Burgs - The Flavour of Liberation - Part 1
Interview by Iain McNay
Iain: Hello, and welcome to Conscious TV. I’m Iain McNay and today our guest is Burgs. Hi Burgs.
Burgs: Good morning.
Iain: Burgs, like many of our guests was recommended by one of our viewers. We’ve been talking on the phone, and we had dinner last night and we’re just getting to know Burgs a little bit, here at conscious.tv. He’s a real character and a fascinating person. He does some great teaching on meditation and he’s written three books. One is more auto biographical, which is Beyond the Veil and two which are fairly dense tomes, but there’s a lot of substance in here, a lot of depth in here (showing books), The Flavour of Liberation volumes one and two, and The Flavour of Liberation volume three. So if you’re interested in Burgs, there’s some material you can order and get stuck into. So Burgs, you like to be described as a person who meditates and a person who shares with others about meditation.
Burgs: That sounds fair, yeah.
Iain: Yes. I’m going to start with, in your Beyond the Veil book, one part that I pulled out was when you were in Burma with your first meditation teacher…
Burgs: … Bali. I was living in Bali when I first started meditating.
Iain: OK. You were with Merta Ada.
Burgs: Merta Ada… yes.
Iain: And he chanted this chant which really affected you and the chant was, the translation was, “All conditioned things are impermanent, when one can see this with mindfulness and wisdom, one grows tired of suffering and sees the way to end it.”
Iain: That had quite an effect on you didn’t it, the first time you heard it. They are the words of the Buddha…
Burgs: Yes, they’re the words of the Buddha: “sabbe sankhara anicca ti”, all conditioned things are impermanent. Yes, I was living in Bali. I was running a fashion label at the time and by chance, a friend of mine had said one evening that he was going to meet this healer, did I want to come. And I almost didn’t go actually, but something in my mind clicked (clicked fingers) and I thought why not. I’ve got nothing to do this evening. I jumped on my bike and followed him and I went to this seminar in Denpasar. I listened to this discourse on meditation and healing given by Merta Ada, whose teacher had just died. So it was his introduction. His teacher had died and asked him to continue to teach, and one of the things… he chanted this chant, this chant in Pali: “sabbe sankhara anicca ti”,which translates as, “All conditioned things are impermanent.” It was two things that struck me. One was the familiarity of the actual chant itself and what it meant… that all conditioned things are impermanent. I was living in a life where I suppose, we don’t often stop to think that it’s not going to be like that for ever and it’s easy to assume that everything is going to last. And it just struck me… I suddenly sat there thinking… gosh… yes. What an effort it is to maintain all this, to hold it all together. It prompted something in me. I can’t say what it was at that stage, but it led me to develop a relationship with him and he took me under his wing, as it were, and taught me very systematically the healing mediation practices he had learnt from his teacher. And that was the beginning of my journey with meditation, as it were.
Iain: Because at that point you had actually some quite successful businesses, didn’t you. You had a fashion business, some shops …
Burgs: (nodding) Yes…
Iain: And were doing quite well.
Burgs: (nodding) Yes, I was. I had a manufacturing business. That’s why I was in Indonesia. I was manufacturing garments for my clothing retail business in England. It was going really well. It had grown up rather quickly, almost a bit too quickly for me. I hadn’t anticipated it being as successful as it was. And I suddenly found myself in a situation, having started out rather haphazardly as a ‘ski bum’ designing sweat shirts, I found myself four years later with thirteen shops around the Alps and around Southern England, with a factory in Java and with one hundred and twenty workers.
Burgs: And I guess I was starting to feel slightly overwhelmed with what had come about rather unexpectedly… and meeting Merta Ada came at a very axiomatic moment and I suddenly found myself questioning, what exactly do I think I’m doing? How important really, is all this? So it sowed a seed that started a process of quite significant changes in my approach to life, shall we say.
Iain: One of the things I picked up from your book - and these are my words rather than yours - you were very total about what you did. And I think one of the things that maybe helped shape that was you were asked to leave school when I think you were aged fifteen years old…
Burgs: ( laughing) You’re not supposed to bring that up. Yes, I was. I was sent home from school for misbehaviour when I think I was sixteen. (laughing)
Iain: But you were a bit worried about your dad… what he would say to you, but he was very supportive, wasn’t he?
Burgs: Yes he was, actually. I thought I was in for a thrashing, having been sent home from school. Dad had had a difficult time, he’d just lost his business. He’d gone bankrupt, so he was having a difficult time, but nevertheless he continued to support me in my education, I was at a private school. So obviously I felt very ashamed at the fact I was being sent home. So he came to pick me up at school, and I thought I was in for a thrashing, and he stopped the car on the way home and he said, “Look, I don’t know what you want. We’re doing our best for you kid, what do you want?” And I rather ,suppose arrogantly , or thoughtlessly, but it just came from somewhere in me because it was true, I said dad, if I’m honest all I want to do is go to the Grand Canyon and play my harmonica. I‘d just learnt to play blues harmonica at school. That’s what I said. I thought he’d clip me round the ear, or tell me what a waste of space I was, but you know he stopped in that moment and he said to me, he said, “Look if that’s what you want to do, you should jolly well go and do it.” And that had a profound effect on me because, feeling that we are doing wrong in some way by following our heart is a real constriction upon the conviction with which we feel we can do those things. And one of the things we all, I think secretly really feel a longing for, is approval from our parents. So to be given permission whether it was going to the Grand Canyon and playing my harmonica, but being permitted in some way to be who I was, was effectively what my father was doing. He was giving me that permission and that I think set me free, at a young age which was a real blessing.
Iain: Because he listened to you, didn’t he?
Burgs: He did.
Iain: That’s the clue… he listened.
Burgs: He did. He thought well what’s going on with this kid? He wants to go and play the harmonica… funny thing was, when he was young he used to run a sports group for under privileged children, and he used to take them out to the countryside. And he was in a skiffle band. He was a singer (smiling). He played harmonica, when he was young, and he gave me my first harmonica. So I think he was quite pleased that I’d made the effort to learn to play, myself. So I guess a part of him was sort of wanting to see me follow my…
Iain: Your dreams…
Burgs: …my aspirations, or whatever…
Iain: And something else I picked up was that when you… I guess a year or two later… you were still very young, you choose to go to Spain I think it was and you just walked for a week on your own from village to village; again it was something quite unique that you did. You were very quiet during that time and you could appreciate that.
Burgs: Yes,… (sighs, pausing), I can’t remember whether it was before or after... I was sixteen when my parents asked me what I wanted for Christmas, one year. And I said that I wanted to go to Spain. I’d just read Laurie Lee as I walked out one mid summers day and I just wanted to explore Southern Spain. They had a friend out there who was an artist, living somewhere in the hills and I just asked for a ticket. On New Year’s Eve, I just set off basically. A few friends of mine, we went to Trafalgar Square for New Year’s Eve and they walked with me down to Victoria train station. I got on the train and flew down to Southern Spain on my own. And I had a week of solitude for the first time in my life. I think I realised that was what I’d been longing for. And it was a very moving experience, yeah. Just being free enough to just wander and having that much time to really immerse yourself in whatever was going on, day by day. Yeah, a very lovely time… (nodding head) yeah.
Iain: And I think that feeling must have come back again a few years later, because your business was doing really well, I think this was before you went to Bali. And you were at a party on a beach, everything was going well and you suddenly felt… this is over! You were successful…
Burgs: Ah, yes…
Iain: I guess it was the same feeling of wanting peace and silence… because there was noise, your friends were there, you were successful. And you knew that it wasn’t it.
Burgs: Yes. That was actually at the end of Cowes Regatta. We had a shop in Cowes. We’d sold an awful lot of clothes and made a lot of money that week. And I was playing with the band that was playing at the end of Cowes week on the arena. Yeah, it was quite a scene as you can imagine. Suddenly I turned round to the audience and it just felt like madness. I was totally immersed in it… I’d been totally immersed in it, and suddenly it just clicked in me, (clicking fingers) - I just knew it was over! I just couldn’t do it anymore. And that was the end of it.
Iain: And ironically, I gather one of your successful t-shirts, the slogan was “Make madness a way of life.”
Burgs: Yes, I wonder if I’m paying now for teaching wrongly to people “Make madness a way of life”. Yes that’s one of the logos we used on our sweatshirts and t-shirts: “Make madness a way of life.” Ironic, really isn’t it… (laughing)
Iain: Well, as I said just now… you seem to have done things fairly totally. Things came along, you did them. And you somewhere, seem to have an innate or access to innate intelligence that you knew when something was over. You knew you were open to whatever the next thing was.
Burgs: Yes… how conscious it was... Yes, I knew I couldn’t continue to allow this clothing business to just grow. I was feeling… (pauses) ...I was feeling (pauses) swamped by it, overwhelmed by it. I was losing myself within it. So I knew that had to stop. I’d completely immersed myself in it, that’s true. I didn’t know how to design clothes when I started. I didn’t know what I was doing, so I had to learn ‘on the hoof’ as it were. Yeah… and then when… I think (clicked finger) really when I met Merta Ada, something clicked in me. I want to learn how to meditate and in order to do that… something inside me was very clear that if I wanted to learn to do it properly, I was going to have to make a commitment to it, rather than have a little go. So these two things happened at the same time. I dropped the clothing business. It took a while to untangle myself from it, because it had quite a momentum behind it. We had to find someone to take on the factory, which was very fortunate. We found an Italian label that took the factory on, so all the machinists kept their jobs and the leases, you know… it was quite a machine operating, so it took about a year and a half to two years to disentangle myself from it and gradually wind it down. During that period I started to commit to learning meditation.
Iain: More than that because you were living with him and travelling with him, weren’t you?
Burgs: Yes, we travelled together. They were very wonderful times. He was just starting out his time as a teacher. And right from the very beginning I remember the first meditation retreat we did. We literally set up in a house in Denpasar. He and I slept in the kitchen, the students slept in one or two bedrooms and we meditated in the sitting room. That was our retreat and that was how that started. He started teaching quite widely and I travelled with him for the first two or three years, I think, everywhere he went. Whenever there was a retreat on, we would go together. So you know, I learned by his side for three years before I then went on to Burma.
Iain: How was that to start with? I know you meditated for many hours. How was that? Did it bring up lots of emotional things to start with? How was your concentration?
Burgs: Ha ha…yes, it’s funny. You know, I had lived a reasonably indulgent lifestyle as a youth (pauses), I was quite freestyle in my approach to life, so it was a very stark contrast, the disciplines of meditative training. But I really felt a longing for it, to reign in this sort of wild mind of mine. It was very painful to start with, actually. Everyone thinks because I’ve learnt to meditate, it was easy from the beginning. It did become easy, but it didn’t become easy during that period of time with Merta Ada. It was still… I could do the meditation… (pauses) but releasing everything my body had accumulated from the frenzied or frenetic way we tend to live our lives, that took a while. So there was quite a powerful and profound healing process that happens, I think to all of us, when we first start to commit to the reorganising of our mind and bringing it back into a coherent state from whatever state we’ve allowed it to be in. The energy structures that we’ve accumulated in our body, as they become more refined, we become more exposed to the incoherence that we’ve accumulated within us, shall we say.
Iain: So what kind of forms can that take?
Burgs: Well, over the years of teaching meditation I’ve seen it express itself in all kinds of forms in people. But you’ve got - how it feels physically within you - to be really paying attention to how you are feeling, which is something we tend not to pay much attention to. That can be quite overwhelming when we start to recognise actually how we feel.
Iain: So you’re talking about the aches and pains in the body.
Burgs: Yes, not just gross… that’s the physical, structural aspect of it which we’re not used to sitting still for long hours. But there’s a deeper aspect which is the friction of poorly organised energy within us that becomes really quite oppressive when we are just left with it. That’s why we’re so restless, we need to distract ourselves so much of the time simply because we feel so uncomfortable just being present with ourselves. So there’s the structural aspect of your body that needs to open up, and there’s the subtle energetic aspect of your software operating system shall we say, that need to become reorganised. So a lot of changes and of course the effect that all that has monumentally or emotionally, not having paid much attention to how we’re feeling about things for example and then suddenly starting to recognise how it feels to be here. That’s quite an awakening in its own right, a profound journey.
Iain: So what kinds of things were difficult for you at that stage?
Burgs: Um… What did I find difficult? (pauses) To be honest I didn’t find it difficult, because there was a strong willingness to let go, so I didn’t find that there was a resistance to what the process was bringing about.
Iain: Talk about this strong willingness. How did you feel this strong willingness?
Burgs: Well for example, that quote that you started with: “All conditioned things are impermanent.” Insight is what we call it, insight, seeing how things are. This isn’t going to be like this forever. Pretending that it might, is one of the things that we like to do. Totally acknowledging the fact that we are not going to be here for long, it’s a brief period. Everything that’s dear to us we’re going to be separated from at some point in our lives. Whether we die first, or they die and totally acknowledging an absolute truth. Now that can become a very oppressive, overwhelming insight or a very liberating insight. I think for me it was instantly a very liberating insight which created a willingness to let go, because it allowed me to recognise what I was already feeling – I don’t need to hold onto this.
Iain: So, what you’re saying is that you got the implications of impermanence pretty quickly… Because I know in my own process, the word impermanence I heard so many years ago, but it’s taken time to really understand what it finally means…
Burgs: Mmm, what its implications are…
Iain: Impermanence. One understands it in the mind, but it’s the integration of that understanding that’s the really important thing.
Burgs: Yes, yes, yes, and that’s what I see happening a lot when people come to meditate. Usually, or very frequently, people come looking to reorganise the way they are so that they can cope more skilfully, or engage more skilfully.
Iain: Have a better life.
Burgs: Yes, and have a better life as it is. And then the point at which inevitably, because the investigation itself puts you in front of these simple truths, like impermanence, we have to either acknowledge that’s the case and embrace it, or look at how much we have invested in trying to pretend that that’s not the case. For me that was a relief, which is why it wasn’t a fraught experience. The process of letting go was very blissful and a joyful experience, that I felt the longing for without recognising it. So when I then looked back, that was what I had been longing for since I was a kid. Are you with me? So the point at which we can embrace that, is the point at which we can really surrender to the process of letting go. An example, my grandmother, bless her heart; and my grandfather, he very skilfully and in a very beautiful way, simplified his life as he got older. He let things go. How conscious it was, I don’t know, but he very beautifully and quietly wound down his affairs and simplified it, so that when he did pass away, there was nothing unattended to. He just quietly took his leave and it was very beautiful. My grandmother was always terrified of dying and she never… I think she honestly thought she was going to be the only person who would live forever. When it did come to letting go, when her time came, she fought tooth and nail to stay here, and that was a fraught experience…(pauses)… and that was… ( pauses ) because at some level she had not been willing to recognise prior to that, that it was always going to be that way, you see. So seeing the truth, and acknowledging the truth, and absolutely accepting it, liberates us when we do it. But seeing the truth and not being willing to accept it, can become quite overwhelming. So that’s what we mean by willingness and unwillingness to let go. And that’s a key part.
Iain: Well yes, and you were hinting earlier that people tend to make themselves busy to get away from their implications of a deeper feeling. The business of the mind takes us away from reality.
Burgs: Yes exactly. I mean there is one meditation retreat we do, where it’s literally a reflection or a contemplation of how you feel, “How do I feel?” And sitting with that and actually being with how I feel and of course there’s two aspects to it: there’s how I feel, and how I feel about feeling that. And this is mindfulness, this is paying attention. Paying attention. One of the things we do, to not pay attention - it might not be very pleasant how I’m feeling - so we can either acknowledge it and seek to transform it into an acceptable feeling, or one that we are willing to be with because it’s not always going to feel pleasant, or we can distract ourselves so that we don’t have to feel it. And this is what produces the scattering of our mind and our constant projection out into either an abstract state of mind - an inner world that removes us from the direct experience of what is going on within us - or projection into the future or the past and all kinds of distraction that engage us in a way that means we don’t have to pay attention to how we feel. This restlessness is one of the things that we are put in front of, right at the very beginning of our journey with meditation, because to sit cross legged on the floor for half an hour with absolutely nothing to do (pauses), can be a horrendous experience. It can be far from joyfully when you first do it if there’s been an unwillingness to be with how it is – to just be who you are, or how you feel.
Iain: Something else that impacted me from your book was… there were two situations, I’m not sure whether you were in Bali or Burma, but you met some pilgrims from Bhutan and they’d walked for seven days, they’d walked and slept in the open, just to go to watch their teacher, teach.
Iain: They weren’t even necessarily going to meet him one to one. That just showed you didn’t it, the depth of commitment certain people have for their path, for their freedom, to find their freedom.
BURGS: Yes, that was in Sukimah I‘d been up to see one of my teachers Dodrupchen Rimpoche in Sukimah. He annually has a pooja, a ten day meditation and all the monks from his monastery gather and basically all of his disciples come there annually. And there was a group of… well many people had come from all over, but as they were packing up to leave, as it was winding down, I saw this group of Bhutanese just trading their blankets for food, so that they could walk that seven days back to where they’d came from. And I realised, gosh, these people had walked seven days to sit with their teacher and listen to his teachings and meditate with him. And at best they would get an opportunity to offer him a scarf. And I realised how fortunate I’d been. I mean, I stayed with him and received teachings and, you know, spent time with him. And I realised that I’d done that with all of my teachers. I’d been that close with them in Burma, in Bali and now in India. I realised that we have (pauses), so much. We’re so fortunate in the ease with which we can come to these spiritual teachings these days, that there’s almost a sense of entitlement. I remember when I turned up and I presented myself, it had been suggested that I went to meet this teacher some years earlier by another teacher and he’d said, “Go and meet this man, he has some teachings to share with you.” And when I did find myself there and I’d presented myself, and of course the head monk, or his assistant at the monastery said, “You just can’t walk in and meet Rimpoche.” And of course my initial reaction was, gosh, I’d come all this way and I might not get to see him. I suddenly recognised when I watched these Bhutanese packing up to leave, how strong was my sense of entitlement [was] that I just assumed that I would be able to sit with him and discuss my experiences and meditations with him, and ask him for teachings. And that really, because it’s so available to us - ok I mean, I’d had had to travel to Burma and I’d lived in Bali and I travelled to India - but at the same time these teachings are available to us if we want them. In a way, the ease with which they come to us now, there is a danger that we lose (pauses), some sort of reverence for them. And I realised that, that act of devotion, of those pilgrims who had walked that seven days, was probably far more purifying, than whatever I was going to get by actually sitting and receiving instructions personally, with my sense of entitlement. I don’t know… that was a profound experience for me. It moved me.
Iain: There was another situation I remember… it was when I think you were living in this cache somewhere in India, there you met a young guy, only twenty three I think, he had been living in a cave on his own for six years? Is that right?
Burgs: No. I did meet a young yogi up in India. He had been wandering India for six years. The chaps that you’re talking about, or the yogis you’re talking about, I’d met them at a monastery. I went there on a festival day, it was a holiday, the day after a festival day, and everyone had been sent home. There was the abbot and these five young monks who had just come down from six years in the mountain. They’d been up there since they were seventeen, they were twenty three. I was probably twenty seven. Seeing them also had a really profound experience on me, because I could see the depth of (pauses) the practice that they must have been through. The depth, the immersion… six years, at the age of seventeen to be practising one on one with a teacher, I could see in their eyes that there was something quite extraordinary about them.
Iain: There was something energetic, that you picked up as well, didn’t you?
Burgs: Yes. That’s when I realised, right, I’m going to get to the bottom of this if I can. I’m going to put that kind of effort in.
Iain: You see, where does that leave us here in the west? You mentioned the thing about the availability and we don’t always appreciate it, and you’ve met these extraordinary people that have done years and years of silent, or very protective meditation and yet in our life to meditate for half an hour each day, people make a big deal of it - oh I meditate for half an hour each day – but it seems nothing in comparison to what other people have done. So how do we put this in perspective in terms of our western lifestyle? We might want to meditate, we find a bit of time each day, but it seems such a small contribution compared to what other people do. Indeed at one time, you were meditating nine hours a day.
Burgs: Well it’s about choices. You know, it’s about choices. I had made a choice. I gave up the things that were keeping me bound to that way of life, so that I had the time to immerse myself completely in it. So you know, you can’t have everything in this world. I couldn’t have done that had I wanted to continue to maintain my business for example, but not everybody is going to want to do that. It’s extremely pertinent, valid and valuable to have a practice that you do for half an hour at the end of a busy day that helps to bring you back into a nicely settled state so that you can rest at night. You know that is extremely valuable if you have a life that is full of responsibilities, commitments and challenges. A practice like that can serve you perfectly for your need, without having to give everything up and go and live in seclusion. I was looking to find where this meditation led, but you don’t have to take it to the end, to start to get profound benefits for you. So the thing is, I think a practice that is pertinent to the life that you’ve chosen to live, is what we should individually be looking for.
Iain: Where have you found, meditation has led you?
Burgs: There’s a wonderful Zen story, when this yogi approaches his master and said, “Master, what did you do before you got enlightened?” He said, “Why, I chopped wood and carried water”. “What do you do now you are enlightened?” “Why, I chop wood and carry water.” And I think really that’s where it’s led me. There was a period of seclusion where, undisturbed by things in the outside world I was able to enter very deeply into practice and meditation, as a process of letting go. Having let it go, I now found myself able to immerse myself in what’s going on in life without being overwhelmed by it. So it’s kind of a paradox almost, that having let it go you can, should you wish, participate with it. So yes it’s just brought me back to… I made a decision when I left Burma, to come back and share what I’d learnt. So, it brought me back here. I realised that in order to operate and live in our society, I had to engage in the sort of life that other people were living, so that I could relate to their circumstances and what their aspirations were. In order to do that, I had to be able to immerse myself in that. I guess it’s the “Chop wood, carry water.” Chop wood… still here…
Iain: So the extraordinary, becomes the ordinary, somehow. They’re your words at one point in the book.
Burgs: Yes, and the ordinary becomes extraordinary. My life is much simpler than it was before. (pauses) I don’t have much surrounding me, but I’m not disturbed by things around me. I doubt that I’d go back ever to setting up another fashion label (laughs). I’m quite happy to be sharing meditation, teaching meditation, for now.
Iain: One thing that really interested me was how easy you seem to find it to drop into Samadhi. Can you just describe what Samadhi is for somebody who doesn’t know much about it?
Burgs: Gosh, Samadhi. Well, it means different things to different people in different schools of thought. Samadhi as a state of unified concentration is a total immersion into your experience, or a total state of concentration, so that there is no separation between, what we say, the knower, the knowing, and the known. So the sense of you as the experiencer is gone, there is just a deep knowing of what it is, or being with what you are, paying attention to. So Samma Samadhi as in the right concentration as part of the Buddha’s eightfold noble path, is a state of absorption concentration were that part of your mind which we call bhavanga, which is the unconscious arising of those mental states that give this sense that it is you that is the experiencer, comes to cessation, and there is merely a streaming of awareness, or a continuous arising within awareness in a very, very simple uncontrived state of absorption – a one pointed concentration. So this is Samadhi, it’s a unification of the mind with its object.
Iain: Is that just going to happen in deep meditation, or can that happen also in normal life sometimes?
Burgs: Well, now. There are all kinds of different ways in which people would use this word, Samadhi. Some people would not describe it as this unified state of concentration or absorption, as I’ve just described it. Some people would describe it as a state in which you immerse yourself, you turn the mind around we call it where awareness, the basic state of awareness - which is the basic ground of your being - becomes your reference point, rather than what we normally recognise or identify as our active mind. So we come to see that the mind is merely a conditioned process appearing within awareness, the same way that those flowers are appearing within awareness. So coming to this point of recognising this basic state of pure awareness as the fundamental ground of your being, gradually in stages we learn to immerse ourselves completely in that and the active mind in stages comes to cessation. So at that point we may enter into a state that we might choose to also call Samadhi, which isn't a concentrated state. It’s not taking one object to the exclusion of others; it’s just resting effortlessly within itself, and leaving everything alone. Leaving everything to be as it is, so that it doesn’t pull attention. It just rests within itself. And active mind which would seek to label, identify, have any opinion, view or attitude or any reaction to what it’s experienced, has come to cessation. Now that flavour of Samadhi is defined by what we would call equanimity. The fact that it doesn’t waiver in the way that a mirror - that reflects those flowers, or whatever appears within it - is totally undisturbed by what it is it reflects. That basic state of awareness remains utterly undisturbed by what arises within it as an experience. So we might also choose to call that, Samadhi.
So it’s difficult, it depends where you’re coming from. The complete absorption into your experience, were you pay complete attention to one thing to the point that nothing, but that appears in your mind – and that leaving everything to appear in your mind without being at all moved by it. [Are] two very different experiences, actually.
Iain: So do you find you are peaceful most of the time now?
Burgs: (laughs) Yes, I think the key is to not give yourself too many things to do.
Iain: To simplify your lifestyle.
Burgs: It’s one thing to be able rest within things and allow them to be what they are, but if you give yourself too many things that need to be attended to, we can still find ourselves overwhelmed. So that piece that we learn to, or that we discover within ourselves, you still have to create the conditions so that you can maintain that state of peace. It’s quite vexing at one level to teach meditation, to have many students who are seeking steerage, and for me, what I find personally is that, if I take on too many things to do, it’s actually quite difficult to maintain that deep state of just being within it, because there are many things that need attention, and they may not be appearing in the present. It’s all very well to say that, the awakened state is to rest effortlessly within the present moment because there is no past and there is no future, but if there are things that need to be attended to, that are going to happen tomorrow because you have made a commitment to it, or the next day, or the next day, you may find yourself drawn out of the present, in order to anticipate what needs to be done next. So this very simple state that we discover through meditation is the most, simple state of consciousness that we are able to enter into. Whether it’s a unified state of concentration, or a resting within the suchness of awareness itself, it’s a very simple and uncontrived state, but to abide effortlessly and endlessly into it, one has to allow one’s life to become equally simple. It’s a choice.
Iain: You have to be quite diligent, don’t you, in terms of, you decide on simplicity and you need almost to protect that simplicity, somehow.
Burgs: Not necessarily. I think as long as you’re willing to acknowledge the fact that you can’t always expect to be experiencing your most pleasurable states. I mean, in a way that’s unrealistic. If I wanted to do that, if we wanted to do that, then we would of course stay in a place where we’re undisturbed. But you don’t expect to forever be able to rest in that deeply pleasing state of whatever we would choose to call it, if you are continuing to immerse yourself in things that need attention. Again it’s all about choices. The problem would arise if having made choices, you then resent the fact that it’s necessary to engage. So this is why I always say to people, the refinement of your state of consciousness is not the key. The real key is your capacity to be with what is regardless of what it is. And that’s equanimity which is really our protector, which means that when it gets rough I can be with that. And even if I feel disturbed… that’s what I said about earlier - there’s how you feel, and how you feel about feeling that – you can feel rotten sometimes and all shaken up, and all over the place because things might be quite disturbing around you, but you can be OK about being that. We can get too precious about being in this delightful state of peace. You know the world is not covered in carpet…
Burgs: …that’s why we learn to wear shoes.
Iain: Yes, and that’s also impermanent, isn’t it, this wonderful state of peace.
Burgs: Well that’s the point. That’s where the Buddha sort of appears on the scene. Having realised all these extraordinary states of consciousness that are capable, we are capable of entering into, they are all conditioned states. When we create the conditions for them, we may enjoy them. When we do not create the conditions for them, we may have no access to them at all. And it was this realisation that brought the Buddha to that determination; I’m going to find the causal cessation of suffering because what I have experienced is the momentary cessation of suffering that remains for as long as I can uphold that state. But when I emerge from it I am still subject to sickness, or danger, or death and there is nothing I can do about it. And that’s where the Buddha’s journey began. From that point.
Iain: You know I’m left with the thought with that, that it’s almost as if we can do the meditation, we can do the mindfulness, but the actual realisation, the kind of dropping of the penny as we would say in England, is kind of a quantum event that might happen, or might not happen. It’s kind of, you can do all the right things, but do you actually totally integrate it?
Burgs: Mmm. Lots of questions in that.
Iain: …Or does it just happen?
Burgs: You’ve raised a number of different threads there. The first one is that the quantum experience itself, that awakening, when you suddenly get for example, goodness me the mind is an illusion, it’s a conditioned phenomenon. Yes, awareness is the basic ground of my being and that quantum experience may well have a transformative effect on you, but it doesn’t free you from the bondage to this mind. You still have to disentangle yourself from your association with your ideas of yourself, and habits. Conditioned habits, patterns of mind are very dogged; it takes great conviction and commitment to undermine them. So you suggested that practising concentration mindfulness is one thing, but do we get the quantum experience? I would say that getting a quantum experience is one thing, but are we then going to follow it through, where what it points us towards, is something we have already learnt to embody.
Iain: Yeah, but see, if we do all the right things - not really a very good term doing the right things - but if we are committed to our meditation, we are committed to our mindfulness, to seeing entanglement and trying to let go of the entanglement, is that going to lead to the integration and the realisation? Or is there something else outside our control that comes in somehow?
Burgs: Ok, that’s an interesting question. I think the way that inside unfolds in individuals is a very varied thing. I think a systematic approach, to the, shall we say, reorganising of our mind, will bring at stages a capacity to see things evermore clearly. You know, if you look at the reflection of the moon in a lake that is heavily disturbed full of ripples and waves, if you didn’t already know that it was the moon, the reflection would look nothing like the moon.
If we try to understand reality through a mind that is already shaken, the reflection of that experience - which is what we actually receive at the deepest level - is disturbed by the vehicle of our mind through which we are interpreting it. So if we have a quantum experience as you’ve just described it, for whatever reason, let’s say spontaneously something happens to us, but our mind, prior to that and after that, is in a ‘misorganised’ state. Our capacity to fathom what’s actually happened, or even to integrate what might be embodied within, or inherent within that, or pointed to by that experience, you know, it might take us many, many years to figure out what has actually happened. If our mind prior to that is extremely well organised and settled, and mirror like, we would have a greater capacity to assimilate that experience. So at one level we get a deep knowing, say a quantum awakening might happen, somewhere it touches us, but the proliferation of the mind that is still confused, may mean that it doesn’t… just because we might have seen something that is profoundly meaningful, may not deliver us to a point where we are free of the vexation, of this, shall we say, ‘misorganised’ mind. It’ll still be a lens that we continue to look through. So I think these quantum experiences when they come are informative, but they are not definitive. I always say to people it’s very important that you continue to assume you know less than you think. And even if you feel utterly convinced by your practice, continue to investigate what actually is going on within you. So, I mean… hey it’s choices isn’t it? How far down the rabbit hole do you want to go, before you realise it’s just a rabbit hole? You know, that remains to be seen. But whether or not you’re seeking some kind of awakening, or enlightenment, it’s actually irrelevant. You will benefit through making effort to reorganise your mind at every level of your life, because the quality of your experience, is utterly determined by the quality of the mind with which you engage in that experience, not the experience itself – how rewarding or pleasurable it is to you, or meaningful is not dependent upon the experience. It’s your capacity to land that experience in a balanced way. You know there are plenty of people enjoying no end of pleasurable experiences and not at all satisfied with them. And there are many who have very few pleasurable experiences, but are deeply settled within themselves. So, we can talk about enlightenment, but you know prior to anything like that, just to learn to sit quietly, to pay attention to what’s going on around you and to learn to concentrate – such valuable things. I mean, how many children can’t sit still and be with anything for more than a minute or so these days? And by paying attention to what you are doing and gradually immersing yourself more completely in it, the experience opens up. And very simple things that are available to us all the time, start to become moving and meaningful experiences. And our need to seek peak experiences, which is what happens when our mind is very scattered when it doesn’t feel pleasant, or it feels unsettling to be just with ourselves, we seek distraction. So our idea of seeking happiness, is through the pursuit of a peak experience. Whether that is a peak experience out here in the material world, or a peak experience within our spiritual practice, these peak experiences happen occasionally. If we pin our hopes upon them, we spend an awful amount of time wanting something else, or dissatisfied with what is. So I think the real value of meditation is just learn to organise your mind so that what you are already doing, you can enter more completely into. Because you will probably find things that you weren’t able to find pleasure in, suddenly become pleasurable, or meaningful, or absorbing in some way.
Iain: I’m looking at the clock out of the corner of my eye and we’ve got to the end. It’s been fascinating and what I’m really happy about is that my wife Renate, is going to interview you now in a part two, so we can maybe go into a little more depth about what you’ve been talking about. I do feel myself it’s the beginning of a whole world you’ve been talking about, and it would be interesting to get more depth into that world. So Burgs, thank you for coming along and having a chat with me, I’m going to show your books again to the camera: Beyond the Veil, which is more autobiographical, but it has also a lot of insight into meditation. And two quite detailed books on meditation: The Flavour of Liberation volume three, and that’s volume one and two. And you can see there, they are real volumes. The word volume really means volume in this case. And Burgs does run small meditation retreats in the UK. Thanks Burgs for coming along and thank you for watching conscious.tv and I hope we see you again soon. Goodbye.
To watch the original video
interview click here. This programme has been transcribed on a voluntary basis. If you would like to offer to transcribe a video on the same basis, then please
All text copyright © Conscious TV Ltd.