The Legend of Prince Siddhartha: Buddhist Philosophy Part I

Running parallel to the maturation and evolution of Hellenic philosophy, to the East the Indo-Aryan people were going through a similar intellectual revolution from the prevalence of ritual and ceremonial worship of gods and goddesses embedded in their mythologically steeped traditions as preserved in their Hindu (Vedic) scripture, to a more speculative and metaphysical mode of inquiry into the nature of reality and existence and its relationship to change, impermanence, and the immortality of the Soul, or Self (Atman) as it was referred to in the Vedas.

The aim of this inquiry, again just as it was in the West in the Hellenic philosophical tradition which was emerging at contemporaneously, was to explain not only the nature of reality, being, or “existence”, but also mankind’s place in as well as expound upon the goal of life, i.e. happiness, enlightenment, nirvana, liberation, moksha, eudaemonia or whatever other term the specific theo-philosophical tradition chose to denote this idea.  Unique to the Indo-Aryan philosophical tradition, which was also shared by Buddhism its close cousin, was that there existed a path to the ultimate liberation of the human Soul, by means of which death itself could be overcome.  This belief system was not just steeped in the notion of “realization”, or absolute knowledge (vidya), that which was spoken of by the great sages or seers of old, i.e. the Rishis, but also was characterized and underpinned by a system of metaphysics within which the nature of the Soul could be understood, and through which the means by which the Soul could be ultimately liberated rested upon.  This fundamentally intellectual development was driven not only by the analysis, commentary and interpretation of the more esoteric and philosophical aspects of the Vedas, or more specifically the Upanishads, but also by the teachings of Siddartha Gautama, the historical figure who is the founder of Buddhism.

Buddhism takes root in the Indian subcontinent toward the end of the 5th century BCE or so, originating in the northeast border between modern India and Nepal where Siddhartha Gautama was born (and where he presumably taught as well) at around the same time that the first of the Upanishads were compiled.  In modern academic literature, Buddhism is typically considered to be part of a broader philosophical movement that arose as an alternative to Vedic religion in the first half of the first millennium BCE in the Indian subcontinent called Śramaṇa.  This movement included Jainism, as well as other heterodox – i.e. not adhering to the Vedas as authoritative scripture – theo-philosophical schools of thought.[1]

The rise and influence of Buddhism then must be seen within the context of a broader intellectual movement that arose on the outskirts of the ancient Indo-Aryan civilization which reflected a basic and fundamental dissatisfaction with Vedic philosophy, culture and tradition as a means to liberation.  It represented almost a rebellion of sorts to the orthodox theological and religious dogma that was prevalent at the time which was encased within a very structured and elitist socio-political structure, i.e. Varna, which closely guarded theological study and knowledge by a specific class of society, i.e. the Brahmins, and which held that moksha, or immortality, was to be practiced only by the well trained and select few. Siddhartha, after much trials and tribulation, and after following many different paths and teachings, concluded that the prevailing orthodox Vedic philosophical system as a means to liberation or happiness was fundamentally flawed and after his Awakening, came up with an alternative philosophy (and underlying metaphysics) which became the basis of Buddhism in all its different variants today.

The popularity and spread of Buddhism in the Indian subcontinent in the last half of the first millennium BCE, which spread all the way into the Far East and regions of Chinese cultural influence in the first few centuries of the Common Era and beyond, along with the establishment of Vedic philosophy as represented in the Upanishadic literature, is in many respects directly analogous theo-philosophical development in the Hellenic world which arose out of the prevailing mythological and theological based religious traditions from which our modern (Western) notion of “philosophy” itself was conceived.  It can also be understood as analogous to the Christian revolution in the first few centuries of the Common Era as Jesus of Nazareth rejected the fundamental teachings of Judaism and proclaimed his new philosophy, i.e. the Gospel, for which he was ultimately crucified.  The teachings of Jesus, who later became known as Christ or Logos personified, as interpreted and compiled by his followers who founded Christianity as we know it today, not only rejected the religion of the Hebrews (of which Jesus was of course a member), but also the so-called “pagan” religions that were prevalent in the Mediterranean at the time, proclaiming that not only was there one true God as the Hebrews had done before him, but that this God was accessible to, and was in fact indistinguishable from, the very inmost essence of all mankind.

But Christianity as well, in its formation in the after the death of Jesus and as the Church and its associated religious dogma became codified and canonized into the Bible, also integrated Hellenic theo-philosophy as well, this element of Christianity being specially emphasized by the early Christian Church Fathers.  Just like Jesus then, Buddha rejected the religious traditions of his forefathers proposed not only an altogether different theo-philosophy, but also a fundamentally different worldview, i.e. metaphysics, as well as a completely different means and approach by which the ultimate goal of life could be reached, a goal which he defined as the cessation of suffering.  Buddhism then was born out of Hinduism just as Christianity was born out of Judaism, and Buddha was a Hindu just as Jesus was a Jew.

After searching for keys to unlock the secret of human suffering in his many years of wandering after he left behind his family and kingdom, Buddha ultimately came to find that none of the teachings he encountered answered his questions satisfactorily, and therefore he rejected Vedic philosophy in all its variations and after his “Awakening”, came to understand and teach a practical handbook of sorts for all seekers of Truth and Knowledge, a much more simplified and practical philosophy, a way of life really, than was then offered by the more traditional orthodox Vedic philosophical schools.

 

The mythical narrative surrounding the birth, life and death of the Prince Siddhartha is consistent with the narratives of most pre-historical heroic figures (Jesus, Hercules, etc.) and starts with stories of his immaculate conception into a ruling family in the foothills of the Himalayas in Northern India.  It is said that upon his birth, which his mother did not survive, he was visited by a great sage who predicted that he would either be a great ruler of men or a great religious teacher and reformer (holy man).  His early childhood and young adulthood was spent living the life of luxury within the confines of multiple palaces and exposed to all the pleasures that one might expect were accessible to a prince.  It is said that his father, given the prophecy upon his birth of the potential for his son to be a great religious prophet and teacher, took great pains to shelter him from any outside influences that would expose him to the suffering and harsh realities of the world which in turn might lead to his renunciation of his birthright.  It is said that he married and had a son and spent the first 29 years of his life in the sheltered and elaborate palace of his father where no desire of his was left unfulfilled.

In his late twenties, a story is told that one day he left the palace of his own volition to view his subjects and kingdom first hand, despite the misgivings and sheltering instincts of his father.  On this journey outside the palace walls, he was exposed to his first examples of the great suffering of the world, seeing first an old man on the verge of death, then a diseased man in great suffering and pain, followed by the corpse of a dead man, and lastly by an ascetic monk who had renounced the world in the classic Vedic monastic tradition which was prevalent at the time.  This experience is said to have completely transformed his view of the world and invoked feelings of tremendous and overwhelming compassion for the plight of his people, inspiring him to renounce his royal pedigree, leave his wife and child, and begin to live the life of an itinerant wandering monk to search for truth and the meaning of life, which was from his perspective the source and possible secret to the end of suffering.

Prince Siddhartha then spent the next several years following various forms of extreme Vedic asceticism and renunciation to try and find the true nature of existence and the path to illumination as prescribed by the teachings of the Vedas, with each successive path and teaching that he followed getting him no closer to the answers to the questions that he was seeking.  It is then said that after practicing these extreme forms of renunciation and deprivation that led him close to the edge of death, he finally gave up these practices as fruitless and settled down under a Bodhi tree (believed to be in Bodh Gaya, India), and resolved to sit in contemplation until either the solution to the nature of suffering and its ultimate liberation was revealed to him or die in the process.

After supposedly sitting in deep meditation for some 49 days, being tempted during his practice by various demons and gods with all sorts of worldly temptations to lead him astray (think Jesus’s 40 days and 40 nights in the desert having been tempted by Satan), at the age of 35 Siddhartha Gautama achieved Enlightenment and arose as the Buddha the name being derived from the root Sanskrit verb ”to know”, or “budh”, meaning “one who is awake”, i.e. the Awakened One.  The term Buddha, or Buddha nature, has come to represent the eternal and ever-present nature of truth and existence which he came to embody after his enlightenment experience under the Bodhi tree.

Upon emerging from this deep meditative and transformative experience, which was supposed marked by a great earthquake when his state of enlightenment was achieved and the eternal truth and knowledge of the nature of suffering and the path by which it could be overcome was revealed to him, Prince Siddartha became Buddha.  Although initially reticent to teaching this new found knowledge to the rest of mankind, believing that everyone was too steeped in ignorance and worldliness to understand, comprehend and ultimately practice the eternal Truth which was revealed to him, it is said that he was convinced by one of the great Indian deities, Brahma Sahampati, to at least try to teach for the good of mankind.

Thus began the teaching phase of his life from which the philosophical system of Buddhism as we know it today has been handed down to us.  It is said that he traveled throughout India and taught his Four Noble Truths and Noble Eightfold Path, as well as instituted the practices of Buddhist monasticism, for some 45 years until his death sometime in the 5th or 4th centuries BCE.  These teachings, sometimes referred to as his Buddha Dharma, or the Way of Buddha, represented a complete explanation and exposition of the laws of nature as they applied to the problem, and ultimate solution, of human suffering which was from his perspective the end goal of any theological or philosophical pursuit.  He taught how the great cycle of birth, disease, decay and dying could be overcome by proper understanding, or knowledge of “reality”, or more precisely the shedding of ignorance of the existence of the Self and attachment to which to Buddha attributed the source of suffering.

The historical figure we know today as Buddha was raised on the northern Indian/Nepal border in the foothills of the Himalayas as a prince from an affluent ruling family, living and teaching somewhere between the end of the sixth and early part of the 4th centuries BCE but dated by most scholars to the 5th century BCE.  What we know about the historical figure named Siddhartha Gautama who later became known as the Buddha, is from a corpus of textual material written that is handed down to us in in Pali[3], as well as somewhat later Sanskrit, Tibetan and Chinese transliterations of the Pali texts.  The Tripitaka, or Pali Canon, which is term used for the orthodox and authoritative Buddhist texts, cover not only his teachings, but also include biographic material as well, the latter of which is interspersed with a variety of mythical accounts that established him as a pseudo-divine figure who was born to deliver his message for the good of mankind.  Tripitaka (Tipitaka in Pali), means literally “three baskets”, and while the earliest parts of the canon are believed to have been compiled or transcribed within a few centuries after Buddha died, the biographic material is believed to have been incorporated into the corpus in the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE.

Siddhartha Gautama, or the “Awakened One” as he was referred to by his followers, is one of the most prominent and influential theo-philosophical teachers from antiquity whose influence has spread over the centuries from the Indian subcontinent throughout most of Asia and now in modern times to the West.  In many respects the Pali Canon and teachings of the Buddha which are contained therein can be seen as analogous to the Four Gospels which contain various narratives of the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth and form the core part of the New Testament of the Bible which were written some decades after his death and were only later included as part of the Biblical canon.

According to most scholarly accounts, it is the Pali Canon that represents the oldest authoritative Buddhist scripture.  This strain of Buddhism that considers the Pali Canon to be the authoritative Buddhist scripture is referred to as Theravada Buddhism, Theraveda meaning literally “school of elderly monks” in Pali, as opposed to the slightly more possible and well known variant of Buddhism, at least in the West, called Mahayana Buddhism – of which the more widely known schools of Zen and Tibetan Buddhism are representative for example – and relies on a different set of scriptures than the Theraveda school referred to as the Agamas (“sacred work” or “scripture” in Sanskrit or Pali), which are written in Classical Chinese and referred to as the Chinese Buddhist Canon, or Dàzàngjīng (大藏經).

Mahayana literally means “Great Vehicle” in Sanskrit and focuses more on the monastic aspects of Buddha’s teachings and emphasizes the, rules, rites and practices for those who wish to pursue enlightenment for the good of all sentient beings as Buddha himself did.  These enlightened beings are called bodhisattvas, or “enlightened beings” in the Mahayana school and while the Mahayana school does not necessarily differ from the Theravada tradition (which precedes it historically) in terms of basic philosophical tenets and practices, it nonetheless developed a unique and relatively independent scriptural and philosophical tradition which codified and institutionalized specific doctrines, teachings and practices for the pursuit and attainment of enlightenment, what perhaps Buddhism in modern parlance is best known for.

Despite their differences in interpretation and practices, each adheres to the core basic teachings of Buddha as reflected in his Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, the latter of which outlines the true nature of reality and the causes of suffering and the former which outlines the intellectual and metaphysical basis for the basic precepts and practices which are to bring about the cessation of suffering and ultimately enlightenment and the end if the cycle of death and rebirth.  While Buddhism does not lay out a philosophic doctrine per se, at least not in the classic Western sense of the term, nor does it lay out any systemic laws or beliefs as is characteristic of the Abrahamic religions, it does however lays out basic fundamental precepts about the nature of life and reality from which it establishes a path, the so called “Middle Way”, which is the means by which the bonds of attachment which ultimately lead to suffering can be broken for good, resting on the fundamental assertion that not only is enlightenment possible, but that there is a specific path which can be followed which will ultimately lead to nirvana, the term given to the cessation of suffering and the end of the “wheel of dharma”.

 

When analyzing the teachings of Buddhism, as reflected in the various textual sources which were compiled by his followers sometime after his death, we are left with very similar challenges and pitfalls when studying the philosophy of all of the great teachers in antiquity.  While we can optimistically assume that his precise teachings and doctrines, words and phrases and terminology , were faithfully transcribed by his followers even if several generations of teacher and student transmission existed before any of the actual texts which codify his teachings were transcribed, we still nonetheless have to try and extract what he actually said and taught from the extant literature – for the texts were written in a variety of languages that a) in all likelihood do not reflect the actually language that he spoke, and b) we do know that he did not leave any written materials behind himself.

According to tradition, the transcription of the Pali Canon is the result of the Third Buddhist Council that was convened at the behest of the pious Indian emperor Ashoka Maurya (304-232 BCE) who ruled much of the Indian subcontinent in the third century BCE.  His intent for convening the council, much like the Christian councils that were convened in the 3rd century CE onward, was to standardize the teachings, texts and some philosophical elements of Buddha’s legacy from amongst the various factions that had sprung forth after Buddha’s death, leading to the existence of a variety of teachers and philosophic schools who disagreed on many aspects of the Buddha’s message and precepts.

As the tradition has it, the council lasted nine months and consisted of senior monastic representatives from all around the emperor’s kingdom who debated various aspects of Buddhist doctrine, culminating in the canonization of the scripture, i.e. the establishment of the Pali Canon, and formation of the foundational principles and practices of Theravada Buddhism.  After the council it is said that the emperor dispatched various monks who could recite the teachings by heart to nine different locations throughout the Near and Far East, laying the groundwork for the spread of Buddhist teachings and philosophy not just in the Indian subcontinent, but throughout the ancient world as far East to Burma and even as far West to Persia, Greece and Egypt.

The Tripitaka contain three major sections, (in Sanskrit) the Sutra Pitaka, the Vinaya Pitaka, and the Abhidharma Pitaka.  The Sutra Pitaka is the oldest of the three parts of the canon and is said to have been recited by Ananda, Buddha’s secretary at the First Council, a meeting of five hundred disciples of Buddha shortly after his death to compile his teachings.  It is divided into five sections of sutras which are grouped as nikayas, or “collections” – the Digha Nikaya or “Long Discourses”, the Majihima Nikaya or “Middle Discourses”, Samyutta Nikaya or “Connected Discourses”, the Anguttara Nikaya or “Numerical Discourses”, and the Khuddaka Nikaya or “Minor Collection”.  Another disciple of Buddha named Upali is said to have recited the Vinaya portion of the Tripitaka which deals mostly with rules governing monastic life, reflecting the strong undercurrent of renunciation and monasticism which was an integral part of Buddhism from its inception.  The Abhidharma portion of the is the youngest material and reflects the Buddha’s teachings regarding various deities in heaven during the final period of his Enlightenment and deals with various philosophical and doctrinal issues which help elucidate the some of the more esoteric and obscure aspects of the scripture.

It is from the Sutra Pitaka portion of the Pali Canon that we ascertain the core of Buddhist doctrine as it was understood by his followers and is interpreted by the various schools and practitioners throughout the world today.

 


 

 

[1] Śramaṇa (Samaṇa in Pali) is a Sanskrit word meaning “seeker”, or “one who performs acts of austerity”, or simple an “ascetic” and is used to refer to several Indian theo-philosophical intellectual developments that emerged in the first half of the first millennium BCE as distinct, and in opposition to, the more prevalent “orthodox” Vedic tradition which came to represent the basis of the Hindu faith, hence their categorization as “heterodox”.  These intellectual theo-philosophical developments and schools of thought ran directly parallel, and are believed to have influenced, the philosophy of the Upanishads.  Theo-philosophical traditions such as Jainism, Buddhism, as well as the lesser known traditions such as Ājīvika, Ajñana and Cārvāka are all considered to be part of the Śramaṇa movement.  Classical Indian philosophical conceptions such as saṃsāra and moksha are believed to have originated within these schools of thought, conceptions that were later integrated into some of the major Indian philosophical schools such as Yoga and Samkhya.  See Wikipedia contributors, ‘Śramaṇa’, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 18 September 2016, 02:20 UTC, <https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=%C5%9Arama%E1%B9%87a&oldid=739942627> [accessed 18 September 2016] as well as the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Buddha: Siderits, Mark, “Buddha”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2015/entries/buddha/&gt;.

[3] Pali is a Prakrit language native to the Indian subcontinent, believed to have originated in Northern India, and very closely related to Sanskrit, with most words existing in both languages with simple phonetic transliterations between the two.  Pali is a language in the Indo-European/Indo-Iranian language family whose main historical significance is that it is the language of one, if not the, main source of Buddhist scripture and philosophy

The Great Cave of the Mind

So many teachings
So many schools
So many methods
So many philosophies
So many religions and creeds
There is no end really

As there exist different societies and nations
All throughout the world
There will always be different methods
Which have been developed over the ages
To commune with the divine
To that which is unspeakable and beyond words
Unbelievable and unknowable
And the existence behind non-existence

But they all stem no doubt
From the first man who thought he saw god
The burning bush
The ten commandments
The calling of Moses to the mountain top

To great prophet Muhammad
The seal of the long line of prophets
Descendant from Abraham
Who would hide in recluse
In the darkest of caves in the mountains
Somewhere in the dirt wasteland
Of the Saudi Arabian peninsula no doubt
To commune with the client teacher
The ever present and subtlest of guides

And Gabriel was his teacher
Whose he saw in his visions
Like the great prophets of old
Who spoke to him in Arabic verses
To inspire him to guide and lead his people
And bring back the truth of the unity of the divine
And the importance of living together
In a civilized and compassionate world

Christ too no doubt
Had his moments of communion
Where God the Father revealed himself to him
In all his glory
And promised him a seat at his right hand
And showed the terror of crucifixion that was to befall him
If he chose the wayward path
The path of righteousness and loyalty

Christ was given the choice
And he chose Truth over falsehood
Professed the power of the divine
And its living presence within all of us
In the multitudes of the poor and the starving
As well as the aristocrats and rabbis
Who ultimately sent him to his death

And for this choice,
His stubborn unwillingness to deny
That he and the Father were One
He was punished and tortured
And Christianity born from his ashes
2000 years and billions of faithful
born from the deeds of one courageous man
And man he was
Child of God or not
He was of human flesh and blood
Just like each and every last one of us

We saw this journey of his
His stubbornness and willingness to die for principle and Truth
As his gift to us
Although it cannot ever be understood
Whether his message was Truth was to be followed at all costs
And that God is the blessed gift of us all
Or that, as the later Christian Fathers teach us
That he died for our sins for our salvation

Buddha too
Having grown up studying the Vedas with the Brahmin priests
Practicing asceticism after he renounced the kingdom to which he was heir
Denying the physical form of his body
Until he lay almost dead and utterly lifeless
And then he sat, just sat, under the bodhi tree
And again with the stubbornness of a child
Refused to move until the Truth was revealed to him

And the earth shook, and the beasts roared
And after he played the demons and desires
That plague the mind of us all
He saw it as clear as day
The Middle Way
The path to enlightenment
The birthright of us all
To which he devoted his life to teaching
To all those who would listen
And which teaching has survived all this time
2500 years in the making
And going stronger than ever
As its roots in Asia have migrated to the West
So far from the lands it originated from
So many ages past from which the teachings themselves were born

But one has to ask
Was this Truth revealed to these great men
And women too to be fair who we have failed to mention
Mother Theresa perhaps being the best and most recent
Woman of such divine spirit
That each and every one she came into contact with
Was her very own
Was the child of Mother Earth
Just as Sarada Devi
The great consort of Sri Paramhamsa Ramakrishna
Who treated each and every one of Ramakrishna devotees
That flocked to her after his death
As one of her own as well

‘More work is to be done for you my child’
Ramakrishna said to her in his astral form after his passing
And ‘Truth and the Essence of Being I shall hold back from you my child
Until your work is done here
After which you shall see the vision of the Ultimate Reality again
And be merged into it as your heart so desires’
As Ramakrishna said to Vivekananda
After revealing to him the secret of secrets
The wisdom of the ages
The essential and all pervading consciousness of the universe

And Vivekananda after years of wandering throughout India
Begging for his food and alms
Came crashing upon the West
With his message of Vedanta
That he had gleaned from the teachings of his Master
Through his boundless love and compassion
And wonderful visions of mystical and spiritual truths
Embodying the Truth of the Vedas
Fulfilling the modern ages’s need to have these eternal truths
Refreshed and reborn once again
In this modern age of greed and lust
Where every want is but a click or a call away

So he combined these ancient spiritual teachings
With his Western education
And genius photogenic brilliant mind
A renewed birth of Vedic wisdom
Was unleashed on the world
Where Karma, Bhakti, Raja and Jnana yoga
Are woven together in the greatest fabric
To shield the spiritual seeker
From the veil of Maya
Which has us all in her playful grasp

But digress we have
Because the point we make here
Is that in all these illustrious lives
Communion with the divine was understood
As a basic assumption of all faiths
In all the Great Books
But Jesus and Buddha especially
And of course Ramakrishna and his 12 disciples
The great prophets of our age
Taught that God is our very own

Which begs the very interesting question
Well then where can He (She) be found?
Where can he (she) be seen?
Some say in Nature
Some say in Churches
Some see him in books
Or visions and dreams (Jung)

But if we take this leap of faith
And we trust in these crazy souls
And their message of the existence of a world
Greater and stronger and more lasting than this one
To which this one in turn seems just like a passing dream
To what means must we employ then?
In order to see this Truth for ourselves
That is said to be our very birthright

And here is where religion comes into play
And the mastery of the mind becomes the game
And the practices laid out by so many masters over the millennia
By so many priests and sages
With their myriad of of rituals and spiritual practices
Sadhana the Hindus call it
Penance of the Christians
In different tongues with different instruments
In different nations and faiths throughout the world
Since time immemorial
In all religious sects
In all esoteric and mystical creeds

We confront the power of the mind
And the energy that courses through and gives life to the embody
Which connects us with
The embodied soul and energy of the Cosmic Mind
The great giver of life to all created beings
And the Universe itself

The mind itself though, perhaps our greatest tool
Its almost overwhelming potency
Of drawing not just correlations and connections
But seeing differences and distinctions as well
As categories and systems of thought
Spread throughout the linguistic tree
That has been embedded in each and every one of us
Since even before we could walk

And these symbols, these ideas
To Plato at least were primary
Subsidiary was the world around us
Physical reality
The Allegory of the Cave from The Republic
Shows us this great idea
Forms and Ideas
Lead us to the ultimate reality of the Sun

But Plato used dialogue and dialectic
So no one really truly knows
What he taught in his Academy
What his beliefs truly were
His dialogues were read aloud no doubt
And debates arose about ethics and morality
And the structure of the perfect society
Of the role of Myth and Truth
And how his great master Socrates
Died the death of all deaths
Taking the hemlock
Rather than denouncing the only thing he knew
Beyond any doubt whatsoever
Was that he knew nothing
And by knowing nothing
He was the wisest man in all of Athens
As proclaimed by the Oracle at Delphi

But Plato’s Forms, Aristotle’s Categories
These divisions and classifications
And associations which can be drawn
Inherent, contingent, associative, primary etc
It doesn’t matter which system of thought
One believes or trusts or puts the most credence into

The path, the way
Laid out and kept alive in the East
All these millennia
Captured away in ancient schools of learning
And old dusty books and manuscripts
Copied by hand through the ages
Translated into so many different tongues
Interpreted and commented on by so many renowned and brilliant scholars

Where the passage of knowledge
From teacher to student
Lasted centuries and centuries
And lineages could be quoted
Back thousands of years
As a waiter or waitress would read a custom menu
At a fancy Italian restaurant in NYC

So we have the books and these religious systems
That the prophets left us with
And we have these mystical traditions
Which survive in various forms in the East
That are now being introduced back into the West
And religions are being rejected
With their hypocrisy and rigid dogma
And political contamination

And people flock more toward
Individual practices which promote peace and harmony
And have a practical and positive impact
On their lives and the lives of those around them
So that their lives can be more fulfilling
So that virtue can be understood
And practiced and integrated into daily life
In an integrated and powerful way

And the sins of nations
Can perhaps be healed
Without the need for violent revolution
Which has been the way of the past
The heritage of the human race

And in each of these systems
That have now been introduced to the West
Be they Buddhist, Taoist, TM (Transcendental Meditation)
Zen Buddhism or Christian Prayer,
Muslim submission to the will of the one true god Allah
Or the chanting of the names of the different manifestations
Of the supreme power of Brahman
Which has been kept alive in so many different forms and rituals
In the great land of India
The system of Yoga
Their great gift to the world

It is the power of symbol,
The power of thought,
The power of sound
The power of grace
The power of Faith
That each has in common

And with this basic start
And an explanation of these various symbols and words and chants and hymns
In each of the respective theo-philosophical systems
Either godless (Buddhist or Taoist for example)
Or monotheistic like the Judeo-Christian-Muslim faiths
Relate back to the one true Creator of all that has been created

The first cause as Aristotle would call him
The Good of Plato from which all Forms and Ideas come forth
Which are naturally ordered in the most elegant way possible
‘All who do not know geometry may not enter here’
The words inscribed outside his illustrious Academy
The first Academic institution in the history of mankind

And yet these symbols
Which must be categorized and organized in our mind
That play out as the string of words and thoughts
That ring in our heads when we sit in meditation practice
No matter what school we have been taught from
Or what tradition – theological, philosophical or religious – we come from and adhere to

All lead to the same source
EVERY LAST ONE OF THEM
These thoughts and symbols
If we follow their course
Emerging from the Universal Mind
And then germinating and manifesting
In the small mind that is tied to this physical form
Which we borrow for such a short time

COMES FROM AND ENDS UP IN
THE VERY SAME ESSENTIAL BEING
WHICH IS WHAT ALL THE GREAT PROPHETS
TAUGHT TO ALL OF THEIR FOLLOWERS

This is the great Mind the Buddhist tradition speaks of
When these thoughts calm down and serenity can be found
Even for a moment
It is then that God’s grace can be found
Not as a gift from someone other than ourselves
But as a self-evident and essential feature
Of not only the natural world with which we live and breathe
But also of the spirit that animates us
And which connects us to every living thing
That we share this world, and the next, with
And that exists in each and every moment
For every being that inhabits this world

Follow the thoughts and symbols
But latch onto a system of symbols you are attracted to
That you have faith and devotion in
For these are fundamental requirements
For any successful endeavor
Which will get you to practice and learn
Even when it is the last thing in the world you’d like to do
While buried in this world madness
Of capitalism and greed

And don’t reject your thoughts as they come
Don’t try to quiet them
Don’t try to do anything with them
The Zen Masters say just let them arise and fall
Like passing waves in an ocean
But this is misleading for those of us that struggle
And where suffering and pain is real
And heartbreak and disappointment rests around every corner

So our thoughts will yield emotions
Yes they will
Some painful and hard to stomach
Some joyous and uplifting
But we must let them all go
And know them for what they truly are
Manifestations of the Great Mind
In our small mind that have manifested
In our seemingly insignificant life

And these these waves lead to further thoughts
Which emerge from the very same source
All leading onward and onward in a seemingly endless flow
Of a mind that will never settle
The caged monkeys Paramhamsa Ramakrishna used to call them

But do not fight them
Play with them, accept them
As manifestations of the great Mind
The Great Cosmic Spirit
In our own lives and in our own being

Let the thoughts and their associated emotions come and go
But have faith in whatever system of belief that drives you
That we are all not lost
And that that which has created the universe itself
Rests within our breast
Just as it rests in the spirit of every living creature
That crawls and walks and runs on this great Earth
And perhaps on other Earths like ours that we knoweth not

And what you just might find
As this madness and frustration
Of the attempt to control that which is uncontrollable
Is that as the thoughts arise,
They can be transformed
To the symbols of the tradition which you have chosen
And you can bring the mind back
To focus on the highest of the high
The greatest good
Satchitananda itself
In whatever form suits the individual soul
And our lives which are filled with all these thoughts and emotions
Can be accepted for what they are
Expressions of the great Mind and Spirit
Which is the source of all
Every last one of us

This is what has been taught
By all the great Masters that have found the way
And passed it down to us
This is the importance of following a teaching
That you have a path, and a set of symbols
Through which the truth can be revealed
Be you have a teacher or not
For we are all our own teachers
And there is no greater teacher
Than our own inner voice
Although help is always welcomed of course

But a path must be chosen
And these symbols
And thoughts and sounds
Interesting enough you will find
Will begin to get more and more abstract
Higher Ideals will be presented
Built upon the acceptance of the lower thoughts and deeds
Which plague our Soul
And the belief and faith that just maybe
We are not lost in a sea of greed and selfishness
And that a shepherd is among us
Who will not abandon any of its flock

And with this belief, this Faith
We can find our thoughts and ideas becoming crystallized
Just as Plato described them
In his Allegory of the Cave
And as the thoughts dim down
And the Forms and Ideas move higher and higher
And more virtuous and more Good

We will break our chains
See the visions of shadows on the wall
That we thought were real all this time
And we will pass beyond the entrance
Of that great deep cavern that we had spent our whole lives in
Believing it was real

And our guide will show us
Our anima or animus as Jung would call him
They will show us the way out
And they will point into the sky
While our eyes adjust from the great darkness
That covered our whole being for our whole lives
And say, ‘See look. It is the Sun that shines true light’
‘And those shadows should be abandoned for what is true and real’

So do not fight the thoughts or the emotions
Embrace them as difficult as they may be
Forgive, let go of anger and hate
And open your heart to allow for Plato’s Good
The Sun of his universe
To shine in your heart and mind

And maybe if we are lucky
And our practice is sound
And our heart is true
And a genuine effort for balance and harmony
And understanding and empathy
For those with whom we must live and work
Some peace can be found
In the madness of our times
Where the writing of mystical poetry
And the belief and faith in the reality of the world of the spirit
Is considered madness and ethereal
With no practical value
By most if not all

Regardless, all the practices are the same
The symbols and methods are slightly different
But to open up the clarity and purity of mind
One must start with faith in something
Submission to something larger and greater than us as individuals

And then let the thoughts flow
And let the waves subside
And let the new waves form at the same time
New and powerful waves
Of Goodness and Righteousness
And Virtue and Love
Inspired by whatever teaching or whatever Master
That has touched you in some way

And then and only then
Will the true transformation take place
And you will find after all that
Ironically enough
That the reality we must live and work in
To survive and thrive
And feed our endless desires
For wealth and power
And Lust and Greed
And the world of the spirit
Which we place our faith in
And if we are lucky see glimpses of
From time to time
Could not be further apart

And then the problem presents itself
Perhaps the greatest challenge of all
That which marks the true masters
Is the problem of the integration of the two worlds
Where the inside and the outside are in balance
And the world of the spirit and the world of ‘reality’
The materials world and the world of the Soul
Can coexist and perhaps thrive together
In harmony and balance

A man can dream
That is what poets do
Namaste

The Great Transformation

Ego is an interesting thing
An artifact of the mind
Created by Freud
At the beginning of the 20th century
To describe one of the tripartite aspects
Of the mental sheath of man
Which governs and drives our behavior

And yet there have been many theories
Over the centuries and millennia
Since philosophy emerged
As the intellectual guidepost of civilized man

But it is the ego
Along with its counterparts the id and superego
Which we have adopted here in the West
To describe the various facets of mind
And how they drive our actions and interactions
And in turn how they coexist and intermingle
Not only within the individual
But how they in turn
Affect how men (and women) interact with each other

In the spiritual realm
The ego plays its part
As the force which identifies oneself with the body
Which provides the impetus for self preservation
And that which allows us
To live within the boundaries of society
The grand society of of our cities
And in the grand temple of our innermost being
This is the mamas and the buddhi of the Vedic philosophers
Which is described in depth in the works of Patanjali
Which has become so mainstream in the West

And yet ironically
As all the philosophical systems of the East
Teach us and have taught through the ages
Since the dawn of civilized man
And the creation of language and symbols
The greatest gift of the gods
That the ego, while serving a key purpose
In our individual survival
Must and should be subsumed
For the greater good of society as a whole
And ultimately for enlightenment itself
Where the ego is burnt up
In the fire of knowledge
And the individual ego
Is merged with the grand Ego
Of the great Mind of minds
The mental sheath to which we are all connected

This is the message of Jung in the end
That these grand archetypes
Which we find present
In all the civilizations and myths of the world
That have existed and will exist
In this age of man

In his view of the psyche
It is not the ego which dominates
But it is simply a reflection
Of the collective consciousness
Collective unconsciousness is what he called it
Which drives the deep imprints of our soul
Which is present deep within our minds
In the unconscious parts
Which in turn affect and drive
The conscious aspects of mind
Which provide the driving forces
And the impetus of our behavior
And how we integrate with others around us
With family and friends
And again with society as a whole

But the wisdom of the East
Goes one step further
Not only claiming that Jung’s collective unconscious
Is real and true
But that this manifested consciousness
To which we are all connected
In the deepest parts of our mind
This collective psyche
Which we see manifest in all the world’s mythology
As Campbell and others
Have so aptly and eloquently described
Is in fact the truest and realest
Of all phenomena

That the world of the spirit
Despite being hidden
Within the world of name and form
Is the dominant force
Which not only guides all of creation
Animate and inanimate
But guides our individual lives
In this complex and interrelated world of beings
Within which we are all fatefully bound

And enlightenment as these great sages call it
Or nirvana or samadhi as others have named it
In the grand wisdom of the East
With has survived for all these years
Is essentially the total sublimination of this ego
For the grander ego of the greater Self

To which we all can tap into
And to which we are all heirs
And once fully recognized
Once we have lost what we thought of ourselves
In the grand consciousness of awareness itself
Once we are are fully connected as it were
Even if for the briefest of moments
And the true nature of the Soul
Is revealed to us in all its glory
And all its basic and elemental simplicity

And the world of the spirit is shown to our inner eye
And a glimpse is given
So that we may perhaps understand and comprehend
Through the grace of the Self of self
That this collective unconscious is Real
That our Soul and the collective Soul
Are one and the same

And in this realization
In this illumination
What we may find
If this grace of knowledge
Is bestowed upon us
Is that what is one is two
And what is two is three
And what is three is also One
This grand Trinity
Which has guided the Christian faith
Since the time of Constantine
In the last days of the Imperial Roman Empire
In their final interpretation of Christ the savior

This knowledge and awareness
Again if a glimpse can be seen
By the grace of the Lord himself
Can be our salvation
Not just in the next world
Not just to save us from our sins
Which began in the Garden on that fateful day

But can liberate us from the bondage
And the suffering that we all endure
In knowing truly and clearly
In the fire of Realization
That the wonder of all wonders
Is that the collective Soul IS the only reality
And this binds us and connects us all
All races, all creeds and all religions
As brothers and sisters alike
As cousins and family
In our collective home which we call Earth
Granted and gifted to us
By the grace of the nameless one
For us all to share
Not just with our human counterparts
But with the beasts and animals
And myriad of creatures
Which also call it home

So this ego that has been put forth
As the guiding principle of our lives
Must be seen in its true context
In order for liberation to be possible

And while intellectual knowledge in and of itself
Is a powerful and useful tool
It is only through true Realization
That these sublime truths
Of the collective Soul
Of the collective unconscious which binds us all
Can be truly understood

And in this knowledge
Our lives can be transformed
Such that balance and happiness
Can be found for each and every person
And in turn our place in our complex social structures
Can be fully understood
Such that harmony and kindness
And compassion in tunr
Can be practiced by each and every one of us
Not just for the good of the individual
So that they may lead
Healthy and ‘well-adjusted’ and happy lives

But for the good of humanity
For the good of nations
Not because it will save us from our sins
But because is the truth of truths
The most simple of axioms
Which underlies all bodies of knowledge
Which given not just science but religion as well

Because that which is within is without
And that which lies within our hearts
As the flame of life
Is the very same fire
Which burns within us all

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