The Only Love Project’s Bill Murphy (BM) conducted this interview with Doug Ten Rose (DTR) via Skype on April 24, 2013. Many thanks to Mr. Rose for his time, wisdom, and delightful sense of humor.
BM: Briefly tell us your background. What would you like others to know about you?
DTR: I was born a poor black child. Oh no, wait. That’s Steve Martin. That’s not me. [laughs] It’s not about me, you know, it’s about the project, and there’s a much bigger picture. But I guess within the context of this, we’re going to have to go into it a little bit. It’s pretty much all described in the Fearless Puppy book [Fearless Puppy On American Road]. Or at least the first 40 or 50 years are. I was born in Brooklyn, New York, grew up in the Coney Island area, and started selling drugs at an early age. Decided when I was in my mid-teens that this was not going to go very far. [laughs]. There was all kinds of stuff to deal with. Besides the obvious, which is that the drugs can kill you, you’ve got the ripoffs, and especially in a big city like New York, you’ve got the mafia wanting to deal on the same corner, so there’s only a short time you can be there, and you have to dodge them. Then of course there are the legal complications and the police. And then of course you’re acting like a jackass because you’re whacked out all the time.
So anyways, the thing to do it seemed was to get outta there pretty quick, and so I did. Started hitchhiking and it worked out so well that I just kept going. Now of course, part of what’s responsible for that was that era in history. Because in the mid to late ‘60s, every Volkswagon van was a guaranteed ride, people would stop and pick you up, it was a rollin’ party. Since things have changed so much over the past 40 years, I don’t think anybody could do that kind of lifestyle now. It would be intensely more difficult to do. People just aren’t as trusting, they’re not as friendly in a lot of ways, and so it probably wouldn’t work as well now. But at the time we lived more for the love and happiness, and the book Fearless Puppy is about that time.
All the profits from book sales are going to fund wisdom professionals starting with Tibetan monks and nuns, but not limited to that. The book is all about that 35 years or so of hitchhiking and the different people I met along the way – everyone from Tibetan lamas, not the animal [laughs], Native American wise men and so on to hookers and murderers and such. As you well know, you can meet quite a variety out there. Put in enough miles and you’ll see the extremes at both ends of the spectrum.
So that’s about the story in a nutshell, at least up until the age of 50. The last 20+ years of that, I worked with different environmental groups and did independent charity projects that I invented myself, and just decided was a good idea to do. Not really knowing anything or having any connections at first, I did one project for African famine relief, another for the homeless in America, and another for boys from a Mexican orphanage. The African famine relief one was right about the time, it was like a year or two before the whole Hands Across America and Live Aid things, so the issue had some press, although it wasn’t yet the big deal that it was about to become. But some press had already been out about that particular tragedy, and that made it easier for the thing to work well. The governor and both senators and pro sports teams and music stars got behind it. It started locally but eventually became the whole Massachusetts for Africa movement.
So, yeah, that’s about it. Just wandering around and doing these projects and you know, tryin’ to stay out of trouble as much as possible.
BM: Would you consider yourself a spiritual person?
DTR: I consider myself a person. And I think that everyone by nature of just being a person is a spiritual person. It’s not that there is anyone who isn’t a spiritual person, it’s just that everybody has so many layers of crap on top of that that need to be peeled off. I mean, we’ve been so conditioned with garbage, that people can’t, they don’t even know where their ground state is, where their base station is anymore, because we’re so distracted by all the stresses and everything that’s going on that Spirit gets covered up by, not only these stressful concerns, but also a lifetime of bad, or at least false, information. As comedian Doug Stanhope says, the culture, the society, gets us when we’re still young. We’ve got that soft spot in the back of our heads, we’re in a Santa-Claus-eligible sate of mind, and they sell us this crap that we don’t yet have the discriminative awareness to reject. As George Carlin says, they tell us there’s this somewhat mean-tempered old man who lives in the sky, he’s got these rules, he’s watching us all the time, if we break a rule we go to eternal damnation in a lake of fire—but he loves us very much. And people get this B.S. information into their heads from birth to five years old, at the age when a person will believe anything. You know, a bigger person tells you something when you’re that age, your brainwaves are like the equivalent of being on acid or something, you’re just wide open. So we get conditioned to all the fairy tales, whether they come from church, parents, advertising, newspapers, video games, or whatever, and it covers up that innate, that natural spirituality.
You can see the difference in cultures that didn’t have so much technological and informational interference in their lives. You look back at Native American culture, 150 years ago but in the same location that we live in now, and those people don’t have that interference – and they believed everyone and everything was spiritually related. But the world is so out of touch with that now that anyone who reads a newspaper or watches the TV, which most people do, is getting a lot of input that intentionally drives us away from our spiritual base, and so yeah, I consider myself a spiritual person. But I think everybody else is a spiritual person, too – although many folks have lost touch with the fact.
BM: Most religious traditions speak of the power and value of love. For example: The Dhammapada tells us, “Only love dispels hate.” The Bible tells us, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34, ESV) Please pick one of those examples and tell us what it means to you.
DTR: Yeah, and there’s also something in the Bible about “pure love casts out fear.” And any of these reference points will show us just how far humanity has gotten away from its base station because again, spirituality, just like love, is the human base station. But we’ve been so covered up by the garbage, I mean the question of this interview is what role can love play in the world today?
That’s a good question that people can intellectualize and decide sooner or later, But what role must love play in the world today might be a better question. In order for us to regain any planetary sanity, we need to, we must put universal love into action – not the self cherishing, me me me kind of love, you know. But that more universal love, that way of looking at everybody as if they were of equal worth and importance as you. Everyone has an equal right to happiness, and that knowledge, that attitude, has to become the human ground state again. Spirituality, not necessarily religion but spirituality, used to be more taken for granted as part of life, you know, it was on the visible surface of people as opposed to buried under all of the garbage. We’re living under an avalanche and so is love and compassion. We have to dig them out. And I think the only way to dig those things out, and bring them to the surface on the planet, is for each individual to put the effort to do so.
The old drop in the ocean analogy is used a lot because nothing tells the story better. Everybody’s yelling at the ocean, “Become a better ocean. You’re a dirty ocean. Why don’t you get cleaner?” But the ocean is made up of the drops that are in it. If the drops don’t clean up their own crud, cleaning the whole big ocean won’t ever happen. I mean, that’s like waiting for salvation to come and land on earth. Salvation’s been circling the planet for a long time. It doesn’t have a landing pad. We have to provide that place to land. So yeah, in answer to your question, what role can love play, I think it has to take the major role in life—and I’ll say it again, it is up to each individual to make that jump, to make that happen.
BM: What stops people from being more loving and compassionate?
DTR: I think there’s as many different answers to that question as there are people. Each person has their customized response to the question “what stops people from being loving and compassionate.” There are different traumas and greeds and anxieties and hatreds and everything else. Jealousy and all of that. I think it comes down to fear. Fear could be said to be the base station for all these other malfunctions. Now, if we’re talking about a realistic fear, if somebody is shooting at you with a gun, you get a fear reaction and run out of the way. OK, that’s good, and that’s real. A car is bearing down on you, you jump out of the way, your heart’s in your mouth, it’s supposed to be like that, you know, we’re hardwired for that. Unfortunately, that hardwired reaction often hooks up with all the false information and fears that we’ve been covered with. So now instead of reacting to real fears, people are reacting to manufactured fears.
Mentally manufactured fears are, well, like when you walk down the street and hear footsteps behind you. The odds are just as good that it’s a Boy Scout as a mugger. More likely it’s somebody in between. [laughs] People get all nervous hearing footsteps behind them when they’re walking on a dark street. But it could be nothing just as easily as it could be something, you know? Another example: How many folks have you known that are couples, and they’re afraid of, and they’re all day worrying about, “Oh no, my spouse is cheating on me!” Whether it’s the husband or the wife, 99% of the time it’s all in that person’s head. They’re looking for trouble before it happens—and by doing that you can actually create the situation you were imagining!
If you start conditioning yourself into being on the defensive all the time, that squashes the love pretty quickly. You know, if you’re always walking around staring at someone, looking at what you’ve gotta defend yourself against, and listening to the news telling you all Muslims are violent, all black people are dangerous, all this stuff, you know, you get brainwashed, actually, by the society’s numerous influences – media, schools, or whatever. And our parents were brainwashed before us, and along with a lot of good info, the bad information from generations gone by gets passed down to us, and then all the modern influences increase the severity of the situation. So I think a lot of what’s squashing the love is that people have been conditioned to be on the defensive. That may be the same answer for the last three questions you asked. We’ve been driven so far out of our ground state, which is spirituality, which is love and compassion and decency, that we don’t have a concept of where we actually live anymore, which is in here. I’m pointing to my heart, Mrs. Murphy. [laughs]
BM: Do you have recommendations regarding how someone might cultivate a spirit of love over the long term…but also put love into action right now so that he or she can make a positive difference right away?
DTR: I think the answer to both questions is that we have to, I shouldn’t even use the word we, because that implies that it’s some big, overall thing. I think the answer to both questions is actually that each individual person has to do some changing of priorities. Things in life, well, of course the bills have to get paid, the job has to be gone to, and all of these everyday things have to get done, but to make them the major priority and forget why the heck you’re doing it is kind of silly. The only reason to go to a job and to get all these material things is to make yourself and everyone else happy. Now if these things are making you miserable, that’s kind of [laughs] that’s defeating the purpose, ain’t it? [laughs] I mean, there’s a couple of simple things we could do right away, too. For long term action, again, everyone has to start individually readjusting priorities and keep working on that. Living in decency and happiness has to become important than just making a living. Life has to be seen as more important than just making money and such. Another long-term thing that certainly needs to start as a short term and immediate thing, and this thing may help more than any other to influence the human situation positively—and would help people readjust their priorities: just sit still for five minutes in the morning and five minutes in the evening. Sit still, just breathe, don’t think, don’t say anyhing, just sit still and try to be at home in your own body. I mean this is an old thing that a lot of people have said before, but everybody talks about the out-of-body experience as being very spiritual. But really it is the in-body experience, that’s what’s missing, really. Everyone is already constantly living out of body! We think about the wife, kids, husband, job, how dirty life is on the street, how scared I am, you know, I’m getting too fat, I’m getting too skinny, I’m getting too old, I’m still too young. Whatever it is, everybody’s got their different beasts. So there’s constantly an out-of-body experience. The individuals that we are don’t get enough attention paid to them. If you don’t pay attention to yourself, if you aren’t paying attention to what you’re thinking, and considering that what you’re thinking produces what you will be doing, then without ever even being conscious of it you could step in a big pile of do-do, be it physically actual or metaphorical, and track it into your house. At that point not only are you full of crap, but you make everyone else smell it too. [laughs] Just five minutes in the morning, and five minutes in the evening, sit still and just breathe and be with yourself as an individual. This will help you make better decisions and be happier all day and all night yourself as well as making life better for everyone who comes into contact with you. Oh, let’s face it, I mean, if you can’t be happy, what the heck’s all the work for? That’s supposedly the point of the whole thing, to be more loving, to be happier.
Nobody is greedy and nasty and evil on purpose. These states of mind are aberrations. Even Hitler. I mean, this guy didn’t want to be that much of a jackass. It’s just that he ran himself into mental illness and didn’t stop to process it, to sit down and just focus on what was going on in his mind, and breathe, and say, “Wait a minute, this isn’t good.” [laughs]
So all that is long term – well, I guess much of it applies to short and long term. Short term love will grow itself in the person who makes an effort to be a little bit kinder, as will happiness, compassion, and all these other pleasant traits. For the kind of person that says, “I wanna be happier, but I’m just not feeling it,” there is the fake-it-till-you-make-it method. You know, you wanna move in that direction, but you really don’t have your heart in it—or don’t have confidence in being able to get there. You don’t have be it right away. Just the practice of doing it helps, and you don’t have to mortgage your house and turn it into a homeless shelter, either. Just being a little bit nicer to the members of your family is a real good start. Being kinder to people outside of your family, or any other positive action, in any positive fashion, is good. And certainly learning to get in touch with yourself will foster more positive thoughts – and of course positive thoughts, you know, foster positive actions. Whether aware of it or not, every action that we take has a thought behind it. The problem is, a lot of people aren’t aware of that thought before it becomes that action. So as a monk you know all of this, Bill, but for the purposes of the interview, I’m repeating it anyway. That’s about it! If people could like drive themselves to do it, I mean, as a species, and as the individuals within it, we have to pay as much attention to being decent human beings as we do to getting the bills paid. So we go to work and deal with all kinds of stuff, and it’s a stress and a strain, dealing with the boss or whatever, and all kinds of problems. Why not give at least that much attention to establishing a safe, comfortable and decent world, and an un-strained, calmer, saner life for self, and a more spiritual and decent life for the family? Why not put a little bit more love and compassion into practice? There is an inordinate amount of attention paid to things that don’t deserve it, and a minimal amount of attention paid to the things that deserve a whole lot more attention than they’re getting. So I guess that’s it. For long and short term benefits, sit silently for five minutes in the morning and then five minutes at night consistently, and keep doing at last that much time in relaxing positive focus and calm breathing every day—with nothing on your mind except a happy thought, or no thought at all. And in the shorter term, to jump right into it directly, be a little nicer to any and every one when the opportunity arises—and it almost always does! You will not only directly do the other people a good turn, but you will be doing yourself a good turn too–because if you start forcing yourself to do the occasional kind deed, to be nicer, to be more available to other people, then what you, as the person performing these acts, get as a benefit, will be even more massive than what that other person gets as a benefit. Because it changes your whole character. I mean it’s the difference between eating high potency vitamins or poison. Health food doesn’t help if there’s arsenic in it. [laughs] So if there’s malice and anger in your actions and your thoughts, then no matter what you try to do, it’s going to turn out badly. But if you sit, relax, get in touch with yourself and try to bring about some more composed, productive, and positive thoughts from within your self, these things will lead to more positive actions. This affects the people who are benefiting from your good thought in the form of the good action that has sprung out of that good thought, but it affects you, the person who is doing that positive thinking and positive act, even more. So that’s a long answer to a short question. [laughs]
BM: Who do you look up to the most when you think of the power of love?
DTR: Everybody has the same obvious examples. I mean, I’m in the middle of watching the Gandhi movie for the third time in two days, and he’s top of the line. Mother Theresa, you can’t do any better than that for being human! Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, John Lennon, these are all people who were promotin’ the idea of positivity and love as being something more important, being the overriding concern and our base station and the thing we have to re-institute as a priority on Earth. But it’s not just them. I mean, I run into inspiring people everyday. I’ve seen your website, that’s a big inspiration to me, the way you’ve done what you have with The Only Love Project. And there’s a lot of other people around doing similar things. That commercial on TV with the Special Olympics where the kids are running a race, and the one kid falls down, so then the other kids go back and get him, and they all link arms and run across the finish line together. I mean, you can get it anywhere. You don’t necessarily have to like watch the Gandhi movie a hundred times, or listen to the Lamas, or Deepak, or whoever on the videos, which I do a lot of. But it’s out there in everyday life. You can turn around and see people doing these positive kind of things that would bring up that kind of feeling in you. And the more people that do it, the better off we’re all going to be. Obviously, at the end of the day, this inspiration toward decency has to come from within each of us. It’s gotta get to the point where instead of people looking to somebody else to do these things, and then saying, “hey, that’s nice,” we are doing these admirable things ourselves and can say “hey, we recognize that it is our personal responsibility (and a lot more fun!) to be an admirable part of the species.
Everyone doesn’t need to become a Jesus, Buddha, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Gandhi. But also, we must stop looking at these people as if they are the divine exceptions and there is no point in moving in a similar direction. These folks have to be seen not as impossible-to-approach exceptions to the human rule, but as examples of what we all could be spiritually and functionally approaching if we put our minds to it. If humanity ever hopes to recover its sanity, that attitude of working towards compassion and love is gonna have to become the norm.
BM: Do you think humanity will recover?
DTR: Well, if they’re gonna survive, they have to. I say “they” like I’m not a part of it. [laughs] Yeah, there’s no good option here. There’s not a logical option. The choice is between recovering sanity or a real ugly future ahead of us. We’ve got a pretty ugly present, [laughs] in a lot of ways. But an awful nice one too—not only because these people, you know like Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy and Mother Theresa, not only do they keep poppin’ up, but folks like you and the many others who are promoting positive sanity keep poppin’ up too. People in the Special Olympics who go back for the kid that fell and help him cross the finish line, they keep popping up too. So the potential is definitely there. The problem is getting the conditioning of folks back into that progressive as opposed to defensive mode, because we’re running on psychic fuel, and if we’re running on fuel of defensiveness, hatred, jealousy, and fear-based reaction instead of actual positivity and love and compassion, well then we’re just going to run the car off the cliff. [laughs] Signs of this have been all over for a very long time, this is really no news. So to answer your question, yes I do believe that humanity can recover its sanity, and I think it would be the smartest thing for each individual to believe and work towards even if we don’t get there in this life. [laughs] But besides that, there are a lot of obvious examples that this universal-based-on-individual improvement is a potential happening. I mean, there are people moving in that direction. A lot of them. It becomes obvious if you look at what has happened just during our lifetimes–the increase in respect and decency towards different races, towards women, towards many folks who aren’t considered “mainstream” but are now enjoying a live-and-let-live attitude from the powers that be and the culture in general. And I think each individual has the potential to be that person who moves in that positive direction toward recovering societal sanity by recovering their own individual love and spirituality. It’s just a matter of stopping and getting back to what a human being actually is, because we’ve been conditioned out of our humanity. We just have to get back to normal.
It’s like a treating a sick person. It can be said that humanity has had the spiritual flu. As you know, when you are sick, you’re kinda short tempered and often ill tempered, and “don’t bother me, I gotta lay here, blah blah blah.” You know, you’re just sittin’ around growling. Some people handle sickness better than others. But regardless, it’s sick, and it does have to get well. It has to regain its physical and spiritual health. There are examples everywhere of this being done.
And the next thing you’re gonna ask me, is “Do you have anything to add that I haven’t asked?” And yes, I have this one quote that pretty much sums it all up, It’s by Aldous Huxley. I love a lot of Aldous Huxley’s work. He said, “It is a bit embarrassing to have been concerned with the human problem all one’s life and find at the end that one has no more to offer by way of advice than ‘try to be a little bit kinder.’” [laughs] It certainly is.
None of this is rocket science. All the complex spiritual theories I’ve studied come down to one conclusion. Don’t be a jackass. It all comes down to the basics, the simple golden rule. Don’t do anything to anybody that you wouldn’t want somebody to do to you. I mean, really, it’s not complex at all. All these complex feelings and spiritual passageways that people take all lead back to this same basic thing: don’t do any harm, don’t speak any harm, and practice enough so that eventually you don’t even think anybody any harm. When that happens, we can start the party. Let’s start the party now! Why wait?
BM: Thank you very much for your time. It was an honor for me.
DTR: The honor is mine. I’ve seen your website. You’re, you know, you’re being modest, and I can understand why you make your guests look better, because it’s about that. But I’m just a guy like any other guy. Maybe the only difference is that I put in the time and the effort, (not to mention the 500 tabs of acid when I was a kid) [laughs] to peel off a lot of the layers of spam-brain-coverage. Bad conditioning has covered up much of people’s humanity. And for better or worse, I did like 500 tabs of acid when I was just a child, actually, and that took me so far out of the box that I never again got grabbed in by much of that old conditioning to antiquated patterns of belief and behavior. Now that’s not something I recommend–to use drugs that way! I mean, the drug experience is a lot like putting rocket fuel in a moped. A lot of people explode. I was hanging around with one group of 14 people, and within a year and a half, there was only two of us left. That was when I was in my early 20s. So I certainly don’t recommend drugs as an intelligent method of reaching a lasting intelligence. Ever since then, I’ve been doing the heavier meditations that, well, you know, when I said five minutes in the morning, and five minutes in the evening, sit with yourself, and just breathe and pay attention to being at home with yourself, I often do that for hours a day. I’m sure you’ve done it for a lot more than I have, being a monk. But this process, even five minutes at a time, is enough to bring people back to themselves – and I think that’s all we need. There’s a misconception by most people, I think, that they have to get out and be something else than what they are. Fact is that what they are is so much more than what they think they are, that they can’t see it. It hides in fear under the other layers.
Michelangelo’s notion is a prime example. He carved all these brilliant statues, and in an interview one time he said, “I didn’t mold anything. The statue is always in there, I just chipped off the excess.” That’s an actual quote, probably not the exact wording but an actual quote nonetheless, by Michelangelo, who carved some of the most beautiful statues ever made by human hands – and I think that his statement also represents the way we are as human beings. That beautiful thing, that caring human, is in there, always has been there, and always will be there. But it gets covered up by all the external pressures and stresses and things we give importance to that don’t deserve that much importance. We are too often convinced by external forces that minor things deserve our major attention. It is incredible just how many things fall into this category. Many things we are told deserve our major attention only do so in accordance with the wishes of people who are trying to sell us crap that we don’t need. [laughs] As far as humanity recovering its sanity and actually surviving as a species, what deserves our attention is chipping that excess rock away from that beautiful statue that’s already within.
BM: I’ve really enjoyed our chat. I deeply appreciate your time.
DTR: Thank you. The pleasure’s been mine, Father Bill. You know, writing a book is like a day at the beach compared to all the stuff you have to for marketing. There are interviews and then sending out thousands of emails, and setting up this, and setting up that–it’s a whole different mindset than the writing. It’s reacting to other stuff as opposed to the action from one’s own center that the writing requires. But the brilliant part about it, and the part that makes it such a wonderful instead of such a horrific experience, which it could be [laughs] is meetin’ people like you. I get to see your website and those of several other folks. And just to know that there are this many people that are actually movin’ in a positive direction and to get to meet them and to talk to them and—well, so the pleasure has certainly been mine. I appreciate you doing what you’re doing very much, and I appreciate you taking the time to talk with me. I’m gonna have a Friends of Puppy page on my Fearless Puppy website soon, and then have I’ll have links to Only Love and a number of things that resemble it—that are trying to help the world move in the direction it needs to go. That’s what it is all about. I really like yours. It’s a great site.