contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Tag: non-duality

‘MAGIC/DELIGHT’

“When we see a magic trick – or anything else that catches us off guard in a magical way – in the moment of surprise our mind stops, and there is a flash of delight. We are in a state of mute wonder.

“The same bliss of wonder, delight, and amazement is the focus of this meditation. We use our response to propel ourselves into a state beyond the mind, a state where we see the magical nature of life.

Our delight in what we are seeing, coupled with an amazed mind, become a doorway into an intuitive flash in which we remember that life itself is like a magic show, a dream – and not at all what our worries little self was thinking it to be!

“This meditation encourages us to attend to all the moments of surprise and delight that occur throughout our day.

“The following contemplation can help prepare us to take full advantage of these moments.

Practice thinking of delight

“Bring to mind a memory of a time when you experienced surprise and delight;

“Focus on your reaction – feel fully your surprise and the wonderful sensation of your delight;

“In this thought-free moment, let the great bliss remind you of the true nature of reality;

“Remain alert for these moments as they occur throughout the day.” (1)

(1) Meditation 43 from: Lee Lyon The 112 Meditations from the Book of Divine Wisdom: the Meditations from the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra with Commentary and Practice Santa Fe, NM: Foundation for Integrative Meditation, 2019. See http://www.integrativemeditation.org

Lee Lyon’s introduction describes the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra as “a compendium of meditations from the 8th century Shaivite tradition in Kashmir. Acknowledged as one of the supreme jewels of the Tantric tradition of northern India, this much loved text had remained largely obscure until its rediscovery last century. … One of the great hallmarks of this tradition is its … enthusiastic engagement with all aspects of our life experience, even the ‘unspiritual’, as wonderful, natural gateways into our true nature”.

The basic teaching is to move through the surface appearance of our lives into “the pure energy behind form”. It is through engaging “the deeper energy in any experience, pleasurable or difficult, ecstatic or terrifying, that we move through the appearance of separation into the ever present Oneness.”

SKY

“Isaac spent all his time reading in a dark house, refusing to go out into the sunshine. His next-door neighbor was a hidden spiritual master, who periodically dropped by to say to Isaac, ‘don’t spend your whole life hunched over your desk in this dark room. Get out and look at the sky!’ Isaac would nod and keep on reading. Then one day his house caught fire. Grabbing what possessions he could, he ran outside. There, he saw the master, pointing upwards. ‘Look,’ said the master, ‘Sky!’ In this story, there are three elements that represent the process of awakening: the fire, the master, and the sky. Kali is all of them.” (1)

(1) Sally Kempton Awakening to Kali: The Goddess of Radical Transformation Boulder, Colorado: Sounds True, 2014

Sally Kempton belongs to the tradition of Kashmir Shaivism, and has described her path as a contemplative and devotional Tantra. For this tradition, a subtle vibratory energy is the substratum of everything we know, and the expression of a divine feminine power called Shakti. This power has five faces – the power to be conscious, the power to feel ecstasy, the power of will or desire, the power to know, and the power to act.

All of these powers come together in the act of cosmic creation, when divine intelligence spins a universe out of itself in Shakti’s dance. Her powers are constantly at play in ourselves and the world, nudging us towards an evolution of consciousness, with which we must align when we seek conscious transformation. Shakti, the formless source of everything, takes multiple forms. Indeed the whole complex Indian pantheon, gods and goddesses alike, are forms of Shakti.

Sally Kempton says that anthropologists have identified two basic versions of Kali, specifically, in popular Indian religion. There is a forest and village Kali represented as scary and half-demonic, and the urban and more modern Kali Ma – “a benign and loving source of every kind of boon and blessing”. Here, her wildness is largely symbolic. Kempton’s Kali seems to be a challenging, ruthlessly compassionate teacher and guide.

In a recent post I wrote: “it is as if I am resourced by a timeless, unboundaried dimension from which I am not separate”. (2) It is my current experiential understanding of the spiritual approach knowns as ‘non-dualism’. Kashmiri Shaivites, Including Sally Kempton, are non-dualists. They are entirely at ease with deity devotion as part of the path.

I am wondering now if, and how, a greater element of deity oriented and devotional practice might add to my own path. Just over three years ago I let go of a ‘Way of Sophia’ thread, with some pain, because it no longer felt authentic. All that’s left is my address to the Goddess (Primal Cosmic Mother, Lady Wisdom) in the Druid’s prayer. Something is missing, I think, and I feel close to another shift. Frankly, I feel nudged.

(2) https://contemplativeinquiry.blog/2022/12/31/a-direction-for-2023/

A CONTEMPLATIVE PERSPECTIVE ON WISDOM

For me, wisdom can take many forms. Below, Eckhardt Tolle emphasises contemplative process over cognitive product. I don’t treat this as an exclusive definition of the word wisdom. But I have certainly been nourished by taking Tolle’s understanding to heart and learning how to let the process unfold.

“Wisdom is not a product of thought. The deep knowing that is wisdom arises through the simple act of giving someone or something your full attention. Attention is primordial intelligence, consciousness itself. It dissolves the barriers created by conceptual thought, and with this comes the recognition that nothing exists in and by itself. It joins the perceiver and the perceived in a unifying field of awareness. It is the healer of separation.” (1)

(1) Eckhardt Tolle Stillness Speaks Vancouver, Canada: Namaste Publishing, 2003

SURFACE AND DEPTH

I took this picture some time ago and kept it as an image of tranquillity. Now, when I contemplate it for any length of time, the ripples on the water seem to be alive and moving. The vegetation, also alive, is still.

Although the scene presented here contains both stillness and movement, I identify strongly with the moving ripples in the background. Despite all my contemplative inquiring, movement continues to be my default setting, albeit now less agitated and turbulent than in the past. The phrase ‘stream of consciousness’ comes to mind. The natural flow of this stream includes spaces freed up from cogitation and narrative. But the stream flows on.

I am glad of this. Some traditional teachings, when emphasising the non-separation of ‘ocean and wave’, lean towards invalidating the individuality of the waves even whilst their brief distinctive identities last. But for me, the purpose of being human is to live a human life, knowingly embedded within a rich natural and cultural history. This is why I have stayed with modern Druidry as my main point of spiritual reference.

I have also found a liberating expansion of my human life in realising my non-separation from the living presence of the cosmos. It has busted me out of a certain kind of prison, one of neediness and dependency on surface satisfactions. Just as well, in an age of – increasingly surreal – ‘capitalist realism’ (1). Eckhardt Tolle has offered me the most convincing strategies for standing in the larger life – in particular through his recognition that ultimate satisfaction is inseparable from the present moment, and his account of what is really meant by that much abused term (2). He is currently a second point of reference in my spiritual work.

My photograph continues to offer an image of tranquillity. It is just that, at least for me, tranquillity isn’t as straightforward as it may look.

(1) Mark Fisher Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? Winchester, UK & Washington. USA: O Books, 2009

(2) Eckhardt Tolle A New Earth: Create A Better Life London: Penguin Books, 2016 (Rev. ed. First edition 2005)

JOURNEY AND GOAL

“You’re the journey and the goal –

Exile in the desert

The years of mirage and lightning

And the ecstatic returning to your own house.

You’re the house”

Kabir Engoldenment: A Year with Kabir – 366 Timeless Poems Seattle, WA: KDP Publishing, 2021 (Translated and compiled by Andrew Harvey)

In his introduction, Andrew Harvey writes:

“Kabir is India’s greatest mystic poet and, with Rumi, one of humanity’s two universal prophet poets. He was born to a poor Muslim family of weavers in Benares (now Varanasi) probably around 1440 and died in 1518. Although Kabir refused to belong to any religion, preferring (and championing) a naked direct connection to the Divine, Kabir is revered by Hindus and Muslims alike and 300 of his works were incorporated into the Sikh scriptures. In Varanasi, the holy city where he lived, his songs are still sung by weavers and rickshaw drivers, cigarette sellers, beggars, sadhus and the ‘doms’ that supervise the burning of the dead.

“I asked an old boatman once who was ferrying me on the Ganges and singing Kabir why they loved him. He said, ‘He was one of us. He sang in Hindi, the language of the streets, not Sanskrit. Whoever you are, whatever religion, whatever religion you belong to, he is speaking to you directly.”

See also: https://contemplativeinquiry.blog/2021/01/30/turn-me-to-gold/

BOOK REVIEW: THE GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT IN LIFE (REVISED AND UPDATED EDITION)

Highly recommended for anyone drawn to contemplative and mystical traditions. R. D. Krumpos’ The Greatest Achievement in Life: Five Traditions of Mysticism & Mystical Approaches to Life (1) is now available in print, in a new revised edition. I like having it now as an old-fashioned physical book that I can leaf through easily both for reference and for inspiration.

The book explores the mystical traditions embedded within Hinduism (Vedanta, Tantra), Buddhism (Zen, Vajrayana), Judaism (Hasidism, Kabbalah), Christianity (Gnostic and Contemplative currents) and Islam (Sufism). Krumpos shows how, underneath their manifold differences, they share an understanding of mysticism as the direct intuition or experience of God, or of an ultimate Reality not conceived as God.

Mystics are described as people whose spiritual lives are grounded “not merely on an accepted belief and practice, but on what they regard as first-hand knowledge”. Krumpos spells out the uncompromising idealism of this project. “Mysticism is the great quest for the ultimate ground of existence, the absolute nature of being itself. True mystics transcend apparent manifestations of the theatrical production called ‘this life’. Theirs is not simply a search for meaning, but discovery of what is i,e, the Real underlying the seeming realities. Their objective is not heaven, gardens, paradise or other celestial places. It is not being where the divine lives, but to be what the divine essence is here and now”.

The book is divided into two main sections: Five Traditions of Mysticism and Mystical Approaches to Life. Within these sections there is a further division into short essays, which can be read either in sequence or independently of the whole. The essays are based both on conversations with mystics and engagement with mystical literatures. Krumpos draws directly on the words of well-known mystics themselves, with 120 quotations interspersed with the essays. He also offers his own commentary and reflections. The book can either be seen as a source and reference book, or as a practitioner aide. It includes sentences and paragraphs that can themselves be used as a basis for formal contemplation. It is not just an ‘about’ book, though it serves that purpose well.

The traditions presented are seen as having much in common at the core, and The Great Achievement bears witness to that commonality. Yet there is enough interior diversity to make it clear that mystics in these traditions are not all the same, or saying the same thing, in the way that is sometimes lazily claimed. Overall Ron Krumpos’ sense of ‘direct experience’ and his definition of gnosis describe a gold standard for what ‘the greatest achievement’ is, based on the accounts of the mystics cited and discussed. In the second half of this book, the focus valuably shifts from the nature of mystical experience itself, to a consideration of its implications for how to live and serve.

For me, the cultural moment in which The Great Achievement has been offered is significant one. Perennialism’s ideas have been popularised and repackaged over the period since World War II at an ever increasing rate. There is now an extraordinary global spiritual hunger at least partly influenced by the spiritual paths that it includes – some, indeed, speak of a ‘spiritual market place’. This is a promising development, yet one with its downside. Krumpos’ work reminds us what these older traditions are and where they stand. For readers in new (or new-old) spiritual traditions with a different approach, the book offers opportunities for comparing and contrasting the fruits of the five traditions with those of their own chosen paths. Krumpos does acknowledge the value of shamanic and indigenous traditions, and practitioners within these traditions, reading this book, might be inspired to develop this conversation further.

(1) R. D. Krumpos The Greatest Achievement in Life: Five Traditions of Mysticism & Mystical Approaches to Life Tucson, AZ: Palomar Print Design, 2022. (Originally a free e-book available from http://www.suprarational.org/ as a printable pdf, published in 2012).

NB This review is a revision of my review of the original edition. See:

https://contemplativeinquiry.blog/2021/03/06/

TOWARDS AN INTEGRATION?

I contemplate an image is from R. J. Stewart’s The Merlin Tarot (1). It is the Ace of Beasts, the Earth suit. I sense it guiding me to a new phase of my inquiry, I hope a phase of integration. The stag has reached the point of stillness. There is nowhere to run, and no longer any need for running. Between his antlers sits a black mirror, showing the four powers of Life, Light, Love and Law unified by a central fifth. Here, it is the magical implement of the Earth element, an alternative to the shield or pentacle.

Stewart says of this image: “its deep power is that of Law and Wisdom, the Mystery of Night and Winter. Thus it can indicate a force or restriction that leads to liberation …. the Wisdom of endings that bring beginnings”. For the next phase of my formal inquiry practice, I will work through the programme of R. J. Stewart’s The Miracle Tree (2). I am already familiar with it, but I can drop into a beginner’s mind readily enough. The novelty is in being focused and systematic, as I was over the years of my training in OBOD (3), but here with a more closely defined and demarcated programme.

Why this? And why now? The Miracle Tree is based on the Western Way Qabalah, and its version of the Qabalistic crossing practice runs: “In the Name of the Star Father (right hand over forehead) Deep Mother (genitals) True Taker (right shoulder) Great Giver (left shoulder) We are One Being of Light (circle right and downwards from top of forehead to genitals, completing left and upwards to back of forehead)”. I like its integrative quality, and its way of presenting a non-dualist perspective – especially the use of ‘We’ in a statement affirming ‘One Being of Light’. It does not use the Absolute to crush the human and natural. It acknowledges the diversity held in ultimate unity, and embraces multiple forms and dimensions of Being. The Cosmic Tree shelters all, whilst not being separate from any.

Stewart says of this system: “the idea of relationship holds good for all world views and models. It is not so much a matter of their accuracy, for their accuracy is relative and ephemeral, but of their value to us as models of relationship to, and participation within, the greater world of which our human world is a small part”. The way to test the value of the model is experiential, and this is what I will do. For me, contemplative inquiry involves a surrender to, and immersion in, the work, whilst retaining a capacity to track and appreciate its effects. I do not expect this cycle to negate what has gone before but, rather, to complete it. Where appropriate, I will discuss this in the blog from time to time.

(1) R. J. Stewart The Complete Merlin Tarot: Images, Insight and Wisdom from the Age of Merlin: London: The Aquarian Press, 1992 (Illustrated by Miranda Gray)

(2) R. J. Stewart The Miracle Tree: Demystifying the Qabalah Franklin Lakes, NJ: New Page Books,2003

(3) Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids – https://www.druidry.org/

POEM: THIS STILL CENTRE

Here, indeed, is no ordinary spot:

no place on the map, in the cosmos,

is anything like it.

This still Centre is the one spot

where energy is actually discovered

welling up out of Nothing.

All the irresistible torrents

which swirl and roar through every other place

rise silently in this place,

never ruffling its perfect calm.

Douglas Harding Everyday Seeing: daily meditations on the One within. London: The Shollond Trust, 2019 (Quotations selected by Richard Lang)

DOUGLAS HARDING: THE MIRACLE OF EXISTENCE

“Besides the countless particular miracles that we comprise, there is that supreme irregularity – the fact that anything exists at all. Most unnaturally, there is not just Nothing. How adroit for It to happen! How deserving of our congratulations It is, for having arranged its quite impossible existence! After that, what are a few billion universes more or less.”

These words are from Douglas Harding’s epilogue to The Hierarchy of Heaven & Earth (1) published on the recommendation of C. S. Lewis, distinguished scholar and Inkling. Lewis’ introduction places it among “philosophies that have some of the same qualities as works of art”, and he is reminded in that respect of Hermann Hesse’s Glass Bead Game.

Harding describes his work as “an unconventional attempt to discover, for myself and in my own way, what I am and what I amount to in the universe. What am I? That is the question. Let me answer it as honestly and simply as I can, forgetting the ready-made answers.”

Harding also has the courage to declare that he has not found an answer. Instead, he has entered a state of “amazed reverence” that reveals his whole inquiry as both “absurd” and “a needful absurdity”. He finds that “because all my roots are in the Undiscoverable, I also am undiscoverable: I will not bear inspection, and can never make head or tail of myself. Self-knowledge is the smouldering wick that is left after the light of wonder has been put out. … If this book quenches the feeblest flame of awe, of direct awareness, in myself or anyone else, then it were better never to have written it”.

Harding did not end his inquiry with The Hierarchy of Heaven & Earth. Instead, he went on to become a midwife of direct awareness, and The Headless Way (https://www.headless.org) was born. Where The Hierarchy of heaven & Earth is concerned with exuberant yet disciplined system building, Harding’s later work challenges each of us to ‘look for yourself’ using a set of experiments, now accessible on The Headless Way website. I reported an early, intensive experience of them on return from a four day retreat with the Headless Way in 2016 – https://contemplativeinquiry.blog/2016/07/28/look-for-yourself/ Interestingly, my wrap-around commentary, especially the post-workshop phase, would now be a little different from the one in that post, while my report of the direct experience remains the same. In my current practice, I particularly draw on a seven point version of the experiments presented in Head Off Stress (2).

I never met Douglas Harding in person – my discovery of the Headless Way is too recent. But his writing and recorded material show never-ending wonder at the miracle of existence. They also show his passion for facilitating a transformative recognition of who we really are, and then to live from that recognition.

“I certainly don’t find myself

on the brink of a bottomless abyss,

trying to make up my mind

whether to let go and take that dreadful plunge.

I am already clear of the brink

and free-falling,

and have never been otherwise.

To see this,

all I have to do is look for myself,

and fail to find myself, and find instead

the treasure that has no name

in the well

at the world’s end.”

(1) D. E. Harding The Hierarchy of Heaven & Earth London: The Shollond Trust, 2011 Introduction by C. S. Lewis. (Abridged edition – original edition published by Faber & Faber in 1952)

(2) D. E. Harding Head Off Stress: Beyond the Bottom Line London: The Shollond Trust, 2009 (Originally published by Arkana in 1990)

(3) Douglas Harding Everyday Seeing: daily meditations on the One within London: The Shollond Trust, 2019 (Quotations selected by Richard Land)

INQUIRY, IDENTITY AND COMMUNITY

I am looking downwards into water, identifying patterns, on a surface that swirls and moves and changes. I have the same impulse to identify patterns in my contemplative life. In essence, contemplative experience is simple, still, and drawn from wordless depths. But there’s a surface swirl that’s more agitated, largely driven by worries over naming and explaining, clarifying where my inquiry sits within human communities, and accurately representing spiritual philosophies. Here too, I am giving the surface swirl the attention it seeks. I do not ask the swirl to stop swirling, because swirling is what it does. There is value in the swirl.

I centre myself in modern Druidry, but my self-presentation from 2012 as a ‘contemplative Druid’ is slightly misleading – too narrow. I champion the value of a contemplative current within Druidry, and I am happy to describe my blog as a contemplative inquiry. But I also have a strong commitment to the life of the world and opportunities for the flourishing of all beings, within both the constraints and the opportunities of our interconnectedness. I am concerned with our planet and its biosphere; with human history and culture; with ethics and engagement; with beauty as well as truth and goodness; and with issues of wounding and healing. They are part of my inquiry. I cannot separate them from my contemplative commitment.

I also celebrate the influence of ‘nondual’ currents outside Druidry. Nondual is a translation of advaita (not-two) in classical Sanskrit philosophy. It describes the divine/human relationship. Its original home is the Advaita Vedanta path in India, but there are nondualists in other world religions, including the Abrahamic ones: Sufi currents in Islam, Jewish Kabbalah, contemplative Christianity. In Christian terms, you would say that we are all essentially Christs – in a creation of one Light and many lamps. In some interpretations, nonduality does not apply only to humans, but to all lives in the cosmos. Some iterations of nonduality – Mahayana Buddhist and Taoist in particular – avoid the language of divinity, preferring terms like ‘true nature’ or the deliberately undefinable ‘Tao’.

I have engaged with current nondualist teachings for some years, most recently with the Eckhart Tolle community – https://www.eckharttolle.com. I have learned a lot from them. In this blog’s About section, I say: “My inquiry process overall has helped me to discover an underlying peace and at-homeness in the present moment, which, when experienced clearly and spaciously, nourishes and illuminates my life. It is not dependent on belief or circumstance, but on the ultimate acceptance that this is what is given”.

I could maintain this stance as a humanist or existentialist, but my deepest intuition is that the ‘present moment’ (or eternal now), fully experienced, links my passing personal identity to a cosmic one, a ground of being that is my true nature. Belief has come in: ‘willingness to follow one’s deepest intuition’ is one definition of faith, and I have surprised myself by becoming a person of faith in this sense. The purpose of continuing inquiry is to keep me open to new experiences, understandings, and connections, as well as teaching me how best to live from the peace and at-homeness of the centre.

My inquiry is a self-directed enterprise that welcomes input from multiple sources. But I draw on two main centres of community wisdom and support. The first is OBOD Druidry (https://www.druidry.org), with its embrace of the earth and its loyalty to the world of space and time, nature and culture. For many of us this includes the sense of a living cosmos and a divine ground. The second is the specifically nondualist Headless Way, based on the work of the late Douglas Harding (https://www.headless.org). I have started to think of myself as a Headless Druid, in a modern kind of way, whilst also aware of older traditions in which decapitation is indeed the gateway to a larger life:

‘It’s off with my head’, says the Green Man,

‘It’s off with my head’, says he.

Green Man becomes grown man in flames of the oak

As its crown forms his mask and its leafage his features;

‘I speak through the oak’, says the Green Man.

‘I speak through the oak’, says he.

William Anderson Green Man: Archetype of Our Oneness with the Earth Harper Collins: London & San Francisco, 1990.

See also: https://contemplativeinquiry.blog/2021/6/14/tree-mandala-oak and https://contemplativeinquiry.blog/2017/05/11/poem-green-man

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