"Fearlessness is the first requirement of spirituality. Cowards can never be moral." -- Mahatma Gandhi

Saturday, September 22, 2012

We Must Lower Our Egos . . . For the Sake of the One

Each of the world's great religions and wisdom traditions has an esoteric and and exoteric component, notes Moslem cleric, Imam Faisul Abdul Rauf, "an inner and an outer path leading to the same Wholeness, the same Absolute, the same One."

"God, Baha, whatever name you want to call Him with," says Rauf, "Allah, Ram, Om (whatever the name might be to which you name or access the Presence of Divinity) is the locus of Absolute Being, Absolute Love and Mercy and Compassion, and Absolute Knowledge and Wisdom - what Hindus call Satchitananda. The language differs but the objective is the same."

Thus, Rumi, the great Sufi poet, writes (in part):
"What is to be done, O Moslems? for I do not recognize myself.  
I am neither Christian, nor Jew, nor Zoroastrian, nor Moslem.
I am not of the East, nor of the West, nor of the land, nor of the sea;
I am not of Nature's mint, nor of the circling' heaven.
I am not of earth, nor of water, nor of air, nor of fire;
I am not of the empyrean, nor of the dust, nor of existence, nor of entity.
I am not of India, nor of China, nor of Bulgaria, nor of Saqsin
I am not of the kingdom of Iraq, nor of the country of Khorasan
I am not of the this world, nor of the next, nor of Paradise, nor of Hell
I am not of Adam, nor of Eve, nor of Eden and Rizwan.

My place is the Placeless, my trace is the Traceless ;
'Tis neither body nor soul, for I belong to the soul of the Beloved.
I have put duality away, I have seen that the two worlds are one;
One I seek, One I know, One I see, One I call.
He is the first, He is the last, He is the outward, He is the inward;
I know none other except 'Ya Hu' and 'Ya man Hu.'
I am intoxicated with Love's cup, the two worlds have passed out of my ken . . ."


"There is only one Absolute Reality by definition," Rauf points out, "one Absolute Being by definition, because 'absolute' is by definition single, and absolute, and singular. There is this absolute concentration of being, this absolute concentration of consciousness and awareness, an absolute locus of compassion and love that defines the primary attributes of Divinity. And that should also be the primary attributes of what it means to be human."

"The human soul embodies a piece of the Divine Breath, a piece of the Divine Soul," Rauf notes. "This is also expressed in Biblical vocabulary wehn we are taught we are created in the Divine image," he points out.

"What is the imagery of God," he asks. "The imagery of God is Absolute Being, Absolute Awareness, and Knowledge, and Wisdom, and Absolute Compassion and Love. Therefore, for us to be human . . . in the greatest sense of what it means to be human . . . means that we, too, have to be proper stewards of the breath of Divinity within us, and to seek to perfect within ourselves the attributes of being - of being alive, of beingness -  the attribute of wisdom, of consciousness, (and) of awareness, and the attribute of being compassionate and loving beings."

"This," says Rauf, "is what I understand from my faith tradition, and this is what I understand from my studies of other faith traditions, and this is the common platform upon which we must all stand. And when we stand upon this platform, as such, I am convinced that we can make a wonderful world. And I believe . . . that we are on the verge, and that with the presence and help of people like you . . .  we can bring about the prophecy of Isaiah, when he foretold of a period when people shall transform their swords into plowshares and will not learn war, (or) make war, anymore."

"We have reached a stage in human history," he concludes, "where we have no option: We must lower our egos . . . control our egos . . . whether it is the individual ego, personal ego, family ego, or national ego. And let it all be for the glorification of the One."

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Paradox of Awakening

In his commentaries on the spiritual and esoteric teachings of G.I. Gurdjieff, Maurice Nicoll describes what it is like to rise above "the waking sleep" of our ordinary egoic consciousness to the higher consciousness of our essence. "What you took as your self," he observes, "begins to look like a prison house far away in the valley beneath you."

"These flashes of greater consciousness," says polymath spiritual teacher, Theodore Nottingham, "are the unexpected result of strenuous efforts made in order not to lose ourselves in the rush of outer circumstances and to be cleansed of the poisons of negativity, as well as to maintain a heightened awareness grounded in the present moment. "

"The student is to reach a point," says Nottingham, "where he or she can make the choice not to react automatically to external stimuli. This requires going against the grain, against long established habits and self-indulgences."

"The question," he notes, "is as basic as: Can you choose not to be angry in the face of something that makes you angry? Rather than being wasted in such an outburst, the energy accumulated through this effort can be made available for a moment of intensified consciousness. Such a moment can flood you with peace or quiet joy, or a sense of profound liberation."

"Interestingly enough," Nottingham points out, "such moments often occur in very paradoxical events."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Another spiritual teacher, William Samuel, describes the paradox of how just such a moment of spiritual enlightenment - a profound sense of peace, unity and expansive being - occurred for him amidst a hellish defensive stand in the Korean War.

(Samuel was attached to, trained and fought with the Chinese army for several years in World War II. Through that period, and for several years thereafter, Samuel studied the Tao. Called back into service during the Korean War and leading a company of American troops, Samuel was destined to face his former comrades who were now fighting on the other side.)

"Let me write a Glimpse or two from those days," Samuel recalls in his memoir ("The Child Within Us Lives!"):
First, harking back to China, Mr. Shieh and I, with five American teammates, were being pursued by a Japanese combat patrol. We were "retrograding," bringing up the rear of our little patrol, trying to get back to the safety of friendly lines. We were close to being captured. In those days, neither the Japanese nor Chinese "gave quarter." That is we took no prisoners. I knew that if I were taken by the pursuing Japanese, it meant certain death. On the other hand, Mr. Shieh might successfully pass himself off as a Chinese peasant.
Oh, I cannot write this story! At this minute it is enough to remember Mr. Shieh seeing and pointing out the beauty of those purple blooms on the distant mountain we had yet to climb. I marveled at a man who could see beauty under such oppressive circumstances. I marvel more that he helped me learn to do it.
During the Korean War, an artillery round burst among my men on the left flank. Several bodies were hurled about and I ran to see the extent of the damage and whether the platoon leader was still effective. Sick to my stomach at the sight, I sat down among three of the bodies sprawled along the slope. I became aware of a visual "Presence" hovering beside them. A misty, blue-white light of sorts. A different kind of light, primal, persuasive and powerful. I could not explain what I saw then, nor can I now, but with the sight, and because of the sight, I was absolutely certain within myself I was being shown evidence of the deathlessness of Life--the survival of the Child, the Soul of men.

I felt a marvelous sense of relief, almost gratitude, concerning those men and everything happening that day. Within a few minutes of that incident, my regiment, and my part of the line in particular, was hit by an enormous wave of shell fire and oncoming Chinese troops. Hell erupted in a manner that no one can sufficiently describe or picture for another. One simply must experience something like that to fully understand.

But, to the ongoing Glimpse I'd like to write here if I can. In the early moments of that terrible onslaught wherein everything that moved was slaughtered ten times over--advancing troops, men, women, children, dogs and chickens, and every moving creature caught at that place at that time--I was suddenly unable to hear. My world went silent and I was enveloped in an immeasurable calm. In the midst of that horrendous din of exploding bodies and shells, I could hear nothing but my own voice.
In some marvelous way, I was caught up in a quiet, tranquil dimension, separate, but attached to the carnage at hand. I had not been wounded. I felt as well as one could be expected to feel under such circumstances. I could hear my own voice and even my breathing quite clearly. I went from gun position to gun position and heard myself giving calm encouragement to my troops. I could see their mouths move in reply and gratitude--and terror--but I couldn't hear them. I heard myself but couldn't hear the shells bursting in my face. I was beset with a wonderful enwrapping calm that let me move fearlessly to do whatever the moment asked me to do, as hideous as those moments were.
Perhaps a man can so detest a situation that his body produces the chemicals which, in turn, erect a barricade between himself and the galling situation. But as this was happening for me on the long day in Korea, there was a clear perception that a superlative Reality stood just behind the events; that there is another Scene just above this one, surrounding it; that Reality was bursting through that corridor of chaos into my own conscious recognition. I walked with a detached courage, as if the mortal body couldn't and wouldn't be hurt.
I ran from soldier to soldier, gun to gun. I was knocked down, spun around and stung with rocks and earth, feeling nothing but a calm, clear sense of Life's dominion over the sights and sounds of the world; as though, with the Presence I had sensed and seen moments earlier among the first bodies felled, I was SEEING and FEELING Life's eternal Nature, even in the face of death. Perhaps this was the beneficent calm Mr. Shieh had felt those years earlier when he saw the blossoms on the distant mountain.
That particular hellfire and damnation in Korea lasted four nights and three days, without sleep for my troops and me. I have never forgotten the different time frame and the enwrapping inner peace nor how I was held and supported during that time--or non-time.
More significant, that Peace has not forsaken me since those days, at least not when I was mindful of It nor when the chips were down and I called for It. . . . .
Now, with absolute assurance, I can tell people, old and young, their lessons can be learned under the most difficult and trying circumstances. Better that we leave our nets after we've learned their lessons. Better that we call on the Child because the Child knows what to do. The Child and the Presence are the same one Presence and It is right here where we are, transcending this world's time and space.
The final tone in this Overtone: The day I moved King Company onto line in Korea, I was given the Order of Battle of the "enemy" opposing me just across the valley on the next mountain. Facing my regiment, and me in particular, was the Chinese 60th Army, the same troops I had lived with and trained for two years in China. We met again, eight years later, in a terrible and senseless slaughter.
In the apparent world, our friends and enemies are the same--and, sometimes, needlessly, insanely, we try to destroy one another, thence to find that Life is eternal. Like Arjuna, in awful combat, I was instructed in certain of the Mysteries and learned the sense of senselessness.
Memorial Day 1985

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Biology and Psychology of Belief

Just as some leading theoretical physicists are challenging current scientific paradigms regarding the 'hard problem' of consciousness - i.e., whether, in fact, 'mind' arises from 'matter' - so, too, some leading biologists are challenging scientific paradigms regarding how living matter interacts at the molecular, cellular and organic level with the environment. "We don't know how consciousness works, or what it does," says controversial biologist, Rupert Sheldrake. "(It) is called 'the hard problem,' because there is no known reason why we should be conscious at all, or exactly how the mind works."

In the attached video, The Biology of Perception, developmental biologist and epigeneticist, Dr. Bruce Lipton, convincingly explains how at a cellular level an organism is 'conscious' of its environment and shapes its behaviour. In doing so, he debunks the widely-accepted Darwinian principle that "random mutations" are preferentially selected over generations to fill environmental niches. Rather, he makes a succinct argument that "adaptive mutations" are triggered at a cellular level in response to the environment inhabited by a particular organism. It is these "adaptive" rather than "random" mutations winnowed out by "the survival of the fittest" which are, according to Lipton, presumably, the drivers behind the diversity of organisms we encounter.

In a clear and readily understandable (if lengthy) analysis, Dr. Lipton emphasizes recent breakthroughs in molecular biology that demonstrate how it is environmental signals, cellular membranes and proteins, rather than DNA, which dictate how an organism behaves. In this new biological paradigm - analogous, in its way, to the new paradigms created by a deeper understanding of quantum physics - it is a cell's membranes, rather than its genetic material, which are seen as "the brains" of the organism.

Further, at a macro level, Lipton convincingly demonstrates that we can consciously select the environmental 'field' in which we live, thereby affecting our health, growth and well-being at both our cellular and organic levels. (The alternative being that we 'unconsciously' select a sub-optimal environment that is biologically, cognitively and spiritually stressful and injurious.)

In short, Dr. Lipton makes the scientific case for the primacy of evolving perceptions which shape our being, both mentally and materially. According to his model, "perception" not only "controls" behaviour, but, additionally, "perception" both "controls" and "rewrites" our genes.

In the accompanying video, Dr. Lipton's colleague, Rob Williams, closes the ontological circle, by demonstrating how our "beliefs" control our "perceptions".  "Your beliefs," he observes, "determine your biological and behavioural reality."

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Consciousness, the Big Bang, Being and the Soul

Many of the leading theoretical physicists today continue to struggle with the age-old 'hard problem' of matter and the mind, physical reality and consciousness, science and the soul. "They are definitely grappling with the problem of the soul," says Fred Wolf, himself a leading theoretical physicist, "because they are grappling with the problem of the origin of the universe."

You observe an atomic system," Wolf notes, "and the atomic system changes from a field of possibilities into something that is solid and physical and real, and right there in front of your eyes. This is a fact of physics that we have to deal with."

If the Big Bang . . . occurred out of nothing and produced a material universe," he points out, "then there had to have been quantum mechanics operating at the moment of the Big Bang, and that means that there had to have been an observer present, and this is where . . . the whole question of the soul (arises)."

"Positivism," (the philosophical school that says that the only things that we can be talk about scientifically and rationally are things that we can 'sense with our common senses') should have been tossed out a long time ago when we recognized the existence of electrons and atoms," Wolf observes. "No physicist - no one - has ever seen an electron or an atom," he points out, "We (only) see something very fuzzy when we start looking for things like that. So it is very difficult to deal with positivism rationally."

I think positivism is a fine theory," Wolf notes, "but it is (only) a philosophy."

"Since we can't sense an electron, a single electron, with our common senses," from a positivist approach, "we really shouldn't be able to talk about it. And since we can't sense - we can't hold in our hands - the very essence of quantum physics, which is something called the quantum wave function (which is a mathematical abstract), we shouldn't talk about it either. So we have this basic schism," Wolf notes. A schism, he points, that goes all the way back to Aristotle and Plato.

"The question," he asserts, "isn't: Is the soul is a 'thing'? Can we prove its 'existence' as an object?" This, he posits is a misdirection. The soul is not an object, he says. "It is not a noun, it is a verb. The 'soul' is a process." "And," he reasons, "because it is a process, it has consciousness and its alive. To understand life and consciousness without a material substrate, that is where a lot of people have difficulty. They think, 'Well, how can something be conscious and alive if there is no matter there?'" Which is, it seems, the common view and understanding of most people.

It is at this point, that Wolf goes beyond our common understanding. "There has to be something before even matter appears according to my understanding of quantum physics," he notes. "I don't see any reason why we can't have consciousness and 'aliveness' without necessarily having matter."

Wolf's view is not unique, as he points out, but rather is a point of view that is shared by many other leading physicists, as the following videos attest.

In Gary Zhukav's The Dancing Wu Li Masters, a now-classic treatise on the convergence of modern physics, metaphysics and the world's oldest wisdom traditions, Zhukav writes:

"According to quantum mechanics there is no such thing as objectivity. We cannot eliminate ourselves from the picture. We are a part of nature, and when we study nature there is no way around the fact that nature is studying itself. Physics has become a branch of psychology, or perhaps the other way round."
 To this end, Zhukav quotes the pioneering Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung, who observed:
"The psychological rule says that when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside, as fate That is to say, when the individual remains undivided and does not become conscious of his inner contradictions, the world must perforce act out the conflict and be torn into opposite halves."
 According to Zhukav, Jung's friend and colleague, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Wolfgang Pauli, put it this way:
"From an inner center the psyche seems to move outward, in the sense of an extraversion, into the physical world . . . ."
"If these men are correct," Zhukav observed, "then physics is the study of the structure of consciousness." [Emphasis added.]

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