Welcome to Part II of my interview with author (“Shadows on the Path”), acupuncturist, and healer Abdi Assadi. Before you begin, a bit of advice from En Vogue: Free Your Miiiind (and the rest will follow) …
JD: I saw an interview designer Norma Kamali did with you recently in which you say that “Science is the new religion,” and continue on to describe our culture as generally closed-minded. Yet at the same you are no cheerleader for anyone or any group that describes itself as “spiritual.” You aptly describe our society as very binary, either-or. How do you think we as culture can embrace the great tools science provides us with and the potential that spiritual concepts offer us?
AA: We want absolutes in our lives and science is one of the things intellectuals can reach out to in order to have that false sense of safety. Life is not static and nothing in it is for certain and our egos are terrified of that fact. So we look towards ways that we can protect our selves. Science is one of those things. I finished my pre med degree in a scientific research oriented school and it was mind boggling how small minded my teachers were. People forget that science is an ever changing and growing field. Doctors were pushing as well as consuming cigarettes only sixty years ago. Margarine was the new wonder food. We tend to forget these things. We tend to forget that science is constantly moving the goal post. What we were sure to be truth ten years ago has been proven to be a lot more nuanced if not off. But science is presented as absolute and that is not honest. We also forget that scientists have the same cultural blind spots that we do. Some of the greatest scientific minds of our time have been subverted to serve the agenda of corporations that have no interest in truth but rather profit. So my saying that science is the new religion is pointing to my understanding that science will not have the answer to our internal seeking. Science can certainly help break our hypnosis and dogma of ridiculous outmoded ways of thinking but it can also replace it with new ones of its own making. So I am not preaching anti science here but rather awareness of the fact that it is a tool not an end in its self. But people “believe” in science with the same fervor that they believe in religion because people often need to believe in something to make them feel on solid ground.
And you are correct, I am not a fan of any organized spiritual group because any organization by definition becomes interested in its own propagation rather than truth. Truth is dangerous for any one or thing that takes a solid position. Egos take solid positions and truth decimates egos by the simple act of pointing out the impermanent nature of this realm.
Where science and spirituality meet is the world of quantum physics. Life is a lot more strange than we are led to believe. We are all functioning under a Newtonian model to this point. It is mind blowing to try to even comprehend the quantum model even as a neophyte. And that mind blowing is exactly what happens with a genuine spiritual awakening.
JD: So many people in the West put on a mask and espouse the ancient concepts of the East. Many go searching for spiritual masters in the East. Do you think that the so-called Eastern way of living has something to teach us, or – in this globally connected world – is the “East” as we may think about it in terms of ancient teachings no longer the place to go for answers?
AA: We can learn from every thing and every one. The question is the degree of validity of transplanting one culture on another with out being conscious of the pitfalls of it. Here you are as a woman, writer, a lover, a mother. How will the teachings of patriarchal society, most likely from a male monk relate to you? There are some shining exempts of clear teachings but those are rare in my experience. Usually there is cultural baggage that comes with those teachings. So we have to be cognizant of these shortcomings. For example, how do we apply a monk's teachings to someone who does not live an ascetic life?
As I said before, the whole seeking trip is another way of hiding. It is an initial stage. It is like collecting menus; one is not yet eating. The real spiritual process begins when we stop collecting menus and sit at the table and start eating. Also there is this misnomer that spiritual awakening is an event. In actuality it is a process with valleys and mountains.
JD: Cue “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” here! Well, you and I have talked many times about the concept of “hard work as magic”. For all of us, truly tapping into what we know in our core is very, very challenging. But do you think someone has to have special gifts to “tap in” a little bit more deeply, the way someone might have an innate gift for music or sports? How can a person who thinks of themselves as very non-spiritual, tap into the old “don’t know” mind and really see things clearly, just as clearly as a self-proclaimed spiritual person can?
AA: Yes, yes: hard work as magic. I love that. In our culture of instant gratification and instant celebrity, we do not cop to the fact that magic starts and ends with hard work. Magic is when we don’t see the hard work and see the result. As to your question of wanting to see things clearly: non spiritual people have a huge advantage over spiritual people. This is because they don’t have pre conceived ideas. Spiritual people have all kinds of concepts about truth. But we can rest assured that none of them are even close to the reality because they are constructs of the ego. “Don’t know mind”, the zen concept of letting go of the mind’s attempt at identifying everything is a profound practice.
Nisargaddata, the old grumpy enlightened Indian master used to say: “You don’t have to understand, enough if you don’t misunderstand”. I love that saying. We can not know the truth until it splits us open. But we can certainly know untruth. We have to let go of our fascination with misunderstanding and the pain that it brings upon us. That is a tall order for a culture that disseminates misunderstanding as way of life. But if we pay attention on a daily level, we can become more clear. We will realize that we are that which we seek. Understanding is our true nature, we just have to stop distracting our selves. The truth will become self evident.