March 28, 2011

Interview with Carlos Pomeda: Scholar, Tantric Philosopher & Meditation Teacher.

Recently I sat down with Carlos Pomeda to discuss the path toward enlightenment, the difference between self-awareness and narcissism, and where to get a mean breakfast taco should you find yourself in Austin, Texas.

I met renowned scholar, Tantric philosopher and meditation teacher Carlos Pomeda in a workshop about three years ago.

I was immediately struck by his quick wit, practical approach to philosophy and simple way of breaking down otherwise cerebral spiritual stuff. He had the remarkable ability to take a sign posted in a bathroom (“Please flush carefully. Namaste.”) and weave it into a meaningful message.

VF: I’m curious about your background. How does one end up a monk, anyway?

CP: Well, for me it was a combination of things. I remember being five years old and I wanted to be a priest. My older brother was studying in the seminary and I was just very inspired by that type of life from a very early age. And then moving forward to the teenage years, I saw an ad for Hatha yoga. This was in Madrid, and I didn’t even know what Hatha yoga was, but my whole being was saying, you have to do this. And I wasn’t even sure exactly what it was, so I started looking and I found a book about Hatha yoga and I started practicing it.

As I was reading about the asana and trying to do the poses, it was like I already knew them. It was interesting—like I was re-discovering something I already knew how to do. And at the same time (this was 37 years ago), I found out about meditation. It was a similar thing—I still remember the poster I saw—and again, in me something said, this is something you have to do.

I wasn’t sure what meditation was, but it was similar to my experience with yoga. So I went to the introductory lecture, and there the premise that fascinated me was that you could actually stop your mind. For me, the big question was, so if I stop my mind, what is left? And that’s what drove me to meditation to investigate. Everything is sort of a modern day version of the “who am I” type of search.

When I started meditation it was amazing because it completely changed my experience of who I am. I started realizing we are not our bodies; we are something that completely transcends the body and the mind.

It was about two years after that, after I had been practicing on my own, that I met my guru. It was one of those things. I wasn’t looking for a guru; I didn’t even know what the word guru meant. I didn’t know anything really; I was learning, everything was new. But what happened was, when I met him, here was somebody who didn’t know me. I was just one of many people who had come to him that day, and he was doing a meditation intensive. It was a whole weekend where he gave initiation. And again, I didn’t have much understanding. I didn’t know anything about the background or all of that, but what I remember is that in the initiation, that was the most powerful experience in my life.

I became immersed in the state of Samadhi. I became immersed in a state of pure being, pure awareness right there. I wasn’t thinking. There’s no mind in this state. It was just this immediate knowing that this is what we all are—this transcendental infinite consciousness. In other words, the single most important experience of my life.

Two things: the fact that I had this experience showed me already that this is what I need to do in my life. Whatever I do I must make this state permanent. And so my life became, after that, just about the pursuit of enlightenment. Whatever else I do is secondary to my primary goal.

The other thing is, here is somebody who did not know me at all from anybody else in there, and yet he gave me the most precious, the most sublime experience one could ever have. So his example really inspired me a lot. I was very young, and since he had dedicated his whole life to others, my old desire of wanting to be a priest came up, and I decided that I wanted to dedicate my life primarily to the pursuit of meditation and teaching it as well. You know, sharing it with others.

And so that is what drove me to become a monk. And the rest is a matter of the logistics. My guru was very traditional in this way, so we underwent all the necessary initiation, the rituals and all of that, and that was a lifestyle that allowed me to be one-pointed, dedicated to study and practice, and again also teaching and sharing with others.

VF: So at this point you were like, 18 or 19 years old?

CP: When I met my guru I was 19; when I first started to meditate I was 16.

VF: I’m intrigued by what you said: “You knew you had to pursue enlightenment.” Can you talk to me a little about that? Because something that confuses me is, pursuing enlightenment seems counter-intuitive in a way—the act of pursuing…

CP: Yes, but you know there’s a whole New Age common phrase now about “Everything is already here.” What one needs to understand is that you have to look at your own experience. The truth of the matter is, if in this moment you are not aware of that oceanic being pervading everything, if you’re looking out and you’re seeing different objects, different people and so on and so forth, then there’s something you need to attain. The whole philosophy of non-attaining is a form of practice. It’s a very subtle form of practice. It doesn’t work for most people. It becomes an excuse for laziness—for not doing practice.

For somebody who is very refined in their perception, who has developed a lot of self-awareness and is quite advanced in their practice, then that type of approach—immediacy of experience—becomes very obvious. But for most people that’s not the case, and we need to understand that every single system— whatever the emphasis they have in teaching and practice—tells us there is something to be attained.

There’s absolutely no ambiguity there, even if what we have to attain is the awareness that we always had it to begin with. In other words, it has to be there. We have to find transcendence; we have to find that part of being and consciousness that is beyond limitation, beyond separation. And either you have it or you don’t. The rest is just here.

VF: You talked a little bit about your path to becoming a monk. How did you fall into, if that’s the right term, Kashmir Shaivism?

CP: Yes, I wouldn’t call it “falling into,” more like forming an interest. Actually, when I met my guru I didn’t really know anything about even the basic terminology. I knew about meditation, about mantra, about asana—those were the things that I had been doing, and that was the extent of my knowledge. I had no idea about Indian philosophy or anything like that. But a lot of his teaching was from the perspective of Kashmir Shaivism and Tantra, and so it was through him that I started studying.

And ever since, I have resonated with this positive emphasis that Tantra has, and finding and transcending wherever we are in whatever we are doing. For me, the more I started studying, then it became like food for me. I mean, there were days when I would be studying literally for twelve hours, just pouring over the texts. And then also doing the practices, because that’s the other thing about these systems, they are all very practical, so you have to become familiar not only with the philosophy, but most importantly with the practices that they offer.

For me it’s been just sort of a love affair with Kashmir Shaivism. I think it’s such an elegant system, and I think it has so much to offer, particularly to Westerners—or, not just Westerners, but industrialized societies, people who are educated, who are sophisticated. This system is, as I said, incredibly elegant. I think that is a good word. It has formulations that you can apply and that give you a very cohesive picture of the universe and of our role in it. And also our path to awareness. It’s just amazing, really.

VF: Is it safe to assume that you were probably raised Catholic?

CP: Yes, I was.

VF: Okay. So, was there any sort of shedding of your Catholic upbringing and transitioning to Kashmir Shaivism? And I recognize that they are not apples to apples, but…

CP: What had happened to me was that, as I started thinking for myself as a teenager, I began having these conversations with the priests who came to teach us religion in school. And by religion, they meant of course Catholic doctrine. I started having these discussions with them and they, whenever I asked a difficult question, would tell me that that was a doubt, and it was a sin, and it was a dogma and I should just accept it.

And there was something inside of me, I remember this very clearly. I was seven years old the first time I was told this, and I remember something in me saying, “But if God has given us reason, surely God didn’t give us reason to put us in a world that we cannot understand somehow.”

I just refused to believe that one couldn’t understand things. And so, after I became a teenager, I lost faith. The theology didn’t make sense at all. There were so many logical faults, really, logical fallacies within the theology that I lost faith, and I thought God didn’t exist. It was just an invention, blah, blah, blah.

And then what happened, of course, was that in meditation, in that experience that I was telling you about, I understood that God is not an old man sitting in a cloud pushing buttons to send different events to different people. That really, this being, this supreme being, this transcendental ground of consciousness, is what some traditions call “God” and other traditions call “Shiva” and other traditions call “the void”—and the name really doesn’t matter. But there is an ultimate reality that is also so obvious, because when you have that experience, when you touch that space, it’s like coming home.

You immediately saw that this wasn’t fake; it was, “How could I have forgotten that this is what I am, and that I am not just this body?” It was so amazing.

So, once I had that experience, it allowed me later to make my peace back with Catholic religion. In fact, I understood Catholic religion for the first time when I was living in the ashram. I remember I was there and I was reading the words of St. John of the Cross, and St. Theresa of Avila, and realizing the inner path that they are talking about was this same one that I was also uncovering through these Indian meditative practices. And it’s like, okay, the language is different, but the experience he is talking about you can only talk about if you have been there.

The way St. John describes the ins and outs of the path, and the little things, the pitfalls to watch out for… Only somebody who has been there, who has walked that path themselves, can know about such things.

And I realized, the truth is really everywhere; there is no monopoly. But I still appreciate that in India they have developed schools of such sophistication that are, in my opinion, and I am certainly biased here, really the best means of expanding human consciousness. They are by no means the only ones, but as far as I am concerned, I find they are the best. I mean, some systems are just so sophisticated— it’s fantastic.

So, that’s how I made my peace again with my religious heritage.

VF: So what was the transition to being a scholar of the Gita?

CP: Well, the Gita is only one of my favorite texts. There are some texts that inspire you more than others, and the Gita is one of them for me. Particularly, the Tantric reading that the great teacher Abhinavagupta gives in his commentary is quite sublime. And again, quite practical as well. This is the thing that I love.

So I think it’s just a matter of, well, like Joseph Campbell said, “Follow your bliss.”

You know, some things just come naturally when you pursue what you love… everything seems to unfold. You seem to meet the right people, you seem to find the right publications, you seem to find the right situations, the right practices, and so on and so forth. So for me, looking back, the whole thing just unfolded on its own really.

VF: How, over the years, has your practice changed?

CP: It has changed in two directions, I’ve found. One is, it has changed in that it has become more constant. In the beginning, it was “Okay, so I’m meditating now, and now I am off to the rest of my life,” and I would forget about meditation. You know, the challenge that everybody finds is, “Oh, I feel so good when I am meditating, and then I have to come out and face everything, so how do I bring that same state to my work and so on?” And over the years, what’s happened is that there is less of a discontinuity.

I mean, I realized that in every practice we do, be it asana, pranayama, study, mantra, devotional practices, anything that you do—there is a connecting thread. And there is a connecting thread also with everything that happens to you in life. It is very interesting, as I have seen more and more that the challenges that we face, you know, the events that come to us are actually the very situations we need to make our attainment strong.

My guru used to talk about the Samadhi of the marketplace. He would say, “It’s very easy to attain Samadhi in your cave.”

There was this great saint, he became enlightened, and he came down from his cave to the marketplace, and somebody stepped on his foot, and he lost his state of Samadhi. So, you have to practice until that state is permanent, and you can have that state in the marketplace. And that’s what I feel, that that space has been opening up, that I see everything that happens more and more connected all the time.

The other thing that has happened is, if I had to choose one feature to describe my practice and how it has evolved, it has to be self-awareness. I am convinced now that self-awareness really is the key to all practices. It doesn’t matter what practice it is, if you are not increasing your self-awareness, you really need to look at how you are doing it and make some changes. Because really, all yoga is about that.

And that’s what I feel. That there has been a developing sense, almost like a space, like a deep space within myself that has been opening more and more and more and more, that is always there whatever else is happening on the outside. So, I find myself just undergoing the experiences that anybody does in life, the challenges and the joys in life, but at the same time it’s as if each time I am experiencing it from a deeper place within myself.

VF: Speaking to the readers of this interview or, say, the public, what are your thoughts about the distinction between self-awareness and narcissism or neurosis?

CP: Right. Yes, it is important that when we say self-awareness you put a big capital “S” on the “self.”

The reason is, we have a poverty of vocabulary, unfortunately. In Sanskrit we have like 16 different words that we can only translate as “consciousness” or “awareness” and that’s as far as we go.

And we are lucky—some languages don’t even have the equivalent of “awareness.” So, we do have that problem of vocabulary. But your question is excellent, because that is exactly the point. To me, the practice is not about becoming obsessed with all of your inner processes and what’s going on like in this age of blogs where everybody thinks their most minute emotion is worthy of broadcasting to the entire universe. That’s superficial. When I say self-awareness, I’m talking about the self as the innermost self. It’s a deeper place from which you can actually observe yourself, the one with the lowercase “s.”

VF: How did you become one of the mainstays in the Anusara community?

CP: Well, it happened very naturally, because of my friendship with John Friend. We actually met the first time he came to the ashram in India, and we have been friends ever since. I always loved John and his enthusiasm in teaching, and it was such a joy to see how he lived Hatha yoga. And at the same time, of course, his contact with Gurumayi and his stay in the ashram really gave him the opportunity to be exposed to Tantric philosophy and Kashmir Shaivism.

He and I, we have compared notes, and we have very similar inner trajectories where we both find ourselves resonating more and more with that Tantric approach than with the traditional approach of self-discipline, control—that sort of contractive, very masculine practice.
So, he started formulating his method of Anusara and, because we had similar trajectories, when I left the ashram and I started to teach in yoga studios, it was very natural. And when we had the opportunity of teaching together, I just loved how in tune we were. He could ask a question, and I knew exactly what he was asking for. I could say something, and he would use that in the asana that he was teaching.  Whenever we have had the chance to teach together it’s been a great sort of dance.  I just love working with him.

A lot of my work is not in Anusara—it’s probably about 50/50—but I am always very happy to help the work of Anusara in whatever way I can, because I think it has become such a positive power for good in the world. Literally, I see this phenomenon as I travel everywhere, that there are thousands of people making a transformation in their lives, changing their lives for the better, wanting to make a difference on the planet. I see that all the time. And through Anusara, also discovering this huge realm of yoga that is there beyond asana, I have told John a million times that I think what he is doing is perfect for this day and age, and therefore I am really very happy to cooperate in any way that I can.

VF: Given that I have taken a couple of workshops with you, and it’s always been in the construct of a yoga studio, what does your asana practice look like? Is it something that you still practice?

CP: Not very much. I do it because often I am so lucky that I get to teach with some of the best Hatha yoga teachers in the world, in conferences and workshops and retreats. Both my wife and I try to take advantage of that—practice with our dear friends. But, our main practice really is meditation. I used to do a lot of asana, and that served me very, very well. At one point I was too much into asana.  And then, over the years, the practice of meditation has become more important. So, I love asana, I still do it, and I am planning on continuing to do it as long as I can. But, meditation is the main practice for me now.

VF: In your experience, is there a right way to this path toward enlightenment? Meaning— in the yoga world there is a lot of what I think of as prescriptivism, I don’t know if that’s the right term—but just this, “This is the way to do it.” What is your experience with that?

CP: Oh yes, that’s a great question. And you know what, this is one of the things I loved about yoga from the get go. I tell you, in those days I was very resistant to anything that seemed dogmatic, because of my past. One of the things I loved about yoga was precisely that it was non-dogmatic. At least, the way my guru presented it was; he was offering a set of techniques and a set of practices, and some advice, and he was sharing his own wisdom. But it was up to each one of us to discover inside ourselves what was there.

I love this open-ended approach: look, you practice, and see what you find inside of yourself. And then your beliefs will grow out of that experience, not the other way around. Not to say, okay, here is this belief, I am going to ram it down your throat, you better accept this, and only if you accept this can you practice. Which is really the approach of religion, that you have to subscribe to some teaching, some dogma a priori.

So, I think that’s very much my spirit, because I just love that aspect of yoga. I find it very sad when, nowadays, I see people creating dogma and saying, “If you are not a vegetarian you are not a real yogi,” or, “If you don’t do ‘this thing’ you are not a real yogi.”

Who is to say, first of all? I think we need a lot of humility. Because, for example, when I was telling you about when I read the work of St. John of the Cross, you know, he was not a vegetarian by any stretch of the imagination. But he reached the heights. He knows transcendence. He merged into the divine. He got there. So don’t tell me that I have to be a vegetarian to get there. Don’t confuse the periphery with the heart; don’t make that mistake.

Most people get lost in the outer trappings, and the reason is because they are not connected to the heart of practice. If you are connected to the heart, (and the heart, again, is self-awareness), then there is nothing that can be an obstacle to self-awareness. Quite the opposite. Some things can be a challenge, but not an obstacle.

That’s the whole premise of Tantra—that you can find transcendence everywhere. And I subscribe to that. So, I think it’s sad. I think it’s just a human tendency to become dogmatic. If you have this tendency, you are going to be dogmatic wherever you go, whether you end up in a political party, in a religious group, in a social action group… Some people get into a social cause and they believe their cause is the only one, it’s the most important and everybody must do this thing. Dogmatism is just a human tendency, but I don’t think it belongs in yoga, in my opinion. I am very dogmatic about that, about no dogmatism!

VF: Yeah, exactly, it’s the great irony. It’s funny, because I think that people are probably drawn to yoga because they are like “Ahh, a relief from the dogma,” and then we end up creating the same thing that we are running from.

CP: Exactly.

VF: So, I’m guessing you’re going to say, “self-awareness,” but what are your thoughts on how to get really honest about what you are being dogmatic about?

CP: Well, this question touches on a couple of things. One of them is that, if you are going to face the path of yoga, if you are really serious about enlightenment—or whatever term you use—if you are really serious about the expansion of human consciousness, then you have to be serious and willing to work on your own stuff. What are the things, the patterns, the thought patterns, the attitudes, the tendencies that are keeping you from that? And so, this requires a lot of self-examination.

Now, I think when you were speaking earlier about narcissism, it’s true, one can become narcissistic because meditation gives you a lot of insight into your own processes. But the good side of that—of course, if you become narcissistic that’s not a good state of affairs—but the good side of that is that meditation really gives you a lot of clarity as to what’s making you tick. You see it. The more you practice, the more you see it, and maybe you can lie to others, but you cannot lie to yourself.

And so as time goes by I find that I am much more attuned to my own reactions, which makes it easier to deal with them. If you are serious about the practice, your practice will help you. It will take you to a point where you will realize your dogmatism. All you need is a willingness to look inside. And as long as you are doing the practice, in my experience, sooner or later you do see everything that is keeping you from growth.

VF: Can we talk a little bit about this whole idea of exploring enlightenment? Where is the distinction between it being an academic exercise and one of the heart? Because if you are the sort of person who likes to gather knowledge—speaking from my own experience, I like to gather knowledge—what I found when I was reading a lot was that these constructs took on an almost academic quality. And I actually found it easier to kind of forget the rules, if you will, and just listen. So my questions is, is reading about this stuff an academic exercise?

CP: Well, I think it could become an academic exercise, but never 100 percent. Even in the case of a person who is approaching this with their mind and trying to control (it becomes another way of controlling things, to approach them intellectually), even in that case, it’s not completely an academic exercise because how we see the world is a philosophy. How I feel about myself is an ideology, it’s a view, it’s a philosophy that I have acquired growing up. How do I see other people? How do I see the purpose of life? How do I understand this universe?

All of these things are ideas, and when you are exposed to the ideas that come from the experience of the enlightened, as they do in the various systems of yoga—when you get the writings of enlightened people, then that’s what you are getting. I think this always has an influence on you. The more we change our perspective as to who we are, the interconnectedness of all life and so on, the more that becomes our ideology and, naturally, our actions always reflect our deepest convictions, our deepest ideology. Unless something else gets in the way, our actions tell us where our value system is. So, I think that it can never be a completely intellectual exercise.

But, your point is very well taken. This is where the value of having a teacher becomes very apparent.

The institution of the guru has not been well understood in the West.

When you look at the past 30 or 40 years, many people have tended to treat the gurus as cult figures, in the sense of, almost like rock stars, or personalities. We tend to do that, in general. But, really, the value of having a guru is like having a mirror. A true guru is somebody who will make you aware, who will help you in this process, which sometimes can be very difficult. When the guru shows you that tendency that you have and corrects you or points something out, it can be difficult. But when you look back, that’s the thing that helps you to grow the most—increasing that self-awareness just by virtue of that mirror that you have placed right in front of yourself.

If you don’t have a teacher, I think this is where community comes in as well. For example, if your partner shares your spiritual goals, your partner will become that mirror. And if you face life as a couple in that way, a relationship can be a tremendously fulfilling path of growth. Sometimes, again, very challenging. Relationships can be very challenging, but they also open an amazing world of seeing life through somebody else’s eyes, and that is so enriching to your own perspective. It also serves this purpose of correcting, of eroding away the rough spots just by interaction with your partner.

So, I think the most important element for this not to become an academic exercise is, again, the desire to grow spiritually. If you have that desire, then you aren’t going to be stuck for long, even if you ever get stuck.

VF: When people take on gurus, how do you separate yourself from that experience? How do you prevent yourself from getting addicted to this mirror source being outside of yourself?

CP: Well, I think that mainly it’s a personality thing. Some people have to watch out more than others. My experience of having a guru has never been one of dependency, or one where I was expected to give all respect and all power without getting any reciprocity. The experience for me has been the opposite.

The guru points to your own greatness, not to their greatness. So, if anybody is saying, “Look at me, how great I am—and my state, oh, you guys are so far away,” I would run away from such a person.  The guru is somebody who reminds you of your own greatness, and is constantly helping you to get there. He or she is a means. This is a context in which the correction can come.

In my experience, when I was ready to leave the ashram, I felt so ready. I felt that I had been given this treasure, that I had been given this sort of focal point within myself. Now, let me try to bring this experience into the world, and into my professional activity and so on. It has been a fantastic experience.

Once again I would go to the same point here: if what is driving you is the desire for higher consciousness, you are just not going to put up with somebody who is a false guru, who is saying “Look at me, how great I am,” because what you want is something else. If you have psychological needs though, then you may become vulnerable to people exploiting those needs and saying things like: “Okay, I am going to give you attention, and so in return you give me your money,” or whatever it is.

That kind of manipulative relationship unfortunately has given the guru institution a bad name.

But it goes back to the purity of the person. If the person is clear about what they want, and what they want is the highest, then they are always going to find the right guidance, wherever they are. It’s going to be a teacher, or a situation; something that happens, or something that you read where you find the right words at the right time. There is always going to be something. Because really, the true guru is the Shakti, the great Divine power that is everywhere. So we just have to open ourselves up to it.

VF: Do you believe that everyone in their own lifetime has the ability for transcendence, regardless of their social class, their position? For example: does someone in, say, Darfur have the same chance of transcending as someone in America?

CP: Yes, absolutely. What drives change, what drives evolution is not anything external. It’s completely internal. And it is once again, the desire for expansion.

What happens is that, very simply, most people don’t want enlightenment. I think it’s fair to say, statistically, if you do a statistic of however many people there are on the Earth, 7 billion or whatever the count is right now, most people don’t pursue enlightenment, are not interested in the idea. From the viewpoint of Tantra, there is a natural point for a human soul, which in Sanskrit is called the “maturity” or the “ripeness” (paripakatva) in Sanskrit. That is what leads you to spiritual awakening.

In the natural process of your evolution, of your accumulation of experience, you come to a point where you question life and you question whether there is anything else. You begin your search. And it is at that time when there is that openness, whether we are aware of it or not, that events happen and grace comes into our life.

Sometimes it’s like a thunderbolt, sometimes very quietly sneaking up on you. But the awakening happens and, again, desire for the highest is what drives it. Whatever situation is on the outside is entirely secondary. This is an inner process.

VF: One of the tenets that I have heard from my studies is the concept of icha (desire), jnana (knowledge), kriya (action).  That is, “that beyond desire there is also knowledge, and then action.“ Would you say that if someone is not putting something into action that it’s because their desire is not strong enough?

CP: You could say, yeah. I wouldn’t phrase it exactly like that, but it boils down to that. What I would say is that they haven’t reached the point where they really want it, they still want other things more than that.

There is no judgment involved in that, it’s just that we are at different points along the path, and that’s what it is. Most people are not at the point where they realize, that’s what I want. For many people, that type of awakening comes when there is a life-threatening situation. I can’t tell you how many people I have known in my life who have a heart attack, for example, and they reevaluate their priorities and completely turn their life around and start searching spiritually because they realize they have neglected that aspect of their existence.

That’s really the driver: Are you at a point where you realize that you are not going to be on this planet forever, and that there is more to life than meets the eye, there is more than the surface? You gotta go beyond the surface of things. The moment you get to that point, things start lining up in your life where you get exactly the teachings and the practices that you need. They will just come to you one way or another.

VF: You mentioned a few times the importance and role of desire toward Self-awareness. Is desire a purely conscious exercise, and what begets desire?

CP: Desire is the simple movement of the soul toward a particular goal. As such, it is the necessary ingredient of life; without it, there would be no movement, there would be no experience through the senses and the mind.

This being the case, the spiritual path also is guided by desire.

VF: So, can one bestow upon themselves the title of guru? I mean, I recognize that there is probably not some global commission…

CP: No, but traditionally there is always somebody who inaugurates a line or lineage, so there always has to be somebody there who brings the revelation. Whatever school of yoga you are looking at, you will find that there is always somebody who originates the lineage.

Having said that, once a lineage is in existence, it’s very much a peer system. You know, you don’t go to the university and decide that you deserve a BA or a PhD. You have the people who have been there before you who evaluate your work and they tell you “Yes, you are at this level, where you also deserve this title that we have. Here you go. Now you can call yourself a doctor or whatever.”

Similarly, you would never wake up one day and think, “I think I am going to make myself a guru.” The credentials are very important. And to be a guru you need not only the knowledge, you need two very important things as well. It isn’t just a matter of knowing and impressing people with your brilliance. That really has no value, in my opinion. What somebody really needs is, first, the ability to guide others. That is much tougher than it sounds. For example, if you tell somebody, “Oh, there is no effort involved, you don’t have to do anything, just be,” (as we were saying earlier) and if what they need is something else, then you are not being an effective teacher. You have to be able to gauge what is going to help somebody the most. That’s a very, very important skill.

And then, number two, you need to have the attainment, which is one of the reasons why I don’t want to teach topics that I haven’t practiced myself. There are traditions that I like because I have studied them, but unless I have practiced them, if I don’t feel I have insight I just will not teach. Because I don’t want to just simply pass on some knowledge that I have acquired in books. I think that it is important to have insight. And for somebody who calls him or herself a guru, that insight has to be the highest [consciousness]. They have to be permanently established in that level of awareness. Otherwise, what are they going to teach?

VF: How do you distinguish between teaching from your experience, and allowing there to be space for other approaches?

CP: Right, exactly. That’s exactly what I was driving at—you need a breadth of knowledge as well.

If you only know the one practice, for example, then maybe you can be very good but only with the people that are a good fit for that practice. If you are going to teach a broader audience, then you need to have a broader understanding of the dynamics of the process. You have to have experience of what happens, and there is no shortcut to that. Insight just comes with time. There is just no shortcut. You cannot get insight from a book. You can get inspiration from a book, you can get information from a book, but you don’t get insight. Insight has to come directly from the inside.

Of course there has to be a lot of humility as well. For example, I’m not a guru; I always felt the experiences I have been given were not for me only, that they were to be shared because, to me, it’s so obvious that it’s the most important message. We need to wake up to our own being, to our own greatness, to our nature being beyond death… that we are more than the body.

To me these things are a gift that is not only for me, that is for others as well. I can never have pride about my experiences, because I don’t feel this is mine, or my attainment. I feel this is a gift that I have been fortunate to receive, and it was also to share with other people.

That is how I see my role; I don’t see myself as a guru, first of all, because nobody has made me a guru. Secondly, because I don’t have that attainment and I don’t want to pretend that I do. But what I see myself as is sharing whatever I have, whatever I have learned. Sharing it with others, because it is meant to be shared. The world desperately needs more people who are spiritually awake.

VF: Do you mind if I just ask you a couple of fun types of question?

CP: Sure.

VF: Well, do you still live in Austin?

CP: Yes, I mean, Austin is our base.

VF: And where do you go for breakfast tacos?

CP: Breakfast tacos… there is a great place called Kerbey Lane. It’s open 24 hours a day and they have really, really good vegetarian stuff.

VF: They do!

CP: And you know, we get up very early, and they are open 24 hours, so it’s perfect. You can go in at like 4:30 and you can have breakfast around 5:00 and nobody will disturb you…

VF: They make really bomb gingerbread pancakes.

CP: I’m getting hungry now.

VF: Well, thank you so much for your time.

CP: No, thank you Vanessa.

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Vanessa Fiola (Recovering Yogi)  |  Contribution: 600