Category Archives: Deities and Spirits

Korean Shaman Ladies

Still waiting for things to clear before I come back and start properly again… I’ll just post odds and ends when I have a moment in the meanwhile. I love this video about Korean shamanesses, a culture that goes back a long way, and one I probably feel more at home with as “religion” than with anything most Westerners associate with that word tbh.

Korean shaman culture is quite vibrant and modern and has an interesting relationship with respectable society. Some Koreans take pride in this traditional folk culture whilst others predictably denigrate it as superstitious. As you can tell from this article by a Korean student in London:

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… the place occupied by these ladies isn’t so far from that of psychics, mediums and healers in the West. However the shamanic side is quite legit, with long-term inherited lineages and shamanic illnesses of initiation as well as these possession rites. There are some quite serious superstar shamans who do interesting work politically.

Long may the mudang ladies climb barefoot the chaktu blades say I.

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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.
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.”

COMPLETE TEXT FREE

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.


Ceci n’est pas une religion

I’d like to thank one of my readers, kamatakki, for turning me onto this guy, S. N. Balagangadhara, putting patterns in place that solve problems I’ve had a long while but basically ignored. He’s rather irascible and sometimes wrong (Balagangadhara I mean, not kamatakki ^_^), but that doesn’t matter, because his most important points are evidential — and anyone can check him. This will not be a long post; follow up as desired.

I’ve always been worried about this week’s question, although never enough to actually do anything about it. Once, in China, I was talking to a local about the temples in Beijing and she said that one in particular was not Buddhist, but Taoist. But then she looked at me in a way that I could not parse. It seemed to be a glance of uncertainty, but what could that mean? She was not quite sure of what she was saying. But even more strangely, it seemed she wanted confirmation from me. How could that be? I was the stranger, she was the local, wouldn’t she know to which religion a particular temple belonged?

An easy assumption to make, but since then I’ve learned what is now quite common knowledge in academia although almost completely unknown outside it: much of what Westerners have been calling ‘religion’ in non-Abrahamic contexts really is their own invention. The Western model of “religions” based on texts and doctrines doesn’t travel.

To attempt to understand religion in China as several systems of doctrine is to read Western experience into a quite different set of circumstances.

— Thompson, Chinese Religion (1995)

The post-Christian Western idea is that doctrines drive everything, so at the base of spiritual traditions must be some belief system holding a relationship of equivalence to their creed — you don’t believe Christianity, so what do you believe? But this is false; it might not matter what you believe. And in China it most often doesn’t.

Thus the hesitation of my Chinese acquaintance was perfectly natural. I think she referred to the Dongyue temple, which is indeed “Taoist”, in the sense of having been built by followers of the Celestial Masters tradition of Daojiao (“Way-Teaching”, a term only extant from the 5th c. CE), but its presiding deity, Dongyue, “Great Emperor of the Eastern Peak”, has been thoroughly integrated into Confucian and Buddhist traditions too. Like earlier examples I gave, this deity has been quite a few things to quite a few people over time.

My Chinese interlocutor knew that calling a temple ‘Taoist’ labelled it with a creed which we Westerners expect, somewhat equivalent to the imported exclusivist Communism under which she lives. The supposedly underlying explicatory doctrine did not matter to her the way it did to Christian scholars. The deity concerned is associated with Taoism in this case (as often), but the temple in Beijing does not represent a model which is followed throughout China in association with Dongyue, or with Taoism. It doesn’t follow what we might call the ‘spiritual franchise model’ of Christian churches. You don’t have to ‘be a Taoist’ to enter.

I'd be careful who you call a religion...

(As for the incredible menagerie of other deities in that temple, check it out. You will love this!)

So the left-brain categorisings of reflexive Western understanding are not used by Chinese people — unless they are Chinese scholars aping Westernism of course, but as the economics continue to seesaw, the power to set agendas will slip away East.

There is no exact word corresponding to English ‘religion’, in China. Our modern assumptions see religion everywhere but initial European observations were quite different. The outflowings of this fact are ridden to exciting destinations by Balagangadhara, who is Indian, but whose ideas link with China (and pagan Europe.) One simply has to observe that:

A standard Chinese response to being queried on “religion” in China is to say that the Chinese do not have one.

— Paper, The Spirits are Drunk (1995)

(Paper’s book is recommended to spiritual explorers wanting academic info on Chinese religion, since he has transpersonal experience and knows how that fits in to his subject — most scholars are still flat-footed on this, including Balagangadhara.)

The Chinese then, even once some word has been found to translate the concept of “religion”, do not recognise it. And interestingly, early Christian encounters often also say, “the Chinese have no religion”, on the record, which may be checked. This is Balagangadhara’s evidential point since the same thing happened in India — the first European arrivals there were clear that no religion was to be found, and in fact it was much the same story with the rest of the world as they encountered it.

Balagangadhara (“Balu” to friends and admirers) simply suggests: if the locals thought they had no religion, and the visitors too, why disagree with them? They were right.

And I think that’s a very good way to look at it. By the time more imperialising assumptions that “everyone has religion since it is a natural instinct” have been unpicked, not so much remains in the Western concept that is mirrored in the non-Western ones. Traditions all over the world do a whole lot of different things, often connected, but those things may in toto certainly be neither equivalent to, nor felt similarly to, what Abrahamic religion does. So it may not be appropriate to call them all “religions”, a Western word which since Christianity bludgeoned Roman pagan religio into submission really has meant ‘something like scripture-based doctrinal Abrahamism’.

So much clicks, then. We as Westerners used to make a distinction between ‘religious’ and ‘secular’ ritual in China, for example — conveniently ignoring the fact that the Chinese never made such a distinction. which is valid only for our culture. Chinese rites are more accurately seen as ‘agnostic’ (Paper p. 27), with the emphasis on the actions themselves, not on any object they have in view. The interesting Michael Saso, a Westerner ordained as a priest in a Taoist sect, agrees (1990) that “Chinese religion is not a belief system.”

Other implications… “Interfaith dialogue” for one is probably an Abrahamic model — having participated once I can testify to the falseness of the equivalences it assumes between traditions, although I had no clue why at the time; but if most “religions”, to the extent they even exist as such, can’t really be called ‘faiths’, much is explained. The famous “Belief-O-Matic” quiz over at Beliefnet which claims to be able to stream you into the correct religion on account of “what you believe” is operating on false and falsified assumptions too. The name hints at the link between those false assumptions and the mechanised universe it is still heresy to believe we don’t live in.

Many neopagans have likewise known for a long while that they were after “orthopraxy not orthodoxy”, and I hope many will be proud to say that what they do is neither equivalent to nor necessarily competition for Abrahamism. The initial category equivalence between ‘pagan beliefs’ and ‘Christian beliefs’ was drawn by Christians and was a major plank of the either/or conversion process.

Often, left to themselves, non-Christians would historically be happy to include Christ alongside other deities in a multiplicity. One saw this desire in India as Balu points out — in China too — and one sees the actual living result in the Greece of a century ago according to Lawson, whose book is absolutely invaluable although often overlooked. If pagan traditions were belief systems/worldview-faiths this natural instinct to include Jesus of Nazareth alongside other gods could not arise.

I also mention again my previous review of Versluis’ wonderful and unique book on the nature of inquisitions, with its concept of ‘ideocracy’, rule by correct ideas, acting as driver of a belief-based absolutism and happy to torture those who dare to think differently. Reading him alongside Balu, it becomes far clearer why inquisitions flourished under a “religious” system (and why totalitarianisms are indeed well seen as religions in Balu’s sense and could take over the inquisitions). It’s simply that ideocratic systems claim to own and describe the world for our and its good. One may extrapolate reasons why over-dogmatic dualistic absolutisms are at the root of a lot of the mental difficulties of the modern de-religioning West, which mental health professionals have to deal with. It all fits.

(One may often hear a person speaking of ‘religion’ who is unable to make these distinctions; under questioning they may not only have trouble defining their subject, but also realise they had not even realised they had trouble.)

Meanwhile I will interpret a writer like Patanjali much as Glenn did — psychologically and philosophically. That is my real interest, not “religion”, hence this may well be my last post on the subject of “religion” itself, which I’m sure will please many. :) I may read a little further on the question of “heresy” to see if it bears out the above (there is something similar in Confucian traditions I’m told), but I honestly think that’s a minor point best understood in light of the psychological necessity of individuation.

... mais il existe des alternatives au combat! Thanks to Cryhavok

My life as predicted has been speeding up and I also have a lot of new transpersonal insights to digest, so some posts upcoming may be shorter in the sense of fewer words, but actually will cover more ideas more tersely. As ever thanks for reading, and I appreciate your thoughts if you want to share them, whether here on the ‘Box or in private.

Best wishes,

Jason


Musings on Entrainment

Psychologically, let’s call entrainment the process whereby interaction with “something” brings a personality into being. Entrainment with silence is the process whereby the connection with the truth of the upper self can be maintained. Accepting the shadow is the process by which the gap between the personality and the truth of bodied and transbodied life is bridged.

(The thread which runs through all interactions can be made stronger than each. This seems to depend on parasympathetic dominance.)

Base chakra deities from yogic lore -- Indra, Brahma, Dakini. In China deities associate to organs instead.

In autohypnosis the entrainment is to the voice. But ‘voice’ has many meanings since people have more voice in them than they normally use and more is carried in the voice than words. People can talk differently if they know they are deeply listening. All entrainment works on inner archetypes which are known in all alchemical traditions. Multiple parts of us have a presence, associated with organs and chakras.

Shadow “acceptance” (including transformation through inhabitation and co-operation) has everything to do with really being in the body. So we know many normal entrainments take us out of it — why not, since we interpret things linguistically? Traumatic stress, which underlies much human dysfunction, is exclusion of now-experience from the body by the body’s own force. But when harmonised with that force things are very different. It does more than one dreamed when we are entrained to it, it to us.

Many people’s adult experience includes their personality and not much more. Life and society entrains them. Meta-entrainment, or entraining to that which continues despite entrainments, would mean re-entering the world that the social mind sucks us out of. Since society is ultimately a means of survival, the shadow is equivalent to death — that is, it is a byproduct of the instinctive attempt to avoid death — as is traumatic stress. The Stoics correctly taught that what survives death will not survive long unless harmonious tension and energy (pneuma or ch’i) is in place to amplify it. There is certainly a hole through which you can look to see beyond death, but to survive in that environment you have to entrain to it.

Some people’s belief systems prevent this which is itself the result of entrainment. Absolutism stems from Greek over-knifed logic, which makes everything too accurate and thus changes it. This is combined with Abrahamic over-faithiness where reality must be constantly overruled by wild attachment to a text-based “understanding” that we have to cheerlead as it “explains everything for our own good”.

The other day online someone saw what I said, put me into a category, and then demanded I defend the category! Desperately hitting out against himself in the form of a box containing my words that he had constructed, he went down slugging. Shadow.

Put the world on a Mandala and it acquires order and harmony with a centre.

Uprush of negative emotion sorts things into ‘good/bad’ categories which instead should be placed into a properly gradated worldview allowing quiet. (Mandalas place everything in a coordinated way to allow for this.) At any moment one may secede from the normal meanings. That world is not the last wor(l)d.

The ability to go within overrules everything else. Building the relationship with it makes freedom. It doesn’t change the world completely, but it changes your world completely. Most people seem too busy. Everything is listening including their own bones, but the conversation never begins.

Dionysus is connected with the esoteric Zagreus myth of being torn apart but then reborn -- click for more

Multiple selves are entrained by multiple external centres of interaction, but internal work unites them into a harmonious whole. It’s Empedocles, Dionysus, Osiris all over again.

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Anywhere is Everywhere
Anyone is Everyone
The world is a Tundra of Eachness

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Relaxercise -- beautiful movement exercises for wholeness

Benefit from this easy Feldenkrais, should you choose to. Been using it for years, a great secret weapon, Western move regimen, shadow “acceptance” through slowness. One more way to cancel out body-mind dualities that are especially vicious in the West, and the usual rubbish about needing to be someone else.

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He told her: “You have a mask.”
The patient replied: “You have a mask, too, Dr. Reich.”
He in turn said: “Yes, but the mask hasn’t me. “

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Next two weeks: inspiration and freedom.


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.)


The Inner Landscape

Cats understand the concept of relaxation

Tell someone to relax and they might not appreciate it, even if they need to. “Could I but relax right now, I wouldn’t need telling!” they might say, fair point. But tell them how to do a progressive relaxation sometime, and you may save their life or anyway their blood pressure (which turns out to be the same difference). And more importantly empower them to come to their own understanding of relaxation by direct experience.

Same story with the elements of human excellence as discussed last post. Fingerwagging that people “should be” more courageous, accepting or spontaneous isn’t nearly as helpful as showing them how to do it — in a way that brings out their own unique take on life rather than some narrow generic definition. Glenn mentioned that “Most of the religious writings with the exception of Patanjali strike me as poppycock. They describe the life, but not the practice that resulted in the life.” (Path Notes, p. 41.) He wasn’t being egoistical, just honest. His own practice for tapping the inner sources of actualised behaviour is truly beautiful, links into tradition (much of it Japanese) and thanks to his thorough work has scientific evidence backing it up. He called it ‘modernised Mikkyo’. I really love this system for linking humans to divine inspiration.

Instead of telling I shall show, using stuff anyone can extend later as desired. This post will trigger intuition and give the feel for how it all works. We’ll be combining the chakra psychology from Crawfish with meditation images from the Hoshinjutsu manual of Rob Williams, Glenn’s lineage successor. (If that bit made no sense ignore it for now, but both books are on the Reading List when you want more.)

Chakras

Here’s how it works. We’re looking at the base chakra, the lowest, for now. This is associated with the element of Earth and is found at the tip-of-coccyx/perineum area. Glenn’s discoveries here concern the roles played by chakras and elements in the personality since personalities are formed with particular energies dominant. Let’s look at what someone is like if they are Earth-dominant.

At Crawfish p. 43, we find: “On a continuum ’Earthy’ people move from extremes of conventionality and concern for status on the negative, to benevolent self confidence combined with a generalist ability to synthesize on the positive.” Negative Earth can be rule-bound, repressed, sexually obsessed, bullying and/or passive-aggressive whilst Positive is about being centred, practical and uninhibited. Obviously the positive side is the actualised side. Stability and responsibility are key-notes. (This is not astrology BTW. These factors were confirmed by research on over 5,000 people and worked into instruments with real predictive power. It’s a scientific personality typology which just happens to be based on cross-cultural esotericism.)

Meanwhile let’s get out the other book and experience Earth from a different vantage point. The Earth visualisation recommended by Rob Williams is simply to imagine yourself on a mountain, standing on and touching the firm, cool rock and realising its vast, powerful solidity (Hoshinjutsu, p. 21.) Try that right now just to see what happens, if you like.

What does the feeling of that deeply solid rock have to do with the human personality of Earth? It’s not hard to connect intuitively this mountain-solidity with the centredness and strength of the Positive Earth descriptions. Getting into the mindset reveals why things like maintenance of social order and the fulfilment of responsibility are natural expressions of this feeling. Add in the vigour of fertile earthly growth and the sexual aspects become clear too.

Strong roots, strong growth

This is not about inventing. It’s tuning into something that’s already within, thereby strengthening both “it” and “your” connection with “it”. I remember the moment I got my first blast of the actual Earth, from opening the base chakra plus doing a bunch of work with sexual energy. It was after I’d stopped meditating for the night and was engaged in something unconnected. Suddenly I felt it. The first words into my mind were ‘old and strong’. That was how I observed-experienced it unfolding. I instantly thought of the massive strength of oaks in late prime, far older than I am. A very European image — we live with the trees we are given. The slow, broad, powerful presence. I remembered a hundred times being out in nature and having this sensation amongst rocks and trees and earth, bristling and deep, full of silence, strong, massively present and aware.

To open intuitively that feeling of Earth within is no longer to need external definitions or triggering visualisations. You have the experience and knowledge of what Earth is, and it is your experience and knowledge, built of your own body, your own energy, your own life. It progresses with you. Even from that one contact (and this was long before I ever worked with trees in ch’i kung) my intuition pulled together many stray remarks from texts and combined them with remembered moments to form a knowing, a being-in-touchness connected to a certain aspect of present-moment experience-flow and meaning.

Stone -- enduring strength and weight

A poetic sensibility will find words and images playing instructive games. Earth is about being and it’s about touch. Earth is exactly about silence which is why it is the beginning of the practice just as learning silence in meditation is the beginning. Toru Takemitsu used to expound on the nature of silence among trees, not at all equivalent to mere noiselessness. Earth is also about standing. It’s about concern for standing in the community, about what you stand for, whom you stand with, the solidity of what you stand on. And so forth. These are just a couple of personal expressions of how I have lived with it. The living connection is what you are after, not a dead definition. (Bear in mind that different people find different elements more or less easy to contact at first, but this changes with practice.)

Once attained you can put it to work. Glenn’s initial angle came of course from the martial arts. The elemental energies bring physical moves to life instinctually, making them intuitive and powerful because you don’t have to think. As you see from Rob’s book, Earth moves make use of solidity, not backing away, working with weight, etc. Being the mountain.

But it obviously doesn’t stop there. There are times in your life when you need to stand firm and be the immovable object. There are times when silence will serve better than speech. And so on. You get the idea. You have a resource here. Have a look at those Maslow capacities from last week. How much easier is it to be “unruffled by that which ruffles others” with this energy at your disposal?

A great key, often mentioned by Tao Semko, is that all the chakras can be experienced in parallel. Once open they can be drawn upon as and when. And they are all very different, each a world to itself. The joyful, precise, vivid and direct motive power of the third chakra, for example, associated with Fire, is a beast with very different proclivities from those of Earth, but just as useful to build actualisation. The three upper chakras, associated with Void, are perhaps even more extraordinary than the base four.

Obviously there are ways of energising and contacting all the chakras in meditation and qigong, but this life-use of their energies seems less talked about. Bringing these energies to situations in living really ramps the awakeness levels of the ordinary mind. You have to get quite aware to do this. You can also use the subconscious — allow it to change your life by re-weaving the energies. What happens if you use Ericksonian techniques to tap the energies and resolve old issues or forge new personality resources? Let’s just say your subconscious has known the energies for a long time and can come up with some neat stuff very spontaneously. I’ll leave you to discover…

Additional Information for the Interested

Maslow's "Hierarchy of Needs" -- not bad, but the chakra system is far subtler

This does link to psychology since Glenn makes clear it can work as a Maslow-style hierarchy, and also as a series of Jungian-style archetypes (Crawfish, p. 49.)

It’s not uncommon to meet the chakras as beings. Deities associated with them in traditional Tantric lore are perfect examples. Glenn briefly mentions this idea at Path Notes, p. 178. The Taoists have a similar tradition which associates the slightly different Chinese 5-element system with organs rather than chakras, but also recognises spiritual beings living within each one.

That’s a very useful approach. That Earth element experience is just one feature of the human inner universe. Our physical systems are amazing in themselves, but just the beginning because all aspects of our physicality are associated with energies and consciousnesses. There is a magical garden full of colourful and potent stuff in any human body/soul, layers and layers of energetic systems and flows, radiances, symbols and archetypes. People have no idea how interesting they are. Work with those things via ch’i and Kundalini energies has been scientifically proven alter the composition of your physical body (see Lu 1997.)

The chakras are confluences, hubs for energy-paths and physical nerve plexuses and organs. There’s intelligent meaning underneath which permeates/generates the rest. No-one need think all the wizzy modern science precludes investigating the traditional approach, and the old translations of Indian Tantric chakra lore in Arthur Avalon, for example, remain interesting. The ‘purpose’ of each chakra casts light on the ‘purpose’ of the organs that coincide with it. The essential archetype of the chakra is non-physical and is experienced by contacting it as a space-presence.

The Japanese have two element systems, one with five elements (go gyo) for back-engineering Chinese medicine stuff, and one with 4 elements + void (go dai) related to chakras, which was what Glenn used. Its source is esoteric Buddhism and martial arts. Chakras cross cultures and the descriptions are interesting to compare. Elements likewise. Bardon’s Western system of Hermetics has things in common with this. Jan Fries is enjoyable on the elements and Empedocles seems to have been the first to write about them.

Void in Glenn’s system is the eternal centre and dynamic reconciler of opposites which is the role played by ‘Tao’ last post.

As Tao Semko points out the purpose of Tantric Kundalini meditation traditionally is to have access to all those chakra spaces in a chain and have Kundalini energy link them together at their absolute centre. That vertical, spiritual use of the chakras can accompany the more horizontal stuff we’ve looked at here and is a ladder to the transcendent.

Given how different, and how much richer, the subtle inner, transpersonal and superconscious worlds and interpretations are from anything you could extrapolate out of physicalism, there’s often a load of chaos surrounding this info and reality in human psychology and culture. A couple of posts on that coming up. :)


So Where Are You Going Later?

Thought I’d end the year on a note of high speculation and talk about resurrection, one of the two intriguing aspects of the Christ story often held up as evidence of divinity, along with the virgin birth. However seasonal the latter strikes me as a little tougher, especially since no-one could have seen proof. But hey, who knows. There are plenty of examples in myth. You’ll know one of them if you’ve seen Clash of the Titans. It happened to a hammerhead shark a few years back — primitive species often find miracles easier than we do, see Becker. (The scientific term, parthenogenesis, is simply the Greek for ‘virgin birth’. A literal human example would have the double-X chromosome structure and thus be female, but without nudging from test tubes it’s conventionally believed impossible in mammals.)

Resurrection meanwhile means dying only to return to life again, and then disappearing up to heaven leaving no mortal remains. It is thus a special brand of immortality. I choose to start at the more believable end of the scale. There are consistent anecdotal reports of OBEs reducing body mass. Richardson’s Dancers to the Gods contains info on a teacher of Dion Fortune, for example, I forget the name, whose physical body weight shrank to that of a small child when his spirit was projected. The astral body meanwhile was said to be visible to the untrained naked eye and to leave a dent in cushions it sat on.

The question I’d ask is what happened when the man died. Quite possibly the mortal remains, although still present, weighed far less than expected.

Some will know that an astral body with that much solidity has plenty of etheric matter in it. The etheric connects with the deep energy known as jing in China and ojas in India. This is considered present in blood, sexual fluids and bone marrow and is used as a fuel for spiritual transmutations. Taoists talk of transmuting jing into qi and then qi into shen (spirit) into order to attain immortality.

Mantak Chia used to make early students laugh by pointing out that Westerners obsess over a single immortal, Jesus, whereas the Taoists have hundreds to their name. (See Winn in Kohn & Wang 2009, p. 179.) Shijie, meaning something like ‘post-corpse deliverance’, is one Taoist term for resurrection. “Accounts of shijie are notable for denying that the person has left behind a real corpse,” says Kirkland in the magisterial Routledge Encyclopedia of Taoism (2011). This product of union with the Tao is described in numerous texts and scriptures and became one standardised outcome of neidan or inner alchemy.

Although this isn’t the place for a big survey there are numerous clues telling us we are onto something. Some of those “delivered” left behind bits of their bodies which they had not managed to transform: a particularly cool one is Cai Jing who managed to completely dissolve the all-important bones but left the skin behind, “intact from head to foot, like a cicada shell,” says the tale, see Campany (2002), p. 60. So we have a spectrum, from a normal death at one pole to a complete transformation at the other, with Fortune’s teacher and Cai Jing at points between. Tsultrim Allione reports examples of Tibetan yoginis who leave behind only their hair and nails as another point on the same line.

Resurrection requires death and could therefore be considered unclassy. In Taoism as in many other traditions probably the most prized result of transformation is ‘ascending to heaven in broad daylight’, with witnesses. Many Taoists are last seen flying off on the backs of cranes, toads, or dragons, accompanied by fellow-immortals — just as a chariot and horses of fire lifted Elijah to heaven in a whirlwind. The common factor is always a life that has physically ended with no mortal remains to show for it. The person concerned may later make physical appearances, but has already passed through what would have been death.

Often reported is the death of a person whose body is nowhere to be found when burial time comes. Having had only older examples thus far we can take the more recent one of Ramalinga Swamigal, aka Villalar, the great Tamil poet and saint whose transformation occurred on January 30, 1874. The room into which he locked himself, alone, was found to be empty when finally forced open.

A Spanish woman named Sobhana claims to have been in contact with Ramalinga for many years with enjoyable results and has interesting info on his bodily transformation. It began with things like smoothing of the skin or softening and flexibility of tendons and bones, going forward via miraculous recovery of a childhood body to an ultimate invisible but nonetheless bodily omnipresence in all things. The parallels with Taoist practice are quite apparent. Jing/ojas again plays an important role with Ramalinga himself writing of “the semen and sexual fluids having ascended to the chest and condensed into a supra-energy form”.

Recent Tibetan manifestations of related phenomena have been reported by inclusivist Western Christian observers such as David Steindl-Rast, who see the New Testament parallels. In the Summer of 1998 the body of the Nyingma/Gelug practitioner Lama Khenpo-A-chos was covered with a yellow cloth, after his death which followed illuminations of the complexion, wondrous fragrances, and rainbows over the small hut in which he lived. There was no aging or illness. Eight days later when the cloth was removed the body had vanished. Witnesses seem quite numerous.

Even IONS is interested and although such western investigation threatens to profane processes no-one would wish to disturb, the interviews with three eyewitnesses of these events that have been recorded by Father Francis Tiso are probably of some little interest. Tiso’s been visited by Tibetan visions, knows of other recent examples, and takes this stuff as a type of Christ’s resurrection. I think that would interest such doubtful ‘experts’ as Plantinga who continue to need an exclusivist Christianity!

Tiso however sees this as mostly Buddhist-Christian interfaith stuff with primary implications for his own religion. He thus leaves the Tamil and Taoist examples uninvestigated, hasn’t heard of qigong, and doesn’t mention jing transformation, although he does note Old Testament references to ‘dew’ (Hebrew tal) that have a jing-like context. (By the time he starts sermonising about saving humanity and claiming that Tibetan Buddhist practices are derived from Christianity [!!], many will be twiddling their thumbs. Still he’s done the work of collecting the modern data and his presentation is worth a listen.)

There we have it anyhow: taking a cross-cultural and evidential view, once again, has interesting implications for those who think it’s all ‘myth’, with ‘myth’ equivalent either to ‘symbolism’ or else to ‘rubbish’. Anyone can experiment with using energy to alter the bodily composition, and if you’re into anything like what I’m into, you’re already doing it.

On this exalted note I’ll allow my hardworking blog a brief break. Let me take this opportunity to wish all my readers an enjoyable holiday season and new year. Thanks to everyone who has been interested to join me so far. My next post will be on January 7th, 2012.

Best wishes to you all in your various intriguing endeavours, and have fun!

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I’m indebted to Amazon reviewer Ashtar Command for supplying information I used in this post.


Tart Comments

Evidence-Based Spirituality — Part 9 of 10

Here’s a miscellany of reactions to various points made by Tart in his ‘Towards an Evidence-Based Spirituality’ video. Certain issues jumped out at points which I haven’t squeezed into other posts of the series.

On the definition of ‘spiritual’ — people it’s easy — read Hufford. Spiritual means: pertaining to a separate order or world of ‘spirits’, that is, beings without bodies, such as gods, souls and angels. There, sorted.

Small Takeup ?Problem — Tart gives the example of Shinzen Young’s meditation seminar weekends having a ‘95% dropout rate’ (that is, the next year, when Young is back that way, only 5% have stuck to meditation), as a way of showing that meditation methods need improvement. “What? 95%? If I as a teacher had that problem I’d assume I wasn’t teaching very well. Maybe Shinzen isn’t teaching very well. We need to help him evidentially.” And so on.

Well not necessarily. Does Tart teach college courses consisting of one weekend’s teaching followed by a year of unsupervised daily homework? If he did, would his dropout rate be higher? Thought so. Not everyone does have the discipline for some forms of meditation. There are methods which are very good that take a lot of time. But they are still very good methods. Those people who don’t come back to Shinzen — do we know they gave up spirituality altogether? We do not.

There are also methods that work very quickly, and as a result people drop them because they are scary. Some think that is better because at least something happens. Many Zen techniques are for those who’ve dedicated themselves to sweeping up in a monastery for the foreseeable future, and might not feel the consumerist urge for a quick return as advertised. But is fast best? Many think so and Glenn was one. Here’s a way to increase the takeup if you agree: learn Bruce’s NEW Energy Work. It works immediately, and even though it’s far from complete and doesn’t in any way represent a full spiritual programme, you can’t ignore real results. Once you’re convinced this stuff is real, then you can pick training up more seriously. If you go too far too fast though, you may wish you’d tried it Shinzen’s way. :)

You cannot assume Bud-Off — Do we know Zen is a technique and not a culture? Do we know you can practice Sufism without being a Sufi? Have we ever examined the differential evidentially, between just doing a ‘technique’ on the one hand, and being a believer then doing the technique, on the other? My hunch: experience and feeling and aptitude is the key, not belief. But can we assume that? And commitment levels matter. John Michael Greer tells me lots more people do his magical trainings on a sustainable basis, now he’s put them into a Druidic religious form. Inspires devotion.

‘Cultural Bias’ — Again: do we know, when a being of light comes for a Christian having an NDE, and the Christian calls it an angel, whilst over in India someone else calls it a Deva, that they are the same being with different names? We don’t know that. Non-physical fauna are not in any way a simple subject. I think there’s a lot there, and I also suspect the simplified stories have too much prevalence. This isn’t just my blatherings. See for example Greer 2001, Vieira 2007 on how much there is to know.

Testing OBE — it’s assumed that’s straightforward but it’s not. Why do experienced traditional teachers of astral projection (see Bardon 2009, Mickaharic 2002) have the student spend ages in their rooms, when they first learn to project? Why do they insist that these students study minutely their rooms, and not leave them until the place they see whilst out of body is exactly the same as the one they see with their physical eyes?

Because OBE sensing is a learned skill — just like physical sensing — with the added difficulty that believing illusions is really going to cramp your spiritual style. You have to learn to operate in that environment. At the start you may be seeing a lot that isn’t there, shifting to other locations, editing with your subconscious etc. Mickarahic says it can take a whole year before you have really learned the difference between reality and illusion, and that’s just for seeing the dense underlayer of the physical world. Other more tenuous worlds are correspondingly trickier to be steady in.

So if you haven’t done that training, are your scores in any objective physical-world test going to be so good? How about doing a test before and after such training? Anyone? Monroe Institute? :)

That’s that… next time I’ll post a final thought about the ‘beauty’ of science and the ‘beauty’ of spirituality, and how they might link.