Saturday, November 6, 2010


Hello and Happy Saturday!

I wish to thank Rachel for her very interesting interview last week- thank you for sharing your journey with us Rachel!

This week we have a new interview, so please welcome AnOceanofJoy.
AnOceanofJoy is Buddhist and I know you will enjoy his post as well!

Here Is AnOceanofJoy's Introduction:

I am a 28 year old guy living in London. In 2007 I underwent a Near Death Experience and spiritual transformation which has since led to me becoming a Buddhist. I have a Bachelor Degree in International Studies and currently work as a Policy Officer for a Cancer Charity. I am very interested in world religions, in particular Buddhist traditions, and would like to hear from other people who have gone through similar spiritual emergences. email:

1) What religion do you practice?

2) Did you convert or were you born into this religion? If you converted, what did you need to do to convert? And what did you practice prior to converting?
For most of my life I was an atheist and shared most, if not all of the views shared by the fellow atheists who have contributed to this blog. I was incredibly anti most religions, I thought the concepts of heaven and hell were utterly ridiculous and subscribed fervently to Shakespeare’s old adage that “Life is a tale told by an idiot full of sounds and fury signifying absolutely nothing.”

Boy was I given a big wake up call.

When I was 27 I went out with a group of friends one night and I ingested a large

amount of the drug ketamine, an anaesthetic known to produce strong disassociation and the collapse of the ego in higher doses. What happened to me was quite simply beyond words, beyond anything I could have even begin to have conceived of in my wildest dreams. Basically I experienced the death of my ego and an enormous spiritual awakening. I have since had the opportunity to do a lot of reading on the power of different entheogens, many of which have been used by tribes, shamans and as part of religious ceremonies throughout history. I was the most ardent disbeliever in anything spiritual before I had this experience. To this day I cannot believe just how powerful what happened to me was. Overnight, my entire perspective on my innner most nature, and the nature of existence was completely and irrevocably changed.

Since that time I have been seeking some kind of explanation - both scientific and spiritual - about what happened to me. I have been in contact with shamans in south America, ketamine researchers in Russia, monks, theologists, quantam physicists and anyone who may be able to help me understand the experience. What really blew me away was my discovery that once you dig below the surfence you start to realise that there are thousands if not millions of people who have been able to break through the human ego and into the spiritual realm through the use of different types of entheogens. I should make a point here that I am not talking about simply getting high on drugs – which I am by no means condoning. Entheogens are not recreational drugs, they are substances often found in nature such as in flowers, cacti and plants, and in my opinion they exist for a reason. Put quite simply, until you have experienced the spirutual state these plants are capable of producing, it is unfortunately impossible to have an opinion on this type of experience. It's completely ineffable. If somebody had of tried to explain it to me before I had this experience I would have told them that they were nuts. In any case a more detailed account of my near death experience is available here.

Since my near death experience I have been using Buddhism as a way of exploring two things I have taken for granted for most of my life – my mind and human consciousness. You don’t necessarily have to formally convert to become a Buddhist, you merely need to start adopting Buddhist practices in your life. Should you feel the need to take part in a ceremony, the ceremony involved is called ‘Taking Refuge’. The refuge ceremony centres on what are referred to the three jewels (or refuges) of Buddhism:

-the Buddha

-the Dharma, his teachings;

-the Sangha, the Buddhist community

In going to refuge you surrender yourself to these three jewels.

3) Would you consider yourself a moderate, conservative or other.
Having only just adopted Buddhism in my life in the past few years I would say that I am still quite new to the practice, and not entirely devoted to it. I have adopted what I find useful from Buddhist philosophy, but happily read the philosophy of other religions such as Hinduism and the Vedas (ancient Indian texts written in Vedic Sanskrit) which form the basis for much eastern thought.)

4) In your opinion, what makes you moderate/conservative/other?
I consider myself to be quite moderate and open because I am not dogmatic about the way in which I use Buddhism in my life, and I certainly don't try to impose the pathway I have chosen on others. I also do not adhere to Buddhism to the exclusion of all other religions and I believe that all religions are ways in which mankind tries to put into words and narratives something that is ultimately ineffable. To use a metaphor, I imagine the religions of the world as camps of men and women standing around an enormous bonfire which we might term ‘god’ or ‘existence’ or the ‘universe’ etc. One group might claim that the fire they see is orange, others from their perspective may say it as red, others yellow. No doubt each group will have its own take on the fire and its characteristics – i.e. its size, its purpose, its meaning etc. But the most important thing we must always keep in mind when we engage in pan-religious dialogues; is that we are all still talking about the same fire… and each of us who has chosen to pursue a spiritual path in life feels it burning deeply inside and knows its existence to be real. Thus we can appreciate how for each of those groups of men and women standing around the fire of creation, that their perspective, their narrative, their way of coming to terms with this enormous phenomenon is true for them, regardless of whether or not it is true from an ontological perspective. The ultimate truth of the universe and of our inner most nature is, in my opinion, not static. It is multifaceted, intertwined, multidimensional, and no doubt quite beyond our ability as humans to comprehend. Even if we were told what the true nature of god was, odds are we would probably we incapable of understanding it . There are many truths regarding god and I believe that the ineffability of the divine is one of the main reasons why we should remain humble and respectful of the diversity of all of the narratives (religions) that have been passed down throughout the eons of human existence.

5) In your opinion, what makes someone conservative? What makes someone moderate?
I think these terms are for the most part quite unhelpful since they are used in so many different contexts. 'Conservative' seems to point towards a strict adherence and literal interpretations of the doctrines of the religion, whereas 'moderate' would seem to indicate a more liberal approach. I think before I could judge somebody on their claim to one of these classfications I would have to hear their position in greater detail.

6) What's your heaven/paradise like?
The Buddhist perspective of paradise is known as ‘nirvana’ or 'enlightenment', although it would be quite reasonable to assert that the narratives expounded by all religions of what this place/state may be like are essentially describing the same thing. Enlightenment, nirvana, heaven, whatever you want to call it, is not a place, it is a spiritual realisation, a level a consciousness reached once we have learnt what we are meant to learn as human beings. In Buddhism this would be qualities such as selflessness, abundant compassion for sentient beings, the separation of ego and self, detachment from emotions etc. We cannot move beyond our earthly existence until we are a truly weary with what Buddhist’s refer to as Samsara (the cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth). Release from this cycle is said to occur through deep introspection, meditation and then the ultimate realisation that reality as we know it is created by the ego, which incessantly affirms the notion that we are individuals; fractured shards of a mirror which cannot be placed back together. The mind itself is like a dusty shard of this fractured mirror clouded by thoughts and emotions. But in silence and meditation the mind is capable of becoming like a brightly polished mirror capable of reflecting back on itself and ultimately realising the true nature of human existence.

The philosopher Alan Watts, speaking on the true nature of the divine said:

“God likes to play hide-and-seek, but because there is nothing outside God, he has no one but himself to play with. But he gets over this difficulty by pretending that he is not himself. This is his way of hiding from himself. He pretends that he is you and I and all the people in the world, all the animals, all the plants, all the rocks, and all the stars. In this way he has strange and wonderful adventures, some of which are terrible and frightening. But these are just like bad dreams, for when he wakes up they will disappear.

Now when God plays hide and pretends that he is you and I, he does it so well that it takes him a long time to remember where and how he hid himself. But that's the whole fun of it—just what he wanted to do. He doesn't want to find himself too quickly, for that would spoil the game. That is why it is so difficult for you and me to find out that we are God in disguise, pretending not to be himself. But when the game has gone on long enough, all of us will wake up, stop pretending, and remember that we are all one single Self—the God who is all that there is and who lives for ever and ever.

-- Alan Watts, 'On the taboo of knowing who you are'

7) In your opinion, does everyone make it into heaven/paradise? If they do not, why?
Buddhists would say that the place where your consciousness evolves to depends on your past actions (karma). Since every action, no matter how small, has a resulting reaction, where we end up after this life greatly depends on what the sum of all our actions are. Since Buddhists believe that heaven and hell and spiritual states rather than physical places, it stands to order that we ourselves are the ones who condemn ourselves to lower forms of rebirth through our own ignorance – not understanding our true nature, and clinging to our ego. The notion that heaven is like some sort of club which we either “make it into” or not seems to me an oversimplification of a far more complex process. For example, how could I as a Buddhist, whose primary concern is developing compassion for all sentient beings, be content with achieving a state of nirvana and then leaving all my fellow human beings left to wander through Samsaric existence (the illusion of reality.) All human beings, regardless of whether or not they have lived a good life or a very evil have a right to break free from suffering. I can think of no crime, no action, no deed so evil that it could warrant an eternity of suffering in a place such as hell. I can however conceive of a state of mind where the human being would be forced to come to terms with the affects that his or her actions had. If many evil acts were committed in a lifetime this realisation after death may be a very painful and protracted one which we might describe as a form of hell. It would not be a permanent state of being though since even a large amount of negative karma can eventually be exhausted through wisdom and the realisation of our errors.

9) What are your holy days and what do you do to celebrate them?
I personally do not celebrate any holy days, although many exist in Buddism.

10) Do you consider people of other faiths to be your friends?
Because not everyone has the same inclinations and interests, Buddha taught various methods to different people. Citing this example, His Holiness the Dalai Lama has said that it is wonderful that so many different religions exist in the world. Just as one food will not appeal to everybody, one religion or one set of beliefs will not satisfy everyone's needs. Therefore, it is extremely beneficial that a variety of different religions are available from which to choose.

11) Would you ever join people of another faith to celebrate one of their holy days? Please explain why?
I would as I think that all religions are precious and that we can learn something from each and every one of them. Joining in on their holy days would be a very special experience indeed.

12) What are your thoughts on the burka, and Shariah Law?
This is definitely quite a topical area for discussion. Personally I am against any form of oppression, such as the idea that women need to cover up to help men avoid physical lust. I understand however that many Muslim women choose to cover up to show their devotion to their religion. I think any form of religious fundamentalism is dangerous. It’s almost as though people get so caught up in the finer details of the religion that they forget the most important tenets, love, respect, compassion, and loving thy neighbour regardless of his or her differences. A person’s spiritual journey should not be imposed on them by another. Spiritual development is a process and we must all be free to develop at our own pace. In the same way that one would not rip apart the petals of a flower had it not yet begun to bloom, one should not force the hand of a person who is not ready to contemplate spiritual matters. This included by imposing cultures, customs, and ways of dressing.

With regards to Shariah Law, I feel it important to note that many people speak of Shariah law without realising that the term describes many different ways of ruling Islamic society. There are in fact many different schools of Shariah Law which include:

Hanbali: This is the most conservative school of Shari'a. It is used in Saudi Arabia and some states in Northern Nigeria.

Hanifi: This is the most liberal school, and is relatively open to modern ideas.

Maliki: This is based on the practices of the people of Medina during Muhammad's lifetime.

Shafi'i: This is a conservative school that emphasizes on the opinions of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad.


Muslims say the Western world misrepresents Shariah by focusing on beheadings in Saudi Arabia and other gruesome punishments. The equivalent, they say, would be a debate about the history of Western law focused on America's electric chair.

13) What are your thoughts on women not being allowed to become priests?
I believe that men and women are equal and therefore would have no problem with a woman becoming a priest.

14) Does your place of worship segregate? If yes, how does this make you feel?
No, Buddhism is open to any person regardless of their gender, religious beliefs, sexual orientation etc.

15) How much does your religion affect your daily life and how much thought do you give it when making a decision? Does it affect in any way your decision on abortion, gay marriage, etc?
I think the entire point of religion is to give us guidelines, morals, ethics, principles etc by which to live our life. It has been said that Buddhism is more than a religion - it is a philosophy of life, a way of choosing to view human existence. Since the meaning of the word Buddha is “awakened one”, a Buddhist spends most of his or her life trying to achieve this state of spiritual awakening. This means cultivating a very high level of self awareness and learning not to let negative human emotions such as anger and hatred consume oneself.

16) How would you react/feel if your child wished to marry outside your religion?
I do not believe that love and religions are coterminous. All human beings should be free to love the person most dear to them regardless of their religion, gender, race etc.

17) In your opinion, if someone is not of your faith, will they go to hell?
I do not believe hell is a place, I believe it is a state we condemn ourselves to through clinging, ignorance and hatred. As I previously mentioned I believe that all religions are narratives – ways of explaining and developing an awareness of something that is, in essence, completely beyond the ability of language to articulate. There is a very good documentary which elaborates on this which can be found here.

18) Who do you think is not a practicing ----- in your religion and why? ie who in the public domain claims to speak for your religion? Do you agree with them or not?
Most Buddhists would agree that the Dalai Lama is the highest authority on Buddhism in the world today. His message of peace, love and tolerance has won him the respect not just of Buddhists but of people from all religions and walks of life across the globe. He is also a Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

19) Have you ever been the target of a hate crime? Please explain.

20) Do you ever feel like your religion devalues you?

21) Does your religion give you peace of mind?
I don’t think it gives me peace of mind but it gives me the drive to be a better person and to develop the wisdom I believe we all need as humans to evolve to a higher spiritual state of being.

22) Do you believe in reincarnation? Why or why not?
Reincarnation is one the principal tenets of Buddhism. It centres on the idea of impermanency, and that everything in the universe is cyclical. In recent times scientific enquiry, through quantum physics, had also proven many of the ideas underpinning the Buddhist concept of reincarnation – i.e. that energy can never cease to exist, the uncertainty principle etc.

Here is a quote from a very good article discussing the quantam physics perspective on reincarnation

We, ourselves, consist entirely of quantum stings. Our identities, our names, our personalities, our beliefs, opinions, senses of humor-indeed, what we think of as our minds. We consist of one-dimensional bits of the cosmic total. And we might just as well be different bits--elsewhere--because the "self" is essentially an organizing principle which we have imposed upon this chaos. If you were to stand back far away from us, we would appear to be a no-dimensional point, but as you draw closer, we are revealed to be a great deal more than that.

Therefore, our identities were assembled from this quantum material, or Ether, by the organizing principle of our conception of ourselves. We bring ourselves into being. Our consciousness is the gravitation. We came from whirling nothing, we return to whirling nothing. The dust we came from and the dust to which we return are not really there, but thinking makes it so.

These bits might as comfortably be at the other end of the universe as where they are. Only by the act of regarding them do we hold them together. You assemble your bits, I assemble mine, and when we cease thinking they all fly back into the general pool of Everything, Everywhere. So you and I temporarily consist of ourselves, and someday may well consist of other selves. We will be back, but a precious lot of good it will do us, because we won't know it. So, yes, reincarnation is possible from a rationalist, scientific point of view. We have been and will be reincarnated as part of the vast store of everything there is. We will be suns, moon, stars, rain. Look for us in the weather reports.

1 comment:

  1. Your reincarnation can get a head start now, by planting seeds of compassion generated by one's good deeds in the memories of friends, family and strangers...a positive vibration of you in their mind. It will ripple out from there.