Posts tagged: tibetan buddhism
Tim McGirk writes about the struggle that Tibetan Buddhist rinpoches — an honorific generally given to supposed reincarnations of past lamas — are having in the modern world:
By and large, the lineage of rinpoches survived intact for eight centuries, until the Chinese Red Army invaded Tibet, in 1950. It was easier to maintain this system when the “precious ones” were locked inside monasteries ringed by mountains, far from worldly distractions. But in exile, this tradition is fast unraveling. The younger rinpoches are exposed to all of the twenty-first century’s dazzling temptations. The irony is that while Tibetan Buddhism is gaining more adherents around the world, an increasing number of rinpoches are abandoning their monastic vows. Some are having a hard time finding their own path through the complexities of modern society and feel unable, or unqualified, to pass on much in the way of advice. Neither their early training in the monastery nor, supposedly, the good karma of their past lives as teachers is able to shield them entirely from the afflictions that the rest of us experience—desire, rage, attachment, envy, and egotism. The pull of samsara, the flow of worldly existence, can be overwhelming. One Tibetan Buddhist monastery in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas has two tests for graduation: first, monks are sent out onto a snowbank wearing only a wet sheet and told to keep themselves warm by tumo, a sort of heat-generating meditation; second, those who pass the first round are sent to the monastery’s printing house in Old Delhi, a neighborhood that teems with prostitutes and myriad sensory distractions. For young monks, the stint in Old Delhi is the harder test.
Full Story: The Believer: Reincarnation in Exile
Yes, that’s as linkbaity a headline as they come, but it’s actually fairly accurate:
A Buddhist statue brought to Germany from Tibet by a Nazi-backed expedition has been confirmed as having an extraterrestrial origin.
Known as the ‘iron man’, the 24-cm high sculpture may represent the god Vai?rava?a and was likely created from a piece of the Chinga meteorite that was strewn across the border region between Russia and Mongolia between 10,000 and 20,000 years ago, according to Elmar Buchner of the University of Stuttgart, and his colleagues.
The paper is here, behind a paywall.
Via io9, here’s what … wrote on Facebook according to io9:
All the world’s major religions, with their emphasis on love, compassion, patience, tolerance, and forgiveness can and do promote inner values. But the reality of the world today is that grounding ethics in religion is no longer adequate. This is why I am increasingly convinced that the time has come to find a way of thinking about spirituality and ethics beyond religion altogether.
Via io9, here’s what … wrote on Facebook according to io9:
All the world’s major religions, with their emphasis on love, compassion, patience, tolerance, and forgiveness can and do promote inner values. But the reality of the world today is that grounding ethics in religion is no longer adequate. This is why I am increasingly convinced that the time has come to find a way of thinking about spirituality and ethics beyond religion altogether.
Many Technoccult readers have probably seen Hermetic.com. Maybe you even got your first taste of Aleister Crowley, Austin Osman Spare or Hakim Bey there. What you might not know is that the site’s founder, Al Jigong Billings has given up the site to focus on what he calls “Open Source Buddhism.” I recently talked with Al about what Open Source Buddhism is, how it differs from other contemporary the Pragmatic Dharma movement and the secular mindfulness movement, and how he gravitated from Neopaganism to Buddhism.
Klint Finley: I know readers can check out your blog post explaining what you mean by “Open Source Buddhism,” but can you give us a quick “elevator pitch” for the idea?
Al Billings: Yes, I can do that. The basic idea is that if you are not part of a traditionally Buddhist culture or one in which Buddhism plays a role, you are not part of an inherited complex of ideas surrounding what is or is not “Buddhism” or the “Dharma.” This leaves those of us, in the “West,” for example, in a bit of a quandary. What is Buddhsm? What is the Dharma? What is essential to it? What is optional? What does Buddhism in the 21st century here in America look like if you haven’t inherited it as part of your culture?
My proposal, or really just an idea or thought experiment, is that we embrace aspects of the open source ethos, as exhibited in software projects like Linux or Firefox, in how we approach the Dharma. We don’t need to model ourselves or the Dharma as we practice it necessarily on how Japanese, Chinese, Tibetans, Thai or anyone else does it within their context. That evolved there over hundreds and thousands of years. While many folks make themselves, to some extent, into faux Tibetans, dressing in Tibetan robes, taking Tibetan names, adopting elements of Tibetan culture (to pick on one group as an example), this is not really adapting the Dharma to our situation. I propose that people collaboratively receive teachings and techniques and even texts and recombine or use them as makes sense, as a kind of skillful means, even if it means going across different Buddhist cultures or even traditional kinds of Buddhism or lineages of it that often seem incompatible in ways. The end result is a Dharma that works in our culture (hopefully).
How and when did you become a Buddhist? I originally knew you as the webmaster of hermetic.com, and I think that’s how a lot of Technoccult readers will know you as well. But you gave that site over to another curator. Did you give that up to focus on Buddhism?
I was a practicing Neopagan, of various sorts, from age 18 until around age 34 or 35. In many ways, I consider myself culturally pagan still and think of myself as a “Pagan Buddhist” just as there are “Jewish Buddhists” out there. During the first part of this last decade (after the year 2,000) I grew more and more interested in Buddhism. I’d had an intellectual interest since college but had not pursued it.
I got involved with a number of other magicians online who also happened to have connections to the Dharma, such as Jason Miller. When I started attending some Tibetan Vajrayana events, I found a certain resonance in it and took refuge at the Sakya Monastery in Seattle. This was in 2002.
At that time, I was a leader of an Astrum Sophiae/Aurum Solis group with friends and had been helping run a lodge for years. I just found that my interests were not as strongly pulled in that direction. I had also been in the Ordo Templi Orientis for a number of years, mostly socially, which is where I met my wife.
I’ve never been much of a theist, having a hard time maintaining the suspension of disbelief necessary to see deities as lived, objective entities.
Vajrayana was, in many ways, a way of bridging my Neopagan/Occult background to move into the Dharma. With my online magician friends who were also Buddhists, I found a small community to explore this.
Eventually, I just decided that I was going to make an explicit break with my past affiliations. I quit my lodge, which still exists and is run by a friend, and quit the OTO. I am on actually fairly good terms with members of the OTO leadership, who I consider to be, by and large, wonderful and sincere people. I also realized after a while that hermetic.com needed a real owner to update and maintain it, maybe even improve it. John Bell, who took it over, and I knew each other through the old BBS scene back in the day and wound up reconnecting. I wanted to give the site to someone largely unaffiliated with any organizations in order to maintain its neutrality.
Is Vajrayana the main sect of Buddhism that you practice? (I’m not sure how else to phrase that.)
No. I was initially involved with Tibetan Vajrayana but one of the primary aspects of Vajrayana is the Guru/Disciple relationship. This is core to Tantra. Additionally, Tantra is complex in both practical and philosophical ways. I wound up bouncing around between a number of Seattle area groups, where I lived at the time, for a few years but there were almost no groups with resident teachers or training programs.
Because of this, I could not really find a teacher with which to work directly. I felt that I had a “taste” of tantra but no real training in it and books cannot really supply this. I went as far afield as doing week long retreats in Wisconsin with a teacher and group there and in New Hampshire with Namkhai Norbu’s Dzogchen Community, accompanied by Jason Miller. I even did a short retreat with John Reynolds, who has contacts in both the Occult and Dharma communities.
Eventually, I found a teacher who had a similar background to mine but his practice was largely based on a Japanese form of Vajrayana, Tendai. We began working together in 2006 and I’ve been with him ever sinse. In that time, through an evolution of our practice and working with others, we both wound up in the sphere of Korean Zen (or Seon), where we both were ordained as priests.
My practice at this point is largely focused on Korean Zen though I have influences from all over and do maintain some of my tantric practices.
It seems a lot of occultists, especially chaos magicians, end up being very involved with various types of Buddhism (Joel Biraco is one of the most notable examples). Why do you think that is?
I’m not familiar with his situation so I can only speak about the folks I know and my impressions of their (and my) situation. Buddhism is not a unified landscape. There are many different groups, lineages, temples, etc out there. More than most people realize, probably. There is a healthy ethnically based community composed of Asian immigrants and their descendants, which supports the traditional Buddhism of their ancestral homes (sort of like Catholics and the Irish at one point).
Then there are the various communities, like the Vipassana centers and many Zen centers, which are mostly composed of White American converts with little traditional presence.
I think many magicians and pagans are attracted to ritual, energy work, visualization and the like. The “smells and bells” end of things. Because of this, I think and have seen a lot of people get involved with Vajrayana in its Tibetan form, which is common enough in decent sized cities. If that doesn’t work, they move on (and this applies more broadly than just pagan or magician types). I think those of us with a pagan or occult background are used to sampling the waters in places and changing what we do a lot. Staying with one tradition and having a deep connection strikes me as much rarer for that group, as a whole.
I know what you mean about occultists sampling a lot of waters, though it does seem to me that most people end up “settling down” eventually. Buddhism seems to be a common thing to “settle into.”
As to why… well, I think people are looking for a certain depth or feel a certain lack in their practice or connection to the world. I know that I became a Buddhist because the Four Noble Truths, the fundamental teaching, resonated with my experience. I felt there was a certain dissatisfied basis to my experience of the world, that something was missing, even in a Matrix-like way, if you want to be cute. Neopaganism wasn’t really addressing this and occultism and magic, as well as the groups within these camps, didn’t really do so either.
How is this related, if at all, to the “hardcore” or “pragmatic” Dharma movement?
That is an interesting question. I think that they are cousins in a way though they may wind up being the same thing in the end. It is hard to say.
The emphasis in the Pragmatic Dharma movement, as I think they like to be called now, is on awakening as a lived experience possible in this lifetime, not in future lives and so forth as is often taught. To that end, they are willing to use “whatever works” as far as methods. In that sense, I would say it is compatible. In another sense, they tend to model themselves very explicitly on just one model, the one that comes from Theravadan Buddhism. So their methods focus on the maps and techniques from a certain subsegment of that school (and this is not a criticism).
That also sounds like a particularly tantric approach - enlightenment within our lifetime - and that might not need to be the goal of everyone in Open Source Buddhism?
I think that if you aren’t driven to achieve awakening, which I prefer over “enlightenment,” in this lifetime, you are in many ways just wasting your time. Being focused on some kind of “achievement” in some other lifetime misses the very here and now approach that the Dharma offers. It is about lived experience, right now, not some future reward. That said, the Pragmatic Dharma folks seem to be very goal oriented.
What do you think of the secular teaching of meditation and mindfulness in a scientific or clinic context, as opposed to cultural or sacred, context?
I think it is a great idea. The techniques are useful in a number of contexts and I do not think that the techniques, in and of themselves, are Buddhist. They are simply techniques that work with people regardless of cultural content. If they can be used to help people who are suffering or to promote awareness, they should be taught. There are experimental programs to teach such things to troubled youth or even elementary school age children in my area and I think that is wonderful. They aren’t the Dharma but they are useful.
Do you think there are any dangers inherent in exploring these sorts of techniques? I recently linked to an article on a study that found that finding the right style of meditation for an individual is important for maintaining practice, and someone left a comment suggesting that there might be dangers in pushing these techniques in a materialist context - that someone could end up stuck in the Dark Night of the Soul, for example, without any knowledge of what was happening to them.
I saw the same article on different meditation techniques and found it interesting. As to dangers, there clearly are dangers in these techniques as a whole.
One thing I wonder about is whether people are ending up in these sorts of states, in these sorts of experiences, anyway, whether they’re meditating daily or not.
There are a number of separate issues here. I’ll go through them briefly.
Meditative techniques bring up a lot of things that are often buried. In our culture, we’re trained, in many ways, to not be terribly still and reflective. We bounce from thing to thing without dwelling deeply on what is going on. There are quite a few people who will get very distraught or anxious if they have nothing to do or nothing to distract them. Most of us know people like this. They need people around, or TV, or games or they don’t know what to do. When these people are forced to be still and sit and do nothing with their minds, just paying attention but nothing else directed, it can be very anxiety making. All the stuff they are ignoring or hiding from in their minds or lives, well, there it is, bubbling up as they sit.
It is very common on longer (or even some shorter) retreats for someone to have issues. They are often mild. People have crying jags, overcome with emotion, that sort of thing. Every now and then, people have much worse reactions. This was actually something that came up a bit in discussion at the Buddhist Geeks conference last Summer.
Now, in the secular techniques, these same things could probably happen. They aren’t terribly different, just having a different setting or context. It is important that people, especially if they are a bit unsteady, to have others to help them, to act as guides or support, for when this kind of thing may happen.
I generally wouldn’t tell people to “go read a book and do these things without ever talking to anyone.” It might be fine. In fact, it will probably be fine. If it gets too intense, people would back off on their own normally.
The thing is that, in the end, you have to find a way through that. You can’t run away from your mind after all and all of that intensity is in there somewhere. You can’t bottle it up forever. So, secular or Buddhist, that doesn’t make much difference. In both cases, you’ll usually have a community and a teacher or guide, a sangha.
That’s sort of what I was getting at - even if you’re not taking up mindfulness or meditation or whatever, you’re going to end up being confronted by, for lack of a better word, psychological ugliness at some point in your life and you’re going to need to find a way through it.
I’m a secular meditator (and “ex-occultist”) myself. I sit daily. I honestly don’t know much about “real” Zen Buddhism (and of course there are lots of different types of Zen Buddhism), but to my limited understanding there’s not a lot else to Zen practice other than, well, zen. In other words - how dangerous could zazen be as a secular practice?
Or, put another way, what are secular meditators missing out on that a “religious” Zen Buddhist is getting?
Well… it can have the same problems and not all Zen is zazen, to be pedantic perhaps.
If you sit, say in zazen, and you are still. You are aware, hopefully, and paying attention. That’s zazen in a nutshell. Many people will have a reaction to that if they aren’t comfortable with what they aren’t acknowledging. My retreat experience these days is mostly with people doing sitting meditation and koan (or kong-an) work. Kong-an work is a different sort of frustrating.
As to what secular meditators are missing, it is a difference in goals. The goal (and I don’t care for that word) of Buddhist practice is the realization of Buddhahood or, to be less cute, to wake up. The goal of secular meditation is, usually, to deal with pain and stress. These are not unrelated but one is a bit broader than the other and I think you know which I would think of as the broad one.
Sitting to deal with stress. That’s very good. I think most people could really use that. I think that can act as a bridge to going “Now what? What’s the point of all of this?”
This is leaving aside that there are probably a half dozen “other” meditative techniques as well (or actually many more).
So Open Source Buddhism still deals very much with awakening, while secular mindfullness is focused more on day to day goals like managing pain and stress and improving concentration.
Yes, I think so. My idea of Open Source Buddhism as a kind of proposal or thought experiment is still, at the end of the day, the Buddhadharma. It is rooted in the Buddha’s teachings. The problem of the dissatisfactory nature of human experience, the cause of this problem, and the ways of solving it.
The Tibetans have a useful teaching that I learned from Namkhai Norbu in his popular Dzogchen book but which I’ve heard repeated elsewhere. I believe it is a Tibetan Nyingma school teaching. It is about “base, path, and fruit” or “view, meditation, result” (they are the same thing). The key here is that the view or mindset of practice combined with the techniques of practice (or the path) produce its result or fruit. In other words, you can use the exact same methods are someone else but if you go into this usage with a different mindset or worldview, you will not achieve the same results.
To use the mountain analogy, you will have started your climb at the base of different mountains, even if you climb the same way, using ropes, picks, etc. to get to the top. I think this is an important teaching to keep in mind when talking to people of different schools of thought that use very similar, and probably universal, techniques of practice.
So in this view someone probably wouldn’t “accidentally” achieve awakening through practice?
You can’t rule anything out. I think that people have an innate capacity for awakening and it isn’t trapped in a straightjacket with the label, “Buddhadharma” on it. People can awaken in spite of techniques, using techniques, or with no techniques. Can everyone do that? Probably not.
There is a common teaching in China, which you find a version of in Japan and in Korea. It is rediscovered time and again. The Tibetans teach it as well. This is the idea that we don’t “make” or “create” or “achieve” awakening. We really are liberated beings already. You don’t create the capacity for it. The analogies are made to clouds obscuring the sun or mirrors being polished so they can be clearly used but, at the end of the day, awakening is inherent in all of us and we are simply looking for ways to perceive what is right in front of us.
Klint Finley: How’s the new TOPI going? What’s the status?
Genesis Breyer P-Orridge: Actually, it’s rather gratifying. You’ve probably been to the Ning. And there’s that world map at the front which shows where there are active people and it’s almost obliterated the world map at this point. So whilst the activities are still somewhat limited, and directionless to an extent, what it does demonstrate to us is that there is still a serious appetite, curiosity, need for some of the ideas that we put into hibernation for a while from the TOPY with a Y. There was always the plan to have T-O-P-I, the One True Topi Tribe. That was always part of the strategy from the very beginning. But the first decade of T-O-P-Y, Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth, was… not the kindergarten exactly…. but that was sort of a filtering process to reconvene the idea of magic in a contemporary, demystified way in public culture. And that was almost too successful and we actually ended up in exile as a result of the threat that was perceived by the British establishment.
Ironically, they attacked us when we had already said that we were going to disband that version and become nomadic. The last thing we sent out to people was printed on what you send wedding invitations on, it was gold embossed card and it just said “Changed Priorities Ahead, TOPY Nomads.” Which was actually a sign, a street sign. We were driving along the road coming back from looking for a big house, a community headquarters in the north of England and there were road works going on and there was this big sign that just said “Changed Priorities Ahead.” And it was one of those moments where we went “That’s exactly what we were hoping to do.”
So the intended idea there was that we were closed down, Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth, in the hope that those who had really started to comprehend on their own, in their own way, what we were trying to say - which was to bring people around to using an intuitive personalized version of magic - to get those individuals to understand that we were a non-hierarchal, non-Masonic, post-“museum of magic” network.
In other words, a lot of people did their 23 sigils and then they would sometimes write and then say “What happens now?” and we would just say “That’s it. You don’t get a prize. You don’t get a new instruction. You don’t suddenly have a special title. If you’ve not figured out how to really discover and express your true desires by now then you’re never going to get it. Most people did understand that but there were some that expected a prize and were disappointed.
So we had reached the point of dismembering it and deconstructing the ten year project and the next step was to find a location to then go into the One True Topi Tribe. We looked at an old hotel in the north of England, we looked at the farm in a place called Arbor Low in Yorkshire, which actually had a stone circle on the grounds of the farm, which is where we used to have the TOPY Global Annual Meetings over a long weekend and we would camp out and we would do rituals outside in the stone circle. It is a beautiful place. So we were seriously looking at different locations. And then we, meaning myself and my family, decided to go to Nepal to do some research and to work with Tibetan Buddhist monks that we had come to know. And then come back and built the One True Topi Tribe but as you know that got interrupted by the British government.
So we went into hibernation and then Thee Psychick Bible got published. And during the next few months after that was published, we started to get lots and lots of e-mails and letters and meet people at concerts and events. They were saying, “We really want to know more about this. Why is isn’t it still going on?”
In between, there was The Process and Transmedia, wasn’t there? 
There was, yeah. There was the Transmedia. That was just an ad-hoc bridging phase. It was kind of a separate topic, but basically as you probably know we’ve been interested in The Process since the sixties and collecting lots of documents and books and so on. I eventually got to know Timothy Wyllie and Father Malachi McCormick and some of the founders. And it always was part of my culture engineering side to reinsert The Process into public culture but rehabilitated to get rid of Ed Sanders’ destructive, dishonest propaganda used to discourage people from really looking into The Process.
So one thing we’ve often done with Austin Osman Spare in the original TOPY, and with piercing and tattooing with Modern Primitives and then with that website with The Process. We inserted things that we think were both useful and needed to be reassessed and reevaluated in popular culture because they had become relevant again or more relevant than ever. So we shared things that we find inspiring and said “This is really inspiring to us and it’s changing our ways of perceiving things, you might want to really check this out.” So that’s been very effective as an ongoing process of culture engineering. So that was really what that part was about. It was to just prepare the ground for the books that came out.
The original, Love, Sex, Fear, Death book that came out from Feral House, that was originally going to be by myself and Benjamin Tischer, who runs Invisible Exports gallery. The original structure was going to be reprinting all the key magazines in full color and then a long essay and then interviews with the key founding members that we had done. At the time that we were assembling all the materials, Feral House changed the basic structure and handed it off to Timothy Wyllie. And so it became two books basically- the Timothy Wyllie anecdotal version and then the follow-up one with the facsimiles. We didn’t mind because the whole point was just to get that material out there again. However it actually happened isn’t so important as long as we could re-launch the information back into the culture.
So while we were doing that, we were always testing the ground and observing. Thee Psychick Bible really revealed a whole new generation of people who are incredibly curious and really hungry for more information about the original TOPY and wanting to actually find a way to apply that to their lives again. But, of course, we have an old TOPY proverb: “Never return to the previous character.” And so there’s no point to us in doing TOPY (with a Y) again and the ultimate point of the next step was always to do the Tribe. Because when people say “What’s the Psychick Cross?” we say “That’s how you recognize people who are your people, your chosen family people who at least on some level have similar interests or you can communicate with more easily than Joe Public.”
And all my life, the ultimate project has always been to set up experimental communities that create their own mythology, their own rituals, their own techniques for mind expansion, for maximizing whatever potential they have in whichever form, and leaving that behind as a legacy, some kind of work or alternative way of living. Not as a “running away into the countryside and being a farmer” hippie thing, but something that’s normal, practical. And the state of the economy and the state of the world as it is at the moment tends to suggest to us that there’s an inevitable collapse. That the economic system that we’re living in is fatally flawed. It’s based on the idea of infinite consumption and infinite growth. But if you have a limited amount of resources, even if you count the planet as one of the resources, there is a point where there’s no more. We can’t consume forever. There’s actually a natural limit.
The way things are set up is to treat things that are scarce as if they aren’t scarce and things that are scarce as if they aren’t. So energy, for example, we treat as though it’s not scarce at all. And individual labor like people are not scarce at all. There’s plenty of people but we sort of treat people as if they were scarce in certain ways. 
Well, in terms of western capitalism, the powers that be, as far as we’re concerned and we’ve written about it in Psychick Bible that they think of human beings just as a resource like the cows or sheep, whatever. And in the industrial revolution, it suited the people who control societies and economies to have a more educated, healthier workforce. So in the west you’ve got more education, better healthcare, better housing and so on, because they needed strong, healthy people to work in the factories.
As we got more technological, they’ve ended up with all these workers who they need less and less of. So now human beings are actually a redundant factor using up food, air, energy and everything else and they don’t really need us anymore. And if they could get away with just erasing us, they would. The people who are at the top of the pyramid of power and in control of economies are ruthless. It would not bother them at all to reduce the population to whatever they need because they see themselves as a separate set of species, and in a sense they are. We see it more in the west because it was started in England with the royal family, the aristocracy. We even say they’re “Blue Bloods,” a separate species, a more divinely touched species, chosen by god. But in fact they’re gangsters. Most of them get in that position by murdering rivals which is like the mafia.
So, anyway, we were sitting back and we were looking at the world outside and Lady Jaye actually said in the early 2000s “The economy is going to really suddenly crash really hard.” And at the time we did have some shares- and she said, “You’ve got to get rid of those shares.” So we sold them and within two or three weeks everybody lost all that money, when everybody’s shares became worthless for a while. That had made us really start thinking about it more and we thought, well, when it goes, if you’re living in a city, who’s going to be better prepared to survive? Hells Angels, Bloods and Crips and gangs, even survivalist fanatical Christians because they’ve already got loyalty to a group. They’ve got basic core belief. They’re prepared to protect themselves and fight for themselves. They’re more mobile and more paranoid so they’re more able to provide it. People who just live in their apartments in the suburbs and do their 9 to 5 jobs are going to be devastated literally and physically.
Or the Mormons. They are really well-situated for a collapse. They have an international structure, so that if all the Mormons in one city are displaced there are other places they can go. They have physical buildings. They have savings. They have food supply. It’s like their whole religion is built around being ready to take over if there’s a collapse.
We were in England and our car broke down and we got picked up by a breakdown truck and the driver happened to also be a fire inspector, he was moonlighting. So we were chatting and he said “They’ve just finished building a brand new Mormon temple in that town.” And we said, “Oh, yeah, the Mormons are a little bit strange.” And he said, “Strange? I’m the fire inspector so I had to go and inspect it to see if it would pass all the tests and be allowed to be open.” So he went in and he checked the temple and they said, “Do you want to go downstairs and check the offices?” and he said, “Oh, sure.” So they went downstairs underneath the temple and there were all these cubicles and people in there with computers and they were all basically collecting the names of people who were dead, anybody, because you know, they’re trying to save everybody by baptizing them.
And so we looked at them and then he said, “Everything is fine and safe.” And they said, “You don’t want to see the rest?” And he said, “The rest?” He said, “Yeah, there’s another 5 floors going down.” So he went down and there was a huge reservoir of fresh water. And as you say there was a huge floor just for food and supplies and then there were all these schools and meeting halls and then lots of places. Basically all the Mormon temples have bunkers underneath them because there’s no need for planning permission when they go down. Some of them have ten different levels and, as you said so rightly, those are there so they could order their people and swarm in and go below ground and wait to have a crisis. One has to assume that they have weapons too.
So they’re thinking ahead. And so that makes you think what about everyone else? Is there an alternative way for people like us, the misfits, bohemians, the radical thinkers, people who ultimately are social problem solvers in the long term? Most of the real solutions to perception, reality and magical descriptions of the way that we are or what we may become, the creation side of beingness. What about us? Can we come up with something that’s non-destructive and non-violent but also an alternative way of living? And what would it be? What would it look like? Obviously you have to start to share resources.
And so we began thinking about setting up the One True Topi Tribe, initially as a discussion group and say, is it possible, and if it’s possible, what would it look like? What are you prepared to give? What are you prepared to surrender? And how much do you really want to survive, or even if there’s not that much of a crisis, how much do you really want to change your behavior and the way you do life? How real is your hunger for real change and for evolution and for new thinking? And what would that look like?
Of course, for myself, we’ve lived in communes and community situations almost all my life, tended to do collaborations in groups and networks, rather than do the divined inspired individual which is to me not that interesting. And that’s always been the ultimate plan, to find a way to set up a community, more of a village than a commune, but a community based on creation, magic, revelation and the exploration of unlimited visions of reality, consciousness, everything.
Is this connected to the idea of the cut-up? I know that a lot of your work, almost everything, kind of comes back to the Gysin/Burroughs cut-up method. So how does that apply to TOPI?
Well, one of the basic questions that the original TOPY was designed to address was in order for the human species to truly evolve we have to change our behavior. And the question is, is it ever going to be possible to change our innate behavior? Because at the moment we, as a species, we are at a primitive larval state of consciousness. And one of the things we often say is, how could there ever have been a second war? If there’s a war the first time, it’s novel and people don’t understand what the results are going to be, but surely when you’ve seen people maimed, decimated, crippled, wounded, grieving, everything destroyed, children lying dead and crippled… surely we would never ever let that happen again. It would be just too horrendous, too vile, to ever, ever let that happen again. And yet as a species, thousands of years later, almost everybody is at war in one way or another. New York communities, nations, belief systems and religions are still locked in this idea that one person’s opinions can be forced on another by violence. And that’s a really sad, pathetic state of affairs. So the first question was, can we possibly change? And if we can, how?
Burroughs said to me right at the beginning in ‘71, almost as a sort of a test: “What I want you to think about, Gen: is it possible to short circuit control?” But somehow in my mind that got switched to: “is it possible to short circuit our behavior?” And then we look back and we thought, where does it come from? In the earliest prehistoric, or should I say preastoric because it’s neutral- in the earliest preastoric times human beings were just struggling to survive like any other animals. And so the male of the species was, in the DNA, this aggressive gene, an aspect that was about survival and it makes sense when everything - the environment, the weather, the predators - everything is about getting into survival, that, yes, we need to have an aggressive program in our behavior.
And it’s because of that that we’re still here, that we’ve managed to take control or have an effect on the physical environment whereas in the beginning we had not mastered the environment. Now, to some extent, we’ve mastered our environment and we’ve created some credible post technological, digital, futuristic environment worldwide. But we haven’t bothered to apply the same kind of research and resources to changing the way we think and behave. We’re out of whack. We still have this primitive, violent program genetically rooted inside us and yet we’ve changed the environment so that we can go into space, we can look at atoms and particles, do all these amazing things. But we’ve not valid as a species, as a whole, to even really apply the same resources to developing ourselves.
And one of the things about Tibet that fascinated us was that something like 70% of the population meditated for thousands of years in order to look at perception of consciousness. And that seemed to have got far enough along in their mapping of other dimensions outside and inside time to be able to drop the human body, the container of their mind, their consciousness and still retain a sense of individuated self in an immaterial space so much so that they can reincarnate in another body and remember who they were to some degree. The Dalai Lamas, as you probably know, had to go through this test when they found there were lots of items that belonged to the previous Dalai Lamas and mixed it with the ones that didn’t belong to that Dalai Lamas and the child has to pick out only the ones that were his before. Otherwise they’re not the Dalai Lama. And that, plus having met certain Tibetan masters, has convinced us that it is possible to transcend mortality and return.
So if they can do that, by sheer force of will and hundreds of years of focused meditation, what would we be able to do as a species if we devoted all those resources that go into war and weapons and useless things? If that was applied just to developing the consciousness of everybody. And why do we think that they attacked the psychedelic Sixties so strongly? Because it was- the moment when millions of people worldwide were suddenly trying to invade and explore other realms of consciousness, no matter how much it was like a bull in a china shop compared to a Tibetan monk, they were still breaking through ideas of reality and ideas of invitation.
So what you say then is TOPI is about cutting up behavior and cutting consciousness or am I just going too far with that idea?
GPO: No no no, it is. Because when we were doing COUM transmissions actions, we started doing them on our own, the solo one, and found that we would go into trans states and would do things occasionally like drink poison and cut myself and it would heal without a scar and start speaking in tongues and have an out-of-body experiences. We also ended up in hospital a couple of times in intensive care because we didn’t know how to repeat it in a safe way. It was very random. Sometimes the combination of sound, physical discipline and stress would trigger an amazing alteration of consciousness but sometimes it wouldn’t. We didn’t know how to make it happen when we needed to. And that’s when we stopped doing COUM because we thought this is getting really interesting but also very dangerous. We need to go back and think about this. Who might know more about these things that have been happening? Shamanic cultures. We started to look into Native American shaman and Siberian shaman and go and travel to the jungles, illegally, of Burma. We started to try and get more information about those states.
At the very least we thought more of the problems in the west especially is that inevitably a certain small ratio of human beings are born everywhere who are innately shamanic, innately magical or mystical. And in some cultures like Tibet, like certain, to me, much more sophisticated cultures, like Native Americans or the Hopi or whoever- If somebody demonstrates the potential to gift of shamanism they’re immediately taken to the wise people, and they’re told how to be safe, how to control these gifts and how to even expand these gifts and also how to share them in a positive way. And sometimes people are born who are conduits for this amazing shamanic energy but they don’t even realize people, we would say people like Brian Jones or Jimi Hendrix, people in popular culture who are so tuned to universe but completely clueless about how to protect themselves from this incredible energy and that’s what burns them out and destroys them. And it must happen everywhere even to people who just live in ordinary suburban families everywhere at random. So there are people all over the world who are intuitively and naturally gifted with the potential to be shamanic, healing, mystical people and there’s no one to help them and there’s not somewhere to go and be trained and have it explained and have a safe place to discover and explore these gifts.
And so that was another aspect of the TOPI. Let’s make a place. Let’s find these people. Let’s just say, do you feel a bit like this, like we do? Are you confused? Are you isolated? Does the status quo seem stupid, bigoted, hypocritical and not giving you the pictures that you’re seeing in terms of reality? Here is a place that will give you some encouragement and share what we know and you can share with us. And maybe that way we can all move forward a little bit. And then with ritual we, wanted it to be just a cut-up. Because if behavior is, if you like, genetic on a certain deep level, how would you break up something that’s ingrained, something that’s been inside our DNA thousands and thousands of years? And that’s where Burroughs and Gysin gave us the clue, which is DNA is a recording and behavior is locked into DNA, as well as society.
So, if it’s a recording, how could you cut up that recording and how could you cut up behavior? By cutting it up, by making random associations, by breaking the linearity, the logic, the continuum, and by breaking it up, reassembling it in apparently random ways, that breaks down all the expectations that we usually fall foul of and gives you the chance and space to maybe see, as Burroughs used to say about cut-ups: “Let’s see what it really says.”
And so, we saw magical ritual as a cut-up of behavior. That’s why we didn’t want a “museum of magic” of doing the banishing rituals and naming the names and all this Egyptian stuff. What’s actually happening here that’s- the names and all the languages and all the frippery and all this baroque nonsense. What are we actually seeing here that in a sigil, the orgasm, opens up the deeper mind and the other minds so at one moment they are all open and interconnected and you can post a message in it. You can call it magical, you can call it neurolinguistic programming, whatever you want to call it. But it works, and that’s all that matters. Or it seems to work a lot more than it should.
So that’s where we started to apply the cut-up and breaking expectation, breaking the linearity over and over and over to create new spaces, new collisions, new perceptions that you couldn’t get to any other way because we’re so trained by language, culture, society, family, education, economy. We’re so trained and so sucked in to this material solid established form of living and life and being and the hardest thing of all is to break it, truly break it.
Let me ask you, because I know you know more about Tibetan society than I do. I honestly don’t know that much but I’ve been led to believe that there was still a pretty significant element of control in Tibetan society on the part of the Lamas over the rest of society.
So how do you protect against that? Because you’ve been having somebody who’s dedicating, you know, huge parts of their lives towards meditation and theoretically being compassionate but then they still have these patterns of control? 
You still have that, it’s very much like the Roman Catholic Church on one level. This whole hierarchy and this whole bureaucracy and it becomes this really ponderous massive edifice with thousands of years of scrolls and interpretations and documents and subgroups and cults and teachers and so on. Of course. And that’s why with TOPY we wanted to just strip away all their names and all the idea of of ownership of ideas and ways of breaking down behavior. Our basic philosophy is look for what’s useful and use it but don’t get sucked into the game.
We were in Kathmandu we just heard that Scotland Yard had raided our house and we couldn’t go back. We’d lost everything over night. We went into town and we used our American Express card and got all the money we could get on it which was $5,000 and then we went to see Samye Ling and through the interpreter he said, “Guess what, you’re an exile and now we’re exiles.” We laughed. And he had been talking a few days before this saying that his monastery which is right on the border of Tibet just inside Nepal and the Himalayas, that they were having real ecological problems because they had no electricity, so they were cutting down the trees in order to have heat, in order to cook. Especially in the winter which you can imagine are incredibly cold.
But there was a project that was being run by somebody, I don’t remember which groups or some aid organization, where they were supplying these small electric turbines which was basically just a big metal tube with a turbine in it, and because mountains are so high and all this watering, you basically just put this into a really fast flowing stream, guide the stream into it and it spins the turbine and makes enough electricity for a whole monastery to cook and heat and it’s not destroying anything, it’s just using the speed of water. And the cost of one of those is $5,000. And so having known that we’d lost everything we owned, we said, “Here’s $5,000 so that you can have your monastery without destroying anything else.”
Now some people would say that that was irrational and stupid to do because we also had two children. But what happened without anybody knowing that we had done that was we went back to the hotel we were staying at which was owned by Tibetans and without knowing anything they just said, “You can stay here as long as you want for free because we know you’ve done things for Tibetan people. We’ve been doing the same thing for the refugees all through the winter at our expense.” And then we went to the hotel room and we sat down and we looked across the room and we noticed this brown envelope, this suitcase, and we thought, oh yeah, when we left home about eight months ago we just put the mail in that envelope, threw in a suitcase, thinking we’ll read it later.
So for no conscious reason we just started to look through the envelope and amongst the bills and things was this postcard from Michael Horowitz and it said, “We were with Wynona,” - Wynona Ryder, is it was her father - he also looked after Timothy Leary’s archives. “We were at the Psychic TV concert and it was the most psychedelic thing we’ve seen since the Acid Test in ‘66.” Then it said, “If you ever need a refuge, call this number.” So we walked back into the center of Kathmandu to the one international phone, because at that time there were hardly any international phones, and we rang the number and said “Guess what, we need a refuge.” And Michael said “Come over, you can stay as long as you want.” So we then rang Wax Trax up, our record label at the time, and said “We need tickets one way to America.” And they bought them for us instead of giving us royalties. And then we got to San Francisco. We moved in to Wynona Ryder’s old bedroom.
Then a few days later in a phone call Michael said “Someone wants to talk to you.” And we picked up the phone and it was Timothy Leary and he said “Genesis, I’ve been through this. I was an exile and on the run too. They were trying to get to my archives. Just come to LA, stay with me. We’ll do something.” So we went to LA. He gave us his old car which was actually parked at Michael’s and we started doing lectures with Timothy Leary about oppression, exile and control and that’s how we started to make money and find an apartment. But that wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t just thrown everything away.
So how do you know those moments or if that’s the right action to take? By the years of doing sigils and looking as deep as you can into your true motivations, what you really need. So many of us will say something but it is not really what we need to say, we do it in shorthand. There’s an example that we did with a Apache shaman and he told us he went around with certain people and said, “Tell me what you want, if you could have anything you want.” And one person said, “I want to go to America.” And he said, “Impossible. It will never happen.” “Why not?” And he said, “Well, where is America?” And he said, “Well, I meant I wanted to go to Las Vegas because I’ve always wanted to go in a casino and gamble.” And he said, “That you can do. But you can’t go to ‘America.’ You can’t stand on all of it at the same time.” And we do that so much with language and say just the tip of what we’re thinking instead of what we really want to say and that’s true in the way we behave, and in the way we even dialogue with our inner mind and with ourselves.
And so sigilizing and trying to strip away to the truth of what you want is one of the best disciplines of getting clearer and clearer to any given moment in terms of your response to things that happen. And so you’re always making choices that lead you towards your current final dream or next point that you want to reach.
And that’s why the more you can learn to have this ongoing critical self-dialog. “What do I really want?”” What I’m really saying here and learning through this exercise is cutting up logic and learning all different things coming at the same time and then selecting, sifting through and becoming more and more honest with yourSELF (self in capital letters) and becoming more and more in tune with that really specific you with no camouflage, no issues, no concerns with how you’re viewed by other people and how society views you et cetera, just exactly what it is that you really think and see and want to achieve. It sounds easy and it’s not. It’s not at all. And that’s why these different ways of approaching just stripping back that real desire that’s so important and so useful.
But by keeping and using cut-up in different forms you maintain an edge because the hardest thing is to stop yourself getting back into habits. You start to take it for granted. You’re doing quite well and you’re seeing quite well so that’s okay. You can’t ever by the time you got that you keep pushing and pushing yourself all the time, double checking.
One of the things that really started me on this path was being in the Exploding Galaxy in 1969 and it was a very rigorous psychological commune. There were no walls. You couldn’t sleep in the same place two nights running. You couldn’t wear the same things two days running. You shouldn’t have your hair the same two days running. You shouldn’t eat the same two days running. Anybody could stop you at any moment in the day and just say, “Stop, how come that’s the same as it was yesterday? Why haven’t you learned to do something different? Why do you use a knife and fork?” And so on. And so you’d be pushed constantly to rethink, am I doing this because it’s the right way, the clearest way, the quickest way, the most effective way, or am I being a bit lazy or am I just doing it because this is the way I’ve always done it? And that was a really deep grounding that we kept ever since. And we added the tool of the cut-ups to it. But the basic motivation, the central way of being, is the determined rejection of habit.
See Phil Farber’s interview with Gen from 1996 for more information.
 By this I was referring to value of scrip or alternative currencies that are based on human input during financial crisis, not suggesting that people should be paid less.
 See Friendly Feudalism by Michael Parenti.
Special thanks to Fiacre O’Duinn for helping to arrange this interview.