MR: So, has anything changed?
RT: Everything is changing every minute.
MR: People always say things are so terrible now, that they’re the worst they’ve ever been.
RT: Well, they certainly seem to be. That’s why we’re going to have a new change very shortly, I think. Because this other kind of thing is too much. You can have a peaceful planet, and you can have people not starving, and you can have women being more respected and liberated so that there are not too many children and we’re not having a population explosion. And we can have the environment restored. And yet we would still have samsara because some people will be unhappy and there’ll be jealousy in the family, there’ll be this and that, this one won’t be satisfied and that one. So we can still have samsara, internal misery and agony, but we don’t have to have this complete, self-destructive, planet-destroying chaos. We don’t have to have it. The people who think they are powerful are actually terribly weak. The people who feel they are weak are actually much more powerful. Jesus had it quite right when he said that the meek shall inherit the earth; I think he had a very deep insight there about the nature of Rome and all the people it was oppressing.
The point is, I think the consciousness revolution is here. It is not a religious revolution because the dharma’s not primarily religious at all. That is a misinterpretation.
MR: Buddhism is not a religion?
RT: No, not primarily. The way we define religion today in religious studies is as a non-rational, sort of an emotional thing, where you put your science aside and you kind of commune with the world or something and you have a leap of faith and you’re saved and born-again. And therefore it’s non-rational, in fact, by definition anti-rational.
MR: So that experience can happen in a Buddhist context, like in the Vimalakirti Sutra you described earlier, even though Buddhism is not a religion? It sounds like you are saying the root of a conversion experience is not, in fact, religious.
RT: Yes, the real essence of that experience can happen in a Buddhist context because the real essence of it is not the blind faith or religious part of it, actually. The real essence is a deep contact with a different aspect of reality. The essence of that experience is a contact with the nirvanic nature of reality. That is what the essence of that experience actually is. Blind faith is the part where someone believes that it’s done for me by Jesus, or in Buddhism, it’s done for me by Amida Buddha or done for me by Tara or done for me by Avalokiteshvara. The fact that it’s done for you by someone within a conceptual structure is the incomplete part of it, actually; it’s what holds the experience back from really being complete.
You see, to be truly born-again would be a person who is so saved and they’re so at one with the graciousness of the universe that they don’t care whether it’s Jesus or Buddha or God or Muhammad or whatever, and they even perceive others who don’t even know about Jesus or Buddha or God or Muhammad as also totally filled with grace, and they’re totally tolerant of whatever they do, and they’d never say they’re going to go to hell without their views—they would never do that. The blind faith part of it is complete dementia. It’s not the true conversion thing. The heart of conversion is feeling the grace of reality and feeling bliss come through you, feeling some support and safety and security from where you thought there was nothingness, from where you thought there was danger. But then, if you place it rigidly within a structure, you’re actually limiting it, in fact, you’re blocking it at that stage, instead of having a complete satori or nirvanic experience.
MR:MR: So what is conversion in a Buddhist context?
RT:As I said, Buddhism is not primarily a religion, because Buddha doesn’t say believe and you will be saved. Buddha says understand and you will be saved; he says you will need to meditate in order to understand, but first you have to learn and then you have to critically reflect, to get the doubt going. Take apart your immersion in the superficial unreal reality of samsara and then you will experience reality which is nirvana. By your understanding, you will experience it, because you will understand it. It’s like a call to science. It’s like an expression of faith by the Buddha in your intelligence, in human beings’ intelligence.
Because Buddha is demanding understanding instead of salvation, he’s not really a religious leader. He’s not a prophet. He’s not commissioned by God; he talks to God who is Brahma. Buddhists don’t disbelieve Brahma, but Brahma admits, “I didn’t create it. I don’t control it. I can’t save everybody. I didn’t put them in this soup, either. It’s their own trip. It’s their own delusion that put them there.”