Showing posts with label Spirituality. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Spirituality. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A question you ask with your life

From the Dhammapada verse on 'Old Age':

147. Behold this body — a painted image, a mass of heaped up sores, infirm, full of hankering — of which nothing is lasting or stable!
148. Fully worn out is this body, a nest of disease, and fragile. This foul mass breaks up, for death is the end of life.
149. These dove-colored bones are like gourds that lie scattered about in autumn. Having seen them, how can one seek delight?
150. This city (body) is built of bones, plastered with flesh and blood; within are decay and death, pride and jealousy.
151. Even gorgeous royal chariots wear out, and indeed this body too wears out. But the Dhamma of the Good does not age; thus the Good make it known to the good.

From the 'Sermon on the Mount'

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Spirituality is the search for what is beyond birth, death and decay; that is 'what your heart should treasure'.  It's no use asking whether anything of that nature exists, from a hypothetical or lounge-chair perspective; you have to engage yourself in the quest for it; that is what it takes to ask the question. It is a question you ask with your life

This can be easily differentiated from a 'naturalistic ethic', as anything in nature is, by definition, subject to birth, decay and death; whereas, in the realization of the 'true identity', one is seeking that which is beyond birth, decay and death.

The dharmachakra represents 'the means to navigate the ocean of existence towards the further shore of liberation'. The symbolism is that of the wheel of the vessel (yana) used to cross over the river of suffering.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Knowing Higher Truth

The point of spiritual teachings generally is enable the student to access higher truths and to realise their true nature. The idea of ‘higher truths’ is not recognised in modern analytical philosophy or science but is well understood in some forms of traditional philosophy and in Eastern practice-based religions.

Liberation or moksha is grounded in realising your ‘true identity’, real nature or Buddha-nature.   This is not something fixed or permanent in an external sense, in that it is never an object of cognition, as it is not something that one is ever apart from but is ‘that which knows’. But it is also not simply non-existent - those who think it is non-existent fall into the trap of nihilism. It is also not really your personality, although it will manifest in each individual in a unique way. But it is definitely beyond ego in the sense of beyond your day to day sense of who you are. 

(There are many rancorous disputes about this idea on Dharma forums. Many people insist that Buddhism teaches ‘there is no true self or higher self’. It is true that Buddhism generally doesn’t utilise such language. But the real meaning of ‘no-self’, anatta, is not ‘there is no self’ but that nothing has any self, ‘self’ being defined as ‘something that exists in its own right’ (‘svabhava’, self-originated or self-originating.) That applies to atoms as much as persons.)

But the idea of higher truths is also not much understood in Augustinian Christianity. In that tradition, all ideas of higher truths must conform to the dogmatic formulae within which salvation is dependent on ‘right belief’ (ortho-doxa) in Jesus.  However there are some Christian schools and teachings which recognise the concept of higher truths (see for instance Richard Rohr’s excellent Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life.)  But the Augustinian doctrine of ‘total depravity’ is, I think, dangerous and vitiating. The ‘grace’ that ‘saves’ is not the exclusive property of Christianity; it can’t be confined by doctrinal boundaries or sectarian creeds. In other words, it is not only available via religious channels, although to seriously engage with it requires a religious type of intent. 

You may begin to experience that grace whenever you start to meditate. It might not be described in such terms, because words like ‘grace’ - unfortunately! - now carry cultural baggage. But my early experiences with meditation were that just that - from sitting for 20 minutes, powerful experiences of bliss came along. Sometimes they were vivid, sometimes very quiet, but really there was a sense of an energy source or a source of light or joy within my own being.

And sometimes not! That is the meaning of ‘the wind blows were it lists’.  You can’t get attached to such experiences,  because they do come and go, and you have no ability to control them. They’re not ‘yours’, even if they are intimately connected to your very being.  But they are definitely real, not just whims and fancies. 

So we have to focus on realizing that higher truth here and now, even though we might have many hindrances and obstacles and habit-patterns that get in the way. That is what spiritual teaching is about, there is no other purpose to it.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

....religion has survived the assaults of reductionism because religions address distinctively human concerns, concerns that ants and computers can’t have: Who am I? What is my place? What is the point of my life? But in order to reject reductionism, we don’t necessarily have to embrace religion or the supernatural. We need to recognize that nature, including human nature, is far richer than what so-called naturalism chooses to admit as natural

Richard Polk,  Anything but Human

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

On Spirit

The question in regards to the nature of 'spirit' is never 'what is that?', but 'who am I?'

'Substance is that which is always a subject, never a predicate' ~ Kelly Ross, Meaning and the Problem of Universals

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Spiritual Occlusion

Occlude, verb: block passage; obstruct a path.

Human beings generally suffer from an occlusion of perception which obstructs their view of the nature of things. Some people are aware of this - and to be aware of this is the first step in undertaking sadhana, spiritual discipline leading to an unimpeded view, to seeing how things really are.

Most are not aware of it, and so continue to suffer for reasons that in their heart of hearts they know but have chosen to forget.

Then there are those whose view is not occluded. There are the liberated beings how have outgrown and matured beyond what we accept and regard as 'the human condition'. They are the awakened ones, very few in number. All the great spiritual traditions spring from and honour those whose view is not occluded.

When spiritual teachers say that the true nature of being is obscured by craving and ignorance, it is to this occlusion they refer. And the true nature of which they speak is not some cumbersome philosophical concept understood only by academics and scholars. It is the very joy of being alive, the first flush of spring, the bliss of being which is known to kittens and children and those unencumbered by self-concern. It is the delight of compassion which need ask nothing in return and has no care for the morrow. It is the love which springs spontaneously from one who dares to be tender.

It is true that humans must abandon innocence and break from the womb of nature, and that having done so they will wander for aeons in the realm of created being, subject to death and decay. But all along they are emanations of that intelligence which animates all, that which knows but is not known. To begin to truly love, which is to love without cause and without object, is to begin to overcome that blindness which occludes our perception of the impercievable, that impossible task which only love can accomplish.

jps | August 2002

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Religion is....

...the vision of something which stands beyond, behind and within the passing flux of immediate things; something which is real, and yet waiting to be realised; something which is a remote possibility and yet the greatest of present facts; something that gives meaning to all that passes and yet eludes apprehension; something whose possession is the final good and yet is beyond all reach; something which is the ultimate ideal, and the hopeless quest.

A N Whitehead, quoted by James le Fanu

Friday, May 4, 2012

Experience and realisation

Reality is realised. Existence is experienced.

Perhaps one way of understanding this distinction is to say that 'what is real' and 'what exists' are different, and this relates to the difference between 'realisation' and 'experience' and between the noumenal and phenomenal. Reality is much greater than what just exists, because it includes possibilities, meaning, and more.

There are those who object to the idea of 'noumenon'  because it seems to imply some 'world behind the world', a real world as opposed to an illusory one that we normally inhabit. Perhaps not. Perhaps 'what is', consists not just of 'things which exist' but, more importantly, the relations between those things, which is, of course, changing in every instant, because everything is in motion. So 'what is', which is 'the noumenal', is actually always fleeting, because it is changing at every moment, while 'what exists', which are those things that we actually can know, measure, and talk about, are of a lesser degree of reality than 'the totality'.

In this understanding, 'what exists' is indeed what can be measured, ascertained, photographed, captured, and so on. So it really does exist. But 'existence' itself is simply a momentary aspect of the totality - and the totality is what is real. I think this is why the sages see things as they do - they are alive to the totality, which is why they say that 'all is one'.

Another way of considering this. Reality is the totality of your experience at this very moment. It includes everything you can see, know, think about, and of course an indefinite or infinite amount more which branches out into the vastness of space around you and also down into the depths of your own unconscious processes. The nature of 'awakening' is to be completely awake and alive to the immensity of this current moment of reality.

In practice, this state always being occluded by the conditioned outlook, the constant interplay of memory-and-expectation, desire-and-aversion, and the many other states, both conscious and subliminal, that constantly arise and pass away from one moment to the next. This is what dictates our actual experience of life moment to moment, or what you call 'yourself' or 'your life'.

Now the point about a 'purified consciousness' is that it is intensely alive to each moment and to the sense of immensity which this brings. There is a sense in which one's own aliveness and the aliveness of all that lives intermingle in this awareness. But of course we cannot appreciate this immensity precisely because of the burden of self-hood, of the weight of who we are and what we own.

Existence, on the other hand, is your life considered longitudinally, that is, through time. It relies on time to introduce the sense of continuity, which established a series of moments, which comprise your conscious existence through time. It describes all that you know, measure, think about. 'You' are that process which exists through time, which measures and knows and hopes and so on.
If you are able to meet each moment completely, live it with complete attention, without any effort, then it doesn't leave any marks on you. Everything just falls off you like water off a duck's back. But of course I am not like that, I am always thinking, planning, getting, doing, the very thought process is always creating itself according to its previous experience.

So this is the purpose of spiritual discipline: to realise that state of intense aliveness and awareness. With it comes an increased sensitivity to the nature of things which really can't be captured by thought, no matter how subtle, clever or refined. Because thought itself is of the nature of time.

Now I make no claims to be in this state or to know this state. However I do, now, understand that it is something real.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Coming to a conclusion

Anyone who has taken time to read anything on this blog will know that it is critical of the atheist books of Dawkins and the like. But I am beginning to understand that I really have nothing to worry about.

Am I 'a believer'? I would say 'no'. I have done many hard yards reading, reflecting and debating religious and philosophical ideas, and I consider the types of religious ideas I favour to be rational, although they do also point to something beyond the limits of discursive thought.  But - consider this asymmetry in the case of the argument of atheism v religious beliefs. If atheism is correct, ultimately it means nothing - because nothing means anything. If atheist beliefs are correct, and humans are the accidental by-product of a purely physical phenomenon, then, at death, it is all over, and our life has counted for whatever those around us, and those who remember us, have said it does. The memory will go on, for as long as the memory lasts in the minds of other people, but ultimately it will count for nothing. And that is all.

I have a perfect statement of this from one of the diehard atheists I debated on the Philosophy Forum:

'life' is a specific emergent level of molecular-structured thermodynamic complexity that "happened" insofar as -- "because" -- there weren't conditions which prevented it. Same reason snowflakes "happen". In other words, the universe consists in entropy-driven transformations wherein complex phenomena like (terrestrial) "life" arises & goes extinct along a segment of the slope down from minimal entropy (order) to maximal entropy (disorder); the universe is always-already "dead" but becomes a little less-so ever-so-momentarily at different stages of its (cosmic) decomposition.
 'Always already dead'. How could you live with that idea hanging over your head your whole life?

If, on the other hand, human life is sacred, and the human spirit is an expression of the spirit of the Universe, then such an idea provides a framework within which the narratives of religion are indeed meaningful. And, finally, it means that the idea of eternal life has meaning - there is a way to understand the meaning of this idea, which science itself can never offer, as distinct from the idea of 'eternal death'  above.

So it is a very unequal contest. On the one side, we have those who say that humans are something that scientists can definitively understand, analyze and predict. On the other side, we have those who say that humans are the expression of the intelligence that underlies the whole of creation: an unfathomable mystery, a source of endless creativity and amazement, and completely beyond the fathoming of scientific expertise. The game of life is a matter of coming to realize what amazing beings we actually are - which is a profound, difficult and demanding endeavour, but one worth embarking on, one which gives meaning to everything.

Tell me - which vision do you prefer?

I have debated this argument for three years on public forums, and I have not encountered any arguments which make me believe my fundamental approach is in error. It seems that if my case is true, then the subject ought to be treated with the seriousness that it deserves. And to do that, is the practice of the spiritual path, which this blog is a reflection on.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Life eternal - it's nothing personal

I am of the view that 'the eternal life' is a reality, and the central concern of all of the various spiritual faiths and philosophies. It is obviously central to the New Testament, but it is also represented in the Pali Canon, in passages such as these:

I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was staying in Savatthi, at the Eastern Gatehouse. There he addressed Ven. Sariputta: "Sariputta, do you take it on conviction that the faculty of conviction, when developed & pursued, gains a footing in the Deathless, has the Deathless as its goal & consummation? Do you take it on conviction that the faculty of persistence... mindfulness... concentration... discernment, when developed and pursued, gains a footing in the Deathless, has the Deathless as its goal and consummation?"

But 'the deathless' does not refer to the life of 'the person'. It is not as if the person, or the personality, is preserved for an infinite duration of time. There is a very real sense in which the 'eternal' is outside of time, not 'an interminable period of time'. This is altogether impossible for the mortal mind to envisage or imagine, however this is the realm that the Buddha has entered into.

Nirvana, for which 'The Deathless' is another name, is the extinction of the ego. This doesn't mean simple non-existence, but higher being. This is why the Buddha is called 'Tathagatha', 'gone thus'. That which is eternal is 'the supreme identity', the immortal spirit which is our real being - the buddha-nature, in some Buddhist traditions. Through discernment, as the Buddha says, this being can be realized, and when realized, then there is liberation from death through attaining an identity that is greater than that of the mortal body.

This is also expressed in Christianity, when Jesus said: 'He that looses his life for My sake will be saved' [Matt 16:25].  This was also exemplified in His own self-sacrifice.

You might say 'but this is a type of impersonal monism'. But just as the eternal is revealed in the particular, so the spirit is made real in the form of one who has transcended the ego. This is the universal message of the spiritual philosophies of the world.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Belief and Believing

I write as someone with a long-standing interest in religious and spiritual philosophies. I generally argue against materialism, which means I am usually understood as being 'religious'.  But I am also not aligned with mainstream religion, as my general philosophy is informed more by comparative religion and meditational practices.

The point of this post is to consider ideas about 'believing'. Nowadays it is just automatically assumed that if you're religious, you're 'a believer'. Religion and belief are practically the same thing in most people's minds. The main belief that religious people are supposed to have is that there is a God - and much else flows from that. This belief, furthermore, is understood to be something that can never be demonstrated to be true. So in the popular mind, religion is almost always assumed to amount to 'belief in something which can never shown to be real'. In fact, many people assume that this is what the word 'religion' means. They will often say, 'I don't have beliefs', meaning 'I am not religious'.

However through Eastern philosophies - manly Yoga-Vedanta, and Buddhism - there are different approaches to the whole question. These approaches are based on experience and insight. This insight comes about spontaneously for some people, but for others requires long periods of meditative discipline, along with reading, discussion, and contemplation. It is religious in a sense, but quite different to the above-mentioned belief-based approach.

In these types of schools, belief is certainly required, in that, you have to be willing to take the time to really go into the questions and do the practices. But what comes out of it is a realization. 'Realization' has two meanings: one is to 'understand something that has previously not been understood' and another is to 'make something real'.  Realization contains both meanings. Through it, we begin to understand something about the way things really are; and our way of living actually begins to reflect this understanding.

Another key difference with this approach is that, where belief is something that can be easily manipulated through organisational power structures, individual realization is quite an autonomous process. In other words, if you can become established in it, you really can become a light unto yourself, rather than someone who is dependent upon a dogmatic belief system to give them a sense of identity and direction. This has a lot of implications for the way 'religion' is conducted in the world. In fact, I think the whole tendency of the 'Eastern' approach is about empowering the individual search for truth, rather than subordinating the individual to the organisational dogma.

The Case of Fr Anthony de Mello is an interesting illustration of this. A Jesuit and psychotherapist, Fr De Mello became an inspirational spiritual teacher and wrote many popular books on the spiritual path. He thought himself part of the Catholic Faith, however his books were subject to caution - short of outright condemnation - by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (what used to be known as 'the Inquisition'.) The caution was based on the fact that Fr De Mello's ecumenical and universalistic approach was incompatible with Catholic dogma. Nevertheless, his books remain popular with progressive Catholics.

There are have been thousands of such cases, and not only in Catholicism.  Most of the antagonism against religion is directed against dogmatic and authoritarian institutions. So it is interesting to reflect that there is a kind of 'natural spirituality' that is not part of any particular religious structure or authority. This also shows up Dzogchen, Zen, and Sufism, among other things. So it is important if you want to understand the wider spectrum of spiritual philosophy, to understand that it is not at all simply a matter of believing what you're told. The Great Way is broad enough to accomodate many different types of seekers.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Nothing that is Everything

I have been a long-time meditation practitioner, for around 30 years. (In itself, that is no big deal, when anyone gets to my age they will have been doing a lot of things for 30 years.) But I have stuck with this practice, and it has changed the way I see the world - for the better. The nature of this change is very simple. But it is a real shift in perspective, which has many interesting consequences for philosophy.

Different Cognitive Modes

Meditation gives rise to a different mode of cognition. What is 'a mode of cognition'? I think the term was actually coined by Edward Debono, with his well-known technique of the Six Thinking Hats

This is a planning tool where you look at a problem from a number of different perspectives:
* Information: (White) - considering purely what information is available, what are the facts?
* Emotions (Red) - instinctive gut reaction or statements of emotional feeling (but not any justification)
* Bad points judgment (Black) - logic applied to identifying flaws or barriers, seeking mismatch (and so on).

Now in many arguments with proponents of scientific philosophy, I notice that they and I are actually talking from different premisses - or wearing different hats.  The meditative attitude actually creates a different way of processing information - literally a different way of thinking. It is not about a set of scientific hypothesis, but about a different way-of-being. So we are not actually arguing or debating at all, but talking from 'different worlds'.

A consequence of meditative awareness is dissolution of the sense of separate self or ego. But this is a subtle thing. It gives rise to a different kind of thinking and being-in-the-world which gives rise to a sense of peace, contentedness and also relatedness.

(There has been a lot of research done on it, and 'effects of meditation' are measurable and specific, in terms of brain-wave patterns, and parts of the brain associated with compassion and holistic ways-of-being. I will provide some links if anyone is interested.)

So - what's the point? The point is this style of thinking gives rise to a very different way of relating to the world. Fundamentally, it is much more oriented around a kind of subtle emotional connection to life, rather than analytical problem-solving skills. This is not to disparage the analytical style of thinking, because it is essential for many tasks. But the analytical mind can't actually operate in this 'cognitive mode'. In fact the analytical mind doesn't even comprehend this other mode; it appears as nothing to it.

As a consequence, in many debates I am trying to get a point across about 'the nature of being'. One of the philosophical consequences of meditation, and the absence of a separate self, is that fact that we are basically all one, in the sense that I am no different and not separate from others. I can 'stand in their shoes' to some extent. This is very much associated with Buddhist meditation, in particular, but it subtly changes your appreciation of the nature of being itself.

This 'mode of being', however, is not anything objective. It can't be located anywhere or found through analytical thinking. Essentially one begins to realize that this being is 'never an object'. But analytical thought can only think in terms of objects. For it, nothing exists but objects, and if it can't be described in objective terms, well, then, it isn't there. Simply doesn't exist - you're talking about nothing.

But actually, once you understand it, it is 'the nothing that is everything' - and it is a marvellous thing.

"It is not existent - even the Victorious Ones do not see it.
It is not nonexistent - it is the basis of all samsara and nirvana.
This is not a contradiction, but the middle path of unity.
May the ultimate nature of phenomena, limitless mind beyond extremes, be realised."

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Necessity of Dharma

One meaning of Dharma is 'duty'. It is what calls upon us, what leads us to do what may not be easiest, most convenient, or most pleasurable, but which is most important.

A life well lived requires sacrifice, something which causes you to overcome your own selfish impulses and serve the greater good. Dharma is that principle. Without such a principle, how can you guide your actions? Dharma is like the thread on which all of the moments of your life are suspended, to create a coherent shape.

People may be cynical about religion, but what principle will they replace it with, if they get rid of it? Certainly one's inherited drives do not often carry you towards the best of all possible outcomes. Why bother doing good, or being good, if there is no good? 

I think this is why the teaching about Dharma always calls for a lot of effort. Left to one's own wishes and devices, one is likely to pursue pleasure and comfort, rather than what is most needed. Simple fact, but important.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

On Spiritual Practice

I think the thing I have learned most from in Buddhism is the idea of practice. Some people might say that the very idea of practice - routine, mechanical, every-day - is inimical to the spontaneous nature of enlightenment. But I have found that most of the times in my life when I have spiritually grown are associated with commitment to sitting meditation in exactly the way that Buddhist teachers describe it. The effort of keeping still and putting up with the discomfort, and even completely forgetting about it, is the 'path of purification'. This is the pain of learning to be still, being free from the past and the constant turmoil of thought. Keeping the precepts and sitting every day is spiritual life.

Now a lot of people are very hung up about religion. I think they have a complex about it. When you practice Buddhist meditation this way, in accordance with the instructions of Master Dogen, many things become clear. What things? I am reminded of Chesterton:
The whole secret of mysticism is this: that man can understand everything by the help of what he does not understand. The morbid logician seeks to make everything lucid, and succeeds in making everything mysterious. The mystic allows one thing to be mysterious, and everything else becomes lucid.

The Buddhist life is very much like this. The unknown, the mysterious, is right at the middle of the everyday. It is nothing special, but it provides a certain space for everything in your life to be just as it is. This is the meaning of tathata: just so. Buddhist meditation teaches you to see how life simply is, not how you want it to be, or fear it to be.

So the upshot is by meditation everyday, by keeping the precepts, and by advancing in understanding of the Buddhist teaching, one is actually traversing the spiritual path. Even if things don't go well, if the consequences of your karmic seeds create difficult situations, nevertheless you know in your heart that everything is alright, because of the universal nature of the Buddha's enlightenment.

And if you loose track of that, or can't understand what it means, there is a ready solution.


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Spiritual Discipline as a Practical Skill

The point about the various religious traditions is that they convey information about acquiring a specific skill. What this skill is, really can't be conveyed directly; if it could there would be no need for religious lore. The student has to engage with it and work very hard at mastering it. Of course there are many different aspects to religion and spirituality but the skill I have in mind is that of disciplined meditation and transformation of one's state-of-mind. This is something that can be done, but that takes about as much effort as learning any other serious or professional skill, like playing piano or understanding a subject like medicine or law.

A great deal of the arguments about religion has no inkling that this is the case. It is very easy to read books, engage in arguments and entertain ideas. The actual hard work of learning a spiritual praxis is nothing like that. It is a tough sojourn which one's ego will resist and fight tooth and nail every step of the way. But the dimensions it opens up are completely unexpected, and impossible to convey. In my case, it is a sense of love, an upwelling of love in the deepest part of my being. It comes and goes, of course. The wind blows were it lists, and so on.

I am going on retreat to Sunnataram Forest Monastery from Boxing Day until New Year's day. This will be an opportunity to engage in some intensive sitting and reflection.

Peace to all.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Follow Your Bliss

 I say follow your bliss and don't be afraid and doors will open where you didn't know they were going to be.  
- Joseph Campbell
One point of the wisdom teachings, and of meditation, is to discover the source of bliss. This sounds curious or eccentric to anyone who hasn't had the experience of it.  But when I started to sit, I was surprised to discover that right from the outset, even though I was never conscious of anything during meditation other than the effort of staying put, that afterwards feelings of bliss would spontaneously arise. In the books I was reading, one was encouraged never to pursue these feelings or get attached to them, which is probably good advice. But they nevertheless continued to occur.

Now an experienced meditator, as noted, does not get too attached to this, and also there are many ways in which the mind will continue to throw up obstacles even when these episodes of ananda have begun to occur. But over time it becomes a part of your everyday experience.  Hence the saying 'follow your bliss'. Through meditation, you learn 'where' in experience the source of this feeling is. This is one of the meanings of 'the gateless gate' or 'the gate of nothing'. Our normal consciousness, our normal attention, is always focused on something, on achieving some outcome, doing and getting. Meditative awareness is simple awareness of what is. After a while, you learn where this bliss arises from. But even then, it is still not something that the thinking mind, the 'I', can really get hold of.

Accordingly I have noticed that  things happen when I persist with meditation, even though I don't really notice anything occurring, on the conscious level. I will be sitting there, mostly concentrating on staying put, but things are happening. But 'the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing'. This is why it is impossible to explain this type of understanding - you don't even really understand it yourself in an articulate or conscious kind of way. But on the other hand, you understand it very well on an instinctive and intuitive level.

Where this is heading is to a most wonderful love affair. Most love affairs are intoxicating but transient. Here there is the opportunity to find a love that does not die. One has to seduce wisdom, by becoming attractive to her. One must know what she likes, by spending the time to understand her wishes. When one awakens to the spirit of the mysterious love of wisdom, to Sophia, one will find a love that never dies.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Acheiving what is Freely Given

Some Gnostic-Neoplatonic Reflections

Even though our spiritual freedom was established 'at the origin of the Universe'  - prior to everything that  - we have voluntarily relinquished it in order to be born in material form, and then forgotten that we have relinquished it.

In order to reclaim this free state, we must undergo the arduous process of askesis, catharsis, praxis, noesis to receive the ‘spiritual illumination’ which corresponds with the anamnesis, the recovery of our true or original nature, that which is ‘always already the case’.

This explains the paradoxical requirement to ‘achieve what is freely given’ - in other words, although we are already free, we have long ago chosen to forgo this freedom and bind ourselves to the world of material existence. Therefore the ‘path’ is the process of un-forgetting or recovering the real nature. This is why as you progress on the path, the feeling is more and more one of 'coming home' rather than 'leaving home' - even if, in fact, you have left home in order to pursue it.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Awakening Meta-narrative

My belief is that all human beings are evolving towards spiritual awakening, which is not only the aim of their individual lives, but also the aim of life in general, and indeed the cosmos as a whole.

This is the source of the ecstasy of the enlightened. They realise themselves as the crown of creation.

Various religious and spiritual traditions are metaphors for this, or stories about it, which their exponents may or may not understand.

In this understanding, spiritual awakening is something that only a human can have. It can't be written down or removed from its context of a live human consciousness. (This is understood in Buddhism.)

Most humans don't understand this, and don't want to. They are happy enough in their own identity and pursuing their own purposes. And there is nothing the matter with that, but it will come to an end, and when it does, one can either weep about it, or move on to the next level of human development, beyond the personal.

As it happens, Vedanta and Buddhism are the two paths or ways that most explicitly reflect this understanding of reality. However there are others, chief amongst them being neo-Platonism and some of the mystical schools within the Judeo-Christian religions.

But it doesn't necessarily help to get to involved in all of the details. You must seek this wisdom yourself, in yourself, and in your own way. By all means adapt the practices and teachings of the traditions where they are meaningful. But don't get stuck in tradition, bound by argumentation, or too attached to any particular viewpoint.

And generally speaking, people don't know how to participate in this. Enlightenment requires 'skilled action' as Mahayana Buddhism says. It is no use clinging to belief or being fanatically enthusiastic about something which is not going to help at all. Yet this is where many religious types are. They believe badly. Western religious history is full of these types; I would class Calvin and Luther as prime examples. And most anti-religion is based on opposing them. So it is a criticism of a misunderstanding. 'But you and I have been through that, and it is not our fate.'

This is the enlightenment meta-narrative, and the only one I am interested in reading about.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Waking Up from Thinking

'Waking up' means: no more mistaking 'existence' as 'crappy'. Whatever you may think life is, is wrong. It's all beyond the painful confines of apparent thoughts and rational judgements. Boundless and clear.

People assume they are thinking, even thinking logically, but in fact they are being 'thought'. Does one control thoughts or is it the other way around? Obviously thoughts go where they will, to heaven and to hell, according to circumstance and conditioned interpretation, and folks helplessly follow those thoughts when they identify with thought as their own doing and their own self-ness.

But if one were the real thinker of his own thoughts, how could he ever be displeased? How could he be sad or angry or fearful or full of pains? Thoughts nag. Thoughts circle. Thoughts attack.

Proper meditation allows seeing thoughts as thoughts, and feelings as feelings, mere mental phantoms of no substance, and not by any means any 'reality' of importance or dreads. This is detachment-mindfulness.

Non meditators can't see thoughts and feelings as such, but they unconsciously obey them as commands supposedly arising from their own self-ness. They are helplessly and painfully reactive and out of control. Victims of circumstance. They don't know what they're doing, or where they're going, racing along heedlessly 'thoughtful'.

If you think meditation seems hard or painful, that is thought not truth. Don't believe what you think you think. Bathed in thought, submerged in thought, enchanted by thought one dreams up a 'life' of heavens and hells that truly do not exist.

Reality is here and now. There's not a problem in the world.

-Anonymous, from Usenet posting on religions.buddhism-

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Reality As Lived

If you think about it, it would seem very strange that any of the ancient philosophers of East and West could arrive at a deep understanding of 'reality', when this is defined as 'something that is examined with scientific devices'. 

The current 'model of reality' on the subatomic level reveals the 'particle zoo' containing all kinds of mysterious sub-atomic entities ('particle' is hardly the name for many of them), while on the cosmological scale, there is talk about dalk matter and energy which might not even be perceivable.

So what do these kinds of theories have in common with those of ancient seers who were not equipped with radio-telescopes or atom smashers or non-linear algebra, and the like?

I think the answer to this conundrum lies in the fact that the understanding and definition of what consitutes 'reality' is different between ancient philosophers and modern scientists. And this is because it was natural that to the ancients, Reality was something that you lived. It wasn't an objective field of entities which you examined through mathematics and instruments. It was the field of your own existence with its pains and problems. Whereas to the modern scientist, who has supposedly or implicitly removed him or herself from the picture (although not really, as quantum measurements reveal) regards 'natural philosophy' as the study of objects, energy and their relationships, and impllicitly that the 'objective world' is the sole reality.

Contrast this with the ancient sage whose object of contemplation includes the nature of (his or her) own being. Now because of the recursiveness of being, it is not possible to 'know' what being is; we can never be object to ourselves. But by deep meditation, some understanding of the nature of being can be understood by the separation of the intellect from the realm of manifestation. This is the way of the samadhi of the sages which reveals 'reality as lived', as distinct from 'reality as array of objects'.

Now the question you have to ask yourself is that, while deep objective knowledge is undoubtedly very useful, the use you put it to is nevertheless subordinate to the kind of human you are.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Believer or Non-believer

I was watching a presentation about the Dalai Lama just now, and he said something he often says, which I think is worth reflecting on. He said 'Believer or non-believer, compassion is a most important quality in the human heart. Whether you are a religious believer or not, compassion is very important.' Actually, the Dalai Lama often says this, and I think it is perfectly true. But the question is, without a spiritual path or practise - believer or not - how are you to realise it?