Thursday, March 31, 2011

"Money and Wealth Are Only Partial Sources of Happiness"

I have always been unable to believe in an "anthropomorphic" God -  an ethereal 'man-God' somewhere up there, behind or outside the universe. Such a belief is essentially part of humankind's mythological past; and, thankfully, for millenia the world's great wisdom teachers have taught just the opposite, that God (or G_d) is an inward experience. "The kingdom of God is within you," Jesus plainly told the Pharisees, who later had him executed for such heresies:(Luke 17:21). And one cannot enter that kingdom, when one's mind is on the material, rather than spiritual, particularly if one is fixated with, or judges oneself by, "material success."

In his book, "Bhudda Says," (at pp. 30-31), the late spiritual guru, Osho explains this in greater detail, writing:
"God is not a person. You cannot buttress him, you cannot flatter him. You cannot persuade him to your own way; whether you believe in him or not, that doesn't matter."

"A law exists beyond your belief. If you follow it you are happy. If you don't follow it, you become unhappy . . . (T)he whole question is of a discipline, not of prayer. Understand the law and be in harmony with it. Don't be in conflict with it, that's it. . . . (W)henever you are miserable it is just an indication that you have once again gone against the law. . . . Whenever you are in misery . . . watch, observe, analyze your situation, diagnose it - you must be going somewhere against the law, you must be in conflict with the law. . . . You are punishing yourself by being against the law. . . . If you obey, you live in heaven. If you disobey, you live in hell."
But let's be clear, when Osho says if you follow the law "you are happy," it is not because of material goods. It does no good to pray for things, or for people, for that matter. As Osho observes, you cannot "buttress," "flatter" or "annoy" God into providing material goods. Nor will God withhold such goods, as lack of material possessions is unrelated to the operation of what Osho calls "the law."

Or, as the Dalai Lama explains:
"Happiness is mental. Machines cannot provide us with it, nor can we buy it. Money and wealth are only partial sources of happiness, not happiness per se. Those will not produce happiness directly. Happiness must develop from within ourselves; nobody can give it to us. The ultimate source is tranquility, or peace of mind. It doesn't matter if we lack good faculties, a good education or a successful life so long as we have inner confidence."
["The Transformed Mind," pp. 27-28.]

And the law . . . ??? "As a man thinketh, so he is."

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

"Don't Think All Ecstasies Are the Same!"

Our incarnations are those of a Wine-Taster. Each life the Wine-Taster raises a world-in-a-glass to the lips. The Wine-Taster sips and tastes each world for a time. And with every taste, a new and different life is lived, each with its own bouquet.

One sip may have a rich or earthy taste, the next fruity, sickly-sweet or oaken. Only the glass that is left aside and forgotten will turn to vinegar. It depends.

Rumi tells us there are "thousands of wines that can take over our minds." "Be a connoisseur, and taste with caution," he says.

"Judge like a king, and choose the purest, the ones unadulterated with fear, or some urgency about, 'what's needed'."

"Don't think all ecstasies are the same!," he warns.

 In one sip the life will have a masculine or feminine sense. It may be fresh-pressed, aged, or so distilled it will taste like poison to the connoisseur. One sip may be an elixir, another God's own ambrosia.

Each sip will leave its aftertaste. It will cleanse the palate in one case, another sip may linger through the night and the imbiber will wake up sour-mouthed and thirsty. But unlike in a formal tasting, here the Wine-Taster does not spit and rinse, but drinks fully, casting off only the dregs.

And when having tasted the fullness of all the Estates in all the many Realms, and reeling in intoxication, laughing from the effects of his debauchery, he sleeps at last in drunken Bliss.

Raise your cup, Wine-Taster! Sat-chit-ananda . . . . .

"The Battle of the Self . . . of the Ego"

"In the Name of Allah,
the Compassionate, the Merciful"
"In every religious tradition there is what you call the outer path and the inner path, or the exoteric path and the esoteric path," says Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf, in delivering an ecumenical address on Islam and Sufism for's "Charter of Compassion" campaign. "The esoteric path of Islam is more popularly known as Sufism, or tasawwuf in Arabic," he explains, "and these doctors or these masters, these spiritual masters of the Sufi tradition, refer to teachings and examples of our prophet, that teach us where the source of our problems lie."

Combining the teachings of the Qur’an, the stories of Rumi, and the examples of Muhammad and Jesus, to demonstrate that only one obstacle stands between each of us and absolute compassion -- ourselves, Abdul Rauf takes his audience through the realities of every person's life, the esoteric battle between the "ego" and the "divine."

"In one of the battles that the prophet waged," explains Abdul Rauf,  "he told his followers, 'We are returning from the lesser war to the greater war, to the greater battle.' And they said, "Messenger of God, we are battle-weary. How can we go to a greater battle? He said, 'That is the battle of the self, the battle of the ego.'"

"The sources of human problems have to do with egotism," explains Abdul Rauf simply. "with I."

'And, therefore, for us to be human," he continues, "in the greatest sense of what it means to be human, in the most joyful sense of what it means to be human, it means that we too have to be proper stewards of the breath of divinity within us, and to seek to perfect within ourselves the attribute of being, of being alive, of beingness, the attribute of wisdom, of consciousness, of awareness, and the attribute of being compassionate and loving beings."

"This is what I understand from my faith tradition," he says, "and this is what I understand from my studies of other faith traditions, and this is the common platform on which we must all stand; and when we stand on this platform as such, I am convinced that we can make a wonderful world. And I believe, personally, that we're on the verge, and that with the presence and help of people like you here, we can bring about the prophecy of Isiah. For he foretold of a period when people shall transform their swords into plowshares and will not learn war and make war anymore.

"We have reached a stage in human history," Abdul Rauf concludes, "that we have no option. We must, we must lower our egos, control our egos, whether it is individual ego, personal ego, family ego, national ego, and let all be for the glorification of the One."

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of Transcendentalism

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
Perhaps it was the first exposure of Western cultures to the scriptures of India's millennial old wisdom traditions that sparked a lively interest in 'experiential transcendentalism,' or the possibility that there is a higher and more expansive consciousness above humanity's ordinary 'self' or 'egoic' consciousness and awareness. (The respected 20th-century theologian, in giving the prestigious Gifford Lecture at St, Andrew's College, Scotland, best expressed what is meant by "experiential transcendendalism," when he observed that, "Individual selfhood is expressed in the self's capacity for self-transcendence and not in its rational capacity for conceptual and analytic procedures.") Certainly "Brahma," perhaps the most famous of poem by the 'dean' of the "American Transcendentalists," Ralph Waldo Emerson, was inspired by his reading of that most-famed of Hindu scriptures, the "Bhagavad Gita."

The American Transcendentalists were followed by the birth of what was called the "New Thought" movement, characterized by the writings of Christian Science founder, Mary Baker Eddy, the Chicago-based Emily Tompkins, as well as James Allen and Ralph Waldo Trine in the United Kingdom.

The English public schools between the two World Wars birthed another wave of English spiritual seekers, such as Allen Watts, Aldous Huxley, Christopher Isherwood and Gerald Heard, whose presence and influence in America reached heights in the immediate post-World War II 1950's and early 60's. They would influence and collaborate to a greater or lesser extent with Huston Smith, and two young Harvard professors Richard Allport (who would re-emerge as spiritual teacher Ram Das) and Timothy Leary in their research into whether psybicillin (and later L.S.D) could trigger the mystical experiences and higher states of consciousness reported by so many of the world's great wisdom traditions.

Transcendentalism and the search for expanded or higher consciousness may have hit its heights in the 'psychedelic' '60s. With the maturation of the 'hippies' of the '60s into today's 'baby-boomers,' and the disillusionment of the "Me-Generation" of the 1970s and '80s (followed by 'Generations X, Y, and Z'), the search for enlightenment and higher consciousness gave way to the passion for "sex, drugs and rock'n'roll." Now, however, with the aging and pending retirement of the "boomers," the maturation of the "Me-Generation, and the disillusionment of their following generations, it appears that the search for transcendent experience is once again waxing rather than waning. But what exactly is meant by "transcendence" and "transcendentalism?"

Gerald Heard (1889-1971)
"Beat-era" spiritual philosopher Gerald Heard in his classic exploration of these rarified stages of transcendentalism and consciousness, "Pain, Sex and Time," discusses the nature of what he calls mankind's  ordinary "fissured consciousness" and its "ego-impulses," as compared with the evolutionary potential of the "undilated unconscious" and its potential to cause an "interior reintegration for the brave souls who are true aspirants after "higher consciousness" and spiritual awareness.

Written in 1939 and long out-of-print, "Pain, Sex and Time" was, it seems, before its time. A classic outline of how humankind's evolutionary progress and potential for ever greater and higher states of consciousness, Heard's treatise was finally re-published in 2004. It's republication, perhaps, is an indication of a groundswell of interest in man's spiritual and evolutionary potential - a groundswell, aided too no small extent, by the realization that material success and achievement is not only ultimately unsatisfactory to our inner needs, but is damaging to the Earth herself. As Heard, naively and perhaps prematurely (as it turns out), observed in 1939, only months before the onset of the cataclysm that was World War II:
"It is now obvious that men cannot live much longer the life of irrelevant distractions. We are becoming too acutely conscious and aware of time. Any stimulant, however pleasant at the beginning, repeated [often enough] becomes hateful."
[G. Heard, "Pain, Sex and Time," p.193.]
This warning - written nearly 75 years ago - seems eerily prescient in our times, although it shouldn't. For, when we look back at the history of 'transcendentalism,' we have been on a crash course with the limitations that time has on humanity's consciousness throughout what may be called the '"Scientific Age" (which has now rapidly morphed seamlessly into the "Information Age"), and the need for a change in our consciousness has always been readily apparent, if only to the few. As Heard remarked, a handful of generations ago now:

 "There are . . . three great stages in man' evolution; the appetitive animal, the intelligent human (Nietzche's "transitional creature"), and the being who once more knows itself to be a part of the Whole, but this time is clearly aware that the Whole is a comprehensive consciousness."

[G. Heard, "Pain, Sex and Time," p. 153.]
Now, however, rather than an early warning, Heard's remarks may represent the clear statement of an evolutionary imperative and warning. Even the incomprehensibility of man's inhumanity to man, as demonstrated in the Second World War, was unforeseeable to Heard, it seems. How much more incomprehensible would the current challenges we face with what has become a 24/7 global worldview- a population boom, environmental degradation, mass extinction of species, growing rather than shrinking poverty and hunger - have been?

Heard writes that, "Without silent recollection the mind cannot recognize its own unity, still less the wholeness of that into which it would expand."

[G. Heard, "Pain, Sex and Time," p. 181.]

Now, it seems - with our growing awareness of the limitations of our old consciousness and the problems caused by it - that there is an ever-growing recognition that we must strive individually and collectively to meet what is our evolutionary imperative, our call to transcend the collective state-of-mind that has created the problems we face. For, as Heard also notes in "Pain, Sex and Time," those species that fail in continuing to evolve almost inevitably perish.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Rumi: "Today . . . We Wake Up Empty"

When I was first shown the "inner path" that eventually we all must take, the wizened old seeker told me that, "if I was serious," I needed to read Patanjali's "Yoga Sutras" and the poetry of the great Sufi mystic, Jalalludin Rumi.

I ordered one of the many translations of Patanjali that were then available - there were over one hundred different translations and commentaries at the time - and purchased Coleman Barks' "The Essential Rumi." (In the interim, while I was waiting for the copy of Patanjali I had randomly picked out, an enlightened man loaned me a copy of his self-described "Book of Soul-Realization." It turned out to be the exact translation of Patanjali, by Christopher Isherwood and Swami Prabhavananda, that I had randomly ordered.)

While you are waiting for a copy of your "Book of Soul-Realization" to land in your lap, or you want to set your reading of Rumi aside for a moment and listen to his transcendental verses from as close to the lips of the poet as we can now get, you may want to watch and listen to one of Coleman Barks'  readings of Rumi (below).
* * * * * * * * * * * *
"Today, like every other day, we wake up empty. . . . "

"Someone may be clairvoyant,
able to see the future, and yet have very little wisdom
. . . like the man who dreamed of water,
and began leading everyone toward the mirage. . . ."

"One night a man was crying, Allah! Allah!"

"Inside water, a water-wheel turns . . . . "

"What was said to the rose that made it open
was said to me, here in my chest. . . ."

* * * * * * * * * * * * *
"Listen to the moan of a dog for its  master.
That whining is the connection.

There are love dogs
no one knows the name of.

Give you life
to be one of them

Coleman Barks, "Love Dogs," excerpt from, "The Incredible Rumi," page 156.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Consciouness and the Brain: Correlation or Cause?

". . . thinking without awareness
is the main dilemna of human
existence. . . ."

(Eckhart Tolle, "A New Earth," p. 32.)
What are the two greatest misunderstandings about consciousness and the psyche? I would argue, as so may others have, that the two greatest blunders - blunders which contribute to the continuing shortfall of Western science to put on an academic "full-court press" to get to the root of what 'consciousness' actually 'is' - are the blind assumptions that (a) consciousness is a 'by-product' of the brain, and (b) that when we are "conscious" (as opposed to dreaming, or hallucinating) we are actually in control of what it is we think.

As the great modern enlightenment teacher, Eckhart Tolle, has often remarked, Descartes got it absolutely wrong in making his famous declaration, "I think, therefore I am." I would, only add that he got it wrong on both counts. It seems far more likely that the thought processes and structures of the brain are the by-product of a higher order of consciousness, or at a very minimum they are shaped by consciousness. Moreover, I think that upon close observation almost everyone must concede that most of the time, when we believe we are consciously 'thinking,' we are actually being 'thunk!'

The embedded video, "Zen Biology Lesson on Enlightenment," produced by, tackles both of these "false" presumptions 'head-on' (so-to-speak), while accompanied by a rather nice rendition of Vivaldi's Four Seasons.
Carl G. Jung (18 - 1961)
"The Undiscovered Self"

In his short masterpiece (see attached link), "The Undiscovered Self," the great Swiss psychologist. Carl Jung puts it this way:
"In the same way that our misconception of the solar system had to be freed from prejudice by Copernicus, the most strenuous efforts of a well-nigh revolutionary nature were needed to free psychology, first from the spell of mythological ideas, and then from the prejudice that the psyche is, on the one hand, a mere epiphenomenon of a biochemical process in the brain, or on the other hand, a wholly unapproachable and recondite matter. The connection with the brain does not in itself prove that the psyche is an epiphenomenon, a secondary function causally dependent on biochemical processes.  Nevertheless, we know only too well how much the psychic function can be disturbed by verifiable processes in the brain, and this fact is so impressive that the subsidiary nature of the psyche seems an almost unavoidable inference. . . ."

"The structure and physiology of the brain furnish no explanation of the psychic process. The psyche has a peculiar nature which cannot be reduced to anything else. Like physiology, it represents a relatively self-contained field of experience to which we must attribute a quite special importance because it holds within one of the two indispensable conditions for existence as such, namely consciousness. Without consciousness there would, practically speaking, be no world, for the world exists as such only in so far as it is consciously reflected and consciously expressed by a psyche. Consciousness is a condition of being. Thus the psyche is endowed with the dignity of a cosmic principle, which philosophically and in fact gives it a position coequal with the principle of physical being. . . ."
Western neuroscience has made great strides in mapping the neural correlates of different emotions and phenomena of consciousness, but little or no success in mapping the neural correlates of consciousness itself. There is likely no specific neural correlate and if, as Jung and others suppose, 'consciousness' is indeed aphenomenal instead of epiphenomenal in nature such a neural correlate will never be found.

Because of the strong two-way correlations between the brain and consciousness, however, mind scientists are all-too tempted to conflate correlation and causality, as Jung notes. It is high time that neuro-scientists and neuro-anatomists who expend a great deal of effort probing the brain for an objective phenomenal 'seat of consciousness' so to speak, turn with an equal effort (and open-mindedness) to the question of just what the subjective aphenomenal nature of consciousness and its many-flavoured shades are.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Ending the 'Optical Delusion of Consciousness' to Demonstrate 'True Compassion'

"A human being is part of the whole called by us the universe, a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest. A kind of optical delusion of consciousness."

"This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty."

"The true value of a human being is determined by the measure and the sense in which they have obtained liberation from the self. We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if humanity is to survive."

(Albert Einstein, 1954)
The primary basis of all the world's great wisdom traditions and religions is love - not "love" in a personal sense, per se, but a love without conditions and without any particular object. And, of course, the result of this unconditional, all-inclusive love is the 'compassion' Einstein speaks of, or what the Dalai Lama calls "unbiased compassion."

"Compassion,' from the Greek 'pathos" (meaning suffering), means that we recognize the suffering - both physical and psychological - of others, and that in a very real sense their suffering invokes suffering within us. Interestingly, realization of the Buddha's 'First Noble Truth' on the path to enlightenment, or "liberation from the self" (the 'Noble Truth of Suffering') is that to the 'unawakened' mid or 'imprisoned' mind, this life is dukkha, or "suffering." Einstein realized, as the Buddha did 2500 years before this time, that what the individual (indeed the world) needs to survive and flourish is "a substantially new way of thinking."

Today, as ever, there is an imperative need for this new way of thinking; or, as spiritual teacher Andrew Cohen explains,  there is an "urgency" for individuals to seek enlightened consciousness and adopt a purposive relationship to the attainment of that rarified state of being, not for themselves alone, but for the sake of others - for the sake of the Whole. We need, as others teachings have long advocated, to become what may be thought of as 21st century bhoddisatvas, vowing not to give up until there is a broad based enlightenment  - or the adoption of "a substantially new manner of thinking," to use Einstein's phraseology - amongst all human (and other sentient) beings.
Andrew Cohen, Editor-in-Chief,
EnlightenNext Magazine

The vow of a boddhisatva - even a 21st century boddhisatva - like all things spiritual, it seems, is somewhat paradoxical: There is a need for individuals to awaken spiritually for the sake of all humanity; yet, in obtaining spiritual enlightenment, individuality slips away. As Cohen observes in his book, "Enlightenment Is a Secret:"
"The most delicate and difficult task possible to accomplish in this life is simply to be Free. One who succeeds is very rare. It is hardly ever seen. If a person can be Free it is the greatest blessing. It means an alternative to the human mess is possible. Simply being awake and staying awake is a demonstration of the solution. Living Freedom is the solution. You become the answer. You become the solution. Few have the courage to do it.
And yet . . . this aspiration to be "the solution," even for the sake of the Whole, remains personal and therefore paradoxical. While all the violence and suffering that is rampant may make it seem that it is "a very selfish endeavour" to seek a higher state of consciousness and being for oneself, Cohen observes that, "Nothing could be further than the truth."
"You are doing the human race the highest service by realizing your Self," he notes. "Self-Realization is evolution. Coming to the end of aggressive, destructive and selfish behavior is evolution is action. When you evolve to the point that you are able to actively manifest the profound understanding discovered in Self-Realization you are cooperating with all the forces of nature. Only then will your own life be the very expression of the opposite of everything you claim to abhor. What more can you possibly do? What more can anyone possibly do than that? When you have Realized your Self you simply 'are.' When you have found that harmony that you are, then you will be the harmony and no longer an obstruction to it. When sturggle has come to an end, so does all division."
The end of "all division" is the end of Einstein's "optical delusion of consciousness," of course. It is the attainment of a wholly "new manner of thinking" that Einstein would undoubtedly acknowledge as the necessary state which we all need to demonstrate "true compassion."

Thursday, March 17, 2011

"The Emotion of Wishing to Think"

Sri Nisigardatta (1897-1981)
I learned from Nisagardatta that every thought has an emotion - positive, negative, or in most instances, pretty much neutral. And I know from self-observation that it is principally the strong emotions that accompany the thoughts of the "ego" (what the pioneering psychiatrist, William James, called "the stream of consciousness") which lure us into the internal dialogues and full-colour mental movies of the wakened, but strangely un-conscious "ego" or self-consciousness. But, in the following passage from his book, "Unfolding Meaning," the eminent quantum theorist and metaphysicist, David Bohm, refers to "the emotion of wishing to think."

At first blush, I didn't get the full import of what Bohm was saying. But upon second reading, and reflection on my experience with meditation, this is exactly what my first spiritual teacher called the subtle "stirring of thought." It is this "stirring of thought," he taught me, that one must let go of before it expands into a full-fledged thought that stirs the ego. (The thought "expands," he observed, like a bubble of air that expands as it arises from the bottom of a lake. My task, he told me, was to dissipate that thought "bubble" through mindfulness before it could "break the surface" of my consciousness.) This initial stirring is, I feel, what Bohm is referring to as "the emotion of wishing to think" in the following snippet of dialogue:
"Q: I'm just wondering where emotion comes into all this. Is emotion a necessary product or program of thinking?"

"Bohm: Emotion and thinking are almost inseparable. They are just different levels of the same thing. It's known that between the intellectual part of the brain and the emotional part there is a tremendous bundle of nerves going up and down. Every thought affects the emotions, and every emotion that comes up to affect the thought. No thinking would take place without the emotion of wishing to think.  And according to the way that desire is, thought will go in that direction."
David Bohm (1917-1992)
Bohm continues, but in a discussion of what one ordinarily thinks of as the connection between thoughts and emotions, the production of imagined scenarios and dialogues, rather than his startling yet revelatory classification of an "emotion" of wanting "to think."
"And emotion is profoundly affected by thought because thought produces images, you see - not the abstract thought but the image and the feeling. Every thought unfolds into images and feelings which operate the same way as perception would. The thought of danger will produce the same emotion as the perception of actual danger. And the same chemical behaviour."
As Nisargardatta noted time and again in his teachings, mistakenly we believe we are the content of our thought, rather than the "observer" of the thoughts and emotions they produce - a teaching which Bohm would deeply appreciate, given the central role of the "observer" in quantum theory.

Monday, March 14, 2011

What Is Required to Become a True Human 'Being'?

"Relieve me of the bondage of self . . ."
What is required of us to 'slip the bondage, of our narrow, egoic self-consciousness, to be come true human 'beings' rather than human 'thinkings'? For most of us, the problem is the continual 'inner dialogue' of our rudimentary "self" consciousness, what the pioneering psychologist, William James, dubbed the "stream of consiousness."

We miss the wonders of life - indeed, the wonder of "life" itself - through our continuous identification with, attachment to, and fixation upon this narrow, self-centered identity and attachment. As Einstein noted:
"A human being is a part of the whole, called by us, "Universe," a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest -- a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.

This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
While Einstein believed that no one may break out of this "prison" completely and permanently, he observed that, "the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security." Many others - from all traditions, places and times - do believe that a complete liberation (in the form of enlightenment, mystic union, moksha, nirvana, or whatever you may call it) is possible, but that it takes great effort. 

"Remember that the most difficult tasks are consummated not by a single explosive burst of energy or effort, but by consistent daily application of the the best you have within you. To change one's life for the better, to resurrect one's body and mind from living death requires many positive steps, one in front of the other, with your sights always on your goal. . . . The means of transportation, and the power to break your intertia must be generated by forces long dormant but still alive within you."
                               (Og Mandino, "The Greatest Miracle in the World")
One of the most renowned spiritual teachers ever put it this way: "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few". (Matt. 9:37) Or, as Don Juan, the Native American nagual who was Carlos Castenada's teacher, observed: "The trick is in what one emphasizes. We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same."

And there is the consensus of the many different paths to spiritual enlightenment and liberation from Einstein's "optical delusion." One must work on one's spiritual condition and the level of one's consciousness continuously, unrelentingly, and with great effort in order to attain liberation from the ego.

For as Sri Krishna tells Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita: "(O)ut of thousands of people only one will seek Me, and out of thousands who seek Me only one will perceive Me as I Am."

Thursday, March 10, 2011

An 'Insular' Higher Being

" . . . one insular Tahiti . . ."
"For as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man there lies one insular Tahiti full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all the horrors of the half known life."

I first came across this gem of poetic prose when listening to the audio version of Wayne Dyers' "There Is a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem." Dyer devotes a chapter in his book, "Wisdom of the Ages," to this snippet from Herman Melville's masterpiece, "Moby Dick," prompting me to once more attempt - and this time finish - what is one of the singular masterpieces of English/American literature. (D.H. Lawrence, himself a master of the deep and thoughtful spiritual novel, called it, "one of the strangest and most wonderful books in the world.")

A fuller quote containing the same passage, witnesses Melville comparing (as always, metaphorically) the deceptive, hidden 'dangers' of the sea with the peaceful and 'docile' land. He writes:
"Consider the subtleness of the sea; how its most dreaded creatures glide under water, unapparent for the most part, and treacherously hidden beneath the loveliest of azure. Consider also the devilish brilliance and beauty of many of its most remorseless tribes, as the dainty embellished shape of many species of sharks. Consider, once more, the universal cannibalism of the sea; all of whose creatures prey upon each other, carrying on eternal war since the world began.

Consider all this; and then turn to this green, gentle, and most docile earth; consider them both, the sea and the land; and do you not find a strange analogy to something in yourself?
For as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man there lies one insular Tahiti full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all the horrors of the half known life. God keep thee! Push not off from that isle, thou canst never return!"
Herman Melville (1819-1891)
"Do you not find a strange analogy to something in yourself?," he asks. Here, as in so much of his quirky adventure-tale/natural-history/ metaphysical-treatise, Melville is addressing the double nature of man's being: the "ego" and the "soul."

Our ordinary way of experiencing the world, flitting from pleasure to pleasure as we try and gratify the desires of the ego, seems pleasant. Yet, underneath "the loveliest" of these seemingly "azure" pleasures, lurks the fears, anger and unquenchable lusts that too-often cause so-called "normal people" to hurt themselves, others and especially their closest loved ones with their thoughts, words and actions. (As it says in the Book of James: "A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways;" James:1-8.)

Underneath, enshrouded and obscured by the raging waters of this 'egoic' sea is the true "Self,' or the 'soul,' if you prefer. And the 'soul,' what one spiritual master called the "kingdom of God,"  is by its very nature eternal, or "green," gentle and "docile." Hence, the same teacher said that one had to become "as a little Child" to enter into that "kingdom of God (that) is within you." (Luke: 17:21)

Of course, these are universal observations of humankind's nature. However, Melville, who was more of a free-thinker than most, was a product of his time and culture, and so it makes some spiritual sense to refer to the widom tradtion he was immersed within. But, Melville was very much a product of his times and, though perhaps unrecognized as such, his writing and seeming philosophy is very much in the tradition of the American Transcendentalists who came of age around him.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
In his essay, "The Over-Soul," Ralph Waldo Emerson, the dean of American Transcendentalism, had this to say about man's double nature, about the ordinary and egoic, human self-consciousness and the enlightened nature of the higher 'Self,' or soul:
". . . (T)he soul in man is not an organ, but animates and exercises all the organs; is not a function, like the power of memory, of calculation, of comparison, but uses these as hands and feet; is not a faculty, but a light; is not the intellect or the will, but the master of the intellect and will; is the background of our being in which they lie - an immensity not possessed, and that cannot be possessed. From within or from behind, a light shines through us upon things and makes us aware that we are nothing, but the light is all. . . .What we commonly call man . . . does not, as we know him, represent himself, but misrepresents himself. Him we do not respect, but the soul, whose organ he is, would he let it appear through his actions would make our knees bend. When it breathes through his intellect it is genius; when it breathes through his will, it is virtue; when it flows through his affection, it is love. And the blindness of the intellect begins when it would be something of itself. The weakness of the will begins when the individual would be something of himself."
 Or, as Melville cautions: Once one embraces the intellect of the ego, one "pushes off" from "the insular Tahiti," and becomes ensnared in "the half known life" that obscures the soul. Be wary, he warns us. "God keep thee! Push not off from that isle, thou canst never return!"

As many an inmate knows, once one listens to the voice and desires of the ego, he undertakes a dangerous journey from which few ever return. Only Ishmael survived the great white whale. The ego-driven Captain Ahab led all the rest of the Pequod's crew - including the noble savage and master harpooner, Queequeq, who sensed Ahab's inevitable folly - to their death in what proved to be very "treachorous" seas, indeed.

Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864)
Our faith comes in moments," Emerson notes, "our vice is habitual." Melville was not, per se, a full-fledged Transcendentalist likes his closest literary friend, Nathaniel Hawthorne. He was too cognizant of the allure of man's lesser nature. In a letter to Hawthorne, Melville reflects that he had come across and rejected Goethe's dictum, "Live in the all." Yet, in a postscript to the letter he bends to the sensed "Unity" that is the hallmark of the Transcendentalists' experience. "N.B.," he writes to Hawthorne, as an afterthought to that which he has just disavowed:
"This 'all' feeling, though, there is some truth in (it). You must have felt it, lying on the grass on a warm summer's day. Your legs seem to send out shoots into the earth. Your hair feels like leaves upon your head. This is the 'all' feeling. But what plays the mischief with the truth is that men will insist upon the universal application of a temporary feeling or opinion.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Projecting the World We Wish to See . . . and Then Belieiving It!

Foundation for Inner Peace
One of my first spiritual "guides" was an old-timer who was physically handicapped and relatively poor. Every day he would truck down to the local bookstore to read a daily excerpt from "A Course in Miracles" ("ACIM"). At one point, he asked me if I had ever read it. I hadn't at that point. Yet, soon after reading Eckhardt Tolle's "The Power of Now," I bought a copy of ACIM. (A reference to ACIM is one of only four footnotes in Tolle's spiritual masterwork.) Moreover, for a while I belonged to a wonderful group that met every Tuesday to read from, and discuss, ACIM.

ACIM is a profoundly insightful instructional book, consisting largely of a long and detailed basic text, a manual for teachers of ACIM, and a student workbook of (not surprisingly) 365 lessons. A year working with ACIM and contemplating its lessons and teachings, as so many have found, is a year well spent.

The aim of ACIM (like so many other inspired works and wisdom traditions, both ancient and modern) is to expose and slay the "ego" and its misperceptions, and thereby reunite the student in consciousness with the G_d which pervades and sustains our physical universe.

At some 1,400-odd pages, ACIM has both astonishing depth and breadth, and it provides the "forgiveness lessons" we all need to heal the separation which the ego and its false perceptions have created between humankind and the Godhead "in which we live and move, and have our being." This need for a fundamental correction of our egoic perceptions is clearly set out in this extract from the Preface to "A Course in Miracles."
"The world we see merely reflects our own internal frame of reference - the dominant ideas, wishes and emotions in our minds. "Projection makes perception" (Text, p. 455). We look inside first, decide the kind of world we want to see and then project that world outside, making it the truth as we see it. We make it true by our interpretations of what it is we are seeing. If we are using perception to justify our own mistakes - our anger, our impulses to attack, our lack of love in whatever form it may take - we will see a world of evil, destruction, malice, envy and despair. All this we must learn to forgive, not because we are being "good" and "charitable," but because what we are seeing is not true. We have distorted the world by our twisted defenses, and are therefore seeing what is not there. As we learn to recognize our perceptual errors, we also learn to look past them or "forgive." At the same time we are forgiving ourselves, looking past our distorted self-concepts to the Self That God created in us and as us."

I am reminded in Shakespeare's immortal words from Act II, Scene II of Hamlet: "Nothing is good nor bad, but our thinking makes it so."

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Only Thing 'Unchangeable' Is the Inevitability of 'Change'

If there is one thing that Einstein showed decisively, it is that there is nothing permanent in this universe. Even time and space, he demonstrated, are relative. Even the order of events may change for two observers, one moving slowly and the other moving at close to the speed of light.

If there is anything permanent at all, in fact, it may be the fundamental axiom that "nothing is permanent." Everything is always dynamic and in the process of change. The only thing that is unchangeable, it seems, is the inevitability of change itself.

The "permanence" of "impermanency" - we all age, sicken and, eventually die - was one of the telling factors that prompted the Buddha to teach, in the first of his "Four Noble Truths," that to the unenlightened mind this (our human experience) is dukkha, a certain "unsatisfactoriness" or "insufficiency" that is conventionally translated as "suffering."

Even our most pleasurable moments are actually instances of suffering, the Buddha taught, as we know inherently that these momentary pleasures will end, and always all too soon. Even relaxing on the beach in a tropical 'paradse' one is liable to think, with a sinking feeling in one's stomach, "Oh, but I have to fly home on Saturday!" At best, therefore, even these most paradisiacal moments are impermanent and insufficient to imbue us with any sense of true and lasting happiness. They are, thus, dukkha.

Recently, author Judith Johnson discussed "Embracing the Permanence of Impermanency" on the Huffington Post. "Emotionally," Ms. Johnson writes, "many of us yearn for permanency by seeking to alter the terms and conditions of our lives."
"We dream of utopias where only good and happy things come our way. We want financial security and happy families, good health, and access to the fountain of youth. When we find a deep and abiding friendship or love, we want it to retain its intensity and deliciousness. Often, we resort to manipulating our loved ones and ourselves to perpetuate the exhilaration. Yet the tighter our grip, the faster its fleet."
"What becomes permanent," Johnson observes, "is often only that which has solidified in our minds -- our prejudices, habits, beliefs and inclinations." And there is the rub. It is how we think, and at what level of consciousness we interact with our "reality," that determines whether or not we we suffer in our lives. But, fortunately, "like rock," Johnson notes, our prejudices, habits, beliefs and inclinations "can be altered if we use wisdom."
To end suffering, the Buddha concluded, one must end this vain, yet continual clinging and craving; both of which center in the mind and its attitudes (or conditioned ways of thinking). To do this, Buddha taught, it is first necessary to have a right understanding of impermanency and the ultimate insufficiency of "things" to provide lasting happiness. Next, one should refrain from engaging in speech, actions and ways of making money that perpetuate craving and clinging, either in oneself or in other beings. ("After all," as one wag recently put it, "it is exceedingly hard to reach enlightenment with a suffering creature on the end of one's fork.")

Finally, one must energetically engage in discriminating between what causes, promotes or prolongs craving and clinging, and what does not. Then with a rigorous meditative and contemplative practice one works to eradicate the thinking and thought structures that cause clinging and craving.

As Ms. Johnson notes on Huffington Post:
"As long as our myopic vision persists, we tend to live in a fixed, uncompromising relationship with the world around us. Those who disagree with us are likely to be perceived as wrong, their viewpoints discredited as inferior and therefore not meriting consideration. Such a dynamic all too often rules our politics and our most intimate relationships. When we live this way it is as though we dance a rigid box step rather than fluidly and expansively expressing our being."
Realizing that our "things," our "experiences" - even our very "thoughts" and long held "ideas" - are impermanent, it is then possible to overcome "our myopic vision." To do so, however, we need to cultivate a proper understanding and view of our life experience, to refrain from engaging in improper speech, actions and livelihood, and to expend the energy we thus preserve in engaging in at least a minimal meditative and contemplative practice, rather than wasting all that energy cursing the perfidy of the gods and the fickleness of fate and our fellow beings.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Purified Mind Is Like the Clear Waters of a Placid Lake

Perhaps the most influential book that I've read in my life (in a three-way "photo finish" tie with Eckhart Tolle's "The Power of Now" and Eric Butterworth's "Discover the Power Within You") is "How To Know God" - a translation and commentary on Patanjali's Yoga Aphorisms by Christopher Isherwood and Swami Prabhavananda, a founder of the Vedanta Society of Southern California. (My first teacher called it his "Book of Soul Realization.")

Yoga (or, the practice of reuniting our consciousness with the deeper consciousness of the Godhead), it explains, is "the control of thought-waves in the mind." The methodologies of all the branches of Yoga, even the now-popular hatha yoga, are ultimately aimed at achieving this reunion.

"The mind seems to be intelligent and conscious," Isherwood and Prabhavananda note. And, yet, "Yoga philosophy teaches that it is not." Our ordinary mind - self-consciousness, or the "ego" - in fact, "borrows" its seeming consciousness and intelligence from the Godhead within us, from the Atman.

In a powerful image, Isherwood and Prabhavananda explain how the true nature of the mind (the Atman) is obscured by our habitual ideas and patterns of thought (the samskaras, or 'sheaths' that obscure the Atman) and how spiritual practice and meditation clarifies the mind and reunites it with the Godhead within each of us. They, as many traditionalist teachers before them have done, compare the mind to a lake.
"If the surface of a lake is lashed into waves, the water becomes muddy and the bottom cannot be seen. The lake represents the mind and the bottom of the lake represents the Atman.

When Patanjali speaks of "control of thought-waves," he does not refer to a momentary or superficial control. . . . We have to do something much more difficult - to unlearn the identification of the thought-waves with the ego-sense. This process of unlearning involves a complete transformation of character, a "renewal of the mind," as St. Paul puts it.
 . . . Waves do not merely disturb the surface of the water, they also, by their continued action, build up banks of sand or pebbles on the lake bottom. Such sandbanks are, of course, much more permanent and solid than the waves themselves. They may be compared to the tendencies, potentialities and latent states that exist in the conscious and unconscious areas of the mind. In Sanskrit, they are called samskaras. The samskaras are built up by the continued actions of the thought-waves, and they, in their turn, create new thought-waves - the process works both ways. . . . The sum total of our samskaras is, in fact, our character - at any given time. Let us never forget, however, that, just as a sandbank may shift and change its shape if the tide or the current changes, so also the samskaras may be modified by the introduction of other kinds of thought-waves into the mind."
Sri Satchidananda
As another commentator, Sri Swami Satchidananda, notes in his commentary on Patanjali ("The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali"), all the rest of Patanjali's aphorisms are merely a riff on how and by what methods we become able to control the thought-waves of the mind, as well as the results that such discipline brings to us - moksha, liberation, or as it is known in the West, enlightenment.

"The yoga aspirant does not waste his time wondering where his samskaras come from or how long he has had them; he accepts full responsibility for them and sets about trying to change them."
       - Isherwood and Prabhavananda, page 21.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Beyond Perceptions and Conceptions to 'Acceptive Consciousness'

Jack Kerouac (1922-1969)
In our ordinary consciousness we see the world as a manifested reality of "things" - animal, mineral and vegetable. But at the smallest levels, physicists tell us that our "world" consists of granular, distinct quanta (or, sub-particles) of energy, which are "realized" by the act of observation. Because of this, it has been said that modern physics has become "the study of the structure of consciousness."

Humans, with our many layers of consciousness, are capable of "envisioining" our world at both levels. In his most personal writing, "Some of the Dharma" Beat-writer, Jack Kerouac, set this out rather poetically:
 Instead of bothering with one side of the coin
  or the other, throw it away---in the same way,
   instead of either bothering with arbitrary conception
    of manifested phenomena or non-manifested non-phenomena,
     the coin of existence,
                                       throw it away----
                                                                  Rest beyond conception.

Richard M. Bucke (1837-1902)
Richard M. Bucke, one of the first Westerners to attempt a "scientific" explanation and synthesis of the mystic or enlightenment experiences recorded in the world's wisdom traditions, discussed four progressively higher states of consciousness in his iconic work "Cosmic Consciousness" (sometimes referred to as "The Hippie Bible.")

At the lowest state of consciousness, the simplest animal organism will respond to stimuli. This receptive consciousness, may be illustrated by a simple earth worm recoiling from the prick of a needle. 'Reception' of the stimulus begets a reaction.

At a higher level of consciousness, what Bucke called perceptive consciousness, the "perception" of a stimulus will provoke a reaction. Thus, the second time you take your dog to the vet for its shots, your dog will react when it merely sees the needle.

At the higher level of ordinary human consciousness, what Bucke called conceptive consciousness, the mere "idea" of the stimulus will provoke a response. If you tell a child that he or she is going to get a shot, that the doctor will poke a needle into her arm, the mere thought (or "concept") causes a "response," most often tears.

Bucke speculated that there is yet another higher level of consciousness beyond 'ordinary' human, "conceptive consciousness" - a level he called cosmic consciousness - and he compared the recorded experiences of saints and sages, from Lao-Tze to Jesus, and from Paul, Mohammed, St. John of the Cross and Shakespeare to his mentor, Walt Whitman - in order to outline the parameters of what this higher state of consciousness is. He theorized, like so many before and after, (see, "Pain, Sex and Time" by Gerald Heard, or the "evolutionary enlightenment" teachings of Andrew Cohen), that humankind is inexorably evolving towards this higher state of consciousness and awareness.

In that higher state (known in the West as "enlightenment" and in the East as 'samadhi,' 'moksha,' 'nirvana' or, simply, "liberation") ordinary consciousness, with its "conceptions" that crystallize the world, moves to a higher all-inclusive awareness that is beyond stimuli. For that reason, I call it "acceptive" rather than "cosmic" consciousness. It is in this state of "acceptive consciousness" - beyond the labelling and attachments of our egoic conceptions - that the spiritually adept has an experiential realization and radical acceptance of both the 'manifest' and 'unmanifest' realms or worlds. It is "the ineffable" or what, I believe, the Buddha pointed to as "suchness."