From the Editor
A three-day non-residential Autumn School will be held at 47 Lillian Road, from Friday 29th September to Sunday 1st October. It is hoped that as many members as possible will attend. Details and an application form are available from the Editor.
A talk given by Phiroz Mehta on 13th April 1957
Continued from part 1 and part 2
Thus modern science has led men like Bergson, Lloyd Morgan, Alexander and others to present conceptions of God very different from the religious conceptions which have prevailed over the centuries. For instance, Alexander has postulated “space-time” as the matrix out of which the universe has evolved. Life, mind and consciousness “emerge” out of this matrix. Alexander endows them all with spatio-temporal qualities, thus preserving the continuity of “point-instants”. Finally, God is a creature of the space-time matrix, not a creator of the world, not a finished being but an eternal becoming. He is the crown and fulfilment of emergent evolution. And yet Alexander cannot do without postulating Deity as the driving force behind this emergent world-process. And also, when he deals with values, he cannot fully objectify them, but suggests that they arise out of the relation of mind to its objects, and that they depend, not so much upon the individual, as upon collective consciousness, that is, they emerge out of mind through the socialization of individual consciousness. It seems as if Alexander, as also Lloyd Morgan, tends to move up to Bergson’s Creative Evolution.
Now let us consider that third source mentioned earlier from which our religious conceptions derive, namely the attempt to convey to others the experience of superconsciousness, which is the experience of God.
At all periods during the last six or seven thousand years, there has been a small number of persons whose main interest and pursuit was to discover the meaning of life, its purpose and its goal, the way to reach that goal, and thus find a permanent serenity and satisfaction. They longed to triumph over sin and evil, sorrow and pain, and above all over death. Unless they could do this, existence was one long suffering. For suffering comes in a multitude of ways. It comes through disease and accident, hunger and cold, anxiety and fear; through not having one’s proper place in society, through not being appreciated, through lack of friendship, through the unendurable laceration of unrequited love. Suffering comes when man starts making distinctions on the basis of sense-observation and discursive thought, denominating this as good, and that as bad — in other words, eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Suffering comes when man starts asking questions and is unable to find satisfactory answers; or when he finds that what satisfies in one context breaks down under different circumstances, or is in conflict with the rest of his psycho-physical being, or cannot be harmonized with those invincible intimations of truth which strike him like beams of quenchless light from the deathless immortal.
Further, the pleasure-pain mechanism of man’s bodily being makes him acutely aware of the overwhelming tide of sensational existence throughout his daily life, a tide made up of an endless number of beginnings and endings, of births and deaths, which have but petty meanings, if any at all, in the context of fulfilment. Look where he may, he sees the grin of the Lord of Death spread over the spatio-temporal universe. All his pleasures and hopes and joys and successes, his moods of exaltation, his vision of things beautiful, in short his entire range of mortal experience, is only a kaleidoscopic deathful procession. For a single ghostly moment, he approaches near the Eternal, and feels a touch of the supreme Godhead, only to fall back into this glamorous darkness of laughter and tears, of yea and nay, of the ecstasy of love, and the crushing doom of frustrated longing.
And so through the ages some men felt that if only they could break the thorny bounds of ignorance, fling away the fetters of mortality and triumph over the Lord of Death, they would assuredly win the beatific experience of the immortal, and realise here-now that freedom and serenity which is ineffable bliss.
Listen to that beautiful hymn in the Rig-veda sung by that inspired poet-seer, Kasyapa the son of Marichi: “O Pavamana, place me in that deathless, undecaying realm, wherein the light of heaven is set and everlasting lustre shines … Make me immortal in that realm where dwells the King, Vivasvan’s son … where (there) is the secret shrine of heaven … Make me immortal in that realm where they move even as they list, in the third sphere of inmost heaven where lucid worlds are full of light”.
A few of those who sought succeeded in making their way into this “third sphere of inmost heaven”, and realized immortality here-now. Thus they transcended the sorrowful round of births and deaths, or in Orphic-Pythagorean terms, escaped from this “burdensome circle of lamentation”.
What precisely does all this mean?
Throughout our life, our ordinary awareness is characterized by succession. In the usual way, we are aware of every experience, thought or mood as something which begins, proceeds and comes to an end. Uprising-proceeding-ending, or birth-death, in constant succession, distinguishes the nature of our ordinary awareness of our whole existence. In other words, as we are at present, we are usually conscious in the mode of mortality of a space-time world. This constant, unbidden uprising-proceeding-ending, this endless, uncontrollable stream of births and deaths which flows on as our own moment-to-moment consciousness during the single lifetime of our own psycho-physical organism, is a real meaning of the doctrine of rebirth, a doctrine so misunderstood all over the world. The Maitri Upanishad says: “Samsara is just one’s own thought”. The Sandilya Upanishad says: “When the fluctuations of the mind cease, this cycle of births and deaths comes to an end”. As long as all that makes up our existence is apprehended by us in the mode of mortality, we regard the whole process as samsara. Every entity, every speech-thought structure, is an item of our mortality.
How do we release ourselves out of this prison-house of mortality? The broad elements of the way to liberation consist in moral and intellectual discipline, and in developing the power to pay attention. The moral discipline means virtue, active virtue. Above all it means freeing ourselves from egoism, and from craving for any and every form of sensational existence, that is, from craving for sense satisfactions, for power, for possessions, for becoming a particular kind of person, for knowledge and wisdom, and for saintship or for union with God. For craving is our most powerful binder to the condition of mortality. Hence it is necessary to become disinterested in all worldliness, that is, disinterested not in the world and in the daily business of living rightly, but in our cravings in relation to the world. This is the true mortification.
The essential part of the intellectual discipline is the process of becoming free of all bias and prejudices, all preconceptions and assumptions. The moral as well as the intellectual discipline is effected by continuous and dispassionate observation of one’s own thoughts and actions, feelings and desires. Such observation was termed perfect mindfulness, samma sati, by the Buddha. Jesus taught: “Watch, therefore”. This observation, without censure or praise, enables us to know ourselves, to know human nature, to understand the entire psychological process that goes on in our own minds. It enables us to become free of repression and resentments, psychoses and neuroses; of complexes, misperceptions, misinterpretations and misuses by the mind. In short, the mind and heart — or if you prefer the term, the soul — is completely healed, purified, made strong, made perfectly clear-seeing. It is no longer subject to fantasies when awake, or to dreams when asleep. It can no longer be trapped in the cobwebs of attractive theories; it will no longer be rigidly bound to any hypothesis. It will have become free, pure, healthy, poised, awake and capable. A person possessed of such a mind is the manasaputra, the Son of Mind — in Christian terminology, the Son of Man. “Watch therefore; for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of Man cometh”. A person possessed of this pure mind — the Vohu Mano or Good Mind as Zarathushtra taught — is the one who has again become as a little child, fit to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
With the mind thus purified and prepared, the yogi pays attention. Attention to what? To nothing in particular, nothing in general. For all things, whether things of matter or things of mind, are all limited entities, subject to the Lord of Death. But the mystic seeks the Transcendent, the beyond-thing, which is the realization of the Immortal. He seeks it through meditation, prayer, samadhi, communion, call it what you will.
Continued in part 4
By Sylvia Swain
Continued from part 1, part 2 and part 3
In setting out his Noble Eightfold Path to bring about the ending of the ill state, the Buddha gave eight requisites for the living of the religious life, which are as follows:
— a list which reflects the wisdom, the moral and the spiritual aspects of life.
To begin with, we might consider the implications of that word right. We may simply think of it in the context of conventional correctness and assume that external standards of right and wrong are sufficient for salvation. A better interpretation of the original Pali term sammā, here interpreted as right, is suggested in Christmas Humphreys’ Dictionary as supreme, the highest possible. This lifts its meaning out of a relative and social context into a personal and religious one. We are then confronted with the eternal religious question of how, with only our limited awareness and human fallibility we can hope to aspire to that transcendent “highest possible.”
The Buddha said: “Cease to do evil, learn to do good, purify the mind, this the teaching of all the Buddhas”. We certainly cannot “cease to do evil” until we have familiarised ourselves with the forms that evil takes in the depths of the mind. It then becomes clear that the first step on the Eightfold Path, Right View, transcends any personal views and becomes “the supreme” all-inclusive viewpoint, extending and addressing itself even to the problems of unconscious “evil”, which lie in the darkness of the, as yet, unknown. Any interpretation of texts and scriptures, and indeed any self-examination also, confined only to the known will inevitably project the unknown onto “others”, create a new set of scapegoats, and end in general religious dissension with its history of violence, or in personal confusion, which can prevent us from achieving the peace and harmony that we seek.
This shows how important a matter scriptural interpretation can be. As Phiroz was wont to point out, the scriptures need to be presented anew for succeeding generations in ways which reflect the highest psychological and spiritual understanding, if they are to promote personal endeavour and growth to maturity. This Phiroz himself achieved in an outstanding way for religion in general, and Buddhism in particular, for our own generation.
Although Buddhism is not the only religion which reaches out for such “supreme” wisdom, it is true to say that Gotama Buddha had an understanding of the human heart and mind far in advance of the era in which he lived. He understood the simple heart which is dedicated to the way of faith, and he also appreciated the complexities and deep concerns which accompany those who are in the more sophisticated stages of psychological development, and so he addressed the Buddha Dhamma not just to one type or another but to the whole problem of the clarification and “the setting upright of that which has been upset”. For this purpose he devised a wealth of practices to deal with avijjā, ignorance, that dark unknowingness which he saw as a fundamental root of “tormentor psychology”.
Foremost among these Buddhist practices is a set of four meditations, the Brahmavihāras, or divine states, designed for this purpose. They are practices through which we can transcend our narrow self-concern and be opened up to the concerns of our common humanity.
The first of these practices is mettā, loving kindness. It has been said that eleven benefits accrue from its regular practice. Here five will suffice:
The first four offer healing of familiar modern problems, but number five suggests the awakening of those higher states of consciousness which are symbolised by celestial beings in all the religions.
It is comprised of six sequences in which good will is focused on people of our own sex. This immediately links it with the shadow side of the ego complex, which in dreams is always represented by a same-sex symbol.
Having started with a short period of mindful breathing to dissipate any restlessness, we draw on our capacity for goodwill, allowing it to permeate body, heart and mind, noting both the physical and emotional sensations which accompany its uprising.
The impediments to mettā are: aversion, too much emotion, or perfectionism, which arouses self-criticism and inflation. The main problem is probably the impatience from which all these things arise, but the way to deal with all of them is to treat ourselves as we would a child, with the same emotional content that we find within.
However, if we bring patience to bear, this practice has the potentiality for promoting healing of even the most deep-seated problems, depending on the depth and honesty we bring to it. It can address early ego complex problems, help us to correct a distorted self-image, and gradually to recognise and withdraw shadow projections. Even at the very simplest level, it is a valuable exercise in goodwill and brotherly love.
The psychological safeguard here, in dealing with such deep problems, and possibly disturbing material, is that it is done within the framework of religious practice, and, in the presence of a teacher, it can provide a secure religious environment for spiritual adjustments which otherwise might be too painful. Even without a teacher, our own patience and compassion towards ourselves is safeguard enough, as we simply practise each stage for as long as it naturally takes before we go on to the next one. Jung used to tell his patients:
“All haste is of the devil”. How right he was!
Continued in part 5
By Joan Dashwood
I am an old post
Firmed to the earth
Many seasons ago.
Seasoned I am indeed,
Rotting away now
Little by little,
Splinter by splinter,
Leaning drunkenly a little
to one side.
An old farm dog was tied to me
(That’s why I am leaning,
He so wanted to be free)
We understood each other,
I the supporter
He the supported
(As it were)
But prisoners both.
I am an old post
In the fertile earth,
Waiting patiently to disintegrate.
Something is stirring,
Something in my old wood
Is alive, is moving.
(Not the insects that feed on my helplessness).
Am I to become like Aaron’s Rod
And burst into leaf?
I feel a curl of green
Gently, but virtually and inexorably
Winding up from the earth.
The finger of Life has touched me again!
Is it possible
That I can still be a Supporter?
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