An Interview with Jerry Katz
In 1998, Jerry Katz started the first 'people's' nonduality website and forum. Nonduality.com and the email forum Nonduality Salon put nonduality within everyone's reach without revolving around a single sage, teaching, practice, or tradition. He is the editor of One: Essential Writings on Nonduality and a blog at nonduality.org. Jerry introduced the teaching and nonduality to over two million when he was interviewed on Coast to Coast AM in 2007. Where he lives in Nova Scotia, Jerry co-hosts a radio show on nonduality as well as gatherings called 'Nonduality Satsang.'
Publication: One: Essential Writings on Nonduality
(Sentient Publications, 2007)
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Visit Jerry's website, Nonduality.com, for more information about his work.
Q. In these series of interview, I am doing a comparative exercise. What is your definition of Advaita Vedanta?
My perception of Advaita Vedanta is what I have learned from reading about it � it�s a stepwise approach to finding out your true nature. It uses three main sets of texts � the Upanishads, the Brahma Sutras, the Bhagavad Gita � and it is necessary to have a teacher and to go through a process of study over many years or a lifetime.
Q. On your site � the Nonduality Salon � you are bringing together all the teachings that are around today, which seem to be mushrooming left, right and centre and it�s nice that you don�t have an agenda. You�re just saying this is the fare, come and have a taste.
I am more of a space provider and an organizer than anything else. I provide space for all the teachings � I don�t really get involved in any of them. I am aware of this battle, or argument, between Neo Advaita and traditional Advaita. I don�t take a position on either one.
Honestly, as I sit here with you I want to say that everything I do is very small. Reality is all there is and the work that I do, and no matter how hard I do it, or for how many hours a day � the repercussions of it are very small. The world is very small, that is what I truly perceive, what I truly know. My work is very small so if it disappeared it would make no difference in my life.
So I find it sometimes difficult to talk about the specifics of nonduality. But I do get involved by writing book reviews, and I hosted written discussions on the Nonduality Salon community between Dennis Waite and Tony Parsons on the Advaita / Neo-Advaita debate. I just do it as work, it�s work that I do.
Q. What shades of teaching do you offer on your site?
Everything. My earliest offerings were nonduality.com the website and Nonduality Salon the email forum. All views are welcome on both the website and email forum. Lately I also got into blogging, at nonduality.org. And for the last ten years we�ve been putting out a daily newsletter, the Nonduality Highlights. My co-editors are two brilliant amazing people, Gloria Lee and Mark Otter.
When I first started the Nonduality Salon email list there was a guy who was a Satan worshipper, who was into nonduality. I didn�t want to encourage the guy but he was there! So I invite all expressions, not just from the Hindu tradition or Neo Advaita but also Buddhism, nondual Judaism, everything.
You know, there�s a book coming out this month called Nondual Judaism. There was also a speaker at the Science and Nonduality conference, Rabbi Hoffman, who spoke on nondual Judaism. There are other people who speak of it.
Q. You mean the Kabbalah?
Not even that. Rabbi Hoffman spoke simply of some aspects of the Bible, which are nondual. And of course, there is nondualism in the Koran � Sufism and the work of Ibn �Arabi.
I was speaking to someone about the fact that there are nondual aspects in all the major religions � the esoteric as opposed to the exoteric expression � and this can be found in the gnosis of Christianity, Zen in Buddhism, Kabbalah in Judaism, Sufism in Islam �
Q. Is there any particular flavour that you like yourself?
Yes, I like the Islamic as it comes from Ibn �Arabi, because he is so passionate.
Q. What did he say?
In different ways, his writing keeps repeating that there�s only Allah, there can�t be anything separate from Allah. The beauty of the repetition and the repetition itself touch me in some special way. The constant repetition of that is very similar to some teachings from Judaism too.
Q. There are so many view points being posited at this conference � Quantum Mechanics, Nondual Judaism, etc. Where do you see this all going?
It is going somewhere! In the last year, nonduality has become like a mothership, it has a form to it, a coherence. I was talking to someone who ran a conference last year on nonduality and we were talking about how so much has changed from last October to this October. Things are coming together more. There are more organizers of nonduality and they themselves are organizing and working together. There�s a great fusion happening, so there�s this feel of a mothership of nonduality.
But where�s it going? We�re talking about global transformation. I was never a transformation guy � you know, save the world, change the world. It�s never been my thing but I think it�s happening, that�s what the nonduality mothership stands for and is bringing about in some way.
Nonduality will spread more and more and it�s going to change the way people live and work. Something I�m hearing at this conference is that people are attending for the purpose of learning how to do their jobs differently.
Q. In what respect?
People feel they need to bring a new perspective to their work. They see the limitations in doing things the old way. My friend Mandee Labelle talks about an old way and a new way of working and living. The new way is grounded in nondual teachings. You can see the new way beginning to take hold in economics, conflict resolution, organizational development, law, education. The teaching of nonduality is going to keep penetrating and changing those areas and every of other field of work and knowledge. That change is the global transformation. A source of transformation is this mothership of nonduality, this coherence that�s happening.
Q. So how would this explosion in self awareness help people? We have this situation where capitalism doesn�t seem to work and now we have a global economy that has gone into meltdown. How can this teaching help people in their day-to-day lives? It�s all very well having a conference about nonduality but back home, getting a job, paying the bills, that kind of real life cannot be avoided.
In the short term, it may not help people get a job but in the long term, it may help you simplify your life � not necessarily by having a garage sale and selling all your stuff, I don�t mean that kind of simplification.
By simplifying your life I mean refining your life down more to your natural commitments, getting rid of the exaggerations in life, arriving at a more fundamental way to live.
But it doesn�t necessarily mean getting rid of stuff. Simplification of one�s life may mean becoming an entrepreneur, buying property and ending up with more stuff, but at least you�re coming from a more natural way of living.
That�s what nonduality does for a person. It informs you of your natural commitments and gives you a clear view of what life is so that you can live your life more effectively, but it�s not meant to be a spiritual excuse to avoid responsibilities.
Q. So how does someone live a simple life? In the traditional Advaita teachings, they say there has to be preparation of the mind and body in terms of meditation or study or serving a teacher.
Ask who you really are and let the energy of that question take you where it will. If your natural commitment is to study Advaita Vedanta, then you�ll follow those instructions, meditate, and do what you have to do. Just find what your natural commitments are. They�ll become clear when you enquire into your true nature.
Q. What about your own life? How did you come to nonduality?
Even as a kid, I had a fascination with being aware, being conscious. I was fascinated with it. I had different experiences with my sense of I AM, and I paid a lot of attention to it until I felt stabilized in the I AM.
I never had a teacher, I read books. I liked Da Free John � in his final days, he was Adi Da. I also liked Rajneesh who became known as Osho. I like people who change their names, I guess!
Q. Was there any defining text or moment or event in your life that initiated the sense of I AM?
Certainly, as a kid I experienced events. When I was two years old, I saw myself waking up to the world and experiencing it. I knew I was having my first memory. It fascinated me as I witnessed the first memory happening. Then when I was seven years old, I realized myself as I AM.
I had different experiences up to the age of 11 � out of body experiences � where I would find myself as awareness in a starry black sky. I would look at a single star and I would focus on it and it would open up and I would recognise it as I AM. I saw I AM in different versions. Each version was like an initiation. I received several initiations into the knowledge that my true nature was I AM.
Also around ages 10-11, I had psychic visitations from two men, always the same two men. One would loudly chant a certain mantra which would penetrate me. It was another initiation. Years later I realized that the guy who chanted the mantra was probably Swami Nityananda. I never figured out who the second guy was.
Then after ages 11 or 12 I forgot about those initiations � I never knew what to do with it at those ages anyway. Around age 25, I revisited them and re-evaluated them again and explored the sense of I AM.
Q. So why did you start to re-evaluate these things again at that particular point in your life? Were you disappointed with your life?
A little but nothing like some people who talk about experiencing pain and depression � I had none of that. I only knew that I wasn�t interested in life in the same way most people were. My only interest was 'being' and exploring it in the way that made sense to me.
There was definitely an edge of seeking and exploring. I got into parapsychology. At the conference I saw someone reading a copy of Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain by Sheila Ostrander from the seventies. Many of us went through that exploration � it was a mind-opening experience reading about parapsychology as part of a journey. Then you move beyond � some people stay there, which is fine. But some move on, which I did.
Then I realized that this I AM is fundamental so I got back to looking into that.
Q. So where did that take you? You say you had a Jewish upbringing � did you find solace in the Old Testament or other Hebrew texts?
No, I went to Hebrew School at ages 11 and 12 in order to prepare for bar mitzvah, but even in Hebrew School, I would hear about Abraham and Moses and I had a sense that I was the same as they were. I didn�t think they were special. I didn�t see myself as they were in the sense that they were great legendary figures but I knew that fundamentally, I was the same as they were. I didn�t think they were special and I didn�t know why they were making a big deal out of them!
I had the sense of equality with these legendary Biblical guys because I somehow understood that we were all the I AM, although at the time I didn�t understand where that sense of equality came from.
Q. I am interested to know why you didn�t get into the Kabbalah. Perhaps, as it is for many people, when someone wants to go deeper into a teaching, they don�t go deeper into their own tradition, they investigate another.
In my seeking days I did read the Zohar and found a great resonance with yet another I AM initiation I had as a kid, which came out of a very active inner third eye. At some point there was no need for me to go to any tradition because the I AM is what I had, it was my initiation. The I AM itself was my teacher. To go anywhere elsewhere wouldn�t be the point. The I AM was the point, so I had that. At one point in seeking, I would ask myself, 'Why am I studying this? Why don�t I just focus on the I AM?'
Q. What happened then?
I was always interested in spiritual stuff, I wrote poetry into my twenties, read a lot. In 1977, when I was about 28, suddenly everything became like one day. That was when I AM became stabilized and everything was like just one day for years.
In my thirties, I knew I had to get set up for life so I worked hard to save money, I got married and tried to build up some kind of material background for myself but all the while, I was always reading, always studying, just being aware. In 1987, my wife and I moved to Nova Scotia, where she was from.
Then at some point, I guess when I was in my forties the I AM, the one day, dissolved too and then there was just this�
Q. Can you expand on that?
Well, I don�t know if I can expand on it, express it. This is just everything I see, right now �
This is just reality. I don�t really know how to express it. I was talking to Jeff Foster a couple of days ago and saying it�s not easy to express this stuff. It�s easy for him! It�s not so easy for me.
Q. Do you also mean a sense of oneness?
Not necessarily, I don�t think in terms of oneness. I don�t know. I guess it�s more thisness.
And that�s just my experience�
I stumbled into nonduality. This was before we moved to Nova Scotia. I met a guy in a deli in Los Angeles in the eighties at some point, and he was reading a large leather-bound book. We were sitting together at the counter. I asked him what he was reading and he said the Upanishads. But I didn�t know what that was so I asked him � he looked around, he looked away from me, he looked up and looked down, and then he looked straight at me and he said nonduality. I�d never heard of the word and it was like another initiation that penetrated me. Nonduality � well, what�s that? He may have tried to explain, I don�t remember, but that word stayed with me. I said this is what I�ve got to explore. This is where I am going next.
Q. Did you go off to India?
No, I never felt an urge to do that!
Q. What about your site? Do you have any plans for how it will progress?
Nondualty.com will pretty much stay the way it is. We publish the Nonduality Highlights everyday. We are on issue 3,680 or something like that as of this interview. Each issue of the Highlights gets uploaded to nonduality.com, so the site keeps growing, slowly.
I am more interested in doing local gatherings in Nova Scotia where I live. I like in-person things. I co-host a radio show on nonduality on the local university station. As far as the Internet is concerned, I am interested in the possibilities of Google Wave and other kinds of platforms. All the nooks and crannies of the Internet will eventually be nondualized.
Q. What about other areas of study? Art, music, literature for example. Take Dostoyevsky�s The Brothers Karamazov � there are some fine ideas in there. Or TS Eliot�s 'The Wasteland'. It doesn�t have to be a satsang format necessarily to help people.
Yes. I was talking to someone at the conference about the possibility of having a room next year at the conference devoted to literature and poetry and I�ve proposed the idea to the organizers of the conference. You can imagine the vastness of that field, the nondual perspectives. How would you select?
Especially in the San Francisco area � the Beat writers, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gary Snyder, William Carlos Williams. Since we are in San Francisco, it would be respectful to have something on the Beats.
Q. Henry Miller�s Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch�
Yes, and of course, that�s just American literature confined to a certain timeframe and genre. Literature from all places and all times is vast.
I always thought that someone could do a book called satsang with William Shakespeare and just ask satsang questions and quote Shakespeare�s words. A Shakespeare expert should write that book!
And of course Dan Brown and his Lost Symbol �
Yeah! Maybe he can speak at the conference next year!
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