Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Top Posts of 2016

1- Theosophy Basics: Gupta Vidya, Atma Vidya, Brahma Vidya
2- Persian-Iranian Wisdom - The Javidan Khirad
3- 10 Theosophical books that changed the 20th Century
4- The Mahabharata and the Iliad compared - a symbolic interpretation
5- Dr. Trungram Gyaltrul Rinpoche Sherpa – Buddhist Social Action
6- Blavatsky on the I-Ching or Book of Changes
7- Blavatsky's Influence 3
8- Gauri Viswanathan on the Mahatma Letters
9- Seneca's Daily Examination of Conscience
10- 12 Theosophical Books that Changed the World
11- Introduction to the Epistemology of Proclus
12- Spiritual Aspects of Hair
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Monday, 16 April 2018

Meditation: The Four Brahma Viharas (The Four Immeasurables)

May all sentient beings be endowed with happiness! May they all be separated from suffering and its causes! May they be endowed with joy, free of suffering! May they abide in equanimity, free from attachment and aversion! 
(The Four Immeasurables - Bardo Thodol I, Dorje, p.15)

The four Brahma Viharas, variously translated as Sublime Moods or Divine States (of mind) have come to occupy such a central position in the field of Buddhism that they cannot be omitted from a list of subjects for meditation, especially as they are included in the forty subjects mentioned in the Pali Canon.

The four meditations are examined and compared in the ninth chapter of the Visuddhi magga of Buddhaghosha, but the following quotation from the Maha-Sudassana Sutta summarizes the nature and purpose of the exercise. "And he lets his mind pervade one-quarter of the world with thoughts of Love, with thoughts of Compassion, with thoughts of sympathetic Joy and with thoughts of Equanimity; and so the second quarter, and so the third, and so the fourth. And thus the whole wide world, above, below, around and everywhere does he continue to pervade with heart of Love, Compassion, Joy and Equanimity, far-reaching, great, beyond measure, free from the least trace of anger or ill-will." In the Love meditation the meditator radiates his thought-force as it were horizontally; Compassion looks downward towards the world of suffering, just as joy looks upward to the world of happiness, leaving Equanimity to restore the balance disturbed by self-identification with these two extremes.

Buddhism has been described as a cold religion, but it is easy to collate passages from the Pali Canon which shows the high place that Metta, loving-kindness, held in the Buddha's teaching, and this in spite of the fact that Buddhism is essentially a way of enlightenment and not of emotional mysticism. Moreover, loving-kindness as practised by the Buddhist is a deliberate and sustained attitude of mind, as distinct from a spontaneous exhibition of feeling. Love that springs from centres lower than the creative mind is all too easily replaced by hate, or at least capable of so narrow a focus that hatred of some other person may exist in the mind at the same moment. Not so with the Buddhist who practices the first of the four Brahma Viharas. He first suffuses his own being with unbounded love, partly, as the cynical commentator puts it, because oneself is the easiest of all persons to love, and partly because love must first be built in as a quality of the meditator's mind before he can habitually broadcast it to the world. Having suffused himself with the quality of love he turns in thought to a friend, and finds it easy to suffuse his friend with the same quality. It is suggested by the commentator that for various reasons it is best that the friend chosen should be of the same sex and still living.

The meditator then turns to a more difficult task, the suffusing of some person towards whom he feels indifferent, neither affectionate nor hostile, yet the same quality and quantity of affection must now be sent to him as was more gladly sent to the friend. Next, and most difficult, he visualizes an enemy, should there still be a fellow being for whom he feels antipathy, and even though at first it is difficult to do so without a feeling of hypocrisy, suffuses him with the warmth of generous and  pure affection. In so doing he has no ulterior motive in his mind, though the effect of his action will be to slay the enmity. Finally, he radiates his loving-kindness to all mankind, then to all forms of life, and so through all the Universe until with an intensive effort of the will which carries him far into the Jhanas, or higher states of consciousness, he becomes as it were the very spirit of love, and on return to normal consciousness continues to radiate this power to all around him. He thus, from the plane of thought, joins hands with the Bhakti Yogi and the Western religious mystic, many of whom achieve the same result through purified emotion and desire. 

To the extent that Karuna, compassion, is an emotion at all, it is the Buddhist emotion par excellence. Not without reason is the Buddha called the All-Compassionate One as well as the All-Enlightened One. Yet Compassion is no mere attribute of mind. At its higher levels it includes both love and joy, and even equanimity, for it consists in an understanding love, a blend of emotion-intellect illumined by the intuition. Wherefore is it said in The Voice of Silence, "Compassion is no attribute. It is the LAW of Laws—eternal Harmony, a shoreless universal essence, the light of everlasting Right and fitness of all things, the law of love eternal." Again, in a footnote it is described as "an abstract, impersonal law whose nature, being absolute Harmony, is thrown into confusion by discord, suffering and sin." 

Buddhism has been fairly described as the religion of suffering, for it realizes as none other that suffering is a quality inherent in all forms of life, however blinded those immersed in the illusion of pleasure may be to the limitations inherent in the world of becoming. It is true that suffering is too strong a term to use as the sole equivalent of the Pali dukkha, for the term is, of course, only relative, and covers conditions ranging from the most acute physical and mental agony to a purely metaphysical understanding of the state of incompleteness or imperfection which is a necessary corollary to the law of anicca, the law of change.

But every form of life is subject to the sway of dukkha, and the meditator who is radiating compassion is advised by the commentator to begin with persons in the depths of misery, towards whom the springs of compassion flow easily, and then to enlarge the ambit of his thought to include ever more varied and subtle forms of disharmony, maladjustment and dis-ease, mental and emotional as well as physical, until once more his range is commensurate with the Universe. In such a way he will draw just so much nearer the incomparable ideal set forth in The Voice of the Silence: "Let thy Soul lend its ear to every cry of pain like as the lotus bares its heart to drink the morning sun. Let not the fierce Sun dry one tear of pain before thyself hast wiped it from the sufferer's eye. But let each burning human tear drop on thy heart and there remain; nor ever brush it off until the pain that caused it is removed." 

The value of this exercise lies in the effect it has on envy and jealousy, modes of thought which definitely cramp the thinker's mind. The mind which responds whole-heartedly at news of a friend's success or happiness, even though it be attained at the expense of its own, is free from the destructive jealousy which, rooted in egotism, is too often the father of hate. The essence of the exercise lies in being glad on another's account, and is thus an excellent antidote to the narrow claims of self; hence the translation of mudita as "sympathetic joy." Here again, begin the exercise by thinking of a friend who is filled with joy at some good fortune, whether physical or mental, and then enlarge the scope of thought to cover all who rejoice for any reason, whether the cause for rejoicing be in your eyes sufficient or no. 

It is difficult to find an English word to represent upekkha. Detachment is sometimes used, as also dispassion and serenity. The idea is conveyed in the stanza of the Sutta Nipata. "A heart untouched by worldly things, a heart that is not swayed by sorrow, a heart passionless, secure, that is the greatest blessing." The same idea is echoed in Kipling's immortal lines "If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat these two imposters just the same." Its essence lies in rising above the self-identification with others' feelings which is to some extent involved in the radiations of compassion and joy. As the commentator says, "The salient characteristic of equanimity is evolving a central position towards others, its function is seeing others impartially, its manifestation is the quenching of both aversion and sycophancy, its proximate cause is the seeing how each belongs to the continuity of his own karma."

It must not, however, be confused with indifference, which is the outcome of a closing of the mind to others' suffering and joy, and therefore the very opposite of the virtue of compassion. It is in the words of the Bhagavad Gita, "A constant unwavering steadiness of heart upon the arrival of every event whether favourable or unfavourable," and is achieved by moving in consciousness towards a central point of view, so that events are viewed from the source of causes instead of the circumference of the circle where they show forth as effects. Strive to infuse your own mind with this quality, then feel it equally towards a friend and enemy, and so by gradual stages to all forms of life, thus, after passing through love, compassion and sympathetic joy, returning to that inner equilibrium which the outward events of daily life should be unable to destroy.  (Concentration and Meditation, Christmas Humphreys, 106-111)

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Through the Gates of Gold - Chapter 3 – The Initial Effort - Part 3

Here the author delves into the process of growth on the subtle planes:
And now let us consider how the initial difficulty of fastening the interest on that which is unseen is to be overcome. Our gross senses refer only to that which is objective in the ordinary sense of the word; but just beyond this field of life there are finer sensations which appeal to finer senses.

An interesting description  in terms of radiation is given:
Here we find the first clew to the stepping-stones we need. Man looks from this point of view like a point where many rays or lines center; and if he has the courage or the interest to detach himself from the simplest form of life, the point, and explore but a little way along these lines or rays, his whole being at once inevitably widens and expands, the man begins to grow in greatness.

An important point is raised concerning balanced growth, one needs to work on all aspects of one’s being, and not favour one aspect over another,  the image of a tree that grows unimpeded is used:
But it is evident, if we accept this illustration as a fairly true one, that the chief point of importance is to explore no more persistently on one line than another; else the result must be a deformity. We all know how powerful is the majesty and personal dignity of a forest tree which has had air enough to breathe, and room for its widening roots, and inner vitality with which to accomplish its unceasing task. It obeys the perfect natural law of growth, and the peculiar awe it inspires arises from this fact.

And then the question is asked:
How is it possible to obtain recognition of the inner man, to observe its growth and foster it?
Let us try to follow a little way the clew we have obtained, though words will probably soon be useless.

It is specified that it must be done alone and the image of climbing a mountain is used:
We must each travel alone and without aids, as the traveller has to climb alone when he nears the summit of the mountain. No beast of burden can help him there; neither can the gross senses or anything that touches the gross senses help him here. But for a little distance words may go with us.

Next is described a kind of essentialist dialectical ascension similar to the one described in Plato’s Symposium, climbing the ladder of divine love to arrive at the contemplation of universal beauty:
The tongue recognizes the value of sweetness or piquancy in food. To the man whose senses are of the simplest order there is no other idea of sweetness than this. But a finer essence, a more highly placed sensation of the same order, is reached by another perception. The sweetness on the face of a lovely woman, or in the smile of a friend, is recognized by the man whose inner senses have even a little — a mere stirring of — vitality. To the one who has lifted the golden latch the spring of sweet waters, the fountain itself whence all softness arises, is opened and becomes part of his heritage.

Contemplation of an essential idea is described as a fountain of waters of life and this process is what lift the iron bar on the heart previously mentioned:
But before this fountain can be tasted, or any other spring reached, any source found, a heavy weight has to be lifted from the heart, an iron bar which holds it down and prevents it from arising in its strength. The man who recognizes the flow of sweetness from its source through Nature, through all forms of life, he has lifted this, he has raised himself into that state in which there is no bondage.

This accomplishment makes one realise that we are a part of the great whole, that we are in touch with all life, that the whole is contained within ourselves.
He knows that he is a part of the great whole, and it is this knowledge which is his heritage. It is through the breaking asunder of the arbitrary bond which holds him to his personal center that he comes of age and becomes ruler of his kingdom. As he widens out, reaching by manifold experience along those lines which center at the point where he stands embodied, he discovers that he has touch with all life, that he contains within himself the whole.

And this realization carries us to the great waters of life, which are eternal and infinite:
And then he has but to yield himself to the great force which we call good, to clasp it tightly with the grasp of his soul, and he is carried swiftly on to the great, wide waters of real living. What are those waters? In our present life we have but the shadow of the substance. No man loves without satiety, no man drinks wine without return of thirst. Hunger and longing darken the sky and make the earth unfriendly. What we need is an earth that will bear living fruit, a sky that will be always full of light. Needing this positively, we shall surely find it.

Monday, 9 April 2018

Through the Gates of Gold, Chapter 3: The Initial Effort - Part 2

The idea of being motivated by an unseen reality is developed by comparing it to the cases of the inventor and the poet; and I think this analogy can be widened to that of the artist and musician or any creative act in general or even athletic disciplines or practical activities such as gardening (or motorcycle maintenance ;-). I suppose anyone who has cultivated these experiences can understand how the inspiration that grows in these areas are similar to the inspirations experienced on the spiritual path. And this lead to a development of one’s subtle bodies, or nourishing the wings of the soul, as Plato says.
“If you talk to an inventor, you will find that far ahead of what he is now doing he can always perceive some other thing to be done which he cannot express in words because as yet he has not drawn it into our present world of objects. That knowledge of the unseen is even more definite in the poet, and more inexpressible until he has touched it with some part of that consciousness which he shares with other men. But in strict proportion to his greatness he lives in the consciousness which the ordinary man does not even believe can exist, — the consciousness which dwells in the greater universe, which breathes in the vaster air, which beholds a wider earth and sky, and snatches seeds from plants of giant growth.”

“It is this place of consciousness that we need to reach out to. That it is not reserved only for men of genius is shown by the fact that martyrs and heroes have found it and dwelt in it. It is not reserved for men of genius only, but it can only be found by men of great soul.”

“It is the essential characteristic of the man of genius that he is comparatively indifferent to that fruit which is just within touch, and hungers for that which is afar on the hills. In fact he does not need the sense of contact to arouse longing. He knows that this distant fruit, which he perceives without the aid of the physical senses, is a subtler and a stronger food than any which appeals to them. And how is he rewarded! When he tastes that fruit, how strong and sweet is its flavor, and what a new sense of life rushes upon him! For in recognizing that flavor he has recognized the existence of the subtile senses, those which feed the life of the inner man; and it is by the strength of that inner man, and by his strength only, that the latch of the Golden Gates can be lifted.”

The need for restraining the activities of the external senses, a basic yoga concept, is discussed – and how one gains a richer inner life thereby:
“In fact it is only by the development and growth of the inner man that the existence of these Gates, and of that to which they admit, can be even perceived. While man is content with his gross senses and cares nothing for his subtile ones, the Gates remain literally invisible. As to the boor the gateway of the intellectual life is as a thing uncreate and non-existent, so to the man of the gross senses, even if his intellectual life is active, that which lies beyond is uncreate and non-existent, only because he does not open the book.”