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SF Religion 1: The Central Teachings of Mysticism

Any SF writer wonders from time to time if he or she might be able to found a successful religion. I’ve had some thoughts along these lines recently.

But never fear, I’m thinking in terms of a novel I’m writing, and not in terms of “dominating the world.”

This week I’m going to put up two, or maybe three, posts on the SF-related religion theme. Today I’ll get started with a piece I wrote thirty years ago, not without interest in its own right, and in the following posts, I’ll talk about how this fits into my current grand scheme.

The Central Teachings of Mysticism

Introductory Note

I wrote “The Central Teachings of Mysticism” in 1982 and gave it as a talk. It appeared in my collection Transreal!, WCS Books, 1991, and is in my Collected Essays, Transreal Books, 2012.

When I wrote this talk in 1982, my wife and I were living in Lynchburg, Virginia, and a poet friend of ours named Mary Molyneux Abrams had been taking classes at Sweetbriar College so she could get her Bachelor’s degree. She and her husband David Abrams were friends of ours there. David is a photographer. I used Mary as a model for Sondra Tupperware in Master of Space and Time, and David took the photo of me which appeared on the dustjacket of the hardback edition of The Secret of Life.

In the fall of 1982, Mary decided to stop going to school, and her husband said, “Why not give Mary a graduation party anyway?” He made up engraved invitations mentioning me as the commencement speaker. At the party, I handed out mimeographed copies of “The Central Teachings of Mysticism” and read it to the audience of some forty people.

My father Embry Rucker, Sr., who was an Episcopal priest, happened to be there and he gave a blessing. And at the end of the ceremony we sang “Take Me Out To The Ballgame.”

The Talk

This is not going to be very funny, but I hope it’s at least interesting. One reason I like to talk about mysticism is that talking weird gets me high: the air gets like thick yellow jelly, you know, and everyone’s part of the jelly-vibe jelly-space jelly-time…

All is One. That’s the main teaching, that’s the so-called secret of life. It’s no secret, though. It’s a truism that we’ve all heard dozens of times. The secret teachings are shouted in the streets. All is One, what can I do with that? How can I use it in the home? If that’s the answer, what’s the question?

I guess the most basic problem we all have to deal with is death. In Zen monasteries, the entering students are given koans to solve. A koan is a type of problem unsolvable to the rational mind: What was your face before you were born? This is not a stick. [Holds up a stick.] What shall I call it? Each of us on Earth has a special koan to work on, it’s the death-koan, handed out at birth: “Hi, this is the world, you’re alive now and it’s nice. After awhile you die and it all stops. What are you going to do about it?

The mystic escapes death by denying that he or she exists as an individual bag of meat. “I am God,” is the easiest way to put it, though this doesn’t always go over too well. “Hi, I’m God, this is my wife, she’s God, too. These are the children, God, God, and…” What I have in mind here is that God—or the One, if you want to be more neutral-sounding—what I mean is that God is everywhere and we are all part of God. We are like eyes that God grows to look at each other with.

The word “God” does grate. Organized religion puts a lot of people uptight (we will be passing out the plates soon) and when a lot of us hear that word (get your hands outta there, friend) our first impulse is to find a brick and throw it, or just leave or go to sleep (you’re gonna burn for this)…

Here’s where the second central teaching comes in. All is One, fine. But: The One is Unknowable. “God”—that’s just a noise I’m making up here, a kind of pig-squeal. We don’t know God’s name, and we never will. The ultimate thing, the fundamental Reality—it’s not something the rational mind can tie up in a net of words. I can’t really tell you what I’m thinking about. In a way it’s pointless to talk about mysticism at all. “If you see God, only piss to mark the spot”—that’s a line from a poem I wrote when I was thirty. I was down in the islands, standing on a beach at night. If you see the Buddha in the road, kill him.

So here’s two teachings: All is One, and The One is Unknowable. The third (and last) teaching is The One is Right Here. You’re totally enlightened right now, right as you are. You see God all the time; you can’t stop seeing Him. We’re all in heaven and there is no hell.

First I claim that all of reality is one single thing, a sort of giant orgasm or something. Then I say that this One is unknowable, but right away I turn around and say that the One is perfectly easy to see, it’s everywhere. Do we have a contradiction? How can the mystics say that, on the one hand, God is unknowable, and that, on the other hand, God is everywhere?

People who have a traditional view of religion are perfectly comfortable with the idea of God as something way up there, something unattainable: the Commander in Chief, the Head Technician, our Fearless Leader, the Great Scientist who put all this together. The Church of Christ, Cosmic Programmer. What’s God thinking about? Smart stuff, hard stuff, stuff we can never understand. That’s the God is Unknowable teaching. No rational human description can exhaust the riches of the One.

The other side of the coin is that we know the One perfectly well. You can’t describe God in any complete way, but God’s as much a part of you as your body is. You can know something in an immediate way without knowing it in any kind of analytic way. You don’t need to be a geneticist to know how to make babies.

So when mysticism says The One is Unknowable and then says The One is Right Here, there isn’t really a contradiction. It’s just that there’s two kinds of knowing. We can’t know the One rationally, but we can know it in an immediate and mystical way. Anyone can go into the temple, but you have to leave your shoes outside. “Temple” stands for a mystical vision of God, and “shoes” stands for conventional ways of talking. You take off your shoes and walk into the temple.

We don’t have to go to the Far East to find mystical religion. Christianity is based on the idea that, on the one hand, God is way up there in seventh heaven, and that, on the other hand, Jesus comes down to live in our hearts. It’s a strange thing that many of us are more comfortable with Buddhism than we are with Christianity. It’s strange, but the reasons are pretty obvious—I mean, imagine if there were a 24-hour-a-day Buddhist Broadcasting TV network:

“Friends, I want to talk to you about samadhi. This blessed state of union with the Void—Void being Nothingness, friends—this blessed state was first experienced in a little town near the Ganges River. God brought a man—a man, friends, and not a woman—God in His wisdom brought forth this human—a human, friends, and not a Communist—God brought to this seeker a vision of the Void. How best might you, in your ignorance, in your sin, in your present debased circumstances, how might you best seek the Void? The Void can be found in your wallet, dear seeker, if only you will send its contents to me…”

So you go turn on the radio, man, and instead of music there’s some grainy-voiced guy yelling:

“…hatred. Yes, hatred, my fellow enlightened ones, Buddha came to preach hatred. I know this may sound strange to some of you out there in the radio audience, but it’s not a matter of conjecture. God hates the unbeliever, just as the unbeliever hates me…”

There is so much negative stuff associated with religion, that many of us would just as soon never talk about God at all. But there’s still that death-koan hanging overhead: life is beautiful, life ends, what can I do? If I decide not to think about bad stuff like death and loneliness, then I end up spending all my energy on not thinking. I can buy lots of stuff, but every visit to the repair shop is an intimation of mortality. I can get real high, but I always have to come down. And not choosing anything at all is itself a choice.

Mysticism offers a way out. It’s really just a simple change of perspective. A person’s life is like a design in an endless spacetime tapestry. Molecules weave in and out of your body all the time. Inhale/Exhale; Eat & Excrete. You breathe an atom out, I breathe it in. I say this, you answer that. Atoms, thoughts and energies play back and forth among us. We are linked spacetime patterns, overlapping waves in an endless sea. No one exists in isolation, everyone is part of the Whole. If a person can only take the word, “I,” to be the Whole, then that “I” is indeed immortal. In the book of Exodus, Moses asks God what His real name is. God answers: “I AM.” All is One, All is One.

If this were just an abstract idea, then mysticism would not be very important. What makes mysticism important is that you can directly experience the fact that All is One.

I used to read about mysticism and wonder how to score for some enlightenment. There’s something so slippery about the central teachings—the way the One is supposed to be unspeakable, yet everywhere all the time—it used to really tantalize me. And then finally I started getting glimpses of it, sometimes with chemicals, sometimes for no reason at all. I’d see God, or feel the world synch into full unity, and I’d love it, but whenever I tried to grab onto it, the life would somehow drain out, and I’d just have some dry abstract principle.

After I got so I could occasionally feel that All is One, I started being uptight that I couldn’t be there all the time. I bought lots of books by totally enlightened men. Eventually I concluded that no one does stay up there all the time. You can’t always be having a shining vision that All is One; you have to do other stuff, like deal with your boss, or fix the car, meaningless social hang-ups, the stuff like walking and eating and breathing. You can’t always be staring at the White Light.

But you can. That’s the next level, you see. The Light is everywhere, all the time. Being unenlightened is itself a kind of enlightenment. There are no teachings, and there’s nothing to learn.

Congratulations, Mary.


(Recall that the “Mary” I mention at the end was the woman for whom this “graduation talk” was for—as mentioned in the introductory note.)

Rereading my little lecture twenty or thirty years later, I enjoy its flow, but I feel like it’s missing something. God (or the One) isn’t just some kind of logic puzzle, the Absolute can directly touch your heart. Over the years I’ve added a fourth and a fifth “teaching.” These are: (4) God (or the Cosmic Light) is Love, and (5) The One will help you if you ask. Help you do what? To be less selfish, more loving, less driven, and more serene—to let go and stop trying to run everything. Seek and ye shall find.

5 Responses to “SF Religion 1: The Central Teachings of Mysticism”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    gods love. most annoyin saying to anybody

  2. eo Says:

    Yeah, all that and then some.

  3. Peter Says:

    A buddy said the secret is you should rid yourself of your ego. I said outside of a monestary you’ll then get eaten alive.

  4. Dan Says:

    That was truly a noble effort thirty years ago, but you are basically talking pop mysticism and/or commercial mysticism, not a real tradition that truly transforms the individual and makes them an effective force for transforming the world. You are talking about exoteric mysticism, not true “esoteric” mysticism. One must set all that pop stuff aside, including all the mythologies about christs and buddhas, and I do definitely mean ALL of it, and adopt a clean perspective, free from the strange ideas from a savagely ignorant human past.

    The central concept that is missed in all exoteric religion, including pop mystic cults, is that “LOVE IS GOD”. And “IS” means “is absolutely identical to and indistinguishable from”. All Love is God, all God is Love. Nothing not-Love is God and nothing not-God is Love. From this flows the single rational structure by which creatures can organize their personal relationship to the universe of Love and service.

    In this definition, note that “Love” includes sexual, erotic, and all forms of physical love–the whole of eros–in addition to the commonly held ideas of things like agape. This view clears the path of personal advancement in service to the universe by removing the obstacles put in place by organization, religion, and hierophants who wish merely to subjugate the human soul to the service of the delusions of a “faith” only they are qualified to seek and possess–be it christianism, buddhism, or what not. That is ALL mana, every single bit. Get used to it.

    If you will think about framing your new writing effort with this foundational concept in mind, and if you will understand how this necessarily implies everything good and beautiful in human experience, you will have a very unconventional story that will change many minds and may even help those minds change the world. Otherwise, it will just be “more of the same”. Blaaaaaah.

  5. Rudy Says:

    Dan, I often get into debates with my readers, but not on the subject of mysticism. You and I both hold the glowing One light of enlightment in our hands. No need to wrestle!

    Your point about presenting erotic love as a path to enlightenment is valid, but it’s tricky to work this into a novel. Heinlein tried doing this in “Stranger in a Strange Land,” and it didn’t go over that well, came across with something of a slobbering quality.

    But I am indeed including a fair amount of sex in THE BIG AHA.

    And if I can manage to write “more of the same” (as some of my better novels) I’ll be satisfied.

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