I remember standing in a hospital maternity ward. It was the day after my daughter was born. There were rows of newborns in warming beds, all wrapped in blankets.
I stared at those tiny beings, trying to comprehend the fact that my life had changed forever: I’d become a father.
Then suddenly — for no particular reason — I remembered the doctrine of original sin.
This was a teaching I’d received from the Lutheran church of my childhood: Human beings are born morally depraved and condemned. Only baptism and belief in the Apostle’s Creed can save us.
The default setting for a human being is hell? I said to myself. Really? All these innocent, unbaptized babies?
At that moment, I knew in my gut that original sin is absurd.
Soon afterward I heard two talks by an American spiritual teacher — Franklin Jones, who was once called Bubba Free John:
- The Dreaded Gom-Boo — or, The Impossible Three-Day Thumb-and-Finger Problem
- You Are Not the Guilty Party
In these teachings, Bubba gave words to my nascent insight in the maternity ward, expanding it in ways that yielded clarity and comfort.
After hearing Bubba, I dropped the notion of original sin forever. And I vowed that I would never inflict the teaching on anyone, let alone my own children.
What follows are excerpts from those two talks. Were they playful and yet inspired insights — a “divine shout”? Were they self-indulgent excess and delusion? Or something else?
I offer a sample of Bubba’s words so that you can decide for yourself.
Note: This post comes with a caveat, and it is a big one: Remember to separate the message from the messenger.
Over the years Bubba changed his name several times, acquired more disciples, and started behaving in ways that I could not defend.
Perhaps the greatest insight I’ve gained from studying spiritual traditions is that teachers can have profound insight and still act in harmful ways. Ethical behavior is not the fruit of meditation practice — it is the pre-requisite.
Over the long run, kindness counts far more than claims of enlightenment.
It is only with this caveat that I offer you the following taste of Bubba’s early teaching.
The Dreaded Gom-Boo — or, The Impossible Three-Day Thumb-and-Finger Problem
Have you all heard about the Dreaded Gom-Boo? Or the Impossible Three-Day-Thumb-and-Finger Problem?
Aha! You see? Nobody tells you about these things except me.
There is a myth that has been going around for many centuries now that mankind is diseased, that all beings are suffering from what I have diagnosed as the Dreaded Gom-Boo — also called sin, maya, ego, suffering, separated individuality, illusion, delusion, profusion, confusion, and indifference.
So, we’re all supposed to hear this traditional teaching and realize how diseased we are, and submit ourselves to the local religious hospital, where a father or mother doctor will come to us, confirm our disease to us, and require us to submit ourselves to various regimens for our own healing and ultimate cure for the rest of our lives.
This is the basic proposition of traditional religion, and it begins with the diagnosis of the dreaded disease.
Yes, we’re all by birth — by virtue of our very existence even now — diseased, sinful, separated from the Great One.
What a horror!
Yes: What an obscenity has been laid upon us through the traditions of society which, merely because of the impulse of survival in gross terms, has required all human beings for centuries now to invest themselves with the belief in this disease and to suppress their own life-motion, which comes only from the Great One, in order to fulfill the presumed needs of our chaotic society.
I come to tell you, as I stand in the midst of all these priests, that not even one of you is suffering from this disease.
It is an imaginary disease. It is a terrible disease, but altogether imaginary.
No one has ever actually had this disease.
Not one single being has ever had the Dreaded Gom-Boo, or the Impossible Three-Day-Thumb-and-Finger Problem.
It has never happened.
It does not exist.
What is the Truth? We are happy. We live in God.
The Great One is our Very Being.
The Great One has magnified Itself in the form of sexual beings, human beings, sexless beings, earth-world, form and fruit and wood and wall and space and star and sky and cloud and tree and life and death.
The same Great One takes all these forms — completely indifferent, completely free, completely happy in all of these excesses.
This is all the Great One.
The Great One creates nothing. The Great One is everything.
What a Paradox!
What a Mystery!
So this is what I tell you and it relieves you of the conceit of your suffering, the conceit of your disease, the belief in your unhappiness.
You are relieved of your willingness to submit yourself as a patient for the rest of your days.
So in every moment what is the practice?
To understand this belief in our disease — this observance of the Impossible Three-Day-Thumb-and-Finger Problem — which gets projected day after day after and tomorrow into one more day of hopeful hopelessness.
All of our plans, all of our asceticism, all of our self-indulgence, all of our strategies — all this foolishness with which we engage in our unhappiness — must be purified by our happiness, by our awakening, by our understanding, by our freedom from self.
This is the fundamental import of my teaching. And it makes you free to be human, free to be related to one another, free to love one another.
It is the great humor, the great joke, the great plan-less-ness of the excessive God.
There is nothing wrong with the human body.
Not even the slightest thing is wrong with it, with its hairs and talking and eyeball-ness and rotting-fleshiness.
God did not create one thing. God always stands in place as pure delight, as love, as self-radiant being. All the effects that change appearances arise in God, but they’re the results of that interest.
Understand your own causality, your own effect, and be free of the disease suggested by these appearances. Realize the Living One is the condition of life, the condition of all forms, and be happy.
This is sufficient to purify you.
This is the only gospel.
You Are Not the Guilty Party
No matter what arises in body or mind, you are always observing it.
These faults, these sins, these impediments, these inadequacies, these obsessions, these darknesses — all of these things you simply watch.
You simply know them, do you not? You observe them.
You are not the guilty party. You are the watcher, the witness, of these things.
Even this moment: You have a thought there? You are watching it, are you not?
Are you aware of this body? Are you aware of all these beings here?
Everything that has ever occurred, you’ve only observed it. Is that not true?
So you’re not guilty of these things. You are observing these things. Even this guilt itself — even this sense that you’re angry, disturbed, not adequate, not perfect — even that is something that you observe.
All these things that you receive at the level of the mind, all this garbage that we inherit socially as part of the effort we’re all making to somehow keep from murdering one another — that has absolutely nothing to do with the truth.
There is no reason whatsoever why we should be possessed by an image of our own existence that is somehow guilty, inadequate, limited, unimportant, angry, or however you might describe it.
It’s only people who tell us to assume that position. But we never actually are in that position.
You are always in the position which is simply aware of these conditions.
This understanding washes us.
This is forgiveness — penance — to understand this most profoundly and accept it.
But all throughout your life, you’ve been indulging in beliefs that you are the body, the mind. You are this limit, that limit. You are this circumstance, that circumstance.
Look at the power of that which is observed — how it can determine that attitude, the moods, the presumptions of that which observes it.
So there is a great liberation involved in simply, just very directly, noticing your actual condition.
Now there’s more to enlightenment than that, but that is the beginning of it — just begin to really accept your actual condition.
Forget philosophy and religion. What precisely is your actual condition in this moment?
You are that which is witnessing this. There’s no doubt about it. There’s no way to deny it.
And therefore there’s no need for a savior to release you from your guilt. That has nothing to do with anything.
You have never been in a position where you need such a savior, where you need such a god.
You already stand in the transcendental place, the free place, the divine place. What you need to do is to be submitted to that.
And the first stage of that submission is to understand what you are observing, submit it to a real discipline, be free in relationship to it, realize that you’re already happy, accept the grace of the spiritual master, feel that transmission, be already happy in it and not be striving to be happy.
Give up your need for forgiveness. Give up your guilt.
Give up your self-identity, your ideas of yourself gotten from your past, how you look, and all the rest of it.
Give it all up in one flower, one leaf, one cup of water. Do it in one act and give it up completely and be totally free of it forever.
Realize that we are in continuous communion with that which is perfect, that which is absolute, that which is grace.
Give up all this petty nonsense about our inner character, our hidden faults.
Everybody is full of faults. What’s perfect anyway? Have you seen something that’s perfect today?
As the sixth patriarch said, “Who woulda thunk it?”
That our original mind is pure from the beginning.
That what we are is already free.