AS LONG AS WE persist in seeing just what we want to see, and disregarding or twisting everything else to suit our particular views and preferences, all that we might say about Truth is vain and meaningless. Moreover, much of what we call Religion is a selection of certain things made long ago by people who had, in many cases, personal aims and purposes in mind. Most people since then merely inherited their religion from others, knowing little, if anything at all of the foundations of their religion, or of how it came into being. Thus, delusion is carried over from generation to generation, and is even added to rather than reduced; it is given the sanction of time, and seldom questioned.
Sometime in 1992, while glancing through a local Melbourne newspaper (which is something I rarely do), I came across a short announcement which read: "UFO researcher seeks genuine new friendships with anyone who cares anything at all about UFO's. Come and have coffee with me anytime. Colin."
Well, I have little doubt that there are—must be, by reason of the immensity of the universe—such things as UFO's and Extra Terrestrials, and am interested in their philosophical implications. I called Colin and made an appointment to go to see him a couple of days later, at 9:30 a.m.; being an early riser myself I thought this would not be an unearthly hour to visit anyone. However, my standards of early and not-so-early were obviously not his, for when I arrived at his door and rang the bell, I was met by a long silence, until finally, he lumbered down the hallway and opened the door, clad in a scruffy old dressing-gown, still half asleep. I guessed he had been out in some distant galaxy the night before and had gotten back late.
He invited me in and showed me his bookshelves, and told me to browse while he went to straighten his antennae and rinse the stardust from his eyes. I was struck by the predominance of books on the Bible and Christianity, and (sorry if this displays bias on my part) thought: "What have I got myself into here?" There were also several framed certificates with dubious and preposterous titles like: "From Jehovah God to Colin," and "Lord Colin Something-or-other."
Anyway, I was there and could hardly leave immediately, so had to stick it out for a while, and went along with him politely while he spouted a lot of unabashed nonsense. He claimed that E.T.'s, of whom there are different kinds, of course—"MIB's" or "Men-in-black" (the bad guys, one of whom Colin said had once fired some kind of ray at him which had caused him acute headaches and nightmares ever since), and their opposites, the good guys, whose generic name I don't remember, not deeming it of great importance—had come to Earth to verify and endorse the Judaeo-Christian Bible. My reaction to this was: "Why only the Bible? There are lots of other Scriptures in the world that are regarded by their adherents as 'holy' and authentic." But he seemed to know nothing about them, which caused me to further doubt his sincerity, as I feel that a serious Ufologist, such as Erich Von Daniken (the author of the best selling book on the subject, Chariots of the Gods), would surely have made the effort to examine the various scriptures of the world for possible references to UFO's, and not confined his research to just one book, especially since he (Colin) had been interested in UFO's for thirty years or more. He further claimed that J.C. was an ET., and quoted his words: "My kingdom is not of this world," in support of his contention. He also showed me some photos that he had taken of 'UFO's', but they were just blurry bright spots in the sky that could have been anything, and were not at all convincing. And, needless to say, he was a veteran of so many trips in space-craft that it had become as commonplace and unremarkable as riding on Melbourne's trams!
He wasn't aware that I was a monk, as I don't always wear my robes, and my hair at that time was about 1 cm long, but later, after I had told him of my opinion of the accounts of bloodshed and horrific crimes to be found in the Old Testament, and the anthropomorphic deity created by man (rather than the other way around) therein described, I revealed to him that I was a monk. He seemed a bit surprised at this, and, if I might say so, rather impressed; perhaps he'll add me as another feather in his cap, and might even consider me an E.T.! I went on to tell him something of my 'down-to-earth' philosophy, which, while it has room for UFO's, E.T.'s, and lots of other things, is quite in contrast to his head full of scrambled ideas.
Anyway, I made an excuse to leave, and thought: "That's that; no point in pursuing it any further." A couple of days later, however, I got a call from 'Lord' Colin, inviting me over there again; he said some of his friends would like to meet me.
Well, since he didn't offer to send a UFO to pick me up, I prevaricated somewhat, and told him "maybe some other time." But, considering that there was a possibility that his friends might be a little less addled and more open-minded than him, I agreed to go when they called me again a few days later; there might be an opportunity to impart some Dharma to them, I thought.
The second visit, however, was even worse than the first because, although there was one man there who seemed to be a bit more rational than Lord Colin, the others were clearly under the sway of their silly leader. Sometime into the meeting, he asked me if I would like to see a video about UFO's, and I thought: "Well, anything's better than having to listen to twaddle from these folks," so eagerly agreed. It was a home video they had made, and one part of it showed them making a trip out to some mountain where, at night, they shone flashlights up into the sky in an attempt to attract any UFO's that might be in the vicinity.
Around Lord Colin's neck was 'a priceless crystal from Venus'—obtained during one of his trips there, no doubt—which he said enabled him to communicate with extra terrestrials in their spacecraft. Unfortunately, on that particular night no such craft responded to their signals; perhaps the E.T.'s were camera shy!
Another section of the tape showed Lord Colin and some of his friends sitting in a circle, holding hands, meditating, and chanting "Om." He then said to them, "What did you get? What did you feel? Did you feel anything?" For people who are supposed to be initiates into cosmic mysteries (as they claimed) they looked very silly!
Our capacity for deceiving ourselves is so great, and we cling fiercely to anything that offers us the slightest chance to escape from, or avoid, the harsh realities of life, no matter how foolish or illogical it might be. With our beliefs and concepts, we try to measure the Immeasurable, rather like trying to empty the ocean with a spoon!
All religions advocate or prescribe codes of discipline or things to be done and not done. Such things, like prayer, meditation, fasting, donating to charity, and so on, usually differ from what people normally do in their daily lives.
Now, why does religion recommend/prescribe such disciplines, and why do people do them? Dare we ask this? Dare we go into it, and examine our motives, to find out what lies behind? It might pay dividends if we did.
Are such things expressions of our understanding; that is, do they come naturally and spontaneously? Or do we do them in order to get something back in return? What are we aiming for with our pious practices? Do we know? Are we merely following what someone has told us, or do we see, clearly, the benefits that come immediately from doing them? Do we do them because it is right to do them, as things complete in themselves, or as means to an end?
If we are aiming for Truth, or Enlightenment, God, Nirvana, or whatever name we use to designate the Absolute—supposing that there is such a thing—we should know that It—the Unconditioned—cannot be manipulated, produced, brought about or attained by any practice or practices whatsoever. We cannot go to It, for It is already Here. Thus, there is no Path or Way to It, for a Path is always something that leads from here to there, or from there to here, or somewhere else, but there is no Way to get to Here, as we are already Here, although we don't know it. All we have to do is to see It; there is nothing to attain that we have not already got.
Ramana Maharishi, an Indian sage who died of cancer in 1956, said this on the subject: "Renunciation and Realization are the same; they are different aspects of the same state. Giving up the Non-Self is renunciation; inhering in the Self is Jhana or Self-Realization. One is the negative and the other is the positive aspect of the same single truth. Bhakti, Jhana, Yoga—are different names for Self-Realization or Mukti, which is our real nature. These appear as the means first; they eventually are the goal. So long as there is conscious effort required on our part to keep up bhakti, jhana, yoga, etc., they are the means. When they go on without any effort on our part we have attained the goal.
"There is no Realization to be achieved. The Real is ever as it is. What we have done is realized the unreal, that is, we have taken for real the unreal. We have only to give up that; that is all that is needed."
This is not to say that our practices are wrong; they aren't. What is wrong, or maybe not right, is how we carry them out, and why. By means of such activities, we aim to acquire something that we've already got, and often, in our haste and desire, we become fools, bigots, and hypocrites. Also, we tend to blind ourselves to what is in front of us, and bring about self-projected (self-created or imagined) ends. Thus, some Buddhists see visions of the Buddha or Bodhisattvas in forms consonant with their ethnic or cultural background (Chinese Buddhists would see the Buddha in the Chinese style, for example, as they would expect to see Him, and not in the Thai or Sri Lankan style, while Tibetan Buddhists would see Him as portrayed in Tibetan images or paintings, etc.). Likewise with people of other religions: Christians would see visions of Jesus or Mary in forms familiar to them. It is unlikely that Buddhists would see visions of Jesus or Krishna, or Christians see visions of the Buddha or Rama. But if such visions were truly what Carl Jung called 'archetypes'—that is, symbols of things universal, and therefore common to all humanity—there would be no reason at all why Christians should not see visions of the Buddha or Buddhists see visions of Jesus, and so on, for these things would transcend cultural and religious barriers. Can it be, therefore, that we see—when and if we see—only things that we have been programmed to see, and that visions are subjective—from the mind—rather than objective—from outside? People believe that their visions are real and objective, of course, because they want to believe, but are they, really? Are they any more 'real' than dreams, or drug-induced hallucinations? When we dream, we think it is real at the time, and indeed, it is as real while it lasts as waking life is while we are awake. Can we say that waking life is not a dream?
Can we be sure that what we are doing at this or any other moment is not a dream? When we are dreaming, do we know we are dreaming, or do we think it is real? Life as we know it is of the substance of a dream, and once something has passed out of the present into the past, we cannot be sure that it really happened, or if it was just a dream. Neither can we be sure that the present is not a dream.
Many people are familiar with the old story of a man who had a dream that he was a butterfly, flying around from flower to flower, doing what butterflies do. And when he woke up, he wasn't sure that he was a man who had had a dream that he was a butterfly, or if he was a butterfly now dreaming that he was a man!
Not long ago, I had a dream that I was being bitten by bed bugs (and I have had some experience of these creatures in India and other countries); I woke up and began looking for the bite marks on my legs, and was surprised to find there were none!
So, how can we determine what is true and what is not, what is real and what is unreal? Is it really within our capacity to do so? Or must we allow Truth—if there is such a 'thing'—to reveal itself to us, and work through us? We cannot 'practice' Truth; Truth must live in us, or manifest through us. Nor can we talk about It, as It is not a word, and any attempt to catch or measure it with words is useless. Like this, organized religion, with its theories and dogmas, does more harm than good, as it forces us into unnatural beliefs and patterns, instead of helping us to unfold and develop our potential.
In short, to sum up: religion is more of a matter of learning to put something back into life than getting something out, of overcoming delusion rather than of encouraging it and of thereby discovering who we are.
As he was about to die, some disciples of Ramana Maharishi begged him not to leave them. He replied: "But I'm not going anywhere; there is nowhere to go!"