"Fearlessness is the first requirement of spirituality. Cowards can never be moral." -- Mahatma Gandhi

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Gerald Heard: The Dilution of Consciousness and Ego

Gerald Heard (1889-1971)
In "Pain, Sex and Time," a book that the reigning dean of comparative religious studies, Huston Smith, credits with changing the course of his life, polymath philosopher and author, Gerald Heard makes the point that the next stage in man's evolution must be noetic, consisting in a broadening or "dilution" (to use Heard's terminology) of consciousness beyond our ordinary state of self-consciousness, - i.e., beyond the individuality of the ordinary human ego.

"It 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," Heard observes, "that he can continue evolving and not relapse into strangulated self-consciousness which gives him means without ends and powers without sanction."
[Heard, "Pain, Sex and Time," p. xxx.]

A society without transcendental vision, he suggests, will not only fail to grow, evolve and flourish, but will inevitably fail.
"Without the true visionary," Heard remarks, "the man who has direct contact with (a) larger consciousness (from which all individuals spring, in which they are all still rooted, but from which their individualism cuts them off from conscious contact) human society cannot exist."
[Heard, "Pain, Sex and Time," p. 95.]
Thankfully, Heard notes, there seems to be what he calls "a balked reservoir of vital force" which continues to drive mankind forward to greater understanding and higher levels of consciousness.

"Scanty though the references be, and difficult as are some of them to interpret," he writes, "we can maintain that man's specific evolution, the development of consciousness, has left sufficient traces of the path it took. We can conclude that there is an urge within him to dilute his consciousness and to alter the aperture of his awareness. We can show that those peculiar symptoms, human pain and human lust (because of their significant differences from animal pain and lust), indicate a balked reservoir of vital force, which when permitted to energize higher faculty, relieves the body from anguish and conflict and gives the mind direct apprehension of a supra-animal, supra temporal world."
[Heard, "Pain, Sex and Time," p. 152.]
"If," Heard suggests, "anthropomorphic projection has not been allowed to take place, if man has been able to keep before himself the realization that he and all objectiveness are finally one and that the problem of psychology must always come before the problem of physics, then he can see that the true issue is always whether he can alter the focus of his consciousness and that if these can be done, a reality other than the animal's becomes visible."
[Heard, "Pain, Sex and Time," p. 95.]

Monday, May 30, 2011

On Non-Duality, Karma and Consciousness

"All philosophies, all science, all religions, inform us that this world of shapes, forms and names is but a phenomenal or shadow world—a show-world—back of which rests Reality, called by some name of the teacher. But remember this, all philosophy that counts is based upon some form of monism—Oneness—whether the concept be a known or unknown god; an unknown or unknowable principle; a substance; an Energy, or Spirit. There is but One—there can be but One—such is the inevitable conclusion of the highest human reason, intuition or faith."
-- Yogi Ramachakara --
["Lessons in Gnani Yoga," Chap. 1.]
Mars Hill, Athens
One of my favourite passages from the New Testament is Paul's "Sermon on Mars Hill," in which he is asked by the Athenian Stoic and Epicurean philosophers to expound upon what was then a  new philosophy/religion.
"God that made the world and all the things therein," observed Paul, "seeing that he is the Lord of heaven and earth dwelleth not in temples made with hands; neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all things life, and breath, and all things; and hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth . . . For in him we live and move and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, for we are also his offspring." (Acts 17:24-28)
It is among my favourites because (a) it speaks of the omnipresence of a higher order in which everything exists, (b) it brings the reality of this higher order out of religious places and frees it of ritual worship, and (c) it recognizes that all true philosophies, religions and wisdom traditions, alike, speak of the same higher order or Godhead, and that each of these is non-exclusive.

As the Stoic philosopher and Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, observed: "Constantly regard the universe as one living being, having one substance and one soul; and observe how all things have reference to one perception, the perception of this one living being; and how all things act with one movement; and how all things are the cooperating causes of all things which exist; observe too the continuous spinning of the thread and the contexture of the web."
[Marcus Aurelius,"Meditations," 4:40]

Physicists have demonstrated the conservation of mass and energy. With each inhalation of the cool morning air and each warm, moist exhalation of carbon dioxide, this is demonstrated. Indeed, every atom of our bodies, save hydrogen, was forged many billions of years ago in the implosion of some unnamed star, and our very bodies are thus a testament to the preservation of mass and energy.

Yet what about consciousness? How can it be that this seeming third aspect of the manifest universe, which along with mass and energy (themselves interchangeable) pervades and precipitates even the smallest sub-particular interaction, alone perishes?

"A human being is a part of the whole called by us "the universe"," Einstein noted, "a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest - a kind of optical illusion of consciousness."

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

"In God," Emerson wrote, "every end is converted into a new means." This, to me, seems inherently true; it has the "ring of truth" to it. It circumscribes the law of karma, in which each moment is seen as an effect produced by a chain of causation stretching back to the very first movement of the universe, and each such effect becoming a further link in this causal chain. Thus, everything that is reaped has been sown, over and over, many times.

If as has been said (and demonstrated, it seems, in science), "Nothing is wasted in God's economy," how can it be that the one perceptual sense underlying all others - that being consciousness itself - is the one and only thing in this 'Great Economy' that perishes? Ashes to ashes, dust to dust; but where except back to the Universal consciousness - that which underlies and pervades the manifestation of all mass and energy in the universe's singular field - goes the consciousness, the soul of each being? For has not each individualized consciousness been at all times part and parcel of this Whole?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Consciousness vs. Military-Industrial Complex

In barely 200 years, Western culture morphed from one shaped by religious organizations to one shaped by the state. Then, in a matter of decades, we became a culture shaped by corporations - most notoriously, a culture shaped by the multinational oil companies and the defense and armaments firms that President Dwight D. Eisenhower targeted in his January 17, 1961 Farewell Speech, when he warned us of the the rise of the 'military-industrial complex.'

In a contemporary warning delivered at the Omega Institute, controversial author, John Perkins ("Confessions of an Economic Hitman"), a one-time economist for the strategic-consulting company Chas. T. Main, a firm with alleged ties to the U.S. National Security Agency, warns that "these are deeply revolutionary times," when all of us will have to play a part in reclaiming our lost culture.

"This is a time that requires incredible courage on our part," Perkins notes.  Are we willing, he asks with all the fervor of a convert, to take courage and "stand up to a system that we know we can deeply improve upon?"

"Being fearless, at this point," he observes, "requires tremendous courage and the recognition that there is something much greater than 'my' immediate needs and 'my' immediate life, and that looks at the whole integrated planet and its future."

Perkins' "Dream Change" organization is dedicated to shifting consciousness and promoting sustainable lifestyles for the individual and global community. He has deep roots in Ecuador, having served in the Amazon with the Peace Corps. before entering upon a truncated career as a consultant to U.S.-based multinational corporations.

Below, Perkins talks about the holistic worldview of native Ecuadoran tribal life, and the Amer-Indian "Prophecy of the Eagle and the Condor."

Friday, May 27, 2011

Towards a New Cultural Paradigm: 'Developing Sustainability' rather than 'Sustainable Development'

In his now-classic treatise, "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions," Thomas Kuhn points out that new scientific paradigms emerge when there is an anomaly that the existing paradigm cannot account for, when a new theory that can account for the anomaly is put forth, and when a small but growing number of adherents coalesce around that new way of interpreting reality.

Could a new cultural paradigm be emerging in a similar fashion? Instead of mouthing platitudes about "sustainable development," is there a growing number of people "developing sustainability" at an individual level, beginning with a shift in their own consciousness? Could a paradigmatic shift in our collective consciousness emerge as a result of, and to tackle, the existential challenges that we know we face - an energy crisis, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, global warming, deforestation and mass species extinction etc.? Perhaps.

In the attached video, spiritual teacher, Adyashanti, points out that a change in our cultural paradigm is rapidly becoming "a biological necessity."

"I think we are actually at a point in time that is very unique," he notes. "Here we are, and it is very possible that in your and my lifespan we will actually experience the fulfillment of literally not being able to sustain certain things. We will run out of energy, we will run out of environment. We have weapons of  destruction that are so extreme that we can wipe ourselves out. It is very possible in the lifetime that we are living in, that we could actually come (to) see a conclusion, that non-sustainability will actually happen and we will have to deal with that. And I think we have been evolving towards that for a very, very, very long time. And, here we are."

"It is no wonder," Adyashanti observes, "that there is fanaticism breaking out in all sorts of religions and fundamentalists in all points-of-view, whether it is religions or philosophical (viewpoints). People are just dividing themselves. There are people that want to save the world, and people that want to destroy each other. They are all there. And it will be very interesting to see what happens. Because there is often at the points-of-no-return - at the point of the most dramatic tensions in life and extremes -  (that) is the very place that dramatic change and transformation can happen."

"I don't think that it's anywhere guaranteed that the change and transformation will happen," he notes. "We don't know. But it is going to go one way or another, and it's not going to be very long from right now before it goes one way or another."

"We are running out of options other than to wake up," he warns. "It is starting to become, possibly, a biological necessity of survival. And when it gets to that point, it really starts to get people's attention."

"We may destroy ourselves if we cannot actually wake up to the fact, to the living experience, that we are really the same," he notes. "It is not good enough to have the philosophy that we are really the same, because that philosophy breaks down when push comes to shove."

Clearly, it seems, we are overdue for a new cultural paradigm that is sustainable in the long-term. And such a shift in paradigms - which may already be occurring - will require the consensus of a great and growing number of individuals who see and experience themselves as being a part of something much greater than their individual selves. The crucial question, for each of us now, thus becomes: "Are we in or are we out?"

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Santayana: On Finding Meaning in Life

George Santayana
"The whole machinery of our intelligence," wrote the Spanish-American philosopher, George Santayana, "our general ideas and laws, fixed and external objects, principles, persons, and gods, are so many symbolic, algebraic expressions. They stand for experience; experience which we are incapable of retaining and surveying in its multitudinous immediacy. We should flounder hopelessly, like the animals, did we not keep ourselves afloat and direct our course by these intellectual devices. Theory helps us to bear our ignorance of fact."

Widely viewed as a "pragmatist," like his professor and then colleague in Harvard's philosophy department, William James, he eschewed the label and his iconoclastic philosophy is difficult to define; perhaps, because he was a man decidedly of his moment, yet embued with a pragmatic sense of the past. His was a voice of reason in the increasingly irrational twentieth century, who may be best known for his observation: "Those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it."

Denis Doyle/AP
Pablo Picasso's "Guernica"
"History is nothing but assisted and recorded memory," he remarked. "It might almost be said to be no science at all, if memory and faith in memory were not what science necessarily rest on. In order to sift evidence we must rely on some witness, and we must trust experience before we proceed to expand it. The line between what is known scientifically and what has to be assumed in order to support knowledge is impossible to draw. Memory itself is an internal rumour; and when to this hearsay within the mind we add the falsified echoes that reach us from others, we have but a shifting and unseizable basis to build upon. The picture we frame of the past changes continually and grows every day less similar to the original experience which it purports to describe."

On "Reason in Religion," he observed: "Experience has repeatedly confirmed that well-known maxim of Bacon's that "a little philosophy inclineth a man's mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men's minds about to religion." In every age the most comprehensive thinkers have found in the religion of their time and country something they could accept, interpreting and illustrating that religion so as to give it depth and universal application. Even the heretics and atheists, if they have had profundity, turn out after a while to be forerunners of some new orthodoxy."

Moreover, long before it became intellectually (or theologically) fashionable to advocate the use of reason, rather than faith, in understanding the tenets of established religions, Santayana (an agnostic who described himself as an "aesthetic Catholic") saw that reason and religion need not be antithetical.
"The enlightenment common to young wits and worm-eaten old satirists, who plume themselves on detecting the scientific ineptitude of religion — something which the blindest half see — is not nearly enlightened enough: it points to notorious facts incompatible with religious tenets literally taken, but it leaves unexplored the habits of thought from which those tenets sprang, their original meaning, and their true function. Such studies would bring the skeptic face to face with the mystery and pathos of mortal existence. They would make him understand why religion is so profoundly moving and in a sense so profoundly just. There must needs be something humane and necessary in an influence that has become the most general sanction of virtue, the chief occasion for art and philosophy, and the source, perhaps, of the best human happiness. If nothing, as Hooker said, is "so malapert as a splenetic religion," a sour irreligion is almost as perverse."
[George Santayana, "On Religion"]
. . . . . . . . . . . . .

See the video, below, for more on Santayana's reasoning about philosophy and the quest to find meaning in life:

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Expansive Universe

Rabindranath Tagore

In desperate hope I go and search for her
in all the corners of my room;
I find her not.

My house is small
and what once has gone from it can never be regained.

But infinite is thy mansion, my lord,
and seeking her I have to come to thy door.

I stand under the golden canopy of thine evening sky
and I lift my eager eyes to thy face.

I have come to the brink of eternity from which nothing can vanish
---no hope, no happiness, no vision of a face seen through tears.

Oh, dip my emptied life into that ocean,
plunge it into the deepest fullness.
Let me for once feel that lost sweet touch
in the allness of the universe.

-- Rabindranath Tagore --

Who has not gazed in rapt attention at the night sky and not had a sense of his or her own smallness against the background of the stars? Throughout history sages and poets, alike, have wondered at the depths of the heavens, but only now do we know how deep and expansive the depths of the heavens truly are.

For the pantheist, the spiritual but not religious, the agnostic and the non-dualist, alike, the depths of the cosmos may testify to the breadth of the manifest and non-manifest aspects of Unity and Wholeness, or what might be a single, unitary G_d.

Light, one of the few constants in the universe, travels at a mind boggling 186,000 miles per second (or 300,000 kilometres per second). At that speed, it still takes three-quarters of a second for sunlight reflected off the moon to reach our eyes, and a full eight minutes for sunlight to travel the approximately 93,000,000 miles (149,000,000 km) from the Sun itself.

Every star we see when we look up into the sky lies within our galaxy, the Milky Way. And, yet, the closest star system to us, Alpha Centauri, is 4.35 light years away - that's  25 trillion miles, or 40 trillion kilometers away. The Milky Way, itself is a more-or-less average sized galaxy containing approximately 200 billion stars, and stretching across 100,000 light years of space.

There are approximately 80 billion other such galaxies in "the observable universe" - some larger, some smaller than the Milky Way - in which there are anywhere from 30 sextillion to a septillion different star systems (i.e., 30,000,000,000,000,000,000,0000 to 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 separate stars), and who knows how many countless worlds.

At the largest scale, as the video clips below illustrate, superclusters of galaxies (each stretching across hundreds of millions of light years) weave themselves into a fabric of knots and threads that can be billions of light years long, with the density of this fabric stretching matter uniformly out throughout the heavens.

And, yet, as incomprehensible as such distances and numbers are to us, it is indisputable that amidst all this "we live and move, and have our being," (Acts 17:28).

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Tolle, Huxley and Meister Eckhart: "On Connection"

Aldous Huxley
"There is a way to Reality in and through the soul," writes Aldous Huxley, "and there is a way to Reality in and through the world. Whether the ultimate goal can be reached by following either of these ways to the exclusion of the other is to be doubted. The third, best and hardest way is that which leads to the divine Ground simultaneously in the perceiver and that which is perceived."
["The Perennial Philosophy," pp. 56-57.]

Meister Eckhart
"When a man sees one thing separated from another," he is "in mere understanding," Meister Eckhart observed. "And when is a man above mere understanding? That I can tell you: "When a man sees All in all, then a man is above mere understanding.""
[Ibid., p. 57]

These observations, written in 1945 and the early 14th century, respectively, point to a timeless truth, that is very much at the heart of modern spiritual teachings. One of the world's most innovative, authentic and popular spiritual teachers, Eckhart Tolle (who took his name from Meister Eckhart, the great German mystic), speaks to this truth when he talks of the Presence and Being which exists eternally in the present moment of a universal consciousness.

"The problems of the world," Tolle observes in the video, below, "are there because we have lost touched with the Source out of which everything came. So by going into further differentiation, we cannot solve the problems, we actually increase them."

"Connected with the timeless, formless Source of all life within, the space of no thought," he notes, "connected with that, then we can create - not 'we' as individuals, but 'we' as a universal movement of consciousness."

"We need conscious connection with the Source," Tolle concludes. "That is your destiny, that is your life's purpose. That's why we are here. And if it sounds complicated to your mind, it is only to the mind. It is not complicated at all. It's very simple."

But, cautions Huxley: "To find the Kingdom of God exclusively in oneself is easier than to discover it, not only there, but also in the outer world of minds and things and living creatures."

"It is easier," he explains, "because the heights within reveal themselves to those who are ready to exclude from their purview all that lies without. And though this exclusion may be a painful and mortificatory process, the fact remains that it is less arduous than the process of inclusion, by which we come to know the fullness as well as the heights of spiritual life."

Friday, May 20, 2011

Thomas Merton: An Encounter with Buddhism

According to the Lotus Sutra, one of the most revered of the Buddha's teachings, "If there are living beings who hear the Law, believe and accept it, and put forth diligent effort, seeking wisdom that comes of itself, taking solitary delight in goodness and tranquility, and profoundly understanding the causes and conditions of all  phenomena, they shall be called pratyekabuddhas," or the independently enlightened.

Thomas Merton
at Abbey of Gesthemani
circa 1968
In 1968, the Trappist monk and prolific writer, Thomas Merton would journey to Asia, furthering his comparative study of Bhuddist, Jain and Hindu teachings. In the end, it was a short trip, as Merton was accidentally electrocuted in his Bangkok hotel room. Before his death, however, he would meet with a host of ardent spiritual seekers and contemplatives like himself, the most famous of these being the Dalai Lama.

Yet, the most influential contact he made was with the Buddhist teacher, Chatral Rinpoche, a monk who had spent more than thirty years in the solitary contemplation that was Merton's only real home in this world. It was Chatral Rinpoche who identified Merton as a pratyekabhudda, and with whom Merton would take a variant of the Boddhisatva's vows, in which he dedicated himself to do all he could to reach enlightenment for the benefit of all beings, in this lifetime or the next.

Merton was already far along that path, as the following entry written in his journal several months before he set out to Asia demonstrates:
"I am the utter poverty of God," he wrote. "I am His emptiness, littleness, nothingness, lostness. When this is understood, my life in His freedom, the self-emptying God of me, is the fullness of grace. Love for all, hatred of none, is the fruit and manifestation of love of God, peace and satisfaction."
The following little-viewed videos tell the story of Merton's journey to South Asia, his meeting with Chatral Rinpoche, and Chatral Rinpoche's identification of Merton as an independently enlightened being. In doing so, they highlight the Buddhist acceptance of ultimate teachings, irrespective of what religious or spiritual tradition in which they arise.

The Buddha consistently said that his path was not the only path to enlightenment, and that every being must find his own path. His teachings, he noted, were meant only to be guides, and he encouraged all to investigate for him or herself the truth of what he said, rather than merely taking his word for it.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Thomas Merton: Intellect, Possessions and Grace

How is it possible to find ultimate happiness and meaning in our Western consumer society? Clearly, it is not for sale, or there would be advertisements for it. In fact, all advertisements and media commercials are intended to create demand - or, in spiritual terms, desire - and without generating this 'needing' to have, the model of our Western consumer society collapses, for we are not really consumers but over-consumers, striving to get and have more in the hopes of being secure and satisfied.

Yet the glow of acquiring -  be it new clothes, a new car, a new house, or even a new relationship - fades all too quickly, and as the old saying goes: "the bloom is off the rose." Intellect, trained largely by the media tells us that the acquisition of material things will bring us happiness, but knowing this happiness fades, we suffer in any event; and implicit in this process is the stark if unfaced reality that possessions alone cannot bring ultimate happiness and, in fact, they may be a complete impediment to its attainment.

Thomas Merton
Writing in his autobiography, "The Seven Story Mountain," the Trappist monk, Thomas Merton touched upon the role that our trained intellect has in generating not happiness, but suffering. He writes:
"I think that if there is one truth that people need to learn, in the world, especially today, it is this: the intellect is only theoretically independent of desire and appetite in ordinary, acutal practice. It is constantly and blindly being perverted by the ends and aims of passion, and the evidence it presents to us with such a show of impartiality and objectivity is fraught with interest and propaganda."

"We have become marvelous at self-delusion; all the more so, because we have gone to such trouble to convince ourselves of our own infallibility. The desires of the flesh - and by that I mean not only sinful desires, but even the ordinary, normal appetites for comfort and ease and human respect, are fruitful sources of every kind of error and misjudgment, and because we have these yearnings in us, our intellects (which, if they operated all alone in a vacuum, would indeed, register with pure impartiality what they saw) present to us everything distorted and accommodated to the norms of our desire."

"And therefore, even when we are acting with the best of intentions, and imagine that we are doing great good, we may be actually doing tremendous material harm and contradicting all our good intentions. There are ways that seem to men to be good, the end whereof is the depths of hell."
[Thomas Merton, "The Seven Story Mountain," pp. 205-206
"The only answer to the problem," says Merton, "is grace, grace, (and) docility to grace."

But why this need for grace, this need to foster and develop a gratitude for who we are and what our life circumstances are, without regard to what we "should" have or "could" be in accordance with the standards of others? Perhaps, it is because we know, at a deep level, that all such standards are fallacies, and the opinion of others will not provide us with ultimate happiness any more than material possessions or wealth will.

"The logic of worldly success rests on a fallacy," Merton observes, "(on) the strange error that our perfection depends on the thoughts and opinions of other men! A weird life it is, indeed," he notes, "to be living in somebody else's imagination, as if that were the only place in which one could at last become real."
["The Seven Story Mountain," p. 303]

In these times, as blessed (or cursed) with material possessions as we may be, the ancient Sufi poet Rumi would undoubtedly agree with Merton: "(We) need more grace than (we) had thought."

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Spiritual Awakening to the Here-and-Now

Eckhart Tolle, spiritual teacher and author
of "The Power of Now" and "A New Earth:
Awakening to Your Life's Purpose"
Eckhart Tolle has influenced millions of individuals through his writings. His first book, The Power of Now, has sold tens of millions of copies, and his fourth book, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose, besides being the subject matter of a ten-part web seminar featuring Tolle and Oprah Winfrey, has sold many millions more.

In both books, Tolle writes about the core of what has been called the "perennial philosophy," that the individual has the opportunity to go beyond mere ego-consciousness and merge with a unitive Whole by being present in the here-and-now of the ever-passing present moment. In a popular YouTube video (embedded below), the comedic actor, Jim Carrey, shows his serious side in explaining the depth at which Eckhart Tolle's teachings have affected his life.

"I woke up and I suddenly got it,' Carrey recalls. "I understood suddenly how thought was just an illusory thing, and how thought is responsible for, if not all, most of the suffering we experience. And then, I suddenly felt like I was looking at these thoughts from another different perspective, and I wondered: 'Who is it that is aware that I am thinking?'"

"And suddenly," he says, "I was thrown into this expansive, amazing feeling of freedom - from myself, (and) from my problems. I saw that I was bigger than what I do; I was bigger than my body; I was everything and everyone. I was no longer a fragment of the universe, I was the universe."

The effect of Carrey's spiritual awakening, which he admits was ephemeral, has  nonetheless been long-lasting, helping him cope with periodic depression, as his interview with "60 Minutes" anchor, Steve Kroft shows.

"I'm a buddhist, I'm a Muslim, I'm a Christian. I'm whatever you want me to be," Carrey says. "It all comes down to the same thing: You're in a loving place, or you're in an unloving place."

Monday, May 16, 2011

A Spiritual Evolution Rap

The imperative for spiritual awakening may be more pressing in the young than in the middle-aged or elderly, despite the much-touted 'middle-age crisis' or the inevitable facing of one's ultimate humanity. For starters, it is the young who will face the brunt of the existential problems stemming from the lifestyles we have bequeathed them. Fortunately - for us as much as them - they have been raised with the power of technology and the Internet, and that may ultimately see them through.

As the attached video demonstrates, young artists are expressing their awareness of our common existential problems and are embracing and advocating an evolutionarily-fueled spiritual solution.

This rare combination of metaphysics, flamenco guitar riffs, the 'Finger of God' nebula and rap poetry shows that we have moved irrevocably past the failed revolution in consciousness that was the 60's, the "Me Generation" of the 70's, and even the 80's "Generation X" . . . Sex, drugs and rock'n'roll will no longer suffice.

Paul Brunton: Spirituality and the Necessities of Life

Paul Brunton (1898-1981)
For those not familiar with him, the late philosopher, mystic and prolific author, Paul Brunton left a vast record of his spiritual quest and spiritual realizations. Chief amongst these was the realization and teaching that for modern man, though the pressures of our hurried lives are always pressing, daily practice of meditation and prayer is necessary if we are to attain to the heart of our being - what Brunton (like Emerson) called the 'Overself.'

In the attached video taken from his book, Perspectives (the first of sixteen volumes of his notebooks on the spiritual quest), Brunton observes that, "We need to balance our extreme tendency to activism with something of quietism."

"The fast pace of modern living and the busy clamour of modern cities," Brunton notes, "presents us from meeting ourselves. The true place of peace," he suggests, "must be found within the self by external moderation and internal meditation."

"Everyone, wants to live," Brunton writes, "(but) few want to know how to live."
"If people permit work to take up so much of their time that they have none left for their devotional prayer or mystical meditation or metaphysical study," he continues, "they will be as culpable for this wastage of life as they will be if they permit transient pleasures to do so."

"Those who have no higher ideal than to chase after amusement and to seek after pleasure may look upon religious devotion as senseless, metaphysical studies as boring, (and) moral disciples as repulsive
, he observes. "(However) those who have no such inner life of prayer and meditation, study and reflection, will necessarily pay, in emergency or crises, the high price of their hopeless extroversion."
Brunton recognizes that "(t)he needs of external life are entitled to be satisfied in their place." "But," he notes, "they are not entitled to dominate a man's whole attention."
"It is quite true," Brunton notes, "that man must eat, find shelter, wear clothes and amuse himself. And it is also true that if a fortunate fate has not relieved himself of the necessity, he must work, trade, scheme, or gamble to get the money for these things. But all this is insufficient grounds for him to pass through life with no other thoughts in his head than those of bodily needs and financial strivings. There is still room there for another kind of thought, for those concerning the mysterious elusive and subtle thing that is his divine soul."
"The years are passing," Brunton warns, "and (man) cannot afford such a wastage of time, cannot afford the luxury of being so extroverted at the cost of having lost touch with the inner life."

"It is bad enough to be a sick person," he notes, "but it is worse to be sick and believe you are well. Yet the complete extroverts are in this condition, because they regard complete extroversion as the proper state for normal healthy living!"

Emerson: On 'Experience'

The definition of spiritual should be, that which is its own evidence.

In his essay on "Experience," Emerson, the dean of the American Transcendentalist movement, observes that life is led in succession, with one moment following another, seemingly blindly.

"God delights to isolate us every day," he remarks, "and hide us from the past and future. We would look about us, but with grand politeness he draws behind us purest sky. 'You will not remember,' he seems to say, 'and you will not expect.'"

"But," he notes, "it is impossible that the creative power should elude us. Into every intelligence there is a door which is never closed, through which the creator passes. The intellect, seeker of absolute truth, or the heart, lover of absolute good, intervenes for our succor, and at one whisper of these high powers we awake from ineffectual struggles with this nightmare. We hurl it into its own hell, and cannot again contract to so base a state."

"The secret of the illusoriness," Emerson says, "is in the necessity of a succession of moods or objects. Gladly we would anchor, but the anchorage is quicksand. This onward trick of nature is too strong for us: Pero si muove. When at night I look at the moon and the stars, I seem stationary, and they to hurry."

However, he observes: "Our love of the real draws us to permanence, but health of body consists in circulation and sanity of mind in variety or facility of association. We need change of objects."

"Dedication to one thought is quickly odious," Emerson notes. "We house with the insane, and must humor them; then conversation dies out."

Saturday, May 14, 2011

"Strokes of Insight"

In the attached video, calling it "a death in the mind," English-born Benedictine monk/Hindu sanyassin, Bede Griffiths, describes how a stroke that nearly killed him transformed him spiritually, "overwhelmed" him with an unconditional love, and brought him to a place of ultimate and lasting non-duality.

"What my experience taught me," he observes, "was that when everything else goes, you discover this love which is in you all the time. It's there - deep down there - and you know nothing about it. But let everything go and it comes."

"Behind all death," he explains, "is this tremendous power of love. And everybody has got it in them, if they could only find it. But," he notes, "the mind is controlling all the time and won't let it through."

The experience of Griffiths, who died in 1993, is strikingly similar to accounts of other stroke survivors who have encountered profound levels of non-duality and spiritual insight through their near brush with death. One of the most interesting (and inspiring) examples of such 'transformative strokes' is that which is related in the attached Ted.com talk by Dr. Jill Bolte-Taylor.

Calling it her "stroke of insight," Bolte-Taylor, a Harvard-trained neuroanatomist, describes from a trained clinician's point of view what happened, and what transformative insights she gained, when she, herself, suffered a cerebral hemorrhage in 1996.

"Imagine what it would be like," she says in describing the expansiveness of her stroke experience, "to be totally disconnected from your brain chatter that connects you to the external world."

Interestingly, both Griffiths and Bolte-Taylor talk about a moment of complete "surrender" when their spirits resigned themselves to their fate, a lasting nirvana-like experience to which Bolte-Taylor attributes her decision to recover.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Krishnamurti: 'On Love'

"Love is a many splendoured thing," says the poet. "God is love," we read in the Bible. "Love means never having to say you are sorry," Ali McGraw told Ryan O'Neill in the film, version of "Love Story." And, not surprisingly, given that love is so fundamental to who we are as a man or woman - our greater or lesser ability to give and receive love defining who we are as individuals - all of the great spiritual teachers have weighed in on what love is and does.

To the modern enlightened teacher, Jiddu Krishnamurti, it was in the process of overcoming the 'self' or ordinary human ego in order to truly love another - with all the attendant pain and suffering beforehand - that the great utility of love proved itself. Or, as Jesus observed, on a metaphysical plane as well as literally, perhaps: "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13). For it is in overcoming the ego, or by dying to 'self,' that we awaken into the higher consciousness and timeless eternity of this present moment.

"How easy it is," Krishnamurti observes in his book, Commentaries on Living, "to destroy the thing we love! How quickly a barrier comes between us, a word, a gesture, a smile! Health, mood and desire cast a shadow, and what was bright becomes dull and burdensome."
"Through usage we wear ourselves out," he notes, "and that which was sharp and clear becomes wearisome and confused. Through constant friction, hope and frustration, that which was beautiful and simple becomes fearful and expectant. Relationship is complex and difficult, and few can come out of it unscathed."

"Though we would like it to be static, enduring, continuous, relationship is a movement," Krishnamurti notes, "a process which must be deeply and fully understood and not made to conform to an inner or outer pattern. . . . Love in a relationship is a purifying process as it reveals the ways of the self. Without this revelation, relationship has little significance."
Who has not experienced this shift in a love affair, when the bliss of first being in love falls away, and the cruel caricature of the ego emerges either in one's self or the one that one loves, thereby tainting (perhaps permanently and fatally) one's perception of the beloved? It is, sadly, the inevitable failure of love to reach its full potential when love is bound by the all-too-human and egoic impulse.
"But how we struggle against this revelation! The struggle," Krishnamurti notes "takes many different forms; dominance and subservience, fear or hope, jealousy or acceptance, and so on and on."

"The difficulty," he observes, "is that we do not love; and if we do love we want it to function in a particular way, we do not give it freedom. We love with our minds and not with our hearts. Mind can modify itself, but love cannot. Mind can make itself invulnerable, but love cannot; mind can always withdraw, be exclusive, become personal or impersonal," he observes."

"Our difficulty," Krishnamurti points out, "lies in that which we call love, which is really of the mind. We fill our hearts with the things of the mind and so keep our hearts empty and expectant. It is the mind," he notes, "that clings, that is envious, that holds and destroys."

"Our life," he writes, "is dominated by the physical centers and by the mind. We do not love and let it alone, but crave to be loved, we give in order to receive, which is the generosity of the mind and not of the heart. The mind is ever seeking certainty, security; and can love be made certain by the mind?"

"Can the mind," asks Krishnamurti, "whose very essence is of time, catch love, which is its own eternity?"
[Krishnamurti, "Commentaries on Living: First Series," pp. 40-41]
. . . . . . . . . . . . .

[Here, is Part One of Krishnamurti lecture on "Love and Freedom." Links to the remaining portions of his talk are attached, below.]

"Love and Freedom," Part Two.

"Love and Freedom," Part Three.

"Love and Freedom," Part Four.

"Love and Freedom," Part Five.

"Love and Freedom," Part Six.

"Love and Freedom," Part Seven.

"Love and Freedom," Part Eight.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Resolving Life's Equation

"Life is short. And uncertain. It is like a drop of water skittering around on a lotus leaf. You never know when it will drop off the edge and disappear. So each day is far too precious to waste. And each day that you are not radiantly alive and brimming with cheer is a day wasted. "
--  Srikumar Rao --
Fill in the blank: "If ____________, then I would be happy."

I have heard it said that we humans are great logicians, and the mental equation that we are usually preoccupied with is "if x, then y,"

The problem with our great logic, however, is that we spend almost no time looking at the 'x' factor, and concentrate all our imagination on 'y.' "If I had great wealth, then I'd be happy." "If I lost 20 pounds, then I would be attractive." "If I had a great relationship, then I wouldn't want anything else." "If I lose this job, then I'll be homeless." Etc., etc., etc.

All this mental algebra is just thought-food for the inner mental narrative of our ego sense. So much of our time is spent on how great, or how awful, 'y' would be if 'x' occurs, and little or no time is spent on the reality, probability or possibility of 'x' occurring, a point stressed in a lecture on achieving "happiness" by Professor Srikumar Rao, (attached below).

Is it true that we would experience unending happiness if we just had lots of money in our pocket, weighed twenty pounds less and were in a new relationship? Most people's experience, but not their inner narrative, says that this is just not so.

Prof. Srikumar Rao
"It's the model itself that is flawed," says Professor Rao, "not what you put on the 'if' side of the equation."

"The problem," Rao notes, "is that your life right now, with all the problems that you have - or more precisely, all the problems that you think you have - is equally perfect, but you do not accept it. In fact, you are spending all your time striving with might and main to make it different. You are not accepting it. And, when you are not accepting it you are buying into the 'if/then' model - 'if this happens then I will be happy' - and it is the model itself that is flawed."

What is needed, Professor Rao observes, is to "invest in the process, and not in the outcome." Rao, like so many others, preaches the benefit of focusing our attention on what it is that we are doing in the here and now, rather on what may - or, likely, may not - be the outcome.

"As we grow up," he observes, "we lose the ability to invest in the process. We start investing in the outcome. By definition the outcome is outside of our control, (and) if that is where we spend all of our emotional energy, we will get drained as we do so."

In encouraging his audience to focus on the process rather than the outcome - to focus their energy on doing 'x' rather than in obsessing over 'y' - Rao quotes the following introduction that the great John Wooden, the legendary U.C.L.A. basketball coach, would give to each of his teams at the start of their season:
"When it's over and you look in the mirror, did you do the best that you were capable of? If you did the best that you were capable of, the score doesn't matter. But, I suspect that if you did the best you were capable of you will find the score to your liking."
. . . . . . . . . . . . .

Alan Wallace: Physics, Consciousness, Buddhism and Science

Alan Wallace, Ph.D
Alan Wallace is a strong voice in scientifically and spiritually progressive circles, urging Western science to broaden its perspective to include the study of consciousness itself, as well as the psychological insights of Eastern wisdom traditions.

A trained physicist and Buddhist practitioner, Wallace holds a doctorate in religious studies, and urges 'mind scientists' - cognitive psychologists, neurologists and neuroanatomists, etc. - to look beyond their current scientific paradigm which has almost completely avoided the subject of consciousness itself, labeling it as 'subjective' and, therefore, beyond the pale of objective, empirical scientific inquiry.

"What people often fail to recognize, however," says Wallace, "is that the very category of the physical, of the mental, is a category that we humans have constructed . . .  and reconstructed over the last four hundred . . . years of science."

"We have created (and) devised, based upon our modes of observations, of measurement (and) of experimentation, exactly what the parameters of the 'physical' are. What is matter? What is not matter? These are human definitions," he points out, "and these definitions have evolved as science has evolved."

"The 'physical' (or) matter, is precisely what the physical sciences are good at measuring," Wallace observes. "But the category, once again, is a physical construct. So the notion that everything in the universe must fit into a construct that we human beings have devised, and then insisting, moreover, that everything in the entire universe must fit into a construct as we have devised it now . . . strikes me as idolatry."

"Thus far," says Wallace, "mainstream science overwhelmingly has assumed that consciousness simply emerges in some as yet inexplicable way from complex configurations of chemical compounds engaging or intereacting with electricity. But no one has proposed exactly how this occurs. "

"No one has proposed with any degree of confidence, or any empirical confirmation," he notes, "when in the evolution of life on this planet consciousness first arose and what the conditions were for its arising. Nor do we know in the developoment of the human fetus inside the mother's womb . . . when consciousness first emerges, or what the necessary and sufficent conditions for it doing so (are)."

"The whole of science over the last four hundred years," he observes, "has never devised any sophisticated means for directly observing states of consciousness, the mind, mental processes. Especially over the last century, the overwhelming majority of scientific inquiry into the nature of the mind has been indirect, focusing on what scientists are good at looking at, the physical, the objective the quantifiable."

"Certainly scientists, cognitive psychologists, neuroscientists will interrogate others about their subjective experiences," he concedes." But, as one cognitive psychologist recently commented, we do not take other people's reports of their subjective experiences as facts, we simply take them as reports, as data. The same cognitive psychologist claimed that all of our subjective experiences consists of 'hallucinations.'"

So," he notes, "we are to rely then more on the metaphysical principles of materialism, than we are upon our own immediate experience. As if our own immediate experiences doesn't count and we should rely rather on the scientists' observations, as if they have some special access; and upon their metaphysical assumptions that everything must boil down to matter and the emergent properties of matter.

"Th(is) appeal to the authority of a certain community is exactly the mindset of medieval scholasticism," Wallace points out. "It is exactly the mindset that the pioneers of the scientific revolution revolted against."

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

 As a polymath scientific advocate who endeavors to bridge the gap between Western scientific paradigms and the trove of psychological insights arising from Eastern wisdom traditions, Wallace tries to build a bridge between two of the most prolific knowledge systems that humanity has developed. He points out that Eastern traditions have always been focused first and foremost on the mind and consciousness, while Western Science has concentrated almost exclusively on the physical - matter, energy, time and space.

On the other hand, "Buddhist contemplatives and others," he notes, "have found multiple dimensions, have found a dimension of consciousness that lies beneath our ordinary psyche - the conscious and subconscious minds - called the substrate consciousness. (A consciousness) which is blissful, luminous, non-conceptual and does not arise from matter, does not arise from neuronal activity in the brain, does not arise from matter of any kind. It is not material, it does not arise from the material. It is conditioned by matter, but does not arise form matter. A deeper dimension of consciousness.

"All that we know of the universe," Wallace notes, "is what the universe reveals to us in response to our questions and our systems of measurement."

Part Two of Wallace's interview, in which Wallace expands upon the fascinating intersection of cutting edge physics, metaphysics and Buddhist thought, continues below.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Old Thinking and a 'Crisis in Consciousness'

In a fractured world that is divided and then divided again by ideologies, class culture, religions and race - rich vs. poor, capitalist vs. socialist, 'free world' vs. autocracy and theocracy, religion versus science, believer vs. non-believer etc. - do we have have the wherewithal to face the many existential crises we do?

If we do, will that spark the global cohesiveness necessary to face and overcome the global threats - from global warming to overpopulation, and from dire poverty and widespread hunger to massive species extinction - that we face?

If so, one can be certain that it will require a deeper understanding of our collective well-being and an awakening of our collective conscience and consciousness. Thankfully, there are signs that, at least for some small portion of humanity, such an awakening - an awakening of consciousness itself - is already underway.

"We as human beings are at a transitional stage," observes spiritual teacher and best-selling author, Eckhart Tolle, "where we are becoming strongly aware of the pull back to the source."

Yet while one part of humanity realizes that we face what another enlightened spiritual teacher identified as a "crisis in consciousness" - and that being (for the main part) restricted to a small portion of the most highly privileged, best educated and materially wealthy generations the world has ever produced - the large remainder of humanity, or at least its leadership, seems to remain committed to yet more of the thought structures, discussions, politicking and committee meetings that have marked our 'progress' towards the numerous conflicts and crises we now face.

For Tolle, and other progressive voices, it is clear that it is the fabric of our collective consciousness that must be challenged if we are to move forward and address the existential problems that are the results of our old thought structures and paradigmatic thinking.

Are they optimistic and realistic in predicting a widespread awakening of collective consciousness that will lead us back from the brink? Or, is this merely an updated brand of naive millenial faux spirituality? One hopes for the former and dares not look too hard at the latter.

As Einstein once famously remarked, "We can't solve problems by using the same level of thinking we used when we created them."

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Noam Chomsky: 'On Religion'

"I think irrational belief is a dangerous phenomenon," observes noted scholar and activist, Noam Chomsky, "and I try to avoid irrational belief."

"On the other hand," he notes, "I certainly recognize that (religion) is a major phenomenon for people in general and you can understand why it would be. . . . It does, apparently, provide personal sustenance, but also bonds of association and solidarity and a means for expressing elements of one's personality that are often very valuable elements. To many people it does that."

"In my view," he concedes, "there's nothing wrong with that. My view could be wrong, of course, but my position is that we should not succumb to irrational belief."

While Chomsky's views are laudable, particularly his view that one should perhaps "avoid irrational belief," he fails  - as so many others do, and will - to distinguish between the inner religious experience upon which most of the worlds religions and wisdom traditions are founded and fuelled, and the narrow outer religious forms that dogmas, doctrines and/or or mass 'belief' systems forge.

Failing to differentiate between the two - one 'experiential, which while largely subjective is nonetheless amenable to rational inquiry, and the other which is wholly subjective and therefore beyond the purview of rational inquiry - is a bias commonly held by even the best scholars (like Chomsky, himself) who are steeped in Western empirical methodology, a methodology that does not admit that it has its own built-in biases when it comes to examining phenomena that are in any way 'tainted' by subjectivity.

The higher states of consciousness afforded by experiential religious insight and practice are, as Allan Wallace points out (below), "the retinal blindspot of Western science." Yet, as a result of the scientific bias which lumps experiential inner religious phenomena with outer religious dogma, even as noted and fair-minded a scholar as Chomsky appears to make the common logical misstep of assuming that all aspects of religion - experiential and doctrinal - are necessarily "irrational" and thus vulnerable to emergent fanaticism in challenging times.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Rumi: On Religion, Evoloution and Science

Rumi (1207-1273)
Perhaps the most popular and most influential poet in the West for the past several decades, is the thirteenth-century Persian Sufi from what is now Afghanistan, Jallaludin Rumi.

Rumi and his teachings on Sufism, the fruit of a markedly advanced Persian and Islamic culture at a time when Europe was still mired in its Dark Ages, is remarkable by any standard - poetically, artistically, scientifically, philosophically and metaphysically.

While elements of fundamentalist and evangelistic Christianity in the West, particularly in the United States, cling blindly to an exclusivity and blind faith that denies the legitimacy of all other religions and the findings of modern science, 750-or-so odd years ago, Rumi swept aside such false controversies in language that, even in translation, is both striking and startling.

Taken from "The Way of the Sufi," by the great Sufi teacher and scholar, Idries Shah, the following excerpts from Rumi's vast works, both poetry and prose, show how far ahead of his times, and perhaps ours, the great Sufi poet was.

Rumi on Religion:

What can I do Muslims? I do not know myself.
I am no Christian, no Jew, no Magian, no Mussulman.
Not of the East, not of the West. Not of the land, not of the sea.
Not of the Mine of Nature, not of the circling heavens,
Not of earth, not of water, not of air, not of fire;
Not of the throne, not of the ground, of existence, of being;
Not of India, China, Bulgaria, Saqseen;
Not of the kingdom of the Iraqs, or of Khorasan;
Not of this world or the next: of heaven or hell;
Not of Adam, Eve, the garden of Paradise or Eden;
My place placeless, my trace traceless.
Neither body nor soul: all is the life of my Beloved . . .

Cross and Christians, end to end, I examined. He was not on the Cross. I went to the Hindu temple, to the ancient pagoda. In none of them was there any sign. To the uplands of Herat I went, and to Kandahar I looked. He was not on the heights or in the lowlands. Resolutely, I went to the summit of the [fabulous] mountain of Kaf. There only was the dwelling of the [legendary] Anqa bird. I went to the Kaaba of Mecca. He was not there. I asked about him from Avicenna, the philosopher. He was beyond the range of Avicenna . . . I looked into my own heart. In that place, his place, I saw him. He was in no other place.

Rumi on Evolution:

Originally you were clay. From being mineral, you became vegetable. From vegetable, you became animal, and from animal, man. During these periods man did not know where he was going, but he was being take on a long journey, nonetheless. And you have to go through a hundred different worlds yet.

I have again and again grown like grass;
I have experienced seven hundred and seventy moulds.
I died from minerality and became vegetable;
And from vegetativeness I died and became animal.
I died from animality and became man.
Then why fear disappearnace through death?
Next time I shall die
Bringing forth wings and feathers like angels:
After that soaring higher than angels -
What you cannot imagine. I shall be that.

Rumi On Science:


Intelligence is the shadow of objective Truth.
How can the shadow vie with sunshine?


The Science of Truth disappears in the Sufi's knowledge.
When will mankind understand this saying?

[Idries Shah, "The Way of the Sufi," pp. 102-108.]

. . . .and, finally, from "The Essential Rumi," by Coleman Barks:


. . . For hundreds of thousands of years
I have been dust grains
floating and flying in the will of the air,
often forgetting ever being
in that state, but in sleep
I migrate back. I spring loose
from the four-branched time-and-space cross,
this waiting room.
I walk into a huge pasture.
I nurse the milk of millenia.
Everyone does this in different ways.
Knowing that conscious decisions
and personal memory
are much too small a place to live,
every human being streams at night
into the loving nowhere, or during the day,
in some absorbing work.