Reason No. 3: Encounters With The Unknown / Dr. Stephen Fulder



About Dr. Stephen Fulder

Stephen was born in 1946 in North London and nurtured his academic prowess at Oxford University, subsequently acquiring a Ph.D. from the National Institute for Medical Research. A transformative year in India in 1976 marked a turning point in his life, sparking an enduring interest in alternative and complementary medicine, and a profound commitment to spiritual life. Over the span of four decades, Stephen has written 14 books on these subjects, his expertise honed through immersive research and practice.

India also introduced Stephen to the world of meditation and dharma, primarily within the Theravada Buddhist framework, supplemented by insights from Dzogchen and Advaita teachings.

Since 1976, he has steadfastly followed this spiritual path, turning his insights into a lifetime’s work of teaching, primarily in Israel. Over the last 25 years, Stephen has conducted over 15 retreats annually, alongside regular classes and courses, touching countless lives. His work in Israel culminated in founding the Israel Insight Society, the country’s leading Buddhist practice organization.

Ever the visionary, Stephen’s commitment extends beyond spirituality into the realms of peace-making and ecological activism, particularly in the Middle East. He co-founded an ecological community, demonstrating sustainable living by growing his own food and medicinal plants, while delighting in his role as an involved grandparent.

Stephen’s written work has achieved remarkable recognition, with ‘What’s Beyond Mindfulness: Waking Up to This Precious Life’ becoming a #1 bestseller in Israel. His most recent contribution to dharma literature is ‘The Five Powers’, published by Aster.

A dedicated teacher, Stephen integrates early Buddhist texts and the Insight lineage into his teachings, offering varied meditation techniques while aiming for profound personal transformation. He leverages multiple platforms to reach his audience, including one-on-one meetings, group discussions, online classes, and even unique ‘Buddha at the Bar’ sessions in pubs.


Shai Tubali: Hello Stephen Fulder.

Stephen Fulder: Hi.

Shai Tubali: I’m so happy to have you as a part of this project of 1000 reasons for feeling awe.

Stephen Fulder:  It’s great, and I’m delighted, and I appreciate what you’re doing, and I appreciate your devotion and the fire that you need, that we all need, and that we receive from our inner lives. And clearly, your fire has brought you to this project. So many, many blessings and I’m delighted to be here.

Shai Tubali:  Thank you for these beautiful terms. Fire, yes, that’s right. So let’s increase the fire by having this kind of discussion. And you’ve been deeply engaged in various fields throughout your wonderful lifetime, as an academic researcher, as an expert in the field of herbs, as a mindfulness expert functioning as the founder and senior teacher of the biggest Buddhist and meditation organization in Israel, Tovana, and also as a peace activist, among other things. So what would be your chosen reason for feeling awe? The phenomenon that fills your heart with a sense of awe and wonder and leaves you humbled and amazed by the world around you or within you

Stephen Fulder: I think a primary place would be to leave behind the ordinary. That in the ordinary includes the framework called this person, Stephen Fulder, and all the ordinary mind, the ordinary history, and the usual habits of mind. And when that is broken, and sometimes it’s broken into pieces, and instead of that ordinary mind, there is a whisper, there is a hint, there is a blessing, there is a kind of touch of something way beyond the ordinary, then the response inside this consciousness is awe and amazement. So, I’m putting awe and amazement together because they are, in a way, the meeting with the unknown. The known is what we learned, the conditioned mind. It says, “This is Steven; these are my usual thoughts; this is what I have to do; and make a cup of tea.”

This is the ordinary mind. I’ll say more about that because, in a way, there isn’t such a thing as ordinary, but let’s say there is an ordinary. I will go back to that. The extraordinary is anything that shakes the ordinary, and it is no longer tenable to hold the ordinary, to hold the conditioned mind, to hold the habits of mind, and then arrive by itself. I never look for awe. I never chased it. I chase infinity in a way. Well, you can’t chase infinity. So, you know, it’s a paradox of language. But shall we say my heart goes to the beyond? And when as much as the heart touches the beyond or beauty and the heart being filled is a natural result of that, it’s not something that I look for.

Shai Tubali:  I understand, and that’s extraordinarily beautiful. and I would really like to delve deeply into that. So you just mentioned that there is no such thing as the ordinary. I guess this is what is revealed when you remove your ordinary perception. Is that right?

Stephen Fulder:  That’s correct.  So, ordinary perception is just what we learn, and it’s very, very simple. We learn where to go (location), we learn time, and we learn where the body is, and all of that learning is really needed otherwise; you know, I can’t cross the road if I don’t know where my body is and where a car is. So if you like, the operating system of the self and the world is needed, but it’s needed functionally and minimally, and you can begin to see, well, the consciousness is so vast that it can just keep going with the operating system and make sure the operating system is doing fine. “Thank you very much, healthy and well.” Now let’s see what really exists in this reality. And there you go way beyond, if you like, the operating system, the functional existence, or the conditioned mind.

Conditioned mind is what you learn on the way, but what is not in the structure of the brain, what is not in the brain networks, is a vast sense of being that is way beyond this person that you recognize, and there isn’t such a thing as ordinary anymore. And when you look back on what was ordinary, like Stephen as a person, you begin to see that it’s also a dream, that the functional life itself is a dream. And it’s no different from the dream at night when you have an amazing dream at night and you think, “Wow, what a dream!” But this day, when you wake up, that’s the same. Wow.  What a dream. Now, right now, when I’m talking to you, you know, I’m talking to the dream of Shai. It’s the dream of Stephen talking to the dream of Shai. The whole thing is quite amazing when looked at with fresh, open, and endless consciousness. This moment is utterly amazing. It’s never happened before. It’s unknown.  It’s uncontrolled.  It’s not contracted. This moment while we are talking, there’s something about it that is endless.

Shai Tubali:  So when we are talking about awe seen from this perspective, you are talking about the very beingness, right? that that is awe-striking or that that is breathtakingly inconsivable?

Stephen Fulder:  Yes.  I think that here we need to be a little bit clearer. Or, the way I see it, it is still an experience. It’s not itself beyond experience. So, the unconditioned, a consciousness that is beyond boundaries, is actually beyond conditioning. So I see awe as in the boundary place; awe is the experience, still an experience where the consciousness meets the unlimited, when the limited meets the unlimited, or is an experience and it’s a big experience. It’s not a small one. It is like compassion. It’s like ecstasy, but it is on that boundary. And when you are not on that boundary place, you are either totally inside the ordinary mind, you lose awe, there isn’t awe, or when you are totally beyond that boundary place and you are living totally in the unlimited, then there’s no awe there. There’s no need for it. So the boundary is where we experience awe, and it’s a beautiful experience by itself.

And it tells you that you are a limited being, if you like, born as a surviving body, you know, as a body born in life, and meeting the unlimited and the awe is a sign of that. There are other signs, by the way, not only awe. Another sign would be deep silence, where you feel deep quietness and a kind of sense of no disturbance—equally equanimity, you could call it—where there’s nothing that can be disturbed because there’s nothing wrong anywhere and there’s nothing missing anywhere. So that is another: a sense of non-disturbance, a sense of silence and stillness. And one more: I think quality, along with awe, would be love. So again, the heart is engaged and will feel this love when it meets the unlimited. And it is no longer a question of a mind, a thought, or a concept. Love would, in a way, fill that space. So there are some of the places that alongside awe indicate the touch, the kiss, if you like, of the beyond.

Shai Tubali:  I see.  So, you are talking about awe as this kind of experiential encounter between our limited consciousness, the consciousness that is right now, and the unlimited, right? that it glimpses into the unlimited. Could you talk a little about this encounter?

Stephen Fulder: Yes, I’ll give a small example. My first year in India was 1975 or 1976, which is a long time ago, and I had a flat or a room by the Ganges. It was in Varanasi, and it was right on the Ganges. And every morning I would run out of my front door and jump straight in the Ganges and swim, and don’t tell me the Ganges in Varanasi is dirty and dangerous, because I just did it anyway; I had no interest if there was a body or two passing by. But one day I remember it was in the monsoon, and I swam out to a rock, which was in the middle of the Ganges there, and I sat there and I just asked the universe to give me a sign, to give me a blessing. And after a few minutes, all of a sudden there was something that broke the water, and I realized it was a dolphin.

And the dolphin came up out of the Ganges River and came back. And then there was another dolphin, and another dolphin, and another dolphin. And after a while, I counted about 20 or 30 dolphins that were going around the rock that I was sitting on for about an hour. They kept going around and around the rock that I was just sitting alone on—this rock in the middle of the Ganges. And these dolphins were just circling around and circling around and circling around. And for me, that was like, “Whoa, unbelievable experience.” And in that sort of experience, which is propelling you into a place of beyond, which is really pushing you into a place of beyond, there is awe, which is so clear. So that place has happened in my life hundreds and hundreds of times. when I touch the kind of sense of beyond, the sense of a bigger space, or a movement from a contracted place to a more expanded place.

And it can be, you know, big or little; it can be just a small moment of, never mind dolphins, just to see a spider making its web. And there’s one in front of me right now as we’re talking; it’s making its web, and there’s such magic in it and such extraordinary beauty and specialness, but the eyes need to be a little open for that; you need to see it. You need to kind of feel that come out of yourself and feel like you belong to the universe in which these amazing things are happening. So, at that place, for me, awe, joy, bliss, and amazement happen. When I’m in deep meditation and I sense the universal, if you like, presence of everything in a universal sense, there is no awe for me. The universe is there; there’s nothing to be. There’s no reason for awe; if you like, instead of awe, there’s totality. And it is subtle; you can say maybe there is a deep appreciation, love, and so on in the stillness. I wouldn’t be too defining what is awe at those moments when there is actually a sense of the totality, of the limitless, of the beyond, of the absolute, of the totality. When you touch it, then yes, there’s awe, and you can cry. And I’ve cried when I kind of touched that place. But then, when you are inside it, that’s it. Then it’s the universal, and there’s no one to feel it, or there’s no person that is feeling awe.

Shai Tubali:  That’s wonderful.  So, are you saying that awe is this feeling that leads you or guides you to that being?

Stephen Fulder:  Yes.  It’s a helpful guide, and it’s a result of the movement of meeting and dropping into a more universal place, which is the sign of that movement. And in a way, it’s also an indication that you’re on the right track, and sometimes it can be an illusion in the spiritual journey. And what happens, and I’m guiding really hundreds of people, thousands of people, and I’ve noticed sometimes that there is an illusion that people feel like they’ve really expanded consciousness, but it’s still, in a sense, locked into a self. And one of the signs is that there’s a lack of silence, a lack of stillness, and a lack of beauty and awe. And because there’s some sort of illusion, the illusion creates limited energy somewhere. So, I think awe is an authentic meeting with the beyond, and one of the places that is really interesting is that knowing can stop it, can stop the awe. And in some of your writing, you were asking questions about the source of awe, and you mentioned science. And indeed, I mean, science is amazing, and I’ve been a scientist for years, but it’s also a real disaster at the same time. I think it’s a real catastrophe as well as amazing. But something about awe is beyond the known and the knowing, the knowledge, and knowledge can create a form in which you find yourself locked in to knowledge. I must know about this. How does this work? Even if you have too much knowledge about awe, for example, tell me how awe works, the rules, how to make it, how to get awe, and how I can grab awe.

Shai Tubali: Which is what they do nowadays, they try to, and you’ll capture it.

Stephen Fulder:  Exactly, and you’ll lose it if you try and chase the rainbow; you will lose, and you will never catch the rainbow. But if you are the rainbow, then the rainbow is what you are; you are the rainbow. You don’t try to catch the rainbow, and you’ll feel like you’ll be a rainbow. and there is awe there. And it needs, in a way, the unknown or the not knowing. And here I’ve been really inspired, really going back to the original text of the Buddha, two and a half thousand years ago, kind of jumping over a great deal of interpretation and books and forms and methods of meditation, but really going back to the source, like the original source, because there are some beautiful insights there about this place. and I’ll just give one small example. There is a text where someone came to the Buddha and said, “How do you recognize an awakened person?” And the Buddha answered, “You recognize them because you can’t find them.”

And the questioner said, “What does that mean you can’t find them?” They don’t exist. or are they gone in some way? He said, “No, they exist, but you can’t find them because you can’t describe them.” When you’ve gone beyond the ordinary mind, then all description, all labeling, and all the knowledge of the distinction—this is this, this is that, and this is how—go as well. So an awakened person is unfindable; basically, he is a mystery. So I think that’s a beautiful place where we are touched by awe when we are beyond the knowing and the distinctions and the descriptions and the labels, and then we let go, we surrender into a place beyond, and we can feel awe there. And Krishnamurti once said, looking at a mountain, “Beauty is where the self is not.” And by “self,” it includes knowledge, thinking, and descriptions. And where there’s no, where we drop that, awe takes the place of knowledge.

Shai Tubali: So, the self, the personal self, the known, is the obstruction, that which hinders our ability to reveal this kind of natural state of awe.

Stephen Fulder:  Yes, if it’s taken too seriously. We need, we have a self, or no, we don’t have a self, but we have a self-process. Like I said, the operating system is working; it’s fine for me to call you Shai and for Shai to call me Stephen. It’s fine.  It’s not that interesting, though. It’s just a kind of basic language so that we can get on and survive in this body. So, you know, we don’t need time until we have to catch a train. We catch a train, we need time, and then we drop it. And the same with the descriptions and the self. So we can have a kind of limited world where we need these things as a kind of convenient fiction. They’re convenient, but they’re fiction. As soon as we begin to question our belief in these forms, it opens the door to the unknown and to a bigger sense—an unlimited awareness that’s unlimited and beyond that self and its labels. And there, as I said, the sign of meeting in that place is awe. It’s like wonder and amazement. That’s the sign. That’s the sign that you are jumping in a way out of your snake, the old skin of the snake. You kind of pushed them and wriggled them out. And you have rigged out your old skin, and you have a new skin for the snake. And the snake goes, “Wow.” It’s all fresh, new, and amazing, and that’s the awe.

Shai Tubali:  I see, so I have one last question. And I know that you have pretty much rejected the idea of creating the perfect conditions for awe, and this is understandably so. But what could prepare the mind for this moment of being able to leave behind the known and the ordinary?

Stephen Fulder:  Yes, I was a bit extreme on purpose; it was a sort of reminder that, like awe and the rainbow, we have to be aware that we can’t really run after it in order to get something. However, there’s a lot; there’s so much. I mean, I’ve been teaching for 25 years, and I’m not teaching people just to sort of do nothing and wait for it to arrive. I’m teaching people to be active, and I’m active myself. I’ve been to hundreds and thousands of retreats, courses, teachers, and so on. So, of course, there is a lot that we can do to open these doors. And I think meditation is clearly a primary practice. And I would say meditation that is not too constructed, meaning allowing the unknown, seeing the way things are without too many phrases, mantras, control, methods of concentration, and so on, which are all helpful in their own time, but be light with meditation that’s too constructed. There needs to be a lightness there and a surrender, but surrender into some deeper place within us that actually already knows. And you can call it the Buddha’s nature. You can call it the “big, unlimited consciousness.” You can call it the Buddhist language of pure awareness. But having a sense that there is a refuge, there is a ground, there is a home within us, which already knows And so it’s both. There is something to do, and there’s nothing to do. and the paradox of spirituality is there.

So I really recommend having spiritual practice and being light with it and exploring with it. Yes.  Getting guidance and then knowing to let go Getting more guidance and then knowing to let go of that one Having different teachers that give different methods and then not being really stuck or attached to any of them So in this life of exploration, keep exploring the deeper voices within us, which are already there. And tell us if you think you are a limited person. It’s not true. Here, I’m telling you, say these deep voices. I’m telling you, these are voices of the ultimate. We can’t possibly be just completely locked in ourselves. It’s impossible.  Life isn’t like that. So you can say the voice of the universal, the voice of life, is there in us, and we just need to keep unpeeling the layers that have covered it. And each time we peel off a layer, we will, in your language and in your interest, experience awe. Each time we peel off another layer, we will experience another way of saying this in an English short word: wow. You can rewrite your whole awe word as “wow.” It’s the same, so when we peel off layer after layer, wow, wow, wow. And each time something already in us is released, it is given space to open and to show us the unlimited.

Shai Tubali:  Well, I could have continued to listen to you for hours, and thank you so much for this fascinating talk, which really gives us this vivid sense of the wonder of being.

Stephen Fulder: Exactly. And I just want to finish with a blessing to all your readers and listeners. It’s not so far away; it’s actually nearer than we think. It’s actually closer than our own thoughts. It’s what gives rise to our thoughts. And that place is, in a way, calling us. It’s calling us. And my blessing is to just allow ourselves—all of us that are listening right now—to open and to listen to the call and the invitation. And when we listen to that invitation, we can be entirely available. The deeper voice that is calling us is saying, “I’m here; pay attention.” I’m here, and I’m ready. Are you ready?

Shai Tubali: Yes, so consciousness is actually the source of awe itself.

Stephen Fulder: “Yes, it is.” And I would say just the endlessness of things is there constantly. And as much as we touch it, it blesses us. And one of the places where we experience this blessing is in awe.

Shai Tubali: “Thank you.”

1 Comment

  1. Bettina Elia Preney

    AWE – the kiss of the beyond – the meeting of the unlimited with the seemingly limited !
    How holy and meaningful!
    Thank you so much to the two wonderful beings you are, bringing so much Grace, Peace and Goodness into this Dimension!

    Thank you for this wonderful discussion!


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Let’s experience together

1000 reasons for feeling awe one by one.

Join our monthly awe-letter now!