Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Grounding Our Awareness in Nature

“Every day, priests minutely examine the Dharma
And endlessly chant complicated sutras.
Before doing that, though, they should learn
How to read the love letters sent by the wind
and rain, the snow and moon.” ……………… Ikkyu Sojun

Ikkyu Sojun was an eccentric, iconoclastic Japanese Zen Buddhist priest, poet and calligrapher. Though he had a notorious reputation as an erotic poet, the practical way to spiritual life is highlighted by the Zen poem quoted above. The grounding of the mental process in what the senses perceive around them in nature is a vital component of spiritual path.

There is a story of Ikkyu Sojun which brings out the depth of his practical spirituality.
Once he stayed in a temple. The night was very cold and there were three wooden Buddhas in the temple, so he burned one Buddha to warm himself. The priest, who was the custodian of the temple, became aware that something was going on, so he looked.
Buddha was burning! -- and this man Ikkyu was sitting, happy, warming his hands. The priest became mad; he said, "What are you doing? Are you a madman? -- and I thought you to be a Buddhist monk, that's why I allowed you to stay in the temple. And you have done the most sacrilegious act."
Ikkyu looked at the priest and said, "But the Buddha within me was feeling very cold. So it was a question whether to sacrifice the living Buddha to the wooden one, or to sacrifice the wooden one to the living one. And I decided for life."

Life in man and in nature is imbued with the Divine. The Earth, along with all that nature, brings to our awareness a strengthening of the inner fabric of existence on which life is based. The story above indicates how we assign a greater value to the representations or iconic imagery of Divinity rather than focusing on the true nature of Divinity which abides in life empowering qualities such as love and compassion. Today the accent is on rituals and recitation as tools for spiritual progress devoid of embedding our consciousness in the abundance of Divine gifts which nature bestows upon us.

God has to be understood as the continuous unfolding of Divine potential in nature.
“Then God said, "Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds." And it was so.” …..Genesis 1:11
The love letters which Ikkyu speaks off are nature’s energies that actualizes the innate potential in the seed.

St. Paul writing to the Romans says: “For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made…” ……..Romans 1:20”.

In Chandogya Upanishad in part VI chapter 12 there is discussion on the True Self between Uddalaka and his son Svetaketu. This is by far a very apt example of how Divine nature can be understood. The discussion between father and son is as follows:
“"Bring me a fruit of that nyagrodha (banyan) tree." "Here it is’ venerable Sir." "Break it." "It is broken, venerable Sir." "What do you see there?" "These seeds, exceedingly small, "Break one of these, my son." "It is broken, venerable Sir." "What do you see there?" "Nothing at all, venerable Sir."
The father said: "That subtle essence, my dear, which you do not perceive there—from that very essence this great nyagrodha arises. Believe me, my dear.
"Now, that which is the subtle essence—in it all that exists has its self. That is the True. That is the Self. That thou art, Svetaketu.”

Nature is our best teacher to start us off in the spiritual path.

Love to you all

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Common Mythical Symbolisms

‎"There are mythologies that are scattered, broken up, all around us. We stand on what I call the terminal moraine* of shattered mythic systems that once structured society. They can be detected all around us. You can select any of these fragments that activate your imagination for your own use. Let it help shape your own relationship to the unconscious system out of which these symbols have come." …… Joseph Campbell, Thou Art That, p.86-87

The tapestry of mythology is very rich given their age and duration during which the deeper knowledge was expressed through these stories. Many myths are available to us today but when we try to reconstruct their meaning we seem to lack a coherent narrative. This is not the problem of the narrative itself but it is the consciousness with which we try to seek meaning.

Man has progressed from mythical consciousness into rational consciousness in the last 400 years, ever since the age of renaissance.

To give an example I would like to quote what Mormon church President John Taylor quoted more than 300 years ago.
“The knowledge that the Mexicans, and other aboriginal races of America had, at the time of their discovery by the Spaniards, of the life of the Saviour, was so exact that the Catholics suggested two theories (both incorrect, however) to solve the mystery. One was that the devil had invented an imitation gospel to delude the Indians; the other, that the Apostle Thomas had visited the Americas and taught its people the plan of Salvation. The story of the life of the Mexican divinity, Quetzalcoatl, closely resembles that of the Saviour; so closely, indeed, that we can come to no other conclusion than that Quetzalcoatl and Christ are the same being. But the history of the former has been handed down to us through an impure Lamanitish source, which has sadly disfigured and perverted the original incidents and teachings of the Saviour’s life and ministry.”

This is typically a reverse structuring of deeper essence of ancient wisdom from the perceiver’s current knowledge base. First of all there is an apriori position of one assuming to possess an irrefutable set of ideas and then trying to position a set of past information in the context of this insufficient current knowledge.

If one takes a more pragmatic view that a set of near identical events in a number of mythological narrations in various cultures could be told or written down to illustrate basic principles and values which were held inviolate by society, beyond a cultural and temporal dimension, then a more unbiased view can be arrived at.

Whether it be Quetzalcoatl and Christ as saviour or Krishna’s and Christ early childhood events, especially the massacre of the innocents by an ego dominated king all point to deeper strata of spiritual truth as sacred history for the common man to understand. It is when we assign a pure historical dimension to these narratives hat we fail to grasp the deeper import these events meant to convey.

The deeper symbolism of Quetzalcoatl and Christ as the ‘feathered serpent’ and ‘Pascal lamb’ signify two distinct dimensions of salvation in their respective cultures. The symbol of the serpent was associated in mythology with keeper of higher wisdom and the Pascal lamb whose blood saved the Israelis from the wrath of the avenging angel in Egypt on the night of liberation from bondage both convey to the psyche the archetypes of salvation.
Quetzalcoatl was also considered to be  the redeemer of the world from an astrological and agrarian perspective. Most Mesoamerican beliefs included cycles of suns. Usually, our current time was considered the fifth sun, the previous four having been destroyed by flood, fire and the like. Quetzalcoatl went to Mictlan, the underworld, and created fifth-world mankind from the bones of the previous races (with the help of Cihuacoatl), using his own blood, from a wound he inflicted on his earlobes, calyes, tongue, and penis, to imbue the dead bones with new life.
This sees a parallel in Christ having suffered and died went to the underworld for three days to be resurrected to liberate humanity from the slavery of sin.

Hence even disparate mythological fragments can evoke a common evolutionary meaning in the human psyche.

Love to you all.

* Terminal moraine is the formation at the snout of a glacier, marking its maximum advance

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Perennial Unchanging Fullness

“…….'As Yahweh your God lives,' she replied, 'I have no baked bread, but only a handful of meal in a jar and a little oil in a jug; I am just gathering a stick or two to go and prepare this for myself and my son to eat, and then we shall die.' But Elijah said to her, 'Do not be afraid, go and do as you have said; but first make a little scone of it for me and bring it to me, and then make some for yourself and for your son. For Yahweh, God of Israel, says this: Jar of meal shall not be spent, jug of oil shall not be emptied, before the day when Yahweh sends rain on the face of the earth.'
The woman went and did as Elijah told her and they ate the food, she, himself and her son.
The jar of meal was not spent nor the jug of oil emptied, just as Yahweh had foretold through Elijah.” ……………First Kings 17:12-16

“That is Full; this is full. From the Full does the Full proceed. After the coming of the Full from the full, the Full alone remains. Om. Peace! Peace! Peace!” ……….Bhadāraṇyaka Upanishad

Prophet Elijah demonstrates the power of the Divine essence through this episode that figures in the First book of Kings. The concept that when something is taken out from a specific location, there is a felt absence in the original place of residence of the original quantum of material or an object, is true when dealing with matter at its coarsest nature. This was the understanding in classical Newtonian physics. With the advent of quantum physics and the concept of Quantum Entanglement, matter at its very basic constituent seems to defy the classical Newtonian model and can exist in multiple locations. This is fundamental to our understanding of the nature of our consciousness which predominantly operates in the dualistic subject-object mode of perception due to mental imprints through sensory agencies.

It is important for us to understand the words that prophet Elijah uses in admonishing the poor woman in order to dispel her fears of depletion of the vital resource that she has in her possession.
He says “Jar of meal shall not be spent, jug of oil shall not be emptied, before the day when Yahweh sends rain on the face of the earth”

All material manifestations are ever present in one form or another. There is a constant process of annihilation or consummation but at the same time there is process of reformation and restoration into an existence of different nature. These processes continue till the day of final dissolution. In the Biblical text or other sacred scriptures the rain or the deluge which we speak of is the dissolution of manifest consciousness and integration into the cosmic or Divine consciousness. The establishment of a new covenant or the installation of a new Manu in Vedic scriptures entails a new order of manifestation in the Cosmic cycle. This cycle cannot be perceived through a temporal mindset or intellectual grasping.

The invocation, at the beginning of Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, which is quoted along with the Biblical text at the beginning of this article, states this profound truth in a concise way. This statement defies logic when analysed from a space-time plenum but can be grasped when we re-position our thinking from a Cosmic continuum as all that is manifest and unmanifest are the purest from of Divine consciousness. In manifestation a name and form is acquired due to conditioned consciousness of the very manifestation itself. It is a self-inflicted falsification which needs to be transcended.

Love to you all

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Question of Human Destiny

"The question of the destiny of our lives is very serious, as it concerns the most important question for man: for what purpose are we placed on earth?
If man takes a correct stance on this issue; if he finds his true destiny; then he will be able to take a correct viewpoint in relation to particular questions that arise in our daily life; in our relationships with our fellow men; in our studies, profession, marriage and the bearing and upbringing of children.
If he does not relate correctly to this basic issue, then he will also fail in life's particular purposes, for what meaning can a particular purpose have if human life as a whole has no meaning?" .................Archimandrite George, Abbot of the Holy Monastery of St. Gregorios on Mount Athos.

When studying evolution, the past becomes a very important part of our perception. It is through a series of events in the past and their interconnectedness that we are able to comprehend the evolutionary process. The question that this article addresses is to do with our ultimate future evolution, our destiny. How can we ever grasp the goal towards which we are evolving and how can the past and the present ever give us a clue as to what is in store for us? A linear model would entail, extrapolation,but we know with our present knowledge that linearity was not an attribute of human evolution. Complexity rules this domain. Added to this situation, the human consciousness or the human mind itself, with which we are trying to grasp a future reality, is evolving and hence how can we ever comprehend the nature of the higher mind or its consciousness in the future.
Added to this difficulty, we are so preoccupied with our present day worries as individuals in various roles such as fathers, mothers, bread winners, professionals etc., that we have barely any time for this deep reflection as to what the human destiny is and towards what purpose we are evolving. Organized religious belief systems and teachings have fallen awfully short of expectations in this regard.

When addressing this question, a great thinker and spiritual master comes to my mind, namely; Sri Aurobindo. Sri. Aurobindo’s, whose work “The Life Divine”, deals with the issue We are addressing here. In chapter V of this work , Aurobindo opens with a quote from Isha Upanishad.

“By the Ignorance they cross beyond Death and by the Knowledge enjoy Immortality. . . . By the Non-Birth they cross beyond Death and by the Birth enjoy Immortality.”….Isha Upanishad

Attaining immortality is the purpose of life. This immortality is not at the physical or material level but at the level of the spirit or the soul. The way this can be obtained is only through ‘Brahmavidya’, the supreme knowledge. The ultimate core of all spiritual teachings addresses this through the limitations of language in a specific cultural context. This may not be possible for most of us to comprehend and that is the reason that many lifetimes and planes of existence are needed to transcend to this highest level, our true destiny. In seeking this ultimate purpose from our current level of consciousness, a process of negation predominates. It is like the process of seeking a perfect and very valuable pearl in a huge mountain of artificial or fake jewellery. ‘Net-neti’. ‘Not this, not that’ is the only way that we can weed out all the multiplicity of manifestations at whose core resides the state of non-being a state of ‘satchitananda’ or true bliss or immortality.

This progression is defined by Aurobindo in the following words:

“But as in Thought, so in Life, the true rule of self-realization is a progressive comprehension. Brahman (Supreme consciousness) expresses Itself in many successive forms of consciousness, successive in their relation even if coexistent in being or coeval in Time, and Life in its self-unfolding must also rise to ever-new provinces of its own being.”

I specifically chose a thought, which is expressed in simple language, from Christian thinker as the opening to this article to stress the point that all great spiritual traditions talked of the same message namely the ultimate destiny of the human to become Divine and that is the reason we are placed on this earth.

Love to you all.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Contrasting Supplications

“As long a time as it shall be God's will.
Not even Death, alas! my life will take;
Thus restless I my wretched way must make,
And on the ground, which is my mother's gate,
I knock with my staff early, aye, and late,
And cry: 'O my dear mother, let me in!
Lo, how I'm wasted, flesh and blood and skin!
Alas! When shall my bones come to their rest?” ……….Geoffrey Chaucer “Pardoner’s Tale”

“Then will I headlong run into the earth:
Earth, gape!  O, no, it will not harbour me!
You stars that reign'd at my nativity,
Whose influence hath allotted death and hell,
Now draw up Faustus, like a foggy mist.
Into the entrails of yon labouring cloud[s],
That, when you vomit forth into the air,
My limbs may issue from your smoky mouths,
So that my soul may but ascend to heaven!” ……………..Christopher Marlowe “Doctor Faustus”

Today we celebrate “All Souls Day” in the Christian calendar. I was reading Chaucer a few days back and in his poem “Pardoner’s Tale” the above passage struck me as a contrast to another supplication from another great Drama, namely; “Doctor Faustus”.

Typically these two scenarios are what most of us go through on a very practical level.

When we are faced with the difficulties that life throw at us, whether it be ill-health, financial or emotional upheaval or old age, as in the case of the old man in Chaucer’s poem, we pray and plead for a quick exit. Chaucer wrote in the fourteenth century when England was still not exposed to the philosophical mindset as the rest of Europe. This is the reason that his escape from the present life is rooted to the Earth. Chaucer was the first prolific writer in English literature.
There is a deep message in Chaucer’s poetry. Not even one’s mother, who was interned before nor mother earth can respond to our pleading as there is a destined time and purpose in God’s creation, life giving sustenance and finally the transformation at death. The Divine purpose is the author of our entire existence.

In the second scenario, I have taken from the famous work of Marlowe “Doctor Faustus”. Here we read of another type of supplication. This is the torment that we go through if we spend our lives in the lap of luxury and learning, but never aspire to devote our time and energy to our spiritual grooming. Faustus selling his soul means precisely this approach to our life on earth, namely; a life of physical, material and mental mastery and the power we derive from such activity.
The true purpose of life is spiritual ascendancy and all earthly comforts, beauty and knowledge are to be used as supportive tools for this higher purpose.
The despondency of Faustus illustrates the neglected true craving which is the ascendancy of the soul to heaven.
 This message we can take to heart on this day of remembrance and pray with grateful hearts for a life of hope, love and charity which will nourish our soul in this terrestrial journey.

Love to you all.