Thursday, October 15, 2009

On Ideological Fundamentalism

I've had my fair share of encounters with the polarities of rigid absolutism and objectivism on one side, and flexible relativism and subjectivism on the other, and have eventually come to see the light that lets all flowers bloom. While it's not a popular position to take among the followers of one tradition or the other, I haven't heard the likes of the following statement I came across yesterday even from religious fundamentalists, at least not in so many words.
"I recognize the evil in your foundation and your arguments are saturated with it - and it must be denounced vehemently because it is a cancer out there."
No doubt, relativism can strike an annoying chord in the ears of those who would rather believe their model of understanding is a de facto theory of everything, both in the realm of religious dialogue as with anything else featuring strong ideological convictions. That it is annoying is rather an understatement, for it's downright threatening, inasmuch as it suggests the possibility of tearing down the precious walls of absolute opinion built and maintained by generations of adherents.

The above citation becomes doubly curious over the fact that it was addressed to yours truly in a discussion that had absolutely nothing to do with poking the holy cows of any flavor of religious fundamentalism, but rather in the course of an attempt to discuss a purely secular (and not even political) theme with a person sporting a long academic background. A world where ideologies are juxtapositioned in such a radically condemning fashion is a world gone sad and sour

I suppose ambivalence can be threatening, but really it is only from a state of ambivalence that something truly new can evolve. Rigid ideologies, even while they may serve a purpose, are almost invariably antithetical to the progress and evolution of human understanding, shunning as they do the prospects for discovering solutions outside the established framework. All the while, doubt remains one of the most powerful tools at our disposal in our quest for knowledge and understanding.

This idolatry of human mental constructions is perhaps the single most devolutive force in the history of mankind with a long and devastating track record of stifling, oppressing and persecuting those discontent with available solutions, seeking to cross over the establishment to the undiscovered land. The problem started with Adam and Eve grabbing a fruit off the tree of forbidden knowledge and receiving a due punishment, and has really only grown worse ever since.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Broad Way That Claims No Authority

The Tao is broad; you can move far to the right and to the left; and still remain within it. Millions of living beings live on it, depend upon it for their existence; it accepts them willingly, and claims no authority over them.

The Tao accomplishes its tasks, and claims no credit. It clothes and feeds the living beings who live on it; yet it imposes no obligations on them, and expects no gratitude from them.

The Tao desires nothing, so it may be called small. Yet since it claims no credit, imposes no obligations, and expects no gratitude, it should be called great.

— Tao Te Ching #34

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Choosing Friends and Mythologies

One of the darker sides of religion features in its adherents' habit to accept and reject friends on the basis of the mythos they have chosen to explain their universe. Pooling resources with people subscribing to similar metaphysical beliefs is unfortunately not the optimal means of connecting with the existing base of sentient beings, as it severely narrow down your possibilities, not unlike in the case of a monoglot stuck with an obscure language.

The narrower you draw the scope of your connections, the smaller the possibilities of your being holistically nourished by social interaction shrink. On the other hand, should you choose to expand the range of your connections above and beyond identifications and defenses rising from particular belief systems, the specifics of which are not all that essential in the grand scheme of things, you would effectively maximize your interactive potential in life.

Unfortunately beliefs and mythologies don't function as a straight procedural equation. People can get highly emotional and irrational over their beliefs, and particularly so when they feel their particular existential framework is under expressed, implied or assumed threat from contradicting views. Crossing through a number of religious communities over the years has shown me just how temporary, frail and superficial many relationships based on religion have been.

Should anyone wonder with my often pointed critique of common beliefs, I'm as a matter of fact against endorsing any given view as the final and ultimate word in metaphysics, including my own. All beliefs are subjective, inasmuch as experience itself is a subjective phenomenon. One pet future utopia of mine is a world where the humanity at large has evolved to a point where metaphysical relativism is so widely taken as a self-evident value that the mere concept of religious friction is a barely intelligible oxymoron.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The God Who Created the God Who Created the God

Religious philosophers tend to argue in favor of an original, intelligent cause as an answer for the question of our origins. It stands to reason, they argue, that an original cause be accepted to avoid the paradox of beginninglessness. The original cause being of course a monotheistic god, who is assumed perfect and benevolent.

From these roots come the marked difference in the linear and finite versus cyclic and infinite models of the Occident and the Orient, along with some wildly varying concepts of god or its equivalent. When it comes to god and gods, much is assumed and little is certain.

The pursuit for an original cause is much like a walk in Escher's paradox.

Original Cause as a Non-Solution

Proposing that there is an original cause is philosophically unsatisfactory, inasmuch as the original cause always remains incomprehensible to us smaller units, its originality unproven in the face of the possibility that our original cause is but the a link in a chain of causation. The concept of a greater creator merely begs the question whether there might be more creators at work somewhere up the pyramid of creations.

If there is one creator god for the existence we know, it is in fact entirely plausible that there may be any number of other, more compassive gods further up the line of creations, the extent of which we'd never be able to decipher as either infinite or finite. The seemingly definitive solution of an original cause now effectively returns to square one, once again face to face with the paradox of infinity and beginninglessness.

Brahma, the Hindu demiurge, is born from a lotus growing from Vishnu's navel.

Hierarchy of Creator Gods in Indic Lore

The Vaishnavite mythology, found throughout the Puranic lore, posits the existence of a single eternal transcendent deity, Vishnu, who dwells beyond the world of creations, and also permeates the creation as its supporting substratum. At the dawn of creation Vishnu, lying at the bottom of each of the universes he created, let a lotus sprout from his navel, atop which awoke Brahma, the creator god of the Hindu trinity, set to organize the elements of the cosmos provided by Vishnu.

This prime creator, in turn, set forth a number of Prajapatis, progenitors of mankind and diverse species, along with a number of sages to impart wisdom to the creation. In a fair number of epics the lesser gods, created by Brahma, mistake their immediate creator to be the supreme creating deity and the original cause, and in fact he is found to be so deluded on a number of occasions himself.

The god Brahma also features in early Buddhist lore as one among a number of Brahmas, each presiding over their own Brahma-worlds, fancying themselves as creator gods, frequently original causes in their own right. These Brahmas feature in a number of legends from the Buddha's cosmic adventures, and it was in fact Brahma Sahampati who urged the Buddha to go forth and preach the dharma in the wake of his enlightenment.

The theology of some Vaishnavas, most notably the Gaudiya tradition and the Hare Krishnas, further posits that Krishna is, rather than an avatar of Vishnu, in fact the original source god, of whom Vishnu is an extension for purposes of creation. Yet they are in some respects identical, one deity and one mind, and yet again different in some minute manners. Overall, I get the effect of calling to an office for the person responsible, only to be routed around in circles until the line breaks. No wonder some prefer speaking face to face, whether it's gods or service personnel.

Not surprisingly, adherents of the Shaiva school likewise claim Shiva to be the supreme god, as again the Shaktas insist that Shakti is the ultimate mother-godhead, of which Shiva, Vishnu and the rest spring forth. Faced with the immense plurality and conflicting opinions of the Indic gods, good old Christian monotheism might begin to seem like a welcome breeze of fresh air. If so, please breathe to your liking before starting the following section.

David Tarleton: The Aeon Sophia at the Birth of the Demiurge

Gnostic Demiurge and Judeo-Christian Creator God

I recall a lively conversation I once had with an elderly Jehovah's Witness. He was adamant that the mainstream Christian Church was wrong in claiming that Jesus was God, while he was in fact the first creation, as also god's instrument for the making of the creation that sprang forth — all standard Jehovah's Witness theology.

Incidentally I was also once filled in into the higher secret of the Church of the Latter Day Saints, again by an elderly gentleman somewhere in northern Finland. All was fine with my theology, but the fact that I was a monk at the time. Skipping the preliminaries, he related how we, as married couples, are to evolve and one day become creator gods and goddesses of our own universes.

To make things even more confusing on the Judeo-Christian front, we are confronted with the question of their god being perhaps a legion of gods, as the plural address Elohim and covenants to "not have any other gods" indicate. How much do the Elohim have in common with the gods of the Olympos mountain, the Egyptian Pantheon and the Hindu gods of Himalaya?

It was the Gnostic tradition that first identified the Judean God as a so-called Demiurge, an inferior and imperfect deity responsible for the creation of an imperfect world. Gnostic estimates of the lesser deity span from an embodiment of evil to merely an imperfect yet benevolent being. The Gnostics view the birth of the Demiurge as an accident that was never meant to happen, in effect describing an unplanned pregnancy leading to the birth of a defective god.

In contrast to demiurge are the eternal Pleroma, self-manifest beings transcending our dimension, ascension among whom is the final destination of the humans. As fascinating as it is, one can't help but wonder whether there might be yet another layer of causation beyond the supposedly eternal Pleroma, who as a matter of fact sound remarkably similar to the residents of the Immaterial Realms of the Buddhist cosmology, who are again superceded by the cryptic nirvana.

The Judeo-Christian God's wrath in the Genesis incident over Adam's acquisition of classified knowledge is interesting in its own right. We even find the following admission in God's own words (3.21): "The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever." Interestingly, the serpent was right over the fruit's effects, while God was in fact trying to prevent access with threats of death upon eating. Now that ought to get the conspiracy theorists running!

Left: Intimidating Jaffa servant of an Egyptian Goa'uld. Right: The Ori grant supernatural powers to their Priors.

Evil Gods of Science Fiction

The well-documented traits of the God Institution have also found their way into popular entertainment. For an example, the popular TV-series Stargate features two separate races of malevolent beings posing and worshiped as gods, only to be overthrown by their subjects in due course.

The Goa'uld, evil and technologically advanced power-hungry parasites, used humans for slavery for millennia in the guise of various Egyptian, Greek and Oriental gods, posing as immortal lords and the creators. The Goa'uld were snake-like creatures who bonded with human hosts, integrating themselves with the hosts' spinal cord and the brain. (Incidentally the often-controversial kundalini-energy of Hindu Tantrics literally means "female serpent" and, when activated, rises up the spinal cord and yields psychic powers.)

Again the Ori, an ascendend incorporeal species, inspired massive crusades to have everyone worship them, for they gained power through the energy sapped from lower sentient beings. For them, the religion is a conduit for transferring upwards the energy expended by the worshipers. In return for worship and absolute dedication, they offered their followers a false promise of ascension, unwilling as they were to share of their power. Really, exactly how many of the available promises of afterlife are guaranteed real deals? It's a pity religions don't come bundled with a money-back guarantee.

While there would be a number of other juicy examples to illustrate the concept, let's focus on the gist of the idea, namely the assumed integrity and benevolence of the said god or gods. There is no reason to assume that a more powerful being would have also evolved in benevolence, even if the religions of the world do tend to take the goodness of their gods for granted. Hey, the gods of the Zoroastrians being the demons of the Brahmanas and vice versa, one or other of the gods out there has got to be evil! And evil or not, faithfully worshiped by devout followers.

Something is fundamentally wrong with the above scenario.

Final Thoughts

The final day of reckoning pending and yet to be proven, there are few compelling reasons for worshiping one authoritarian god or the other. Given the insubstantiability of the said claims of absolute originality, omnipotence and omniscience, there is little reason to accept demands of allegiance. Neither claims of rightful ownership of our souls or threats of damnation or annihilation can serve as a basis for a healthy, working relationship. If there's one thing that puts me off on so many levels, it is intimidation.

If some choose to voluntarily pursue the worship of a god or several gods or goddesses, whether it be for solace, pleasure, profit or wisdom, I don't see it as objectionable as long as the relationship remains non-abusive. If a god or the gods are real, existing and sentient beings, it stands to reason that our free will ought to be respected, and all forms of life, regardless of evolutionary level, ought to have certain rights. Just like we also treat nature and animals, eh? Do unto them as he did unto us...

Coming from a god who created hell, a promise that he can save me from going to hell isn't exactly playing it fair. You cannot create a threat and then play the good guy for alleviating the threat! When a threat is produced to gain advantage from the object of threat, it is called coercion. Use of coercion with self-produced ultimatums spanning infinity cannot be the work of a a truthful, loving and benevolent being.

Not that I'm an atheist. Atheism as a concept is far too limited, as is theism along with its bretheren ideologies. Pantheism and monistic nondualism are high on my chart of working elements for a coherent overall picture of existence. No single theory in itself seems to be adequate for capturing the essence of existence, and a comprehensive Theory of Everything is yet to be written. Be that as it may, it seems evident that the era of authoritarian creator gods is nearing its inevitable end.

Further Reading

Brahma (Buddhism): A fascinating gloss on the role of the god Brahma in Buddhist lore, little known to many Hindu adherents who fancy Brahma as a Hindu deity. Ironic as it is, the god of the Brahmanas was identified as one of the Brahmas known to the Buddha long before the Puranas began to grow into their current renditions!

Brahma (Hinduism): A good overview of the Hindu lore of creation, the birth of Brahma, who was to become one of the popular Hindu trinity, and the subsequent gods he created for the sake of expanding his domain. Path to Deification: How we evolve into gods, as understood in the theology of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Gnosticism: Pleroma and the Demiurge. Goa'uld and Ori: Two fictive races of false gods in the Stargate universe.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Experiences in Japa and Mantra-Meditation

I cannot even begin to count the time I've committed to meditation over the years. Timewise, the bulk of my experiences span from my twelve active years as a Gaudiya Vaishnava, employing the tradition's methodology, the focus of which was the unveiling of a connection with god Krishna, his companions and his spiritual domain. In the last two years, I have also experimented with a number of other similar methods of meditation, which along with the Gaudiya approach form the bulk of this article.

A holy man seated for meditation with his rosary.

In the Gaudiya tradition, mantras are twofold: One category is the public maha-mantra (Hare Krishna Hare Krishna etc.), the other the many secret initiation mantras one receives from a guru. While the latter are almost invariably vocalized in the mind only, the former is also murmured, chanted audibly, and also sung to the accompaniment of instruments as a hymn of prayer and praise.

A japa-mala in its covering bag, underneath the maha-mantra written in Bengali script.

Symbolism of the Rosary

The japa-mala, a sacred rosary made of Tulasi-wood with 108 beads, is employed for the counting of mantras. The rosary is taken by many Gaudiya Vaishnavas to symbolize the rasa-mandala, the circular midnight dance arena of Krishna and the 108 main gopis. The rosary frequently has a string tied in after the eight largest beads, signifying the eight principal gopis.

I cannot recall anyone ever featuring the symbolism in any practical capacity, and so it remains a mystery whether you're supposed to meditate on the eight gopis every time you touch the eight beads, and whether you're supposed to mentally contemplate on the Rasa-dance pastime over and over again, or whether it's just a fancy poetic depiction without much further meaning. The only practical gopi-mandala related practice is a prayer some chant before taking up the rosary:

tri-bhaGga-bhaGgima-rUpaM veNu-randhra-karAJcitam |
gopI-maNDala-madhyasthaM zobhitaM nanda-nandanam || MBD 4.223

“In a three-fold bending form, his fingers curled on the holes of the flute, amidst a circle of gopis is the beautiful son of Nanda.”

While such symbolism can serve as useful initial inspiration, in this case I found no overall practicability to this, whether as an emotional or a visual aid. As for the string, I did find it useful in keeping mental track of even and odd rounds. As I sit for meditation, I'm disinclined from fiddling with the counter beads and breaking my solid posture and energy build-up every few minutes. Crossing the string with your fingers helps you bundle rounds into segments of two, and thence into segments of four and eight, up to where you can chant dozens of rounds and keep accurate mental track of the number without its causing a disturbance.

Author chanting japa in 2007 at Radhakund.

Experiences with Gaudiya Vaishnava Mantras

Rarely do I engage in japa these days, as I've come to find both the accessories and the verbal mantra-formulations distracting in general. Even with the maha-mantra, when I took up chanting en masse during my later days at Radhakund, it became constantly less and less a matter of the individual names in the mantra. Is one seriously supposed to do a focused back-and-forth bouncing contemplation on Radha and Krishna? If the point is to focus on them, it helps solidify your meditation if a single object remains in extended focus.

I personally found the diksha-mantras much more suited to this purpose, the Radha-mantra in particular. It consists of two bijas, the name of Radha in dative, and a closing exhortation. Dhyanachandra lists a common variant of the mantra as zrIM rAM rAdhikAyai svAhA in his manual. Combined with asanas and pranayama, the prolonged vibration of this formula led me to a substantial kundalini-experience — even if the presence and action of kundalini is largely ignored in Gaudiya circles.

The eighteen-syllable Krishna-mantra (astadasaksara-mantra or Gopala-mantra: klIM kRSNAya govindAya gopIjana-vallabhAya svAhA), on the other hand, was a bit lengthy to my liking and less useful for focused contemplation. Again, is one supposed to focus on Krishna, Govinda or Gopijanavallabha? If they are the one and the same, where is there a need for a plurality of names? And if they are different (as any pundit would explain to you), we again have the problem of having to constantly shift our focus.

I remember also growing uneasy over some of the other mantras, the tripartite gayatris in particular, that did not follow the standard meter and rhythm; a symmetric rhythm helps with maintaining focus. In particular, the accessory gayatris for the remaining members of the Panca-tattva and the accessory gayatris for the gopis were rather cumbersome formulations. (I was initiated into a total of 12 mantras and 12 gayatris at Radhakund.)

During my active chanting years, especially with the numeric strength of japa growing to two daily lakhs (128 rounds) and beyond, it was necessary to learn to relate to the ping-pong of names in the maha-mantra. Less a conscious decision and more a natural evolution, the explicit components of the mantra began to withdraw in favor of exposing a spiritual fabric rising from the vibration itself, a vibration underlying the names. It was this presence, of which it seemed a great deal could arise, that I associated with suddha-sattva, the existential fabric of the spiritual world itself. I doubt the idea would pass any orthodoxies, but such was my experience nevertheless.

Replica of Tryambakeshvar Mahadeva, one of the twelve Jyotirlingas located around India.

Experiences with Traditional Hindu Mantras

I have also done a fair amount of japa during my post-Gaudiya time, starting in the summer of 2007 with a brief and final Gaudiya revisit during the Kartika month of the same year. In exploring a future direction, I hopped on a rollercoaster of Advaitic and Buddhist studies, for those were the two traditions I found to be best matching my general spiritual orientation, matching inclinations present from before my contact with Vaishnavism, and latent throughout the years of Vaishnava practice.

In the initial period of exploration I grew quite fond of OM, the classic ultimate chant exhorted in the Upanishads. I found it much more suited for touching the tranquil existential fabric I had conjured with my earlier chantings of maha-mantra. In fact I even experimented for a week on hybrid mental japa of maha-mantra and OM — it's amazing what your mind can pull together once you put it to work. It was rather interesting, but required an excess of mental energy to contain over long term. I settled for the good old OM and was quite happy with it.

The pancaksara-mantra for Shiva (oM namaH zivAya) was a natural expansion of OM, very compact in its formula, carrying the gist of the structural power of the shorter Vaishnava-mantras I had once found useful. Moreover it carried strong Advaitic content, regardless of whether you associated it with the Upanishadic world or the approach of Kashmiri Shaivism, conveying a strong sense of non-dual divinity embodied as the Shiva-archetype. Along with the mantra of Tara, the pancaksara must be the most chanted among my post-Gaudiya mantras.

A statue of Avalokitesvara, the bodhisattva of compassion, in Kathmandu.

Experiences with Buddhist Mantras

During my travels with the Buddhist monks and beyond, I committed a fair deal of time to some common Buddhist mantras. From the Thai monks I walked with, I learned the practice of chanting the ten ephitets of the Buddha on a rosary (iti 'pi so bhagavo arahaM samma-sambuddho...), which was more of a broad contemplation than a narrow-band mantra even if quite catchy with its irregular rhythm, and also briefly experimented with the shorter Theravadan chant (namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma-sambuddhassa).

A similar wisdom-contemplation was the great Mahayana mantra (oM gate gate para-gate para-saMgate bodhi svAhA) summarizing the heart of Madhyamika-philosophy on the nature of existence, covering the evolving perceptions of form and emptiness, and culminating into bodhi or enlightenment. While not as suited for extended repetition, I found chanting a few rounds to effect a rather refreshing flashback of the fundamentals of existence. Of course, with all mantras and particularly in this case, one must be well acquainted with the meaning of the mantra, and for fuller effect share personal experience of and insight into the said base aspects of reality.

Another genre of mantras employed in the Buddhist tradition are those associated with tantric or Tibetan Buddhism with its approach of contemplating on enlightened archetypal deities. My favorite by far was the mantra of goddess Tara (oM tAre tuttAre ture svAhA), which I practiced along with a refined visualization practice I learned from Atisha's medieval sadhana-manual in the library of the Kopan Monastery in Kathmandu. I also experimented on the mantra of Padmasambhava (oM aH hUM padma-guru vajra-siddhi hUM), a powerful chant in its own right, and the classic mantra of Avalokitesvara (oM maNi padme hUM), the bodhisattva of compassion, a mantra full of soothing lucidity and peace.

The mantra oM maNi padme hUM engraved on a stone wall in Tibetan script at Bodh Gaya.

Other Methods of Meditation

It was the non-verbal methods of meditation that I was most at home with. I suppose this largely owes to my preference of conceptual thinking over verbalization, or the pazyanti (direct perceptual) level over madhyama (mental verbalization) and vaikhari (external verbalization) stages in Upanishadic terms. Mental and verbal japa still maintain a sense of distance to the object, while conceptual contemplation puts one in an immediate relationship with the object. (This is incidentally also the goal of the Gaudiya way of meditation with its specific object.)

Two old Buddhist practices aiming for samadhi (concentration) and prajna (wisdom) are the heart of all Buddhist meditation. The former, while not directly conducive to the awakening of ultimate wisdom on its own, is a powerful and systematic method for attaining increasing levels of samadhi or jhana (Sanskrit: dhyana) along with their subsequent benefits. The sophisticated jhana-theory of Theravada Buddhism serves as a highly useful reference point for other traditions of object-meditation. Perhaps the most sriking discovery for me in this was in understanding the underlying principles and the inherent similarity between supposedly unique meditative traditions.

Vipassana or insight-meditation, the second of the two divisions of Buddhist meditation, is a direct tool for attaining ultimate wisdom and enlightenment. While vipassana may employ a number of techniques in attaining deep introspective perception and clarity, essentially it's about learning to observe the inherent natures of reality, witnessing the fundamental principles of reality (anicca: temporarity; dukkha: anxiety; anatta: non-selfhood) in all phenomena. While there are methods for enhancing the experience, the core observant principle does not require technical support.

All in all, it's all but clouds at the back of the hall...

Craving, Peace and Spiritual Objectives

I have come to marginalize goal-oriented spiritual practice in my life, having observed that it often leads to results quite antithetical to the desired goal, and instead of contributing to, consumes the sense of perennial tranquility and insight from the inside out. A very elementary Buddhist teaching is that craving leads to misery. Whether one is craving for openly mundane aims, supernatural powers, imaginary liberation or the favors of a supreme god, the very fact that there is craving leads to grief. As such, while I do not systematically seek to practice the said methods (or any other methods), their gist in revealing the natural potentials of the mind seem to have been amicably absorbed.

It is my personal conclusion that the less one attempts to actively manipulate one's spiritual evolution, the more one gains in the way of peace and existential insight. By stopping you progress. By seeking progress you stop. What a beautiful paradox. Now, I could cite any number of Hindu and Buddhist teachers whose teachings ultimately reflect the same, but I don't as I'm more concerned with direct personal experience than I am with the spiritual systematizations of another, no matter how wise he may have been.

Not that one isn't to learn of the experiences of others — but neither is one to assume he can successfully lead the life and grasp the insights of another without eventually developing his own. Whatever we learn is to be personally experimented on, experienced, and incorporated into our own unique frame of reference. We are what we are, and exactly at the place we are — independent of anyone's projections of what and where we ought to be according to his system. Walk your own way, I say. Or rather, stop and be happy.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Simple Truth of Ramana Maharshi

"The ultimate truth is so simple. It is nothing more than being in the pristine state. This is all that need be said. Still, it is a wonder that to teach this simple truth there should come into being so many religions, creeds, methods and disputes among them and so on! Oh the pity! Oh the pity!"

— Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi (talk 96)

Ramana: Realization is nothing to be got afresh. It is already there. All that is necessary is to be rid of the thought: "I have not realized."
Devotee: Then one need not attempt it.
Ramana: No. Stillness of mind or peace is realization. There is no moment when the Self is not. So long as there is doubt or the feeling of non-realization, attempt must be made to rid oneself of these thoughts.

Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi (talk 245)

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Banishment of the Watch-Maker

"You can't talk about karma without God, for every law needs a law-maker!" Or so I was told by someone who had read my earlier article discussing universal and Buddhist concepts of karma. Do we really need to have an intelligent designer for each and every minuscule aspect of existence, or does the world turn every bit as well without a cosmic architect?

Despite my sincerest efforts, it just didn't add up in the end.

Foundational Fallacy

It is quite meaningless for someone to just say that every law or principle requires a law-maker. A hypothesis employing deductive analogy is far from a conclusive standard of evidence. Analogy meaning the hypothesis that the principles of our human world would be identical to those of any second dimension, of which we may deduce that just as every law of human world is made by a human maker, so every principle in existence requires an intelligent designer.

Does this make sense? Is it logical? Of that, we have little evidence. Our experiences in the human world may be manifold, but the human world is not an archetype from which to derive and reconstruct any and all higher dimensions of existence. After all, in the human world all things come to an end, and grief is inherent in existence, but the supposed god and his domain are invariably in breach of these fundamental principles.

It is really rather naive to assume that our form of existence would be the only extant form of conscious life, thence creating the myth of how exceptionally rare a coincidence it is that we should exist as we do. This ill-assumed exceptionality again gives rise to theories of intelligent design, and culminate in concluding that the great intelligent designer must be akin in principle to those now considering themselves the created. Ladies and gentlemen, the anhtropomorphic creator god is now seated on his throne.

Had god had a sense of humor, two plus two would equal five.

Self-evident Principles

When a man opens his palm holding an apple, the apple falls. Do you need a law-maker for that? The intrinsic properties of the variables bring about a certain conjoint effect by their own natures. Gravity exists in a situation where objects with mass attract each other. Where these conditions don't exist, the said phenomenom does not occur. We happen to be in a place where objects with mass attract each other, hence the apple invariably falls to the ground. Should we shift our location to outer space, for example, the apple would no longer fall owing to different coefficients.

You don't need a law-maker to decide whether 2+2=4 or not. The intrinsic values of two identical variables add up to a combined result of twice their value, automatically and without need for divine design or intervention. Everything is the way it is in the human world because the variables happen to be right for a particular variety of existence. In other conditions, the variables would either create a foundation for a different variety of existence, subject to the effects of the interacting variables, or none at all if their current synergy would be too weak to effect such, in which case they would remain latent pending a change in surrounding effectors.

Moreover, causes and effects require no will of their own to interact. Any given effect is the only possible outcome of the exact interacting causes in the exact environment of variables. Theoretically, knowledge of each intricate aspect contributing to a situation would give a passive observer, who knows the potentials of each aspect, the ability to foresee any given event or series of events with perfect accuracy. Advanced capacity in recognizing variables and patterns is what the ancients called omniscience, while omnipotence was the derived capability for intricate manipulation of variables to effect the desired outcome.

Why would you possibly need a watch-maker, a compassionate watcher, a passionate interventionist or a dutiful maintenance man for any of the above to function as it already does?

The beginningless dance of infinite co-efficent factors

Beginningless Redundance of Creator

The concept of an original law-maker-cum-creator is every bit as flawed in the light of Vedanta as it is before plain logic. The Brahma-sutra states that existence is anadi or beginningless. Beginningless by its very definition indicates that there has never been a dawn of existence where principles of interaction would have first been established, rendering the necessity for a god or a law-maker entirely redundant. If the wheel of existence has been turning without a beginning, the concept of an original creator becomes a paradox by its very definition.

The principle of causality, then, is a beginningless field of coefficient exchange requiring no designer or supreme intelligent coordinator for its functioning. Everything is in a constant state of flux, each factor in motion and shaping the other, two causes giving birth to a new effect that naturally follows. The momentum of each factor escalates its contacted surroundings, giving rise to infinite new causal chains, even as the sum total of energy remains constant. I call it the dance of the universe, as also the great weaving of cosmic fields. If there must be a god, let him be the symmetric caleidoscope of the universe.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Karma: Universal and Buddhist Interpretations

The word karma, in its simplest sense, means action. In a broader context, it features the causal relationships brought about by the action, likened to seeds awaiting to ripen in the future. Karma is generally understood as the sum-total of one's activities and their latent effects, weaving a complex causal web leaving even the wisest perplexed over matters of predetermination and free will.

The exact course and formation of causal relationships can be hard to decipher.

The concept has been broadly popularized in the West by Buddhist and Hindu teachers over the past century. The Buddhist tradition has excelled particularly in its presentation of the underlying ethics, while the Hindus, and in particular the Vedantic tradition, have done some interesting groundwork in estimating the subconscious mechanics of karmic ripening.

A comprehensive gloss on the treatment of karma in Buddhism and Hinduism, along with Jainism and Sikhism, the other two main dharmic religions, is beyond the scope of this article. In the following, I hope to first distill the essentials of what determine the nature of the effect arising from a particular cause, and then gloss the Buddhist ethical analysis of action and offence as applied in their old monastic code.

A number of universal factors affect the causal content of each action.

Universal Karma

Karma is the sum total of several variables instead of the outcome of a single factor. Cause here means all direct and indirect, often far-reaching consequences born from the action. First and foremost, karma is born of the desire and intent of the doer. The consequence befalling each action are defined, among others, by the following:

1) Intention. Was the intent positive or negative, good or evil? Was the act done impulsively, with contemplation or by accident?
2) Implementation. Was the act fulfilled in accordance with the intention, or to a contrary result? Was the good or evil act brought to a conclusion?
3) Effects. Are the factual effects of the act positive, negative or mixed, individually as well as collectively?
4) Object. Was the object of a good deed particularly wanting or without need? Was the object of an evil deed helpless and innocent, equal and neutral, or greater and evil itself?
5) Circumstances. Was the act done out of a real need, or whimsically? Was the doer in a forced situation or faced with a free choice?
6) Atonement. Did the doer of an evil act try to make amendments by attempting to correct its consequences? Was the repentance superficial or genuine?

We can all form examples of the above for ourselves, the principles ought to be clear enough. In examining the factual consquence of the act and its effect on its object, the collective effect of the transformation effected in the object, and the underlying intents, we all begin to fathom just how complex the network of cause and effect really is.

I would assume the above to be largely universal, and for the most part also applicable in a court of law as in ethical measurement, even if it is evident that analysis and interpretation of the variables involved is an inherently subjective venture. Religions have certainly all had their say on the matter, and particularly so among Indic religions, where extensive theories of personal causation have evolved.

Buddhist monks of Thai and Tibetan traditions gathered in Lumbini, Nepal.

In Buddhist Monasticism

The ancient Buddhist monastic rules (vinaya) make for a particularly fascinating read in this context. This owes largely to the excessively detailed and thorough philosophy of offense featured in the commentarial tradition, primarily assessing an offense against the criteria of motivation and implementing act. The system of Vinaya Pitaka doesn't discuss the variables of the offense with regards to its possible consequences; its sole intent is to judge whether an offense has occured, and if so, at which degree of severity.

There are four parajika-offenses or unforgivables for the Buddhist monks, committing which a monk is unconditionally exiled from the monastic community for the remainder of his life. They are as follows: 1) sexual intercourse, 2) homicide, 3) theft, and 4) exaggeration of spiritual status. These offences are applicable at this severity only while living as an ordained monk; should the monk for example be unable able to control his sexual urge, he may forsake monkhood and live in a relationship for as long as he wishes, and later in his life again become a monk. However, having sex while still ordained is unforgivable.

The monastic tradition, rich in its abundance of rules, naturally gives the bulk of its attention to these four severest offences. As an example, the tradition defines theft by four criteria:

1) Object: Anything belonging to another or a group of people.
2) View: The object is understood as belonging to another or a group of people.
3) Intention: One decides to steal the object.
4) Effort: One steals the object.

In the above, in absence of factor 2) no ethical violation has occured. (The object accidentally stolen must of course be returned once understood as such.) In absence of factor 3), where the thief has accidentally stolen an object he has contemplated on stealing, a full offense is not committed, neither is it in absence of factor 1) where the thief has stolen no-man's property or something of his own. Additionally the value of the object is in direct proportion to the severity of the crime.

Homicide, in turn, is judged according to the following criteria:

1) Object: A living human being. (Commentarial tradition includes featus here; the rule was born consequent to abortion medicines administered to nuns.)
2) Intention: To knowingly, with understanding, contemplation and intention wish to terminate a person's life. "Knowingly" also includes the following:
3) View: A perception of an object as a living human being.
4) Effort: Whatever may be done in order to terminate an individual's life.
5) Outcome: Life is terminated as a direct consequence of the act.

In the above, in absence of factor 2), for example in an accidental shot, no ethical violation punishable as homicide has occured. In absence of factor 3), for example in the accidental killing of an animal or another human instead of the object (not however if the other is viewed upon as the object), a full offense has not been committed. In absence of factor 4) a full offence has also not been committed, for the transition from will to action has not occurred. A death caused without intention, and thereby also without effort, does not lead to an ethical violation.

Those interested in the Vinaya-tradition may want to study Thanissaro Bhikkhu's Introduction to the Patimokkha Rules and Buddhist Monastic Code, freely employed in this article. In the latter, particularly the fourth chapter discussing the parajika-offences makes a thorough study of ethics, coupled with illustrative examples.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Metric Soul and Divided Minds

The following text is drawn and expanded from my reply to a friend's query on the Upanishadic descriptions of the soul being the size of a ten-thousandth of the tip of the hair, and at the same time pervade the body; in general, the diverse depictions of the soul to be of a particular measure can come across as confusing. The second half of the post discusses the greater "divided spirit" issue of God and soul.

A Metric Soul

The soul, if we choose to believe in one that is, being an immaterial spirit-substance, cannot have a scale of comparison with matter. It is no more the size of a proton than it is the size of a hamburger or a Polish truck-driver. It is neither proportionate nor disproportionate to the object it appears to animate, for it has no proportion in common with inanimate matter.

Of course one might compare the soul to a lamp and the pervading of the body to its rays in a room, and that's a rather appropriate analogy as long as we forget about our attempts to pin it out on the metric scale. Both the lamp and the rays are finite objects, as are the individual jiva-soul and his field of awareness; hence the metaphor works in this application.

Technically speaking, the soul pervades and animates the body through the conscious mental functions (citta) filtered through the medium of ahankara conjointly with Antaryamin, the Inner Regulator or the so-called "super-soul". The antaryamin is variously identified as ishvara or atman itself in different schools of thought.

Atisayokti - Literary Exaggeration

Everything in the scriptures is a mixture of literal and metaphorical. There is svabhavokti (ukti or statement reflecting object's own nature) and there are the atisayokti (statement of exaggeration). All the four standard atisayoktis in the alankara-shastra (e.g. Alankara-kaustubha: 8.23), or the classical Indian theory of literary composition and criticism, feature departures from the literal meaning.

The third one, where the impossible is being stated, is the one we are primarily after at the moment, for the soul has no material scale; hence the statement of comparison is an impossibility. The two first atisayoktis are comparisons to other objects (and I suppose taking this as a hyperbolic diminutive would be every bit as valid), the other overt and the other covert, and the fourth features effect as simultaneous with or preceding the cause.

If we were to indeed indeed pursue this literally, as fundamentalists frequently do, we would have to first ask whether this proverbial hair is Afro-American, French or Vedic Indian — perhaps the sage in question split his own hair tip into 10,000 pieces and compared it to his soul, discovering it was an exact match under his microscope? Did he split it with a Vedic hair-splitter? Perhaps everyone's soul is 10,000 tip of their own hair? This again is problematic for men with thinning hair or baldness; their souls must be approaching limbo...

God and Souls - Divided Minds

A whole other subject is the supposed division occurring between the jiva-atman and the all-pervasive brahman or ultimate God. From where I look at things, Advaita-vedanta is quite right in insisting that the atman (which is equated in the realization-stage with the brahman although brahman and brahman alone was the atman was all along) cannot be factually divided into individual soul-units, and that the individuality in question is only a temporary illusion rooted in ajnana, or primal ignorance. This is of course solved with the acquisition of jnana, or knowledge proper.

Let us assume the presence of an individual "soul fragment", a separate conscious unit. Fragments by definition cannot have the same quality as an unbreakable whole, for they differ in the quality of being fragmentable. Again, if the great whole can be divided into fragments, a second is thereby posited next to the non-dual, leading to a number of questions on the unique nature of the supposed one and the greatest non-dual spirit proclaimed across the Upanishads.

The Gaudiya Solution

Gaudiya Vaishnavism proposes a symbiotic difference-cum-non-difference solution to the issue. Aristoteles would insist things either are or are not, for they cannot be both. A follower of Jiva Goswami's would then employ the acintya-shakti defence: You need to believe that God has the power to not make sense to make headway with the dilemma.

All too often, the inconceivability card is a handy answer to each and every equation that doesn't exactly add up; issue transcendent is beyond your logic and perceptions. (Which leaves me wondering whether, stretching entirely out of our objective human grasp, this God does not become irrelevant altogether.)

Now, of course there is the standard explanation with the shakti-vada and the nonduality between the energy (shakti) and the energetic (shaktiman), the former of which would include all of us and the inanimate world. Not the least of the problems is the fact that shakti-vada has nothing to do with Vedanta and everything to do with the tantric tradition.

That notwithstanding, the problem of evidently divided consciousness between us and God remains. I for one do not possess all the knowledge of god, indicating we are clearly separate units of consciousness; there is no practicality to the proposal of my being one with a personal, actively omniscient God.

Like Sun and Sunshine?

Omniscience indicates a flawless and all-pervading entity or state of being. This one, all-knowing and all-encompassing God is all that is. Shakti cannot be classified as a second separate unit, even as dependent and subordinate, for this would be introducing dualism, the existence of a second beside God; assuming the non-duality of God and creation, one would expect us souls to share of the same pristine strata of undivided and omniscient existence.

The simile of the sun and the sunshine should be understood for what it is: a simile. A simile does not constitute proof in and of itself, it is a manner of illustrating a more abstract principle. The problems we run into applying this to the case at hand are manifold.

The most obvious of all is that sun and sunshine do not feature a conscious property, whether unified or divided; both are mechanical, passive factors incapable of decision-making, unlike soul and god. Independent decision-making and limited or unlimited fields of awareness, in turn, are the very factors begging the question to begin with.

If a simile is employed in illustrating simultaneously one and different consciousness(es), and especially in the capacity of proof, it should be a comparison of equals.

A Monistic Angle

There is a very vivid and distinct duality here, indicating we need to either admit to the non-reality of duality and divided consciousness, labeling them as a mere illusion (and moreover an illusion occuring in brahman with no existence to its occurence), or do away with an undivided and omniscient, yet eeriely antropomorphic God.

Advaita-siddhanta considers Isvara (personal god) to be the most you can see of the nondual absolute through the veil of maya; as ajnana or individual ignorance is dispelled, the ignorance concerning duality is dispelled, and the one atman alone remains aglow. The doctrine of atman then becomes a de-facto doctrine of anatman, for there was no everlasting individual soul to begin with.

Neither duality nor nonduality are entirely satisfactory for a philosophical answer. I don't have an exact answer for the way all stuff works, though I do have some cool ideas I need to explore a bit further. The citta-matram doctrine of the Yogacara-school of Buddhism, the theory of an unified mind-field and repository consciousness or alaya-vijnana, comes across as rather fascinating to me, and also correlates with some of my experiences.

Summa Summarum

My preferred approach to the question, independent of any scriptures, is to conceive of a single mental field in which both the Ishvara and the jivas are fluctuation in greater or smaller degrees. The only factual omniscient potential is in the universal mind-field, an uninvolved, egoless all-containing entirety, where no catalyst (ahankara) for individuality exists; hence seeing without a seer is actualized. The concept appears to make seamless sense to me, independent of conformance to any ancient or contemporary theories.

In the end, fiddling with lofty philosophical formulations amounts to little more than an entertaining mind-game fulfilling our intellectual urges. Otherwise, assumptions of mastery of a theory may help one to comfort himself and bring order into the surrounding chaos, or to command and conquer existence through comprehension. Nirvana and God remain lurking in the fabric of the harmony, peace, clarity and joy of an independent nature we discover within ourselves through personal experience, introspection and natural immersion, and even if we all have the philosophy a wee bit different, it really doesn't matter a damn thing in the end.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Dichotomy of Light and Darkness

Winter solstice, past by a mere moment now, marks the transition from darkness to light, from death to new life. Yet one more cycle in the grand order of nature has rolled its course and revolves anew, the time of renewal is at hand. While the Indians were also very aware of the peaks and transitions in the universal cycles, especially so in the ancient Vedic times, it was in the North where the extremes stated their presence.

Many of you may have been following Uma's series on the old pagan celebration of Yule, the rebirth of Mother Nature, later remodeled into a grand Christian celebration with an eerie abundance of pagan symbols and practices. While the celebration of these transitions of universal reach indeed has its place in the mesocosmic sphere, a natural turn in the human fabric of old, it is not those I write of today. I'm about to dig deeper into the superficiality of the good-evil duality often imposed on worlds of light and darkness.

The Ancient Aryan Divide

The division into good and evil is regrettably not as clear-cut as God versus Lucifer or Christ versus Antichrist, a lesson well learned from the ancient Indian evolution of religion. Vasistha was among the leading Vedic seers, while for the Zoroastrians he was among the villains. While asuras were the bad guys for the Vedic seers, Ahura-Mazda (or Asura-Maya in Sanskrit, a close relative of the Avestan language of the Parsis) was the lead monotheistic deity of the Zend-Avesta scripture.

These two polar religions came to plant the seeds of two very different religious traditions. Zoroaster was a grand-ancestor for the doctrines of a dual god and anti-god, the expectance of a messiah and a linear approach to the cosmic order. The Abrahamic tradition, or Judaism, Christianity and Islam, evolved in a mixture of Zoroastrian ideals and the ongoing evolutions in Egyptian and Middle-Eastern native polytheistic systems.

A whole different branch and orientation of religion, the greater part of which goes under the loose label of Hinduism in the contemporary world, evolved from the root of the ancestry of Vedic seers. Hinduism as we know it is a loose amalgamation of distinct traditions that evolved under shared cultural premises, a most heterogeneous compilation held together with unitarian texts such as the Bhagavad-gita.

The fact that the two religious divides forming the vast majority of the Earth's population is on a deep level divided almost as deep and fundamentally as the grand cosmic order of the ancient cultures is every bit as exciting as it is scaring. It is then little wonder that the Abrahamic dualist heritage has always sought to reform all known cultures and peoples into the faith of the one true savior, one supreme deity and one word of god, or a succession of subsequent revelations in the case of later traditions.

The Indic tradition, on the other hand, unsubscribed from an ontology that assigned them among the evil, in both its root movements. While the direct descendant of the brahmana-tradition, the heritage of the Vedic seers, maintained a sense of duality evident in the legends of the Puranas, it was against a canvas of higher, nondual ideas evolving from the old Upanishads, tense and often asystematic philosophical discourses that sought the deepest essence of the Vedic sacrifical religion. The Sramana tradition, to which the Buddhists and the Jains are the only surviving heirs, sought to eliminate the realm of duality altogether, and in doing that went so far as to do away with the supreme deity himself.

The roots of the ancient good-evil divide appear to lie in an ancient conflict tearing apart a single cultural heritage, a world where the devas and the asuras dwelled together. Mitra and Varuna, a dual deity of whom the latter is well known as an oceanic deity in the Puranic lore, are in fact among the asuras of the Rig-vedic tradition — asuras receiving oblations just as the devas did. The details of the evolution effectively reduce the concept of an absolute, primordial divide into a partition much more complicated and human, into the internal disagreements of an ancient sacrificial, fire-worshiping culture.

Powers of Light and Darkness

Neither light nor darkness possess inherent ethical value; they are neutral potentials reposed in their own nature. As darkness clouds, creates mystery and brings towards unity, light unveils, explains and exposes a vast arena of plurality prior to growing so bright as to grow all-engulfing, thereby becoming essentially one with darkness again, a field of a single, undivided nature containing all of reality in its ever-vibrant lap. (Udesidning: An ancient Nordic way of integration in darkness.)

Nothing is good or evil of its own nature; all depends on the application, and moreover the applier. Magic is neither good nor evil owing to its technical procedure of conjuration, whether born of light or darkness, white or black. The divider of good and evil is in the human choice between benevolence and malevolence, between sacrificing and feeding the egotic drive consuming its objects to grow stronger.

A transcender of duality wields light and darkness with equal might, regardless of his preference, a preference that in its fundamental essence is only a latent sensation of the past, a game or an amusement of sorts, unbinding to the player who has ascended from a participancy to entertained spectatorship. Having seen the pinnacles of light and darkness under the ancient egotic drive, one evolves into a seer of non-duality, experiencing the inherent voidness of reality as we know it.

With the diffusion of apparent essence and substance into ethereal streams, one transcends stereotypic moral assessments and dwells in a lasting perception of inherent and foundational unity, even while an adept conventionalist as needed in the common world. The art of life has now been mastered.

The Old Pagan Approach

While the philosophical sophistication of Indic traditions is often lacking in ancient native religions, they do an amicable job in the practical transcendence of duality in living in a seamless harmony with nature and gods in their own world of mythos. In fact, many ancient native traditions supersede the seclusion-seeking Indic mystics in their ability to interact with plurality in a state of active integration, perhaps with a flavor of the smooth and flowing natural Tao of the Chinese — a quality I've always been in tremendous awe of!

The action-in-knowledge tradition also found its exponents among the Buddhists with the gradual evolution of Buddhism first into Mahayana, and onwards into an admixture with the tantric tradition especially prominent in Tibet. In the Tibetan model, Hinayana and Mahayana, or the lesser and the greater vehicles, are stepping stones into the highest dimension of vajra-sattva, the lightning-strata, where one becomes a wielder of cosmic powers, conquering and subjugating the energetic release produced in the meeting of the fundamental dualities of nature, the energetic bases of archetypal male and female energy, personified as the man and the woman of the human world.

Transcending and mastering the fundamental fabric of existence, the conscious being evolves into a god-like state of integration with the flow of the cosmos, unveiling the infinite peace and inner ecstasy ever-present in the ultimate non-dual god-experience. Consciousness employs a third strata beyond light and darkness, the infinite halls of existence itself. Night turns into a day and day yet again into a night. Winter falls over the fertile summer fields, spring awakens Mother Nature to life anew. Light and darkness rise and fall time and again of their own accord; the wheel of existence revolves forevermore.

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Eternal Loveboat Heaven

The History and Theology of the Eternal Loveboat Heaven
Publ. Church of Titanic, White Star City, April 15th 2912
For the millennium memorial year of The Great Sinking

The Great Sinking, leading to Jack's sacrifice of love and the opening of the Eternal Play.

The Eternal Loveboat Heaven was originally exposed to the broader public in the 1997 movie Titanic, directed by the great James Cameron; blessed be his soul. The narrative, dubbed "The Greatest Love Story of History" by the learned, has inspired devotees worldwide over the last millennium.

Titanic tells the story of Jack Dawson, the Eternal Lad, a young, handsome artist and adventurer of poor background, and his forbidden love, Rose DeWitt Bukater, the Eternal Lady, of aristocratic background, bound to an arranged marriage with a wealthy man she does not love in the least.

Lady Rose with lead antagonists, Mother and Fiancee, in the Historic Play.

The Historic Play

The story begins with Rose, this charming embodiment of love, asail on the greatest and most magnificent ship of all time towards a destiny she squints, a life of duty and bondage. She would much rather taste the joy and infinite possibilities of life alongside Jack, the most charming of all young lads she had met but mere hours ago, who prefers a life of adventure and excitement, and who during their brief acquaintance saved her life, talking her out of suicide.

As the journey over the infinite waters unfolds, Rose soon finds herself sneaking off for clandestine love journeys across the ship under the prying eyes of her mother and fiancee. They dine together with her family, feigning innocence, they gaze into the horizon, they make love on the back seat of a car the cargo compartment, they flee through the engine room from those who would forbid them, relishing their play of love.

The Evil Iceberg, breaker of ships and hearts, looming in the horizon.

A great tragedy is to come, however — Evil Iceberg would cringe its teeth, seeing lovers united past the sea. The ship, sailing full speed into the Iceberg, has five water-containing compartments breached and flooded, and the unsinkable begins to sink. Jack is framed for arrest by the jealous fiancee for robbery of Heart of the Ocean, the greatest of royal jewels, given to Rose by her wealthy husband-to-be, attempting to purchase his way into her heart.

As the ship begins to sink, Rose forsakes her place and family in the life boat, returning to Jack who is locked in the depths of the ship by the Fiancee's evil assistant. Risking her life in a desperate attempt to rescue her love, she fights her way to the depths of the flooding ship and back. The lovers join once again at the fore of the ship, the place of their first meeting, enrapt in kiss and embrace as inevitable doom looms in the horizon, Titanic now torn in two and sinking fast.

Artist's recreation of Jack's illustration of beloved Lady Rose wearing The Heart of the Ocean.

Both fallen in ice-cold water, Jack gives his life in a great sacrifice of pristine love, offering Rose a floating piece of ceiling they come across, and a possibility for life. Frozen and dead in water, Jack sinks to the depth of the oceans as Rose meets her rescue — but at what cost? Is life without Jack worth living for? And yet she had given him her sacred promise to never give up. In her ripe old age of over a hundred years, she still cherishes the memory of Jack in her heart's chamber of secrets, shared with but a chosen few, destined to a long life of painful separation from her eternal beloved.

Whosoever hears or remembers this sacred narration, the Historic Story, the greatest love story of all time, will soon have his heart filled with pristine love for Rose and Jack, his heart-disease of attraction for other narrations cured, and he is to meet Jack and Rose together again in The Eternal Loveboat Heaven.

Rose and Jack united in the Meeting Chamber of the Eternal Loveboat.

The Eternal Play

Its deep meaning unknown to all but the most devoted, the closing segment of the narrative offers us a glimpse into the Eternal Story, a timeless Titanic sailing forever and ever across the deep blue seas, Rose and Jack meeting again and again in their love adventures on the ship. On the eternal Titanic, the Fiancee and the Mother along with their companions are but shadows present not in flesh but as memories and life-like imaginations, so as to invoke the feeling of forbidden love. Especially, there is no Evil Iceberg in the Eternal Story to force the lovers apart.

In truth, none but those given fully into acting as a supportive player in the love drama may enter The Eternal Loveboat Heaven; for it is those, the supporting elements, that enhance and facilitate the union of the Eternal Lad and Lady, worthy of worship for all.

Jack and Rose enrapt in Dance of Bliss at their daily down below meeting.

Since the early years of the third millennium, ardent devotees have contemplated on the Eternal Play to return unto their Lad and Lady at the end of their lives, enrapt in contemplation of their daily deeds according to their own preference. In some, a special fondness awakens for being a member of the crew, while others share the ambition for joining the circle of Miss Molly Brown's attendants, and yet some long to be one of Jack's rowdy pals. There have even been movements in Eastern Europe and parts of the Grand Soviet Federation recruiting passengers into second and third class of the Eternal Loveboat.

Grand-Captain Dicaprius IV of Vatican, one of the leading early theologicians of the Church of Titanic, has established that regardless of individual inclination, all devotees aspiring to sail with our Eternal Lad and Lady shall drink of the same infinite ocean of spirit, for all are united in the service of Jack and Rose's eternal love. Who can fathom the beauty and depth of love, the pinnacle of touching beauty, so aptly embodied in the two? Who but the cruel'est of men could fail to be attracted to their service?

The Unsinkable Molly Brown, wise mother goddess of Eternal Loveboat Heaven.

And there is much service to be done throughout a day in the Eternal Play. The crew members are required when Lad and Lady storm through the engine room, and in particular when intruders need to be distracted from the cargo hall. The chéf and his entourage are instrumental in preparing the daily meals, the orchestra must be present at all but the most secret of trysts, and Miss Molly Brown's retinue is always available to give Rose guidance on matters of love after a lovers' quarrel.

This is how devotees remember the Eternal Play of their Lad and Lady, full of longing for their service on the Eternal Loveboat, sailing to the farther shore of the seven oceans of love. For testimonies on how the cosmic play of Rose and Jack has affected millions, be sure to tune in to The Eternal Loveboat Heaven. Thank you for your attention. Be sure to read the comments, too!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Three Paths, Three Universal Phases

— Psychological Archetypes on the Way to Enlightenment

Historically speaking, the Buddhist tradition has evolved over three distinct phases, namely Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana. The base natures of the three traditions hold interest far beyond matters of history and schools of philosophy. They represent three sequential archetypes of psychological evolution.

Hinayana - The Small Journey

In the immediate centuries following the Buddha, his teachings were embraced by eighteen schools, filed under the collective Hinayana-heading. Sautrantikas, Sarvastivadins, Pudgalavadins and the rest are now little but marks on the leaves of history. Vibhajjavada, later identified as Theravada and preserved in Sri Lanka, is the only surviving school of old Buddhism.

The Hinayana-school, or Southern Buddhism, is primarily concerned with the eradication of individual suffering. Loathsomeness of the body, death-contemplations, understanding of impermanence and non-self, and diverse meditational methods for concentration and introspection, are some of its founding pillars.

This path or phase is primarily concerned with strong individual discipline, relying on the individual's efforts to ensure his own salvation. The least religious form of Buddhism, and quite possibly in its earliest days more of a psychological than a spiritual system, Hinayana represents the stage of isolating and gaining control.

On a journey towards god or enlightenment, each individual - regardless of the tradition - must first cross the small journey, transforming anarchy and chaos into control and tranquility. It is essentially a phase of withdrawal and implosion, an elimination of the field of experience and a dive into nirvana the tranquil, a state of eternal peace.

Mahayana - The Grand Journey

Its roots in the early schisms between the Sthaviras (Theras) or elders, and the Mahasamgikas or the greater assembly, Mahayana or Northern Buddhism grew to be the prominent among the two offshoots of Shakyamuni's establishment. Its emphasis was deeper on the ethereal and illusory nature of existence, with Nagarjuna presenting his Madhyamika-philosophy and refining the concept of emptiness (shunyata), and his rivals from the Yogachara-school and the teaching of one mind (citta-matram).

This path or phase is, in contrast to the individual salvation of the Hinayanists, more concerned with compassion and universal salvation. Mahayana is characterized by acts of extensive kindness and the Bodhisattva-way of seeking to liberate all sentient beings. Contrary to the self-reliant Hinayana, it recognizes a multitude of heavenly Buddhas with their own enlightenment-heavens or pure lands, featuring even schools where salvation is attained merely by calling out for the Buddhas with unswerving faith.

Having gained control of anarchy and established a serene platform, one embarks on the greater journey of a sacrificing the ego on the altar of the universe, eliminating the trouble-maker not with infinite, concentrated implosion, but rather through infinite and unconditional expansion. The subsequent vastness of open space provides a platform on which reality can finally be confronted and experienced still - rather than running away from it or towards it.

Vajrayana - The Diamond Journey

A later growth from the Mahayana-tradition amalgamating tantric and shamanistic elements, Vajrayana was introduced to Tibet in the eight century by Padmasambhava, a tantric master from India. The tradition employs a multitude of esoteric and magical deity-practices and visualizations as its methods of transcending the human ego.

This path or phase, contrary to classical Hinayana and Mahayana, neither runs away from or towards the world. Vajrayana embraces the base nature of the world, removing fear of interaction by a skillful reconciliation of plurality and action with the base of emptiness. An entire pantheon of enlightened archetypal deities is utilized for inner cultivation.

Having gained control through contraction and expanded infinitely through compassion, one now finds an open field of stillness on which the flavors and textures of the manifest world can be experienced, and indeed even indulged in, without a sense of ego-identity and the subsequent bondage. At this stage, the world is no longer an alien domain calling for positive or negative reaction - it has transformed into an enlightened field of infinite play.

Three Paths, Three Archetypes

These three traditions, Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana, represent three archetypal stages everyone will have to cross in reconciling their relationship with perceived reality. Initially, there is the running away. Then, there is the running towards. Finally, there is the stillness in which reality is experienced in its own saturated, yet plain nature - a state described as vajra-sattva by some, a crisp and pristine level of penetrating diamond-clarity.

Even if the three stages are sequential and inherently interconnected, they represent very distinct emphases. An unprepared leap from one to the other, lacking a sufficiently matured psychological platform, will easily lead to an internal dead end. On a journey, one considers not the distance traveled as a measure of success - motion and evolution define the success of an ongoing journey, regardless of the specific distance crossed in the ongoing process of advancement.