Seven Questions on Life & Death

universal questions

Artwork via Pixabay.

An Interview with D.V. Gray by Hunter MacKenzie

When I worked with the small group who wrote and produced the quarterly journal Skopos, we covered a variety of subjects within our issues, and received many philosophical questions which we discussed and debated at length. Sometimes we even answered them to one person or another’s satisfaction. D.V. Gray was one of our more knowledgeable writers, and in the opinion of many, possessed a keen insight into what we humorously called “the big questions.” Most of the time he was more fond of responding to our questions with even more questions, but on one occasion he agreed to an interview “for the record” and gave some of his thoughts on a few of these matters.

We start out with all the knowledge we will ever need, and then forget it as we become involved with various aspects of the reality we are creating. Then we spend eons trying to remember what it was we forgot, catching pieces here & there until eventually we’ve put it all back together.

1. Why are we here? What is the purpose of life — and death, for that matter?

Well, what does it mean to be conscious? To be aware. So the reason for consciousness — which is life as most know it — is to become aware. Of what? That’s where it varies from one person to another. It’s highly unlikely that any one person could become aware of “everything that is” at once. And so we take it in stages, and we call these lifetimes or we call them parallel realities or what-have-you.

But we are still absorbing, still becoming aware of things, even between these lifetimes. You learn when you sleep, for instance. It’s been shown that the physical brain can learn and record information while your body sleeps, so do you think that the mind which inhabits that brain is any less capable of learning and perceiving while another part of your consciousness is occupied with something else?

That is life — an infinite number of “layers of reality” which we are constantly creating and adding onto and at the same time absorbing information from. And death is just the transition that gets us from one place to the other — the thing that ties up the loose ends of what happens to the physical vehicle.

The physical vehicle is unwieldy when it comes to immediate, direct perception; it serves its purpose, but like any tool, it is designed for a very specific purpose, and when that purpose has been accomplished then a new tool is needed to carry out the next task. And so we discard that tool in order to move on and use another.

Now, there are those, of course, who can function inside that vehicle, recognizing it as the thing that it is, coming and going from it at will, utilizing other vehicles at the same time, even — perhaps we might liken it to “multi-tasking” – they work on more than one phase of their evolution at a time in this way. But by and large, people use the vehicle for the purpose it was designed, or at least their best guess at it, and then it is necessary to have another.

In general, I would describe one’s reason for being as… becoming aware of oneself, one’s capabilities and capacities, and by doing so, understanding the nature of reality as a whole. Religions tend to refer to it as “being saved” — and to me, that’s misleading, because if there is something one must be saved from, it is one’s own self, or something of one’s own making – and the only thing that could really save you from yourself is… well, yourself. Some philosophies refer to it as “becoming enlightened” but I’m not certain that’s really accurate either. It implies that we start out “in the dark,” and we don’t, not really — we start out with all the knowledge we will ever need, and then proceed to gradually forget it as we become more and more involved with various aspects of the reality we are creating. And then we spend eons trying to remember what it was we forgot, catching bits & pieces here & there until eventually we’ve put it all back together.

The oracle at Delphi is supposed to have said, “Know thyself.” I think this is as close as we can get to a basic understanding of why we’re here — of why we are.

2. Do you think that there is one religion which is more valid than another, or that one practice of magick or philosophy is better suited than another for acquiring self-knowledge?

It depends on the individual. One person might need a very strict and rigid structure within which to learn and comprehend one’s place in the universe. Another might chafe at such restrictions and be stifled, needing only the barest of hints to apprehend the deepest secrets of the universe.

All religions have some truth, and all have their share of lies. Not intentional ones, necessarily, but just… things that are set forth as fundamental truths which aren’t that at all, just an incidental observation arising from not seeing the whole picture, perhaps. And unfortunately, the psychology of many people who are drawn to such religions is not capable at that point in their own process of discerning that this is not necessarily “ultimate truth,” or even a piece of the “whole truth.”

And, for that matter, what is “truth” to anyone? It’s whatever is working at the time. No more, no less. I can say, “the sky is blue,” and it may be true from my perspective at that particular moment — but it is most certainly not going to be true at that same moment for someone living halfway across the world in a different time zone. It may not even be true for someone living ten minutes away from me, who may be getting a downpour of rain. And even if it is true for me right now, in a few hours it very likely won’t be anymore. So even though this is a very basic example, you can see how truth is a very relative thing, and it constantly changes even for the same individual.

3. Why does “magick” sometimes not work? For that matter, why does it just seem that sometimes nothing is working, that one is just “out of luck”?

OK, let’s tackle the subject of magick first. How do we define it? Crowley gave us a good enough working definition; he said it is the art & science of causing change to occur in conformity with will. So the answer is implied right there in the definition: if it didn’t work, it wasn’t your will. Now, you have to understand “will” as Crowley was referring to it, of course; it’s not just “well, I wanted it to happen and it didn’t.” You may very well think you want something to happen right now, but if it goes completely contrary to your nature, chances are quite high that it will not happen.

Take a concrete example. If you have outlined your present course based on the idea that you are going to learn from adversity, then doing some sort of magickal operation to make things go more smoothly for you at work is just plain not going to work. You may not remember that you chose adversity as your teacher for that lesson, and you may wander around in frustration for years, not understanding why “nothing seems to work” or nothing seems to “come easily” for you. But you’ve already set that course, you see, whether you have conscious knowledge of that or not right now, and so everything you do will bring you right back into that course until you do begin to learn from it.

4. What are your views on gender and sexuality? Does sexuality get in the way of or contribute to knowing oneself?

Gender is a thing of the physical world. I don’t think we start out as gendered beings, and I certainly don’t think we end up that way. But most societies enforce it because originally it was a necessity for maintaining the human population. Even today, when the earth is so overpopulated that such an idea is laughable, many people still follow this early instinct that gender division is a matter of life & death, that it’s absolutely necessary for survival, that the human race will somehow be diminished if we don’t have clear gender roles and functions.

In many, many cultures, those who are considered the “spiritual leaders” or the “enlightened ones” are rather androgynous in nature. And much of the time, when you find yourself in a “non-physical” sort of reality, gender is not an issue unless you make it one from clinging to your physical experiences. Think about your dreams, for a very basic example; how often do you pay attention to what gender you are? Gender is an artificially imposed duality, like the distinction between physical and spiritual, or between sacred and sexual. It has a function, but trying to hang onto it, to take “refuge” in one’s maleness or femaleness when there is no need works against you. You have to be willing to accept both genders within yourself and even get to a point where you don’t distinguish between them — where you don’t see things as being innately masculine or feminine traits or behaviors.

Now, if you can get to this level of thinking, where gender is not really a consideration, then the gender of one’s partner is really a moot point as well, isn’t it? So issues of homosexuality, heterosexuality, bisexuality… all that just becomes so much categorization and anthropology.

Sexuality… well, I think that sort of follows the same logic as religion & philosophy: it’s very individual. Some people are going to progress very quickly by exploring themselves through relationships with other people, and sexual relationships tend to be very intensely revealing of things like this. Plus there are ways of engaging in sexual acts which can heighten one’s sensitivity and perceptions in general, and accelerate the learning process. I’m not talking about just screwing around; that, like anything else, has its function and its place, but it tends to reveal more about the individuals involved at the present stage rather than open up possibilities to go further ahead. One way shows you what you are, while the other way shows you what you could be.

5. Is an ascetic way of life better for pursuing one’s spiritual evolution? Why do some take vows of silence, abstinence, etc.?

Again, it’s very individual. I suspect that somewhere along the line, everyone probably engages in some period of asceticism of some sort. It might mean living a lifetime as a monk and taking vows of celibacy & poverty; it might mean undergoing a period of one’s life where food is scarce and resources are not readily available to provide oneself with the basic necessities of life — living in a war zone, for instance, or simply not ever making enough money to live any other way than hand-to-mouth.

We have to take into account, too, that what may be an ascetic life for one person is not the standard for another. Taking a vow of celibacy hardly has the same meaning for someone who has enjoyed a very full and satisfying sex life as it does for someone who cannot even bear the thought of other people having sex. Taking a vow of silence is meaningless if you have nothing to say anyway. The purpose of a vow is self-discipline and dedication, and we do not learn discipline from doing something we would already be doing anyway. If you have insomnia and cannot sleep past 4:00 a.m., then it is hardly “virtuous” for you to get up at dawn every day. So something which seems like a relatively insignificant act to one person may actually be a huge sacrifice for another, and vice versa.

But don’t think that self-sacrifice and suffering automatically carry any “extra points toward enlightenment.” While some people may flourish spiritually or intellectually from sublimating one’s energies in such situations, it is not a guarantee of anything. There are no absolutes, and nothing is innately virtuous.

6. Is it always better to pursue knowledge? Are there instances where we are better off not knowing something?

Hmm… I like to think that I’d always rather know something than not know, even if it’s information I’m not comfortable with or don’t fully understand. And many people share this preference, or at least like to think they do. We do often grow by gradually adjusting to and assimilating ideas we initially find distasteful. So I do think we are usually closer to following our reason for being when we are at least open to knowledge of all sorts.

However, realistically… sometimes we have to trick ourselves. Sometimes there are areas of the psyche which become somewhat fossilized, unwilling and unable to absorb ideas that are necessary for us to understand. We get blocked. And so we perform a sort of “sleight of mind” — one part of our consciousness tricks another into opening up for this idea or that.

But that is keeping oneself in the dark for the purpose of shedding greater light. So overall I would have to say that yes, the open and whole-hearted pursuit of knowledge is generally the best route. You tend to learn faster that way than you do by merely waiting to be “spoon-fed” by the reality you’ve created.

7. Do teachers help or hinder progress?

Depends on the teacher — and depends on the individual being “taught.” You can be told something over and over in a thousand different ways and still not comprehend, no matter how wonderful the teacher and how eager the student. But then a “real-life” experience illustrates the point and it suddenly becomes clear. Would it have flashed into your consciousness with such clarity if you had not had the idea presented so thoroughly to you by someone? Who can say? But overall, I tend to believe that it is helpful to share information that way.

Occasionally it is possible to be “steered astray” by a well-meaning teacher who gives you information that is contrary to something you thought you knew. But keep in mind that no place we go is really “off our path” — it is only a detour we forgot to post a sign about. Perhaps you chose that teacher to give you faulty information because you needed to learn the “incorrect” way before you would understand the “right” way. Perhaps it was a matter of timing, no more, no less.

And of course the teacher learns too — we can’t forget that. When your paths intersect, it is not just one of your paths that is crossed; both individuals are affected by the contact. The repercussions are felt among each individual’s own circle of friends and contacts. And really, this is true of all human contact, isn’t it? Everything in reality… eventually affects everything else.

© Copyright 1999 by Hunter MacKenzie & D.V. Gray. Republished 2003, 2004, 2011, 2015.

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