Interview with Author Greg Stone
What motivated you to write Under the Tree?
There seemed to be a need for a contemporary Buddhist discussion of post-mortem states.
My goal was to avoid platitude and speculation. Personal experience prepared me for the writing task.
Is the book inspired by actual experience?
The book was inspired by personal experience, however, it is not a one-for-one account. I dramatized and fictionalized the story. Nonetheless, the contents could have been written in a non-fiction format.
Why did you write Under the Tree as a work of fiction?
Conveying spiritual truths has been storytelling. Christ spoke in parables. The Buddha’s teachings were narratives.
Most people are more comfortable with new information conveyed in a story. Fiction allows the reader to identify with characters and consider new ideas at their own pace.
In fiction, the reader can attribute the belief to the character, without endorsing it themselves. The reader can disagree and continue reading.
In non-fiction, the writer asks the reader to accept his views. When the reader picks up a work of fiction, he is prepared to travel to new and strange lands. In non-fiction they seek the familiar.
Knowing the contents of Under the Tree will challenge many readers, I thought it best to write in the fiction format.
Why is it important for us to understand the post-mortem state?
Tibetan Buddhists understand the importance of the period after death. The Tibetan Book of the Dead (Great Liberation through Hearing) is an instruction manual used by monks to guide the recently-deceased through stages called the bardos. They consider this period critical in determining future incarnations: in the bardo state one makes strides toward becoming enlightened.
In Christian models Purgatory becomes a similar cleansing period that precedes movement toward heaven.
One Buddhist afterlife realm called a “pure land” is reached by strong devotion toward a compassionate Buddha. This may be considered a parallel to devotion to Christ in the Christian faith.
Fear of death has kept us as a culture from paying proper attention to this important transition. Under the Tree opens a discussion of this transition.
So there are “real world” consequences when we prepare for the afterlife?
Buddhist practice strengthens control over the mind. Ability to control thought becomes an ability to control the post-mortem reality. The person lacking control over his mind becomes confused and besieged with terror.
Christians focus on spiritual devotion to a compassionate savior, the Christ. Spiritual devotion allows one to achieve mental control.
Thus, preparation is a practical matter with significant consequences. Under the Tree guides the reader into this process.
What is a pink unicorn?
Skeptics use the phrase to refer to belief in God or belief in the supernatural. It is a derogatory term meant to mock that which does not exist except in the imagination. The name embraces that which skeptics criticize.
What about skeptics who attack the existence of spirit?
Behind the hostility lurk incredible fears. People driven by fear will attack. We cannot let fear-driven attacks dominate the marketplace of ideas. We must not shy away from presenting spiritual views. Unfortunately, such views inevitably arouse fear in a small minority.
In Under the Tree, Ray Carte knows he will be at attacked when he says we survive death. He must weigh costs and benefits.
Under the Tree will assist those who find their spiritual views challenged by skeptics. Reading Under the Tree will help readers flesh out their own views of the Afterlife.
Do you believe science will eventually encompass the study of the spirit?
Science has been tainted by philosophical materialism. This bias defines science in purely naturalistic terms, placing the endeavor in an arbitrarily narrow box that limits the scientific search to solely material causes and effects. If the universe has both natural and supernatural causes and effects, then science, suffering under the influence of an arbitrary limits fails.
Failures in science are greatest in two areas: cosmology and the study of consciousness. Eventually, the spiritual and the supernatural will be explored by science.
How would you design a program to study the spiritual scientifically?
The primary task is the creation of a cogent, comprehensive model of the supernatural and spiritual. Lack of an overall model undermines survival of consciousness studies. A conceptual skeleton will allow other researchers and institutions to see the relevant issues.
An example of the problems science faces is found in my critique of Dying to Live. A study of the NDE written by Susan Blackmore, Dying to Live sets out to compare the “Afterlife hypothesis” with the “Dying Brain hypothesis.” Blackmore, however, lacks a coherent model and only musters a straw-man version. Her failure is a symptom of a missing model. Lacking a coherent model and personal experience, she runs aground.
In Under the Tree, you refer to Buddhist and Christian concepts. Some feel Buddhism and Christianity are like oil and water.
The similarities are greater than the differences. The problem lies primarily in the misinterpretation of Buddhism rampant in the West. One finds atheists and philosophical materialists camped in western Buddhist circles. This misinterpretation gives Buddhism an anti-transcendental, anti-spiritual and anti-Christian flavor it does not inherently possess.
Christians as well have lost the spiritual ground of their religion. Some are apologists for evolutionary psychology so the same dynamic applies. The breakdown in spirituality can be found even within religions. It is a matter of losing touch with the spiritual ground of religion. The farther away religions move from that spiritual ground, the more differences appear and the more conflict arises.
Resolution of inter-faith conflict will require a move toward the spiritual foundations.
Under the Tree has been called a western Tibetan Book of the Dead. Is that true?
Tibetan Buddhists give considerable importance to guiding the deceased through the transitional stages after death. Under the Tree provides the same for a contemporary reader.