I came of age in the 60’s, so “turn on, tune in, drop out” resonates with me. But now I’m more interested in exploring the spiritual, rather than psychedelic, implications of these words.
It’s always dangerous to reduce complexities to dualities. But I’m always ready and eager to try. It seems to me that most spiritual seekers are either turn-on’ers or tune-in’ers. I belong to the latter camp, so if my description of these options seems to favor tuning, that’s the reason.
Tune-in’ers are trying, obviously, to tune in to something. God. Spirit. Cosmic truth. Ultimate reality. Buddha nature. Tao. Pure consciousness. Whatever they call it, it’s capable of being contacted. Right here, right now.
That big It often is considered to be all-pervasive, omnipresent, foundational. There’s no getting around it. Or over it. Or under it. It’s the essence of all that exists, so the problem doesn’t lie in locating it. It’s in attuning oneself to the divine presence.
This can happen in many ways. Meditation. Mindfulness. Love. Compassion. However it happens, somehow the consciousness of a tune-in’er is transformed into a receiving set for a more meaningful station of reality, sort of like changing the channel from MTV to PBS.
Turn-on’ers, by contrast, consider that divinity can’t be perceived without a cosmic switch being thrown to the “on” position. And that can’t happen from our end. It requires the hand of a mediator, someone who intercedes for us and produces enlightenment where before there was only endarkenment.
Jesus, for example. Or a guru, angelic presence, avatar, master, goddess, spirit guide—believers put their trust in many personages who, they hope, are capable of lifting a fallen soul to the spiritual heights. Often all that is required is faith in the intercessionary power. To believe is to be saved.
Now, tuning-in is a much more scientific approach to seeking the Meaning of It All than is turning-on. Scientists don’t pray, “Laws of nature, please manifest yourselves so we can discern your presence.” No, they assume that reality is always there to be realized.
In other words, the truth is out there. It doesn’t play hide and seek. Those with the eyes to see, perceive it. Ultimate reality isn’t standing in the dark with a finger on the light switch, waiting for a spiritual seeker to utter the right words. “Abracadabra.” “Namu abida butsu.” “Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” “Open sesame.”
Today I had an urge to clean up several bookcases. I took a look at the many religious, mystical, spiritual, and philosophical books sitting in my office and an extra bedroom. I got a queasy feeling.
Many of them meant nothing to me anymore. They were relics of bygone days. My turn-on days. My devotional days. The days when I envisioned that a Big Guy Upstairs was watching over me and was going to press my spiritual elevator’s “up” button.
Sometime. Any time now. Soon, for sure. Still waiting. No problem. Got plenty of time. Button will be pressed. Upper floor of consciousness will appear. Sometime. Any time now.
Fuck it. I’m taking the stairs.
The turn-on books are sitting in stacks on the floor. I’ve got to decide whether to store them, sell them, or give them away. They don’t interest me anymore.
I’ve always been a tune-in’er at heart. But for various reasons—laziness, longing for a father figure, whatever—there’s been a devotional turn-on’er side of me that hasn’t sat comfortably with my scientific tune-in’er side.
On an organizational level, the same tension is evident in the Sant Mat group, Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB), with which I’ve been associated for many years. I was attracted to the goal of attuning one’s soul with spirit, a.k.a. surat shabd yoga. Yet I also was repelled by RSSB’s teaching that this could only happen when the guru wants it to.
That struck me as anthropomorphic, unscientific, and fundamentalist. Christianity in another form, really. Instead of Jesus taking on your sins, the guru does. And you don’t move an inch on the spiritual path until the guru changes the stop light to green.
Consider these quotations from the July 2006 issue of “Spiritual Link,” the RSSB magazine:
This you have to understand, that you are nothing, but all belongs to the Master.
Without the Master we cannot make spiritual progress and without us he will not shower his grace.
So when the Master is in a good mood and he is ready to shower more grace on you, will you be ready, or will the opportunity pass you by?
The Master is the mediator between God and us—he knows what pleases him.
No one can leave this “land of slaves” without a Master. We cannot even begin our journey home until we have found one and received initiation from him.
All we need to do is trust and obey him.
Well, maybe. But I’ve read a lot of science books. And I’ve never heard it said, “To find out the truth about reality, all you need to do to trust and obey scientists.” No, what you have to do is study reality. Scientists can point the way to truth, but they don’t turn truth on or off for your benefit.
Trying to tune in to reality makes a lot of sense for me. Hoping that someone else will turn on reality for me doesn’t.
Of course, there’s another option. Drop out. Sounds appealing. As the linked article says, "Consciousness will always be one degree above comprehensibility."