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Every old-timer in the contemplative game knows this is true-that growth is usually uneven. But some say the neurotic bits are actual regressions: a person made a real advance in meditation but then, seduced by samsara, abandoned it and got caught up in neurosis. Others say that meditation actually scoops up hidden, compacted neuroses in the advanced practitioner, making him or her suddenly and mysteriously become a jerk. Do you think there is any truth is such views?

I think of each of those points you mentioned is sometimes true. People often do make real progress in meditation, only to abandon it because the demands are too great. And when they return to their "old" ways, their neurosis is even worse, because they have the same old problem but now their sensitivity is increased, so it simply hurts even more.

Your second scenario is also common. Particularly at advanced stages of meditation, the really deeply buried complexes start to become exposed to awareness. Advanced practitioners can become very exaggerated people, because they have already worked through all the smooth and easy problems, and all that is left are the karmas from when you murdered twenty nuns in your last lifetime. I'm sort of kidding, but you get the idea: some really deep-seated problems can rush to the surface in advanced practice, and this can confuse people, because this does not look like "progress." But it's sort of like frostbite: at first you don't feel anything, because you're frozen. You don't even think you have a problem. But then you start to warm up the frozen part, and it hurts like hell. The cure, the warming up, is horrible. Advanced meditation is especially a fast warming up, a waking up, and it usually hurts like hell.

But you have some other scenarios as to why things can "go bad" in meditation.

Yes, the idea is that, as we were saying, development consists of several different streams that develop through the basic stages or waves of consciousness unfolding. The great wisdom traditions tend to emphasize two or three of these streams, such as the cognitive (awareness), the spiritual (and moral), the higher affect (love and compassion). But they tend to neglect other streams, such as emotional, interpersonal, relationships, and conventional interactions.

Thus, as you tend to make progress in some of these streams-perhaps the meditative/cognitive-you can become a little "unbalanced" in your overall development. Other developmental lines become neglected, withered, atrophied. Your psyche is saddled with one giant and a dozen pygmies. And the more your meditation practice advances, the worse the imbalance becomes. You start to get very weird, and you are told to increase your meditative effort, and pretty soon you come apart at the seams like a cheap suit. Yes?

So one of the things that we might want to look at are ways to bring a more integral practice to bear on our lives, an integral practice that includes the best of ancient wisdom and modern knowledge, and blends the contemplative with the conventional. I don't have the answers here, but these books are, I hope, a way to begin this dialogue in good faith and good will.

When you earlier said that meditators could "just meditate," was that being just a little glib? Because it doesn't seem that you really think that meditation alone is enough.

Well, you didn't ask if I thought meditation alone is enough. You asked what I would tell somebody who said, "Leave me alone to just meditate." I'd say, "Just meditate." I have no desire to interfere with anybody's practice. But if you asked instead, "What other practices do you think meditators could use to facilitate their growth?" then I would answer more or less as I just did.

In other words, a judicious blend of Eastern contemplative approaches with Western psychodynamic approaches is an interesting and I think healthy way to proceed. And if you want a more comprehensive world view, including both absolute and relative truths, then certainly there are numerous items that the West will bring to the feast. Any of those approaches taken by themselves is demonstrably partial by comparison.

Incidentally, if you're put off by all this you don't have to come. But everybody has an invitation to this dance, I think. It's a real Shambhala Ball. Seriously. Chogyam Trungpa's Shambhala vision, as I understand it, was a secular and integral weaving of the dharma into the vast cultural currents in which it finds itself. A Brief History of Everything outlines many of those currents and suggests one way that the dharma can enrich-and be enriched by-those currents. This is very simple, I think.

Fair enough. What I would like to do now is to ask a few very technical questions. One of the most confusing things about being a practitioner of Asian mystical traditions is the fact that before the Enlightenment the West had a thousand year tradition of civilization based on a highly mystical religion, Christianity. And yet in Sex, Ecology, Spirituality you characterize this thousand year period as one that promised but did not deliver genuine transcendence. Why do you say that? How could a whole civilization miss the point for so long when it had expressions of the idea in Plato, the Corpus Hermeticum, Neoplatonism, mystical Christianity, and so on?

Imagine if, the very day Buddha attained his enlightenment, he was taken out and hanged precisely because of his realization. and if any of his followers claimed to have the same realization, they were also hanged. Speaking for myself, I would find this something of a disincentive to practice.

But that's exactly what happened with Jesus of Nazareth. "Why do you stone me?" he asks at one point. "Is it for good deeds?" And the crowd responds, "No, it is because you, being a man, make yourself out to be God." The individual Atman is not allowed to realize that it is one with Brahman. "I and my Father are One"-among other complicated factors that realization got this gentleman crucified.
The reasons for this are involved, but the fact remains: as soon as any spiritual practitioner began to get too close to the realization that Atman and Brahman are one-that one's own mind is intrinsically one with primordial Spirit-then frighteningly severe repercussions usually followed.

Of course there were wonderful currents of Neoplatonic and other very high teachings operating in the background (and underground) in the West, but wherever the Church had political influence-and it dominated the Western scene for a thousand years-if you stepped over that line between Atman and Brahman, you were in very dangerous waters. St. John of the Cross and his friend St. Teresa of Avila stepped over the line, but couched their journeys in such careful and pious language they pulled it off, barely. Meister Eckhart stepped over the line, a little too boldly, and had his teachings officially condemned, which meant he wouldn't fry in hell but his words apparently would. Giordano Bruno stepped way over the line, and was burned at the stake. This is a typical pattern.

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