After my first creative trance encounter with the Red Monk I was left with some unanswered questions so I was delighted when he actually walked into the Clear Light Cafe. In his signature red robe he looked as though he had been walking in the summer heat so I waved him to a table and brought two iced coffees. We lifted our glasses and he drank his down in one go then wiped his brow on a red sleeve and smiled, showing gold teeth between the red parentheses of his whiskers. His blue eyes waited for nothing.
So, I said, you have ‘thus come’ from Tushita Heaven?
I’m still in it.
Noting my puzzled expression he continued. This cafe and this entire village are in one of the interzones, he said, where Earth and Heaven overlap. That’s why you left the darkness and came here to die.
I glanced at my notebook and saw that our words were forming on the page as we spoke.
So where is Heaven, Dhamo–or is it Daena?
Chinese monks call me Dhamo, their word for Dharma, the Persians called me Daena. Both words refer to the Way. Call me whatever you please.
All heavens and hell’s are embodied in human life, he said, but the heavens of myth, art and trance are here in the interzone between full consciousness and the Great Sleep.
You mean death?
No, he said, I mean the sleep you share with all other sleepers, conventionally called consciousness because the sleepers, walk, talk and share information. They think of it as sharing consciousness but mostly they share the Great Sleep.
I wonder if this is what Jung called the collective unconscious?
He was pointing to a deeper stratum, said the Red Monk, inherited and instinctive archetypes that are the armatures on which the gods are modelled with the clay of imagination and this modelling happens both in dreams and in the realm of the Great Sleep.
So what about you? Is the Red Monk an imagined being?
I am a product of your imagination, he said, and of the minds which have impressed it with images of me or someone like me. I am based on an archetype that appeals to you: the lonely resolute yogin/poet who withdraws from the madness and fashions a blade of reason and love that cuts thru the noise and nonsense of conventional consciousness. I’m also a product of the forbidden foods you have used to help you break thru. Many versions of me have been active for millennia, in thousands of divergent minds, shaping and being shaped by them. I am one of your fathers and you are one of mine. Even as we speak we are reimagining the idea of yoga, poetry and the Red Monk.
This great sleep is full of talk about gods and heroes, I said. Some of them are authentic but most are just made of words, fictions that sleepers believe because they trust the authorities who believe or pretend to believe them. How do we decide which gods or teachings are worth our precious time?
All of us are largely fictional persons, said the Red Monk but some are more fictional than others. You are a story you tell yourself and others. Sometimes the story is supported by memory and serious consideration of your experience and behaviour but often it’s just a convenient fiction that conceals your true nature because you want to conceal it or have so long pretended to be your fiction that you no longer know what you really are.
Yes, I said, zen teachers often say: show me your true nature. The question can be unsettling.
So there are true and false personas, he said, and there are true and false gods.
The main difference between a god and an ordinary person, he said, is that an ordinary person has only one body but a god has several bodies, the bodies of her/his believers. Most gods start out as imaginary playmates. An ordinary mind creates one self to serve one body but some minds, for various reasons, like intellectual loneliness, create an additional self so you have two selves with one body.
That could get interesting, I said.
Yes, depending on how the two personas get along. Sometimes the new one turns out to be stronger and, usually after a struggle, replaces the old one, saying I used to be her or him but I have changed. Sometimes the guest persona is a disembodied voice or a felt but invisible presence, an apparently external figure in shining raiment or conventional clothes who mysteriously appears and disappears, walks on water, hovers in the sky or inscribes it with visual signs that feel potent with meaning.
These phenomena have been explained to death, I said, by doctors of psychology and neurology.
Yes, the abundance of such phenomena keeps them busy. But they generally miss the point which is that whether the gods are in the sky or only in our heads they are no more imaginary than these personas we think of as our selves and they are often more powerful than our habitual selves, powerful enough to inhabit and control thousands or millions of human bodies.
But how does my personal angel or tutelary deity become the god of another person?
The same way politicians and ideologues do, said the Red Monk, by the power of the word, of bread, of wine, of the sword.
When your god, speaking thru you, tells people what they want or need to hear, they congregate around you, the god’s prophet. If they doubt you convince them by feeding the hungry with empty calories and slaking their thirst with intoxicating promises.
If doubters seriously disturb the peace of the faithful they can be frightened into silence by the flat or the edge of the sword. As a god’s stories and instructions attract more attention the number of bodies at his/her command grows. A few of them come to feel your god as their own personal god but most just conform out of fear. Fear of death, fear of hell, fear of unemployment, fear of being reborn as a slave. Better to be the god’s slave and use your talents painting icons, writing propaganda or assembling missile guidance systems.
It all sounds horrendously archaic, I said, but the viral gods have never been more powerful than they are right now, in this age of reason and enlightenment.
One of your heroes delivered a response to that, he said. It’s called the parable of the sower.
A farmer accidentally sows a bag of wheat seeds that were mixed with the seeds of tares. What shall I do? he cries. The seeds are too tiny to separate.
Don’t worry, says his wife, just water the ground and let them grow. When they are large enough for the scythe we will easily separate the wheat for bread and feed the tares to the fire.
In this case, the wheat stocks represent the bread of truth and the tares are the vendors of bullshit and lies.