Tag Archives: Glenn Morris

Upcoming Attractions

Time to check in again. The new batch of stuff is getting closer and I can give you more of a preview.

As noted, I’m finished with personal psychology etc. for now. I’m going to try and offer a view of Kundalini experience that’s in key with what Glenn put out, more so than the post-theosophical stuff you mostly get now (although they dovetail fine).

From Glenn’s position you can look out over a wide landscape where all sorts of other things fit perfectly. Before he ever started the meditation that awoke Kundalini he was always interested in traditional religion and shamanism from a psychological angle. I’ve noticed that those who are instinctually into the fantastic really dig Glenn. The interface of all that with mythology will show some great ways to re-understand reality. I’ll be talking about the imagination a lot, giving ways to think about it that separate it from the idea of “false or unreal”, as well as the mythic from the “fictional”.

With reference to my own experiences, Glenn’s written examples, and some other stuff from the (mostly modern, not all) literature on spiritual experience, I’m going to try and show the shape of transpersonal as an exploration, bound up with how the world fits together, in a loose model you can use, trying to give flavour and feeling. I’ll link everything in to all the literature that explains it best. And all of this will happen in a new format which will shake things up a little.

By the end of the initial tranche, if you awaken Kundalini, you should be in a more advantageous position for harmonising your experiences, taking advantage of the work of preceding generations, and staying out of the rubber room.

Here’s a taster that may surprise you. I’d like to introduce you to this wonderful lecture by J. Stephen Lansing:

A Thousand Years in Bali

Sorry I couldn’t get it to embed. (If you want to get rid of the subtitles just pick the top option, “Choose language…”)

I reference the feeling behind these ideas a lot right now. Expansion of the holotropic spontaneity stuff, out from the personal and psychological, into the ecological and the cultural. This vid so beautifully introduces you to how patterns at a basic level “on earth” form through self-organizing complex systems. The background is ecology. I have a feeling you’ll be as glued as I was, but what you’ll note too is where he covers human beings partaking in this process via mythic imagination, ritual and democracy. It’s all very practical and actually observed in operation on mundane levels, unlike what most people think “myth” is — there’s nothing “escapist” about the mythic imagination, it is absolutely life and death**.

The vid is a perfect demonstration of a) How these relationships form in nature and ritual; b) How some of our modern science is actually able to understand this very well if we actually use it; and c) How if we use the wrong myths we ignore the science and slaughter the relationships. Always important to know who the good guys are.

What comes up on this blog will I hope get “under the skin” of such a view of reality and apply it to a life more like yours, especially if that life undergoes the amplification of energy and imagination in Kundalini. The deep meaning comes vivified under your eyes, as recorded in experiences going back millennia. The actualised shaman is the steward of his entrainments.

Stay tuned folks!

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** “In using Escape in this way the critics have chosen the wrong word, and, what is more, they are confusing, not always by sincere error, the Escape of the Prisoner with the Flight of the Deserter.” — Tolkien, On Fairy Stories, and yes, modern fantasy culture figures in too…


Couple of notes

First an important one: the posts of yesterday were not laying out “my way”, nor “Glenn’s way” come to that! They were just clearing space as against those who say all ways and goals are the same — which is what Jorge Ferrer is really doing too I think. (Please note in particular that I have no real personal interest in so-called “integral” approaches, no matter whose.)

I know I haven’t really got across this aspect of it, but Glenn’s way absolutely is shamanic, visionary, initiatory, mystery-school-like, mythological, frankly polytheistic and openly supernatural. There are ways to talk about that and maybe I’ll find them, but it requires a different way of communicating from the one I’ve used until now on this blog I think, and probably some experiment. In my defence, Glenn himself didn’t always talk a great deal about it, and for good reason.

Meanwhile, and kind of on that, the big thing to come out of yesterday seems to have been Andrew Rawlinson’s categories. I do think these are pretty cool, and make the exoteric jaunt worth it. They were laid out in Leon Schlamm’s paper:

Ken Wilber’s Spectrum Model: Identifying Alternative
Soteriological Perspectives

… which applies them to Wilber but isn’t just about Wilber by any means. And Schlamm got them from Andrew Rawlinson’s book:

The Book of Enlightened Masters: Western Teachers in Eastern Traditions

Once accepting the idea of multiple ways — irreconcilably multiple that is — this is a nice way of mapping the differences. It’s really the first good effort I’ve seen at giving some kind of thumbnail schematic guide to the varieties of paths — ironically, it is another bloody “4 quadrants diagram”:) but what can I do? It’s cool! — so I thought I’d reproduce the basic idea here for your reference.

I think Schlamm is right when he says:

This taxonomy is not only broader than any to date in the literature on mysticism but also far more detailed.

Two axes are used: “cool”{——–}”warm” (latter renamed by me from “hot”), and “structured”{——–}”unstructured”. “Cool” emphasises an ultimate which is fundamentally an aspect of “you”, whilst “warm” emphasises getting in touch with “something else”. “Structured” means there is a definite shape to the path and some kind of set of stages; whilst “unstructured” has the endpoint right in the neighbourhood of the beginning, so you can get there immediately if you can only get over your current perspective.

That gives four basic types of spiritual paths: ”warm structured”, “warm unstructured”, “cool structured”, and “cool unstructured”, each with its particular character. Paths can definitely bridge two or even three quadrants. None of this is “doctrinal” of course — giraffes don’t call themselves ungulates, and I don’t call myself “warm structured”! These are still the thoughts of a taxonomist, a Linnaeus.

But that can be useful! Indeed, poetry and prose can form a binomial nomenclature. And in practice, used loosely and with personal acquaintance with practicalities, my path does look broadly “warm structured”. As was Glenn’s, with some cool undertones. And that is very much the way I like it! Considering how much ground it has to cover, Rawlinson’s description of “warm structured” spirituality works reasonably well. (He seems to overdo stuff about “disturbing ordeals”, “willpower”, “gambling”, “cryptic passwords” etc., but then again, I haven’t read his book yet — apparently it’s a huge directory of Western teachers, so quite a few “ordeals” would indeed be involved I daresay. Some “crazy wisdom” stuff or Crowley etc.)

It is obviously oversimplified, as are all ways of categorising, and Schlamm’s discussion of it brings up some weird falsehoods for me. OTOH there are quite a few definite “hits”. The somatic nature of my kind of tradition is a good one — it always seems to confound other kinds of paths!

You have to read your own knowledge into the chart since I’ve just reproduced it literally. For example, that Rawlinson has put “Taoism”, in its entirety, into the “cool unstructured” quadrant, must be just unfamiliarity with Taoism. This is actually a “warm structured” tradition as it has influenced me, and has been since pretty early in its history. (See the Baopuzi for example.)

But it still all kind of works as a handy compass, or thought-provoker, so here is the summary:

Upper Left: Warm Structured Traditions

1. Summary: The cosmos is vast and inhabited by innumerable powerful beings; liberation consists in finding one’s way through the labyrinth with the appropriate passwords. The teaching is never given all at once, but only when necessary and then only in cryptic form. This is typical of all forms of esotericism.

2. Characteristics: (a) initiatory knowledge (granted by another and may be disturbing); (b) hierarchical; (c) the exercise of will, which allows the practitioner to break through spiritual barriers in an ever-increasing series of leaps; (d) expansion away from a point; (e) Warm magic (necessary and powerful)—the manipulation of the laws of the cosmos in the service of self-transformation.

3. Further details: (a) Ontology: many powers/beings; (b) Cosmology: a vast
labyrinth; (c) Anthropology: man contains all powers (the microcosm/macrocosm homology); (d) Soteriology: the great journey or initiatic adventure; (e) Consciousness: divine and hierarchical; (f ) Spiritual Practice: a series of leaps/initiations—recreating the
cosmic within oneself; (g) Teacher: magician/knows the secret; (h) Spiritual
Transmission: by ordeal; (i) Nature of teaching: cryptic/esoteric; (j) Inner States: access to all levels, all powers; (k) Individual Spiritual Qualities: ecstatic, unpredictable; (l) Social Spiritual Qualities: a whirlwind of projects; (m) Traditional Way of Life: crucible/
means of transformation; (n) Entering the Tradition: by unexpected encounter; (o) Realisation/Liberation: serving the cosmic purpose.

4. Advantages/Disadvantages: there is plenty of help; the entire universe, from the colour of a rose to the celestial music of the archangels, is designed to aid the practitioner on the way (though some thicken the plot by saying that there are counterfeit designs as well); the task, however, is correspondingly awesome; the journey is demanding, even
dangerous–this is not an adventure for the fainthearted.

5. Images: magician/gambler: jump.

6. Examples: Hindu Tantra, Vajrayana, the Siddha tradition, Vedic ritual tradition, Kabbalah, Hermeticism, Alchemy, Shamanism.

Upper Right: Warm Unstructured Traditions

1. Summary: There is a divine power, quite other than oneself, which encloses us and is the source of liberation. There is no teaching—only love and submission.

2. Characteristics: bliss, love, obedience, discipline, wisdom.

3. Further details: (a) Ontology: only God is real (exists) and He is unknowable; <b) Cosmology: the universe is God’s creation/projection and is entirely dependent on him; (c) Anthropology: man is nothing before God; (d) acceptance of God’s will; (e) Consciousness: divine and universal; (f ) Spiritual Practice: submission; (g) Teacher: servant of God/embodiment of God; (h) Spiritual Transmission: a gift; (i) Nature of Teaching: only God; (j) Inner States: remembrance of God; (k) Individual Spiritual Qualities: giving love and responding to the love of others; (l) Social Spiritual Qualities:
serving the divine; (m) Traditional Way of Life: celebration of the divine; (n) Entering the Tradition: just ask for God (or His lovers); (o) Realisation/Liberation: to love and serve God.

4. Advantages/Disadvantages: we are always failing; but the solution to this
failure is simply to ask the divine for assistance; the reason that asking is the solution is that the central truth of Warm Unstructured ‘teachings’ is that love is freely given to all who request it (or, in the warmest version of all, it is given to every being whether it is requested or not).

5. Images: lover, martyr: submit.

6. Examples: bhakti, e.g., Chaitanya, Pure Land Buddhism, Sufism, Christian
mysticism, e.g., St Teresa, St John of the Cross.

Lower Left: Cool Structured Traditions

1. Summary: Liberation is within oneself, but it must be uncovered by disciplined practice.

2. Characteristics: (a) awareness is dispassionate and part of oneself; (b) the path is very restrained, the method is ordered and gentle, the practitioner starts on p. 1 of the manual and works his way through to the end, and everything happens as it should in the fullness of time; (c) all that is required is constant effort; (d) concentration on a point; (e) at a certain point of spiritual development Cool magical powers (optional and peripheral) appear, but they are incidental to the aim of spiritual practice, which is balance and timing.

3. Further details: (a) Ontology: everything has its place, everything comes and goes; (b) Cosmology: a harmonious whole; (c) Anthropology: man is the centre of the universe; (d) Soteriology: clear awareness, non-entanglement; (e) Consciousness: natural and particularised; (f ) Spiritual Practice: graduated and gentle; (g) Teacher: clear discriminator/guide; (h) Spiritual Transmission: learning how to use a map; (i) Nature of Teaching: open, complete, ordered; (j) Inner States: uncluttered insight; (k) Individual
Spiritual Qualities: unpretentious, simple; (l) Social Spiritual Qualities: responding to the needs of beings; (m) Traditional Way of Life: organic, intricate; (n) Entering the tradition: formal, public; (o) Realisation/Liberation: detachment brings freedom.

4. Advantages/Disadvantages: it is very easy to start and there is no disgrace in
being a beginner; progress is slow and gentle, like a flower opening in the sun; the drawback is that it may take a very long time indeed–perhaps eons–to complete the journey and you have to take every step of it yourself.

5. Images: yogi, craftsman: work.

6. Examples: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, Theravada Buddhism, Zen, early Vedanta [Upanishads], Samkhya, Aurobindo, Plotinus.

Lower Right: Cool Unstructured Traditions

1. Summary: One’s own nature is liberation; everything else is illusion. The teaching is constantly given—the same truth over and over again—but no one understands.

2. Characteristics: being.

3. Further details: (a) Ontology: only the self is real, or reality is empty (sunya); (b) Cosmology: illusion; (c) Anthropology: man is identical with reality; (d) Soteriology: know yourself; (e) Consciousness: natural and universal; (f) Spiritual Practice: just realise; (g) Teacher: embodies truth; (h) Spiritual Transmission: none—truth already exists; (i) Nature of Teaching: there is no teaching; (j) Inner States: oneness; (k) Individual Spiritual Qualities: unrufflable calm; (l) Social Spiritual Qualities: let things be; (m) traditional Way of Life: none; (n) Entering the Tradition: there is no tradition, the Self already exists; (o) Realisation/Liberation: the Self is already complete.

4. Advantages/Disadvantages: the truth is simple, but the drawback is that it is very elusive; hence the practitioner (if that is the right word, since there really cannot be practice on an Unstructured ‘path’) is constantly failing; but that does not matter because truth is ours as of right, so we can always try again in the very next moment; nothing has to be set up—just by being alive, we are on the ‘path’.

5. Images: sage, hermit: let go.

6. Examples: Advaita Vedanta, Ramana Maharshi, Dzogchen, Mahamudra, Zen, Taoism, Madhyamika.


Holotropic Spontaneity and Carl Rogers IV

Rogers believed in making a calm, safe space in which people felt free to be themselves and remove fake social personae. There’s a strong parallel here with Glenn Morris, which demonstrates the application of this idea to preparation for Kundalini and the transpersonal:

Glenn: Let us first suppose that what we consider our self seems to be more a collection of masks… We might discover that our impulses towards achievement and compassion spring from a fear of failure and feelings of helplessness. As we delve deeper we may be forced to discover… anger, resentment and envy… and allow ourselves to open even further to find shame, yearning, terror, sadness, and other dark emotions… finally… we find another layer of calm connectedness…

Path Notes

Rogers: When a person comes to me… it is my purpose to understand the way he feels in his own inner world, to accept him as he is, to create an atmosphere of freedom… How does he use this freedom? It is my experience that he uses it to become more and more himself. He begins to drop the false fronts, or the masks, or the roles, with which he has faced life. He appears to be trying to discover something more basic, something more truly himself…

What it Means to Become a Person, from On Becoming a Person (2004, orig. 1961).

Although Rogers knew nothing of strong transpersonal experience, Glenn offers Rogers-style ideas when he wants to convey some of the psychology of transformation. (Note that a therapist is not required if the person goes for the self-development route. More on the adaptation of this to personal work later.)


Spiritual But Not Religious in 2012 – XI

From the beginning of my involvement with Glenn Morris, I loved his lack of a manifest destiny, the absence of any orthodoxy on what “god and the universe” have to be. At the climactic moment of his initial awakening, with characteristic generosity he leaves the reader to choose how to speak of the experience:

… the whole has a spirit or direction that might be defined as God, or energy, or self/creativity if you’re inclined in that direction…

Path Notes of an American Ninja Master (1993)

This attitude is what builds the flexible SBNR social form. Not that people are always conscious of it and the synergies it allows, but the knitting-together it’s doing is always visible when you look for it. Not having one “correct” word or concept for the experiences under investigation, but allowing them to play across different vocabularies, means any experience can come under many headings. The creative interweaving of patterns and cultural destinies is characteristic of our current civilisation and the ecology in which it sits. Many flexible stories are required to understand spiritual experiences in such an environment, and SBNR’s own complex history makes this very obvious.

One isn’t likely to read any Abrahamic text saying that “God, or energy, or self/creativity if you prefer, made the heavens and the earth”. There is a definite disjuncture between the religious and SBNR ways of speaking.

Tao Te Ching admits right away that “Tao” is a word for something upon which words must always hang loosely — modern SBNR acknowledges that and slides different verbal lenses across that something according to context. It branches freely out of the tunnel-like Western-religious destiny myths that turn into ideocracies. In a human and nature-scaled environment with the emphasis on creativity, it seems to prosper.


Spiritual But Not Religious in 2012 – VII

The major contributors to SBNR are very numerous. No-one has yet identified them all. Summarising their contribution would be practically impossible.

And there is no definite “product” of their endeavours, no nice Nicene “result”. One could spend days trying to give the gist of Gebser, Yogananda, Jung, or Huxley. Their modern heirs Stanislav Grof, Lawrence LeShan, William Irwin Thompson, or Glenn Morris would require just as long.

Anyone can wander the SBNR canon and pull out a personal conversation, a particular mind. With no official version, no orthodoxy. With no orthodoxy, no borders. SBNR is what you make it, not what it makes you.

Still, SBNR is no longer as directly indebted to Romanticism. It is leaner, and it has learned the difference between posturing and effectiveness. It has passed through existential crises and been tempered by them. What we have now is a settled growth of many intertwining plants — and a definite opportunity.


Best of Self = Way Beyond Self

It’s not actually that easy to illustrate the concept of “Peak Experience” without cliché

You at your best are good for you, because you do glimpse some truth in that moment. Concentrating on your peaks, moments when you have felt at your best (not necessarily when others would assume you to be at your best, although usually there are all sorts of resonances going on) feeds through your life and makes peak Breakouts more frequent. This is good prep for serious energy work not dissimilar to the Smile. Here again is the list from last week of the S-terms or B-values; one can meditate on how various of them are reflected in peak experiences and learn from these contexts how the best “you” feels and what it does, keeping it very personal to one own actualisation.

A collection of these can be dipped into for purposes of shifting mood, which can happen quite easily, especially when emotional arousal has dropped off. When bad emotions have been somewhat processed, they tend to linger for lack of a way to shift. Going to peaks and may produce a near-magical transformation.

Brief qigong exercises will make it doubly effective. An appropriate technique like qigong breathing can spread feelings through the system, or they can be gathered in the saliva and swallowed to the Tan Tien, Glenn-style. The more advanced with open meridians can run the feelings through them to see what they do. This practice is key to many of Glenn’s statements about energy, such as his comments on checking out the healer, Lisa:

I took some of her healing energy and ran it through me using the internal witness to observe. It was nice and pink and lit up all the meridians and organs. She knew her stuff.

Path Notes (1993, pp. 145-6)

Becoming a connoisseur of energy is a key to sensing people and situations. Glenn taught the martial way but it can be used in so many not-overtly-martial situations. These practices can help develop that awareness as can a few things in Chia’s Healing Light of the Tao (2008). Rob Williams gives excellent instruction in chapters 6 and 7 of his Hoshinjutsu (2009).

Over time of meditating on peaks people may get memories of ones that are very close to the kinds of thing Glenn recommends for the Smile — achievement, love, etc. — but may also get very different stuff. Many of my peaks didn’t look very interesting from the outside. It’s all good if it seems to be what really matters to and about you. This is not such a long step from meditating on the questions, “Who am I really?” (Maharshi), “What is my original face?” (Zen) and so forth, practices which if approached consistently can bring results in themselves, although the smoothing-out of Kundalini egoless states is very useful.

Having some way to understand things from this perspective really seems to cut out the bs, and I’ll advocate this more later, showing how it matches up with other systems but in a secular way. A whole theory is coalescing now around Maslow that also revises the Pyramid of Needs into a useful tool, plus systems of Shadow acceptance come from his self-actualisation approach… this is a great way to relate one’s experiences to ordinary life, because Peaks are seeded by ordinary life.

This gets to why Glenn so often said, follow your heart. He meant, follow the flavour of the feeling and learn to distinguish the subtlety thereof, to trust what you sense and get information from it:

… conscious love is created from the exploration and opening of one’s own heart through diligent meditation and introspection. It is only through knowing yourself that true love and compassion evolve… ninjo… is the concept of human feelings [B-cognition] being vastly more important than what is logical and profitable [D-cognition]… Start paying attention to what other people feel like in various situations… Don’t rationalize the feelings, just build your catalog… run hot angry emotions through your meridians and see if you like the migraine feeling… if you’re going to kick in the more intuitive side of your brain, which also processes feelings, you must remember that we feel before we think. Since most of us, particularly men, have had a lot of training in ignoring our emotions, finding them in charge can have interesting consequences…

– all from Path Notes

Continually strengthening and radiating your peaks through yourself starts the process of recreating and recoalescing towards what matters and what aligns all body and soul functions. As qi builds this spreads naturally to others around you via resonance, changing life in interesting ways. The work looks private, but no work giving instant access to the energy systems of others, as well as one’s own, could ever be private. Its results spread through everything you have ever entrained to, changing the world one person at a time.

Use of one’s own experience is I think a vital ingredient, one I’m going to design in more strongly. Peak is the psychology of the natural high. Given how I feel these days I still think it could and should change world, and it reminds me that Glenn used to say, “this is what people should be doing” — meaning, some form of it, not one form in particular, but a form that works.

However, there’s no denying that the Peak concept, in democratising, also was used in an irresponsible and ungrounded way. This is the 60s and 70s we’re talking about, that outburst which made so much possible, including stuff that led in unproductive directions. Maslow himself wrote excellently on that. The dangers of irresponsibility and selfishness, of needing to escalate the high, of impatience, the shadow of Peak, were well seen by him in his new 1970 Preface to Religions, Values and Peak Experiences (1964). In this and so many other things his patient voice was not always heeded. Not everyone used LSD the careful way Grof did. Meditation takes dedication, even if the methods are extremely efficient. Peak-hunger could get too frenzied.

A lot of things got winnowed out, which may be for the best considering the immense power added to these theories by qigong and Kundalini. But the unfortunate side of that in turn, as mentioned last week, is that much science has actually given up trying to understand human beings in this way. We turned to wishing ourselves numbered patterns. The attempt to master humanity by dehumanising reached to healing and life itself, and tried to snuff out the spirit that does indeed still keep us all alive.

Glenn seems to have nonetheless based himself in the older Humanistic and Maslovian approach quite strongly, using it to understand what had happened after his unexpected awakening. This was a big part of what he called ‘strategy’, which in turn focused on enjoyment and the investigation of feeling, yet could also be scientifically investigated with work on the chakras. That takes a certain amount of sophistication. Chakra openings are peaks of a different kind, but they are peaks. One finds instinctively one’s style, the archetypal push and flavour of the chakras, of the organs and meridians. Subjective hooking into the eternal makes meaningfulness of a uniquely self-actualising kind even as it breaks down the social masks, and with each new pattern of understanding you make a step into “becoming part of it” as the Navajo say.

The universe is a huge spontaneous poem written in feelings and images that course through the soul. Anyone who wants to make the run for the grail just has to get the meditations and peaks into gear. When the meridians and the chakras open properly there is no need to depend so much on memories of peaks, because the flow of energy clears conscious access to the living source of them, a step at a time. The job becomes to continually plateau-Breakout into the living truth of constant peak.

The qigong systems I use (see Reading Lists) are about flow. Those who haven’t yet experienced it, especially Westerners with their lack of much tradition concerning it, may not get that qi is as obvious and easy to feel — and later to see — as anything physical. Qi in motion on the level of the meridians can literally be felt clearing and refreshing all areas of the system, everything that was clung to can be let go in favour of flow with reality. These are not only physical-type blockages. Blockages of the soul, of trauma, of crisis, of meaning, are also dissolved. The beauty of this is hard to relate but easy to enjoy.

It becomes clear that everything one experienced was experienced through this, through this mind-body system which the energy is causing to zing and flash. Each area opened opens a level of the cosmos to one’s mind, and one’s mind to that level. Peaks at this stage have coalesced into the neutral guiding star of spontaneous persistence and beauty that continually lights the personal way to the universal. The seed planted by those peak moments grows to flower in the cosmos. The Taoists call this “becoming a real human”.

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I’m off to play with what I’ve got here for a while, and will probably be posting in a slightly differently pattern and style when I return, including more details on a secular psychological basis for these qigong realisations, and other stuff. Meanwhile I’ll be adding to the Reading Lists and dealing with the Webster rebuttal… enjoy. :)


Naturalizing the Breath

The beginning of transcendent wisdom at soul/energy level, in quite a few traditions, is a kind of balance, contained and managed, which allows the motion of life without getting swept up in it. (The East-West difference in conceptualisation of that balance is fascinating, and I’ll get to that next week.) It’s in this context that Epicureanism, or indeed any of the other philosophies in which desire is managed down, are so useful. Not desiring more than one has means being satisfied, content, and peaceful. This is pleasure. That calculus of desire, where what arises is easily satisfied, allows life not to disturb — ataraxia.

It is easy and profitable, like I said before, to retrofit or graft the Chinese sexual techniques, the fangzhong shu, to the Epicurean ethic. Compatibility is the key, as much as or more than similarity. You’ll never find sexual techniques in Epicureanism since Epicurus, along with every one of his successors, was too pessimistic about sex to concoct any. So they never discovered what the Chinese did, which is that sex (with discipline and care) can be all about balance, pleasure, health and ataraxia — exactly the Epicurean aims.

It’s the same with a whole bunch of stuff — the Smile techniques of last week for example. There is nothing similar in Epicureanism but it’s bang on with their goals. Similarly, a big part of what you learn in qigong or kundalini practices is about breathing exercises. These are absolutely essential to what I do, and they are entirely absent from Western ancient records, even though their philosophy is totally compatible with so much Western stuff. The pneuma doctrines the Stoics settled into, especially, are really identical to the doctrines of qi/prana. Aer was important from the beginning with Anaximenes. The doctors of India, China and Greece worked with the energy to heal. But Greece did not develop breathing.

So historically, very few people in the West know what breathing makes possible. You need to experience it. We don’t have any cultural way of describing the change of mind involved in changing breath — nor resulting changes in the matter and energy of the body. Pierre Hadot was very big on ancient philosophy as spiritual exercises which aimed at a way — his contribution is very valuable — but what he meant by “spiritual exercises” was the questioning of assumptions and intentions, along with some asceticism. Good stuff, but the training of breath and mind together is not understood.

(Via the cross-fertilisation of Stoicism with Vipassana now in progress, that may change — although Vipassana is not qigong nor yogic breathing and should not be mistaken for it.)

One person who does get some of this is Thomas McEvilley, whose massive, fascinating The Shape of Ancient Thought (2002) is a beautiful comparative study of Ancient Indian and Greek philosophy. Epicurus and the Pāli Buddha never had a more fruitful and civilised conversation — nor did Pyrrho and Nagarjuna, nor Democritus and Jain atomism, for that matter. Fun at last to see these guys hobnobbing! Academic specialisation tends to maintain a big Berlin Wall between them.

The trap, though, is signalled in the title. It’s a book about thought. It doesn’t touch practice, except at odd moments. And it’s enthusiastic, and the impressionable may see things that aren’t there, like one Amazon reviewer, who said that “Plato’s Academy was a Yoga ashram, in effect”. Perhaps one could get that entirely mistaken impression from statements in the book like: “Every mystical element in Indian thought can be found in Greek thought too.” It’s that word again — “thought”. Thought is not practice. There’s a footnote: “This overlap, however, does not include the practice of yoga, which seems a distinctively Indian accomplishment…” That reviewer didn’t look in the footnotes. Gah! I’ve been there.

Plato was no yogi. Whatever his ‘unwritten doctrines’, which featured plenty of mathematics as I understand, the basics of the academy seem to have been dialectic and geometry, with the new academy meandering to scepticism very soon after his death. There were no real exercises of breath and qi in Platonism, none in Epicureanism, and none in Stoicism, although McEvilley claims not to be sure:

Whether Stoics, like Hindus, attempted to establish the right inner vibration through direct control of the breath is not known; more probably they worked directly on the hẽgemonikon [intent] rather than on the bodily breath … most importantly, the Stoics seem no more than other Greek schools to have taught meditation and bodily discipline in anything like the Indian yogic manner.

And yet — the similarity he mentions between the thought processes of these conversations allows us to retrofit. We don’t need to be naively universalist because there is actual similarity of thought and theory, just as much with China as with India. Along with the theory of breath and qi/pneuma, there are all sorts of compatibilities of thought which allow graftings of practice. (I’m far from the first to notice that Heraclitus is often a Taoist.)

I don’t know why the West never developed breath regimen. It just didn’t. I see more or less nothing major on breath until the 20th century, when Bardon’s system appeared, which does heavily feature breath, but I have no idea where it came from. The system is very different from Eastern methods (more next week), alienatingly so for me, enough that there may be some sort of occult oral transmission I know nothing about. Agrippa hardly mentions breath, although when he does it’s Bardonish I suppose.

Stephen Chang includes information on various forms of Crane Breathing, Reverse Breathing, and Bone Breathing

On the less heathen angle, there’s a page of breathing in Loyola’s Exercises (which would be 16th c.), more or less equivalent to an impassioned Christian version of Herbert Benson (20th) which in a more Humanist mould is where Glenn began too. But of the breathings available on my reading lists — the belly breaths, the reverse breaths and so forth — there is no hint in any Western document of any period, that I have seen yet. I’d love to be shown some.

I’m told the following inscription may well date from 500 BCE, right in the floreat of Heraclitus (or Pythagoras or Xenophanes). Just then, the path we know as Taoism was coming to exist. The Neiye, that masterpiece of early China which advocates the joy and health of quiet practice in a way that would gladden any Epicurean, was still a century off. Laozi and Zhuangzi weren’t born nor thought of. But already there was breath in this inscription whose history remains obscure:

When transforming the breath, the inhalation must be full to gather the magic. To gather the magic, fullness must be extended. When it is extended it can penetrate downward. When it can penetrate downward, it is magic. When it descends it becomes calm, solidifies, and is both strong and firm. When it is strong and firm, it will germinate. If it germinates it will grow and retreat upward. If it is attracted back, then a man can reach both heaven and earth in the same breath. When it retreats upward, it reaches the top of the head. When it falls forward, it can caress the feet and still press down. The secret powers of Providence move above. The secret powers of the Earth move below. He who follows this will live; he who acts against this will die.

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Chinese Breath Inscription, ?500 BCE

That’s Glenn’s preferred translation of it (Martial Arts Madness, 1999). I reproduce the original at right. I have four other translations, found in the 2 Glenn-approved vols. of Jane Huang’s Primordial Breath (2 vols., 1987 and 1990), which translate some intriguing texts on this stuff from the Taoist Canon. The theory there was, we don’t know what a lot of these symbols mean for sure these days so safety lies in numbers. The calm, the solidity and firmness, all relate to the balance and ataraxia with which I began this post. Anyone who thinks ‘magic’ is a poor word doesn’t know breathwork (and didn’t know Glenn!)

It’s by such cultural productions that you know China is going to develop breathwork, but Greece produced nothing of the kind. Maybe Peter Kingsley would tell me there’s the odd word in Empedocles. But it’s thin. What there is, though, is compatibility. Personally, I feel like this stuff fulfills a promise that simply never fruited in the Western past.

Anyone interested in breath will find useful stuff in Glenn’s books — see Reading List. From the Qigong Reading List, I indicate particularly Bi Yongsheng, with Stephen Chang and Takahashi/Brown also relevant.

Since not everyone has caught up with the excellence of the Bi Yongsheng book yet, I’ll end by transcribing a passage I’ve found very helpful. Of course, as recent events on this blog show, I certainly am not always quite as peaceful as I’d like to be! :) But then, I have major experiences going on at the moment which maybe one day I’ll write about. Meanwhile, the following on what you might call the ataraxia of breathing has helped me a great deal:

The ancients laid much stress on the manner of breathing in their practice of regulation of respiration, stating four phases (xiang) of respiration: wind phase (feng xiang), gasp phase (chuan xiang), air phase (qi xiang) and rest phase (xi xiang). With the wind phase, one can hear the rough sound of his own breath; with the gasp phase, though he may hear no sound of his breath, he may feel stagnated and obstructed ventilation of air; with air phase, he may neither hear the rough sound of breath nor feel the stagnated and obstructed ventilation of air yet his breath is not even; and with the rest phase, which is a state of extreme quietness, he may achieve deep, long and even respiration. It was believed in ancient times that “concentrating on the wind phase may derange the mentality, on the gasp phase may cause knotted mentality, on the air phase may strain the mentality, and only on the rest phase can the mentality be set peaceful”.

– Bi Yongsheng, Chinese Qigong Outgoing-Qi Therapy (1997), p. 167


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.
CLICK TO ENLARGE

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…

– Plato, Timaeus 71, tr. Desmond Lee COMPLETE TEXT FREE (DIFFERENT TRANSLATION)

“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.’

– Letter 26 Robin Campbell tr., COMPLETE LETTERS HERE (DIFFERENT TRANSLATION)

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.”

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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.


Who are these “god” persons, anyway? *

Zeus and his eagle -- Lakonian cup from Naucratis. One of my favourite deity images. 560-550 BCE

One thing I’ve been trying to do, by researching the hell out of anything I can get my hands on, is understand how gods, say, have “looked” to others over the millennia of human culture. The world does not always appear to me how it has been described.

Sometimes I experience things and it can be a case of, was this what x meant by y?… what I’ve discovered is a large accreted layer of cultural complication that obscures the nature of experience. Some people talk about things rather intellectually, as if you could just rearrange puzzle pieces. Human language is political and rhetorical — in contrast the underlying language of the universe is fresh and alive.

Gods really do appear to people. I hope more research is being done on the pagan end of it… yes I see it is, not sure about the illustration there though! Trails are being broken here, trying to bring forward threads from different dimensions.

Goodwyn’s Neurobiology of the Gods is a useful justification of Jungianism by neurophysiology that tends to suggest the gods are just in your brain and equivalent to Darwinian traits, leaving out synchronicity altogether. It’s very important to keep the neuroscience correlated, but perhaps one has to be careful not to turn it into apologia or be too straight, like The Phantom Menace next to Jung’s own views, the numinous Force becoming something to do with blood cells.

The times are a little bland don’t you sense? The truth is not always sensible. “Common sense is at times completely senseless,” says Hatsumi-soke in his foreword to Path Notes. The feeling of being amongst lots of experimentation, of a liminal phase of culture where any experience could happen, is drawing to a close. I suppose much of it got siphoned into vague rubbish anyway.

This post is about the cultural aspect of deities, about what happens. Gods get interwoven with human communities and whatever they may initially be, their nature changes with that step. They inevitably become political. A secular viewpoint reveals interesting details.

Looking at Chinese popular religion is fun if you are out of the habit of polytheism. Much of it could have been scripted by Jack Vance. Back in the 15th and 16th centuries, confused Jesuit missionaries observed that Chinese people, dissatisfied with a god’s services, would happily whip his statue through the streets. One man is said to have sued a god in court for failing to heal his daughter. What’s more interesting is that he won, and the god’s statue was exiled over the border, the monks shooed off to other things.

Modern Wenchang Figurine -- nowadays you'd mostly go to him for help and luck in your exams

Gods have careers and we can follow them. Last week I mentioned that Wenchang, a literary patron god and Confucian personification who has been worshipped for millennia now, is one of the few gods with an autobiography available to us. This is quite true and thanks to Terry Kleeman’s translation in A God’s Own Tale (1994), we can now read it in English. The document was obtained by spirit writing, on planchette, in 1181. It details the god’s beginning, numerous mortal incarnations, and apotheosis, with many fun incidents of weather control, interaction with dragons, and general settings of things to rights betweenwhiles.

A god’s behaviour and motivation turn out exactly as one would expect of his time and place. Deities have to conform to human laws. Plato tried this too, confronting the Greeks with the shamefulness of the gods’ behaviour in traditional tales — infanticide, theft, bickering and philandering is awkward in your divine models when you’re trying to teach ethics — but the tales were never really changed as he suggested, only reinterpreted. In a sense, Chinese culture claims to be Plato’s Republic in the flesh, and became far more openly moralising which you see in Wenchang’s Book of Transformations. Despite some Taoist leanings this god never puts a moral foot wrong from the Confucian angle, so from the modern rhetorical one, the document becomes a platform for the god (and his cult) to get to the exalted public position they enjoy today.

Chinese Planchette Writing is not dissimilar from the Western version -- click for detailed description

Spirit writing often took place at public ‘phoenix altars’, some of which were fortune telling stations. Not too different from modern trance mediums. One of the funniest true supernatural stories I’ve ever heard shows how they worked. A group of students gathers at a phoenix altar, interested in how they’ll fare in upcoming exams. They try to speak to Lü Dongbin, the great Taoist immortal who apparently often stopped by these places, but all they can get contact with at first is an uncouth spirit named Drunkard Zhao whom they hurriedly dismiss. Patriarch Lü does then show up though, so:

The students solemnly bowed twice, then asked about their fates in the examination. The phoenix wrote, “Rub more ink.” Thereupon each person prepared ink on his inkstone and in a moment they had filled a bowl. Kneeling, they asked how they should use it. The phoenix said, “You students divide it up and drink it, then hear my pronouncement.” They all divided the ink and drank it. When they had finished, the phoenix wrote in large characters, “Normally you do not study; now you drink ink at the last moment. I am not Patriarch Lü, I am still Drunkard Zhao!”

– Kleeman p. 11

Other shrines did no fortune-telling, preferring to heal and spread divine news. This type of activity produced Wenchang’s autobio. Let’s say he is no Drunkard Zhao. Between his constant military services to his country whilst incarnated, his diversion of rain to save villages from undeserved droughts, his righting of every sort of individual misdeed from infanticide to forced judicial confession, and his political efforts against rash rulers and their heavy mobs, one could hardly imagine a more respectable god. Heck, even between lives when ruling Taoist fairylands he gathers armies of demons to kill troublesome spirit tigers.

What’s interesting is when Kleeman unwraps layers and finds the deity started recorded life quite differently — as Viper, the immortal poisonous serpent of Sevenfold Mountain who had thunder and rain under his control and received offerings from the town of Zitong at the mountain’s foot. Some of those offerings might have been human lives, we learn.

Zeus came to Europa as a Bull, a moment vivaciously sculpted here by Althea Wynne -- click for more

That deities are often animals to start with, that they sometimes later transform, that snakes in particular occupy a special place in early pantheons, I suspect I don’t need to point out. The transformation to human happens over time and varies with the culture. Egyptians often favoured animal headed human deities — we saw the ibis head of Thoth last week. In Greece gods shapeshift and Zeus often goes courting in various animal forms. All of this is the sign of various knittings-together of the root experiences of deity into a suitable form. Animals remain a gateway to nonordinary states.

In the case of Wenchang, the national roster of deities was re-ordered to include humans with virtuous pasts and nothing else. For the Lord of Zitong to prosper politically, he has to transform but the older exploits in serpent form are written into the Transformations, and he is gifted with the ability to assume dragon form at will.

And he has to appear moral. Very moral. To me this often appears to be an attempt to “explain” in human terms things that may well not fit them. I’ve quoted before Glenn’s ultratrue statement that “when people become too goody-goody they begin to falsify their stories and behaviour”. (Shadow Strategies, p. 31.) We don’t know if Wenchang really acts with anything like human ethical considerations “in mind”, because he had to appear to do so anyway. The difference between show good and real good, between actual human virtue on the one hand and displayed persona-goodness with disharmonious shadows in the background on the other, is the kind of thing Lao-tzu sometimes has in mind:

When the great Tao is forgotten,
Philanthropy and morality appear…

When the Family has no Harmony,
Piety and Devotion appear.

– ch. 18

One who has propriety has the veneer of truth
And yet is the leader of confusion.

– ch. 38 (R. L. Wing tr.)

This is the emergence of the superego and the armoured exterior shell in the human psyche, along with the philosophy that says true naturalness, from which arises the only real good, may be profoundly hurt thereby. Since it can run even unto castration, as I found out this week, the awake and cautious may wish to draw conclusions about human flourishing.

But that was the official doctrine and so the god must conform. That’s how these things go. Is it any wonder that heavy-duty mystics often conflict with cultic pronouncements? Interestingly modern new age channelling mediums never seem to contact anything like Drunkard Zhao. Or perhaps they do but no-one knows. They are expected to be morally appropriate too.

Politics rewrites history and makes use of geography. It’s about what gets power. The ecological and economic flow is the flow of Tao through the world. Sevenfold Mountain itself was handily placed on the road from Xian to Chengdu, in fact its temple straddled this road. Thus anyone entering Sichuan would meet the temple and its god first; and the status he early acquired as defender of the province was therefore natural. There’s nothing transcendent about it necessarily; it’s terrain and technology which shapes energy and is shaped by it. One can follow in Kleeman’s book the other steps on the road to the illustrious position the god occupies today, of which the writing of the Transformations itself was one shrewd example — not necessarily any the less sincere for that of course.

Behind the progress of any other deity will lie similar political considerations. A “god” as named at any point in history is one step in a very long process. A god will have been many things to many people on the way to our day.

The Chariot of Apollo -- Odilon Redon

The more popular a god, the more the variable. To many nowadays, Apollo is shorthand for some kind of prissy anality needing to be busted open to natural forces by Dionysus. Apollo the great light, the god who protected from plague but could also command it, the god of lyric poetry but also the god who inspired transrational trance prophecy in dozens of oracles — not so much talked of. The Greek shamans they never taught you about in school unless they called them “philosophers and mathematicians”, the iatromanteis, were often also known as phoibolamptos, that is Apollo-possessed, which has some correlation perhaps with epilepsy and thus moves towards the kundalini experience.

Gods do not fit easy categories when you look at them. I haven’t yet unearthed much about the early cult of Zeus, originally another mountain and storm god who also made a number of astute political moves, but his many identities attest to his multiplicity. He may be Zeus Agoreus who watches over the marketplace for fair dealing, Zeus Boulaios who presides over parliament, or any of hundreds of others, and often with very different attributes — as a house deity he too appears as a snake. The names fit the god into the culture and at each shrine he has a different surname, he is our particular Zeus. Wenchang similarly did not suddenly morph from serpent to literary patron. He has been responsible for heading armies too, for sending fertility to the childless, and for broadcasting salvational advice to those in distress, each under a different epithet.

Often the process involves eliding differing groups of gods, or one “swallowing” others and taking the epithets too. This might be a literal swallowing, especially with earlier gods who are of course less burdened with morality. It’s hard to see whether Yahweh began life as a storm god or only acquired those attributes after eliding with the Canaanite El, a god married to a goddess, Asherah, who was famously suppressed in the Bible.

Yahweh also interrelated with the Canaanite Baal (Ba’al, itself a complex of deities, simply means ‘lord’). One can follow his career much as one can that of Wenchang, as he gradually becomes associated with wider geographical areas. The difference is that he early becomes incommensurate and non-depictable. At one stage accopmanied by other deities and heading up a divine assembly too, his incomparability and superiority, especially in scattering enemies (“Who is like you among the gods, Yahweh?”, asks Moses, Exod. 15:11, and goes on to describe the future blasting of individual enemies) — led to monotheism as a later development. It all happened longer ago, so there is less documentation remaining, and the career owed more to conquest than to moral dignity as is natural for the bronze and iron ages, but the process is recognisably similar. (Green 2003 is useful to compare Yahweh with local rivals.)

Jesus of Nazareth visibly goes through another equivalent process, the gospels filling the role of Wenchang’s Transformations, and the series of astute cultic moves beginning with Paul and vaulting into the major leagues with adoption by imperial Rome. Monotheism itself, however obviously counterfactual, often does the cult good in terms of popular acceptance, owing to fear of falsehood and the sense of righteousness involved in falsifying all other ways. And so forth. Needless to say Christ appears in as many guises as there are Christianities.

This all goes some way to explain why the question, ‘Do(es) god(s) exist?’ is sometimes a difficult one. What are you actually asking about? Ideas about gods come from all sorts of weird places. So do ideas about what constitutes ‘existence’. There are certainly things operating behind these cultural presences that go back into nature and indeed determine it. To some degree a god has got to be delivering something to be deserving a place in the human imagination. Sometimes a deity appears and confirms all that is thought — at other times, completely confounds it. The investigation is ongoing.

—————————————

* With apologies to Douglas Adams


Tales from the Tao

When I was young, I knew something about underlying worldness which I afterwards forgot, or let lie. I knew things had aliveness, including trees and rocks, somehow bound up with their meaning and the meaning of everything. Communication happened with a spellbinding quality in a togetherspace that seemed to evade regular human communication.

What was this? Where did it go? Why did meditation and energy bring it back again, and then some? People like Ken Wilber have been misled by Jean Piaget into believing animism is a charmingly mistaken childhood phase of anthropomorphic projection. This is the worst answer since a schoolboy who was asked “What is ananke?” replied it was for wiping your nose. (Actually quite close to Tao in obscure Greek myths is the answer.)

It seemed impossible to pursue these feelings as adolescence went forward — but difficult to be myself without them. Felicitas Goodman has written beautifully of a similar predicament:

Felicitas Goodman -- she's got over her alienation

On the eve of my twelfth birthday I had a severe headache… The next morning I bled for the first time. I went to my mother… “This means,” she said, “that we now have an adult daughter in our house.”… Very soon I discovered all on my own what being an adult apparently meant, and confided it to my diary: “The magic time is over”… I noticed the impediment first with the fresh, crunchy snow which fell right after my birthday. It was nice, but I could not make it glow…

I believe today that a large part of initiation in wiser societies… has to do with helping the adolescent to reconstitute the waning capacity for ecstasy. The harsh stimulation[s] of the nervous system… are designed, I think, to substitute a different, an adult, form for the spontaneous ability to call up that very special trance…

Obviously I was living at the wrong place. How gladly I would have submitted to whatever trial if only someone could have told me what it was I was losing… Actually, I was coming up for confirmation, which was modelled after ancient initiation rituals, but it was cruelly vacuous… nothing, absolutely nothing happened. I did not even know what I had expected, but it was very clear to me that I had not received it.

Where The Spirits Ride the Wind (1990)

That’s the only sad part of her book as she describes her very clever and intuitive rediscovery of ways to vivify that are still being used. Glenn’s ideas perfectly chime with all this. Note the sexual energy redirected at menarche which corresponds with id and ultimately with kundalini. Also important are those methods of ‘harsh stimulation of the nervous system’ in traditional cultures which engage the same energy and are used in many quarters historically and today — see for example Shadow Strategies p. 286 or Martial Arts Madness p. 18, although, as the latter points out, “meditation seems a clear winner over torture”.

Like Goodman I didn’t know there were ways forward that actually worked. Of course, my culture didn’t always want me to. I’d love to blame materialism and Christianity alone for the deadness of the material world as presented to me, and I wouldn’t necessarily be far wrong, but there are no nature worshippers amongst the Platonists either. Even the Stoics, who valued harmony with Nature above all and knew about ch’i, didn’t write on aliveness. The reason we tend to “grow out of animism” in the “Civilised West” is simply that there has never been a widespread mature version of it to grow into. Being raised on Tolkien and Ursula Le Guin, and seeing how important the idea of an alive nature was to many people, I wondered why.

After Kundalini these things were radically revivified and I began to get answers. The social mind programmes the natural one — right down to the energetic system. It went a lot deeper than I thought.

Big civilisations rarely have strong animist elements; polytheism may help maintain them since perversely monotheism tends to dualism (more on a subject related to that next week.) Some cultures keep more for longer in their learned phases, some less. China in some ways exemplifies the former, Europe the latter. Taoism of course is not mainstream in China since it rejects the Confucian emphasis on the sincerity of ritual in favour of Naturalness, but natural Tao itself in China is usually the basis. Ming era Confucians thus found Jesuit missionaries puzzling since Chinese sages said following Nature was the Tao, but the missionaries said that overcoming nature was the Tao. One may draw conclusions at that point.

Without some way to reconnect the energy, there’s often nothing an individual can do. Society impacts our minds because we need to survive; society is our way of doing so, and we are its. Glenn points out somewhere that the social mind experiences only the reality allowed for it and that includes strong influence on your biology. If a culture likes to manipulate nature as a mechanism it probably can’t conceive of natural aliveness and harmony, at least not without wincing, so it will have a job to perceive it. Individuals must thus know how to accept the Shadow, which includes the socially unacceptable, to experience the deeper truth.

Different civilisations, different rules. André-Georges Haudricourt had a wonderful little theory, interesting and at least somewhat true. He thought that in the Mediterranean and Middle East, herding became archetypal, more than agriculture. Herding involves shouting and prodding and enforcing your will on a bunch of often silly, stubbornly recalcitrant animals, so it made a monotheistic god who shouted and enforced his will on silly recalcitrant humans. The animal, hence nature, became the problematic half of a dualist value system. Shepherd images in Christianity are legion. The symbolism of the Hebrew alphabet, which is pictographic like the Chinese, includes not only an ox, but an ox-goad as well.

Just happens

China developed the more agricultural archetype. You don’t yell at plants. Anyone who has done any gardening knows the magic is that it just happens, slowly, mysteriously, and often completely out of sight. At a certain time, given certain conditions, things know what to do. The principle behind that knowing is part of what the Chinese called ‘Tao’, which is mysterious, invisible, feeds all, and has the respect of everything, fulfilling itself in all natural actions. But without having to yell and try to be ‘in charge’– indeed its silence and mystery in accomplishing everything is a measure of its greatness to both Taoists and Confucians. It remains animism-friendly, since the natural order is its sphere, and it forms the connection between all natural things, including us:

The Great Tao extends everywhere.
It is on the left and the right.

All Things depend on it for growth,
And it does not deny them.
It achieves its purpose,
And it does not have a name.
It clothes and cultivates All Things,
And it does not act as master.

Tao Te Ching 34

The Tao produces;
Its Power supports;
Its Natural Law forms;
Its influence completes.

Thus All Things without exception
Respect the Tao and value its Power.
To respect the Tao and value its Power –
No one demands this, and it comes naturally.

– 51 (R. L. Wing tr.)

Since the Tao ‘does not act as master’, one could not imagine a ‘jealous Tao’ as there is a ‘jealous God’. Tao has the respect of all things whether they know it or not, like any natural law. (Gravity and evolution don’t exactly need to hector you into obedience.)

Spiritual actualisation is a question of optimising and harmonising the natural processes within a human being. People who do have a way to do that will find themselves perfectly capable of sensing similar processes in the wider world. There is aliveness, consciousness, and a motion which communicates in feelings and images. It’s significant that Glenn associated the spirit of kundalini with the id, the creative power running through the human system, a concept which can widen to include “the force that through the green fuse drives the flower,” as Dylan Thomas put it. Poets like him have to work hard to maintain aliveness and often write in image-feeling-metaphors of the kind one finds transferred with ch’i.

The language they write in may also be relevant since the western pictographs have long since vanished. All human lettering systems start out as image-metaphors, poetry in themselves. In the Chinese system these of course remain. Morrissey recently embarassed himself by spitefully calling the Chinese a ‘subspecies’ which is the act of a rather snide and bitchy poet alienated by a thoroughly different linguistic and philosophy. The Chinese are the only massive civilisation with very highly developed thinking in a non-Indo-European, uninflected language. They show little preoccupation with the static ideal beingness that Western philosophy has argued about since Greece, because unlike ours their language doesn’t naturally refer to it. But science’s new numerical language gets flow better and as a result the systems-science view has far more in common with the Chinese one than with the Platonist.

Saturating oneself with ch’i increases the vitality and with that comes awareness. It is natural to be so saturated when young, but requires more skill when older. Qigong is a far calmer way than romantic poetry, which is rarely content since it is always trying to leap for unattainable heavens which could only be actually attained in a state of peace. The feeling I have is often much more like the simple Navajo chant:

The mountains, I become part of it.
The herbs, the fir tree, I become part of it.
The morning mists, the clouds, the gathering waters, I become part of it.
The wilderness, the dew drops, the pollen, I become part of it.

Navajo Chant calligraphy and collage by Tina Fields -- click to see the originals on her excellent blog

Pure materialism will many times not survive long-term quiet. Folklorist Barre Toelken spent time with the Navajo and noticed things happening, writing some of the more extraordinary ones down in a paper for Barbara Walker’s Out of the Ordinary — Folklore and the Supernatural (1995) which is full of good things and includes tales like this:

On many occasions when I was living with my adopted Navajo family in the 1950s, people would begin acting as if they had received some information from afar… after a month or so of herding sheep and carrying water to our corn plants day after day, some family members would suddenly prepare for a trip… I would hear offhand comments like, “Perhaps there’s a sing [curing ceremony] down by Red Mesa”… On our way toward the Red Mesa area… we would encounter other Navajos heading in our direction… A day later we would pull our wagon over the crest of a hill and find a gathering of perhaps a hundred people near someone’s hogan… No phone calls, no maps, no addresses, no written invitations, no messengers… the reservation itself is the size of Belgium, and families often live miles from the next… There is no doubt in my mind that these events… actually “happen”, for they are witnessed by everyone who is involved.

Toelken calls this the ‘moccasin telegraph’. ‘Becoming part of it’ would be an equally good term. Jung’s name for it was synchronicity and it was really working for him since his theories are in the enviable position these days of having some interesting science supporting what he did instinctively. He liked the leaf-cutter ants which are too short-lived to observe mating behaviour in the previous generation but know exactly what to do; it just happens when the time is right. Human males will know that when the time is right to mate (when isn’t it), the anima will provide the appropriate picture to guide that all-important nervous system energy; whatever an ant uses for an anima does the same thing. The ant may have less irony about it and less neurosis. Such flows and timings appear everywhere in nature. There are signs of it in the Middle Eastern religions we’ve inherited — Proverbs 30 for example, with its ‘wisdom of the ants’.

Tree + Ch'i

Exchanging ch’i with a tree on a regular basis will do plenty for you — Liang and Wu do some nice qigong in that line, including clever protection ideas I may try this summer. I know an oak in Regent’s Park who is strong stuff indeed. No two qigongs work with trees the same way. Lam has a different approach as does Chia in this nice video.

The Tao achieves its purpose, spontaneous natural action in consonance with rhythms flowing in an immemorial patterned system… the geese fly West, the ants mate, the sing happens near the Mesa… a girl reaches menarche and begins her longing for spiritual contact. Humans are sometimes overcome by aspects of their delicately complex systems and can deviate from this livingness or from their own voice and identity in a way that causes them considerable pain. That’s the dark side of free will and quiet is often a part of the answer. Accepting one’s own nature, spontaneity, and living in the territory rather than the map, are all pointed up in the of actualised people.

The feeling of being connected back up with kundalini was for me such a relief, like being alive again, and synchronicity goes through the roof as heaven and earth find each other and new relationships open up. Accepting the Shadow matters here partly because you are receiving info with source and intent different from normal, that shapes the system in a different way. Info humans consider important is normally social, verbal, screen-based and other ‘intellectual maps of desired results’ which is useless for this. The ability to accept neutrally rather than to seek to repattern reality is what opens one up to these feelings, images and energies.

Since some may not believe that ants have mythopoeic subconscious minds, I give this next story for them, or anyone who believes animism is for kiddies. Lineage successor Rob Williams told it about Glenn:

Doc liked to go hiking… We drove out to New Iberia, right along the coast of the swamp… I happened upon a large gator… I got as close as I could… took a picture and backed away. Glenn had walked across a narrow foot bridge that was about 40 feet long. He was already on the other side looking out into the water. I noticed a brownish cloud coming up from the river on my left. As it approached I realized it was a swarm of wasps.

Glenn had told me about the Louisiana wasps that were huge yellow jackets. They had a powerful sting. I felt uneasy as they collected into a sphere shaped swarm between Doc and me, over the bridge. I thought back to when I first walked fire. I assumed the go for it attitude and, with no fear and great confidence, walked across the bridge through this swarm of wasps. They were bouncing off my face and body as I walked through them to the other side of the bridge. I didn’t get stung. I walked over to Doc with adrenaline pumping through me. I turned and looked back to see the swarm circle, break formation and fly on down the river. I asked Doc if he had seen the swarm and he didn’t answer… He was such a wizard. He was testing me using familiars in nature.

Hoshinjutsu, pp. 94-5

Says hi to Glenn from me... :)

Animism says we are interacting with Persons. Glenn was in tune with the Tao enough to do that in a major way since he knew Persons don’t all look like your auntie marge. We met talking swords months back. The Tao is a mass of intertwining morphic fields, a way of knowing and communicating, ch’i moving through the world. Each thing has its own identity, its own Tao within the mix, its own lifestream, all accomplishing itself in cycles and flows small and large.

The Tao has no fixed position;
It abides within the excellent mind.
When the mind is tranquil and the ch’i is regular,
The Tao can thereby be halted.
That Tao is not distant from us;
When people attain it they are sustained.
That Tao is not separated from us;
When people accord with it they are harmonious.

Therefore: Concentrated! as though you could be roped together with it.
Indiscernible! as though beyond all locations.
The true state of that Tao:
How could it be conceived of and pronounced upon?
Cultivate your mind, make your thoughts tranquil,
And the Tao can thereby be attained.

Neiye ch. 5 (Harold Roth tr.)


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