The following is from the new book, THE QUEST FOR GNOSIS, available now.
Mr. Bolelli is the author of the book, Create Your Own Religion: A How To Book Without Instructions. His perspective on life, death and everything in between has always intrigued and inspired me and I just had to have a talk with him for The Quest For Gnosis.
GDR: So… you’re called the “Drunken Taoist.”
GDR: Why is that? What’s the story behind that?
DB: Um… Drunken Taoist I guess, you know how in kung fu movies you’ve got the old drunk guy who looks like crap and always manages to defeat these burly, strong, younger, better, faster attackers and nobody can quite figure out how. The Drunken Taoist is the power of weirdness: It’s an unorthodox approach, that no one can quite figure out why it works, but it does.
GDR: Right. Those are actually my favorite of the Jackie Chan movies; the Drunken Master ones.
DB: Right. Right, exactly.
GDR: [laughs] That’s pretty awesome. So, you wrote the book Create Your Own Religion. Can you give us a synopsis of why you put this book together?
DB: Create Your Own Religion, in a way, is Bruce Lee applied to religion – in the sense that the Bruce Lee approach of researching your own experience, discarding what is useless, keeping what is useful and adding what is specifically your own. That’s a perfect approach to knowledge in general, and in this case it seems healthy to apply for all facets of life, religion definitely being one of them. You know the Bruce Lee approach is a martial art style. Martial art styles during these days were very much like organized religion, with each one feeling we are the best, we have the best methodology.
GDR: Yeah and that’s kind of what religions do as well: We have the best Jesus, we have the best Buddha, we’ve the best Muhammad. [laughter]
DB: Basically the “create your own religion” thing is the same way as martial arts, traditionally they all had this attitude of “We have the only way to the truth.” In this case applied to combat, obviously, but in a bigger scenario religions do the same thing. And how do you test the claims? How do you decide which one makes sense and which one doesn’t, if any of them? The Bruce Lee approach is just to put it to the test. So in this regard what I did was take a few key topics of human life that all religions discuss, looked at what some of the beliefs about them are, you know such and such religion argue this, and such and such religions argue that. Look at the consequences, of what kind of results do those beliefs lead to, and then evaluate based on the evidence. And you know some stuff makes sense to me, seems great. Some other stuff seems like unhealthy crap.
DB: In some cases, some religions may have a good answer, and some others don’t. In some cases maybe you don’t find any good answers any where and you create your own.
DB: So in this process you basically do a job of just being honest about looking at what the evidence is case by case. Rather than making a claim that such and such ideology holds the truth and nothing but the truth; Well, let’s look at it case by case.
GDR: Right. So it kind of sounds in some ways like either a pantheist or a theosophist or even a chaos magician’s approach to it where you use what works and discard the things that don’t.
DB: Exactly. Absolutely.
GDR: Right. That’s pretty interesting.
DB: In that regard everybody does it already. You know even if you pick the strictest followers of every organized religion they will tell you that they follow the religion, but the reality is that they pick and choose the stuff they like and the stuff they don’t out of their own tradition.
GDR: That’s true.
DB: So if you’re going to do it any way, out of your own tradition, you might as well be honest and use all traditions.
GDR: That’s funny, you know, because when I was a Pentecostal Christian. We were American Pentecostal Christians and we thought that our doctrine was the best. But when I was doing research for my book Born Again to Rebirth I found out that there are forty-thousand different sects of Christianity in the world, and they all think that they have the right one.
DB: Of course.
GDR: So the death count going to hell is pretty high I suppose, if you were to look at it that way.
DB: Yup. Big time.
GDR: There are two modern definitions of the term “gnosis”: There’s the the ecstatic state, that’s similar to samadhi or non-mind and then there is the traditional view of experience-based knowledge and understanding. What is gnosis to you and how might you utilize it in your world view?
DB: I don’t use the term, so terminology-wise I may be slightly off because it’s not a term that I routinely use, but as far as concepts go, both actually sound quite appealing, because if it’s not experience-based then what is it based on? That’s why to me, anything that’s not based in experience I’m naturally suspicious of, because it means it’s based in hearsay essentially. It’s based on somebody else telling you how things are and going on it by faith, which is like,”Well, why?” If it’s not your experience then it sounds really cheap. The notion of experience-based knowledge clearly resounds very strongly with me, and that’s what Create Your Own Religion, in many ways, is all about. An ecstatic, more mystical approach is one that makes perfect sense. Both apply.
GDR: So have you had any experience in ecstatic states of your own in which you feel – in one way or another – you may have more contact with the divine, or something to that effect?
DB: As far as experiences where things click, where suddenly you see the outside of our ordinary perceptional things, yeah, quite a few. Some are somewhat random, some a little more looking for them, but yeah. What’s interesting is that as real as these experiences are and feel, there are just as many experiences in which nothing clicks: where you call out and all you get is a dead stone silence. At those times you feel with equally real conviction that there is an absolute lack of anything out there; that lack of any type of connectivity in the universe where it does feel like it’s just all random chaos and nothing else. So it’s tricky for me because it’s not the believers or people who strongly believe one thing or another; the people who don’t believe in any of this stuff that strongly feel there is nothing to believe in. Agnostics feel like, “Well I don’t have enough evidence to believe or disbelieve.” I feel that I have plenty of evidence to believe and disbelieve at the same time, which makes it slightly confusing.
GDR – Right again, we’re butting into an idea that magicians have is to put yourself into the position of a believer wherever you might be in order to achieve your own particular goals and purpose. It’s like what the apostle Paul said: “I have learned to be all things to all men.” In a strange way, that is sort of the same idea. As a writer and educator, what would you say are the most common pitfalls in ideology that you find your students and readers getting caught up in, and how do you help them out in a gentle way.
DB – I think allegiance to any ideology is a disease because it’s, ideology are filters through which you perceive reality. The fact is reality is more complicated than any ideology. So even the best ideology in the universe can be too rigid and too limited to take into account all the possible variations and experiences and things life can throw your way. Ideology can give you structure which may feel reassuring and nice in a way, but it also limits what you can cannot be, and what are you willing to take in as experience and what you cannot.
GDR – Right, that makes sense. In this day and age, it still seems like everyone has a yearning and this sense of awe. A friend of mine said she visited some nuns, and though she didn’t believe what the nuns believed, she felt this sense of emptiness that she didn’t have that deep kind of desire or that rapturous interaction with the divine that she saw there. How do we find that without getting caught up within a dogma?.
DB – If you are not caught up with dogma you can try millions of approaches: The beauty of being flexible is that you can truly take on shapes, including the shapes that may look not as flexible to the outside to someone else who is just stuck in that role forever. You may just be getting the experience of it., but a tthe end of the day the beauty of this is that you can experience multiple lives. You can speak many languages, so to speak.
GDR – Right, so there’s kind of an inner pantheon that you can call upon to become one thing for one moment and one in another. I think that’s really scary for a lot of people especially when everybody want to pin things down and feel safe.
DB – The problem is that it makes perfect sense and it’s sweet, but life is not safe: Safety to a large degree is an illusion. Identity is an illusion. Allegiance to an ideology is an illusion. It is understandable that people feel that way but at the end of the day they are still traps
GDR – So yeah it’s funny because in my own process I’ve gone through so many different layers of illusions and traps. One of the hardest things growing up as a fundamentalist Christian was being told, “It is not I, but Christ who lives”. There’s the death of self. The way that I got out of it was by realizing that I can make decisions and I can have control over my life. The paradox is that now there is a kind of bolstering or reassertion of my sense of self, but I still have to back up and get away from that once again through a non-dogmatic stance. It’s been one the harder things for me to try to figure out.
DB – Right, of course. If you are born that way then it’s a tough business.
GDR – If could you summon up any spiritual leader from antiquity or now for a conversation over tea, or the beverage of your choice, who would it be?
DB – My all time idle is a guy Ikkyu Sojun. He was a Zen monk from the early 1400s and he was a pretty wild guy. He was the illegitimate son of the emperor of Japan. He was sent to a monastery when he was five years old, and grew up in this very severe environment. He had an amazing grasp of Zen, but precisely because he loved Zen, he hated what Zen Buddhism had become, which was sort of a boring bureaucracy. He quit and spent the rest of his life as a wandering teacher; equally dedicated to Zen, women, and saki. He was quite a fun guy.
GDR – That’s pretty awesome: Zen, women and saki. Who needs anything else, right? This is interesting because it reminds me of some of my own journeys I’ve been going through. I’ve been having debates with some of my friends about whether or not if it’s necessary for us to try to convert people like Christian missionaries do: Should we help to expand consciousness so that we don’t destroy the earth and become more compassionate people? That’s the question: Should we even bother trying to tell people things one way or the other?
The Cathar Perfecti were wandering mystics who lived off what they could find. I’ve actually been living that way for the last three months. It’s been really weird and wild and it hasn’t been easy but I’ve always found some sort of fortuitous occasion or connection. Last night, or a couple nights ago, a guy – he wasn’t hitting on me – got me a beer because he said he saw me in a dream. I read tarot cards for him, and he bought me a beer. I didn’t have any money, but this is kind of how those guys operated and it’s crazy; It’s crazy to our civilization. Is this one of the ways that people do this? And likewise, why don’t we all just go to a mountain? I suppose because there’s not enough mountains.
DB – To me there is also something to be said about searching for enlightenment in the midst of the everyday world. In the midst of the struggles and the complications of it all, you can be the lonely hermit on the mountain. An enlightenment that’s born of being tested by the everyday forces that mess people up is no enlightenment at all.
GDR – That’s such a poignant thought. When I was describing what was going on to a traveling companion that I had this person said, “Well what do you think is harder? To be out in the desert by yourself, living on beans and rice and sitting by a fire meditating or to have to do the exact same thing in a city where there’s no public toilets and you have to have money to have transpiration anywhere. What’s the more difficult task?”
DB – Also, one is more applicable to many other contexts, whereas the other is sort of staking when you are outside of most regular human interaction: You’re outside most of the same things that other people live with. So then the question is either you live that way your whole life or you return to a reality that most people inhabit, and if so, then how you deal with it. Is that enlightenment learned in the desert something that can last if brought back in or does it only work in it’s own space?
GDR – That’s kind of the question I’m dealing with now. I think that the difficult thing is to find a balance and to not get too caught up in the arrogance of saying “Oh, I’m on a spiritual path.” That sort of thing is a challenge within itself. I guess coming back to the question, how do we help to initiate change for the better so that we don’t leave a scorched Earth by the time our kids grow up? I have a son and a daughter and everyone has that concern for the things in the future. I was reading Maharaj and someone was asking him “Well what happens when you have these emergencies and people are dying in the streets?” He responded that nothing’s actually happening. People asked him how he could say that, and his response was, essentially, that it’s okay: Everything’s is already over and we’re still all okay. That doesn’t help us when we we have kids or other people we care for.
DB – Sure, Well I’m all for it. And I think it’s important because people are either are very committed to changing world but they often do it from an idealistic standpoint and when they meet reality they get bummed out and cynical, or they start out bummed out and cynical, and they go “I’m gonna have fun in my little corner of the world and screw everything else.” Both of them are somewhat losing propositions because in one case you are idealistic without real reason and the other way your sense of reality is one that’s sort of miserable and born out of cynicism. The challenge is to have realistic options: To be able to be so idealistic that you want to try change the world right here, right now, but at the same time not having your self esteem and happiness wrapped up in success, because success is entirely beyond your control and may or may not come.
GDR – It’s kind of like the idea of the yogi who is within the world, who participates in everything but is not stained by sin or as the metaphor goes. One last question because I’ve asked virtually everyone else this one question and I’ve gotten such crazy different answers it’s been really interesting, so what do you believe, since we don’t know for sure, what do you believe happens when we die?
DB – I have no damn idea. Who the hell knows?
GDR – How do we deal with living our life in the face of the fear of death? It seems like our culture is so driven by the fear of death, or even of aging – all of those things.
DB – Of course. There’s no idea of what the hell happens, and it happens to everybody. It’s scary as hell because it’s the ultimate evidence that we don’t control shit.
DB – I mean it’s tricky because the prospect of this whole thing is so terrifying that most people try just not to think about it at all. If then do, then it’s just to make up shit: “I’m gonna believe that I’m going to be with all my dead relatives and they’ll all come back to life and we’ll all have a great party forever in happiness!”
GDR: Let’s wait and find out. The Agori force themselves to be comfortable in and around death constantly, for the sake of moving past that. It seems there is a common theme in all of the great traditions where people face their own death. I’ve heard of shamanic initiations where people are actually buried over night so they can experience it and move past it. They survive the ordeal by breathing through a tube. I don’t know if that really helps at the end of the day.
DB – Yeah I mean it’s like anything. It’s tricky because how do you go about enjoying every little second when you know every single thing you have is going be taken away from you? That’s rough. And at the same time if you don’t then you have a miserable life and everything else will be taken away from you anyway. To be able to be so real, you have the knowledge that you have no control over anything and that yes, shit will happen and everything will eventually disappear. Again, who knows what happens after that, maybe it’s awesome but nobody knows right? Based on what we know we don’t know if anything will happen or not if it’s absolute nothingness or who the hell knows. All we know is that what we know here in this world goes, and then after that, who the hell knows what happens? The ability to be able enjoy life right up until the hangmen puts the noose around your neck and strings you up kind of thing, that’s serious enlightenment right there. Because it’s tough, it’s difficult of course. And at the same time if you don’t do it there’s no real way to, other than just living a lie and just telling yourself some fairy tales because you need them in order to be able to function otherwise the prospect of death is too terrifying. Then if you’re not able to do this kind of stuff, then all of life is lived in fear and a life lived in fear is not always a waste to some degree but it’s also severely limited in what it could be.
The Quest For Gnosis is an anthology of over 20 of the brightest luminaries of our time, including Matt Staggs, Thad McKraken, Graham Hancock, Dr. Rupert Sheldrake, Nick Margerrisson, David Metcalfe, Peter J. Carroll and many many more. You may find out more and pick up a copy here.
Gabriel writes for VICE Magazine, Disinfo.com and Realitysandwich.com and is the author of three books. He is continuing his research at the University of Washington in his hometown of Tacoma, WA.