is not our first-person, present tense, right now experience, which is always emptiness filled by the world.
Right now, for instance, I honestly can say that I am not Bart, I am Iain. That’s what fills me, that is what fills this emptiness. And Douglas has a marvelous set of experiments, as he called them, that keep pointing at that, that keep pointing at that.
And there’s a couple of different levels that we can experience that on. One is an understanding level, you kind of say at first it’s a ridiculous notion that “of course I have a head, of course I have a face!” And then there’s this point where you, sort of admit, “No, you know what, I have to admit I’ve never seen my actual face, I’ve never seen my actual head. I’ve only seen, out there in the illusory world, I have seen a reflection, or what is called a reflection, of it. I’ve never actually seen the real thing, I have to admit he has a point.” And so there’s an intellectual realisation: “I have to admit, I’ve never seen my face, I’ve never seen the actual face.” And so that’s an interesting point to come to.
But then there’s another point where you have an experience of that, an expansive experience of headlessness, which happened to me in a restaurant. I was having dinner with a friend where, suddenly, I was non-locatable. I wasn’t here [indicates body] anymore, I was actually the entire space, my identity just shifted to that entire space and was not attached to a body or particular proximity point. And that was exhilarating for… however long, 10 or 15 seconds perhaps. And then something inside says “Well this is nice but I really should be getting back!” and wanted to come back to the safety of this solidity. So that’s an experience of headlessness.
But, when the final thing happens, there is what I would call a permanent headlessness, where you literally can’t identify here with any solidity anymore, and what Douglas points to in his experiments becomes your constant experience of headlessness.
I think that - getting back to to the workshops – that’s a very powerful teaching, a very direct way of pointing at Truth, so that’s a powerful part of what happened for me.
And then I think that the workshop experience itself, which was… I came into it as a judging entity, that had my own opinions and I looked around at the people who were gathered at this workshop and my immediate impression was “these are not my people, these are not serious spiritual seekers in the way that I think I’m a serious seeker,” and I had judgments about them. And, over the course of 2 or 3 days, that all fell away and I loved every one for exactly who they were. And, I think, that was very powerful for me. Something in me, that judging entity, went away. And with it, I think, the self itself, the entity itself, was severely weakened.
Iain: It lightened, didn’t it?
Bart: Yeah, absolutely. That was so much a part… having judgments and opinions was so much a part of the character, so much a part of the entity itself…
Iain: Yeah, yeah.
Bart: …that, once that disappeared, there wasn’t much left.
Bart: And so it made me very vulnerable and then I had a – as I mentioned last night at dinner – when I said goodbye to Douglas he had a very powerful, single word parting advice for me, which was – I’ll try not to yell it in the microphone – but was “SIMPLIFY!” [pointing vigorously with finger].
Iain: And it was the first time he raised his voice all weekend, wasn’t it, I think you said to me.
Bart: Yes. Yes.
Bart: And I, sort of, staggered back to my room and, about a half hour later, had a… a genuine surrender was extracted from me in a… a wrenching crying session.
Bart: Where absolutely everything left. And I was convinced that I… I was actually apologetic for ever being a seeker. I apologised to God, the Divine, whatever, for whining all these years and asking for all these things when I’d been given so much and always just asked for more. And I decided “I don’t want anything else. Forget about this enlightenment stuff, you know. This is good, thank you, I’m done. And it was an extreme unburdening and, I think, if nothing had happened the next day I would have been completely happy to just stay in that space. I was done with seeking.
Bart: That’s one of the most marvelous things about waking up is you don’t have to be a seeker anymore.
Bart: But then, on the plane the next day, that which I had surrendered was given.
There’s a quote that I have here, which I think was around the same time, that you wrote: “Being the source of everything that is nothing. Everything and nothing, only this emptiness”.
Bart: That was, I think if I’m correct, that may have been one of the notes that I took on the airplane.
Iain: Yes, yeah. “Being the source of everything that is nothing. Everything and nothing, only this emptiness”.
Iain: Is that how you still feel?
Bart: Yes. Yes. This may be going a little afield from the question but – for me, anyway, I can only speak for myself – but there’s some kind of, we’ll call them “stages” after this kind of an experience, the final experience. What happens afterwards, for me, came in stages. And so, for about a month, that was everything. I could say, 30 days from that experience, that was all my entire experience. And that’s what I called “The Honeymoon Period.”
And then life starts to bleed back in and the character starts to come back in to say “Well yeah, I’d like to be a part of this as well, and there’s more life to be lived.” And so, after that, it starts to waft in and out, depending on how much engagement the world is requiring of you at a given instant would mitigate how much of the nothingness you might be feeling. If the world is demanding a lot of you, if you get some sort of urgency, or you’re in a hotly confrontational situation or something, the emptiness is in the background. But, as soon as that situation abates, the emptiness, again, is all there is.
So it’s a wafting in and out. There’s two ways of seeing and two ways of experiencing. You know the world very well, it’s what has been a part of your life and you know it very well, and you can interact with the world as if it’s something. You can still be very effective as an entity within the illusory world, but, at the same time, you know that it’s emptiness and you know that it’s illusory.
So initially, when I wrote that, the world was not there. It was just emptiness…
Bart: … it was just insubstantial, ephemeral emptiness in which a vision, an illusion, was arising. And it was marvelous, obviously. But when the illusion starts to take on importance in any way, when it demands your attention in some way, the emptiness recedes into the background for a moment and then it comes back. That’s how it is for me, anyway.
Iain: So, when the emptiness recedes and it comes back, is that an automatic process that it comes back?
Bart: Yeah, it’s just –
Iain: Self-regulating, in a way.
Bart: That’s the default. The default, is that there’s only This. This everythingness which is woven of emptiness is all there is. It’s just This. But then when This demands… an engagement, you know, a degree of interaction, and the character gets involved in joy, or suffering, or something like that, then that becomes what’s happening. It’s the chop wood, carry water kind of thing. But as soon as that engagement, as soon as that experiential thing subsides then the default comes back: so it’s just This. Only This.
Bart: It’s difficult. Two things, for me anyway, the two don’t coexist, they are back and forth. So, in other words, I’m engaged with you right now and, because we’re talking about spiritual matters, the emptiness is present. That’s the one kind of engagement that emptiness does not… give way to - when we’re talking about it. The other is solitude.
But, if you’re engaged in the marketplace and you’re engaged with people who are on a different wavelength, let’s say, the emptiness stays in the background.
Iain: But is there an awareness, from that emptiness, of what’s going on?
Bart: Oh yeah. Oh absolutely.
Iain: So there’s awareness of awareness, in a way.
Bart: Yeah, that’s –
Iain: That’s always running and never leaves you.
Bart: That’s always running and never leaves.
Iain: Yeah. Because we talked, again, and we kind of had a fairly lively discussion about the character last night.
Bart: Yeah. [laughs]
Iain: And your feeling is that your character hasn’t really changed very much. Character/personality/ego, shall we say.
Bart: Right. Yes.
Iain: Hasn’t really changed very much.
Bart: Yes. That’s my experience and observing other people who I know are awake – friends and… That’s my judgment about that as well. That’s a completely separate thing from that which you truly are. And it doesn’t change and it doesn’t have to change. You know, I think – what did Rose say one time? He said… I can’t remember, but it was something like “If you’re a son of a bitch before enlightenment, after enlightenment you’ll be an enlightened son of a bitch.” But it’s that sort of thing, the character traits have nothing to do with that which you truly are, and they don’t need to change. If anything, at some point you learn to love and accept that which you thought you had to get rid of in order to wake up. Because it just doesn’t have anything to do with that which you truly are.
Enlightenment doesn’t happen to the character. The character doesn’t get enlightened, it’s not something you get. The character disappears and that which you truly are is what is left, as all there is. And so the character gets nothing out of it, it doesn’t get changed in any way, it doesn’t get enhanced, none of the wiring gets cut, you don’t stop being angry when anger is called for. If anything, those kind of things are enhanced. The experience of life is enhanced. All the sensory mechanisms are more alive and more active. You might get more angry in an angry situation, I don’t know. There will be fewer things that would make you angry, I’ll say that, because everything becomes much funnier, it’s not anger-producing anymore, you know, life becomes very humorous.
But none of your capacities leave you, and none of your desires change. Your basic preferences and your basic desires are the same. You don’t suddenly want to become Mother Teresa or something. Your character stays intact. And that’s OK, there’s nothing wrong with it, it’s the rickety boat that got you to the other shore.
Iain: You see, my question which I asked last night, I’m going to ask it again: Is that truly the potential of consciousness? To leave the character with – I’m not saying… I’m asking it as a question because I don’t know the answer for myself – but we have more people, it seems, coming on Conscious TV these days, that talk about that waking up is the beginning of a journey, not the end of a journey. And it’s a wonderful thing to wake up to who you truly are because – what a relief! To know who you truly are…
Bart: Yeah, absolutely.
Iain: … to know you are the absolute, to know you are the background. But they also say that that’s the beginning of another journey. Because consciousness has created everything!
Iain: It’s not just the background. It’s actually the creator. Everything is consciousness!
Iain: So why stop the journey? Why say “I’ve woken up” and stop?
Bart: Right. Exactly, yeah, I couldn’t agree more. The way I talk about it, I say it’s, “On one hand, waking up is ‘game over’, but a new game begins.” And I think it’s fair to say that real spiritual work doesn’t start until you wake up. Now you can start to be of use. If consciousness, if the Divine has any purpose now you can be of use, because nothing gets in the way of it. You just say “yes” and know what needs to be done, and when you’re asked to do something you do it.
I’ve often said that, after waking up, life has become just following orders. The Divine shows me what to do, in various different ways, and I do it.
Bart: And that’s all there is to it. And the character is only asked to do that which this… the Divine’s got, you know… let’s put it this way: the Divine’s got a lot of people to work with, a lot of folks to work with, and so it’s only going to ask the Bart character to do things that the Bart character is equipped to do.
Iain: [laughs] I’m kind of getting this now! [Bart laughs] So, what you’re, kind of, saying is: a new journey does begin when you wake up and you feel, you know – David Newman, you’d better come on Conscious TV, the third plug for your book I’ve given! [both laugh] Because you helped him so much when he woke up. And you see Bart’s role, of the new adventurer, if you like, of helping people like David and coming along, taking time to chat with Conscious TV, just to offer what’s happened and what you have.
Bart: Right. But it’s nothing that comes from me. I have no desire to help people, I have no desire to be a teacher.
Bart: It’s just I do what I’m asked. In the case of David, for instance, a mutual friend of ours, Bruce Rubin, called me and said, “I have a friend who’s in a very dark place and – he’s a musician – he’s going to be doing a gig near where you live, would you be able to talk to him?” So this is the Divine, Bruce is the voice of the Divine in this case, asking me to do something.
Bart: So that’s how I take orders.
Bart: So you don’t say “no.” If the Divine says, “Can you go and give somebody some spiritual help?” you don’t say “no”!
Bart: And so I went to see David and started a wonderful friendship, which helped him wake up.
And coming on Conscious TV, as you said, you know, I got an invitation a number of years ago but had no plans to come to London. And then when our friend, Tess, invited Deborah and me to give an intensive in Ireland –
Iain: This is Tess Hughes, who’s also been on Conscious TV.
Bart: Yeah. She’s also been on Conscious TV.
Iain: Yeah, yeah.
Bart: And Tess said, “Oh, while you’re coming to Ireland, why don’t you go to London and get on Conscious TV?”
Bart: So I thought “Oh, that’s the second invitation, and this time I am actually going to the UK, so…”
Bart: This is how orders come down.
There’s a – we only have a few minutes left, I’m afraid time… I know you said last night time doesn’t exist, but I’m afraid it exists in a studio! [laughs]
Bart: Within the paradigm of the dream it does.
Iain: Yeah. And there’s a couple of quotes, again, I’ve pulled out from Richard Rose, he said, “There’s no recipe for a lightning bolt, enlightenment is always an accident, but there are ways of making yourself more accident-prone”.
Iain: And that’s the key, isn’t it? Making yourself more accident-prone.
I haven’t completed my own book of essays yet, I thought it was more important to, in the case of “The Perennial Way,” to make the voices of the Masters more accessible and, kind of, smooth over some of the things I thought had been gotten wrong in some of those ancient texts. And then my more recent book is “Christ Sutras,” which is all the words of Jesus, because he taught non-duality too - the Christian Church doesn’t, but Jesus did. So I thought it was important to do a book on that. And my third book is going to be my own writings but… Sorry, I lost the thread of the question now.
Iain: Well don’t worry, just…
Bart: All right.
Iain: … start again from now, because I’m looking at my notes here as well, so…
Bart: It was something about Richard Rose and – oh! making yourself more accident-prone.
Iain: Yes, yes.
Bart: The title of the book of essays that I’m doing is: “Becoming Vulnerable to Grace.” And so it’s my way of thinking about what we’re doing on the spiritual path is becoming more vulnerable to grace.
Bart: Because it’s always grace.
Iain: You do – we don’t have time to go into all this but… if people search this on the Internet, they’re going to find this because I found it quite easily – you give a list of (am I going to find the list? yeah). You give a list of 11 strategies. You haven’t got time to comment [Bart laughs] but I’m going to read them out, I think they’re good:
1) Absorb teachings
2) Assume authority
3) Focus intent
4) Cease knowing
5) Investigate personhood (Who am I?)
6) Practice in-looking (Where am I?)
7) Apprehend time (When am I?)
8) Abandon hope (that could be a whole subject in itself!) [Bart laughs]
9) Favour simplicity (Douglas Harding said to you: Simplify!)
10) Choose silence
11) Befriend death
They’re all wonderful things to explore.
We’ve got about three minutes left. What I would like in the last 3 minutes, I know you run a group – where are you based again…?
Bart: Raleigh, North Carolina.
Iain: Yeah, North Carolina. The Self-Inquiry Group. What does the Self-Inquiry Group do, just briefly?
Bart: Well, Deborah and I were teaching weekly meetings until about a year ago when we decided to stop that. We do intensives now, weekend workshops and intensives, and once a year we have a retreat – it’s really, kind of, a conference – where we invite other teachers, get 8 or 9, 10, sometimes 12, teachers, enlightened people all coming for one weekend to give a 90-minute talk each and interact with the participants. And that’s been wonderful. We’ve done that for the last 5 or 6 years. This year’s the first year that we haven’t done it for a while but the venue that we give it at is being reconstructed, so we said, “OK, we’ll take a year off.” So we give that retreat.
Our teachings basically come from the Ancient Masters. Richard Rose is very much a part of what we teach, the posture of being a seeker, self-inquiry, one-pointed purpose.
And we work with people individually. We think that that’s where the most benefit is going to come.
Bart: Not in abstract ideas and not in trying to understand metaphysics in any way but in: What do you want? Where are you at right now? What beliefs do you have that are standing in your way of letting things fall away? And the one-on-one kind of reactions that we do – in a group setting – works quite well, actually.
Bart: It’s what we’re doing in Ireland. In a group setting, we do guided self-inquiry to get deeper and deeper and deeper into an individual’s path, and where they are, and where they want to go.
Iain: Yes. This self-inquiry is so important, isn’t it?
Bart: It is.
Bart: The three aspects of the spiritual path that I think are the most important are self-inquiry, and as I mentioned, prayer, and the third is silence. Sometimes I say meditation, but meditation is just a way of getting to no-thought, however you can get to no-thought, to inner silence
So, on the one hand, self-inquiry engages the mind, it’s using the mind to fight it out with the mind. Prayer is putting yourself in the proper perspective with the higher power and saying “I need help. Of myself I can do nothing. I am going to do self-inquiry, I’m going to do meditation, but I know that I can’t do it. You, I know, are the only power.”
Bart: And keeping in 24/7 communication with that power is extremely important. And then silence - no mind, no prayer, no nothing just… no mind. Silence.
Iain: Bart, we need to finish. I really appreciate our talk. Actually, I hope you come to London again because what I’d really like to do – again we were talking about this earlier – is to have the 4 of us: Renate, myself, you and Deborah, make a programme together. I think that would be wonderful.
Bart: That would be delightful. I’d come back just for that.
Iain: And Renate is going to interview Deborah, Bart’s wife, now, so you can seek that one out as well, hopefully.
So, just to, again, show Bart’s book, which is ‘The Perennial Way: New English Versions of Yoga Sutras, Dhammapada’ (hope I pronounced that right!) ‘…Heart Sutra…’ (in fact I can’t pronounce that!). I’ll just hold the book up.
Bart: Ashtavakra Gita.
Iain: OK! I’ll just show the book, which is wonderful book of his translations of ancient wisdom. And also there’s a DVD you can find on Amazon Marketplace – all these things you can always seek out in this modern world of communications – called ‘Closer Than Close: A Portrait of Seeking and Finding Our True Self’. And this is really nice because it has an interview with Bart, also with Art Ticknor…
Bart: Art, yeah.
Iain: … who also I’ve interviewed. Somebody else?
Bart: Mike Connors.
Iain: Mike Connors, and there’s also this self-inquiry group too – not Bart’s but somebody else’s. And it’s very sweet, the way that they meet and they’re looking at their lives, so…
Thanks again, Bart.
Bart: Thank you, Iain.
Iain: And thank you very much for watching Conscious TV and I hope we see you again soon. Goodbye.
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