Beginner’s Mind

The odd thing
Is that every Westerner
Approaches the practice of meditation
With a goal in mind
Without exception

The even odder thing
Is that from an Eastern point of view
[Particularly Daoist/Zen Buddhist
Which are very related and symbiotic traditions]
This misses the entire point
Not part of the point
The entire point
Of meditation practice

Reflect on that for a moment
Because it’s important
If you are a practitioner
To understand this very simple
And yet at the same time subtle
Extremely relevant and critical point

There is no goal to meditation practice
To the true practitioner
To the Master
The great sage as the ancient texts refer to them as
The Rishis of the Vedic tradition
The ancient shaman really

Nirvana, Enlightenment, Samadhi
And other illustrious powers and visions
Which many many practitioners hope to obtain
Or even to the poor old soul
Who struggles with mental anguish
And is looking for some peace and relief
An escape from the trials of life
Or those that wish to lead
More successful and empowering lives
And believe meditation
Through the clarity of mind
Will help them achieve those goals

Indirectly or directly
Doesn’t matter which
This misses the entire point
Which is the very point
Of this poem if you can call it that

The purpose of meditation
The purpose of life
Is to lead the best life
The one that is most fulfilling
And one that is full of as much joy
And happiness as possible
Aristotle’s arete (Greek: ἀρετή)

This was the absolute primary purpose
Of the writings of the almost all
Of the ancient philosophers
From around the globe
From Confucius, to Mencius, to Laozi
To Plato, Aristotle and the Stoics
And even to the Hindus

[With Vyasa and the Rishis
And the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads
In a less direct way
More Confucian in a sense perhaps
Given the Vedic emphasis on ritual (li)]

Meditation practice then
Is not the means to some sort of end
It is the end
The practice and life are not different
Practice and Life are the same

We are so goal oriented here in the West
That not for any given moment
Can we actually find happiness
Even while it stares us in the face
Because it is always somewhere out of reach
Due to some inadequacy that has been identified
By the relative ego and its constant comparison
To the ideal self
Which does not nor ever will exist

This is my problem with the materialists
The causal principalists who claim
With their authoritative academic voices
And all their scholarly credentials and degrees
That the only reality is the physical reality
That which can be measured and quantified

Hence their loss in madness
And why quantum theory is so powerful a model
That they just don’t understand
Where causality and determinism themselves
Need to be abandoned in order for the model
To make any sense whatsoever

Unless they just call it a mathematical theory
That predicts results (Copenhagen interpretation)
And say that it says nothing about the ‘real’ world
Which is nonsense in and of itself
Or you get the other just as lunatic conclusion
That the math does in fact represent ‘reality’
And therefore there must be multiple realities
That exist simultaneously
Of which ours is the only one
That we know about or have access to

What?????????????????

These seemingly logical and rational
Mathematically coherent and consistent
But at the same time completely nonsensical
Conclusions are all necessary and determined by
The fact that experience and Being (Aristotle’s)
Are considered to be ontologically subservient
To quantifiable and measurable results
And ‘observable’ phenomenon
Along with the predictability of outcomes
Of other various measurement phenomenon
Upon which all reality is not only based
But upon which the borders of reality itself are drawn

While all this sounds pretty complicated
The point here is that the Eastern view
Not only considers subjective phenomenon to be real
It considers experience itself to be
The primary, and in fact only,
Definition of Reality that is possible
And the only thing that is true about this definition of Reality
Is that it changes constantly
And the experience of the subject
Cannot be distinguished from in any meaningful way
The object of attention or awareness or intellectual understanding
That is yielded from
Is created and born from
Each and every individual experience
That each and every individual has
In each and every moment
Of their separate but totally interconnected lives

This is why Change (The I Ching)
Is so important and telling
Given its primary significance in the Eastern tradition
And virtually the only book that embeds with it
Some sort of cosmological theory
[If you can call it that]
And why it is so hard for Westerners
To understand what the purpose of the word is
Why it lasted so long and is such an elementary part
Of every form of theology or philosophy
That has emerged from the Far East

Because it doesn’t really ‘say’ anything
It (and by it i mean the act of consulting the I Ching)
Simply identifies a specific situation
Within the cosmic order of Heaven and Earth
Via the enactment of a certain ritual
Which includes Fate and the Observer
In the very process by which
A specific hexagram is selected
Out of a series of fixed and finite
But at the same time completely interrelated
Set of symbols that describe the attributes
Of a given circumstance

The event (the selected hexagram)
Most accurately reflects the current situation
Depending upon the question that has been posed
To the Book of Changes

By this process
The cosmological experience
And one’s place within it as it occurs
Has manifested itself and can be understood
Within the overall set of cosmic experiences
And their interaction and constant flow into and out of one another
Each with their own balance and assortment
Of Yin and Yang elements
Constantly working together
Which began at the beginning
When the world was created
Which to the Eastern mind
Has no beginning
And has no end

After this consolation and interpretation
After this ritual is performed
An advanced practitioner
A priest in the Western sense
Can provide the person, the leader or aristocrat in ancient times
A better understanding of the current situation
And make recommendations regarding
What can be done to achieve greater harmony and balance
Between yourself and Heaven and Earth
Which yields happiness or contentment
Which is again the very goal and purpose of life

So where you ‘are’ in the cosmological universal experiences
Along with where you are heading
As described and bound by
The 64 hexagrams of yin and yang
That make up the Book of Changes then
Can reveal how you might
Move toward more balance and harmony
Between Heaven and Earth
And the ‘ten thousand things’
As wànwù is commonly translated
And the individual
By honing the practice of virtue (ren)
May achieve happiness
The Eudaimonia of the ancient Greeks
And thus can not only find happiness and purpose
In their individual lives
But also can construct
A harmonious and happy society
Along with it

But as usual we have lost our way
Or our wu wei (non-action, non-doing)
As the case may be

The point here is that
The purpose of meditation
Is not some sort of goal
Or any other goal
Than to lead a better life
Lead the best possible life

And to the Easterner
The Daoist and the Zen Buddhist
The only reality there is
Is the one that is sitting in front of you
At this very moment
Which is why mindfulness
Is so important in the Buddhist tradition

As also is emptiness
Which is basically is the opposite
Of the ancient Chinese word wànwù
Or ‘ten thousand things’ or ‘myriad of things’
As it is usually translated
Or at the very least
Emptiness can be considered to be
The origin and source
Or perhaps better put
Universal backdrop of
These ten thousand things
And what we in the West call Reality

So at some point the practitioner comes to realize
And it doesn’t happen in a moment
Because realization itself
Understanding and knowledge
Have many many levels
As Socrates last teaching showed us
That the wisest among us
Knows the least

That while we may speak of how
The end is not the goal
And it is the journey which is the whole purpose
The whole way to find the meaning of life
The holy Grail as it were

To be able to truly comprehend this fact
Gives us the illumination
That in fact our practice and our life
Are not two things but are one thing
And that the more they blend
And the more they complement each other
Our thoughts are not distractions from the View
They are the View

They, these thoughts that page us so sometimes
Are in fact the divine manifestations
That dwell within and originate
And flow out of and from Universal Mind
Into our own individual small minds
This is the Brahman and Atman
That the Vedic Rishis speak of
Which sits within (and without)
Coexists in fact
In each and every soul
And every animate thing
That can be said to exist

So with this sort of mindset then
These thoughts as they arise in our practice
Can be accepted for what they are
Manifestations of Mind within mind
And our emotional attachment
Or perhaps better put emotional reaction
To these thoughts as they arise
Can also be accepted
Along with the thoughts
Be they reflective or speculative
As manifestations of this divine principle
Which we all carry within us
And which is our source of being
And is also the source of Being itself

This is the practice
It is one of acceptance of the present situation
Your present situation in life
Your role in creating it
Your ability to truly understand it
To understand your codependence
On family, friends, colleagues, lovers, etc

And by so doing
Look to achieve this balance and harmony
Between the Earth and the Heavens
As the ancient Chinese so elegantly put it
Using symbols and not even words
Because once words are used
True understanding is actually lost in some sense

So don’t abandon your goals or objectives in life
The Western way of thinking has value too
But in your practice you must abandon such things
And then as the mind settles in
As thoughts and emotions settle
Out of and back Into
The grand abyss of awareness
That underlies all things and beings
One can recognize
Even if for a fleeting moment
The very source of Being itself
And our identity with it

The experience of Satchitananda
Existence Knowledge Bliss Absolute
Can be experienced
And perhaps more importantly
Its aftertaste spill into our daily lives
To make ourselves better people
And the world around us
A better place

Namaste

The Royal Yoga: Patanjali’s Eight Limbs

Charlie was young and naïve enough to believe in his younger days that he could create a new paradigm of reality that assimilated the scientific empiricism of the West with the mystic, meditation of the East.  This is what he and Jenry had toyed around with back in his undergrad days when they had nothing better to do than sit around their run down old apartment, smoke bowls and philosophize about the meaning of life.  An activity as it turned out that became interwoven into Charlie’s thesis in a way he never imagined but he did never quite sort out that 5 dimensional mathematical model beyond anything more than a pencil and paper and some poorly hand drawn images/graphs.

In this model that Charlie conceived of, the individual mind, with meditation as its primary and ultimate source, was the foundation of a reality within which the paradigms of the two seemingly opposite and contradictory views of life – the material and spiritual – could be integrated into a single mathematical model of the universe, be seen as two sides of the same coin.  That endeavor proved illusory though, perhaps too much work for the gladiator to take on, and too much complex math.  And at the time Charlie was into different matters, leading of course to his “extended” thesis work; there were trophies to win, opponents to crush, spoils to be won.  All much more important than trying to dig into multi-dimensional, entirely hypothetical mathematical (and relatively outrageous) models of reality.  First things first for heavens sake.

But Charlie’s thesis, and the attack on the subjective which was the essence of Niels’s position, did form a springboard for Charlie to take a deeper look into this subjective vs. objective world. The same one that Pirsig tried to overcome with his Metaphysics of Quality, but yet still ending up in this same place, one where the intellectual model of reality was framed in a language which had within it the implication of subjects and objects, despite the notion of Quality from which Pirsig attempted to try and build his model, his metaphysics, around.  So Charlie tried to build a cohesive argument for Niels, one that again centered around the fallacy of relying on Reason and Intellect as the hall bearers of truth, and one that just might help him see the light of day.

And as he tried to formulate this argument, he came to the conclusion that Niels had a point, he did, and he most certainly reflected the position of many modern fundamentalist Christian or Muslims for that matter, and even hard core physicists and mathematicians – materialists or objectivists you could call them – who thought meditation and any sort of direct experience of pure consciousness was a fool’s errand that may have some health benefits but couldn’t be considered science, upon which the notion of “reality” in the West was ultimately based, in any meaningful way.

He had begun his argument by exploring the concept of the subjective itself.  What could be considered objective truth?  In every encounter or situation in each person’s life, there is continuity.  That is to say that throughout one’s span of existence, there is always something that binds experience together.  Usually we call this something “I”.  This wasn’t something novel that Charlie had come up with, this was in essence the cogito ergo sum of Descartes, a Western interpretation if you will of age old Eastern philosophical notion of the mind.

But what is this “I” that lays at the foundation of our very existence.  We assume at every corner that we exist.  But have we really delved into the nature of this “I” that provides the framework for our lives?  Charlie believed that the answer to this question to be a resounding “NO!”  Certainly the philosophers throughout the ages had, and the mystics and shamans before them most certainly had, there was plenty of evidence for this as Charlie dug into the development of Western thought for his thesis.  But the everyday folk, the ones that ran the banks and the schools and were in Congress and ran countries, had they really?  Wasn’t this one of the primary themes of Plato, and even the Muslim philosopher Al-Farabi of the 10th century, the importance of the role of the philosopher in society.  Where had this notion gone?  Had it been lost somewhere or was it never really adopted outside of a theoretical construct of a philosopher or two throughout the ages?

And he thought it was here that the main distinction between the East and the West lay.  The eastern philosophical systems believed taught that the search for the nature of “I” represented the ultimate task of life, whereas the western systems relied on objective proof, verifiable results from the interaction between hosts of objects, as the basis for life and reality.  And Charlie thought that it was this obsession with duality, the distinction between subject and object, although the cornerstone to scientific method and the means by which civilization has made so many significant advancements no doubt, had perhaps become an obstacle to the discovery of the very meaning of life itself.  The quest for the answer to that age old question, as old as man itself: “Why are we here and from whence we came?” had been relegated to the world of religion, a marked deviation from Aristotle in fact, where the question of why – causation – was in fact the pillar upon which knowledge was built.

Charlie didn’t know it then, but his very physical and to him very real in the Western sense of the term, practice of the attainment of peak performance on the tennis court, the search for the Zone, from which his journey into Yoga and the art of meditation began, was very much akin to the practice of Kundalini Yoga, or Raja Yoga as espoused by the notorious Samkhya philosopher Patanjali.  From his studies of the works of Vivekananda, as well as his practice of Yoga in general, Charlie kind of knew what Raja Yoga, and the principle of kundalini meant, but he hadn’t quite made the translation to competitive sports quite yet, at least not in the beginning.

And yet in fact, when he strove to achieve peak performance, when he entered that world of complete concentration, achieved via the performance of those subtle rituals on court, what he was really doing was cultivating the control of his kundalini, or inner force, and attempting to leverage it to squeeze every ounce of physical and mental performance out of that frail, physical form of his call the human ‘body’.  Kundalini Yoga, or Hatha Yoga, is a very physical and exact science in many respects, its principles are based upon the artificial inducement of energy through the chakras in the body to achieve or reach higher states of consciousness, effectively the same process Charlie was attempting to bring about do to achieve peak performance.

Raja Yoga on the other hand, the Yoga described by Patanjali in his eight limbs, has a different focus than Hatha or Kundalini Yoga, although it shares with it some of the very same principles and methods.  In the case of Raja Yoga the focus is on the control and purification of the mind, the mental sheathe of the jiva, rather than focus on the physical sheathe, although even in Patanjali’s system, there is a preparatory focus on the physical system as reflected in the 3rd and 4th “limbs” of his eight limbed system which has come to be known collectively in the West as Yoga, namely asana, “posture” or “seat”, and pranayama, “breath” or “life force” control.

Both these limbs however are looked upon in Patanjali’s system as preparatory for higher states of concentration and experiences of consciousness however, as indicated by the last four limbs of Patanjali’s system namely pratyahara, withdrawal of the senses from the external world of name and form, dharana, concentration of the mind on a single physical object, deity or symbol, dyhana, steadfast and unwavering concentration on said object (the act of meditation and the object of meditation remain distinct in this phase), and ultimately samadhi, where the distinction between the object of meditation and the meditator falls away and unity is directly “experienced”.  All of these limbs in Patanjali’s system are meant to hang together and be practiced collectively and constantly, and the physical aspects of Yoga, which are emphasized in most if not all of the Western adaptations of his system, are but a means to the end and not an end in and of themselves.

 

Raja Yoga is one of the four Hindu philosophical systems that Swami Vivekananda taught and integrated into a holistic approach to enlightenment in the modern era all based upon the timeless teachings of Vedanta in one form or another, interpreted for the West in a language that we could understand.  In fact Vivekananda coined the term Raja, or Royal Yoga, given his perspective on its importance within the four pillars of Yoga that were necessary to lead a balanced and liberated life in what he saw, and Charlie certainly was exposed to the same thing, an overly materialistic and capitalistic culture whose main focus was the betterment of the individual at the expense of the whole.

But you can’t really truly understand Raja Yoga unless you have some sort of background in its underlying philosophy which is Samkhya philosophy.  Samkhya is one of the six orthodox schools of Hindu philosophy and is fundamentally atheistic, i.e. it’s philosophy does not adhere to or believe in the existence of any anthropomorphic God or deity, but instead believes the universe to be a manifestation of an underlying ground of existence Purusha, the male aspect of the cosmos which when acted upon and combined with the generative female force of the universe, Prakriti, brings about the existence of the physical universe it its various forms as we perceive it.  Samkhya is a fundamentally dualistic philosophy, in the sense that it lays out more than one fundamental principle from which the universe comes into existence, namely the inert Purusha combined with the active principle of Prakriti.  This is juxtaposed for example with Advaita Vedanta where the individual Soul, or Atman, is considered to be one and the same and fundamentally indivisible from the universal Soul, or Brahman, classified accordingly as a non-dualist philosophical system.

In Samkhya philosophy the individual Soul, or Jiva, is bound to its physical form due to desire, desire for pleasure and desire for life.  It is desire that is the glue that binds the jiva to the manifest, physical reality which we all perceive as the human condition.  But this is not the true state of reality, it’s not purest and most unadulterated perspective on reality, and at its core is based upon ignorance of the true nature of the universe and our place in it.  The underlying premise of this philosophical system then is that it is only through the false identification one’s small self, or ego (ahamkara), that the jiva perceives itself as a separate and unique entity bound to a physical form which is subject to birth, growth, decay and ultimate death and destruction, characterized most emphatically by suffering and loss, in this sense it shares many of the same characteristics of Buddhism but its underlying philosophy, as well as the path which it lays out for liberation, are altogether different[1].  In Samkhya philosophy however, and in turn in Yoga as it is interpreted by Patanjali, it is through self-knowledge, atma-bodha, that true liberation can be achieved, where the shroud of ignorance is removed and one’s true identity with the underlying ground of existence, Purusha, is ultimately realized and experienced directly.

It is from this philosophical perspective then that Patanjali articulated his system of Yoga, which lays out, in very much the same way as Buddha laid out his Noble Eightfold Path, the steps and principles upon which one should lead their life in order to facilitate the attainment of this state of perfection, or samadhi.  Yoga as outlined by Patanjali emphasizes the importance of posture, asana, control of the breath, pranayama, and concentration, dharana, all as key tools to be employed by the spiritual aspirant who wishes to be liberated from the bondage of phenomenal existence and ultimately to experience the pure state of consciousness itself, i.e. samadhi, but what is most often overlooked, particularly in the West, is that these physical and mental practices are grounded in a thorough and in many respects unyielding system of morals, ethics and observances that prepare the aspirant, provide the foundation for the aspirant, upon which the more advanced limbs of Yoga are to be based.  The first 2 limbs of Yoga reflect this focus on the necessary grounding of ethics and morality, the way to live, to prepare oneself for the path to liberation, namely yama and niyama.

Yama consists of five “abstentions”; ahimsa, non-violence, satya, truth in thought word and deed, asteya, non-covetousness or the lack of desire and brahmacharya, or abstinence with particular emphasis on sexual activity.  Niyama consists of five “observances”; shaucha, cleanliness of body and mind, santosha, satisfaction or acceptance with one’s state of existence, tapas, or austerities related to physical and mental observances which yield control of the mind, svadhyaya, or study of the Vedic scripture to cultivate knowledge of the Soul which drives human existence, and ishvarapranidhana, or surrender/worship of the ultimate source of creation, i.e. God (Ishvara in Hinduism).

What Swami Vivekananda laid out for the West however, aligned with the teachings of his guru Paramhamsa Ramakrishna, was that in order to gain a more accurate and effective perspective on spiritual life, and ultimate liberation from suffering and bondage achieved, four different aspects of Vedanta should be practiced and honed together as one cohesive system which should guide not only the inner life of the spiritual aspirant, but also the external life of the aspirant as well.  These four pillars of Yoga, as taught by Vivekananda, are Raja Yoga, as expounded by Patanjali, Jnana Yoga, or the pursuit of knowledge from which the fetters of bondage can be broken intellectually, Karma Yoga, or the practice of selfless action which provides the moral and ethical basis for right living for the spiritual aspirant, and Bhakti Yoga, which is love of the divine which propels aspirant along the path, a path which has been aptly described by some as “the razor’s edge” given how precarious and difficult it can be to follow correctly without stumbling along the way (which is why a guru, or guide, is an integral part of the Eastern philosophical teachings, no matter what philosophical school you adhere to).

To Vivekananda, these four perspectives or aspects of Vedanta were to be thought of and taught as a single, coherent philosophical system rather than as independent systems of belief, collectively providing the aspirant with a more complete and expansive guidebook on spiritual life, for the advancement of the human Soul, that could be gained by following one specific school at the neglect of the other three.  This, from Charlie’s point of view, was Vivekananda’s unique contribution to the modern era, he crystalized, synthesized and interpreted Vedanta for the West in a way that could be grasped both intellectually and physically by modern man, just as his teacher, Ramakrishna, had brought all the various religious practices together and illustrated them to be all different paths to the same goal, or different entrances to the same home as he liked to put it.  To Vivekananda, life and the universe was a gymnasium for the Soul, and his interpretation of Vedanta for the West, was the guidebook for the modern spiritual gymnast.

All religious systems, either from the East or the West, espoused morality and ethics as a core fundamental principle for the life of man.  Even the Greek philosophical schools had comprehensive system of ethics at their core.  The Western system taught that these morals and ethics should be followed for the attainment of heaven.  The Eastern theological and philosophical systems however, and arguably the teachings of Christ themselves if they could be parsed from the Book within which they sat, looked at morals and ethics not as something to be followed for attainment of some desire or need, but as a representation of a higher and finer form of truth.  In Aristotle’s terminology it was in virtue that the greatest good could be achieved, and that ultimate happiness could be achieved, and that this virtue was a learned skill and could be cultivated by habit, just as any art form could[2].

In its most pure form as Charlie understood the basic tenets of Eastern philosophy however, and the fundamental principles that underlay morality or ethics in general, was that there was an interconnectedness to all things, all beings animate or inanimate, and leading a moral and ethical life allowed the individual to better comprehend and understand this interconnectedness, or at least abide by it and be in harmony with it.  In Patanjali’s model, arguably the most systemic and well thought out of the systems of Yoga as they survive down to us in modern times which Vivekananda for no insignificant reason termed “Royal” Yoga, consistent with all religious systems in one way or another, sound morals and ethics were a core prerequisite on the path of ultimate liberation or illumination, or in Patanjali’s terminology samadhi, a goal which can be reached only by the practice of sound morals and ethics.

In contrast to the Abrahamic religions which rested their moral and ethical code on the revelation of God as handed down by their respective prophets, to which its followers must abide or they be subject to eternal damnation in Hell, which were wrapped up in mandates of specific modes of worship, Yoga as it emerges as an offshoot of the philosophy of the Vedas, aka Hindu philosophy, in the first few centuries CE as reflected by Patanjali’s Yoga sutras focus on the scientific method of the production of liberation, irrespective and independent of the object of meditation, or God, that one chooses to believe in.

 

All great religions speak of mankind’s special place in the universe of creation.  In the Eastern tradition specifically, as taught by Ramakrishna and in Tibetan Buddhism for example, the uniqueness of the human life, the jiva, as an instrument of the direct perception of the divine and the vehicle of liberation is emphasized.

In the Buddhist tradition, there is a wonderful story, a parable, which illustrates this.  There is a turtle in a great, vast ocean.  And in this vast ocean there is a small ring that floats on its surface somewhere, a ring with a circumference no bigger than a few feet across.  This ring bobs and floats in this vast sea carried by currents and storms and waves.  In this same ocean, there lives a sea turtle.  A turtle which like all turtles must pop his nose above the surface every few minutes in order to breathe and stay alive, even though he lives most of his life under the sea.  It is said that to be born in a human, and have the opportunity for liberation and illumination which is unique to our species, is said to be as lucky as fortunate and as improbable as that very same sea turtle, swimming in the vastness of the great ocean of the universe, popping its head up for air and happening to stick his nose through that small ring bobbing and floating on the surface.  As Ramakrishna so succinctly puts it, “He is born in vain, who having attained the human birth, so difficult to get, does not attempt to realize God in this very life.”

What is it that is so special about the human form?  The Yoga tradition specifically calls out this form as a tool for illumination and realization, in a manner that is quite direct.  Raja Yoga describes how to perfect and hone this human form to prepare it for illumination, how to harness its energy.  This system describes how to perfect the strengthening and flexibility of the body (asanas), use the life force within the body (prana) and direct it upward through the spiritual channels that flow through the human form (chakras) running parallel to the spine (sushumna), for the purpose of moksha, or mukti, of the jiva, or liberation of the soul.

This is the serpent of Kundalini which is implied in the Hindu/Yoga tradition and is explicitly called out in the Tantric Yoga tradition as Shakti, the divine force, typically associated with the goddess Kali that underlies all creation.  This Shakti, or Kundalini, typically lies latent at the base of the spine of the individual centered around the lower three chakras which are associated with the basic, core needs of the human form – eating, sleeping and sexual desire.  The doctrine of Yoga as outlined by Patanjali, although it doesn’t speak of Kundalini directly, is effectively the art of honing and facilitating the upward movement of this energy, up through the system of chakras in the human form as outlined in Tantric systems of Yoga, for the purpose of liberation, or in Patanjali’s nomenclature for the purpose of experiencing samadhi.  Patanjali’s system starts with principles that govern what to avoid (yama) and what to observe or cultivate (niyama), providing for a foundation of ethics, morals and even the basic notion of worship itself as core principles for anyone wishing to practice yoga with the intent of liberating oneself from the world of name and form, the endless suffering that is called out so specifically in the Buddhist tradition, which shares a common philosophical parent with Yoga i.e. the Vedas.

This practice of Yoga is essentially the conscious practice of awakening the energy or life force within each and every one of us, a notion which is very much aligned with the Christian notion of the Holy Spirit.  Tantric Yoga specifically is designed to lift this Kundalini, latent serpent power, to the higher chakras located at the region of the heart, the throat, the forehead and ultimately through the chakra located at the top of the head, the thousand petalled lotus, which once opened yields the state of samadhi.   Once these chakras are opened, through the practice of Yoga and other Tantric rituals that leverage mandalas (visual symbols) and mantras (incantations and sound), the jiva experiences unrefined and unfiltered consciousness, higher and more subtle realms of reality where the distinction between the observer and the observed gives way to the direct perception of divine consciousness, called samadhi in the Yoga tradition or in referred to as satchitananda, Existence Knowledge Bliss Absolute, in the Upanishads.

In this Yoga tradition, one which has been adopted by the West in the last hundred years or so as an alternative in many respects to the Abrahamic religions that have dominated Western thought for almost two thousand years, the human form is perceived as a bundle of energy, energy that is directly related to the cosmic energy from which it draws its source.  Is that not the true meaning behind the notion of mankind being created in God’s image which is a core tenet of Christianity, Islam and certainly Judaism from which this notion ultimately derives, i.e. in Genesis?  The Yoga tradition describes this in more concrete terms though, explaining why we as a species are so special, along with a fairly structured path toward the ultimate realization, the quintessential understanding, of this connection between the creator and the created.

From Charlie’s perspective however, this connection between the individual Soul and the universal Soul is essentially what all of the ancient cosmological systems were about, these same mythological stories of the creation of the universe and mankind’s place in it which are looked upon today as mere stories of the ignorant trying to explain that which these ancient peoples did not understand, notions that we now have a “better” grasp on in the age of science, were actually deep and profound mystical truths whose power had been lost throughout the ages as the metaphors had been watered down into stories that found their way into the literature of various religious systems – the Vedas of the Hindus, the Theogony of Hesiod, the traditions which yielded the cosmologies of the Ancient Egyptians which are found in the Book of Res-Menu, the cosmology inherent in the clearly sacred text of the Derveni papyrus, and of course in Genesis of the Old Testament which sits behind Christianity, Islam and Judaism to which some 4 billion people ascribe to today in some form or another.

The Western religious traditions had abandoned this notion of direct perception and realization of the divine, even though Jesus called it out specifically.  Why?  Because they were designed to unite an empire, unite a people, and in so doing could only ascribe to one path of worship and were forced to formulate, and legislate, their teachings such that the power of the divine was closely guarded by the select few.  But the Eastern traditions went down a different path, where not only was it believed the individual soul could be liberated from the world of ceaseless suffering, but that this liberation was the very purpose to existence, the ultimate goal of the soul as it were, the eudaimonia of Aristotle (typically translated as “happiness”) which is the ultimate purpose (telos) of the human being and thereby defines its existence to a great extent, much more so than the material causes which bring about the existence of the human form which we are so focused on in biology and western medicine today.

The Eastern traditions of Yoga and Buddhism not only lay out a system of ethics and morals within which life should be lived, but also lay out a purpose to life which is based upon the goal of, and fundamental belief in, liberation as the ultimate goal of life.  This is the ultimate freedom from suffering in the Buddhist tradition and the attainment of samadhi of Patanjali’s Yoga.  They all cajole us to go back to the source, to recognize our connection with supreme consciousness.  Not through any specific prophet or message, not espousing one set of beliefs, one God over any other, but the practice of Yoga, meditation and living in harmony with our surroundings as well as the people and society within which we live, in order that this illumination, this liberation, this “happiness” can be experienced.  And in this philosophy, the human form is said to be higher than even the forms of the Gods and Angels, for although in the world of the Gods there lie unlimited desires and powers, the prospect and chance of liberation does not exist.  This view of the mortal life being so special and unique can be found implicit in Greek mythology as well, where the realm of the gods and the realm of men mixed and coalesced for centuries prior to the advent of the historical record, giving rise to its mythology and the Age of Heroes for which arguably the Greeks are perhaps best known.

So it is up to the Jiva then, the individual soul, to determine what to do with this great energy that it has access to, this great opportunity for liberation.  Vivekananda, one of the great modern expounders on Vedanta and Yoga, talks about how all beings are moving toward the same goal whether they know it or not, either consciously or subconsciously.  That the natural flow and path of everything in existence is to get back to its source, whether this is directly perceived or not.  A reflection at the microcosmic level of the omnipresent inbreathing and outbreathing of Brahman, the process of evolution and devolution of all energy and matter from and back to its source, of which the human being represents its most latently powerful and beautiful form.


[1] It should be noted that Samkhya philosophy (Yoga) and Buddhism are related doctrines, both sharing a common parent philosophical system in Vedanta, hence their similarities.

[2] Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics

Knowledge and the Intellect: Extracting Truth from Scripture

Outside of his thesis coming together, with some clear indicators of cultural borrowing among Ancient Western civilizations with respect to the development of theology and philosophy, Charlie now had a much better context within which to view Niels’s letter which attacked the validity of mystical experiences within the context of religion and spirituality.  Charlie’s now had at least an historical narrative that could explain Niels’s position, and could at the very least establish historical precedence for the legitimacy of the mystical experience despite its lack of objectivity in the classic, western empirical sense.

For it seemed clear that somewhere along the way as monotheistic and more standard and canonized theological doctrines took root in antiquity, monotheism basically, the direct divine revelations that were the root of the power and authority of the priests and shamans of pre-civilized man which transformed into the heads of mystical/mystery sects of the ancient world, dissolved into more structured forms of worship and standard interpretations of religion that were enforced by policy and law, and then eventually by the sword as Christianity and Islam became the dominant religious forces in the region.

This shaman like authority which rested on these so-called mystical experiences and direct revelations and perceptions of the command of the god in question was first usurped by rulers and kings as civilization emerged and spread throughout the Mediterranean and Near East, and then consolidated and synthesized into standard religious doctrine that was integrated into an imperial strategy that was intended to not just serve the spiritual needs of its people but also to connect and establish the boundaries of various empires, binding together its people through religion as much as language and culture in a more broad sense.

This direct communication between the world of gods and men was clearly an artifact of pre-civilized man, a man and a society where the shaman/healer played a powerful and pivotal role in their lives and was the caretaker of belief systems that not only connected its people but also gave their lives meaning and purpose within a cosmic context, marked by belief in the immortality of the soul and the role of the gods in establishing and keeping order in the universe as well as in the lives of men.  As far as Charlie could gather, this connection between the world of gods and men which was the cornerstone of the ancient priest’s and shaman’s power, was the same power that was rested upon by the priests of the temples of ancient society, in Ancient Greece and Egypt clearly, and these same priests grew extraordinarily influential and powerful as civilization emerged and evolves and continued to play a strong role in shaping society and establishing the cosmic and universal order and mankind’s place in it.

And yet despite Western monotheism’s aversion to these so-called pagan and barbaric traditions which were characterized by complex rituals, incantations and spells even, sacrifices and undoubtedly induced higher states of consciousness by hallucinogenics or other intoxicants, it was these very same experiences, these “revelations” of the prophets of Abraham and his descendants, which these great religions rested on to legitimize their teachings and their religious practices to their followers.  Except the monotheistic faiths of the Jews, Christians and Muslims, now great religions but who in their infancy were just competing sects within a world of many competing gods and religious doctrines within which people were affiliated with either by birth or then later by choice, rested on the notion that it was only their prophet’s message that was “true”, that all other prophets and their associated messages and laws were not to be obeyed, and that in fact these other competing theological doctrines and practices led to eternal damnation and unending suffering – this last tenet being the main characteristic of these major religious forces which has been so manipulated by political and religious leaders over the centuries to force their beliefs on others and consolidate power.

With the advent of monotheism the direct perception of the divine had been relegated to the select few, just the prophets themselves, and the followers of these faiths, which represented some 4 billion people or so throughout the world in modern times, were confined to view God through their eyes.  But it wasn’t through the eyes of the prophets that the followers of these religions were guided in fact, if you actually took the time to study the source of these so called divinely revealed scriptures and the relationship that these words had to the lives and teachings of the prophets which they spoke of, what you found was that at best you were actually reading and interpreting these teachings, these messages, divinely revealed or not, through the eyes of subsequent interpreters and translators of the messages of the prophets as reflected by the by the authors of the scriptures who in some cases didn’t’ even have direct contact with the prophets themselves and in many cases had political motive as the driving force behind the creation of the scripture to begin with.

Irrespective of the lack of direct connection between these so called divinely inspired words and the teachings of these prophets, be they messengers of god or not, what struck Charlie was the self-serving nature of the intent and purpose of the scriptures and the establishment of these structured and highly organized religious systems, which went hand in hand with the subjugation and in many cases violent termination of the pagan rituals and theological belief systems which competed with them.

Charlie couldn’t help but ask the question, “How were these people chosen?”  What made them so special exactly?  If Moses could talk to God, and so could Muhammad and Jesus, why couldn’t he, or any one of us for that matter?  If there was a God, would he exhibit what seemed to be such an extreme form of favoritism?  If he was as benevolent, omniscient and powerful as all these doctrines said he was, the creator of the universe and all living things in it, the creator and harbinger of the world order and the protector of mankind, why wouldn’t he be more egalitarian in his approach to his “children”?

And furthermore didn’t Jesus teach “knock and it shall be opened”, “seek and ye shall find”?  How did that part of his message get lost or transformed into only through Jesus can you be saved?  Did Jesus ever say that?  Buddha, one of the great religious figures of all time most certainly didn’t teach anything that even resembled that doctrine, emphasizing that it wasn’t through any God that ultimate salvation was to be achieved but through the following of the Path that he laid out, one of virtue and self-restraint, the very same characteristics that could be found in almost all of the Greek philosophical traditions, which were the same metaphysical and theological doctrines that were leveraged and utilized by Jewish, Christian and Muslim theologians to provide a more rational and metaphysical foundation for their scripture and doctrine that went beyond mere faith in the “supposed” words of a “supposed” prophet.

Was Buddha flat out wrong?  Was he just some religious quack who spent too much time in contemplation and meditation and lost his mind (interesting expression in fact).  Were all his followers going to burn in hell for eternity as fundamentalist Christians and Muslims would have us believe?  The more plausible explanation seemed to be, if you just stopped and thought about it for a bit, and studied how these teachings have survived down to us and how they have been manipulated down through the ages by men of power and greed, that just maybe the messages of these great prophets had been bastardized and disfigured, or at best misinterpreted in translation as they were handed down to us, and that maybe these were in fact great prophets but that their teachings had been lost, a major theme in Islam in fact except somehow the Muslim community seems to believe they are immune to the same features of religious decay as “messengers of God” have their teachings documented, transcribed, interpreted and in many cases manipulated for personal gain and power.

Charlie’s tennis buddy and amateur theologist Niels had argued, like many orthodox Western religious practitioners might, that mystical states, so called altered or higher states of consciousness which formed the basis of what could be loosely categorized as Eastern religious doctrine which taught the practice of meditation and personal perception of the divine as the means to salvation, or in Eastern terminology more aptly referred to as liberation or enlightenment, should not be considered a valid means to the realization of Truth because it was an entirely subjective experience and therefore had no empirical basis in reality.

As Charlie looked at Niels argument now however, Niels wasn’t only taking an orthodox and literal religious interpreters view, i.e. only the Word of God can be used as an instrument of Truth – or placed in a Christian theological context which was Niels’s background that it was only through the path that is laid out to us in the Bible that a soul could be “saved” – but knowingly or not he was also taking a pure empiricist view of reality and truth at the same time, resting his argument on the presumption of the reality of existence if and only if it can be empirically verified, verified by some other person or via some sort of experiment.

But implicit in this argument was that the Bible, the Word of God, was in fact the Truth and had an empirical basis of reality, an assumption that Charlie fundamentally disagreed with after taking a look at the origin of this Book and the context within which it was created and its standard canon was established.  How Niels, and other fundamentalist Western interpreters of theology for that matter, established the “reality” of their scripture, a fundamental notion of all of the Abrahamic religions and the scripture which its doctrines rested upon, and thereby held that the Word of Yahweh, God or Allah as laid out in their scripture was the only means of salvation or means to Truth, was a total mystery to Charlie and seemed lacking of any rational foundation, even after he had made considerable effort to try and ferret out the merits of such an argument.

What seemed painfully obvious however, was that these beliefs, belief in these scriptures as they were handed down to followers and students of these religions, belief which rested firmly on the life and teachings of their prophets who supposedly had direct communion with the one and only God, and thereby established the saving power of their respective teachings, was a matter of faith and had no basis in reason, just as the Eastern traditions taught that it was through the practice of meditation and contemplation of the divine which led to enlightenment.  From an empirical point of view, neither doctrine or belief system could be looked upon as more valid than the other, neither system of belief relied on faith any less than the other in its basic principles, and neither was certainly any less subjective than the other.

From Charlie’s standpoint however, embedded in the Eastern tradition of meditation practice was an implied form of empiricism, a feature that seemed to be absent from the Western religious doctrines.  For in meditation practice what you are ultimately doing is “testing” the existence of pure consciousness, refining and honing the methods of its attainment, experimenting with ritual and the molding of the mind into purer states of consciousness to see what lay beyond the veil, to see if there was perhaps something more, something that lay behind and beyond this materialistic world which Niels held to be the last and final word on Truth.

Perhaps this was a stretch of empiricism and scientific method as we know it today, methods which form the basis of all of the physical sciences which are so important and relevant to all of us in the modern world, but certainly the Eastern method exhibited scientific tendencies if you could call them such, the science of the mind, rather than blind faith in the transliterated, transcribed and translated words of a Book that was authored some two thousand years ago by some unknown set of authors and scribes.

As Charlie argued for the validity and utility of the practice of meditation as a valid means to illumination and enlightenment, he even found that he could make a case for reason itself being subjective.  For was it not Reason, or perhaps better termed rationalization, that Niels rested his argument for the ultimate saving power of scripture on?  Relying on thousands of years of doctrinal belief and faith in the Bible as interpreted by the Church as the cornerstone of his argument.  How could all these people, all these great men who were held in such high esteem in Western society, be wrong?

But the realm of thought was the creation and manifestation of the mind just as the subjective world of meditation was.  In fact the practice of meditation, as taught by any of the Eastern philosophic or religious schools, was in some sense a scientific like exploration of the mental world, a quest to determine if there existed a reality beyond the world of subjects and objects which was such a marked attribute of the mind, an evolutionary characteristic of our species in fact.

Because this distinction between the subject or perceiver of reality and that which was perceived, i.e. the materialistic and objective world, was in fact a requirement for all of the features of mankind which have supported our evolution over the last 100,000 years.  It is the marked characteristic of our species of apes, Homo sapiens, i.e. the genus of apes that can think, discern, understand and communicate.  Our evolution and distinction from the rest of the species on the planet, and ultimate rise to supremacy over all of the other species on the planet, rests squarely on this faculty, rests on our mental abilities, without which we would be wallowing in barbarism and eking out survival no doubt.

Our species begins its world domination first with the invention and creation of fire for warmth and protection, then followed by tool making which was a requirement to sustain life and eat.  These basic building blocks of mankind’s earliest societies are subsequently followed by the honing and refinement of the practices of hunting, and later agriculture and farming, which no doubt required some form of language and communication, which as more complex societies develop to support greater numbers of people living communally leads to the development of more complex systems of words and symbols to facilitate more complex communication and support a more complex social structure.  It is the development and evolution of language that underpins and supports this spread of more complex societies, to the advancement of civilized man in fact.

And as more complex societies develop, and there exists a need to communicate ideas not only over large distances and between and amongst generations of peoples, to encapsulate and communicate more abstract ideas, systems of writing are invented, perhaps the greatest invention in the history of mankind.  An invention which is an absolute requirement to the establishment of more complex social structures which are needed to facilitate the exchange of goods, services and ideas between and amongst not only individuals but also societies and civilizations as a whole, which establishes the basis for not only mankind’s absolute dominion over the entire planet but also allows us to evolve a collective intellect which can build upon itself from generation to generation, one of the keys if not the key to the advancement of mankind into the modern era of science.

These advent of complex societies, mankind’s first civilizations, supported by language and systems of writing which codify and transcribe the various languages spoke by various societies and civilizations, leads to the development of more structured religious systems to support the spread of human populations and societies throughout the world under a single beacon of faith.  Language and writing at the same time allow for the development of more complex, rational and logical physical and metaphysical descriptions of reality which allow us to more firmly establish our dominion over the earth, but also at the same time root our systems of thought into a framework that is based upon the various classification of materials along with their essential constituents (e.g. earth, air, water, fire).

It is this classification of reality into subjects and objects, language and constructs evident in Aristotle’s Categories and his definition and description of existence (being qua being) in his Metaphysics, we have established the intellectual framework of reality in the West which persists even to this day.  And over time what Charlie found was that in this intellectual framework the objective world is broken off and held to be distinct and separate from the spiritual or subjective world, i.e. the existence of objects or things that could be manipulated or acted upon by us as a species are established and held distinct from the subjects who act on these objects to produce various effects and outcomes.  This hard bifurcation of reality wasn’t necessarily emphasized or pronounced as monotheism takes root in the West up through the Middle Ages but was a marked feature of later philosophic development as the field of science breaks off of and sits in contrast to the world of the spirit, or religion, a byproduct of the Scientific Revolution as far as Charlie could gather (more on this later).

But in this monotheistic reality that is described in the teachings and scripture of the Jews, Christians and Muslims, all of which rested on the tenets of Greek philosophy to a great extent (in particular Neo-Platonic and Aristotelian), mankind looks upon itself as the ultimate rulers of this objective world, gods in fact in a very real sense.  A world which although from a monotheistic point of view is looked upon not only as the creation of some sort of supreme being who at the very least is all knowing and all powerful, but also looked upon as a world which mankind holds some special dominion over – as in each of these traditions there exists the belief that man (and woman) was created in God’s image and was given divine authority over the earth by God himself, fundamental tenets that are revealed to the Abrahamic prophets repeatedly throughout the ages.

And in this language that mankind created to describe the world around them, all subsequent mental constructs must be framed.  This is an effect and natural byproduct of the development of language.  It is its power and at the same time it’s limitation.  For this very same set of symbols, words, relationships and correlations which in toto are perhaps best described as beliefs systems which underlie our languageconstructs that evolved in parallel with and as a necessary prerequisite to the development of civilization and at the same time facilitated and underpinned not just our survival as a species but also the domination of the planet and control over the material world in a way that no other species in the history of our planet has done – must at the same time form the framework within which all human experience must pass through.

But what Aristotle was the first to do, work which has provided the foundations of Western thought to no small degree, was to develop a comprehensive theory of knowledge that was based upon the principles of comprehension, principles which he described in terms of causation.  That is to say we have knowledge of something, we understand it, if we can understand why it exists, or in other words if we understand the different factors which bring about something into existence.  And in order to develop this theory, he had to first establish a theory of existence to make sure that there was no ambiguity around what could be said to exist, which from Charlie’s standpoint is where the break of the world of matter and the world of spirit begins, all the way back to Aristotle.

He further groups these “things” into categories and subcategories, genus and species for all things that exist, “things” which were denoted by words in a given language (Greek in this case) and “things” which in Plato’s world were physical manifestations of abstract Forms or Ideas which represented the true essence of a “thing”.  And once he had established this categorization of objects of the physical world, and had a theory of existence which underpins it, he establishes a broad theory of knowledge which is based upon the comprehension of the qualities which describe a “thing”, being qua being, aspects of which are wrapped in a theory of causation which once fully understood yielded knowledge of a thing in the purest sense.  It is within Aristotle’s intellectual framework, his metaphysics, that the first truly rational framework of reality is described, from which the very existence of the world can be viewed in a comprehensive and fully descriptive way.

And in his theory of knowledge, which rests on these principles of the comprehension of the various types of causes which bring about a “thing’s” existence, he establishes the prerequisite of causation to existence itself.  For in his model of reality existence and causation go hand in hand.  And the most crucial of all the types of causation to Aristotle was the final cause – telos in Greek which can be translated as “end”, or “goal” – which represents in his model the ultimate purpose of this thing which provides the foundation for its existence and the understanding of which provides true knowledge, which to Aristotle is the highest, or “first” philosophy.  This notion of telos more than any other is latched on to by the monotheistic religions, particularly Islam, to provide a rational foundation to their faith based dogma as revealed in scripture, even though there is no underlying creative force or principle in Aristotle’s philosophy, simply knowledge and the tools and metaphysical framework that are to be employed to achieve such knowledge.

Which brings Charlie back to Niels’s argument that the only valid and real Truth is that which exists in and is seen through the “scripture”, which in the case of Niels’s argument specifically refers to Christian scripture, i.e. the Bible, but at the same time he makes the argument Islamic scripture, i.e. the Qur’an, as well.  This argument against the direct perception of the divine as against, or in contrast to, the Truth inherent in Bible not only didn’t seem to hold any water with Charlie but also seemed to be in direct contradiction to the message of the prophets which played such a significant role in the development of such scripture, Jesus in this case, whose actual teachings had been watered down and interpreted and transliterated by subsequent Christian theologians over the centuries until somehow, someway, the Bible itself was looked upon as the last Word on all matters and was to be interpreted literally in order that salvation could be achieved rather than the teachings of Jesus himself which are encapsulated, hidden almost, in the four Gospels.

The Truth must be based upon the literal word of the scriptures?  The interpretation by scholars of a work interpreted by a scholar of an original work whose source was unknown?  And yet somehow that was more logical, more reasonable, more scientific and empirical approach to the acquisition of knowledge or Truth than the practice of meditation which at its core was an attempt at direct union, communion, with the divine from which the physical world, and mankind, was created from?  Yes it was true that the eastern philosophical and mystical traditions encouraged you to use your mind to liberate yourself from the world of name and form, but it was the use of this same tool, the mind, that Niels appealed to when he ascribed to and argued for the primacy of scripture as the basis of Truth.

The practice of meditation assumes the existence of duality, the distinction of the subjective and objective world.  What is that you are meditating on?  Who is the meditator?  What is the nature of that which is meditated upon?  And at the same time the intent of the practice, the goal if you will, was to lose, or go beyond, the distinction between the subject of observation and the object of contemplation, to use a thorn to remove a thorn as Ramakrishna taught.  To travel beyond the world of name and form into the root of all things, to experience directly what the Vedantic philosophers called Satchitananda, or Existence Knowledge Bliss Absolute.  Naming the nameless.  Wrapping words around that which is the source of all words but was the ultimate goal that was taught by all the true prophets down through the ages, Jesus being no exception.  How Muhammad, or his followers for that matter, might argue that he could gain access to this direct divine revelation of Allah but that no one else could have access to this ultimate source of all things was a mystery to Charlie, and seemed to be the core problem with the fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, or Christianity, for that matter.

But you have to start somewhere in a quest for answers, in a quest for Truth or in Aristotelian terms in the quest for knowledge or epistêmai.  And it’s from within this world of name and form from which any interpretation of biblical scripture, or reality or existence itself, that the journey must begin.  The world framed by language and writing within which the all of teachings of the Abrahamic prophets are handed down to us, in the Old Testament of the Jews, the New Testament/Bible of the Christians or even the Qur’an of the Muslims.  But that is just the beginning.  As the Greeks taught and as the Rishis of the ancient Indo-Aryans taught as well, it is with both Reason and Logic, the tools of the intellect of the individual mind, subjective reality in fact, which must be used to cut through this world of Maya, this world of name and form which is characterized by the endless pursuit of desire which is the root of all suffering according to the teachings of Buddha.  The Eastern philosophic tradition, rooted as it was in the practice of meditation and contemplation of the divine, an arguably subjective experience (at least at the beginning), rested on the supremacy of Reason and Logic, the supreme weapons of the Jnana Yogi, tools which Aristotle and Plato held to be paramount as well, upon whose metaphysics these same monotheistic belief systems looked to for a rational foundation.

But Reason and Logic are just the beginning, not the end.  You must start with an abstract thought, or phrase, or image.  And from this one pointed focus, this calming of the mental waves upon the shore of a single gentle, soothing thought or image or syllable(s), arises true awareness.  An awareness that we all come from the source, the telos of Aristotle, from which emanates not only consciousness itself, but all of the animate and inanimate objects in the universe that we are aware of and which defines and constitutes their very existence.

This is in fact the metaphysical model upon which the early Christian theologians based their belief, their faith, in the existence of God as described in the Old Testament and as taught by Jesus.  This is the Neo-Platonic One from which the universe emanates.  And it is from this source which we all drink from, this the same stream of the Infinite which is the ground of existence itself.  An awareness that that which you seek is all around you, and within you, and will still exist long after the name and form that is your human shell disappears from existence, leaving the question of the immortality of the soul aside.  This teaching was implied in all the scriptures and all the religious teachings of mankind, wrapped in the mystery of their respective mythical cosmologies and once they were stripped of their socio-political garments and their consistent and eternal Truth was properly understood from Charlie’s perspective.

So to Charlie it was clear that literal interpretation of scripture, removed and abstracted from any of the truths that could be derived from subjective reality, upon which the practice of meditation is founded, was a gross misinterpretation and misunderstanding of scripture itself.

But the end, and its means, was more complicated than that even though initially the validity of the subjective experience must be acknowledged, the same reality through which any interpretation of scripture must be based.  For the greatest teacher was Life itself was it not?  And Life could be seen and perceived, lived in fact, only by the subject who perceived the material world around him through his intellect, through his mind, the very same instrument that was used to read and interpret Scripture couched in language and symbols, and the very same instrument that was relied upon to ascertain knowledge itself in its purest form, the essential goal of meditation.

But it wasn’t just the “subjective” practice of meditation that could yield this elusive goal of enlightenment, or knowledge, or Truth.  One had to assimilate and incorporate the experience, the knowledge gained of the ultimate connection and synthesis of the seemingly separate and distinct subjective and objective world, of meditation into one’s entire life.  One could not deny one’s place in society, the history of its people, the challenges of survival and making a living in the modern world which was so devoid of any contact with nature or the animal kingdom which played such a prevalent role in ancient mythology and provided the symbols for the description of the world order in Judaism and Christianity and in turn Islam.  One had to bring this knowledge into practical use, what we would call today practical philosophy and what the ancient Greek philosophers, and even Muslim philosophers, falsafa, pointed to when they described the ideal society and the role of the philosopher within it.  This was the hard part, applying the teachings of the prophets to modern times, Charlie thought, and understanding that literal interpretation of any ancient scripture was a lost cause and could only lead an individual, or worse a society as a whole, astray was a starting point at least.

One of main teachings of Swami Vivekananda, arguably from his perspective one of the main goals of his life, was to assimilate all of the different branches of Yoga as they had developed throughout the ages into one sound, coherent and integrated philosophical system.  It wasn’t just the practice of meditation that brought you to enlightenment, practices which fell into the category of Raja Yoga, or the royal yoga as described by Patanjali, but also the pursuit of knowledge and discrimination using the powers of your mind, Jnana Yoga, combined with the intention and longing of the heart, Bhakti Yoga, and last but not least a selfless approach to work and action in general, Karma Yoga, that all formed the complete framework and system from within which the goal of enlightenment and liberation from suffering could be reached.

Back to that nagging question then: How was this altogether subjective approach to liberation or salvation, an approach rooted in contemplation and meditation which was essentially nothing more than the practice of exploring the boundaries and subtleties of the human mind and its connection with the universal Mind, a practice which lay at the heart of the Eastern philosophical traditions and from which Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious ultimately derives, to be altogether discounted as a basis for realization or Truth because of its entirely subjective and seemingly non-empirical nature?[1]

Charlie knew, and it certainly seemed to be hard to argue against, the idea that everything passed through this mental sieve, whether you were reading and trying to understand the word of the Bible or the Qur’an, when you were practicing meditation, when you were hitting a tennis ball, or even just taking a walk in the park and observing nature, all of these experiences were processed by and ultimately comprehended by the use of one’s mind or intellect.  By this definition, from this perspective, everything was subjective.  Hence Descartes’s cogito ergo sum.

The mystical experience of intuitive awareness and inner illumination transcends linear verbal thought.  In it duality is overcome, subject and object fuse: there are no longer perceiver, perceived, and perceiving as separate entities – all three fuse together to become a unity that belongs to the cosmos itself.[2]

Here we have the essence of the meditative experience.  And it’s this experience, this purely subjective experience no doubt but at the same time the goal of which is the transcendence of the distinction between a subject and the objective world ironically, that represents the heart and soul of the eastern mystical and theological systems.

The main difference between the Eastern and Western religious systems from Charlie’s point of view, was simply the difference in emphasis.  The eastern modes of thought emphasized the union, yoga, of the individual soul with the great universal soul.  The Atman, individual self, merging in the sea of the great Self, or Brahman, as described in the Vedas.  The Western tradition emphasized not personal illumination but salvation through a specific message from a specific prophet, to the exclusion of all other belief systems in fact.  This last tenet however was an altogether specifically Western religious idea, and the problem with the Western religious tradition which had such a marked influence on society in the world today and throughout mankind’s history in the last two thousand years was that these traditions were so marked by political bias and so baked in social constructs and law intended to unite a people and create a nation and an empire, that it was very difficult to parse through what the prophets actually taught versus what later interpreters and transcribers of scripture actually understood and in turn documented and wrote down.

In all the Western religious traditions there exists this notion of the fall of mankind, a notion which is looked upon by orthodox and fundamentalist religious interpreters, of which unfortunately Niels represented, as the basis of Creationism.  But the Fall, looked at in allegorical sense, represents the fall of the one into the many, the beginning of the suffering of mankind in the material world which starts when the Tree of Knowledge is eaten from and the recognition of duality, the notion of Self, begins its reign.  After the Fall a new era of mankind had begun where immortality was lost and mankind was thereupon forever forced to struggle to free themselves from the bondage of duality.

It is the goal of meditation to directly experience the unity of all things, to try and travel back to the Garden before the Fall.  The practice of meditation, Dhyana, is the heart of Yoga, ultimately leading to the experience of Samadhi, the last limb of Patanjali’s eight limbed Yoga philosophy, complete union with the divine source of all existence and the recognition of the immortal essence which exists within all of us.  This overcoming, transcendence, of the barriers between the individual and the absolute is the great mystic achievement.  In mystic states we become one with the abstraction of the abstract, and we become aware of our source, and our oneness with it.

This is the everlasting and triumphant mystical tradition, hardly altered by differences of clime or creed.  In Hinduism, in Neoplatoism, in Sufism, in Christian mysticism, in Whitmanism, we find the same recurring note, so that there is about mystical utterances an eternal unanimity which ought to make a critic stop and think.[3]

Due to the sheer power of the experience, all the great mystics hesitate to describe it in words but at the same time they had to use words to communicate the path, the goal, the reality of it to their followers.  This is why all the prophets through the ages, and all great teachers in fact, use parable and analogy to describe and communicate ideas to their students.  Because the understanding, true comprehension of a teaching, requires the use of the intellect, the mind, to understand the words and symbols that are being used to convey a message.  To describe it and codify it, to bond it to a thought or string of thoughts as it were.

It was yet this realm of words and scripture that Niels would have Charlie believe was the only hallmark of true knowledge.  And yet Charlie knew, and anyone who would dare to follow the train of Reason to its final destination knew, as Aristotle was perhaps the first to do in its purest form, was that reason, logic, and words themselves were only the representations of the human mind created to describe the world around us, and our very existence and the means of perception of the world, which can only be viewed as completely and entirely subjective from start to finish, could be not be ignored or discounted when trying to acquire knowledge, or Truth itself.

Charlie was always fascinated by language.  It was his fascination with language that had formed the root and heart of his discussions with Niels really.  You were at these tournaments, there was a host country with its own native tongue, and then there were all these players from the far reaches of the globe, each with its own tongue and its own unique prism through which they saw the world around them.  There was no denying that and that different perspective on life that was to be found in all of the different players you met from all these different cultures, backgrounds and nations was something Charlie came to relish over the years, and he thought Niels did as well.

So how do you place words on that abstract idea, that core fundamental principle, from which all words come from?  You can’t do it.  Everyone has their own relationship to it, their own unique perspective on the world around them that is based upon their own upbringing and mental make-up, one’s genetic architecture you could say, and one that was subjective in the purest sense of the word, the very same construct which Niels was so quick to dismiss.

But you have to describe it in order to teach it, this was true of any discipline.  You have to frame it with words, Charlie thought, for the message to live and be passed on.  But the words were not the essence of the teaching, any teaching, they were simply the tool that had to be used to convey a thought, an idea or a principle from one mind to another.  But to confuse the teaching itself, the essence of a thing, with the words used to convey the message was a grave mistake from Charlie’s perspective.  And because of this distinction, between a teaching and the words used to describe it, words which invariably had specific meanings in specific times for specific people in specific cultures, it had to be expressed over and over again, for each culture and each nation, to show them the way and illustrate the truth that lay beyond everything that appeared so concrete and so real, particularly in our Western society of modern times which is so deeply steeped in objectivism and materialism.


[1] Jung describes a process called “individuation” as the means toward liberation or freedom from suffering.  In Jungian terms, which although borrows heavily from Eastern philosophy (as can be seen by his reliance on mandalas as the most effective tool for facilitating the process of individuation), the goal is perhaps better described the achievement of psychoanalytic balance and harmony or peace.  But it must be kept in mind that Jung’s theories and practical psychoanalytic work was based off of his work with deranged and very psychologically imbalanced patients so it wasn’t enlightenment that he was necessarily after but simple re-integration and harmony with society for his patients and his theories of mind were centered around this goal for the most part.  Individuation was an altogether psychoanalytic process, very much akin to meditation and the use of mandalas as means to this end is very much aligned with Eastern meditative practices which relies on very similar methodology, for both processes rely heavily on the use of symbols and both rested on the notion of the process of introspection – in Jung’s world via symbology and supplemented by psychoanalysis rather than through the practice of meditation which is emphasized in the Eastern philosophical traditions.

[2] James Hewitt, The Complete Yoga Book.

[3] William James, Varieties of Religious Experience.

Meditation and the Mind: The Sharpest Tool in the Shed

This review of the Cosmology of the ancients, their similarities and differences, their relationship to power and authority, were all intellectually interesting and of course relevant for that thesis that Charlie had to produce, but not so relevant for Charlie himself as he tried to navigate this increasingly interrelated and complex world, a world that had for the most part abandoned the dogmas of organized religion in favor for materialism and science and one where he had to make sense of the world without having the luxury of simply adherence to the doctrine or practices of a local church or synagogue.

But his curiosity had led him to the Eastern philosophical, rather theo-philosophical, systems of belief, religious systems that were founded on the notion of personal illumination, individual spiritual practices, and the existence of energy systems within the human form that were directly connected to, or at the very least very much related to, their cosmic counterparts.  For in the Cosmology of the ancient peoples lay an inherent belief in the connection between the individual human form and cosmic consciousness and the ground of all being, albeit in metaphorical form, a connection that was lost as advanced society evolved and the Cosmology of the ancients was subsumed for the science of modern man.

 

One of the many metaphors for the bliss of the union of the divine, the goal of the practice of meditation in all its forms, is that of the sky and the earth underneath it.  Wherever we go on this wonderful planet Earth, we always have the Sky as our backdrop.  We cannot escape it, although most of the time we are wholly unaware of its presence and its connection to our daily lives and its relationship to the ground of our existence.  It is just so with meditation.  The experience of deep meditation is the sky that provides the backdrop for the events of life.  And it’s this backdrop, this omnipresent source, from which the manifestations of life in all its forms springs forth, in all their various gross and subtle forms; from the crassness and cruel reality of the physical word where life and death coexist in natural interdependence, the doctrines of survival of the fittest and natural selection that Darwin “discovered” and explored, to the more subtle and finer world of the mind and spirit which provided for the ground of our being and the being of all life form on the planet.  All have the same beginning and end and all evolve and devolve into the same omnipresent and omniscient consciousness, this was the ultimate message of the ancient cosmologies that were so core to the belief systems of the ancient civilizations from which modern society emerged.

One need only to sit calmly for a few moments and attempt to completely perceive the nature of this underlying reality, the birthright of every single one of us that walk this great Earth, in order to get a glimpse of that which cannot be known and that which cannot be understood and yet can be experienced and perceived at the same time.  It is from this seed or practice, of the direct perception or Reality that the meditational experience can root itself and upon which sat the metaphysical systems which the Eastern traditions had kept alive all these centuries.

At first, when one sits in meditation practice one will find that thoughts toss themselves turbulently about the sea of the Mind.  But just as the nature of “I” is unclear as one’s meditation practice begins to take hold, the nature of Thought itself becomes unclear as well.  What are thoughts?  Are they real?  Does what we think define who we are?  What of the creative nature of thought?  From whence are thoughts born?  What is the true effect of thoughts upon the reality within which we perceived the world around us?  Are these thoughts, these impressions, simply a backdrop from which we experience the world around us as it happens or do they frame and construct the reality which surrounds us?  Do they create our reality or are they a function of reality?  A classic chicken and egg problem Charlie thought.

 

Charlie remembered his first meditation experience quite clearly.  Odd he thought that there were some events in life that were timeless to some extent, memories that did not fade no matter how much time passed.  And his first experience of focusing the mind on the eternal, looking inward, was something he always carried with him and something he always found spectacular and at the same time strange and odd – and yet real, in the sense that it had carried with him despite the passage of a great deal of time and life experiences.

He had started reading about some of the more esoteric mystical traditions of the East.  He had been on the road for many months in Europe, embarking on his arguably failed professional tennis career, and found a lot of free time to read and study during his travels.  All of his work and scholarship at during his undergraduate studies, his preparation and ultimate authorship of that darned thesis, had given him an appetite for learning, and an appetite and enjoyment of study and writing.  He hadn’t considered these skills very much when he was grinding through his studies, or even when he was preparing his thesis, but once he left academia, he found that what he had learned as an undergrad chasing that elusive concept of cultural borrowing that Professor Lumina had planted in his mind, the true gift that he has given he later found, was the beauty of being an academic, a student and an author, an gift that last a lifetime or so it seemed.

He was playing in France, and in France they were known for their hospitality.  He was traveling with his old friend Niels, and two Aussie buddies he had picked up and met along the way.  And he was winning some, in a way that he hadn’t really done before.  He won some key matches, picked up some travel money, had gotten a decent ranking and a reputation that came along with it, and was starting to gain some confidence in his abilities on court.  And at the same time, his studies began to deviate from straight ancient history, theology, and philosophy, to mysticism; the practice and art of the experience of bliss that were so painstakingly described and outlined in the various systems of Yoga from the East, India in particular.

Charlie didn’t know it yet but it was Raja Yoga, or in its more esoteric form Kundalini Yoga, that he was reading about at that time.  He didn’t yet understand Yoga’s relationship to the Vedic tradition, or the premise that all the yogas – Bhakti, Jnana, Raja and Karma Yoga – must be practiced together in concert in order for the spirit to progress along its path as smoothly as possible.  This synthesis was perhaps best described by the Yogic adept Swami Vivekananda (1863–1902), the chief disciple of the great 19th century Indian sage Ramakrishna, an enlightened mystic of the Yogic tradition by any measure who played a significant role in the introduction of the Indian philosophies of Vedanta and Yoga to the western world in the beginning of the twentieth century.

But Charlie landed on the tradition of Kundalini Yoga first, primarily as a mental practice in his quest for greater focus and concentration on court.  For what he found, and what all great athletes find eventually, was that concentrated mental focus, particularly at key moments in a match or contest, many times made the difference between a win or a loss.  And it was wins or losses that made an athlete at the end of the day, as much as some might believe in the old adage, “it’s not whether you won or lost but how you played the game” that counted.  Charlie found it humorous that Martina Navratilova, one of the greatest tennis champions of all time was said to have once joked that whoever said that must have lost.  That always made Charlie smile.

And Kundalini, or Raja, Yoga more so than all the other Yogic disciplines, spoke of the mystical and supernatural doors into the nature of reality and existence that lay latent in the human form, the ultimate power that lay dormant within all of us the serpent of Kundalini, that lay dormant at the base of the spine, and could be awakened through the disciplined practice of meditation.[1]  And he was fascinated again, fascinated by this system of energy which it described, a system of energy that he already intuitively knew and manipulated, energy he could feel and tap into as he sprinted about on the tennis court chasing after that yellow fuzzy ball in the dance with his opponent chasing after points, games, sets and matches as a professional tennis player.  He was fascinated again, just as he was as a small child fascinated with the myths of Achilles, Hercules and Odysseus in his reading of the Greek myths and the gods and goddesses whose trials and tribulations they described.

He had sat for the first time on a small tree trunk outside one of the tennis facilities he was playing at in France at the time.  He had picked up a book on Raja Yoga, on the power latent within us that coursed through our chakras, or wheels of energy that ran up and down the base of the spine, and had starting reading the sections about Kundalini, the serpent power that lay latent within us, and how to awaken it.

The concept of the chakra system originates in ancient Hindu texts, featured prominently in in the Tantric and Yogic traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism, most notably the systems of Patanjali whose eight limbed practice of yoga had been adopted so widely in the West.  Its name derives from the Sanskrit word for “wheel” or “turning” and refers to wheel-like vortices which are believed to exist in the more subtle form of the human spirit.  The chakras are said to be “force centers” or whorls of energy permeating, from a point on the physical body, the layers of the subtle bodies in an ever-increasing fan-shaped formation, rotating vortices of subtle matter, they are considered the focal points for the reception and transmission of energies, energies which once understood could be manipulated through yogic practices like asanas (postures), pranayama (breathing exercises) and concentration (dhayana) and ultimately meditation where the object of concentration and the concentrator himself merged into one.

And so, one day after a training session, he wandered into the woods behind the courts and simply sat, and rested his mind and focused his attention on this latent serpent power, this power that he was already attune to given his training as a professional athlete.  His posture was not bad, he was sitting upright with his back straight, and just as soon as he closed his eyes, he felt a rush of energy well up within him and quite suddenly and the world’s bottom seemed, in fact did, drop out from underneath him and the expansiveness of space and time opened up before his mind like the revealing of rainbow in the sky, a rainbow that was sitting before him all the time but yet had not noticed it until he had sat and opened his mind to receive its perception in all its glory.  Space expanded, time itself ceased to be, and he could sense that the source from which he came was not, and yet was at the same time, his physical body or the mental sheathe that covered it and awareness, his consciousness, expanded well beyond what he had ever thought imaginable.

But what Charlie had yet to learn, yet to fully absorb, was that the mind was an instrument.  This is what they taught in the Eastern theo-philosophical traditions.  The Eastern mystics had studied the mind, in a seemingly scientific and empirical way, for thousands of years and they had come up with various language and terms, as well as specific approaches and techniques, to harness this mind and use it to reveal the true nature of Reality, a Reality which at its core was unknowable and yet at the same time directly perceivable.  In fact they had created and formulated a language, an architecture of principles along with a means for its revelation, with which to not only describe the nature of mind, but also the process by which its true underlying and all-encompassing nature is revealed.

Sanskrit was the language that was used to describe this science of the mind, and its roots dated far back into ancient times, stemming from the Indo-Aryan nomadic peoples that roamed the Near and Far East well before the great civilizations of Mesopotamia, Persia, and Egypt rose in the Mediterranean and Near East in the third millennium BCE and subsequent centuries.

Vedic Sanskrit was the language of the Rig-Veda, the oldest text of the Indo-Aryan people whose authorship was dated by most scholars to as early as 1500 BCE and according to some scholars and academics reflected oral and other ritualistic traditions that dated back much earlier, perhaps even as far back as the fourth or fifth millennium BCE based upon the civilizations and practices which it described and the corresponding archeological evidence from the region of modern day India and Pakistan which is where the ancient Indo-Aryan peoples are believed to have originated from.[2]

Let’s look to the science of the mind then, this great instrument that the seekers of old, the rishis, or great seers, described in the Vedas, and see how they described it and how it was best put to use to illuminate the mysteries of life and reality – what language they use and how they describe the utility of this mind, this tool that frames the world around us and has promoted and elevated the human species beyond the confines of the base physical world in the last few millennia since the dawn of the Neolithic Revolution and in no small measure has driven the evolution of civilized mankind and its dominion over the earth.

 

The Sanskrit term for mind is manas.  It stems from the root ‘man’, which is a Sanskrit verb meaning “to think” or “mind”.  So it is the subjective, nominative concept of this term which is used to describe this most powerful instrument of ours.  Once could describe it from a Vedic point of view as ‘that which thinks’ or ‘that which minds’.  One can also think of this faculty, this gift that separates us from the lower forms of life, as our own computer, or interface, with the world of name and form around us.  The touch points, or sources of input for this system are the five senses – touching, tasting, hearing, seeing and smelling.  And each of these sources of input work together to experience the world around us.  This act of experiencing includes a subject and an object that together, along with the our faculties of sense perception, to create an experience, or event, all stemming from and processed by this manas, or mind, from which we experience the world around us.

And manas’s job then (and let there be no doubt that manas is supposed to work for the jiva, or individual soul, and not the other way around) is to process this event and experience for the individual, categorize it alongside other events and experiences that share similar characteristics, and in turn take learnings and concepts from the experiences to further along the mind/body system to which that manifestation of manas is associated, the individual Jiva or Soul.  From a Darwinian sense the development of manas can be looked at as a tool that has helped us survive, helped us to domesticate animals and develop agriculture which in turn helped the advent of great cities, civilizations and then in turn empires.  But from the Vedic point of view, the ultimate utility of this instrument was not survival, but liberation from this great wheel of life and death and the ultimate perception, realization, or our oneness with the ground of reality of essence of the universe.

Manas then, after thousands of years of evolution, is the highly developed and sophisticated instrument that could be considered the artificial intelligence portion of this mind/body system, continuing with our software and technology analogy from above.  It is constantly adapting to the world around it, processing and storing hundreds of pieces of information a minute, dozens at least every second, and is able to rapidly apply this information – these memories and lessons learned you could say – to another unfolding event or experience that immediately follows the previous one, and yet at the same time is wholly integrated with the experience before it.  It is the greatest gift of man, and yet so little of its power and essence is understood or studied by mankind ironically, at least outside the field of psychology or mysticism, both fields that take a back seat to the materialistic and capitalistic societies that dominate the Western world today.

According to the tradition and philosophy of Vedanta, which arguably is quite simply the science of the mind and intellect and its relationship with Ultimate Reality, manas is bound to the senses and yields vijnana (practical knowledge of simply information) rather than jnana (wisdom or true knowledge) or vidya (understanding).  This implies of course, that there is something higher than manas, something more subtle and powerful, something that guides manas – the charioteer of the mind if you will borrowing the analogy and metaphor from that great Hindu epic The Mahabharata where Krishna teaches Arjuna about karma, the nature of Reality and mankind’s place in it, and reveals ultimate wisdom to him on the eve of battle[3].

Manas presents its information to its maker, its ruler or its puppeteer, and it is this master principle that processes the information (vijnana) and determines or chooses how to react to all of the information being presented to it and what to do with it if you will.  This principle, this determinative faculty that sits above and behind manas, is called buddhi, or intellect[4].

Manas is the perceiving faculty, our interface with the world that we deem ‘real’, reality being defined in this context as that which is perceived by our senses[5].  Manas is no doubt a great and powerful instrument then, but it is an instrument or tool only, to be subjugated and controlled for higher means, according to Vedic tradition and philosophy, just as the horses are controlled by the charioteer.  Manas furthermore is considered to be just one aspect of what we classically consider to be our mind in the classic western sense of the term, or the mental aspect of individual consciousness.  The entire internal organ of the mind, according to the Vedic tradition, consists of manas, buddhi (intellect), chitta (memory) and ahankara (ego) and collectively is referred to as antahkarana, or “inner cause”.

In the Vedic tradition, or the practice of meditation as outlined in the various systems of Yoga, the individual is instructed to recognize the difference between buddhi and manas, and in turn to identify the presence of ego, or ahankara, in order to more closely identify with and be aware of the role of one’s buddhi in decision making and action in general.  What we would classically consider mind, or psyche in the classic Western academic sense, is looked at in the philosophical system of Vedanta as all of these four components – buddhi, chitta, ahankara and manas – working together to drive behavior and action.  Recognizing the distinctions and roles of these four aspects of our minds from the Vedic standpoint, allows the individual to understand the differentiate between the perceptive faculty of the mind and its corresponding discriminatory aspect, buddhi, allowing for separation and greater understanding of the workings of this great and powerful tool of mind or manas, that can be a destructive or degenerative force as well as a tool or instrument for liberation depending upon how the it is used.

In other words, manas perceives the outside world and processes and stores this information via the chitta aspect of mind.  Chitta though, is not merely a storage mechanism; it also has an emotional aspect to it, which is manifested via what are referred to as samskaras, or deep seated mental impressions.  Samskaras, according to Vedic tradition, represent the most powerful and emotional charged memories and impressions of mind that most influence and guide our behaviors and choices as we go through life in the present.  (Samskara comes from the Sanskrit sam, which means ‘complete’ or ‘joined together’ and kara which means ‘action’, ‘cause’, or ‘doing’.  Samskaras, along with referring to these deep seated psychology impressions that are associated with the Jiva and are a result of previous actions and the Jiva’s attachment to said actions, also sometimes refers to the personal sacraments that mark the major milestones of the life of the Hindu, from the moment of conception to the final scattering of his funeral ashes.  It is the former philosophical meaning of the term samskaras that are pertinent in the role of the mind that we explore here.)

To make matters more difficult, manas and chitta are colored and clouded by ahankara, or ego, along with samskaras, and it is only through purposeful awareness of one’s buddhi, or intellect, that the individual can see the world around them for what it truly is, and forcibly guide one’s behaviors to desired results rather than one’s samskaras and ego guide our behaviors unconsciously, at times yielded undesirable results.  According to the Vedic tradition, it becomes a question of who is driving the chariot, the charioteer or the horses, to boil down to its essence one of the essential messages of the Bhagavad Gita.

All of our thoughts, words, feelings, actions, behaviors and life experiences create impressions on our mind, or our subconscious as referred to by modern psychology.  These impressions are called samskaras in the philosophical systems of Yoga and VedantaSamskaras are the grooves in the mental pathways of our mind, they can be thought of the current that drives us forward mentally which in turn drives our actions on the physical plane and at a very fundamental level create the reality of the physical world around us in the sense that it frames our perception of it and how we react to it.  Samskaras can be positive or negative, and are typically driven by emotional attachments to what we desire, or in turn the avoidance of things or experiences which we associate with pain or suffering- that which propels us toward something we want or forces us away from that which we want to avoid.

Understanding how all of these aspects of mind work together, and the role of one’s buddhi in processing all of the information and determining how to act or react to a given situation or stimuli, allows for a much more profound and deeper understanding of the role of mind in our daily lives, and in turn how the mind can lead to bondage or suffering.  This understanding, and tapping into the potency of buddhi, and at the very least the recognition of its existence, can also help us better understand why we think the things we think, why we have strong emotional attachments to some thoughts or ideas, and how these samskaras can be tamed to better guide and influence our behavior to desired results, rather than our behaviors and thoughts driving certain behaviors unconsciously.  Knowing the charioteer exists gives us a much better chance of controlling the direction and speed of the chariot.

Charlie liked to refer to the machination of the mind as reflections and speculations.  If you watched the mind for some time, stood away from it just a bit, he found that you could categorize the thought waves into reflections, the mulling over and processing of past events, and speculations, the creative part of the mind that is typically called the imagination that creates scenarios and situations that have yet to occur although they have some basis in reality, or the mental impressions of past experiences.

In effect, you could consider the workings of manas, that great and powerful tool, as a constant processing of information that is taken in by the senses, our interactions with others, and the application of this understanding to present or future events.  This is what the mind does, this is its purpose.  It is constantly organizing, generalizing and processing information from the world around us, comparing and contrasting it to past experiences and known modes of understanding, and then in turn filing away such information and storing it in the massive library, called chitta by the philosophical systems of Yoga and Vedanta.

Buddhi in turn, can be looked at as the charioteer, or the CEO, of this complex mental and psychological system.  He sits atop all of this massive store of information, and if his presence is perceived and recognized properly, he can be the master construct that processes and stores all of this information that comes in from the five senses continually all around us, and can act on it as they deem fit, using the power of discrimination and wisdom.  Better contact, comprehension and awareness of this guiding principle of the mind yields greater control over what would be called behaviors in modern psychology, and in turn a better chance of being able to achieve our desires and goals by framing our actions in a way that lead to desired ends rather than being bounced around in the world around us by the constant chasing of senses and desires.

As Charlie started practicing meditation more, he found that upon closing his eyes and focusing his mind he was immediately confronted by the waves of his thoughts.  The deeper and stronger the thought or desire, the more it plagued or was stirred up, by his practice of meditation – his desire to be a successful competitive tennis player, to compete on the big stages of the world, his desire for love and companionship, concern about his family, etc.  All of these thoughts stirred within him, and surged through his mind one after the other, with seemingly no end.  In the practice of meditation then, Charlie was challenged with the concept of mind and the nature of thought itself, what it represented and how it defined who he was.

Upon his meditation on the nature of thought, the turning of the instrument of the mind upon itself as it were, his now new quest to understand the thinking apparatus within man, he concluded what the Vedic and Yogic traditions had taught for thousands of years, that thoughts had different potencies, the waves came in different strengths and shapes through the backdrop of the mind, the strongest and most powerful of these thoughts stemming from his deepest and most lasting desires or disappointments, i.e. samskaras.

Most of us have thousands of thoughts during the course of the day.  They reigned over one’s life really.  They provided the framework from which Charlie acted and reacted in his daily life.  They framed people’s perception of him as well as one invariably must express themselves through words, and words and language and sound stem from thought.  It is these thoughts themselves that provide the framework for the events of our life really.

But most people didn’t recognize this.  They allowed themselves to be ruled by their thoughts, driven unconsciously by their samskaras, and were not aware of this subtle truth that drove their actions and behaviors, that their deepest and most relevant past impressions were in turn what more than anything else guided their present reality, and how the world around them shaped and adapted to them rather than the other way around.  But when you stopped for a few moments, let yourself enter into the world of the mind to discover its nature, it was then when you begin to realize the great influence that thoughts have on defining who you are and how you perceive the world around you, and in turn how the world around you and your relationships in particular were shaped by your thoughts, particularly your reaction to them.  Of course understanding their potency and liberating yourself from their bondage were two totally different things, the difference between a novice tennis player and a world champion, or master craftsman, so to speak.

 

Samskaras.  Charlie had yet to be exposed to that term when he first sat in meditation on that stump long ago in rural France, but that was the realm he was beginning to explore.  Moving from the raw physical world he sought so hard to master on the tennis court, into the more subtle world of the mind to try and find the secret of peak performance.  A journey which led into the nature of mind itself.  His inner journey had started.

Once Charlie had embarked into the realm of thought, he began to try and gain control of these thoughts, control by focus, that was the practice.  To sift his way through all the thoughts that he had, and consciously try to choose and focus his thoughts, the onepointedness of the Buddhist and Yogic traditions.  Some thoughts he chose to cultivate, and others, he chose to ignore or push away.  The thoughts still emerged to and fro upon the surface of his mind, but by choosing which thoughts to cultivate, Charlie began to reflect on their power, and contemplate their source.  Charlie had yet to realize the true import of visualization, the source from which mandalas and other visual representations of the divine, stemmed in the Eastern traditions[6].

And after the passage of some time, Charlie found, through the calming practice of meditation and the observing of thoughts as they passed through the undercurrent of Mind, one might find that these thoughts would slow, and begin to merge and coalesce into more pointed or singular thoughts or concepts.  One would climb the ladder of abstraction until it reached some its highest rungs.  And as it moved higher, the physical plane of existence becomes more and more distant, and the meditator began to merge into the world of thought, and into the source of all thoughts.  This world around the Jiva, the experiences and their impressions that they leave upon the mind of the individual, reflects the potency of this concept Maya[7], or illusion, that they speak of in the Vedic tradition, as looked at from the non-relative standpoint and from higher levels of perception.

Charlie knew for example, that one of the thoughts that plagued him on his second serve, was the double fault.  The dreaded double fault.  The gift wrapping of a point for your opponent.  And the potency of this little thought that had the potential to chip away at the foundation of his serve.  When he tossed that ball, sometimes that thought would creep into his mind, and his arm and back would seize up and tighten, and invariably, even if the serve went in, it had nothing on it.  A veritable meatball in the eyes of his opponent.  Despite all the energy he put into it, the ball had little velocity, and his accuracy was shoddy at best when this thought crept into his mind before his serve.  The thought, the fear of the double fault, had a direct physical manifestation in his physical body as he went through the physical motion of his serve.

So how to quell this thought?  How to drive it from your mind so that you can relax and be as fluid as possible in the complex motion of the serve that was so critical to setting the stage of the point and giving yourself the best possible chance to win that point?  For it is this fluidity, this relaxed state of mind, from which the velocity and accuracy on your serve came.  Charlie understood this and yet at the same time that dreaded thought would sometimes creep into his mind before he served, despite everything he might do to set it aside.

In all sport, the more complicated a physical motion, the more relaxed and peaceful your mind must be to accomplish it, to find the perfection in it.  To channel the energy in your body in the most complete and effective way to send that yellow fuzzy ball into the exact spot you were aiming, with the exact velocity, and the exact spin.  You couldn’t break it down, you couldn’t think about all the complex physical attributes and movements that needed to take place in order to achieve it, you needed to simply feel it.  An in order to feel it, your mind had to be empty, or said in another way, full in its perception and manifestation of the fluid and clean motion that yielded the serve that you were looking to execute on.

The serve, ironically enough given that it was the only shot in tennis where you could set the time table upon which it was struck, was where this state of mind, this emptiness, was needed most.  The serve was only stroke that had no external variables associated with it outside of your own physical presence and posture and the ball which you held in your hand.  It was just you, and the ball, standing up there next to the baseline.  A simple toss with one hand, a coiling of the hips and shoulders, a bit of a knee bend to get your legs into the motion, and then “thwap!, that ball came off the strings and was sent barreling over the net (hopefully), over to the opponent’s service box.  The more relaxed you were in the motion, the more it came from true feel, the more effective the shot was and most certainly the more velocity you had on the ball.  This was true of the serve more so than any other shot.

So how do you find this place where you can be at your most effective?  Your most relaxed, and yet your most aware state at the same time?  It was through ritual and through mantra.  That was what Jim Loehr, the eminent sports psychologist, was getting at really[8].  Through the rituals that surrounded the beginning and ending of the points, and through the repetition of a mantra or word that represented positive and powerful energy, you lost yourself in the rhythm of the game, your mind focused on the ritual, and the body was allowed to perform at its best – naturally.

This experience on the tennis court then, gave Charlie a deep sense of appreciation for the power of thought, the importance of ritual, and most certainly the power of mantra.  He saw clearly the power of thought, and its defining quality in its manifestation in both the positive and negative sense.  Once he understood this, and began to apply these principles of ritual and mantra into his game, and his meditation practice, his thoughts began to gain strength and focus, and take on a more positive, affirming form.  Through the constant practice of meditation, Charlie began to refine his thoughts until they reached a purer state and more abstract state, and more importantly Charlie began to be aware of their potency.

For there is a great difference between a pure, crystallized thought, and a lazy thought that exists alongside of dozens of other thoughts.  At the beginning then, Charlie found that meditation was simply the practice of refining his thoughts, of letting them pass through the substrata of your mind until the sea of thoughts was quelled, and the thoughts that stemmed up from the depths of the mind became more abstract, and more subtle, and the space between each individual thought began to expand and grow.  This was the settling of the mind in action, the quelling of the sea of mind until its rough waves began to relax and calm.

This is where Charlie found the Buddhist’s traditions to be very helpful.  Buddhism originated from Hinduism, just as Christianity had its roots in Judaism.  Buddha was a Hindu just as Jesus of Nazareth was a Jew.  And yet Buddhism had taken the esoteric teachings of the Vedas and crafted a handbook of sorts for the struggling soul, a much more simplified handbook than the Vedic philosophical and metaphysical tradition, at least from Charlie’s perspective.  The Four Noble Truths.  What a beautiful gift to humanity it was.  A guidebook to the realm of the spirit really, and a framework for living that would last over a thousand years.

The four noble truths of Gautama, spoken to his disciples just after his enlightenment under the buddhi tree, can be summarized as 1) the nature of this world is suffering, 2) suffering comes from desire and attachment, 3) suffering can be overcome, it can be conquered, and 4) the path to the cessation of suffering is the Eightfold Path.  Charlie didn’t consider himself to be a Buddhist, but he was drawn to the teachings for their simplicity and elegance.  And it was Sogyal Rinpoche’s work, his attempt to explain the deep mysteries of life to the Western mind in his seminal work ‘The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying’, where Charlie found the best explanation of this nature of mind that Gautama attempted to provide us with a guidebook to cross:

 

Just as the ocean has waves, or the sun has rays, so the mind’s own radiance is its thoughts and emotions.  The ocean has waves, yet the ocean is not particularly disturbed by them.  The waves are the very nature of the ocean.  Waves will rise, but where do they go?  Back into the ocean.  And where do the waves come from?  The ocean.  In the same manner, thoughts and emotions are the radiance and expression of the very nature of the mind.  They rise from the mind, but where do they dissolve?  Back into the mind

 

In effect, when we begin our study of the mind, we begin our study of the surface of the oceanic mind.  And it is the mind, in all its depth, that is the sky of life.  It is in meditation that we perceive this mind most directly, and when we begin to explore its source.  That all seemed to make sense to Charlie.  He didn’t completely understand, but he was beginning at least to be introduced to the age old metaphors that would help him understand the true nature of Self, or the Atman of the Vedic tradition, and come closer to answering those nagging, age old questions: “Who am I and why am I here?”, the same questions that the ancients were looking to provide answers for in their mythological and cosmological traditions.

There is just so much activity in the day of the Westerner.  It is virtually impossible for him to see through the illusion of the physical world into the gravity of the mind.  Taking up of the practice of meditation however, gives you a totally different perspective on this collection of daily events and experiences.  Furthermore, through the constant practice of the direct experience of the raw material for all existence, the light of truth began to become brighter for Charlie, and the nature of mind somewhat illuminated, if nothing else providing a more abstract and accurate construct from which to view the word around him and his life in general.

But where exactly can we step beyond the nature of thought into the realm of the mind?  How do you navigate through the realm of thought into the world from which all thoughts sprung forth?  Sure, thoughts would get finer and finer in deep meditation.  But as long as there was this sense of ‘I’, this sense of self that emanated from the attachment to thoughts and their associated emotions, Charlie felt trapped.  He felt bound.  The study of thought only revealed to him the subtle potency of thought, as well as the daunting nature of the task to go beyond thought, to lose yourself in the framework within which waves of thoughts originated.

The Buddhist tradition had some guidance here though.  Captured elegantly by Sogyal Rinpoche once again:

 

In the ordinary mind, we perceive the stream of thoughts as continuous; but in reality this is not the case.  You will discover for yourself that there is a gap between each thought.  When the past thought is past, and the future thought not yet arisen, you will always find a gap in which the Rigpa, the nature of mind, is revealed.  So the work of meditation is to allow thoughts to slow down, to make that gap become more apparent.

 

It is within this gap then, that we may find the gateway to the mind and the true nature of all experience.  The study of thought is simply the first step along the journey.  And this journey is in the realm of mind, leading from the small mind of the individual, to the greater massive mind of all consciousness.  Meditation then, that purely subjective experience, formed the core principle of the eastern traditions, the first step toward the understanding of reality, the path upon which one must travel if the true nature of the universe from which everything in it has sprung can be known.

Easier said than done of course, and despite the elegant intellectual framework within which the East painted this picture of mind, and the means with which to quell it for peace and ultimate realization, Charlie was still left with all the same day to day challenges of life, no matter how good or revealing a meditation practice might be or how much “insight” it provided.

 

[1] For a good description on the etymology and meaning of Kundalini, and its reflection in the theological traditions of both the East and the West, see http://www.transpersonal.com.au/kundalini/definition.htm.

[2] Sanskrit was the primary liturgical language of Hinduism and its offshoots Buddhism and Jainism and virtually all of the ancient texts of these religions were authored in Sanskrit.  Sanskrit’s position in the cultures of Greater India is akin to that of Latin and Greek in Europe and it has significantly influenced most modern languages of the Indian subcontinent, particularly in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal.  The pre-Classical form of Sanskrit is known as Vedic Sanskrit, and it was the language used in the Vedas, the oldest texts of the Indo-Aryan peoples that described their cosmologies and rituals that survive and whose underlying rituals and theology carry into Hinduism and Buddhism even to this day.  This qualifies Rigvedic Sanskrit as one of the oldest attestations of any Indo-Iranian language, and one of the earliest attested members of the Indo-European language family, the family which includes English and most European languages.

[3] The Mahabharata is one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India, the other being the Ramayana.  Besides its epic narrative of the Kurukshetra War and the fates of the Kauravas and the Pandava princes, the Mahabharata contains much philosophical and devotional material, such as a discussion of the four “goals of life” or purusharthas.  Among the principal works and stories that are a part of the Mahabharata are the Bhagavad Gita, the story of Damayanti, an abbreviated version of the Ramayana, and the Rishyasringa, often considered as works in their own right.  Adapted from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahabharata.

[4] From the Sanskrit root term budh, meaning ‘to be awake’, ‘to understand’ or ‘to know’.

[5] Or extensions of our senses like microscopes, telescopes, thermometers, etc. which become relevant when looking at the results fields of the fields of physics, molecular-biology for example in modern times.

[6] Maṇḍala is a Sanskrit word meaning “circle.”  In the Buddhist and Hindu religious traditions sacred art often takes a mandala form.  The basic form of most Hindu and Buddhist mandalas is a square with four gates containing a circle with a center point.  These mandalas, or concentric diagrams, have spiritual and ritual significance in both Buddhism and Hinduism.  Mandalas may be employed for focusing attention of aspirants and adepts, as a spiritual teaching tool, for establishing a sacred space, and as an aid to meditation.  In Carl Jung’s psychoanalytic works, h saw the mandala as “a representation of the unconscious self, and believed his paintings of mandalas enabled him to identify emotional disorders and work towards wholeness in personality.

[7] Maya or Māyā in the Vedic and Yogic traditions has multiple meanings, usually translated into English as “illusion”, the concept centers on the philosophical principle that we do not experience the physical world itself but are rather a projection of it, and reality is created by us as a projection of our mind.  Māyā in these traditions is also referred to as the principal or deity that manifests, perpetuates and governs the illusion and dream of duality in the phenomenal universe, resting on the principle that in fact reality is one and indivisible and it is only through the illusion reflected by the power of Maya that a distinction between the subject and the object is perceived.  For some mystics, this manifestation of duality and distinction between the observer and that which is observed is real (see dualistic Vedic philosophical systems such as Dvaita Vedanta), i.e. each person, each physical object, from the perspective of eternal unity, is like a brief, disturbed drop of water from an unbounded ocean.  The goal of enlightenment is to understand this non-dual notion and the illusory nature of maya – more precisely, to experience this: to see intuitively that the distinction between the Self and the Universe is a false dichotomy that stems from ignorance and un-enlightenment.  Adapted from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maya_(illusion).

[8] https://www.hpinstitute.com/why-hpi/our-people/dr-jim-loehr

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