Interview between John LeKay and Timothy Conway

In 2010, John LeKay of asked for an interview with me. It was conducted in March and May of that year with his eleven questions and a few follow-up comments and queries, and my replies, including the very long, detailed reply he had wanted to his first question.

In the originally posted interview, we provided photos of various phenomena, from sages like Ramana Maharshi and the Buddha to little animals, bugs and nature scenes. Later John archived all of his interviews as PDF files, deleting the photos. That pdf is no longer accessible, so I have in 2024 created this archival webpage with the text of the original interview.

John LeKay QUESTION 1: It says on your bio that you had some sort of "awakening." at age 16.  That you had some kind of non-dual experience, and realization that "God alone is real" That we are all made of this divine spirit.  However it doesn't go into much detail in what exactly occurred. Can you please tell me in detail what exactly happened. For example, what did you see?  What did you feel?  What did you do, or experience for this awakening shift, this opening glimpse to occur?

TC: John, before we start with this limited self "timothy," i'd say it's crucially important to marvel over a basic miraculous fact:  how can Absolute REALITY, the unmanifest Source or Capacity for all manifestation, wondrously emanate this dream-like cosmic appearance of "something" out of original NO-THING? And, further, and no less miraculous, how can this phenomenal manifestation, arising out of the purely Unmanifest, Unborn Awareness, include a felt-sense of "me" and "you" and all these selves whom we call "her" and "him" and "them"? That is to say, how can there arise out of Single Source-Reality these various distinct "viewpoints" or "persons" or "sentient beings" or "souls" or "jivas," to use the old Sanskrit word, which each then become more-or-less narrowly associated with a sense of "my body," "my mind," "my self"?

This is the insubstantial yet vivid play of the "many selves" in the One Self, the multitude of "souls" emanated by the One Spirit, the countless jivas who are really Siva, the God-Self, masquerading in disguise.  

These limited personalities are actually appearing and vanishing, appearing and vanishing, moment by moment by moment.... The Supra-personal Source is REAL, but these personalities are only "relatively real," that is, they are experientially vivid but not Absolute. As the Buddha declared 2500 years ago, such personality formations are fleeting or impermanent, therefore insubstantial or intrinsically "not real as self," and hence not worth clinging to for any sense of satisfaction or fulfillment or ultimate meaning. (These are the Buddha's "three marks of existence" -- anicca, anatta, dukkha.)

So: at the outset of this interview, John, i'd say we first have to acknowledge AMAZING PARADOXES, starting with the obvious:  the "timothy" fellow about whom you've sincerely asked these questions is just a set of momentary, appearing-disappearing nama-rupa formations, so to inquire about "my past" is an immediate distraction from OUR UNBORN REALITY.

Yet, John, i'm also aware that for conventional purposes the sizeable majority of your magazine's readers no doubt want to feel connected in an interpersonal way with a kindred human being, so "i'll be happy to oblige" by answering your detailed, multi-faceted question and telling some "interesting stories." Ha!  I also realize this will take some time, really too much time, for it's a rather complex situation that was involved-- and there are far more important topics to be discussing. I'd emphasize that this interview will most help your readers if we can share more about our wonderful SOURCE-Nature as Open, ever-Free Awareness!

But maybe this first question of our interview can show your readers that if someone as dense and spiritually stupid as "timothy" could be launched in the right spiritual direction, then anyone can be, too. And with so many fine spiritual resources so much more easily available today, their complete awakening and full liberation process might be quicker and straighter.

Now, for the sake of convention i'll use this personal pronoun "i," but let's keep it in lower-case throughout, except for better readability with any sentences beginning with the first-person pronoun.

That initial spiritual "awakening" or life-changing "opening" about which you ask actually happened quite literally "out of the blue." I was standing in the back yard of my parents' home in my 16th year, gazing into the blue sky over a lovely vista. The home was a couple of blocks from the crest of the Santa Monica mountains off Mulholland Drive in the Sherman Oaks foothills, and it had a sweeping view of the San Fernando Valley spread out to the north.

I had been quite ill for several weeks with a bad case of strep throat. And for many months before that i had suffered a situational depression and teen identity crisis over the fact that a series of knee injuries and unsuccessful surgery had ended any hopes of a serious career in sports-- and sports had been my "true religion" since 7 years of age. So i was sad, seething and resentful over my "fate"-- a teenage knot of silly selfishness. My dreams at night had taken a very dark, often nightmarish turn, filled with ugly beings and events. Moreover, the Jesuit Catholic high school i attended in downtown L.A. had us reading some of the French existentialists, Camus, Sartre, et al.-- so that "absurd" sense of life had crept into the psyche. Despite the teachers trying in lectures and other assigned readings to instill in us a Christian sense of a meaningful life, I really felt there was no reason for living and i actually several times seriously contemplated the best ways to end my life.

The strep-throat illness kept me bed-ridden and homebound for over a week. When i finally had no more excuse not to return to school, i re-emerged into society, but it seemed like an existential bad dream, bleakness all around. Family, friends, fellow students, strangers, all seemed to me to be just going through the motions of life, not really happy or fulfilled. I would look at them closely and see only a deep resignation or even despair, masked by an outer busy-ness and an addiction to what Erich Fromm would call "having" and "doing." Samsara by any other name.

One afternoon in Feb., 1971, within several days of returning to my school routine, i felt that my physical energy was really sagging because of the recent illness and lack of exercise. So i went out into our back yard, did some of my usual callisthenic exercises (jumping jacks, running in place, pushups, etc.) for about 10 minutes or so, and then i just stood for a while gazing out over the busy valley below and out to the distant mountains and especially up into that blue sky-- as blue as it could be for a Los Angeles day.

And SUDDENLY this life of "mine," without having done ANY spiritual practices or questing or anything, was just opened WIDE and drenched with a shower of pure, powerful GRACE. It literally felt like the "me" was instantly replaced by an overflowing surge of unearthly blissful joy and radiant good cheer, extreme well-being rooted in a solid sense of unshakable Being, and the most unspeakable Love. This was a formless, shapeless, spiritual affirmation from within. And i instantly felt that "my life" was entirely and irreversibly changed. Everything had just instantly shifted from being "all wrong" to all right, from being "incomplete" to quite complete. It was clearly an awakening from a "2-dimensionally flat" type of intolerably mediocre existence into an unbelievably rich, deep sense of FULL ALIVENESS.

At this point it was entirely clear to me that we are made of God's Love, Joy, Peace, Holiness, and Power. We are nothing in ourselves, but as appearing, feeling "persons" we are sourced in and entirely composed of the Divine "Supra-Person," the Divine Being.

This was no mere concept, but the most vivid Reality i had yet experienced to that date.

Now John, this was primarily a nondual, formless intuitive realization that flooded through as an all-engulfing, all-pervading oceanic bliss-peace-love feeling, to use a common term. "Radiance" might be a better word. But you ask what i "saw," and i'll say that, in addition to the earthly scenery on display arising within Awareness, there was in fact a subtle vision that appeared very rapidly after this flooding-awakening. The vision, which came from "on high" as i turned a bit to look up to the eastern sky, was subtle and ethereal, not occluding my vision of the neighbor's high fence and shrubbery. There was a tangible visual sense of all our gorgeous spiritual friends and guides in the Light, our guardian angels, kindly ancestors, the ever-blessing saints and sages, Mother Mary and Jesus, all of them intermediaries of Grace from the infinite Divine Source, all just showering down Grace for whomever might be open to this Grace.

It should be noted that i never took any kind of social drugs, hallucinogens, or the like. I never even once smoked pot. You asked what i "did" for this awakening. Nothing. I lost interest in life and i got very sick. Then i engaged in a brief period of exercise that afternoon to get some of my physical strength back. One might say that the exercise had turned on some basic endorphin chemistry, and the sunlight was triggering serotonin, etc.  I would agree. Yet i had always been an extremely active and athletic boy, spending massive amounts of my youth involved in sports and exercise outdoors at the parks, beaches and playgrounds. And anyway, a mere biochemical cascade of neurotransmitters from a very short period of exercise would not have such a permanently life-changing effect.

After this, I was smiling most of the time and so happy in such an intense way that my mother suggested within several days that i had likely had a "spiritual experience" and that i might want to read about Jesus in the gospels. Catholic kids don't get encouragement (unlike evangelical Protestants) to read the Bible on their own. So i sat down that night and began to read just the four gospels, starting with Matthew. And over several days i read all the gospels and then re-read them. Only later would i read the epistles and other texts. It was clear to me, reading the gospels, that Jesus was living this amazingly God-drenched mystical life of Spirit, and that he had been here on earth to invite us into this same Divine Life, via the way of denying or melting oneself in God, that is, "losing one's life for the everlasting Life."

Months later i attended some born-again Christian bible-study classes, but almost all of those folks seemed to be cherishing a different Jesus-- a Christ about whom you had to believe the atonement doctrine concerning his death on the cross and various notions about the Trinity, etc. But my experience of Jesus during that first mystical afternoon epiphany and ever afterwards was of Jesus--along with all the other "friends in high places"--as intermediaries for the Divine Reality of Grace, Bliss, Vitality, Love and Light, the one, single I AM THAT AM which was right inside me as the real "I" prior to the phenomenal, personal "me."

There were interesting personality changes and even physical changes that came in the wake of these weeks and then months of ongoing mystical experiencing. For one thing, i became really interested, sincerely interested, in fellow beings. Whereas in that existential nightmare of the previous period people had seemed two-dimensional, tragic, and boring (to themselves and to me), now i knew that, regardless of whatever they might feel on the surface personality level, in their depths they, too, were made of this same Divine Being-Life-Light-Love-Joy that was the essential Self right here within "me." And people responded-- it was like God's Love in "this one" was connecting to the Divine Love in the dear fellow person. I began to really enjoy people and vice versa-- new and old friendships developed and deepened.

Not just human persons. Our family's two little dogs and cat and i became far closer and more sensitive to each other. I would look into their eyes and see Divinity. We would meditate together-- i found them even more spiritually magnificent than "myself"--more peaceful and majestic and natural. I even spent long minutes on many Spring and Summer nights that year and in later years sometimes just staring into the eyes of little bugs that might have found themselves on my desk-table for homework. I bought a little magnifying glass so i could look at them more closely and lovingly. Everyone and everything seemed suffused with the Divine Reality.

A palpable change was a social fearlessness that arose out of this new way of Being. I had been a painfully shy boy, so shy that i was benevolently forced to join the speech club by my mother and the kindly nun who served as my elementary school principal at St. Paul the Apostle school in the Westwood suburb of Los Angeles (where i grew up from age 5 onward until we moved in my teens up to the Sherman Oaks house). It had always been very painful to have to stand up in front of others and speak. Now i just so thoroughly LOVED everyone that i felt one with them and it felt much more natural to share with them. There was a big shift from feeling like a watched and judged object to being one with the Source of seeing, and i saw the Divine emanating as each and every one i met.

I also noticed from the spiritual opening that so many complicating desires just fell off. The old self emptied out, replaced by a very FULL satisfaction, contentment, bliss. I would sit for long periods just joyfully appreciating the intrinsic beauty of a tree, or the "suchness" of the tactile sensation of an old upholstered chair under my hand. It was clear that all objects arise out of the Pure Void of God and are miraculous appearance.

And a new yet familiar energy dawned. I didn't know anything at the time about qi or ki or prana-shakti energy (a topic about which i would later write my M.A. thesis in 1983), but back then in the early 1970s there would be the spontaneous urge to sit or stand up very straight to better allow all this energy in the spine and body, and especially in the hands, which now seemed to be conduits for this energy. Without motive, i often found myself touching people in a caring, nurturing way-- holding their hand longer during a handshake, putting a hand on their shoulder or back. Each living being became so dear and precious, and the energy animating us seemed to want to circulate through both of us and cherish both of us.

A great sense of WONDER also pervaded consciousness, like experiencing life for the very first time. I could no longer be bored by anyone or anything, but was sincerely interested in everyone and everything. Each moment in time and every circumstantial place felt entirely SACRED, made of God's Light and Love-- no matter how "ordinary" or "banal" it might seem to worldly opinion. The very fact that we are all alive together on this really interesting planet--and who knows how many other worlds to be experienced in other states-- was just utterly magical, then and now and every day in between. I recall sitting in traffic gridlock on the L.A. freeways coming home from school and the dull paintjobs and chrome trim and red brake-lights of the cars in front of me and around me were positively revelatory of the Divine presence. Not to mention the wondrous human beings sitting in those cars.

I would often laugh aloud over what a miracle is this manifestation out of the formless, unmanifest Divine One.

I began to keep a spiritual journal soon after the major first opening, and filled it up pretty quickly with descriptions and musings on all the ensuing mystical experiences and realizations and insights. I had not seen that journal for decades and only re-discovered it about a year ago. It's fascinating how much depth spontaneously came through without my ever having read about any of this stuff other than the mystic passages from Jesus in the gospels and some of the Christian epistle literature in the New Testament. I can sense some Christian conditioning in some of what i filled that notebook, yet it's obvious that a much bigger, vaster spirituality was trying to express itself, but limited by language and, i will honestly admit, some occasional tendencies toward a sense of "spiritual uniqueness," a danger about which the sacred traditions have warned. It wasn't narcissism or megalomania, but a subtler sense of having been picked out of the "madding crowd" for some special witnessing to God as the true Reality behind all of our conventional realities. It took a few months for the kind of careful self-critical witnessing or mindfulness to come in, helped by an incipient study of the world's spiritual literature beyond the Bible.

Meanwhile, a mystical little old Italian math teacher at Loyola High School confirmed this new, nondual spiritual orientation. One day he had said something in class which piqued my interest-- i thought, "maybe he's someone i can talk to about this." Because back then i had NO ONE to talk to about any of this and i had no good books to read. (My loving parents were actually pretty conventional people and our limited little family library mainly had books on Hollywood, the arts and sports on the shelves.) I told Father Colossimo that i wanted to ask him about religious experience. He told me to meet him after school.

After classes ended, i went over to the rectory and he met me on the steps. We talked for just a brief moment and then he shifted our conversing to the hallway inside. And then he took us into a big quiet, unoccupied living room area. For i had said that i was aware how the Church's basic theology teaches that God is "up there," separate from "us" down here, but that i was feeling that this separation or division does not seem true experientially. Father Colossimo, who had been looking more and more interested and enthused during our conversation over the previous few minutes, now peered right and left to make sure no one was within earshot lest they hear "heretical"-sounding things. He then said, with his face lit up in mystical ecstasy, "My dear Timothy, in the mind of man, yes, there is separation between man and God. But in the mind of God,..." he paused again to quickly scan to and fro to be sure we were still alone, "in the mind of God, IT'S ALL GOD!!" 

After a deep pause while this statement resonated in our hearts, he said, "I think our Lord Jesus was here to show us this truth." Which i took to be his summary of what Christian life is really all about-- full God-realization, the realization that God ALONE IS, that all is made of God, that all IS God, God in disguise as the beings and worlds of experience, with no room for a separate "me."

In an interview for The Sun magazine (the April 2003 cover story-- reproduced in full at, i've shared some more biographical details, such as almost becoming a priest, and the tale of my younger sister Kathy's drowning in Maui, Hawaii, in August 1974. The latter event was terribly wrenching for my parents and other family and friends, but was made far easier for me on the personal level because of the riveting dreams i enjoyed of Kathy over the next several nights: she would appear, beaming radiantly, and telling me amidst glorious celestial light that she was still terrifically alive and unimaginably happy and that no one should worry or regret her passing-- that we were always together as one in Spirit, and that our priority in life is God-Realization.

Kathy's passing psychologically underscored for me how precious this earthly life is as an opportunity to fully live a spiritual life consecrated to loving and serving God and one another, without mediocrity or compromise or distractedness, and that we shouldn't waste our time on non-essentials. As Jesus said, "He to whom much has been given, much is expected." I felt that i had been given this HUGE GIFT of an initial and ongoing series of spiritual awakenings, and that i should never squander it.

It also became clear that one can and must live this spirituality within the world, in an "extraordinarily ordinary" way, without trying to draw attention to oneself with fancy dress, titles, affect, hype, hubris, or excessive emotionalism.

I had already blown away my parents and sister in the days and weeks after that initial opening by speaking so mystically that i knew inwardly one must either go off and live in a monastery or hermitage, or else one must find a way to relate to people "naturally" so as not to bust their circuits with overpowering Truth-telling. For instance, one early evening my sister and i are sitting down for dinner with my mother-- my father was still off at work, for he ran his own Hollywood literary agency and often was conducting interviews, pitching story ideas at the studios, etc., until 6:30 or 7:00 p.m. So my mother asks me, "How was school today, Timothy?"  I gaze lovingly into her eyes and say, "Well... that was back then in the past. This is NOW.... This is the only moment.... And yes, I'm really, amazingly FINE right NOW. Can't you also feel God's Love right inside you and all around you? Isn't everything so SACRED??" She appears somewhat uncomfortable, looks at my sister, makes an excuse to leave the table, goes off to stealthily call my father, and then comes back to the table for more conversation, which elicits more "God-talk" about the mystical HERE-NOW. Within 20 minutes my father storms through the door, his quick Irish temper blazing: "What the F--k is going on here? Son, ARE YOU ON DRUGS??!"  I had to laugh and quickly reassure him, and also my mother and my sister--who had both been conversing during these weeks about the possibility that i might be getting high on drugs-- that i had actually never used such substances and never would use them. And that i was simply "high" on God and life. (Actually, early on i learned the great value of being clear, not "getting high.")

So after these kinds of social experiences, i realized that i needed to learn everything i could about the language and psychology of spirituality to best communicate it with people in a largely conventional way seasoned with unconventional forms of communication, both styles serving to help open people to their own mystical depths.

I also sometimes sat across from a person and invited him or her in radical empathy to intuitively "exchange viewpoints," so that "i" was the so-called "other" person, and "he" or "she" was "i." Clearly, just one God-Self was playing all the "soul-roles," and it seemed crucial to develop as much empathy as possible for the supposed "other," who is simply this God-Self in disguise.

Within 18 months i had graduated high school, learned to play guitar, and begun a double major in psychology and religious studies at Univ. of Calif. at Santa Cruz. Within one month of my first quarter there, i met a fascinating chap, Dan McClure, a grad student in the History of Consciousness program who was also a psychic occasionally drafted by the police to find missing persons or clear out haunted houses. One afternoon Dan introduced me vividly, in a loving "grilling," to Who-Am-I? self-inquiry: "Who are you?... Who are you, really? ...Beyond names and concepts, Who are you??" After a period of shared silence, Dan suggested, "drop all burden of personality." He then declared i was more a "genuine mystic than a magician" (esoteric holy white magic was what he chiefly taught his handful of students), and urged that i "read everything available about Sri Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950) and the Advaita Vedanta tradition (the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, Brahma Sutras, works of Sankara, etc.), and everything you can find on Zen Buddhism."

Wow! Dear Dan, himself only about 28 years old, really put me right into the lap of the Great Mahatmas at that moment.

And so i delved into all of this as fully as possible, reading, contemplating and meditating on the best wisdom i could find from the world's finest, most respected sages. And i traveled through California, Asia and Europe to meet authentic sages of the nondual way from the late 1970s onward, like Taungpulu Sayadaw, the renowned arhat-master of upper Burma; Annamalai Swami, a really clear, bright jnani-sage and devout spiritual son of Ramana Maharshi; Yogi Ramsuratkumar, the "Godchild of Tiruvannamalai"; Mother Krishnabai, saintly successor of Papa Ramdas; and that fiery "Hindu Zen master," the illustrious and very potent figure, Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj of Mumbai (see my long appreciation pages on the Maharaj at and at

There were many further adventures in spirituality -- some of this outlined at that "about timothy" page at our website,

But now, enough with the lengthy personal "story." I once attended a dinner party wherein someone brought, as a joke, some "Chinese misfortune cookies."  The little pieces of paper inside the cookies said things like, "Your spouse will become famous as an advocate for celibacy!"  Timothy's "misfortune" cookie read:  "Yours is very long and uninteresting story!"

For the sake of your readers, though, I'll bring this autobiographic sketch quickly up to date simply by saying i re-located to Santa Barbara in 1988 and began to freely share nondually-oriented satsangs and teach free classes for SBCC Adult Education from 1990 up to the present [2010]. An informal community of beautiful friends and students has grown up around this spiritual "work" or play, this adventure in Realizing our REALITY, this intrinsic (sahaja) Nature. In Fall 1994 i met my lovely wife Laura, after years of bachelorhood. Laura is a longtime staunch devotee of the wonderful God-Man, Meher Baba (1894-1969), so we both share the same advaita worldview. Laura and i live happily and ever-more-in-love, along with our two mystic cats, in a home surrounded by amazing gardens on the fringe of wilderness, overlooking the city, coastline and mountains. [UPDATE: In 2016, Timothy and Laura moved to Arizona to be closer to her family members, and in January 2023, five months after they moved to Clarkdale, AZ, she transitioned to the brighter realms after contracting double pneumonia.]

I don't charge money or donations for any of my teaching/satsang-sharing vocation. From the time i was very young i knew that this was all about relying on the Divine for support--not trying to "organize" or "commodify" spiritual Truth. Somehow, there has always been support to continue. Even when there were very challenging times, such as from 1998 to 2003, when the banks' usurious finance-charges and medical bills became so onerous (my wife bravely endures the disabilities of severe fibromyalgia, clinical depression and PTSD) that i wondered how i was going to keep the gas, water, electricity and phones running.

[...] Several books have been on the back burner while there have been heavy time-demands as spiritual instructor and spiritual counselor via much email correspondence with aspirants worldwide who contact me because of what they've seen at the huge website uploaded over several months beginning in late 2006. Also, there was a need to help my dear mom during her last months of earthly life in 2008, and since then to deal with many financial and real estate matters, and, of course, virtually all the household chores and paperwork given my wife's situation. Some people wonder how these 80-90-hour work-weeks can be maintained over the decades since the time of graduate school, but i say "it's all just happening."

Nisargadatta taught us to inquire, "What is this Divine power, this life-force or vitality, that allows one to lift a finger or think a thought? This is the effective 'God' of your life. Meditate on this Power, be this Power." It's this imageless, shapeless, yet very vital Power which gets everything done needing to be done.

One of the book-projects to be completed [in addition to a massive sourcebook-encyclopedia on Chan/Zen Buddhism in all of its East Asian manifestations, and an even lengthier guidebook to spirituality in films—over 1,200 documentaries, biopics and fictional feature films] will be two large volumes of India's Sages, one, subtitled Nondual Wisdom from the Heart of Freedom, focusing on 40 sages of the modern era, the other, Nondual Wisdom from Hindus, Buddhists, Jainas, Tantrics, Sants, Sikhs and Sufis, on over 120 wonderful sages and scriptures of the past. These are the amazing sages who gave us our most developed nondual devotion and nondual wisdom traditions.

And this brings me to what must be your next questions, John, the main thrust for our interview, about authentic Advaita nonduality and inauthentic or incomplete "neo-" or "pseudo-" advaita, and the major questions about healthy spiritual leadership, levels or stages of realization and so forth.

But it's worth pausing and inquiring... What is the experience right HERE, closer than the mind, and right NOW, before one can even think about anything? What is this Open Awareness that hosts all these "guests"--these arising-passing phenomena, the breathing, the seeing, the hearing, the touching, the feeling, the thinking.... What is this Reality which is formless as Awareness and yet also the totality of all palpable, vibrating energies and experiences, the objects of this Awareness which are made of this Awareness and animated by the Power of this Awareness?

Staying as Unborn Buddha-Nature, before/beyond the personal identifications and complications, the Reality which transcends yet includes and pervades all experience, we've no problem whatsoever. All is well.


Question 2:  Can you please tell me what were Nisargadatta's views on charging for spiritual teachings?

TC: Sri Nisargadatta did not want anything from anyone. If persons came and were sincerely interested in WHO WE ARE and WHAT IS THIS ABSOLUTE AWARENESS as the essential Reality of everyone and everything, he freely shared his nondual view, his insights, what he heard from his beloved Guru, Sri Siddharameshvar Maharaj, and also he shared his penetrating, blasting questions, i.e., his role-modeling what sincere, earnest inquiry is all about.

Our real Nature or Identity as Absolute Awareness is not a "commodity" or "thing" to be hyped and sold in some spiritual marketplace. THIS SPIRITUAL REALITY is the intimate truth of what YOU really are, what WE really are, what everyONE really IS. Sri Nisargadatta knew that there is only THIS ONE SELF, and that his personality was but an instrument, a mouthpiece for Truth. Old friends of his marveled over the fact that people like this "timothy" fellow came in from all over the world, drawn to hear, ponder and meditate upon the highest wisdom teachings--this is the classic "triple method" of the sacred advaita traditions (sravana, manana, nidhidhyasana in the language of the Upanishads and Sankara; sruti, cinta, bhavana as Nagarjuna puts it for Mahayana Buddhism). Nisargadatta replied, "It is just Consciousness dragging Itself by the ear to come hear Itself talking about Itself!"  He let us invade his little loft in the family apartment day after day, night after night, for the talks and bhajan-singing, and he never asked for a dime or for anything. He was spontaneously effusing Truth-talk, sacred speech about Our Real Nature as the boundlessly Infinite, timelessly Eternal Reality--the birthless, deathless, changeless Absolute Being-Awareness. He knew and sometimes stated explicitly that a true sage is spontaneously, generously and quite "doerlessly" serving one and all, by teaching and various other means of serving. He had been a successful businessman early in life to support his younger siblings and mother back home and his wife and children in Mumbai, but there's no way he would ever charge money for spiritual teaching, a sacred vocation. Again, this is not a commodity to be exploited for personal gain or security in some "spiritual career."

Question 3:  In order to have a deep realization, to become liberated, to truly attain moksha, do you believe that an energetic shift in the body/brain/spirit/mind of some kind has to occur?

TC: No and Yes. What WE ARE as Absolute Awareness is before/beyond energy or energies. The play of Shakti is sourced in Shiva-Awareness. This Awareness is Self-evident, live-able or be-able but not knowable as an object, not part of the phenomenal, manifest world of changing energies, experiences or states. Moreover, THIS Self or Reality RIGHT HERE is NOT an "effect" due to any "cause" or occurrence. The God-Self is the God-Self. Nothing lacking, nothing wrong, nothing needing to be achieved or maintained.

Having spoken thusly on the "Absolute Truth level" (paramartha-satyam) about our ever-free, always REAL Being-Awareness Nature, i'll say, more conventionally (samvriti-satyam) that when the self-obsessed constriction of "me-my" melts or dissolves, partially or entirely, in the OPEN BOUNDLESSNESS of what we are, that is to say, when the egocentric mind relaxes a bit and melts back into THIS SOURCE of the bodymind, then subtle, dormant energies definitely can and usually do begin to express with more satto-guna (the quality of sattva-- refinement, harmony, wholesome "holiness," peaceful well-being). There can be visions of archetypal Deities, rushes of energy in/around the body, unusual "re-orchestrations" of attention and intention, extraordinary experiences of transpersonal psychic connectedness with fellow beings, amazing synchronicities or uncanny serendipities, and so on. 

Yet, while much of this is necessary for a "purification" or "refinement" of the personality or soul or "viewpoint," all these are dream-occurrences "downstream" from what ONE IS AS SOURCE--the non-phenomenal Noumenon, or Unborn Awareness. There's no attachment to or identification with any of these passing energies or states. YOU are the unmoving, solid Wholeness in which all appears and vanishes. The awakening of the soul to Spirit and the full liberation and refinement of this personality in the Divine virtues and capacities, do involve "energetic shifts," as you say, but the entire unfolding play is clearly a dream within the Divine Dreamer, Pure Awareness. Paradoxically, poignantly and humorously, YOU/you are both the perfect Reality and the evolving personal reality. Which is why an old Taoist friend of mine decades ago suggested that this great play of a sentient being's "enlightenment" was a case of "Perfection perfecting Itself perfectly." The always-perfect God-Self "perfects" as far as possible the personal soul or "mind-stream" as the Buddhists call it.

Question 4: Can someone be liberated/enlightened and still have residual samskaras, vasanas, karmic residues, unconscious propensities, unresolved shadow issues and so on? 

TC: John, there are definitely degrees of awakening-- on the level of the buddhi, or higher mind, the intuitive faculty which "gets awakened"-- to this ABSOLUTE AWARENESS that is always AWAKE. What another paradox! What I AM is timelessly what I AM, the Absolute Awareness-Isness-Aliveness, yet it seems to "take time" for what i term the "soulular evolution" to express this as clearly and fully as possible while Awareness associates with this limited personality vehicle.

This is why the Ch'an/Zen/Son traditions distinguish between initial awakenings or openings-- termed satori or kensho in Japanese Zen-- and the final, unexcelled, irreversible Awakening, anuttara-samyak-sambodhi. In Zen it's also recommended, " get enlightened first"--i.e., to the Truth of What WE ARE, "and then work out your spirituality," meaning, let thereafter proceed the various "refining" practices and clearings and un-conditionings. Spiritual refinement develops so much more easily when there's no "selfish self," dear old "ego-ji," trying to drive and push and manipulate the process. 

But let's be clear that just having a few "glimpses" of or openings to transcendent Self-Nature are not sufficient to give one license to start calling oneself "fully enlightened." It's obvious to the Buddha, for instance, that there are 7 major "enlightenment factors" to be cultivated for a truly wholesome, balanced, perfectly liberated spirituality. There is, he insists, a "path of purification" (visuddhi-magga) involving 10 major "fetters" to be dropped for full Nibbana/Nirvana, along a sequence beginning with "stream enterer" (at most only 7 more lifetimes on earth needed for full liberation), then "once-returner," then "non-returner" (one only needs a lifetime in the subtle heaven realms to drop subtle final identifications, attachments and aversions), then, finally, perfect arhat or buddha realization. I've described all this and more in my longer "Part 2" section on the Buddha at

That towering spiritual giant, Sri Ramana Maharshi, appears to have almost fully awakened within less than 30 minutes in his 16th year while lying down alone, simulating bodymind death, on the floor of the family home in Madurai, South India, and awakening to the true "I-I," the ever-pure Being-Awareness, the God-Self. Yet the Maharshi went on to spend a lot of time in nirvikalpa samadhi trance states and finally a radical "interior death" event before the utterly sublime transcendent-immanent "natural" sajaha samadhi Realization was fully established. This was years after he had first come to the holy mountain Arunachala overlooking the Tiruvannamalai town and Arunachaleshvar Siva temple, where he had re-located after the initial awakening. Sri Nisargadatta spent considerable time in the years following his master's physical passing in various ways allowing the "Understanding" of Nondual Truth, that the God-Self alone IS, to get unshakably established in and through the personality--such as reading, contemplating and meditating on Siddharameshvar's teaching, and the wisdom of a number of advaita texts, as well as allowing the spontaneous immersion in bhajan singing, mantra-recitation, and devotional bhava-moods/modes.

For an authentic sage-in-the-making, the old samskaras or vasanas, the more-or-less problematic or "binding" identifications and likes and dislikes (the ignorance, attachments and aversions), need to be entirely "seen off" as NOT WHAT WE REALLY ARE. Innocent, "non-binding" personality samskaras remain, the expressions of a personality that is now surrendered to God or the Truth. The personality is here realized to be merely an instrument for Formless Awareness to express, love and serve, via "this bodymind," one's fellow sentient beings for the sake of their awakening to THIS Self-Same Self.

A sage's life is all about JUST BEING, "letting go, letting God," and letting the Divine spontaneously and powerfully express a growing bounty of virtues and gifts for the sake of the welfare of all. One sees this in the lives of Sri Nisargadatta, Sri Ramana, Anandamayi Ma, Anasuya Devi and all the world’s greatest sages. These adepts, in turn, tell us that, after awakening or liberation from the petty "me-dream," and all the egocentric fears, desires, and ambitions, one can simply live an "extraordinarily ordinary" life of loving and serving one's family, friends, community and society in whatever way that one is spontaneously guided on one's unique vocation or svadharma. This can be as an enlightened clerk, homemaker, business owner, artist, helping or healing professional, truck driver, manual laborer, or whatever is in the cards for one's prarabdha "destiny" karma for this earthly life.

Just clearly remember, say the sages and your own Self, this world of work, play, and relationships all happens in YOU, Awareness. You are not "in the world," no, the world arises-passes, arises-passes, moment by moment, like a gossamer-thin dream in the Simple Lucid Vastness of WHAT YOU ARE.

Thus one is fully, immanently "involved" in the worlds while always remaining "uninvolved" as pure transcendence. Totally engaged while staying totally detached.

Question 5:   What are your thoughts on this intermediate zone theory of Sri Aurobindo. What he refers to as a spiritually dangerous and misleading transitional pseudospiritual stage that one has to pass through to true self realization?  Please see letter to his students here

TC: You know, John, i had read Sri Aurobindo's The Life Divine when i was in college, but i'd not felt inspired to read further works of his. Frankly, he seemed more of a visionary than a mystic advaita sage. Years later, in 1980, after enjoying a morning of meditation at his mahasamadhi site upon entering India and getting ready to head to Ramanashramam and Nisargadatta's (among other places), i tried reading some more of his stuff but ran into passages that sounded rather mediocre, even petty. But this letter on the intermediate zone is one of the best things i've seen by Aurobindo. And yes, i think it's altogether true. In fact, obviously some of it describes what sometimes happened in the early years of timothy's spiritual unfolding. Had i been in India as a youth, with great mystical texts and sages more easily available, i might have been spared some "wanderings."

Yet one very lucky thing is that early on i kept running into these warnings from Jesus in the Gospels and Paul in the Epistles about purity and humility and self-emptying (kenosis) and "discernment of spirits," one of the authentic charismata or "gifts of the Spirit," as Paul values it. So I really hear what Aurobindo is saying that one better be VERY CAREFUL as to the source of one's inspirations and motivations. Said Jesus, "By their fruits shall you know them" (i.e., the true "sons and daughters of the Spirit"). So, it was clear to me from very early in this process that all sorts of insidious delusions, inflations, imbalances, agendas, ambitions and other forms of "self-ish busy-ness" can hijack what might have initially been a very pure, profound opening to Spirit.

And that's why i am eternally grateful for all the authentic sages i was so really blessed to meet, like Taungpulu Sayadaw, Annamalai Swami, Yogi Ramsuratkumar, Krishnabai, Nisargadatta, Anandamayi Ma, Dadaji of Calcutta, and Amma Amritanandamayi, to mention just the most well-known. And a number of other sterling beings. Amazing fountains of Divine truth, goodness, virtue and selfless giving....

As for those half-baked "pseudo" teachers still roaming around with delusions of grandeur, in various ways exploiting, abusing or distracting their followers, GOD BLESS US EVERYONE. May they and all beings be fully awake as the One Self of all selves, and be completely liberated into that virtuous "Life Divine."


Interview responses continued-- May 22, 2010

Question 6: Recently I came across a man who describes himself as a "guru"  He has this theory about how "enlightenment is evolving."  He says it's about "creating the future". He also says "what he wishes to accomplish is the birth of a new level of consciousness in which the enlightened mind emerges through a collective."  

What are your thoughts on evolutionary consciousness and creating this future? Do you think it's possible for people to become enlightened collectively? 

TC: John, i don't think about this. Really-- there's only this NONDUAL SELF ALWAYS HERE as the Truth of who "people" essentially are in their True Identity. They will awaken and get established in this awakening and finally just dissolve as the One Reality whenever it's supposed to happen, in the exquisite "timing" and rhythm of the Divine Script in this dream-play of life. One could speak subtly from the timeless realm like the Mahayana Buddhist texts and sages and say that everyone is, in their intrinsic Buddha-Nature, already enlightened.

But, conventionally speaking, many of these evidently "unenlightened personalities" characterized by so much suffering, fear, anger, desire, and confusion are simply souls who have "come up" from lower realms of woe, as the Buddha and other sages saw it, and learning what it is to discover and live from their Infinite Self, not the finite self. Therefore, the human race and similar races on other physical and subtle worlds will likely for a fairly long time or maybe very long time be composed of billions of "immature souls" struggling and jostling and learning and regressing and advancing. A tasty, spicy casserole of jivas and their samskaras! It's all being cooked at just the right temperature and everything will turn out splendidly well with the Master Chef who is, in fact, also the experience of being the casserole!

In other words, it's ONLY GOD HERE, playing all the parts. So we are inspired by an inclusive theology or panentheist view, "all in God, God in all" (this is not pantheism, but no mere separatist theism, either)--you can read my essay on this at

As to your specific question, "Do you think it's possible for people to become enlightened collectively?" John, if you're asking about everyone eventually awakening in some lifetime or another in a grand apocatastasis or universal liberation, yes, yes, YES! There's no way that any souls get left out of the Divine Life. Our Source-Nature is simply too loving, too gracious, and too powerful to not include and finally own everyone and everything.

But if you're asking, will humanity at some point in this era collectively and simultaneously get enlightened as to our Infinite Source-Nature as the Clear Light, the Self-luminous One Who lights up the stars and worlds?... And are you asking about everyone awakening to THIS REALITY at the very same time, or, say, within the same generational span? 

Well, in both cases i'd reply that it's certainly possible, though i don't know how plausible. If we're speaking about more than just a brief "glimpse" enlightenment but actual full awakening from the dream of "me-mine," complete liberation on the personality-level from all binding samskara-tendencies, then such a profound collective enlightenment would be most remarkable. During the Buddha's lifetime, lots of folks penetrated the illusion of separate selfhood, dropped the three poisons of ignorance, attachment and aversion, let go all the gross and subtle fetters entangling personal consciousness, and awoke to the Absolute Reality or Nirvana, thereafter to live as purified arhats or free beings. But it wasn't like some intensive seminar during one monsoon season wherein everyone got equally enlightened on the final day of the retreat.

Question 7: I read somewhere that in the old days a student of advaita was taught and tested for 12 years before he was let out in to the world to become a guru.  However I also read that an American went to India for two weeks and was subsequently proclaimed to be fully enlightened by his guru and given persimmon to teach. Do you believe it is possible for anyone to become a fully enlightened guru in two weeks?

TC: "All things are possible with God." The entire cosmos could utterly disappear in the next second. Or all beings could become entirely awake in the next millisecond! What a wild dream, is this play of beings and worlds and experiences. I tell you, at a certain point what becomes really clear is that THERE IS ONLY THIS DIVINE REALITY, seamless, whole, Empty yet Full. The question of who is "enlightened," "who is fully enlightened," or who is "not yet fully enlightened" ceases to be of prime interest. And recall that i spent decades researching and reporting on all this and still do. For example, my PhD dissertation, some 580 pages long, explored the cross-culturally shared criteria or factors for spiritual awakening, God-realization, enlightenment, holiness, etc. (See lengthy excerpts at And i've got loads of material at the website and in upcoming books on "the authentically enlightened" and also material on "those still dysfunctional persons pretending to be fully enlightened."

In this context, let me answer your specific question: "Is it possible for someone to become a fully enlightened guru in two weeks?" Most unlikely. They might have had what Zen terms a kensho or satori opening, a profound "glimpse"-realization of True Nature, but how balanced is their Realization in terms of Transcendence and Immanence, dis-identification and re-identification, the Siva-Sakti play or the "Host-Guest" dynamics so subtly spoken of in Zen's "5 Ranks"? Furthermore, how much have the binding samskaras or problematic likes-dislikes cleared out, or are there still insidious attachments, aversions and delusions that will corrupt their supposed "guru"-function?

Question 8:  I was watching this man answer a question about whether he still becomes angry after he became enlightened.  He said he does like before but now it is the absolute that was being angry. What are your thoughts on this?

TC: Ha! The Absolute is Absolutely the Absolute. Being is only Being. Awareness is only Awareness. This dream-play person manifests states of anger, etc., and ultimately each state is a manifestation of the Unmanifest Self, so one can say that the Self or Reality immanently is whatever arises. Yet this Self is always transcendentally, stainlessly and quiescently HERE as immaculate purity. Whereas, by contrast, the bodymind personality, a product of ancient cellular evolution and "soulular evolution," has various poignant flaws, conditionings, and temperament. So... the Self of all selves is ever-free, unconditioned, simple. And what did Meister Eckhart say 700 years ago? "God is Simple. Man is complex." Let's leave it at that.

John LeKay: What seems to happen is that when someone has some kind of genuine realization, a new "enlightened holy spiritual ego" can also be formed outside of this person's awareness. It's as if the person becomes possessed (not by 'God" oneness or the "whole" spirit), but by some kind of demon.  The next thing you know this person is traveling around the globe giving shakipat, darshan, tantric sexual initiations and so on. For example, I just came across an interesting story about Bubba Free John, aka Adi Da and his guru Muktananda. It was written by Osho/Bhagwan Rashneesh. What is interesting about this is that he could see this happening in Muktananda and in Adi Da, but obviously could not see that his criticism was a shadow projection of himself.  He wrote:

"A man, very well-known in the West, Franklin Jones, was a disciple of Muktananda – and then his kundalini arose. Muktananda approved: You have become a SIDDHA. Not only did he approve, he gave a written certificate. I simply cannot believe what foolishnesses go on – a certificate that you have become a SIDDHA, enlightened! So of course the man became a SIDDHA and he changed his name. He was Franklin Jones, now he is Bubba Free John and he has many followers of his own.  Now the trouble came in, because he had become more enlightened than Muktananda ever expected, and he had become a guru in his own right. Now he wanted – he came again just a few months ago – now he wanted another certificate. Now he wanted to show: There is no need for me to belong to any master, because now I am a master myself, and my karmas with you, with Muktananda, are fulfilled. So, give me a certificate that I am absolutely free.  Now Muktananda hesitated – this was going too far. So he denied, he would not give another certificate. But the thing had already gone too far. The man returned home, wrote a book, and said: Of course Muktananda helped me a little on my way, but he is not an enlightened man and I dissolve all my links with him. He is an ordinary man.  This is how things go. He was an enlightened man because he gave me the certificate, he was the greatest master in the world. Now he is no longer. He is an ordinary man – 'I dissolve all my links with him.'  These things go on. Remember this, because you can become a part of such a game"  OSHO.

TC: Ah, "the complicated karmas of jivas." John, this is a humorous illustration of all that. Yet the God-Self is always blessing and guiding each and every soul back into clear intuitive realization (jñana, prajña, or gnosis) of the One True Self. May all be simply awake to THIS SUPRA-PERSONAL REALITY, prior to and beyond all such antics of the personality... the personality serving as "God's poignant little pet," if you will, the finite whim of the Infinite.

Question 9: Do you believe that when this happens, the only way for this person to wake up out of this is to fall from grace in some way?

TC: Perhaps. But it can also happen that one suddenly sees how ridiculous it is to take oneself so seriously and the entire act just falls off. "Shinjin datsuraku," "body-mind fall off," realized Dogen Zenji, as his Chinese master taught. Then one sees that the personality with which one was identified was just so much fallen, flimsy flotsam on the Vast Ocean of Being. It's quite hilarious, actually... this protoplasm with the nine orifices, chattering mouth and precocious mind pretending to be King of the Universe.

Which is why one can rightly beware those so-called teachers who take themselves or their gig too seriously, like the aforementioned dear souls you mentioned. In authentic awakening, one sees off the entire subtle complex of what the Buddha termed the pañca khandhas (Pali; skandhas in Sanskrit), the "fivefold personality aggregates": first, the rupa or bodily energy form; second, the vedana sensations; third, the sañña perceptions (the "meaningful" patterning of sensations into identifications, concepts, associations, memories, plans); fourth, the reactionary sankhara (Skt.: samskara) emotional and volitional impulses; and fifth, the vijñañña "me"-consciousness, the sense of all events happening to, for, or by a separate self. Finally, one realizes Original Truth-- the Unborn, Uncompounded, Unmade Nirvana-Reality, the "seamless Awareness" or Anidassana Vijñañña, as the Buddha terms this Open, Infinite Absolute.

Question 10: Also, when someone criticizes and judges another, especially other gurus or teachers, is this also not a form of one-upmanship, a form of ego competition, invalidating others while subtly raising oneself up above the rest?

TC: Depends on the motivation. It can certainly manifest from pettiness, spite, jealousy, or closed-heartedness. Or it can manifest as constructive criticism, or a kind of "public service" pointing out bogus or flawed goods, rather like an objective Consumer Reports evaluation, or someone coming along at a gem-market and helping customers discern genuine diamonds, jades and other gemstones from a lot of fakes on display. Let's recall that the Upanishads, the Buddha, Jesus, Sankara, Saraha, et al., did not mince words about limited, imbalanced or delusional forms of spirituality pretending to be the real thing.

Yet let's be clear: all such evaluation, critique and judgment, while necessary in the conventional, pragmatic personal realm of dream-play experiencing, doesn't apply at the level of Absolute Truth, or paramarthika-satyam, given the spiritual fact that HERE is only one nondual Self, the Self of all selves, playing as each and every blessed and lovable self. A true sage may critique false forms of spirituality, and may see certain souls as temporarily manifesting flawed states, yet at the very same time, the sage sees the original, final and actual innocence and purity of each soul. And, simultaneously and paradoxically, a true sage finds only this Open Awareness-Isness-Aliveness as the One Heart of all hearts.

So the ongoing experience of a sage is full of paradoxical seeing-feeling-being on three levels: first and foremost, 1) Absolute Truth Realization, inclusive of 2) the subtle perception of everyone's grandeur and majesty as expressions of the Perfect Divine, and 3) conventional perception of the play of the dvandvas or opposites, such as virtue and vice, help and harm, justice and injustice. I've got at the website a very clarifying essay about these "three levels" within Nondual Reality at

Question 11: I have seen that some of these teachers take the intellectual position that since there is no doer, what ever manifests through this person is oneness perfectly expressing itself in all its glory.  It is the beautiful play of lila, will of divine consciousness, cosmic law, fate, karma, the will of God and so on.   So if this Guru misbehaves, has sexual relations with his students, gets drunk, acts out and what have you. The defense of oneness is used as an excuse for this sort of self indulgence. Such as I have realized God, "I am God", therefore no one is here, meaning God is using this vehicle to have sex with so and so.

TC: "Excuses, excuses." Freud and his followers were very insightful in describing the personality's "defense mechanisms" of denial, rationalization, identification, reaction formation, projection, etc. A lot of this well describes such dysfunctional maneuvering and strategizing on the part of the so-called "fully enlightened." I've another essay at the website which distinguishes between 1) truly enlightened sages,  2) the authentic "holy fools" of the genuine crazy wisdom tradition, 3) the really helpful but maybe "not yet fully liberated" kalyana mitra or "good spiritual friends," and 4) the dysfunctional pretenders, who use denial and rationalizations like you just described. They're trapped in samskaras and don't yet thoroughly realize it. They will be free, all will be free. "All will awaken to Brahman (Reality) because there is only Brahman," as the Vedanta Sutra affirms.

JL: It also seems to be similar to the left hand path of the Aghori and the Avadhuta Gita where they would act out without any consideration for standard, social etiquette and indulge themselves in sleeping with menstruating prostitutes, corpses, eating human flesh, dog excrement, drink urine, or alcohol of out the cap of a skull and so forth to realize that all this is a manifestation of maya.  "To see the Ganges river and an open sewer as one." What are your thoughts on someone using the left hand path as a form of teaching?

TC: When such behavior is spontaneous and genuine, not feigned or strategically deployed for some kind of offbeat deviant status or social recognition, and not simply a form of pathological derangement (a mental disorder), we are witnessing that God-mad "holy fool" behavior, well documented in the historic literature among the saloi, yurodivyie, majdhubs, masts, avadhutas. I've written about some of these liminal beings, such as the chapters on the Russian Orthodox woman Pelagia and the Sufi Hazrat Babajan in the Women of Power and Grace book. But as i've explained in that essay just referenced at our website, there's a huge difference in motivation between the authentic holy fools and the inauthentic pretenders, God love them, who cry "crazy wisdom" whenever it suits them as an excuse while they charge money, set up organizations, and exploit and abuse those with the strange, sad karma to fall into their webs of intrigue and deceit.

What a lila--yet with karmic consequences!

O Divine One, O Self Right Here as the Heart of everyone, how madly dost Thou play as each and every precious one, O Self Who art No One and Everyone and None but the One!