Sunday, July 31, 2011

Three Causes of 'Suffering'

To the unenlightened mind, the Buddha explained, life is duhkha, a Pali term customarily translated as 'suffering." From this First Noble Truth - the truth of suffering - flow the rest of the Buddha's teachings. But what does duhkha really signify?

According to the Oxford Dictionary of Buddhism:
"There is no word in English covering the same ground as duhkha in the sense it is used in Buddhism. The usual translation of 'suffering' is too strong, and gives the impression that life according to Buddhism is nothing but pain. As a consequence, some regard Buddhism as pessimistic."

"While duhkha certainly embraces the ordinary meaning of 'suffering,' it also includes deeper concepts such as impermanence (anitya) and unsatisfactoriness, and may be better left untranslated. The Buddha does not deny happiness in life, although this too is seen as part of duhkha because of its impermanence."

"The concept of duhkha is explained as having three aspects. Ordinary duhkha (duhkha-duhkha) refers to all kinds of suffering in life, such as illness, death, separation from loved ones, or not getting what one desires. The second aspect of duhkha, or duhkha produced by change (viparinama-duhkha) is the duhkha resulting from the impermanent nature of all things. The third aspect of duhkha, or duhkha as conditioned states (samskara-duhkha), is the most important philosophical aspect of the First Noble Truth. This teaches that what we call an 'individual' is, according to Buddhism, a combination of ever-changing physical and mental forces known as the 'five aggregates, (panca skandha). This is known as the doctrine of anatman, or no-self."
"(L)ike everything else," it is noted, "the individual ego is dependently originated and conditioned. Holding to the illusion of an independently originated self (atman), according to the Buddha, makes one crave for the satisfaction of this self. However, since everything is duhkha, and impermanent, there cannot be enduring satisfaction. Instead, craving (trsna) only leads to a vicious circle of unfulfilled, desires, and therefore more suffering (duhkha)."

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

The first aspect of 'suffering' - duhkha-duhkha - is the most readily apparent aspect: hit your thumb with a hammer, develop arthritis, grow sick and die, and the inevitable result is suffering, both mental and physical. This might be called 'ordinary suffering.'

The second aspect of suffering - duhkha produced by change (viparinama-duhkha) - is somewhat more subtle, yet still very easy to grasp. Picture yourself on a paradaisical beach. Everything is beautiful and perfect. Then the thought arises that your vacation will end on Saturday and you will have to return to work and your 'normal' life. Suffering ensues. It ensues irrespective of whether we realize that we may not get something that we crave, or whether we realize that we may (or will) inevitably lose something that we cling to. Under these conditions, even that which is pleasurable causes the experience of suffering, albeit suffering produced by change - or viparinama-duhkha. This might be called "the suffering of impermanence."

The third aspect of suffering (samskara-duhkha) - suffering caused by the illusion that the ego-self is not conditioned or learned, but rather is actually 'who' and 'what' we are - is yet more subtle. Because of this mistaken illusion, we try to satisfy the ego's desires and allay its fears, but are ultimately unable to do so, as the ego itself is illusory. It is the ego-self that we mistake with our ultimate being - the Atman - a reality that is obscured by the conditioned states and thought patterns of the ego. This might be called "existential suffering."

To understand samskara-duhkha, it is perhaps helpful to examine what is meant by the 'samskaras' - a term that evolved, as did Buddhism, from the Vedic teachings of India.

In his masterpiece commentary on Patanjali's yoga aphorisms ("How to Know God"), Swami Prabhavananda asks us to picture the mind as a lake. The surface of the lake is our conscious thinking, while the water column is the 'thought-stuff' of the mind, and the lake bottom is the Atman, the Godhead within each of us. In its perfect state the waters of this mind-lake are purified and clear and one can easily percieve the Atman, which is the Ground of Being. However, as the 'thought-stuff' of the mind is distrubed, the water gets murky and turgid and the Atman is no longer discernible.

Over time, our habitual thought patterns flow and eddy in particular forms, building up sand banks and pebble beds which both obscure the lake bottom and channel the water to run in certain directions. Prabhavananda identifies these obscurations as the samskaras. In our consciousness we identify with our samskaras (or thought-patterns) and lose all contact with our Ground of Being, the Atman. Thus, a person who is habitually involved with thoughts of those who have 'wronged' him, plotting revenge, becomes a resentful man. A person who habitually thinks anger thoughts becomes an angry man etc.

Even as we learn to still the thought waves in the mind through the practice of meditation and contemplation, the samskaras remain as obstacles to realizing 'who' and 'what' we are and achieving union with our Ground of Being. But, as time passes, and with disciplined practice, even the sandbanks and pebble beds of the samskaras will begin to dissipate.

No longer sustained and built up by our habitual, egoic thinking the samskaras fade in time, and once again we can see from our consciousness through the water-column of the mind to the Atman at the base. But, in the meantime, if we habitually identify with our samskaras as being 'who' and 'what' we are, we suffer. Like all other 'things,' our false ego-self is a product of dependent origination. If we can realize its impermanence and cease to identify with it we begin to overcome our samskara-duhkha.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Karlfried Graf Von Durckheim: On Contemplative Practice

"In order to reconize the reality of this experience of Greater Being, we need nothing more than the 'sacred sobriety' of common sense. This, in fact, is that transcendental realism which is neither clouded nor inhibited by preconceived concepts and rational thought structures. This sense of reality permits the unique, unclassifiable quality of the experience to be as it is, accepts and savours it, and because of its very incomprehensibility, is intuitively convinced of its truth."

"We need to practice in order to acquire the possibility of recognizing the quality of this reality. By remaining alert and constantly prepared, we can learn to hear and feel the call of Divine Being in everything that happens to us. For this we need to work diligently in order to become vessels capable of receiving all that is poured into them. And this practice remember, must not only begin but also end the day. 'Learn to live each day to its end in such a way that it becomes a part of Eternity,' as the poet says."

"We need a new kind of discipline here, one that aims so to develop our inner experience that it is lifted to a higher level. The results of such discipline come not from the sort of practice that is the mere carrying out of specific exercises, but from one that confirms the old saying: 'Each moment is the best of all opportunities.' Thus all things and all events become the field of practice on our journey along the Inner Way. Moving ever onward and keeping in touch with his inner essence, a man transforms himself step by step, into a 'person.' whose transparence to Divine Being makes possible the fulfillment of his human destiny."

-- Karlfried Graf Von Durckheim --
("The Way of Transformation: Daily Life as Spiritual Practice," p. 31.)
"It is a truism," notes Graf Von Durckheim, a practically-minded and modern mystic, "that all work, all art and all professional activity require practice if they are to succeed. This we accept, and in order that we may establish ourselves in the world, it is obvious that we must be at pains in all our vocations, avocations and transactions to practice and assimilate experience. We do not realize, however, that the success of man's most important task - infinitely more essential than any of his arts or professions - also depends upon practice."

"The destiny of everything that lives is that it should unfold its own nature to its maximum possibility," he points out. "Man is no exception. But he cannot - as a tree or a flower does - fulfill his destiny automatically. He is only permitted to become fully what he is intended to be when he takes himself in hand, works on himself, and practices ceaselessly to reach perfection."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * 

Karlfried Graf Von Durckheim (October 24, 1896 – December 28, 1988) was a strange amalgam of old and new, nobility and modernity, public and private, Western and Eastern. A Bavarian nobleman and professor, he was appointed as a foreign envoy from Nazi Germany to Japan immediately before World War II, where he was exposed to Zen teachings. Interned for a year and a half in Japan's Sugamo prison after the war, he practiced intensive zazen meditation, before returning to Germany and starting a career as a psychoanalyst and spiritual teacher.

Along with psychologist Maria Hippius, Dürckheim founded the "Center of Existential and Psychological Formation and Encounter" in the early 1950s. "What I am doing is not the transmission of Zen Buddhism," he asserted, "on the contrary, that which I seek after is something universally human which comes from our origins and happens to be more emphasized in eastern practices than in the western."

His "Initiation Therapy" dealt with the encounter between the profane, mundane, "little" self — the ego and super-ego — and the true Self. "The therapist is not the one who heals, that is, who intervenes with his own skills," he observed, "he is a therapist in the original meaning of the word: a companion on the way."
(Source: Wikipedia.)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Maya, Existence and Non-Existence

"When the Hindu says the world is Maya, at once people get the idea that the world is an illusion. This interpretation has some basis, as coming through the Buddhistic philosophers, because there was one section of philosophers who did not believe in the external world at all. But the Maya of Vedanta, in its last developed form is neither Idealism nor Realism, nor is it a theory. It is a simple statement of facts - what we are, and what we see around us."

"The one peculiar attribute we find in time, space, and causation is that they cannot exist sepearte from other things. Try to think of space without colour, or limits, or any connection with the things around - just abstract space. You cannot; you have to think of it as the space between two limits, or between three objects. It has to be connected with some object to have any existence. So with time; you cannot have any ideas of abstract time, but you have to take two events, one preceding, and the other succeeding, and join the two events by the ideas of succession. Time depends on two events, just as space has to be related to outside objects. And the idea of causation is inseparable from time and space."

"As no man can jump out of his own self, so no man can go beyond the limits that have been put upon him by the laws of time and space. Every attempt to solve the laws of causation, time and space, would be futile, because the very attempt would have to be made by taking for granted the existence of these things."

"What does the statement of the existence of the world mean, then? "This world has no existence." What is meant by that? It means that it has no absolute existence. It exists only in relation to my mind, to your mind, and to the mind of everyone else."

"We see this world with the five senses, but if we had another sense, we would see in it something more. If we had yet another sense, it would appear to be as something still different. It has, therefore, no real existence; it has no unchangeable, immovable, infinite existence. Nor can it be called non-existence, seeing that it exists, and we have to work in and through it. It is a misture of existence and non-existence."

-- Swami Vivikenanda --
("Teachings of Swami Vivikenanda," Advaita Ashrama Publishings, pp. 198-199.)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi: On the Origin of Thought

My first meditation teacher - the only truly enlightened man I have had the pleasure of knowing personally - was grounded in his spirituality by Transcendental Meditation (TM), although his exploration, practice, and knowledge of various religious and spiritual traditions was extensive. He explained (as Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder and first exponent of TM, as we know it, does in the attached video) that all thoughts rise and expand in the subconscious before they pop up, full blown, into the field of our consciousness. Both used the analogy of a bubble rising from a lake bed, expanding as it rises through the water column, before it bursts through to the lake surface as a fully-formed bubble.

The purpose of meditation, I was taught, is to feel the stirrings of the thought-bubbles forming in our subconscious, thereby allowing us to dissipate them gently before they breach the surface of our consciousness and thus disturb the equanimity of our mind. Learning to discipline "the thought-stuff of the mind" in this manner affords us a certain discipline over our thought, speech and actions.

In his commentary on the "Bhagavad-Gita," the Maharishi describes "the main principle" of TM in the following terms:
"The technique may be defined as turning the attention inwards towards the subtler levels of thoughts until the mind transcends the experience of the subtlest state of the thought and arrives at the source of the thought. This expands the conscious mind and at the same time brings it in contact with the creative intelligence that gives rise to every thought."

"A thought-impulse starts from the silent creative centre within, as a bubble starts from the bottom of the sea. As it rises, it becomes larger; arriving at the conscious level of the mind, it becomes large enough to be appreciated as a thought, and from there it develops into speech and action."

"Turning the attention inwards takes the mind from the experience of a thought at the conscious level . . . to the finer states of the thought, until the mind arrives at the source of thought. . . . This inward march of the mind results in the expansion of the conscious mind."
"It should be noted," the Maharishi points out, "that transcendental meditation is neither a matter of contemplation nor of concentration. The process of contemplation and concentration both hold the mind on the conscious thinking level, whereas transcendental meditation systematicaly takes the mind to the source of thought, the pure field of creative intelligence."

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Big Questions of Our Origin

The Buddha refused to answer certain questions, most famously among these "unanswerables" were the questions of God and the origins of the universe. He likened the need for answers to such imponderables to that of a man shot through with an arrow who wants to know all the details of the man who shot him, together with all information about the bow and the arrow itself, before he will let the arrow be removed. Far better, the Buddha reasoned, to first remove the arrow which causes the man's suffering. Thus, the Buddha largely restricted his teachings to explanations of the Four Noble Truths: the truths of suffering, the cause of suffering, the end of suffering, and the path to the end of suffering.

Mahayana Buddhism (as opposed to its Therevavadan forerunner) has, however expanded its breadth to look into the causes of ultimate origin etc. Mahayana Buddhism's most famous contemporary teacher, the Dalai Lama, with his wide embrace of Western scientific findings within the context of the Buddha's teachings, made the following observations on man's evolution and the question of ultimate origination:
"Human beings took five billion years to develop to their present human state. For three to four billioins of years there was not life; only some basic, primary cells. In spite of human evolution, the question still remains: why did the whole universe or galaxy come into existence at all? What is the reason? We could say there is no reason or that it suddenly happened, but that answer is not satisfactory."

"Another answer is that it was the creator' or God's doing. However, this view does not hold true for Buddhist and Jain philosophies. The Buddhist answer is that it came into existence as a result of the karma of the beings who would utilize these galaxies. Take the example of a house. A house exists because there is a builder who constructs it so that it can be used. Similarly, because there were sentient beings to inhabit or utilize this galaxy, their karma produced the galaxy."

"We cannot explain this on a physical basis, only on the basis of the continuation of mind. The most subtle consciousness or mind has no beginning and no end. That is the ultimate nature. I am not talking about the ultimate nature here. Even on the conventional level, ultimate nature is something that is pure. The grosser mind with its basis of consciousness has its own ultimate nature which is pure."
[The Dalai Lama, "Transformed Mind," pp. 12-13.]
The Dalai's decidedly modern comments, are markedly similar to those of Andrew Cohen, a post-post-modern spiritual teacher and his scientifically grounded teachings on evolutionary enlightenment.
"(E)nlightenment, in the traditional, premodern sense," Cohen observes, "is about discovering unconditional freedom through awakening to this empty ground of limitless being, this eternal self, and abiding there constantly. And ultimately, it's not so different from the Western religious model, in which eternal salvation is found in a beatific heaven realm beyond the world. In both traditional Eastern wisdom and Western religious faith, the ultimate goal is a final state - a transcendent state of consciousness or a heavenly abode - that promises release from this world."

"(I)t's important to understand," Cohen notes, "that at the time when these great traditions flowered, people had a very different understanding of the context in which they were living. For example, in the East, where the concept of enlightenment was born, it was believed that history moved in continuously recurring cycles, like a merry-go-round turning round and round, eternally repeating the same processes. For one who "awakened" in that context, the path to liberation and salvation would be obvious: to get off the "wheel" of incarnate existence so one could dwell in the bliss, freedom, and eternal peace of the formless realm beyond time and space - forever."

"But," he notes, "we've moved on. We've learned a lot over the last few thousand years about who we are and about the context in which we have emerged. And one of the most important things we've discovered is that the movement of time is not cyclical, but a linear development process. Fourteen billion years ago, a tremendous energy burst forth from the void, and over time evolved from light to matter. And with the emergence of life, consciousness entered into the stream of time. Life and consciousness are one, and the greater the complexity of the life form, the greater is its capacity for consciousness."

"What is so miraculous about human beings," Cohen points out, "is that because of our highly evolved brain, we have the unique capacity to know that we know. In human awareness, consciousness has gained the capacity to know itself and everything that exists within it, including the evolutionary process that gave rise to that very capacity."
Taken together, both the Dalai Lama's and Cohen's decidedly modern takes on traditional enlightenment teachings, point - as science does  - to the primacy of consciousness, and the importance that consciousness itself will play in our further evolution if we are to survive as a species.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Gerald Heard: Conscious Evolution as Life's Focus

"(I)t seems clear now that a higher level of consciousness will not emerge unless we plan our living so as to permit that emergence. It is not difficult to understand why this should be so. The higher consciousness transcends the ego; the ego is a transitional stage, a husk. The present level of consciousness, of interest and attention, is almost wholly directed to preserve the ego. "We only live once" is a common motto and to make a life which may be worth while and have satisfied the self when it is over (almost a contradiction in terms) is the aim of "every sensible man." Dealing as we are, and cannot escape dealing, with a creature of body, mind and spirit, we must modify in every favourable way spirit, mind, and body if the new type of consciousness, tentative and vague as it must be in the first stirrings, is to become fully formed."

"It would seem, then, that the forwarding of the evolution of consciousness, the aiding of that further emergence of the psyche, requires, immediately, the constant practice of a certain method of mental focusing and this constant practice, in its turn requires, if it is to be successful and without thwarting strain, to be set in a complete way of life, a way which is centered on the exercise of this focusing, a way in which every activity is subordinate and ancillary to the focusing."

-- Gerald Heard --
("Pain, Sex and Time," pp. 177-178)
First published in 1939 (and republished in 2004), Heard's "Pain, Sex and Time" is an encyclopedic review of the history of the evolution of transcendental consciousness beyond the ego. Tracing the history of esoteric teachings, mystery schools and mysticism from ancient to modern times, it lays a firm foundation for the premise - attested to in all the world's great religious and wisdom traditions - that a higher state of evolution that is psychical rather than physiological is our destiny. However, as Heard points out, above, for this next evolutionary step in our development, a conscious and strenuous effort is needed, a conclusion that is at once more pertinent, imperative and challenging in our hyper-connected, hyperactive world today then it was when first written.

"When such extensive requirements and radical modifications of customary living are said to be necessary," Heard accedes, "many may withdraw, using as an excuse that such a change of life for the sake of attaining a state of mind is merely escapist. The man who really cares for his fellows lives in the world, we shall be told."

To such inevitable criticism, Heard notes that "(i)t is necessary . . . to remind ourselves that this contemplation which is to be made the ordering purpose of our lives, is not an individual, withdrawn, ingrowing, hypnotic pleasure. It is the deliberate attempt to constitute evolution which is otherwise balked and arrested. It is a purposed plan to lead us out of our present impasse, to which unconscious growth and uncoordinated discovery have brought us, into the next stage of evolution, which is a higher degree of consciousness apprehending a larger and more relevant reality."

In prescient words that are evermore powerfully relevant today, as we face the challenges of global warming, energy depletion, desertification and massive species extinction, Heard notes that, "(w)hat is clear, even to those who have not reached this next step and sighted the way out, is that we certainly cannot stay where we are and as we are. Our individual selves, our culture, our society and our race - all are profoundly unstable and rapidly becoming more unstable."

"However we try to escape it," he observes, "we come back to the same point: we must go on or collapse."

"It is, then," Heard points out, "those who will not so recast their lives who are escapist, fleeing into social activity to escape thought, to escape the question, "Does my activity really solve the problem(s) Life has set me or is my business precisely in order to escape from answering the problem(s) which confront me?"

It is, Heard concludes, "(t)his extension of consciousness (that) can alone solve our present problem(s)."

[Heard, "Pain, Sex and Time," pp. 178-179.]

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Bhagavad Gita: Beyond the Three Gunas

"There are men who have no vision, and yet they speak many words. They follow the letter of the Vedas, and they say: 'There is nothing but this.'

Their soul is wrapped with selfish desires, and their heaven is a selfish desire. They have prayers for pleasure and power, the reward of which is earthly rebirth.

Those who love pleasure and power hear and follow their words: they have not the determination ever to be one with the One.

The three Gunas of Nature are the world of the Vedas. Arise beyond the three Gunas, Arjuna! Beyond gains and possessions, possess thine own soul."

-- Bhagavad Gita, II:42-45 --
In Samkhya philosophy, there are three major guṇas that serve as the fundamental operating principles or 'tendencies' of Prakṛiti (or, universal nature) which are called: sattva, rajas, and tamas. The three primary gunas are generally accepted to be associated with creation (rajas), preservation (sattva), and destruction (tamas). The entire creation and its process of evolution is carried out by these three major gunas, as explained below.
[Source: Wikipedia.]
To "be without the three gunas" is what the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi called "the technique of instantaneous realization." It is, he said, "a practical way of converging the many-branched mind into the one-pointedness of the resolute intellect," and "an effective technique for bringing the mind to a state where all differences dissolve and leave the individual in the state of fulfillment."

In urging him to "arise beyond the three gunas," Krishna is (according to the Maharishi) telling Arjuna "that all influences of the outside world, and their consequences as well, will cling to him and affect him so long as he is out of himself, so long as he allows himself to remain in the sphere of relativity and under its influence, (and) that once out of that sphere, he will find fulfillment in his own Self." In this way, he will transcend his karma, and fulfill his destiny.

[Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, "The Bhagavad-Gita : A New Translation and Commentary," p. 90.]

Sri Ramakrishna
In "The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna," the sayings and teachings of the 19th century Indian saint, Ramakrishna observes that "(u)nder the spell of God's maya, man forgets his true nature. He forgets that he is heir to the infinite glories of of his Father."

"The mind," he points out, "is made up of  three gunas. And all three are robbers, for they rob man of all his treasures and make him forget his own nature. The three gunas are sattva, rajas, and tamas. Of these, sattva alone points the way to God, but even sattva cannot take a man to God."

To illustrate this point, Sri Ramakrishna tells the following story:
"Once a rich man was passing through a forest, when three robbers surrounded him and robbed him of everything he had. Then one of the robbers said: 'What's the good of keeping this man alive? Kill him.' He was about to strike their victim with his sword, when the second robber intervened and said: 'There's no use in killing him. Let us bind him fast and leave him here. Then he won't be able to tell the police.' Accordingly, the robbers tied him with a rope and went away."

"After a while the third robber returned to the rich man and said: 'Ah! You're badly hurt, aren't you? Come, I'm going to release you.' The robber set the man free and led him to the edge of the forest. When they came near the highway, the robber said, 'Follow this road and you will reach home easily.' 'But you must come with me too,' said the rich man. 'You have done so much for me. All my people will be happy to see you.' 'No,' said the robber, 'it is not possible for me to go there. The police will arrest me.' So saying, he left the rich man after pointing the way."

"Now," explains Ramakrishna, "the first robber, who said: What's the good of keeping the man alive? Kill him,' is tamas. It destroys. The second robber is rajas, which binds a man to the world and entangles him in a variety of activities. Rajas makes him forget God. Sattva alone shows the way to God. It produces virtues like compassion, righteousness and devotion. Again, sattva is like the last step of the stairs. Next to it the roof. The Supreme Brahman is man's own abode. One cannot attain the Knowledge of Brahman unless one transcends the three gunas."
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Prakriti, "the elemental, undifferentiated stuff of mind and matter" of which the cosmos is made, is eternally inseparable from Brahman (or God, the Ultimate, the Ground of Being), and it is composed of the three gunas, or tendencies.

"In the process of evolution," Swami Prahavananda (a monk of the Ramakrishna Order) explains, "sattwa is the essence of the form which has to be realized, tamas is the inherent obstacle to its realization, and rajas is the power by which that obstacle is removed and the essential form made manifest."

"These gunas," Prabhavananda elaborates, "pass through phases of equilibrium and phases of imbalance; the nature of their relationship to each other is such that it is subject to perpetual change. As long as the gunas maintain their equilibrium, Prakriti remains undifferentiated and the universe only exists in its potential state. As soon as the balance is disturbed, a re-creation of the universe begins. The gunas enter into an enormous variety of combinations - all of them irregular, with one or the other guna predominating over the rest. Hence we have the variety of physical and psychic phenomena which make up our apparent world. Such a world continues to multiply and vary its forms until the gunas find a temporary equilibrium once more, and a new phase of undifferentiated potentiality begins."
[Prabhavananda and Isherwood, "How to Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali," pp. 36-37.]

Thus, to be self-realized and to abide in the Godhead, one must "arise beyond the three gunas" as Krishna advises Arjuna in the second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, as it is only in facing and transcending the gunas that one reaches moksha, liberation or enlightenment, and finds abiding peace.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Science and Religion: A Sufi Perspective

In the attached far-ranging interview, Sufi teacher and author, Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee ("Love Is a Fire: The Sufi's Mystical Journey Home") discusses, in part, the relationship between science and religion from a Sufi perspective.

"Science and religion will become one," says Vaughan-Lee. "It is part of the next stage of human evolution. It has to do with the speeding up of the planet. It is actually very exact. It has to do with the question of speed. Spiritual things are a question of speed. The more spiritual, the quicker the vibration."

"And if you look at the life around us," he asks rhetorically, "why is it speeding up so much? What is the underlying reason? Because, as a mystic, you always look to the underlying reason. What is the underlying reason for our life speeding up to such a degree?"

"It is," Vaughan-Lee asserts, "so it can get near to the spiritual vibrations, so that the spiritual and everyday become one. Part of the science of the future will be to understand how the spiritual and the physical interrelate."
"As a mystic," Vaughan-Lee observes, "you see how things change first in the 'inner.' There is a law that everything that happens in life first constellates on the inner planes. If you do mystical practices, you will begin to see how things come into being.  And the world as we know it inwardly has already ended. It is already over. . . . Somebody once said, "It is like the last dance on the Titanic.""

"There is," he notes, "a whole other level of evolution which I call evolution of 'Oneness' or 'global awareness.' . . . It is already setting the scenes for the next level of human evolution. . . . The Internet," he points out, "is a direct example of how 'Oneness' works, and how it is incredibly efficient and it is everywhere at the same time, and anybody (or anybody who has a computer) can have access to it. And it was just given to humanity, and it works. So the world as we know it has somewhere already ended."

"But it is our work," Vaughan-Lee cautions, "to bring this next evolution into being, because it needs human beings who can see beyond the debris of the civilization that is around us."

"If you look around with open eyes," he points out, "you see the debris of a dying or dead civilization."

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Gatha, Gatha, Ngatha . . . Gone, Gone, Gone Beyond

What consciousness holds fast
to you in dreamless sleep?
In dreams?

Whither the coming and going?
From whence the remembering and forgetting?
In what the arising?
The abiding?
The subsiding?

Beyond substance and form,
beyond subsistence, sustenance and succor,
beyond the pale
of sentience, sense and insentience
lies the effulgent, the fullness, the ineffable suchness,
the answer to all such queries.

"Gatha, Gatha, Ngatha. . . ."
"Gone, gone, gone beyond,
. . . to the farthest shore."

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Evolution of Consciousness: A Global Imperative

"Responding to a radical crisis that threatens our very survival - this is humanity's challenge now. The dysfunction of the egoic human mind, recognized already more than 2,500 years ago by the ancient wisdom teachers and now magnified through science and technology, is for the first time threatening the survival of the planet. Until very recently, the transformation of human consciousness - also pointed to by the ancient teachers - was no more than a possibility, realized by a few rare individuals here and there, irrespective of cultural or religious background. A widespread flowering of human consciousness did not happen because it was not imperative."

"A significant portion of the world's population will soon recognize, if they haven't already done so, that humanity is faced with a stark choice: Evolve or die. A still relatively small but rapidly growing percentage of humanity is already experiencing within themselves the breakup of the old egoic mind patterns and the emergence of a new dimension of consciousness."

"Evolve or die." These are strong words, but they capture the essence of the stark choice that we have confronted ourselves with as the result of an ever burgeoning scientific technology unchecked by effective religious, spiritual or moral insight and actions. While virtually all of our ways of life have been fundamentally altered by our embrace of the last several centuries of technological change, it appears to be only now that the need for a wholesale change in the very nature of our consciousness is becoming readily apparent - or an evolutionary imperative, as Tolle notes.

While there is a plethora of material out there (including Tolle's powerful first book "The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment") describing what needs to be done to change one's level of consciousness, and how that might be achieved, it is by no means an easy challenge. Few truly evolutionary challenges are.

"If," writes philosopher Gerald Heard, "we are to advance through the evolution of consciousness beyond self-consciousness, to reunite consciousness now divided into the self-conscious and subconscious, and bring about a new and single quality of awareness and being, there is required of us a peculiar and rare quality of attention. It must be intense but without effort and strain. It must be that over-plus of evolutionary energy, which we call curiosity, and the German tongue calls Neuiger, the new appetite, raised to what Plato called illuminating wonder."

"Indeed," Heard observes, "because we are now so deeply prejudiced in favour of the assumption that it is only possible for one real experience to be presented to us, and that can only be the world of common sense, the necessary state of mind required for enlargement of consciousness must be one which is even without expectation."

"We are waiting for an experience of which we have no conception from the past," he points out, "and that being so, any clear expectation must distort or even completely inhibit a radically new awareness."
[Gerald Heard, "Pain, Sex and Time," pp. 164-165.]
Fortunately, since Heard's time (he wrote those words in the dark days just before the onset of the Second World War), we have had breakthroughs in technology which have allowed those who have experienced equal breakthroughs in consciousness itself to intimately share their experiences (and methodologies) with us.

Below, are two teachers, the "neo-Buddhist" teacher Adyashanti and Tolle himself, sharing their integral teachings with us. Each shares the fundamental insight that there is an untapped, inherent state of higher consciousness within each of us.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

On Duality, Dependent Origination and Emptiness

"The consciousness that perceives each thing as existing separately is false. Actually, nothing exists in this way. When we set out to investigate things on this basis, the more deeply we look into objects and concepts, the more they dissolve."
-- H.H., the XIVth Dalai Lama --
("Essential Teachings")
There is, the Buddha said, nothing that is in and of itself separate, everything is infinitely divisible. As much as this seems particularly relevant to science today, as physicists probe ever more deeply into the sub-particular, microcosmic world of such exotic entities as muons, gluons and quarks, it is still more relevant at the level of our everyday reality, where the vast majority of us go through life with the unchecked assumption that we are separate and individual actors on the global stage.

Albert Einstein, the father of the 'New Physics," called our sense of separation and separate existence "an optical delusion of consciousness" that imprisons us, and severs our connection with each other and the cosmos itself.
"A human being," he observed, "is part of the whole called by us the universe, a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest. A kind of optical delusion of consciousness."

"This delusion," he remarked, "is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty."

"The true value of a human being," he observed, "is determined by the measure and the sense in which they have obtained liberation from the self. We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if humanity is to survive."
(Albert Einstein, 1954)
In the attached video lecture on "duality" and the Advaita Vedanta, author Rupert Spira, examines how this "optical delusion of consciousness" arises, and how it effects the way we view ourselves and the world around us.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Dalai Lama: On Impermanence, Detachment and Death

"One day old and dear friends will separate, goods and riches obtained by great effort will be left behind. Consciousness, a guest of the body, this temporary dwelling, will depart. From this moment on, to renounce all attachments to this life is a practice of the bodhisattva."
-- H.H., the XIVth Dalai Lama --
The great paradox of humanity, one philosopher observed, is that we all realize that everyone dies, yet we have an unconscious and irrational belief that it will not happen to us - at least, it won't happen today. Who, after all, is prepared in reality for their own inevitable death?
"Let us say we have searched for solitude and found it, and that we have abandoned our home" writes the Dalai Lama. "This is not all we have to abandon. We must renounce our attachment to this temporal life, we must see that this existence is impermanent, whether it ends soon or later. Death will separate us from everything. To prepare for this departure, nothing else can be of use except the practice of Dharma."

"If we have acquired a noble mind," he observes, "that will help us. Even our closest friends  cannot help; we may have all the friends in the world and they could do nothing for us. . . ."

"This body, which is always with us and is precious to us," he notes, "must be left behind. We do not know when this will happen. Human life is uncertain; young people naively say, "I am young and healthy, so I will go on living." This is neither reason nor proof. . . . (N)ot one person can affirm with 100 percent certainty: "I will be alive tonight."

"In short," the Dalai Lama points out, "we will all die, we have no idea when, and aside from the practice of Dharma, there is no escape from this fact. So detaching yourself from the bonds of this life is valuable and useful, while the contrary is harmful. If we were to die this evening, we could prepare ourselves for this passage; and if we were to continue living, all the better. In any case, our preparation will not have been in vain."
[Dalai Lama, "Essential Teachings," pp. 21-22.]
In the attached video, the Dalai Lama recognizes our universal illusion about the permanency of life. He then discusses the process of coming to terms with one's own mortality, and the mortality of others from a radically different perspective from that adopted by Western philosophers and psychologists like the noted scholar, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. Nonetheless, like Kubler-Ross, the Dalai Lama observes that "tragic experiences also have some good aspects," and that by facing our mortality consciously we will develop useful insights on how to live well, as well as insights on how to die well.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Beyond Desire to Spiritual Awakening

"When a man surrenders all desires that come to the heart and by the grace of God finds the joy of God, then his soul has indeed found peace. He whose mind is untroubled by sorrows, and for pleasure has no longings, beyond passion and fear and anger, he is the sage of the unwavering mind."
-- The Bhagavad Gita, 2:55-56 --
"Spiritual experience," writes famed translator, Jose Mascaro, "is the only source of true spiritual faith, and this must never contradict reason, or as Shankara, c. AD 788-820, says in his commentary of the Bhagavad Gita: 'If a hundred scriptures should declare that fire is cold or that it is dark, we would suppose they intend quite a different meaning from the apparent one!'"

"What," he then asks, "is the indispensable condition for this spiritual experience? It is very simple, and it can be very difficult: it is the absence of desires."
[Mascaro, "Bhagavad Gita (Penguin Classics)," p. li.]

But, the question remains: How will we know when we have mastered desires?

In his treatise, "On Desire: Why We Want What We Want," author, William Irvine observes that when we have mastered desire, "(w)e will experience what . . . has been the goal of most of those who have thought about desire - a feeling of tranquility."

"This should not be confused with the kind of tranquility brought on be ingestion of a tranquilizer," he cautions. Rather, he notes, "(i)t is instead marked by a sense that we are lucky to be living whatever life we happen to be living - that despite our circumstances no key ingredient of happiness is missing."

"With this sense," Irvine observes, "comes a diminished level of anxiety: we no longer need to obsess over the things - a new car, a bigger house, a firmer abdomen - that we mistakenly believe will bring lasting happiness if only we can obtain them. Most importantly," he points out, "if we master desire, to the extent possible to do so, we will no longer despise the life we are forced to live and will no longer daydream about living the life someone else is living; instead, we will embrace our own life and live it to the fullest."
[Irvine. "On Desire: Why We Want What We Want," pp. 6-7.]
The "desireless realm" described by the Buddha, and so many others, is thus, a universal spiritual state of being described in all of the world's great wisdom traditions. In the New Testament, for example (at Matthew 6:27-34), Jesus addresses our overwhelming desires and worries, observing:
"And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith!"

“Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."
"(T)he time and effort we spend trying to master desire," Irvine suggests, "are probably considerably less than the time and effort we will expend if we instead capitulate to our desires and spend our days, as so many do, working incessantly to fulfill whatever desire floats into our head."

"Do thy work in the peace of Yoga and, free from selfish desires," says the Gita (at 2:48), be not moved in success or in failure. Yoga is evenness of mind - a peace that is ever the same."

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Further Evolution of Man

In 1939, polymath philosopher Gerald Heard's "Pain, Sex and Time: A New Outlook on Evolution and the Future of Man"
. . . . . . . . . . . . .

"Three postulates are now generally accepted about man," Heard observes. "The first is that he is part of an evolutionary process which has gone on since the dawn of life. The second, that he is a culmination of that process."

"Never before," he points out, "has a single species spread over the entire land surface of the earth, dominated completely all other species, radically altered its environment by tools, instruments and machines and, passing beyond simple awareness, attained self-consciousness."

"The third postulate," he notes, "is that evolution progressively accelerates until, in man, it has reached its highest speed. This acceleration is so rapid that man, the final species, in his latest stages passes in a millennium through changes comparable to those which in dawn of life took a score million years."

"There are (also) two further postulates about which there is growing agreement among informed inquirers," Heard observes. "The first is that evolution has ceased in all other species; in man alone is further radical change possible. All the others have specialized: man is still unspecialized. The second of these postulates is that though man is, through his retention of an unspecialized condition, capable of further physical evolution, he does not seem to availed himself of this, his latent capacity. On the contrary, he appears to have kept himself "in solution" for an unprecedented time: indeed it might be said that he has, as far as bodily development is concerned, specialized in unspecialization."

"(M)an's development," Heard posits, "when it ceased to be physiological became psychological. His history is his specific evolution. He evolves mentally. Even if we had no record of what (mankind) has done since its physical evolution ceased, we might assume that it would be its intelligence which would expand. We should expect to find that this creature has produced a culture "projecting" on to its environment the energy which would otherwise have been expressed through further alterations in the creature's physique."

"This," he points out, "is to bring history under the general principles of natural history, to make civilization a development of biology, and to see culture as a continuation of a vital energy which, no longer manifesting itself in changes in physique, begins to express itself in discoveries of technique."

Thus, Heard notes, "(t)he first great stage of advance was the physical, the second was the technical, the third must be the psychical.

"The first," he points out, "is unconscious - blind; the second is conscious, unreflective, aware of its need but not of itself, of how, not why; the third is interconscious, reflective, knowing not merely how to satisfy its needs but what they mean and what the Whole means."

"When, then, we again change," Heard concludes, "this time from the technique phase of advance to the psychic, from indirect to direct expansion of understanding, at this point man's own self-consciousness decides and can alone decide whether he will mutate, and the mutation is instantaneous."

"(I)t is only in so far as man can intuitively or intentionally balance the growth of his mind, and understand himself as well as he understands his environment," says Heard, "that he can continue evolving and not relapse into the strangulated self-consciousness which gives him means without ends and powers without sanctions."

[Gerald Heard, "Pain, Sex and Time," Introduction, pp. xxviii-xxx]

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Emptiness, Oneness and Reality: Where Buddhism and Science Converge

"Buddhism has all the characteristics of what would be expected in a cosmic religion for the future: it transcends a personal God, avoids dogma and theology; it covers both the natural and spiritual, and it is based on a religious sense aspiring from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual, as a meaningful unity."
Albert Einstein: "Science without religion is
lame. . . . Religion without science is blind
In the book "The New Physics and Cosmology: Dialogues with the Dalai Lama," editor Arthur Zajonc makes the following comments on the ways in which the so-called "New Physics" has turned classical understandings of the cosmos and reality on their ears:
"During the three centuries that established classical physics and cosmology," Zajonc observes, "the mechanistic and materialistic character of physical theory came to dominate Western thinking even outside these areas. Increasingly, philosophy came under the powerful sway of science through such thinkers as Descartes, Kant and Locke. The life sciences, longing for comparable precision, sought out a similar path to development to that of physics. Genetics, evolution, and cellular biology displaced natural history and whole-organism biology. The mind itself, traditionally understood as the expression of the spirit, gradually became part of the mechanistic universe as well. By the dawn of the twentieth century, the physics of the seventeenth century had successfully conquered the adjacent areas of science and was already encroaching on that of the mind. A single mechanistic paradigm and its associated materialistic metaphysics came to dominate Western thinking."
However, he notes:
"With the opening of the twentieth century, the theories of quantum mechanics and relativity would make incomparable demands on our conception of the universe. We are still struggling to grasp their full implications. They challenge the simple mechanistic accounts of matter and the cosmos we inherited from earlier centuries, replacing them with accounts that shun such pictures. In addition, both quantum theory and relativity grant a new prominence to the observer. It is hard to overestimate the significance of these developments. The ramifications of twentieth-century discoveries for physics and cosmology have been enormous, changing our very notions of space and time, the ultimate nature of matter, and the evolution of the universe. They have also begun to affect philosophical discussions in significant ways."
For his part, the Dalai Lama notes that, "In Buddhism in general, and particularly in Mahayana Buddhism, the basic attitude is that you should remain skeptical at the beginning. This skeptical attitude automatically brings up questions. Questions bring clearer answers, or investigation. Therefore, Mahayana Buddhist thinking relies more on investigation rather than on faith. . . (An) attitude that is very, very helpful in communicating with scientists."

"There are two kinds of wrong views," the Dalai Lama notes. "One exaggerates what is actually there, superimposing onto a thing a property of existence or status that is not there. The other denies what is actually there. So both absolutism and nihilism are seen as wrong views. Thus, even in ethical discourse, a correct understanding of reality is very much emphasized. Therefore, scientific findings are very helpful to Buddhist thinking."

The three-part video discussion, below, (like the dialogue between scientists and the Dalai Lama in 'The New Physics and Cosmology') examines the areas where "the new physics" described by Zajonc seemingly converge with traditional Buddhist teachings about emptiness, Oneness and the nature of 'reality.'

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Further Evolution of Consciousness

The greatest change that a man or woman can effect is a change in the state of their consciousness and being. All external challenges fade into simplicity compared with this one internal challenge, yet an evolutionary change in the internal consciousness and being of mankind may be what is required to deal with the plethora of existential challenges which mankind faces now and the immediate future. As Einstein famously remarked: "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them." Our collective challenges, therefore might only be resolvable with an evolutionary change in our collective consciousness.

"We must recall," writes Gerald Heard in "Pain, Sex and Time," his masterwork on the evolution of consciousness, "that the problem which has confronted man during history is how he may forward his evolution. He has unused still within him such pent vital energy that he can still evolve. His evolution, however, is no longer physical but psychical. If then he is to evolve, it will be through an extension of consciousness. His development demands such an extension because the world, as he now sees it with sharpened animal senses, gives him no sanction for using his immensely heightened animal powers. The guards of instinct have been removed, but the guidance of vision has not been gained."

Heard's book, originally published in 1939 (and republished in 2004), highlights the historical systems and methodologies that have been used down through the ages in an attempt to evolve human consciousness. Yet even as we have gained a broad and comprehensive understanding and mastery over our external world, as a species we have exhibited (it seems) but little mastery over the consciousness which is central to our being. Will this change of necessity? Will there be a conscious psychical evolution of consciousness itself?

In a probing inquiry that is just as relevant today -  or, perhaps, more relevant now than ever - Heard asks: "If there is an evolutionary future for mankind, if humanity is to surmount its present impasse and enter on a new order, is that future for all, through a gradual infiltration of the light from the highest lit to the most dimly aware, or is it for the few who alone can take it in fully?"

"Is evolution," he asks, "to continue with its iron rule, 'many called, few chosen,' a minute number solving the Sphinx's riddle and the rest flung back into decadence and destruction? Is there to be progress, a pervasive salvation, a steady rise of each grade until all are ready for complete transformation, or do society and civilization end here and now and the few go on to an utterly different condition of consciousness?"

"Can evolution still be psycho-social," he asks, "or must it be now, if it is to continue at all, purely psychological? With self-consciousness do we attain the highest degree of consciousness compatible with life? Beyond that must the body become untenable, the blend of soul and flesh unviable?"

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Does Consciousness Create the Universe?

"All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particle of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. We must assume behind the existence of this force a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter."
-- Max Planck --
It is safe to say that the work of Max Plank inspired Einstein's vision of relativity. He may also be called the father of the quantum theory. Indeed, it was Planck who first coined and used the term 'quanta" to describe the smallest possible unit of energy.  His work at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries set the stage for the "new physics" which has contributed so significantly to a new scientific and sociological worldview. And his observation that "the matrix of all matter" is "mind" continues to present a challenge to physics, psychology and metaphysics as collectively we search for paradigms of new meaning to understand reality and our place in it.

The attached video, from which Planck's famous axiom is taken, explores the possibility (some would say "probability" or even "reality") that it is consciousness itself which gives birth to the universe as we know it . . . and it is the quality of consciousness that effects the quality of our reality and our world.