Tag Archives: Epicurus

The Garden Lives

I’m very pleased to learn from Hiram Crespo that Epicureanism, which I still also like, is experiencing some surge of interest. The International Society of Friends of Epicurus has been formed, in his words, “to ignite a much-needed full revival of the ancient philosophical school.” We learn too that there are Gardens in Athens and Thessaloniki which attract hundreds at annual events, and one in Sydney that is rather smaller.

I suppose I will have to remain a fellow traveller. If I were to establish a Garden of my own here, it would likely have a similar vibe, but I would want to hypnotise people occasionally too. :)

Since Epicureanism has so often been used in modernity to dismiss the nonphysical (Locke, Jefferson), and always had strong materialist leanings, why use it as a spiritual person?

I was always looking for something that didn’t have a spiritual element, so it would be more neutral and allow me to discover spirituality without reference to a particular dogma.

The main difference between a spiritual and a non-spiritual philosophy overtly is the basing of one’s actions and identity in the non-physical. One finds the soul, and it must be the basis and guide.

When I look at what I actually took from Epicurus, it emphatically does help with this.

– the contentment with the simple, the ability to distinguish natural and unnatural desires, an excellent idea not least since we know simplicity and maturity helps to ignite spirit (more on that in the upcoming series);

– the ability to come to terms with death and pain, not to fear them — the example of Epicurus being someone who was cheerful under any pain; you need some way to interfere with its power to affect the thought and disposition;

– the enjoyment of the state that results.

Epicurus himself maintains that with these you are no longer a “mere mortal animal”. These particular emphases are useful in a society that constantly projects violence and pain and hypes appetite. Yes these profoundly interfere with the workings of the soul. When I am in contact with my soul, I don’t necessarily need words. But I think the value of a simple philosophy like this is that it can give the conscious mind somewhere useful and positive to focus. The thought of Epicurus (and Democritus too actually) is fresh and friendly. It has no hierarchicalism. So it suits me.

But of course I focus on plenty of other things that many Epicureans wouldn’t like, especially not now…

Re-Hanging My Hat

In all of these peak experiences it becomes impossible to differentiate sharply between the self and the non-self… Observe first of all that this is an empirical statement and not a philosophical or theological one. Anyone can repeat these findings.

– Abraham Maslow, The Farther Reaches of Human Nature (1971)

Quite unexpectedly, this post marks the beginning of the end of this phase of this blog. I will probably do one more next week, and then take a break, I don’t know exactly how long. During that break there will still be more on the Reading Lists and the Webster Rebuttal though.

I guess what I’m experiencing here is kind of a Breakout. :) I’ve written and rewritten the following post but don’t know that I’ve managed to convey what’s exciting me… Still, I think it will bear a lot of fruit down the road and I just want to experiment with it for a while without writing stuff down.


Glenn: taught humanity not just spirituality

Since religion in any organised and orthodox Western sense is not necessary for spiritual experience and enlightenment, and in my case I’m sure would prevent it, I’ve always been looking for secular theories that will do the philosophical heavy lifting. Until now I didn’t appreciate how Glenn’s training in Humanistic psych helped him deal with Kundalini, in a sense prepared him for it attitudinally (along with martial arts of course). Humanistic psych is not exactly “spiritual”, just open to experience. For Glenn it actually did a lot of what a “having a faith” would do for someone, but wasn’t a faith, was empirical.

Glenn was able to be both highly connected to spiritual traditions and in a considerable degree of irony towards them, using powers of psychological reinterpretation to smoke out the crowd-herding dogmas, rhetorics, superstitions, and plain old mistakes.

I always thought in general that with enough transpersonal psych I’d get the answers I wanted. But after I went through all the Wilbers and the Ferrers, even though I learned something from Grof alright, my reaction was… ok, what else have you got?

I didn’t see that Glenn had actually got his stuff from the Humanistic and evidential, a lot more than from the Transpersonal, which is mostly non-evidential. What he did after he’d experienced Kundalini was a) replicate it on others; and b) develop psychological instruments based on chakra models. That is exactly what Maslow would have done. Wilber never did this. Translating the ancient transpersonal into our lives in a new form is about careful, cautious, wise prescription based on doing the legwork.

Because Maslow did that legwork he often had to backtrack. When he was more decisive he often was wrong and had to eat humble pie later, because the evidence went another way. That’s life! Humanistic psych, which in 1962 he liked to call “holistic-dynamic” psych, was always about understanding the human experiential world. After that, you could quantify.

I begin to understand how Glenn was able to integrate all his experiences without losing his scientific focus, and also how he could integrate so much hard science without losing his soul and going left-brained. He kept the Humanistic focus and never let the results run him. In turn I begin to get why so much conversation on the science of the transpersonal bores me rigid, why conversation with “skeptics” is such a farce — indeed, why I leapt at the opportunity to reply to Webster! He at least has a focus on the experience of human existence. Without that appreciation for the human, the world is ‘cut in half’ by scientific investigation, for no good reason. And we know that same cutting-in-half happens in religions too.

By sensitive observation, testing both qualitative and quantitative, on lots of people, you make something democratic. Religious top-down declarations of truth are undermined. It’s a different world at that point.


Readers of John Michael Greer got a nice idea from him a few weeks back:

What you contemplate, you imitate

I remember Greer was talking about fellow peak oil writer James Howard Kunstler, for example, who has written so long and scathingly about certain aspects of American life, that he occasionally sounds and thinks just like what he’s lampooning. Compare that with the process by which a medieval monk’s long contemplation of Christ causes changes of a more positive kind.

I introduced the idea of entrainment, of which these are examples. I was groping there, still am, for the actual nub, trying to describe how “it” crosses over from human mind to “the universe”. What I didn’t manage to get across was that entrainment means something is happening, something more than what ”you” are consciously doing.

I said then: “Psychologically, let’s call entrainment the process whereby interaction with ‘something’ brings a personality into being.” That is what happened to Kunstler. There is a blurring of object with subject in a process of transformation. It just happens. Kunstler did the contemplating, but the imitating happened “by itself”. At the end of the day, whose behaviour do we have there? :) What caused the contemplation and what caused the imitation?

The fact that it occurs “by itself” is the key. I’ve always noticed “something acting through me”, I’m not trying to say this is something amazing, but something, even before I started out to work with all this. That to me is another great key which I need to take time off writing, and maybe most reading, in order to play with. St Romain describes “ground itself looking through my eyes”, and that is exactly it.

This connects to a lot of what Anandamayi Ma would say — she is worth the study — but at the same time via Humanistic psych it relates to ordinary human life, being constantly let go of, as we do when we peak. It may have seemed hyperbolic to say Benson-style Breakout was “the central human psychological mechanism” but I think there is something very important there. (I might refer to the Kunstler thing as a ‘plateau Breakout’.) What acts when we ‘let go’ is the real thing.

I believe one could look at the entire universe as the product of spontaneous entrainments. Think of the descriptions of the creation processes. Yin entrained to Yang and spontaneous results thereof. The universe as a big Breakout, one big continuous transformation.

The universe is a form of mentation. Spiritual training has you constantly learning to direct attention and increase its power, so that you can entrain and crucially de-entrain as opposed to being run by the entrainments you just find yourself with.

Qi is the medium through which entrainments happen, is itself the medium of transformation, even of the physical. That all fits with the science — the Lu/Yan experiments I talked about before showed qi as precisely that.

And I suspect that each human life itself in a sense is one really big Breakout waiting to happen. I think I’ll just leave that statement hanging there. :)


Maslow — taught Glenn humanity

Maslow is just old enough to be yesterday’s man, not old enough to be “classic”, and totally “left behind” by fMRI in the last decade. I love that, because he was right. His empirical focus on positive aspects of human functioning is now derided as unscientific because it focused on values, but a) it was actually perfectly scientific, b) it came up with stuff you can actually use, and c) given that what you contemplate, you imitate, it was a bloody good idea.

When you say the world is mechanical, you don’t merely lose ‘meaning’, you lose all values, and hence, all chance of being scientific. Meditators know that neutrality doesn’t mean valuelessness. For human beings values are non-optional, and we can make rigorous scientific statements about them. Much normal science avoids this and is robbing us of our humanity. Maslow proved that human values can really be studied — the fact that so few picked up that gage is a choice, and it’s fear-driven, it’s deficiency-driven. People don’t want the responsibility. Many scientists want to be machines, and to know how to push human buttons.

What Maslow starts offering me is what he gave Glenn all along — a humanised way to tackle big questions and experiences, and relate them to ordinary humanity.

Think of the huge numbers of STEs and peak experiences which “just happen” — from ⅓ to ½ of the population in America has had an STE and numbers for general peak experiences must be even higher. We know that many of these events add meaning to life. We also know they don’t correlate to religious belief. When Maslow studied them he found fourteen consistent attributes which he called ‘B-values’ (“Being values”). Since these attributes appear spontaneously one could also call them “S-terms”, the attributes of spontaneity itself, as we experience it.

Here is one Maslow list of them:

WHOLENESS (unity; integration; tendency to one-ness; interconnectedness; simplicity; organization; structure; dichotomy-transcendence; order);

PERFECTION (necessity; just-right-ness; just-so-ness; inevitability; suitability; justice; completeness; “oughtness”);

COMPLETION (ending; finality; justice; “it’s finished”; fulfillment; finis and telos; destiny; fate);

JUSTICE (fairness; orderliness; lawfulness; “oughtness”);

ALIVENESS (process; non-deadness; spontaneity; self-regulation; full-functioning);

RICHNESS (differentiation, complexity; intricacy);

SIMPLICITY (honesty; nakedness; essentiality; abstract, essential, skeletal structure);

BEAUTY (rightness; form; aliveness; simplicity; richness; wholeness; perfection; completion; uniqueness; honesty);

GOODNESS (rightness; desirability; oughtness; justice; benevolence; honesty);

UNIQUENESS (idiosyncrasy; individuality; non-comparability; novelty);

EFFORTLESSNESS (ease; lack of strain, striving or difficulty; grace; perfect, beautiful functioning);

PLAYFULNESS (fun; joy; amusement; gaiety; humor; exuberance; effortlessness);

TRUTH (honesty; reality; nakedness; simplicity; richness; oughtness; beauty; pure, clean and unadulterated; completeness; essentiality).

SELF-SUFFICIENCY (autonomy; independence; not-needing-other-than-itself-in-order-to-be-itself; self-determining; environment-transcendence; separateness; living by its own laws).

This is from ordinary people’s self-reporting of peaks. It’s a basic, instant-grasp view of “how the Tao in action feels” for human beings. We know that neutrality and letting-go allows “it” to act. Therefore we know human “neutrality” is not morally neutral but full of values. Peak experiences can easily be remembered and focused on to hold true to one’s personal Way. This is an entrainment which will then break out in new peaks. Contemplate: imitate. Anyone who has looked over books in the Reading List will get the idea. I will give a couple of interesting things next week, but actually it’s all there.

Maslow provided a time-saving, tested, sure foundation for personal experiment on oneself that anyone non-religious, anyone determined to use their own symbols and translate the traditions their way, can use. Glenn went ahead and fulfilled this vision and democratised an even bigger chunk of higher reality.

I will try never again to underestimate Maslow. He was far righter on than I’d understood. Just look at this:

The person now becomes more a pure psyche and less a thing-of-the-world living under the laws if the world… B-cognition of the other is most possible when there is simultaneously a letting-be of the self and of the other…

Toward a Psychology of Being (1962)

I know there were times when he was wrong — but it doesn’t usually matter because one only needs to take the good stuff. Even then, I often find him eminently correctable. After all, he didn’t build a big “perfect” structure and then cry like a baby every time the truth took a bite out of it — he was always prepared to be wrong. One of the things he was wrong about, I mentioned before, was “needs”. He didn’t realise needs lose their blocking nature, not from being “fulfilled” necessarily (which may only entrain them further, as the Greeks knew) — but by conscious limitation and transmutation.

Yet Glenn was ahead of me:

Abraham Maslow, a great American theoretical psychologist, felt that one’s metaneeds (spiritual needs) could only be met when one’s basic needs for survival and security were met… He ignored the scriptures, tales of the aesthetes and ascetics who sometimes achieved enlightenment (self-actualization) through eliminating and shaping desire to higher needs.

Shadow Strategies (1996, p. 260)

And I believe Maslow did understand that, on some level:

There are certain theoretical advantages in stressing now the aspect of non-striving or non-needing and taking it as the centering-point (or center of organization) of the something we are studying.

Toward a Psychology of Being (1962)

Once awake to the possibility, you can move your energy in the down-the-pyramid direction (BTW the pyramid isn’t Maslow, it’s a later interpretation by Goble), and you don’t really need to alter the theory. He was thereabouts if not there; his finger missed some contours, but he was touching the truth that more reality = less need.

You can explain so much just with those 14 simple S-terms. Epicurus, who introduced me to need-reduction strategies that really work, fits very well from his angle. One could be literal and state that S-terms like “simplicity” and “effortlessness” are the particular focus of the Epicurean, whilst reducing both need and striving are the important methods. (Stress reduction was as big a deal for Epicurus as for Herbert Benson.) The nature of ataraxia, untroubledness, is fundamentally related to the neutral observation that enables transformation.

But one can go further and say that Epicurus’s ‘pleasure’ (hêdonê) is also related to peak experience in general. The Epicureans would have been having spontaneous peaks like anyone else, and their reduction of needs would have helped. The ‘pleasure’ of Epicurus moves toward the true self, of being as much ‘like a god’ as a human can be. It is more than mere ordinary pleasure, as he said so many times.

Maslow’s focus on actualisation of the individual was 100% correct. Ego death can’t be “done for you” and it goes one person at a time. Modern transpersonal “theory” like that of Ferrer (one is not allowed to call it psychology) has unceremoniously junked everything we once knew we knew about the psychology of egolessness, and all the places it touched Eastern tradition. Glenn ignored Ferrer completely.

I accused Maslow before of not recognising the relationship between peak experiences and death, but I wasn’t being totally fair there either. He writes:

Perhaps I should add here the paradoxical result — for some — that death may lose its dread aspect. Ecstasy is somehow close to death-experience, at least in the simple, empirical sense that death is often mentioned during reports of peaks… I have occasionally been told, “I felt that I could willingly die” or, “No one can ever again tell me death is bad”, etc.

Religions, Values and Peak-Experiences (1964, p.76)

So he knew about this. Just as with the pyramid, the data suggested a conclusion he acknowledged but didn’t place into the theory proper — an association of peak with death of the social self.

What happened with Glenn was that he back-engineered the qigong and chakra stuff in just this way, and tested it. This goes far beyond Maslow in terms of experience and effect, this is real goddess stuff — but Maslow is so open-ended it can be understood just the same exact way.

Believe it or not there is next to no widely-tested psychology on chakras apart from Glenn’s. People are writing books on ‘chakra psychology’ who haven’t even read his work, getting everything anecdotally. (I don’t denigrate a lifetime’s experienced wisdom in healing, for instance, but I do deny that it constitutes scientific knowledge in itself.) Psychology means testing, and you need a framework for testing. And it better be a Humanistic framework or else you’ll cut off the soul again.

From Glenn we know that different people habitually favour different chakras, and what that’s likely to do to stress levels, career, personality, and other measurable stuff, on a variety of accepted scales. That is actually unique so far as I’m aware. Bardon gives a lengthy process for determining one’s elemental balance — in my case Glenn’s test gave the same result as that process, but in 2 minutes flat. But of course Glenn also provides the crucial inner stuff, the connection to experience, so you can transform awareness, in a way you can customise to you.

All the physical experiments, all the quantifying, has to be secondary compared to that. That’s just information. What Glenn did has humanistic, customisable universality because thousands of people contributed to it, just as there were many subjects of Maslow’s B-values research. It captures something about living, something anyone’s unique life experience can add to.

(I’m not just dogmatically saying that “we need to test”. I’m saying I’ve just noticed that those who tested came up with results I could use, and those who didn’t, didn’t. I even believe that the limits on what is testable and in that sense knowable may be precisely the limits needed to maintain the personal freedom that religion can expunge.)

In this paragraph I should sum up what I’m saying… the world to me now looks as if it makes sense from a certain angle, a loose and usable kind of sense that redeems scientific endeavours since there is a way to integrate those with real feeling and value, and which shows that even the heights of “spirituality” are based on human conditions and proclivities that anyone can relate to. I don’t know why that has surprised me so much, but I do know that one reason I went for Glenn’s stuff is that he didn’t talk like a normal spirichal teacha, and now I begin to understand why, and what that has to do with the “it that acts”.

Incidentally, I also begin to understand why some people who ripped off Glenn’s methods ended up writing such crappy books.

I ‘ll take a little time off the blog to see what happens as a result, but will just do a quick post next week especially targeted at methods… cya then.

Ataraxia: The Steamboat Principle

I think it’s a truly extraordinary moment in SBNR writing…

… SBNR: Spiritual But Not Religious. Writing the Webster rebuttal has made me realise I identify with that term and its history… it’s proving a useful opportunity to crystallise the concept’s importance, the culture associated with it that we can and should be proud of, but aren’t, I think as a result of commercialism and easy answers… and we may be neglecting important stuff… this is what allows Webster to and claim in what looks to the uneducated like a coherent fashion that we need to ‘scrap spirit altogether’… I think it is time for a reappraisal of SBNR and a reminder of what it is and has been, apart from 2012 nonsense…

… pursuing his OBE activities, Robert Monroe (Far Journeys, 1985), who invented the term “OBE”, wants to reach the nonphysical space where some beings he is in touch with reside. They tell him he couldn’t tolerate the atmosphere. He will need to undergo a set of experiences first, which will change him. He agrees… following is one of the experiences.

Monroe was a totally SBNR individual, a man with an engineering background who one day found himself floating on the ceiling. He invented a vocabulary and set of techniques for nonphysical exploration (still very much in use at the Monroe Institute he founded) that is entirely independent of all religious culture and has some degree of technicality in its vocab and feel. As a result, some thought he was a little ropey on human emotions. The truth is he had great understanding of them and repeatedly wrote far more interestingly about them than many supposedly more right-brained people.

Judge for yourself:

. . . Our little dog with the funny name, Steamboat, he is walking with
me along the road in early morning . . . he is such a friend . . . his
bright gladness at seeing me . . . he actually grins when he wants you to
know what a nice guy he is, just because that’s what his human close-by
god does . . . his seeming need to be with you, enthusiastically do what
you want to do . . . just a word from me, and he comes running to me
joyfully . . . it’s much more than the fact that I feed him, most of what
we do has no relationship to such . . . we have a bond that might be
called friendship, he’s succeeded in making friends with his god, doing
things together, that’s pretty good stuff, making friends with your
god . . . now he’s been diverted into the wooded bank alongside the
road, eagerly seeking an ever-elusive rabbit, but after a short search, he
will return, bounding across the road to walk just in front of me again .
. . then I hear a vehicle, a car or truck, approaching behind the blind
curve and I call to Steamboat to come to me, stand and be where it is
safe . . . it is a truck, and it comes around the curve quickly, too quickly
. . . just ten feet away from passing me, Steamboat leaps down the bank
from the woods and directly under the wheel of the truck . . . there is a
rending scream as the wheel grinds over the lower half of his body,
flattening it completely . . . the truck moves away and stops, and the
driver gets down from his cab, sadly apologetic . . . I get to where
Steamboat is still trying to come to me, his front legs trying to drag the
crushed half across the road to where I am . . . I sit down on the road
in front of him, and he stops trying to move as I reach out and rub his
head, tears forming in my eyes as minuscule evidence of the deep
sorrow within me . . . through my hand, I feel the heavy tremors
moving through his body from the pain, and he licks my hand and looks up
at me, asking, hoping his god will take care of the pain . . . I look at his
body, the damage so irreparable there is no hope . . . he licks my hand again . . . and I accept the responsibility . . . I get up and move to the waiting truck driver, removing
my pullover shirt as I go . . . a look passes between us and he knows
that I do not blame him, that he should harbor no guilt . . . sadness
shared, yes . . . but no guilt . . . I was responsible, not he . . . I move
to the truck, remove the cap from the gas tank, and push the shirt into the
tank, soaking it with fluid . . . then I remove the dripping cloth and
move back to Steamboat, who has watched me expectantly, too weak to
do more . . . I sit down, and his head drops into my lap, eyes looking up
to me, asking, asking . . . gently, I move the cloth over his nose with one
hand and place the other on his head . . . his eyes look at me deeply and
the tremors in his neck subside slowly and are gone . . . I see and know
the closeness we share is eternal, and he somehow knows this, too . . .
the conscious awareness in his eyes dims and is gone . . . and they are only eyes with my tears in them . . .

Suddenly he exits this reality –

– which has been set up by these beings as an environment in which to learn a specific lesson. All of this has been taking place out of body.

Instantly he knows Steamboat is fine — “somewhere near my physical body”.

Yes, Steamboat is fine. The designers of the experience explain that this was a reliving of an earlier similar event in which a different dog died, and that in the earlier event, Monroe himself was helpless:

You did nothing to fulfill your responsibility. In your present state of awareness, you exercised the control that is so important […] The paradox attached to such vital energy, emotion as you call it, is the opportunity for growth it provides and the simultaneous possibility of stasis and retrogression. Control and direction thereof thus becomes a prime purpose in the evolving human experience. Understanding and comprehension is the resultant and flows without effort…

I relate this to what I’ve been thinking in the last couple of weeks — ataraxia involves the ability to be peaceful amid any flow. Neither to stop the flow, nor to lose the peace amidst the flow, that is the conundrum. ‘Control’ is ‘so important’, a ‘prime purpose’. “Control of” means “maintenance of awareness (implied: parasympathetic) amidst the change of”.

Monroe’s aesthetic is that of an engineer (“understanding and comprehension is the resultant…”) but know the meaning of emotion? I think he did. Very well. ‘Negative emotion’ means something to us humans. Dumbed down into ‘the chance to grow’, Monroe’s thought pegs suffering as a precisely targeted attempt to get us to reach and hold the underlying truth beneath surface entrainments.

After he got through all those environments, he did get to visit the place he wanted to visit. I remember Epicurus: “We believe many pains to be better than pleasures when a greater pleasure follows for a long while if we endure the pains.”

In praise of Cross-Cultural Pleasure, Health and Immortality

Lü Dongbin painted by Sesson Shukei, one of my favourite images of immortality. The dragon upon which Lü stands (what a great depiction!) symbolises his immortality. He has an elixir in his left hand, which he has just uncorked — the cork is in his right hand. This has called or formed another dragon in the air above him.

This is set off by the usefulness of Epicureanism again…“Pleasure, health, and immortality” sounds too good to be true, but read on.

Glenn reversed serious lifelong arthritis mostly by qigong. It’s not hard to imagine the pleasure that goes with the health there. (Certainly not for me, I have had and am having the same, and more.) At 38 he dropped his baby daughter because of arthritis pain, but at 48 had no pain at all. Pleasure was a big part of the healing, in the form of the Smile technique COMPLETE TEXT FREE . Mantak Chia’s Smile is just as useful COMPLETE TEXT FREE (PAGE 43). You can combine them. I have old CDs of Glenn chuckling at how odd it must seem to some, reaching into their own organs with happiness, but have those beginners read Plato? (Of course not!) : –

When the mind wants to cause fear, it makes use of the liver’s native bitterness and plays a stern and threatening role… By contrast, gentle thoughts from the mind produce images of the opposite kind… and so bring relief from bitterness… making the part of the soul that lives in the region of the liver cheerful and gentle…


“The part of the soul that lives in the liver” — this really is pretty Taoist considering it’s Plato. But the spirit of the Western organ is still separate from its physicality to a greater extent than in China. (Taoist priests actually conjure deities out of their bodies to officiate at the rites, which would cause most Platonists to do a double-take or three.)

That brings us to immortality, which does not mean literal physical bodies that last forever. Even the most mundane kind of immortality is interesting. Epicurus stated that the removal of fear and anxiety allowed one to live ‘like a god among men’. He felt self-sufficiency and serenity were godlike and he found them in the gods when he looked at them:

…there are perceptions in our mind — so, at least, Epicurus affirms — of beings brighter and better than man. These images visit us when the mind is no longer besieged by the objects of sense. In the night season, and in quiet reflection, we have visions of the gods, as beings beyond the reach of trouble or of death — beings endowed with immortality and supreme felicity…

– Wallace, Epicureanism COMPLETE TEXT FREE

It’s no secret that immortality has been offered as everything from a kitsch fairytale to a serious result of spiritual practice. Either way, it certainly seems very enjoyable if you manage to attain it. We met before the Chinese god Wenchang, with his autobiography — when he first (re-) attains his own immortality he goes on a holiday which, says Kleeman, is ‘totally Daoist… delighting in nature without a care in the world’:

I happened to find myself atop Mount Monarch in Grotto-courtyard Lake. I loved the magnificent scenery, and so stayed there a while… Transcending the profane inferior world, I came and went alone. The lights on the water and the colors on the mountains were delightful all year round. Humming with the wind and whistling at the moon, what limit was there to this joy?

He has to tone it down eventually, since euphoria is not peace. But here we have a pretty clear confluence of immortality with sheer pleasure.

Empedocles of Acragas

Wenchang actually began as a god before becoming entangled in earthly life, just like our Western Empedocles, for example, whom Peter Kingsley made a little famous. He is another god writing an autobiography — and offering deifying methods too, that is, methods of recovering your own innate divinity. Not that he was recognised as a god in his time, but then neither was Wenchang whilst incarnated. Empedocles is walking around as a “god amongst men”, he does say, and he means it literally. What awaits him after his mortality is renounced but joy at the immortal table, free of human woe? Just so, those achieving immortality or deliverance from the corpse in China lived in celestial paradises with Laojun, Huangdi the Yellow Emperor, or Xiwang mu, Queen Mother of the West.

All the stuff about “going to heaven if you’re good” is a dumbing down of this in many ways, and I include Plato in that. The systems I’ve studied tend to say you won’t actually last in the otherworld without juice and eutonia — the Taoists say, without having become a true ‘yang spirit’, which apparently can take physical form at any time but is not limited to any form.

In the tantric Mahasiddha tradition as expounded by Dowman FREE TEXT, “the result of sadhana is pure pleasure”, with enlightenment its ultimate, and ultimately pleasurable goal. Although such paths require endurance, as Epicurus says, “we believe many pains to be better than pleasures when a greater pleasure follows for a long while if we endure the pains.” The right methods bring health to the body meanwhile — Empedocles promises “remedies for ills and help against old age” and Chinese longevity is legendary.

Epicurus’ attitude to death is interesting for Kundalini purposes. When he says that a major pleasure strategy is to: “Get used to believing that death is nothing to us,” (on the principle of decreasing trouble of mind) he is really talking common sense, but is far from meaning, let’s pretend it isn’t going to happen. Seneca, a member of that supposedly rival sect, the Stoics, records his attitude:

In the meantime Epicurus will oblige me, with the following saying: ‘Rehearse death’, or — the idea may come across to us rather more satisfactorily if put in this form — ‘It is a very good thing to familiarise oneself with death.’


That wouldn’t be out of place in Tibet. Epicurus is a very good ‘naturaliser’ of qigong in the West in the absence of anything I can use from a new age standpoint. In Epicurus, a life of peace is usually to be recommended over one involved in political power-seeking — “Quiet life and withdrawal from the many” is the formula. In this connection I remember the story of Zhuangzi:

Chuang Tzu with his bamboo pole
was fishing in the Pu river

The prince of Chu sent two vice-chancellors
with a formal document:
We hereby appoint you prime minister

Chuang Tzu held his bamboo pole still.
Watching the Pu river, he said:
“I am told there is a sacred tortoise offered
and canonized three thousand years ago,
venerated by the prince, wrapped in silk,
in a precious shrine on an altar
in the temple.
What do you think?
Is it better to give up one’s life
and leave a sacred shell
as an object of cult
in a cloud of incense
for three thousand years,
or to live as a plain turtle
dragging its tail in the mud?”

“For the turtle”, said the vice-chancellor,
“better to live and drag its tail in the mud!”

“Go home!”, said Chuang Tzu.
“Leave me here
to drag my tail in the mud.”


The attitude verges on what the West would once have called Cynicism, yet another rival Hellenistic philosophy — but more of that later. It’s a mindset that produced many great sages. As Harold Roth puts it in a brilliant essay on the Stanford Philosophy site FREE TEXT, this side of Zhuangzi did become useful for those who “saw within it support for a withdrawal from a life of social and political service into a private life of reclusion and self-cultivation”, no small decision in Chinese literati circles.

For Epicureans that meant retiring, specifically to a garden, usually. The original Garden of Epicurus was outside Athens, a place of quiet pleasure, teaching and contemplation. Many others sprang up later, sometimes turning into Pythagorean-style communities, and gardens remain important to Epicureans now, increasingly so as self-sufficiency becomes crucial to all of us.

This may be a bit of garden in the same place where William Temple was, I can’t quite gather. But it wouldn’t have looked like this anyway, he was big on fruit trees. And there would have been lots more of it.

Sir William Temple wrote an essay on Epicurean gardening in the 17th century COMPLETE TEXT FREE. His garden was rather bigger than most of us will ever access but he was suitably Epicurean in completely ignoring William of Orange’s invasion; he accepted the new regime, refused office, and went back to pruning his fruit trees. (Not all Epicureans are so retiring — Thomas Jefferson was hardly one to lie quietly out of office.) Some Mahasiddhas lived in even greater luxury than Sir William, for example Lilapa who apparently was a King and a hedonistic one at that. There are no rules. ^_^ A lady named Stephanie Mills wrote a book about modern stripped-down living called Epicurean Simplicity — maybe I’ll pick it up sometime.

Just as Epicureans love their gardens, so do qigong players — or parks. Qi flows in exchange with the human energy, and there is always the chance of meeting an interesting tree. A place to be, with a perfume in the air, to notice the deeper changes of the seasons, to protest against the ambitions of the cultural imperialising of the day. Pleasure, health and perhaps just a sniff of immortality…

There’s meat to all this, so more upcoming.

Of Epicureans West and East


The stomach is not insatiable, as the many say, but rather the opinion that the stomach requires an unlimited amount of filling is false.

– Vatican sayings of Epicurus, number 59

One can be an Epicurean warrior; one had better have the element in one I think. Glenn Morris was a natural Epicurean in terms of ethic — that is, a natural pursuer of untroubled pleasure by means of disciplining desire and reducing need.

One of the best times to meditate, in my opinion, is after sampling an anodyne you’ve learned to trust. The colorful sunset is fading after a two-day blizzard in January, and the wind chill is about twenty below as you face West and prepare to face the forces of night and death… There’s a certain “I’m still here!” about it… It’s called “The Pleasure Principle.”

Path Notes of an American Ninja Master (1993), p. 63

In Glenn’s approach the Smile is everything, and the simple recall of beauty, love, or laughter can be enough to seed the system’s relaxed preparation for areas beyond the façade. This is human life as a ritual leading to the transhuman.

The Epicureans are immortalised in a ‘do they mean us?’ context by the Pharisaic oral traditions written down in about 220 CE as the Mishnah, which denounce the apiqoros as ‘he who takes the piss out of the biblical scholar’, and since the Epicureans were also seen as atheists because they didn’t believe scripture was directly god-communicated, this need not surprise. The apiqoros has now passed into Jewish tradition as the “heterodox”, and the Christians were not polite either, yet the Epicureans lasted 800 years, discoursing sportively with the Stoics, and if not for Constantine, longer.

One should not spoil what is present by desiring what is absent, but rather reason out that these things, too, [that is, what we have] were among those we might have prayed for.

– Vatican sayings of Epicurus, number 35

Desire is the opposite of peace and contentment — of course a Buddhist would say the same. Desire ‘maddens’. “Personal desires multiply endlessly,” says Glenn, “forever creating new desires which create new dissatisfactions.” (p. 49). That pleasure and desire are opposites, that self-discipline is pleasure’s friend, occurs to few, and of those who are entrained to consumerism, none. (These ideas completely contravene Freud who partly created consumerism via Bernays.)

Gerald Durrell and friend

It’s not surprising such thoughts come to me as the weather turns hot here in London. I’m reminded very much of Gerald Durrell’s initial encounters with his Oxfordian teacher Peter, in childhood Corfu:

At first the lessons were painful to an extreme: interminable wrestling with fractions and percentages … But, as the sunshine worked its magic on Peter… he discovered that the intricacies of geological strata and the effects of warm currents could be explained much more easily while swimming along the coast…

My Family and Other Animals (1956)

There are those who would approve of this way of teaching today as more active in the body, and more conducive to absorption and interest/retention in the mind, of a child particularly. Learning is childlike — the ‘learning set’ of Milton Erickson recalls the rejuvenation of the Taoists. Legendary children’s book editor Ursula Nordstrom hastily declined a repugnant offer to move up to working on books for “dead dull finished adults”. Ellen Langer speaks of this teaching style in a video here; Glenn, himself a college professor of course, recommended her book, The Power of Mindful Learning (1998).

It is the ‘pleasant life’ which calls the Epicurean, and that means the reduction of life to its simplest essentials and the sharing of it with friends, whilst remaining self-sufficient and free of fear, and confident in the face of any pain. It is about the end of anxiety and is thus an earth-element way.

Don’t fear god
Don’t worry about death;
What is good is easy to get, and
What is terrible is easy to endure

– the Tetrapharmakos or ‘four-part cure’.

Oenoanda Wall

One of the movement’s more interesting achievements was the 80-metre wall erected by Diogenes of Oenoanda in the late second century CE. His inscription detailing Epicurean philosophy is the biggest of the ancient world. A third of it still stands.

Pleasure should not be dubious, nor expensive, nor cost more pain than it yields pleasure. Discipline and the correction of character are the traits of the philosopher. Soberly, one must search out the reasons for turmoil and extirpate them. The goal is ataraxia, untroubledness. In attaining it, modern techniques would emphasise self-sympathy to counteract the centuries of yahwocracy.

Nothing is enough for someone to whom enough is little.

– Vatican sayings of Epicurus, number 68

I may live in the wrong country and time for this, since ‘pleasure’ to most in the UK at present consists in eating one wafer thin mint too many, then projectile vomiting the results at targets chosen for their class, race, or sporting allegiance. But there are times when Epicurus’ actual attitude to the divine, which although far from simplistically ‘atheist’ certainly was not visionary, does chime very well with the earthy-sublime Chinese approaches.

I know what you will say — the Epicureans were not big on sex and love. Indeed not, from Diogenes Laertius’ reports of them: “‘Sexual intercourse,’ they say, ‘never helped anyone, and one must be satisfied if it has not harmed.’” But this is really one of those mistakes history occasionally makes, which we are now able to correct.

Since the Epicurean meditative exercises were so good that the Stoics liked to steal them (and then they were purloined by the Christians with the decals sanded off BTW), their tendency sexual indifference or pessimism is much to be regretted. For the Chinese approaches to sex, which apply just such exercises to that activity, are absolutely Epicurean in philosophy, as Douglas Wile points out in his stunning and very highly recommended study and collection of translations, Art of the Bedchamber (1992, pp. 44 and 72):

Su Nü initiates the Yellow Emperor in the arts amatory. Wile has the translation. The Chinese approaches move from the Epicurean approach of being happy when sex does no harm to knowing how — and even how to use it to heal.

The Ma Wang Tui and Ishinpõ texts, representing the Han to T’ang periods, strongly emphasize prolonged foreplay, female orgasm, and male reservatus as promoting not only superior health but also greater pleasure than ejaculatory sex. Pleasure is presented in these texts as a basic necessity of life, like food or air. The Tung Hsüan tzu attempts to raise sex as a primal pleasure to the level of art, but clearly an art that serves to enhance pleasure as the core of esthetic experience.


Because of the onus of sin laid on sexuality by religion, Western sexuality has taken on an esthetic of “forbidden fruit”, heightening the thrill of abstinence for the prude and of conquest for the libertine. However, the Chinese sexual practitioner is neither prude nor libertine. In China, the medical emphasis on ching conservation led to an epicurean esthetic that maximizes pleasure by moderating the price — truly a strategy for “having one’s cake and eating it too”… The ability to relax and mobilize ch’i sets the stage for inspiration, while technique channels the energy and ensures that it is not dissipated. This is an esthetic of happy endings rather than climax and catharsis, of long volleys rather than smash and point, of riding the swells and avoiding the breaking waves….

(This book also contains an excellent discussion of the methods of Mantak Chia and Stephen Chang, by the way.)

Note the complete lack of antinomianism.

The ignorant regard this as indecent, but it is not a teaching that encourages lust and leads people to desire. In reality it is the marvellous art of cultivating life.

Su Nü miao lun, Ming period

In terms of self-actualisation theory, as with all Greek philosophies there is plenty there to engineer non-identification with conventionality. Epicurus may be particularly helpful for the development of acceptance, serenity, sympathy, and the very Maslovian “comfortable relationship with life as it really is.”

There are now several sites at which to find him and his successor texts, since his philosophy (like that of the Stoics, incidentally) has a new crop of admirers. Of these Epicurus.info may be the best, relatively free of neopagan Orthodoxisms or preaching about who is a ‘real Epicurean’ etc. The civilised may prefer to sit quietly with the original — it can be had for a couple of quid in the form of a second-hand copy Inwood/Gerson’s The Epicurus Reader (1994), for instance.

No-one appears to know how a certain 14th century manuscript filled with post-Hellenistic philosophical texts arrived in the Vatican archives, but when discovered in 1888 it was found to contain a collection of sayings attributed to the school of Epicurus, mostly chiming well with the material we already have, the so-called “Vatican sayings”.

He who is free from disturbance within himself also causes no trouble for another.

– Vatican sayings of Epicurus, number 79


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