Excerpted from An Interview With Harry Palmer by Matt Ding of HP Magazine in the Netherlands.
After talking for 15 minutes, he has already answered ten questions with, "I don't know." When I suggest that it will be an odd interview, Harry Palmer responds with a serene smile, "Not knowing is profoundness. It comes as close as possible to the truth. The truth nobody knows. We all choose our own truth: an opinion, an idea, a belief. If only we could understand that there is no objective, solid truth, but that we all hold our own beliefs. If we would accept and respect this in each other, then there would be no more conflicts."
He just sits and smiles, close to the open fire in the Congress Center. A man with suspenders and running shoes, a short beard around a full face-not really the prototype of a guru or an enlightened master. Still he is the originator of Avatar, a popular, rapidly growing course in self-development that is said to guide the participant toward enlightenment. In Hinduism, the word Avatar is used for the incarnation of a deity.
Palmer introduced his course in 1987. Since then, more than 25,000 people in 40 countries have taken Avatar. In the Netherlands, the phenomenon also became a success. This success is striking because the seven-day course costs no less than $2000. The compensation is that the participants are convinced that, thanks to Avatar, they have found happiness in their lives and success in business.
A few hundred Avatar Masters from several countries settle down for these days in the Congress Center of Leeuwenhorst in Noordwijkerhout, the Netherlands. Palmer is here too. He seldom gives an interview, but makes an exception today. The occasion is the publication of his book Living Deliberately. The book will, according to the cover, "have a profound effect on the collective consciousness of the world." That is a mouthful, but what do you expect when you have found the key to happiness and peace?
In a quiet corner of the Congress Center, Harry Palmer explains it once more. The core of his theory is the idea that man builds up many blockades to his desires. A person who wants to change his life arouses a lot of second thoughts ("yes, buts") that blockade the road to his very goal. By breaking down the "yes, buts," happiness becomes available. Palmer believes he has developed a technique to clean up these blockades in an easy but effective way: Avatar. Reality, he explains, is the idea that we form of it.
Harry: Look, an idea precedes an experience. In other words, what a person believes will cause his experience. When you walk in a park and you believe that it is dangerous there, you will see and hear only danger. In the rustling of the leaves, you hear some one who is after you. Another walker coming your way might be a rapist.
So you create your own reality around this park, and that reality says you were right. On the other hand, if you enter the park with the conviction that it is safe, then you won't notice any danger.
So your beliefs cause your experiences. When you change your beliefs, your experiences will change. This goes for the park, as well as for your work, your contacts, your relationships. You have a certain idea about the reality and you look for proof to show that you are right. On the other hand, if you detach yourself from these ideas and say, "I don't know," then you don't need proof, and the reality can look very different.
By playing with our belief systems, we become the creators of our own experiences. By not being certain, we open ourselves to the other. We are willing to find out what another person believes and experiences. Whoever is certain of the truth is not willing to do that. This way, conflicts between "certain" truths arise. I believe that we should be able to get along with each other, be nice to each other, and work together to progress. Our strong convictions keep us from doing this. Sometimes, we emphasize these convictions by bullets and bombs. If we don't stick too much to our own truth, then the conflict between vision A and vision B, can lead to vision, C-an integration of A and B. This is communication. But often visions clash and then lead to violence. I say, "God is a black woman." You say, "God is a white man." I say, "My God thinks that I should kill you and the ones around you to free the planet from heretics."
The personal right is a much-desired thing. It looks like a natural instinct. Once in our personal history we experienced pain while being not right. If you put your hand in the fire because you think it won't hurt, it will prove in a painful way that you are not right. So we become afraid of being not right and attached to being right. To hold onto a belief is to hold onto your being right. Most wars are fought between two camps that are each convinced of their "Truth". The person who says, "I don't know" is looked upon as a traitor. He betrays the beliefs in the truth. But I find this attitude liberating. It opens you for many different experiences. You can't come closer to the truth than by experiencing. I don't think one can speak the truth--one can only be truth. Truth lies behind definitions. We live with all kinds of definitions: our names, our professions, our likes and dislikes. When we drop the importance of these definitions and just be, then we experience truth. That is according to my feeling about the truth of our lives. But we do our best to create all kinds of near-truths.
Matt: So is there a truth for Harry Palmer?
Harry: I don't know. There are facts. A fallen tree is a fact. Maybe even a truth. The problem is to assess why it fell. One thinks it is because of a storm. Another believes it had rootrot. A third holds the opinion that it was eaten from the inside by insects. And everyone will find indications for his being right. But what is the truth? As soon as we ask for a "why," we get beliefs instead of the truth.
People think beliefs are facts. For some, it may seem like a fact that white people are better than black people. Of course it is just a belief. But people hold on to it with a force that causes a lot of problems. My solution is this: if we see that we experience what we believe, and if we allow ourselves somewhat more uncertainty, then we don't lock ourselves up in one truth for the rest of our lives--a truth that makes us intolerant toward people who hold another truth. Then we are no longer prisoners, but explorers. "Knowing" is another word for believing that you are right. You define what is real. But at the same time, you shut the door for other possibilities. And for other visions. I think we can better enjoy each other's beliefs than fight over them.
Matt: Can you imagine that one day you would convert to the belief that Avatar is complete nonsense?
Harry: Of course. I'll reach this assessment on the day when everyone recognizes that ideas precede experiences. On that day, Avatar will be outdated. Therefore, the whole world doesn't need to have completed the course. The collective consciousness will have already been influenced when a limited group has taken Avatar. I already see examples of that. For example, the fall of the Berlin wall.
Matt: That was thanks to Avatar?
Harry: No, to the changing collective consciousness. Ten years ago there was a very different collective consciousness. We became smarter. There are still wars, there is still a lot of unrest in the world, but the international community is trying to put an end to that. I think that is a big change. And Avatar contributes to this change. I am optimistic about the future. I believe that we are entering an era of tolerance. We realize that we share a fate on this planet. We are learning to exchange competition for cooperation. We will value insights above possessions.
We still have a lot to handle. Look, when a train passes a station, the engine passes first; then the first boxcars follow, but it can take a while before the last one passes that point. Look what happened to Avatar. In six years' time we built a network of 25,000 people in 37 countries. The characteristic of those people is tolerance. If we go on expanding at this speed, the network will count a million people in another six years. That means something to the world. A culture takes in new ideas slowly in the beginning, but after a certain point, there is a snowball effect, and what was new becomes a generally accepted way of thinking.
Palmer doesn't want to call Avatar a typical New Age movement--a hesitation he shares with most New Age movements for that matter.
Harry: I don't come from that world. It is sometimes even a bit too bizarre for me. Most people who became involved with Avatar aren't from the New Age corner either. They usually have a practical professional background: doctors, lawyers, engineers, politicians, business people. A manager, for example, uses Avatar to align the beliefs of his employees and to prevent beliefs from entering his office that might sabotage his projects--because it is beliefs that lead to success. The same is true in personal life. Somebody who is convinced that he is unattractive will find proof for his beliefs and stay lonely. But as the same person finds out where this idea came from and lets go of it, then other people will like him more. Avatar can help with this.
Matt: In any case, Avatar Masters are helped with Avatar because every student pays $2000.
Harry: When I started Avatar, I thought, "People who work for the good should be paid well." In general, the exploiters become rich and the Mother Theresa's of this world stay poor. I wanted to change this situation so that someone who works for a better world also would get paid well. Also, this way we get good co-workers. It makes it more attractive to exchange a well-paid job for Avatar activities. Moreover, it motivates the students to get the maxi mum out of the course. It is strange, but people are more willing to change when they pay for it than when it is for free.
For me, the money doesn't matter. Most of the money we earn goes to international expansion. I don't know one Master who gives the course because of the money. There are easier ways to get rich. No, the first motive is the intention to change something in this world. We only state that one doesn't have to give up having personal wealth for that purpose.
That goes for me too. I am not interested in wealth. I live very simply. Avatar was in the first place a way for me to give something back to the world. I had a very easy life, and I am grateful for that. But I didn't want to do nothing. And I didn't know of a better occupation than to work for a world where others are doing well too. When you ask for my ultimate goal, I would say to create a catalyst for the integration of all belief systems.
Matt: That is one step further than Jesus Christ.
Harry: But he had more help. He had a direct line to the Big Guy, and I don't.
When the conversation ends, Harry Palmer has a question.
Harry: It is your article, and it is your business what you make of it. But I'm not really interested in the, promotion of Avatar through your magazine. Maybe you could write an article in such a way that the reader feels a little bit more relaxed about life and a little bit more positive about the future, and maybe a little bit more tolerant towards his fellow men. If you can accomplish that, you don't even have to mention my name. Can you just leave me out?