Jonathan on Karl Gruber's podcast, "World Awakenings #78 with Jonathan Robinson"
Jonathan on Jake Weaver's podcast, "Midnight, On Earth"
A Dozen Questions with Jonathan Robinson:
1. What was your inspiration for writing this book?
Originally, it was the bestselling book The Happiness Project. In this book, author Gretchen Rubin details her use of Positive Psychology methods to see if they can help her feel happier. As I read that book, I realized I’d done a similar project to try out dozens of spiritual methods to see if they could get me closer to enlightenment.
In addition, the fact that I’ve met and interviewed over 100 spiritual teachers, ranging from the Dalai Lama to Deepak Chopra, including many who have died such as Mother Teresa, Wayne Dyer, and Ram Dass—made me feel a responsibility to pass on the wisdom these wonderful beings have taught me.
2. What makes this book or your enlightenment journey unique?
I’ve been blessed to get to know so many awakened teachers and better understand what actually works to raise one’s consciousness. My book aims to be very practical and entertaining, while at the same time detailing what science now knows about the methods that are most useful for finding inner peace.
One of the things that’s unique about the book is the fact that I get to share personal anecdotes of my experiences with famous gurus such as Sai Baba, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Adyashanti, Byron Katie, Ram Dass, and many others. From spending time with such folks, I got a better idea of what an awakened person is like, and what are common myths about enlightenment.
3. Are you enlightened?
One thing I learned about enlightenment is that there are different levels and different “types” of enlightenment. I have a much more enjoyable, sometimes blissful, and more open experience of life than I used to have. Yet, I still think of myself as a novice sailor on the great ocean of enlightenment. There are always deeper and more expansive states of consciousness to experience and explore.
4. Do you think anyone can become enlightened using the various methods you describe in your book?
A surprising finding in the scientific study of enlightenment is that some people can awaken fairly quickly and easily if they find a method that “fits” them. Of course, not all methods work well, so I tried to put in the book many of the techniques and ideas that have repeatedly been shown to be the most effective at triggering awakening experiences.
Even if a person never experiences lasting enlightenment, just having occasional glimpses of higher states of awareness can be a great blessing in one’s life. Such glimpses tend to infuse a person’s life with great meaning, as well as provide people with newfound inspiration to become a better person.
5. You’ve met a lot of famous gurus. Who stood out to you as being particularly powerful or helpful?
Satya Sai Baba, a famous guru who died in 2011, was particularly powerful. If I was within a mile of him, I would melt into a blissful state so strong I could barely move. Amongst other things, Sai Baba was able to manifest things from an empty hand and also read my mind. Yet, sheer spiritual power or miraculous abilities are not necessarily what is most helpful.
I have found the teachings and interview I did with American master, Adyashanti, to be particularly helpful. Furthermore, I lived with an American master for over 20 years named Justin Gold, and he was definitely instrumental in my spiritual awakening. In addition, my association and friendship with Ram Dass certainly shaped my own path over many decades.
6. What was it like meeting the Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa?
Both of these icons were amazing in different ways. Mother Teresa radiated a vulnerability, love, and humility that was very disarming. I found myself crying tears of gratitude in her presence, and feeling like I was a young child witnessing the presence of a great saint. I have a miraculous story in the book about how I got to interview her.
The Dalai Lama, on the other hand, exuded the energy of a happy, playful five-year-old. Like with Mother Teresa, his way of being was very disarming. He and I laughed a lot together, and there was both joy and compassion radiating from his presence. When I talked to him, I felt like he had a wide-open mind that was unclouded by any ego.
7. You offer a lot of advice and lessons in your book. What is one piece of advice you think would be helpful to any spiritual seeker?
In the first chapter, I mention that it’s helpful if people have an “experimental attitude” when pursuing enlightenment. By this I mean that it’s good to try a bunch of stuff for a short period of time to see what seems to feel right and work for you. What you may need now to further your spiritual awakening may be different than what you needed a decade or even a month ago.
Part of having an experimental attitude is to try out various methods to see if a specific technique feels particularly helpful. In my personal experience, the teachings or methods that I was least attracted to often ended up being the most transformative. Unfortunately, I see that many seekers stay with the same teachings and methods they’ve used for years just out of habit. Instead, I think seekers should always be exploring new things to feed their soul and open their heart.
8. You’ve interviewed a lot of spiritual teachers over a 30 year period. How have you seen the field of spirituality change over that time?
It has changed in many ways. First of all, the terms people use are different. Teachers are more likely today to talk about awareness, consciousness, or awakening—rather than God, Jesus, or the need for gurus. Also, the methods people emphasize are different. When I interviewed teachers in the early 90’s, they often talked about mantra meditation, devotion to a teacher, and purification over many years of intensive practice. Nowadays, I hear much more about such things as mindfulness, direct awakening, and fully inhabiting one’s body. Like technology in general, spirituality is always developing, and, in my opinion, it is becoming easier to awaken than ever before.
9. What are some common myths about enlightenment, or things that would surprise people who are just learning about enlightenment?
Many people imagine that once you’re “enlightened,” you live in endless bliss, you never have any problems, bad habits are erased, and you become free of moral lapses. None of that is true. Enlightenment simply changes the lens by which you see the world. Instead of thinking you are a separate ego, you experience the world as an impersonal, peaceful awareness or presence. You still have to deal with the “stuff” of life, but because you live more in the moment and feel a lot of peace, you experience life differently than most people.
In the book, I describe 10 common myths people have about what leads to enlightenment, and 15 myths about what people are like post-enlightenment. By going into depth about the many myths surrounding awakening, I hope to give readers a better understanding of what enlightenment is–and what it isn’t.
10. Have you experienced many miracles on your path to enlightenment?
I used to seek out magic and miracles, and such occurrences would happen to me on a regular basis—especially around famous gurus. In the book, I describe some of the special powers I saw gurus manifest, as well as various miraculous events that I have experienced. I have many stories of visitations by angelic beings and having weird psychic phenomena happen to me. Early in my spiritual search, such mysterious phenomena helped convince me there was a lot more going on than meets the eye.
11. Can things like therapy and positive psychology be useful in one’s own enlightenment project?
Any approach to personal growth done with sincerity can certainly help one become freer, yet therapy by itself does not seem to trigger enlightenment. However, therapy and Positive Psychology are useful because they can help disperse conditioning that makes awakening very unlikely. In addition, people who awaken who have worked through their issues in therapy are more likely to stabilize in their higher state of consciousness, and are less likely to create problems that come from blind spots.
12. What would you say enlightenment is like? How do enlightened folks experience the world differently than other people?
Dr. Jeffery Martin, a Harvard trained psychologist, has studied over 1200 enlightened people over the past two decades. He has discovered that there are basically four different types of awakening or enlightenment experiences—which he calls Locations 1,2,3, and 4. In Location 1, people begin to get in touch with a sense of stillness and peace that is always present—even if it’s in the background. In Location 2, that peace and stillness is more in the foreground, and the “narrator” inside one’s head greatly diminishes. People in Location 2 can still experience negative emotions, but they don’t last for very long.
People who awaken to a Location 3 type of enlightenment tend to experience a single pervasive emotion which feels like a combination of love, bliss, joy, and compassion. Such people seem to radiate unconditional acceptance, and be happy pretty much all the time. Finally, people in Location 4 lose all sense of a separate self. Their predominant experience is one of very deep peace, along with feeling one with other people and the universe.
In general, people who say they are “enlightened” report that they no longer identify with their ego, but rather they identify with being pure awareness, or love, or their soul. This new identity is accompanied by much less suffering, a lot more peace, and a greatly reduced sense of a separate sense of self.