Robert K. Hall interviewed by Wendy Rains
Concepts and Realities in regards to Racial and Ethnic Preferences
Robert and I found ourselves chatting about all the differences between
people, and when he expressed to me that all our differences are illusory,
I felt compelled to explore that more with him.
WR: Robert, if love of life is considered human nature’s deepest instinct, how does hate happen?
RKH: Consciousness is split into polar opposites in our world. For love to exist there has to be hate in the mind. There’s always dark and light, negative and positive. Every good impulse has a stand towards darkness. The purpose of spiritual practice is to transcend and find freedom from the constraints of those polarities. They are states of mind, not reality at all.
WR: Are you saying that ideas are not real or that concepts are just make believe?
RKH: Ideas and concepts are not “experienceable”. We live in a world of concepts and the appearance of things, but we can only actually experience ourselves through our bodily senses, and we need to awaken to that reality. We are that reality.
WR: And is “realization” something that has to require years of work?
RKH: No, but usually it does. It’s very rare, but sometimes people spontaneously awaken for no apparent reason. The mystery of that remains a mystery. We are so steeped in our commitment to ignorance, and believing in “separate self”.
WR: Doesn’t existence automatically come with ignorance and suffering?
RKH: Yes, it’s the human condition; no-one of us is immune to that.
WR: Is reality truth, then? And are there levels of truth?
RKH: Yes, absolute reality is truth, and there are gradations of awakening to that reality, for sure. Buddha taught that there is conditional truth, which is the ordinary condition of mind, and ultimate truth or Nirvana, referred to as the “realm of the deathless” where any sense of “me, mine or I” is extinguished. Truth exists here and now. The ordinary conditioned mind of our everyday life comes with attachment to the past, so we always understand ourselves in light of what has happened, and seldom are really aware in the freedom of the present moment. We are oriented to thinking of ourselves as separate from everything beyond our skin, a way of understanding the world that Buddha called “wrong view” or ignorance of our true self. We don’t, in truth, know what we really are, and that leads to a lot of dissatisfaction. Conditioned mind and ultimate truth co-exist simultaneously. Of course, they are not physical places. By letting the attachment to separation, the belief in separate existence, with all its opinions, agendas and judgments, fall away, (all are thoughts, really), we awaken out of ignorance. What’s left is ultimate reality, which is our natural state. You might think of it as unconditional love and compassion for all that is.
WR: Why is it important or necessary to differentiate between concepts and reality?
RKH: Because we are not experiencing our lives directly, when we are only aware of a world organized and motivated by concepts and beliefs. We know ourselves for certain through what we can actually experience. Thought, belief, opinion, dissatisfaction, cruelty, lust for power over others, and fear are all phenomena of the mind’s attachment to separate self. In reality there is no separation. Everything is interconnected. In order to live skillfully and with compassionate heart, we need to awaken out of concepts about life into the experience of life, itself. My first teacher, Fritz Perls, used to say, “lose your mind and come to your senses.”
WR: And how does Buddhism help one to understand the differences between concept and reality?
RKH: Buddhism is a practical “science of the mind”, not a religion. Included within the teachings is a method of carefully examining the body/mind and learning how it works. This allows us to come more and more in contact with what we actually experience, as opposed to our ideas about what’s going on. It’s grounded in the discipline of depending entirely on one’s own experience. Investigate that experience to discover one’s own truth.
WR: How can we accept differences?
RKH: The division between sameness and difference is characteristic of the separate egoist way of thinking. When both polarities… sameness and difference, are embraced equally, the possibility exists of living in a world without fear, conflict, misunderstanding, and loneliness.
WR: How is it possible for diverse cultures to accept each other and live harmoniously?
RKH: It would be possible if enough people were to realize that brown and white, Mexican and American, male and female, are all concepts….not what we actually experience in relationship to each other. We must let the concepts fall away and relate to each other heart to heart. Just as we relate to each other through our differences, we need to understand equally our sameness. We can find that sameness through awareness of the sensations, the “ongoing felt body sense” of being alive that is shared commonly by all humans. That level of awareness is not concerned about color or ethnicity or gender.
WR: That’s great, but isn’t it a reality that people have different color skin, blue or slanted eyes, blond hair, etc., and judge others or are judged by these factors?
RKH: Yes, that comes with our habit of identifying ourselves as beings that are separate from the world and each other. We actually have a foot in both worlds …relative reality and absolute reality. Absolute reality being unconditional love, the ground of everything we experience, and relative reality being this sense of existing alone in the world.
WR: If these judgments are taught, can they be “un-taught?”
RKH: Yes… When they are recognized as being judgments, just concepts of the mind.
WR: Is there an inner duality, then, that we are constantly trying to reconcile within ourselves?
RKH: We live in constant tension between dual polarities. This causes suffering. To be released from this suffering is the goal of all religions.
WR: Do you teach a version of everything you have been taught or learned?
RKH: Yes. I teach from my experience as it has related to all my practices and training….in medicine, meditation, body-work, study of scriptures, psychiatry, and, most of all, learning about love. Being a father and grandfather has been a huge influence. I try very hard to only teach what I have experienced. I’m not into teaching concepts that have no authenticity outside my own experience.
WR: How rare that must be. So..are we not, as ex pats who have chosen to live in another country, sort of driven into forming our own pods because we, too, are stereotyped here and kept out of the local mainstream in the same way immigrants in the US are treated?
RKH: Absolutely! As friendly and generous as the local people are here, they are not open to us in the way they are to each other. That’s an understandable prejudice, and it goes deep. Few of us experience the world with open mind and open heart. We live divided from each other. It’s another way of clinging to our concepts of the world rather than being open to the world as it is. We are prejudiced from the past. Hardly anyone lives aware in the moment, which is the only time life actually happens. We are all prisoners of the past…
WR: What then, would be the ideal?
RKH: The ideal objective is to understand deeply the folly of clinging to any point of view taken by the conditioned mind. The Tao, which is older than Buddhism, teaches that the wise ones have no preferences.
WR: Wise, indeed. If enlightenment is every Buddhist’s goal, is it actually achievable and how would one know when it happens?
I would say “liberation” rather than enlightenment. That
word has so many connotations these days. Yes…absolutely achievable
by anyone with full intent and commitment. There isn’t any question
of anyone knowing that it has happened, because when real liberation
happens, there’s no longer anyone there to know! That’s
what makes it liberation…freedom from separation, fear, and small
self. Complete liberation or awakening….”extinguishing”…is
unimaginable! What’s extinguished is the separate “me.”
Nothing changes, everything happens as usual, except the “me”
point of view is gone. The awakening is not describable with
WR: Do you think there are people with no purpose at all?
is an ordained Buddhist priest and meditation teacher, as well as a
published poet and performer.
Wendy Rains makes Todos Santos her home, where she is a designer, artist, poet and published columnist.