Category Archives: Philosophy

2 Connections to Bigger Patterns

Firstly, those following the wider process of death and rebirth that on a narrow level is currently playing out in Ukraine will probably be highly interested in this typically bravura lecture by Immanuel Wallerstein:

… since Ukraine currently exemplifies his “chaos” rather perfectly (its companion “bifurcation” is harder for me to swallow theoretically). Comparing the behaviour of this world system since 1945 with the one in Bali from the J. Stephen Lansing lecture I linked recently, I find it fascinating to see where they intersect. Competing myths. Wallerstein’s cycles of hegemony are bang on. He was turned onto systems by Prigogine. He and William Irwin Thompson might get on somewhat since they somewhat similarly see expansion and contraction.

(BTW the organisation Wallerstein mentions at around 31 mins is the Project for the New American Century — which I had somehow missed until now. Interesting!)

Secondly, and especially for those who haven’t yet looked at it, I’d like to speak again on behalf of acupressure. My fave books, as in the qigong reading list, are beginner-friendly, and there’s nothing like a little resilience and hardiness amidst all the world-system weirdness:

Acupressure’s Potent Points

Acupressure for Emotional Healing

I bring it up because of a scientific discovery which I’ve been meaning to post for ages. Over the last few years Joie Jones and Young Bae have actually been detecting the changes in stimulated acupoints using fMRI, and now they’re able to animate them on a screen so you can see them happening all along the meridian. EDIT: Sorry, forgot that the major breakthroughs actually involve ultrasound not fMRI. Jones demonstrates this here:

After you see, literally, the steadiness of the wave of chi moving through a meridian, you’ll never again wonder about the length of time you have to hold acupoints.

The connection again is self-organising systems. The meridians as a whole constitute one such system; acupressure, one way to adjust it. In order to link this with mythology and Kundalini you need a few more patterns. For now I’ll note that Carl Rogers-style psychology is about allowing self-organisation to occur. You yourself are a world, as the world-system is a world. Worlds interpenetrate.

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.

The Garden Lives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— the enjoyment of the state that results.

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

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

Holotropic Spontaneity and Carl Rogers XIX

Final Thoughts

The way that I like begins, not with some creed, but with a possibility, to gradually discover and transform into something much more like one’s best self. (In a way this seems to involve healing all the damage done by creeds.) Rogers really has a great approach the human levels of this and gives a lovely modern guide into the process.

The atmosphere is one of complete supportive non-judgmentalism which creates a safety of thought and expression. So one moves from being trapped within feelings and attitudes to being able to notice and understand them, and frees oneself from habitual interpretations. One builds a new self-system and lives in it in a renewed context.

Quiet enables recovery from a hundred minor traumas and perhaps some major ones. The sweet rest of the parasympathetic comes to predominate in the nervous system. (Peace also turns out to be strongly linked with invigorating aliveness, whilst unpeacefulness inculcates deadness at rates which should be sobering but sadly rarely are.) No body is ungrateful for having its tendons transformed.

As Glenn says, the result of discovering meaning and meaningfulness is to exist in “calm connectedness”. This means normal life would otherwise be disconnected (estrangement). The recovery process thus leads somewhere one couldn’t consciously aim, therefore one gradually learns to trust it. Whoever one “is”, whatever the life one is entrained to, the process takes in all of its elements and begins to reveal the underlying connection between them, the person who is doing that living, who would be lost if focused on objects. One expresses this in one’s own way, learning to know where the ups and downs naturally come and when to push or relax. This is part of what Rogers called “being process”.

I don’t mean to imply in this series that seeing a therapist (or indeed a healer) isn’t a good idea. One might uncover difficulties emotionally, and whilst there are some people who find it possible to get over that by themselves, there are others who don’t. Follow your heart. But whether one sees a therapist or not, the process is the process, and it is your process. You be the judge of what is needed as you make your moves and allow spontaneous action/reaction. Success often lies in taking the highest promptings seriously.

Meditation actually improves the Rogerian formula even at the beginning. Silence, that ultimate answer to all earthly questions, is not usually used in a non-transpersonal therapy. When combined with Rogerian technique, it brings a deep balm, ease and peace to the person who has probably been without it for a long while.

The stillness of meditation starts to manifest the deeper meaning of the person’s life which begins to be directly felt. This creates an atmosphere that forms the basis for realisation, for awareness of depth. It is totally natural and comes unsought. It simply needs to be allowed to come, needs the space in which to come. Although it may not have the mighty luminosity of transpersonal experience at first, the solidity, selfness, reality of the result still comes to be valued more than anything else which could disturb it, and thus life changes suggest themselves to preserve and deepen what one is becoming. There may be considerably less sayable in the new identity than in the old.

To my mind this all concatenates with chi kung. I should mention shen, a hard-to-translate word rendered variously as “spirit”, “mind”, “daimon”, “all-embracing love” or “awareness”. Shen as it first manifests in chi kung tends to give the feeling of a deep heart-peace and acceptance, intimately quiet and relieving, that gradually reveals an inner illumination which is the beginning of (re-)encountering the real. It also, in the Chinese conception, is the result of natural processes, which harmonise and unblock chi whilst jing, life essence, is allowed to build. Shen later is spirit or consciousness itself, and therefore the signal of realisation.

There are obviously many transformations after this, on the path I like, many things that reveal themselves beyond this initial stage. Spiritual truth is not “psychological” in the modern sense and the quest reveals itself on levels that (I believe) we all know, but in practical terms, have mostly forgotten if not for the promptings we all feel towards those levels. Gopi Krishna attributed those holotropic promptings to the Kundalini process making itself known on a quiet level to everyone, I think correctly. Our lives wish to deepen.

But as long as this initial understanding has been attained, it can be developed in daily life as well, and forms a sign of what is to come as well as a doorway to it. Everything that happens becomes part of its flow. One always has an awareness, a place to which to return. One is just oneself, after all.


That’s the end of the series — many thanks for reading and welcome to all the new subscribers!

The reading lists all need a huge amount of redoing… I hope to get that done later on… I know I keep saying that…

The problem is that the next series has made for a huge amount of research, and I’d like to make as much of it available as I can. In fact that research is still ongoing, so there’s going to be a gap before the series begins, but fear not as I’ll be doing short posts on various other subjects as they take my fancy.

Answer to the question: do I still use hypnosis? Yes. Didn’t mean to imply otherwise at all. More on that in a sec. Does hypnosis tie in with this series? Absolutely can. The Ericksonian unconscious works by the same kind of spontaneity. (EDIT: Just saw this book combining Erickson and Rogers.)

More recent work in the vein of Maslow and Rogers has been done by Czikszentmihalyi and Seligman, and there are various other things out there of interest in the same direction. More on them as I fill in before the next series, but I won’t be writing about psychology in any depth for a while now as we need to venture into the wild.


Carl Rogers

Carl Rogers

So, with apologies for the delay, to the excellent Carl Rogers. I will cover him from the SBNR angle, opening up his ideas for anyone’s personal use. (This is a propos of the ‘summaries’ I promised of useful psych for transpersonal purposes.)

In practical terms Rogers is one of the most important important modern sources for self development. To sketch in his ideas really doesn’t take long. He was not a transpersonal psychologist but at every stage I’ll show the direct relevance of his stuff to transpersonal goals and ways, and he will be a major support for a lot of transcendent concepts to come. His work becomes a useful touchstone on issues like natural spontaneity and developing meaningfulness, especially in an initial practice where peace and stability are the watchwords. Anyone meditating and/or doing chi kung, wanting to increase harmony and meaning to prepare for Kundalini, should find this series gives supportive ideas and ways. It will also surreptitiously set up ideas that later prove lot bigger and more important.

Writing on Maslow and other psychologists before, I tended to blend them with other things exercising me. This Rogers series will definitely situate him within subjects I always cover, but will focus directly on his own thinking, with many verbatim quotes. Series after this may not focus directly on psychology for a while as I move to being more of a wissenskünstler, but it will all tie in.

The format is short posts again, at an interval of four days. Hope you enjoy it, thanks for reading!

Ataraxia — movement reveals stillness, stillness harmonises movement

In multiple traditions, the soul that is peaceful is said to be “balanced” by means of a system of elements. The Western training of Franz Bardon uses a 4-element system for this which corresponds to the five-element Chinese system. But bizarrely these two modern approaches are opposites, and even more so, the Chinese one is much closer in spirit to Ancient Greece than the Western one. I’m still not quite sure why that should be.

Katchmer’s great book, The Tao of Bioenergetics (1993), offers what I see as the basic view. Glenn applauded it as having “a good explanation of the workings of the Eastern methodologies and perspectives, with enough concrete Western examples to keep one scratching one’s head for quite awhile”. It’s built on the contrast between the Western and Chinese approaches to knowing in general. The Western approach is substantial and reified and seeks ‘the right answer’; the Chinese is an energy paradigm valuing flow.

It’s almost not wrong to say that for something to be ‘an answer’ in China, it must be flowing, whereas for something to be ‘an answer’ in the West, it must have stopped flowing (at least until Heidegger and Deleuze). However, when it comes to elements-systems, it would appear that the ancient West — Greece — bucks this trend.

Generative Cycle of 5 Chinese Elements

The Chinese five-element system works in cycles. The “Generative Cycle” arranges the elements in a circle with each element producing the next in turn — Water is said to produce or generate Wood, and so forth. In the job of balancing the elements, indirect action thus becomes possible — to strengthen the Metal element one may strengthen Earth, since excess Earth will become Metal. Metal corresponds, for example, to the lungs, and Earth to the Spleen/Pancreas/Stomach complex, so weak lungs can be strengthened by strengthening the stomach.

Destructive Cycle

In the “Destructive Cycle”, on the other hand, Metal has the effect of reducing or inhibiting the Wood element, of which the organ is the liver. Thus an overactive liver can be reined in by strengthening the lung. Each organ is associated with a complex of emotions, thus these interventions alter one’s psychology.

It’s all about effecting dynamic changes in an ongoing stream. As qi flows through the whole it clings or is overactive or else is weak, in this or that area, and the flow is warped out of true. Systems for getting it back in line using the elemental approach range from the purely meditative — like Chia’s Fusion of the Five Elements, work with the meridians, or stuff by Bi Yongsheng I’ll refer to later in the post — to the book I got those illustrations from, Chang’s The Tao of Balanced Diet (1987) which makes use of flavour, energy level and pH balances in different foods. Healing by eating, a nice thought which has worked for me. (Chia promised a similar system once but I don’t believe he has ever published it.)

When flow is clear, when all elements support each other and none is predominant, when the system is free of blockage, it has then become transparent and favours no direction, so can recover events and expressions. It has a dynamic homeostasis allowing a life of undisturbedness or ataraxia amidst any sort of motion.

What’s very interesting is that (from what we have left to us), the Western four element system seems to have begun with a similar attitude to flow. The elements, says Empedocles, “prevail in turn as the time comes around”. Heraclitus, so often the most Chinese of the Greeks, mentions that “the death of fire is birth for air and the death of air is birth for water” and so on. Anaximenes and Anaxagoras have certain relevant passages and Plato’s Timaeus includes much on the process of cyclical transformation of the elements (49-50), and how they make up the character of souls.

But the European approach has not kept up this interest in flow and Bardon’s 20th c. Western Hermetic technique shows the result. It’s so different that I actually have discovered I’m not able to combine the two comfortably, but it perfectly illustrates the ‘reified/static’ mien of Western European thought as sketched by Katchmer.

Bardon’s system is in the line of Agrippa and Fludd, Western occultism. The technique involves breathwork with four different elements as two pairs of opposite qualities — Fire and Water are hot and cold; Air and Earth, light and heavy, respectively. The practitioner first learns to handle each element separately by breathing it into the body. When seasoned s/he can then inbreathe all four elements simultaneously, focusing them in different areas: Earth in the legs and genitals, Water in the belly, Air in the chest, and Fire in the head. By concentrating the energies strongly, each simultaneously in its area, the practitioner brings the system into balance and harmony. Fludd shows exactly this elemental order. The Indians tend to put Air on top I think… more research coming.

This harmony is entirely static. There is no sense of interaction with the environment, only with a world of ideal qualities, and the four “flowing”, “becoming” elements of old Western lore are not to be found. Where the Chinese system involves carefully balancing motion in order to reveal harmony, the Western system makes a block of harmonised motionlessness to which the ordinary life energies must conform. I find it a telling difference and one that confirms Katchmer, although the latter doesn’t know Bardon.

Glenn Morris fans will note that the ability to run energy hot or cold at will is very much a part of his system. However, working with Bardon’s Fire and Water elements does not help for this as Bardon never runs energy at all — the West is quite destitute of a meridian system through which energy can be dynamic. The only qigong book I have ever seen with good instructions for running hot or cold at will is the one I quoted at the end of last post, which is rapidly becoming my favourite book on medical qigong of all time: Bi Yongsheng’s Chinese Qigong Outgoing-Qi Therapy (1997). (Glenn himself teases but doesn’t give a method for this.)

You can also find in that book a system for generating a form of qi corresponding to each of the five elements, which can be used for elemental balance exercises on the generating-destroying cycle I gave earlier earlier. (Mind you, I haven’t yet tackled the huge work of Jerry Alan Johnson who I believe studied with Bi. But Bi’s book is seriously good anyway.)

It’s interesting to think that the Chinese system reflects much more closely the fluid/becoming nature of the Greek elements, as given by many philosophers, than the later European occult systems seem to. As I say, I’m not sure what happened there, nor when the switchover to the static occurred in the West.


Sorry for tardiness and linklessness, plus fair warning that as I write the Webster rebuttal which is taking on large proportions, Saturday posts may become shorter/sketchier or occasionally absent. I do have a lot of posts in cold storage I can bombard you with but they may run out. Thx for bearing with me, think it’ll be worth it…

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.

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.

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

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

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


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

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

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

— Wallace, Epicureanism COMPLETE TEXT FREE

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

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

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

Empedocles of Acragas

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


There were a couple of ‘but is it atheist’ objections to the previous post…

Very good page on the history of Epicureanism post-Epicurus here. The use made of it by Locke, Jefferson and so on post-“enlightenment” has stuck the label of ‘atheism’ squarely on what was never atheist. Frances Yates showed how the use of Epicurus in Palingenius influenced Giordano Bruno and was entwined with Hermetics. You can read all about Palingenius here and if you search ‘Epicurus’ you find him as a mystical ethical sage, guiding Palingenius on a visionary quest as Virgil guided Dante.

But even ancient Epicureans weren’t atheist. The recent amazing work of Dirk Obbink on the papyri coming out of Herculaneum has shed a massive light on this, but unfortunately I can’t afford this book, and it’s only volume one. I do know that Philodemus argues Epicurus held one should pray in order to entrain to the gods as archetypes in quite a modern manner, in order to realise perfection. If I can somehow manage to borrow that book from a library I shall know more. I will probably be tempted to steal it.