1. You have done so many things in your life that we feel the need to ask you first how you would define yourself. Could you put in a few lines your whole life, giving a brief biography?
I would say I am one who has sought wisdom, understanding. I grew up in a very materialistic world, the America of the 1950’s and it was so boring and so cruel and narrow-minded that I was seeking for a way to live that fit. I also felt that the whole society, not just myself, needed a re-orientation. My parents were pushing me to be “successful” that is, to make money. I rebelled by entering a monastery, the way that Thomas Merton had (whose writings influenced me.). I also went to Europe, and saw that the life of the intellect, art and feeling, and social contacts was far more what I liked, but I didn’t want to leave and live there. I felt a loyalty to my own society.
2. In times when money was above everything, and the pursuit of the American dream dominated people’s lives, you focused on… the pursuit of happiness. That was a personal revolution that needed tons of courage. Could you tell us what exactly you did, why you did it, and if you have any regrets?
From the Catholic mystical tradition, especially of the French humanists, as well as from the Chinese tradition, I had learned to draw on the inner voice. This is the greatest joy — living intuitively and spontaneously. It was a presence one could feel, so it gave the courage to be authentic. Not to be authentic, is the greatest pain. And the money always showed up, for me and my children. No, no regrets.
3. You have written a book, “How to be bad.” The title itself is very catchy, and whoever hears about it, we are sure they would want to see what it is about, if not to read it. What is it about, and why you wrote it? Knowing that money has never been your priority, what do you want to give people with that book?
My book on philosophy, HOW TO BE BAD, THE WAY OF NATURE IN CONTEMPORARY SOCIETY, which I distribute to people who are interested, means that living this way in this American society, is not just artistic, or bohemian, or kooky, but immoral. That is because American culture is based upon on ethic, defined by the great sociologist, Max Weber, with the title of his book, “The Protestant Ethic and the Rise of Capitalism.” So, according to that ethic (followed by people of no matter of what religious background, or none) you were “bad” if you did not, above all, focus on acquiring money. By the book I wrote, I want people to feel the god within themselves, trust it, and to know it won’t play them false. Buckminster Fuller, one of the American greats, took a vow: “Never to do anything with the goal of making money.” He certainly was creative, and died a millionaire. Steve Jobs, also, said, “Listen to your inner voice, or the voices of others will make you deaf.” And, I may add, unhappy.
4. How would you describe New York City, the city you have lived most of your life? Did it play any role in the path you chose decades ago? Is it still a city where people can find inspiration and reasons to live, or is it a myth, a completely overrated city?
I am from New York City, and have always loved it. This city is so open to creative activity and puts such a high value on culture. People are very intense, and they are not satisfied if you say, “Well, it’s a job. You know…have to pay the rent.” They get turned off because they sense the martyrdom this implies. I liked Europe, France and Italy in particular, but did not want to live there, only to have some of what they have, but here. And, for America, there IS a lot of that here in New York. I don’t think it is over-rated, to me it is a kind of Holy City.
5. We would like you to give all people your most valuable advice based on the whole experience you have gained in life, and tell us if you have any dreams you haven’t materialized.
My main advice is to listen to your heart. That is not just a whim or a feeling, but a god, a (new) ethic. That is the first pleasure. Then let it work on how to resolve this into the lifestyle you want. Don’t force. It’ll come naturally — things within you and your subconscious, and within life, will move to further this. The main thing is to listen, that means not to listen to the fear, instilled in us by society. It is something “easy and simple,” as the Chinese philosophers used to say, to hear it, not push it down, and then only act when the actions come without forcing yourself. My yet-unrealized goal, is to set up a kind of coffee-house, for people to meet and find out, “Whoa, I thought I was the only one who thought this way!”
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