Ravi Ravindra - A Voice Without a Form
Interview by Iain McNay
Iain: Hello and welcome once more to conscious.tv. I’m Iain McNay and my guest today is Ravi Ravindra. Hi Ravi.
Ravi: Nice to see you.
Iain: Ravi has written lots and lots of books. I must confess I’ve only actually got three of them here. But these three are very interesting and very different. There is one, Krishnamurti: Two Birds on One Tree. A small, but interesting book about his time with J. Krishnamurti. Heart Without Measure: Gurdjieff Work with Madame de Salzmann which, from its title tells you it’s about his work with the Gurdjieff Work with Madame de Salzmann who took over the lineage, if you like, of the Gurdjieff Work and held it for many, many years. One that came out very recently, Science and the Sacred and you have another book the came out called The Pilgrim Soul quite recently, which I haven’t got. You have a new one coming out as well don’t you?
Ravi: The new one in press now is called Listening to Krishna. It is a new translation of the Bhagavad Gita with my commentary on it, because the Bhagavad Gita is perhaps the single most important book to emerge from India and therefore, naturally, not easy to comprehend. I have wrestled with it for many years.
Iain: You had an interesting childhood… I know your mother was actually illiterate.
Ravi: Completely illiterate.
Iain: Your father was very educated, you were sixth out of seven children and it was an arranged marriage, but a very happy marriage apparently.
Ravi: Yes, generally quite happy, but like in all marriages, I’m sure there were difficulties and all that, but as kids we were not aware of any particular difficulties in the marriage. Particularly at that time, my father was born in 1904 and I’m sure he got married about the age of twenty years old or so. At that time, most marriages in India would have been arranged marriages but people often don’t realize… after all royal family marriages are always arranged marriages, because the arrangements there require the whole family agreeing, the astrological charts agreeing, and many things have to agree. That’s so with arrangement. And I think we sometimes place too much importance on literacy… one can be very highly thoughtful, without necessarily reading this or that.
Iain: You read something, when you were a teenager, that made an impact on you, the words: I am a voice without a form.
Ravi: This is actually a remark of Swami Vivekananda. Yes, I think almost everything I have read by him made a great impact on me. Part of the background there, just quickly… you know, just as people here in the Western world, naturally become aware of what goes on in the name of Christianity, how many priests, or ministers, are behaving in a very unholy manner, similarly in India… this is not a peculiar problem of Christianity, this is a problem of everywhere… So, I as a young boy was quite convinced that these priests, or the Hindu priests, are not really behaving in any right manner, from whatever I could see. But then, coming across Vivekananda, reading something by him, it’s not that it changed my mind about the priests, but it completely changed… it had a different resonance in my heart. For example, his remark that “Religion is not for the weak but for the strong.” Earlier I would have thought just the other way around. This remark of his, “I am a voice without a form”…as if all forms are needed, but they also confine something. Religious forms are a very good example of this. Various religious forms are needed, the churches are needed, the temples are needed, but they invariably also exclude something. Of course, he is using a language, this itself creates a certain kind of restriction. But his very strong feeling - which comes across in all of his other writing as well - that he does not wish to be pinned down by this form, or that expression of religion, to come to something really free. So, I was very struck.
Iain: That obviously attracted you and helped you to find a path in life… it was a very difficult time in your teenage years because there was a lot of violence…?
Ravi: It was soon after India became independent, but it was also the time that India was divided into Pakistan and India. There was a lot of violence, mostly in the name of religion and some of which I saw, actually from the balcony. I was relatively young, nine years old, but watching great mayhem taking place outside. That was another reason why I was, as it were, against religion.
In fact, my older brother later on, joked with me, since he knew my attitude towards religion. He said, “It serves you right, that you should retire as a professor of religion” which is what I did. But what goes on in the name of religion these days… it’s enough to put any reasonable person off, but I was a young boy and seeing all this was emotionally very [distressing] it violated something inside.
Iain: Yes and there was also something else calling you I think, wasn’t there, in terms of, wanting to find the truth.
Ravi: My feeling is, one cannot be sure of these things… but my impression is that absolutely every human being has a little spark of that, somewhere deep down in us . Now, I could put this in more traditional terms, but that is only a later expression. Certainly in the Indian tradition, a very strong idea - in fact in all spiritual traditions - that we have a particle of divinity in us and its whole meaning is that it is searching for Truth. We could call it God. Sometimes one has other words for it, such as Allah or Brahma or the Holy Spirit… many other words. But here is something deeply seated in every human being. A very simple illustration of this is that every magnetic needle has the characteristic to point to the magnetic north, but if there are other big magnets around, it cannot point to the magnetic north. So, most of us even though we may have this little magnetic needle in us which wishes to find the truth, or point towards truth, or God, it cannot do so because we have other many distracting magnets. [We may have] all kinds of ambition to get ahead in the world, all our education system is oriented to this and it really begins with the parents. Parents, in a way quite rightly wish their children to prosper, to do well, but what does it mean to do well? Only a few students will get scholarships, so you should be amongst those few. Only a few after they graduate will go on to do a Masters, or a PhD [degree] so you should be among those… you see what I’m saying. So, the parents, in a way, wish to create that… understandably, for that is how our society runs. All of it is based on reward and punishment; wish for approval, or a fear of disapproval. And it begins very early, every baby wants approval from his parents.
Iain: Absolutely, it is so strong at so many levels.
Ravi: My impression is that it is not that I alone had the wish for truth; I think everybody has it. But then do the surrounding circumstances, or education, or even the people they meet [support that?] For example in my own case, as I said, coming across the writings of Vivekananda, lit that flame of something that existed in a dormant fashion. My impression is it exists in everybody. It’s not the kind of thing you can prove, or disprove because if you were to do a sociological survey of this, how many people are interested in something like this?
Iain: To move on, you met somebody when you were around thirty, called Louise Welch who became your teacher and was very influential for many years.
Ravi: I would even say she was really like my spiritual mother. She has passed away now. She was a teacher, a senior person in the Gurdjieff teaching in New York as was her husband, Dr. Welch. He was a medical doctor and he was President of the New York Cardiology Association. I think Mrs. Welch was very influential in my life for a variety of reasons. Apart from her general guidance, she was also - I did not know that initially when I met her - very interested in the Indian tradition, especially the Bhagavad Gita. In fact, a book on the Bhagavad Gita I have recently written, but is not yet published, is actually dedicated to her. She was the one who first asked me to give a talk about the Bhagavad Gita. My attitude earlier, growing up in India, had been that it is a document of social engineering, [designed] to keep the caste system going, put people in their place etc. So I was not particularly interested in it, but she was the one who suggested I should read this and think about it. Then she asked me to give a talk about it. And she asked me to speak about it on several occasions and that was very important in my life… that whole turning. As I said, she was really my spiritual mother.
Iain: You spent time with J. Krishnamurti before you really got deeply engrossed in the Gurdjieff work, is that correct?
Ravi: I don’t know whether I would say that I spent time with him. I certainly had met him.
Iain: You tell quite a few stories about him in this little book here.
Ravi: I first met him in 1965 and my last meeting with him was in 1985 about ten months before he passed away. So, some of those stories are really over that period of over twenty years.
Iain: Just tell briefly about the first time you met him. That is a great little story.
Ravi: The first time, I saw him I did not know this was J. Krishnamurti. My wife - before she was my wife - was a Canadian young lady, who at the age of 21, went to India as a volunteer. This was an organization later on called CUSO Canadian University Service Overseas, which was taken as a model by the Peace Corps later on. She had never heard of Krishnamurti, but she was placed in a Krishnamurti school to teach English and Physical Education which was her field. After we got married, this was four years later 1965, we went to India, and she wanted me to deliver something to one of the ladies who was actually from Vienna, she was married to an Indian gentlemen, where Krishnamurti used to stay when he came to Delhi but I had no idea. I went to deliver this and I saw this man sitting on the porch outside the big door to this… big house. I just assumed [that he was a servant there] because in India rich people would have people attending to the house and so on. I asked him if the lady of the house was inside. He said, “I’m not sure.” He went inside to check, came back and told me the lady of the house was not in. I guess coming from Canada one is always in a hurry. In India there’s a slightly different attitude. Basically, I just left that present which I had come to deliver, but I kept looking at this man. He had an absolutely extraordinary presence… but I had no idea who he was. So, I’m going back on my bicycle and I am looking back and I actually run into a bunch of goats coming on the street and I fell down.
A few weeks later, we had gone to Varanasi. Krishnamurti had a school there at Rajghat just outside of what used to be called Banaras earlier. The Indian name is Varanasi. A meeting was organized by the people there for me to meet Krishnamurti. I was absolutely amazed to see, this was the man I had seen! He had looked much taller to me at that time.
Iain: When you first saw him you felt he had a special quality…
Ravi: Yes, very different kind of presence. Unusual. In fact, almost even a different physical size. In fact he was shorter than I am, in actual size.
Iain: When did you start as his student as such… how would you describe your relationship with him?
Ravi: I think Krishnamurti would be unhappy to have anybody call himself, or herself as his disciple. I was very drawn to him really, partly from whatever I had heard about him, especially from my wife who had gone walking with him earlier; this is before my wife and I had even met.
In my very first meeting with Krishnamurti, when I had just hardly a few months earlier finished a PhD in Physics, I told him that people imagine that I am an educated man, and my feeling very strongly was, that I did not really know anything what I would regard as truly worth knowing. It’s always a very tricky question, what is truly worth knowing. For me, part of that always has to do with somewhere deep down, to know ‘What am I and why am I here on this planet?’ And any PhD in physics, certainly for me, didn’t approach that question. So I said this to him, “Here I am, supposed to be an educated man, but I feel I don’t know anything.” In a way it was like meeting a very wise man to whom one could be open and say something. And so we had a little conversation. He was very helpful. But it is more the presence of the person. I don’t feel that one can be so much influenced by exactly what the words are. All that is helpful because we are driven by the mind and the language, but it is the presence of the person that is the most important thing.
Iain: Can you talk more about the presence, not just with him, but generally?
Ravi: First of all, keeping him in mind a bit… but also keeping other people as well… I have been rather fortunate in my life I have met some really very extraordinary people. Somehow… I should confess that I never feel that I am running my life, it seems to be run by the devas or the angels. They take me to places, doors somehow open without my really doing anything.
Iain: When I heard you talk the other night you talked about the invisible piper.
Ravi: Yes! That’s actually a remark of Einstein’s. Maybe it will be useful for me to mention this… Einstein made the remark that, ”Human beings, vegetables and cosmic dust, are all dancing to the tune of an invisible piper.” Certainly in my case it’s quite obvious.
Iain: When you felt someone’s presence did you more than realize that somehow this was happening, that there was an invisible piper?
Ravi: Everything I say, to some extent, are really words trying to describe something, which is a little beyond words. First of all, it is as if you are actually being listened to, or being seen… all of these words, listening, seeing… not in the ordinary way… as if somebody can hear you and can see you and are not passing judgments on it. You can be, in fact yourself. That doesn’t mean that they have no sense of discernment, or they have no idea of what you are. They can see even through you. In fact, on one occasion later on, I don’t even know if I mentioned that in the book on Krishnamurti. On one occasion - this was much later about 1980 or so - while going for a walk with Krishnamurti, I said to him, “It’s quite obvious to me that you can see more deeply what is going on inside me, than I can… why don’t you just tell me, it will save me some trouble.” That’s the feeling I had, that’s the meaning of presence: that he could see me, he could listen to me. His response was very interesting, he said, ”Sir” he had this habit of saying Sir. “Sir, that would be like opening your private mail.”
So, even though he could see, he was not going to tell me, or he was not going to pass a judgment on it. In a way he allowed something to emerge in me, myself, from my own understanding, my perception. That would have been very much his wish. So when you ask what does it mean that somebody has presence, it’s a quality of… we sometimes use words like, a focus of attention, but in the case of Krishnamurti specially, it was a quality of stillness. His body seemed still, his mind seemed quiet. We had several experiences of this kind, again, you may have even read that, I mention this in fact because I was quite convinced that his whole mind, or his being was different from mine. Although, he had a bit of a democratic attitude, he would say everybody can be like that. In fact on one occasion, he said to me, “Do you think the speaker is a freak?”
Iain: Meaning himself?
Ravi: Yes, because I had been insisting that his mind is different from my mind. He said, “Do you think the speaker is a freak?” Of course that could mean someone who is weird, or is distorted, but it could also mean someone who is extraordinary. So I said, “Yes!” But now, I meant it in a different way.
Then on one occasion, in the house of Mary Zimbalist - his own cottage was just next to it, connected to it - in Ojai California. There were just the three of us sitting there, Mary Zimbalist and Krishnamurti and myself. It just so happened, there was a small little table between the two of us and a small vase with flowers in it. I said to him, “Krishnaji“ – this is the way we used to refer to him – which is a lovely expression in the Indian language. It’s both affectionate as well as respectful. Not ‘Mr’ Krishnamurti, that’s not quite the right thing. And certainly not just Krishna, that doesn’t make any sense. Krishnaji, would be the way to refer to somebody like this. So, I said, “Krishnaji, you look at these flowers and tell me how your mind responds to this and I would also look at this and tell you how my mind responds and we will see if it’s the same mind.” You see he always insisted that everybody could be like that and I was quite convinced that that was not true. In fact at the end of his life he makes remarks like, “…an energy of this kind won’t come into a body for many years, or even hundreds of years.” On the other hand a teacher is trying to encourage everybody.
I said the interest in this little experiment is more the nature of the mind. So, he made this very interesting remark. He said, “My mind is like a mill pond. When an impression comes there is a slight vibration, but very soon the vibration stops and the stillness of the mill pond returns.” And then he looked at me really very mischievously, and said, “And Sir, your mind, is like a mill.” [laughing] And I think there is validity to what he is saying. That’s the truth. Our mind in general has too much noise, too many activities going on. Still mind, is really partly the aim of all spiritual teachings… that the mind be a little free of the mental activity.
This is the whole program of Patañjali’s Yoga Sutras for example. Right in the very beginning, he says that yoga is stopping all the movements of the mind. This is not so easy. Then the real perception can be [seen] through the clear mind like a clear diamond, is the expression that Patañjali uses. When we speak about the presence of somebody, which is striking, that will be one quality. It’s a kind of stillness, a quietness but interested, in that sense focused, listening, not thinking about something else while listening to somebody.
Iain: You also talk about, in this little book, that you and Krishnamurti really enjoyed silence together and different forms of silence. I just pulled out some quotes from the book. “The silence was a special delight to both of us as it was easy to understand each other’s thoughts and feelings. Silence has many qualities, there is the silence between two noises, the silence between two notes, the widening silence between two thoughts… the silence in which you hear the bark of a dog in the distance, or the whistle of a train.” I just thought that is interesting because for me, silence, I had the idea that silence was… complete silence. Talk about this…
Ravi: In fact if you happen to get up in the middle of the night, you probably know that, this is scientific knowledge; the earth itself is more silent at night. If you happen to get up sometimes in the middle of the night, if you go to different rooms in your own house, even if you are familiar with them, you will find a different kind of silence. If you happen to have a microwave, likely in the kitchen, or somewhere you have a receiver for the internet connection, you would feel a certain kind of agitation, a certain kind of noise.
Iain: Even though you don’t hear it you feel it and that interferes, or changes the silence.
Ravi: Silence, again you see, our language imagines as if when the sound is turned off there is silence. Silence is actually almost as if vibrations of a very subtle kind are around. Which is really in fact the reason why, as you know, in all the teachings arising from India, all the sacred enunciations there begin with the word OM. Always the suggestion is that OM is the very primordial vibration which can really be heard only by people who are so evolved that they have a complete silence. That doesn’t mean turning off the sound. In fact to even call OM a kind of sound is not right. It is a kind of vibration from which then, ultimately, at least in the Indian tradition, the whole of the cosmos emerges. There are levels of silence. Sound is only one kind of sound. Even the presence of any vibration right now, here… it’s actually amazing to realize this… In any room, where even though ten people are sitting there, even though their cell phones are turned off, their friends may be calling them. Those vibrations are all there.
Right now BBC is transmitting many things, the Voice of America and all those vibrations are here. This room, every room, unless you make a special arrangement, as we sometimes do in physics laboratories, in order to make some kind of measurements we have to cut off all vibrations… so, unless you make special arrangements of that kind, those vibrations are coming across these walls. They are going across thousands of miles. Every space is so filled with electromagnetic waves and if they can come through walls they can certainly be going through our bodies. Our brain is constantly being bombarded by these vibrations.
Iain: And we are not aware of them…
Ravi: We are not aware of them because they are not sounds in the usual sense of the word, silence has many levels. Similarly, stillness, if you have ever seen a particularly good Bharatanatyam dancer, or you sometimes see a great sculpture of Shiva dancing, there is both an enormous amount of movement, but there is a stillness at the center. Stillness is not absence of motion. Silence is not absence of sound. If you go to the woods and carry a sound meter with you, you can hear all kinds of sounds are being recorded. The birds are chirping, the brook may be flowing and the leaves are rustling. But a silence begins to descend in your soul. Silence is not absence of sound. Similarly stillness is not absence of motion. It’s a very different quality.
Iain: There is a lot to cover in an hour, unfortunately, finite time… I wanted to generally move you on from Krishnamurti because you wrote this letter to him… You said to him, “What you have been saying for half a century, seems partial and incomplete.” Seems that something in you was working in terms of embodiment, more the human side of life that you always felt he maybe didn’t recognize…
Ravi: yes, of course it could naturally be also possible that I’m not understanding him fully. One should always be careful. Everybody comes from one’s own understanding, one’s own level. For me personally, this has been, overall, my general uneasiness with the vast amount of the whole of the Indian tradition. There is so much strong emphasis, especially coming from the Vedantic tradition, as if the whole world is a maya, as if it is an illusion and that if you are really spiritually advanced then you will not be born again. What’s wrong with being born? As if being born is a mistake, a punishment; as if we have no particular function here. We don’t have a purpose here to be incarnated? Similarly, is all this manifested world an error? So, it’s really partly that kind of a general background one has to keep in mind.
I personally feel this is only one aspect of the Indian teaching, but it has been so much emphasized by Vedanta especially by people who get into this non-duality business, and who are somewhat gung-ho about it [and speak] as if anything which is manifested is somehow an error. Krishnamurti similarly, occasionally has said, some partial things which people have latched onto them such as “Analysis is paralysis.” However most of the trustees in the Krishnamurti Foundation are there because they could do proper analytical work and clear thinking like David Bohm and many others.
Often you came across the remark from Krishnamurti, in a certain context that, “… you can leave the world and give up your job…” To me, wholeness really requires all aspects of myself are involved. The body also needs to be nourished. If I don’t have any job for which I get paid, how am I going to nourish my body? It is all very fine to have someone set up a Trust Fund for me so I don’t have to do any work. In that very letter, I had mentioned this, giving the example of the Buddha. To me, it did not seem right that the Buddha who after all conquered the kingdom of the other world but refused to be the King of this world. Why set up this, as if, dichotomy, why couldn’t he do both? Is this world irrelevant, or not significant, not important? This runs very deeply in the Indian tradition. That is why I am mentioning this here. It troubles me, personally. In fact, I don’t know if one comes to all this so knowingly so consciously, but deep down one has tendencies. For me, this is one of the attractions of the Gurdjieff teaching. In the Gurdjieff teaching, just to use the language of Madame de Salzmann, with whom I worked. I never met Gurdjieff, he died in 1949.
Iain: Would you just make clear that you were introduced to Madame de Salzmann… she had taken over the lineage or tradition or the teaching.
Ravi: She was regarded as the person responsible for the Gurdjieff Work after Gurdjieff’s death. Gurdjieff died in 1949 and she herself therefore was in charge of the Work until her own death in 1990 at the age of 101.
Iain: You met her when she was 91, and she became your mentor for the next few years.
Ravi: I met her when she was 91 and if there was anyone I would really call my teacher it is Madame de Salzmann. I’ve had many teachers; I’ve had Physics teachers, Mathematics teachers, I am personally very happy to call Krishnamurti one of my teachers although in general he rather objected to the idea of having students or disciples. Mrs. Welch was also my teacher.
Madame de Salzmann makes this remark that we have an angelic nature and an animal nature but both of these natures need to be attended to. The first part is a fairly universal idea that we have two natures. To use St Paul’s terminology, “We have a carnal nature and we have a spiritual nature.” Sometimes it is called a higher nature and a lower nature and they are often in opposition to each other. The idea that we are children of both heaven and earth is very deep in the Gurdjieff teaching, although they do not use this expression, and that both parents need to be honoured is very deep in the Gurdjieff teaching. We do not need to just go to heaven, not just become pure spirit, which is a very strong tendency in the Indian tradition, and in fact all religions have it. No, we are also of the earth. This is our world. We need to be responsible for it. There is a very strong emphasis that if we do not Work, the quality of life on the earth will suffer and we are responsible for it.
Iain: She talked a lot about attention and real listening.
Ravi: Attention, in whatever field you are in, you may be writing music, you may be doing physics, attention is always what is required, even in our conversation right now. But naturally, there are qualities of attention. In fact, this might interest you, probably more clearly expressed in the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali than almost anywhere else in my reading. If I am looking at something, or somebody, supposing I am speaking to you, one quality of attention can be, I am here, you are there. There is a technical word for this, dharana in Sanskrit. A further, or deeper quality of attention is, you are there, I am less and less separated. It is like seeing, but the seer is not very separate. Krishnamurti very much emphasized this when he used the expression, “The observer and the observed are the same.” Then, this again is very important to understand that all spiritual teaching, actually aims at, not freedom ‘for’ myself but freedom ‘from’ my self. That is the highest state of attention in which, ‘I’ am not… it is completely objective! If I am looking at you it’s not Ravi looking at you, but you revealing yourself to a receptive attention.
Krishnamurti also had a very interesting remark about this, “As long as I am, love is not.” This is the whole meaning of Samadhi. In Patañjali’s Yoga Sutra, in the third sutra, in the third chapter of the Yoga Sutra… Samadhi is defined as the Sanskrit expression swarup shunya, I am not. So that there is pure seeing without any separate seer. Attention has many qualities. All of these are attention, but an attention in which there is no subject, and object division and then an attention in which as it were the subject doesn’t even exist. The Buddha also speaks about this. There are different ways [of speaking], and we see the resonance of this kind of idea, but how people understand this actually varies. For example, Christ says, in the Gospel of Matthew, “Unless you leave yourself behind, you cannot be a follower of mine.” What does it mean to leave myself behind? All my conditioned self… if I am from India I am attuned to a certain kind of attitude. If you are from Britain it’s a different attitude, if you’re from Japan, you have a different attitude, if I am male it’s different than a female’s, if I come from a poor family it’s different than [if I come from] a rich family. If I am born in the 20th century it is different from somebody born in the 1st century. You see, we are constantly conditioned. And that is myself. How to be free of that self?
Iain: What kind of work did Madame de Salzmann do with you to help you realize this?
Ravi: This is difficult to pin down, because there are many things, again, one should remember actual teaching, any teaching, in fact takes place through one’s presence. It’s not a particular trick or a particular technique. Of course, all those things exist, particularly in the Gurdjieff teaching, there are Movements, which include sacred dances from ancient traditions, ancient temples. All those things exist.
Iain: These are very hard, isn’t it because each leg and each arm… move differently [laughing].
Ravi: Certainly, publically… the film that was directed by Peter Brook, at the end of that film I think for the last, perhaps twelve, or fourteen minutes, there are several Movements. In Meetings with Remarkable Men, if anyone wishes to see that, that is where they can see them. They are not easy to do, that I can assure you. However, one does not begin with a difficult thing right away but really to become more and more aware of how my body… if I move my arm this way, what is exactly taking place inside? It’s not so easy. The emphasis is on what is behind the Movements. Madame de Salzmann actually emphasized this very much. There is an energy in us, that is in us, or in the body, but is not of the body. This itself is very important to understand. If I use slightly more traditional, religious language, one might say, ‘It’s not the body that has the spirit, it’s the spirit that has the body, for some purpose.’ If I use more the language that Madame de Salzmann used… she said, “A higher energy, for its own purposes takes on a body.” When we use the word body we include the mind, the ordinary mind; and if a person works, then one can serve the needs of the spirit, otherwise the body is designed to die.
Iain: She talked a lot about connecting with the higher energy.
Ravi: Sometimes she called it the higher mind, or higher energy. The idea is that your incarnation, or my incarnation, everybody’s incarnation here is not just accidental but that there is an energy subtler than our usual energy…[that needs to be expresses through incarnation]. In the Gurdjieff teaching, or any spiritual teaching, when they speak about levels they mean levels of consciousness; so there are many levels of energy. A higher energy, higher than my usual organism, needs the organism for undertaking any action. If the organism or my body is just simply doing its own thing, for its own purposes, for its own pleasure, so it’s not serving this energy, the body will die, it’s designed to die. But this other energy does not die at the same time when the body dies.
Iain: There is a quote I pulled out which quite intrigued me from the book, Heart Without Measure. It is a quote from you, “I began to realize that everything is in the body. I had been reading that for decades, but had not understood it earlier.” Is that something you would still agree with… everything is in the body?
Ravi: Everything is in the body, in the sense that we cannot actually experience anything unless it is somehow felt, or sensed in the body, or felt in the body. Ordinarily, in our usual English language, we do not make these distinctions between sensing something, or feeling something. In the Gurdjieff literature there are important differences to be made, for clarification.
This may interest you, Sri Anirvan, a highly regarded sage in India. I had the fortune to meet him for some time for half an hour in 1979; he died the very next year. He wrote a very significant book in conversation with someone from Switzerland, who later on came to the Work because he recommended her to find the Gurdjieff Work; he makes the remark that even the subtlest spiritual experiences are experienced as sensations in the body. So in that sense, everything that we experience is sensed in the body, but they don’t belong to the body. If I sense the light coming, the light doesn’t belong to the body, but unless it is sensed in the body I am not aware of it. In that sense, to become aware that one needs to actually begin pay attention to the body and to watch where something is felt. This is actually very strongly felt in the Movements, in the Sacred Dances more than anywhere else. To begin to orient one’s gestures, one’s postures that one allows a deeper and deeper sensation. Just as in thought there are many levels, in feelings there are many levels, but in sensation also there are many levels. Therefore to begin to pay attention to the body becomes more serious… serious part of the Work.
Iain: Was that difficult for you at times, that process, or was it something you fell into quite naturally?
Ravi: I think those of us, and I suppose I am one of them, who fairly early on get more academically oriented and therefore much more head oriented, we tend to be living [primarily] from here, [pointing to the head]. This is one of the things that increasingly disillusioned me about all of these great academics and philosophers and scientists. I was at the Institute of Advanced Studies at Princeton, seeing all these very bright people with hardly any connection with their own bodies. It’s all in the head. I suppose in my own case also. You know how it is; oh, you’re a smart guy in the school… It all tends to get very much in the head. It was not easy, I don’t know whether even now if it is easy for me. But if one begins to honour something, then you wish to make room for it. If you begin to understand even intellectually, that it is important to connect with the body, then one wishes to find the right receptivity, the right posture [and to discover] what it is that interferes. After all every religious tradition says that God is everywhere, or the Holy Spirit is everywhere so it is right here, the Holy Spirit is right here. How is it that it is not touching me? How do I make it possible? Somehow it becomes more and more clear that I am not letting God touch me. I don’t need to use the word God but every sage has said that the entire space is permeated by subtle energies or, Cosmic Intelligence, which is the expression Einstein uses. Classically one would have said “God”. Every sage has said this, without exception. It doesn’t matter whether they are Hindus, or Muslims, or Christians. If we allow that possibility, the Holy Spirit is right here. Something is required from me, for that Holy Spirit to actually touch me. The ideal would be that the Holy Spirit could act through me. Use my mind, my body, my language, but rather than Ravi speaking, Krishna could speak.
Iain: I think one of the things you said on Tuesday night towards the end is, “The greatest mystery of all is ‘Who am I’?” We come back to that on our journey, on our Quest… ‘Who am I?’
Ravi: It is actually in a way the greatest mystery and all traditions would say that. At least in theory very strong suggestion, even in the Bible, that human beings are made in the image of God. But, the general idea is that a fully developed human being can mirror the entire cosmos, all the levels, from God down to dead matter. If that is theoretically allowed as a possibility, then the question clearly becomes very relevant… ‘What am I’? I prefer the sentence, ‘What am I’ even more than ‘Who am I?’ Because ‘Who am I?, still seems more personal. ‘What am I?’ makes it a little bit more scientific sounding expression. But then, associated with it is almost always the question ‘Why am I here?’ Why would this vast universe… even when we are speaking, hundreds of galaxies are appearing and disappearing and we are just in a very ordinary average galaxy around a very peripheral star. So it’s hardly arranged around me. Why would these subtle energies in the universe take the trouble of making me alive for a few decades? Why am I here? This question is very deeply connected with ‘What am I?’ or ‘Who am I?’
Iain: I’d quite like to finish this interview with the question ‘Why am I here?’
Ravi: I agree. I hope anyone who is listening to this interview would ask oneself, ‘What am I? Why am I here?’
Iain: Thank You Ravi. I’m going to show a couple of your books again, ones I have read, Heart Without Measure: Gurdjieff Work with Madame de Salzmann and a little book, Krishnamurti: Two Birds on One Tree, and Science and the Sacred. Thank you for watching conscious.tv and I hope we see you again soon. Good bye.
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