Dr. Kurt Johnson on The Middle Point

Worldwide today, there is a broad eruption of deeper consciousness emerging across our entire species. It is trying to meet a global challenge facing humanity. Will we be able to achieve a healthy global civilization, transcending all the cultural “boxes” of the past, or will we not meet this “anthropological threshold” and, like all the other members of our genus Homo, go extinct?

Fundamentally, this eruption in consciousness is about transcending the experience of “separateness”—at all levels of human experience and interaction. Realizations about non-separateness are arising across all spheres of human endeavor and world culture, from cutting edge advances in science to modern “words of wisdom” from myriad spiritual teachers around the globe. Because it is a worldwide phenomenon, the language and terminology of this “Great Turning” varies, sometimes radically, across the international landscape. But the “good news” is that the experience pointed to is essentially the same. How does one truly experience not being “separate”?

This matter is one of deep consequence. Br. Wayne Teasdale, multi-faith mystic, spiritual writer and founder of the modern interspiritual movement, has stated “the definitive revolution is the awakening of humankind”. Eckhart Tolle, one of the most widely read spiritual voices of our time, says we are “faced with a stark choice: evolve or die”.

This “awakening” is what Ivan Rados, and many other authors worldwide, are writing about. It is extremely important that there be a place for every one of these many voices. Only through myriads of unique “soul groups” (across national and cultural boundaries) getting this message will each be able to seek out, and find, specific teachers and writers who, for them, can help make their awakening actual and real. Cumulatively, on a global scale, this can have tremendous effect.

How Can it Happen?

When people talk about the chances of our species achieving an enlightened global civilization, the crux of the matter comes down to “how will this actually happen?” How can it actually occur?

This question has obvious and huge implications for the world’s religions, especially “religion” as it has conventionally been practiced. As Ivan Rados says: “People speak about needing ‘salvation.’ We don’t need salvation in the way most think of it. Our only real salvation is to awaken. We just need a reminder about our essential nature.”

He also says—and is absolutely right—that today “the rules are changing.” As he asserts, “Real religion is free of rules, the need for obedience, guilt, shame, and fear.” He also stresses, “Nobody can save you. Not society, presidents, prime ministers, popes, Christ, Krishna, Mohammed, Buddha, or even God.”

A particularly helpful insight concerns “isms.” Ivan writes, “‘Isms’ are accepted ideologies all over the world, with different formulations but with the same rule: create conflict and divide consciousness. One part becomes superior, while the other part becomes inferior; one part is holy, and the other a sinner. You are right and others are wrong.” This realization is trending dramatically worldwide, as reflected in the up to 20-40% of persons worldwide who now call themselves “spiritual but not religious”.

Evidence of this global transition is found not only in this book but in many like it worldwide. Each has a piece of the emerging vision, the emerging understanding. They represent answers discovered by various contemporary pioneers which, when communicated successfully, may help others make their “realization” more and more truly real. It’s helpful to have this global perspective because, everywhere, readers are searching for the book or teacher who is just right for them.

But further, this is not just about books and teachers. Energies are also arising, and often arising in radically powerful ways that many, especially those experiencing them, man not readily understand. Swami Shraddhananda (formerly Dr. Sonya Jones), a monk in the Saraswati order, Bhagawan Nityananda lineage, and a scholar of this phenomenon, recently announced at a major interfaith conference in Nashville, Tennessee (the “Big I Conference”), that spiritual teachers worldwide need to be alert because so many energies (spoken of, and well-elaborated, across the ancient wisdom texts but not widely well known today) are now beginning to be experienced by thousands. It is important that they know what these energies are and how they can be moved toward the fullest capacity for awakening, sustaining awakened wellbeing, and sacred service.

Reading The Middle Point

When I read this book, I took a lot of notes. In fact I had so many pages of notes I couldn’t hope to discuss them all here, although they all have worth. However I want to share some of the major “take-aways” because they might be useful orientations to readers exploring The Middle Point.

The one below is a “big one” and hopefully helpful as an initial guide for Middle Point readers:

“To understand this middle point, or more precisely the “pointless point,” we first have to understand two historic paths: the path of meditation and the path of love. Historically, the path of meditation (the right path) and the path of love (the left path) have been seen as having diametrically opposite values, different directions, different methodologies, different attitudes toward the search for enlightenment. In order not to be confused… you have to [understand] the two paths move differently, but they meet at one point as one realization.”

Dig into this one and you really have something. Have you ever wondered why consciousness at rest is always satisfied but, in the movement of love, you are often unsatisfied? If this is the only exploration you get from this book, it is a big one!

A very healthy aspect of The Middle Point is its emphasis on balance—of course implicit in the title itself. If there has ever been a major problem common to all the world’s wisdom traditions, it has been how to find this ultimate balance—which is the “Middle Point” itself. Buddha spoke of the “Middle Way” and only found it after many years of bouncing back and forth! The balanced character of The Middle Point may save readers a lot of trouble because, historically, the spiritual traditions and their adherents have suffered from serious “waffling” when it comes to trying to chose between apparent opposites—transcendence and immanence, being and doing, the absolute and relative, knowing and not knowing—a long list of perennial confusion!

Balance in The Middle Point

Some good examples of balance in The Middle Point are worth mentioning because it is still common, across many spiritual communities and even teachers, to persist in choosing one “opposite” over another. Rados’ message is always about balance:

“What the mind is actually saying is, ‘I will change from one state of mind to another state of mind, and all the states are us’.”

“The truth can be experienced in one place just as much as it can in another. It’s as much in you as it is in everyone else.”

“In enlightenment, you neither grasp [things], judge them, nor reject them.”

“Detachment isn’t indifference.”

…”conscious acceptance of the moment, intelligently responding from your loving heart”

“Consciousness is a process of creativity.”

“Is love independent? Existentially, with your being, no! Non-existentially, with your mind, yes!”

“You don’t need to renounce the world to actualize your full potential, your enlightenment.”

And finally: “Be in active inactivity and you will be enlightened!”

In The Middle Point there is also healthy caution that awakening doesn’t necessarily happen automatically—the panacea often appearing to be promised by many spiritual teachers. “Hitting the mark is the result of ninety-nine failures” (Dogen Zenji), Rados records. And, “Change the cause in this moment, and this moment will open the door for awareness to disconnect consciousness from all causes from the past. Otherwise, the condition in the next moment will be exactly the same as your condition in this moment.” “With discipline, you create a certain atmosphere around you in which awakening becomes possible”. And, for sure, “Enlightenment is unpredictable”.

There are some good “laughers” in The Middle Point for the seasoned practitioner, like this perennially true caution: “Meditation Is So Simple, but the Mind Isn’t Interested in Simplicity.” Ever noticed?

The Middle Point also pays attention to how emerging experiences of awakening are addressing planetary problems that must be addressed if awakening is to move beyond personal realization and toward effective world change—corrupt politics, exploitive economics, environmental degradation, competition instead of community and how all this inevitably breeds our planet’s perennial conflicts and wars. These are all symptoms of what Eckhart Tolle calls our species’ collective insanity. Let’s hope books like this can help put it right.

Some Final Notes

A major paradox explored in The Middle Point, and one–frankly—making the book somewhat different from many other books on awakening is “the big one” pointed to, and quoted, in paragraph twelve of this Preface.

The paradox is this, and it has been one very confusing to “people on the path”. Consciousness, as a resting energy, always appears to give satisfaction—as nearly universally acknowledged spiritual adepts. Love, however, as a “moving energy” (that is, energy in motion)—especially in human relationships—often is experienced as falling short. The reason for this is, of course, that we are in an evolving process. While the root of consciousness (call it “emptiness”, “no-thing”, “source”, or whatever) is, as Rados says, always the same, skillfulness in love appears to still be working itself out in the evolutionary process. It’s healthy to see it in this universal sense of Yin and Yang or we’ll be confused and wonder why what we appear to be taking away from it often appears so “mixed”. Without this perspective, the spiritual search may lead to disappointment. This paradox is one of the major evolving points human beings are working through, no doubt about it. It’s good that The Middle Point invites us to investigate it.

Finally, some comments may be useful about words and terminology in The Middle Point. There are many expressions in the book that will be recognized as “classical”, that is, similar in essence to the core of awakened (or “non-dual”) teaching across all the traditions. This is because it isn’t unusual for individual realization to produce the same insights found in the classic literature of awakening even if individuals have not read this literature. Accordingly, many readers of The Middle Point will see language reminiscent of Advaita Vedanta, the tradition associated with Eastern sages well known in the West like Ramana Maharshi or Nisargadatta Maharaj. Because of this, some of it will remind of the contemporary teacher Eckhart Tolle, who has been widely regarded as Advaitic.

The emphasis on balance in The Middle Point is reminiscent of Dzogchen (Tibetan Buddhism) or some more mature understandings within Advaita Vedanta. Readers familiar with current spiritual trends worldwide will also recognize much in Rados’ writing that reflects “unique-self” enlightenment and emphasis on “natural state” realization. These emphases are consistent with current world trends in which some spiritual teachers now start their teaching with what they used to reserve for “toward the end” or the increased popularity and recognition of “Raja”, or “natural state” yoga. This is an emphasis on awakening being the natural state of all things, also the message of Krishna Menon’s classic book the Atma Darshan. It is important to mention because Menon’s book was written as a reminder that “all this teaching, teaching, teaching” can obscure the fundamental self-evident reality of awakening. Rados emphasizes this same thing.

But there are also many words in The Middle Point that are not used in the ways often associated with them in other awakening literature. This is a caution that The Middle Point is not a book to be read quickly or superficially. Doing so, one may completely misunderstand what is being said. There are a number of words where Rados’ usage is quite different from some other authors—examples being “I”, “Oneness”, “imagination”, “contemplation”, “witness” and “mind”—differences that occur in various nuances. Nuances and subtleties are important. A clear example in The Middle Point is the many pages about the dangers of the mind, or of paying attention only to the mind. This can be misunderstood—as happens across so many traditions—concluding that the mind, or any use of the intellect, is bad. In some contexts worldwide, like “American neo-Advaita”, this misunderstanding has led to teaching that awakening means detachment and not engagement. As Rados summarizes, what is “bad” about the mind is how our species has fixated on it. In The Middle Point it might appear hidden among all the other pages, but the mind is a tool and meant to be a valuable one. “Use your mind when you need it”, Rados ultimately says. “When you don’t need it, switch it off. Take responsibility for managing your mind.” “Remember, there’s nothing wrong with the mind itself. Neither is there anything wrong with thinking or verbalizing. It’s just a process. The mind is an instrument to be used, but the instrument isn’t who you are.”

Finally, the basic structure and message of The Middle Point has to do with polarity balancing itself in the middle. As I read, I couldn’t help but think of what science now knows about the origin and structure of galaxies. Galaxies are born in a tumultuous tug of war between centripetal force and centrifugal force, forces moving inward and forces moving outward, tugging in two opposite directions. Eventually the spiral arms formed by the myriad stars find balance and homogeneity with the Black Hole at the galactic center. Finding this balance, a galaxy has a long life. Not finding it, it either implodes or explodes. It is this same dynamic that is being asked to balance in all of us as we explore The Middle Point.

— Kurt Johnson

Dr. Kurt Johnson is co-author with David Robert Ord of the highly acclaimed book The Coming Interspiritual Age. Known internationally as a scientist, comparative religionist, activist and former monastic, Kurt co-founded Interspiritual Dialogue with Br. Wayne Teasdale, founder of the modern interspiritual movement. Kurt is ordained in three spiritual traditions and has contributed widely to the peer-reviewed scientific literature of evolution, ecology, and comparative biology, including a “Ten Best” book in popular science, Nabokov’s Blues: The Scientific Odyssey of a Literary Genius, co-authored in 2000 with Steve Coates of The New York Times. He is currently co-editor of a new book for Yale University Press on the science and art of Vladimir Nabokov.

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