BookLife Talks with Joseph Kazden
A sponsored Q&A with the author of 'Gita'
What’s the story behind this book?
Of all the matter and energy in the universe, only biology creates an experience of reality through a bio-sensory process. That experience, which we believe to be reality, is a simulation. In TotIs, I examine how that simulation is in fact an illusion and acts as a veil that separates consciousness from the reality upon which that simulation is based. That reality I termed “totIs.” Gita explores the challenges for a consciousness, such as ours, to live with such knowledge. The book’s form is derived from the Bhagavad Gita, which deals with this challenge but was written some 2,500 years ago. Both Brahman, in the Bhagavad Gita, and the Tao, in the Tao Te Ching, describe the same conundrum for conscious beings. These two philosophical systems understood that whatever reality serves as the foundation of the universe, it cannot be experienced directly by that consciousness and can only be experienced by it as an interpretation through its senses. Most importantly, this is true for our experiences of both space and time, which consciousness believes to be absolutely real. That space and time are illusory has profound consequences for our notions of cause and effect as well as for our ideas of free will and fate. This understanding also explains the persistence that Einstein spoke of when he described reality as merely an illusion, albeit a persistent one.
Gita is the sequel to TotIs. Did you find the writing process easier for your second book?It wasn’t easier, but I relished the process that brought a deeper understanding of these two texts, the Tao Te Ching and the Bhagavad Gita, which have always held a special place in my life. Whereas TotIs took the form of a symposium led by Socrates, I began Gita by trying to replicate the form in the Bhagavad Gita while adopting a more narrative style for the sake of readability. Socrates continues in this book to channel his stature as a clear and logical thinker even though he is taking the place of Krishna. Gita, of course, takes the place of Arjuna.
Both of your books contain a number of historical figures, cultures, and disciplines. What kind of research did you do to ensure accuracy when portraying them?
I have been a student of the Tao Te Ching as well as Buddhism and Hinduism since the early 1970s. I also studied Jung’s ideas of the collective unconscious, archetypes, the psyche, and individuation. I have read extensively the works of Joseph Campbell, whose treatments of mythology reference Jung’s work and expand on it in important ways. My characters and story settings are more mythical than historical, but after so many decades of delving physically as well as mentally into these cultures and philosophies, I found the characters already living within me and ready to come out. Gita is the result of lifelong study and research to be sure.
If you could pick anyone to give this book to, who would it be and why?
I’d give it to Yuval Harari, whose brilliant work Sapiens I absolutely loved. His book drew on two separate conceptions as the drivers of human history that mirror the two separate conceptions that drive physics, namely, quantum theory and relativity. These two very accurate theories each break down when they enter the other’s realm. For Harari, biology is the quantum realm and culture is the relativity realm. Both are kept essentially separate in the book, but I don’t think they are separate in reality. There is also the possible problem of what John Bell called “superdeterminism” stemming from the results of his theory, something Western minds rebel against viscerally.
Will there be a follow-up to Gita, or are you working on something different?
I’m currently working on an “interpretation” of the Tao Te Ching.