Thursday, February 13, 2014

Summit Of Mount Freedom: By Michael Langford

(I feel compelled to post this hidden gem: ->)
Summit Of Mount Freedom: By Michael Langford

Once upon a time in the land of fictional characters created to illustrate certain valuable lessons, there lived a woman named Liberated Sage.

Liberated Sage was one of the few people in the world who had successfully climbed to the summit of the thirty thousand foot mountain called Mount Freedom.  She liked the summit so much she decided to stay there and live on the summit permanently.

Liberated Sage had read all of the books that had been written about how to climb Mount Freedom and she had read almost all of the books written about mountain climbing in general.

Because she had successfully climbed to the summit of Mount Freedom and because she lived there on the summit permanently she knew which books were accurate and which books would be most helpful to those few who actually wanted to climb Mount Freedom and not just read about it.

Liberated Sage knew that the most accurate and helpful book about how to climb Mount Freedom was a book titled:

“You Actually Have To Climb To Reach The Summit Of Mount Freedom.”

Some people sent emails to Liberated Sage to give her advice on many topics.  Those who had never climbed to the summit of Mount Freedom sent her advice about how to climb to the summit of Mount Freedom.  Those who did not know how to live permanently on the summit of Mount Freedom sent her advice about how to live permanently on the summit of Mount Freedom.

There were three people who sent Liberated Sage emails to inform her that she was wrong about which book was the best, most helpful and most accurate book about how to climb Mount Freedom.

The first person was Mr. Scholar.  The second person was Mr. Translator.  The third person was Mr. Arrogant Advisor.

All three of these people, Mr. Scholar, Mr. Translator and Mr. Arrogant Advisor agreed that the best book on the subject of how to climb Mount Freedom was the book titled:

“How To Climb Mount Freedom While Sitting On Your Couch Watching Television”

The subtitle of that book was:

“The Couch Potato’s Guide To Climbing Mount Freedom”

Mr. Scholar, Mr. Translator, and Mr. Arrogant Advisor had never climbed higher than one thousand feet on Mount Freedom.  Because of their experiences climbing those one thousand feet, all three of them thought they had enough experience to be qualified to correct Ms Liberated Sage.

One of the many things that Liberated Sage knew that Mr. Scholar, Mr. Translator, and Mr. Arrogant Advisor did not know was that the obstacles and challenges that one faces after one thousand feet on thirty thousand foot Mount Freedom are not the same as the obstacles that one faces in the first thousand feet.  And more importantly Liberated Sage knew what the route was all the way up to the summit, not just the route of the first thousand feet.  After one thousand feet the route took many twists and turns and had hundreds of different obstacles.

Some of the mountain climbing books had been translated from Japanese into English.  Liberated Sage was not fluent in Japanese.  Mr. Translator was fluent in Japanese and therefore Mr. Translator thought that he was far more qualified to determine which books were more accurate and helpful for would-be mountain climbers.  Mr. Translator was not correct in that assumption.  Suppose that a map of your neighborhood is translated from Japanese into English.  You do not need to know even one word of Japanese to know if the English translation is an accurate description of your neighborhood because you are familiar with your neighborhood.

There were thousands of well worn paths that led part of the way up Mount Freedom.  The reason they were well worn paths is because people were afraid to actually go all the way to the summit of Mount Freedom, so they chose paths that did not lead to the summit of Mount Freedom. The paths that led only part of the way to the summit of Mount Freedom had a reputation for leading all the way to the top of Mount Freedom. Although the people who were using the well worn paths on the surface of their mind believed they were on a path that led all the way to the summit of Mount Freedom, deep down at another level of consciousness they knew that they were on a path that did not lead to the summit of Mount Freedom.

Being one of only a few people who had ever successfully made the climb all the way to the Summit of Mount Freedom, Liberated Sage knew the path that leads all the way to the summit from direct experience.  Thus when a book had errors that described the path inaccurately, Liberated Sage could see those errors.  Liberated Sage never stated that the translators had translated incorrectly from a technical translation standpoint. She only stated that the English translation contained information that did not accurately describe the path up the mountain and that would not be helpful to those very few who were planning to actually climb to the summit of Mount Freedom.

Because Mr. Translator, Mr. Scholar and Mr. Arrogant Advisor had never climbed above one thousand feet, they had no real basis for determining what the path is like up to the summit.  What they had was a lot of concepts and theories that they had read about.  Mount Freedom is thirty thousand feet tall and Mr. Translator, Mr. Scholar, and Mr. Arrogant Advisor were missing twenty nine thousand feet of vital first hand information about the path that leads to the summit of Mount Freedom.  However, Mr. Translator, Mr. Scholar and Mr. Arrogant Advisor believed that they had all the correct information for three reasons:

1.  Because they were equating what they had read and thought about with actual experience, when in fact reading and thinking about climbing is not at all the same as climbing.

2.  They were terrified to go above one thousand feet so they substituted talking, reading, writing and thinking about climbing for actually climbing.  They had no real intention of ever going above one thousand feet.

3.  Like most people they had very little self-honesty.  Self-honesty begins by actually discovering how one has not been honest with oneself.

On the other hand, since Liberated Sage had successfully climbed all the way to the summit of Mount Freedom, Liberated Sage did have a real basis for knowing that path, including the many obstacles.

Liberated Sage saw that sometimes the books would say turn right at a certain point when what was really needed was to turn left.  In fact turning right would have put the climber into a deep hole that few climbers ever come back out of.  Sometimes the books would say that a certain area was hard stable rock when Liberated Sage knew that it was thin flaky rock (almost as flaky as some of the climbers).  So in order to help those few who intended to actually climb Mount Freedom, Liberated Sage wrote her own book titled:

“Reading, Thinking, Or Talking About Climbing To The Summit Of Mount Freedom Is Very Different From Actually Climbing To The Summit Of Mount Freedom.”

Saturday, February 8, 2014

On Hesychasm and Eastern Christian mysticism

There is much in the Eastern Orthodox Rite of Christianity that is relatively unknown in the world, but offers much in the way of an effective path to Godhead. It is largely unknown in the wider spiritual community due to a smaller number of adherents than other mainstream Christian sects, and in general followers tend to be born into it via a small number of ethnic cultures. Until quite recently, the writings related to Hesychasm have been available only in Greek, Russian or minority language texts.

Hesychasm (Greek: ἡσυχασμός, hesychasmos, from ἡσυχία, hesychia, "stillness, rest, quiet, silence") is an eremitic tradition of prayer in the Eastern Orthodox Church and Eastern Catholic Churches of Byzantine Rite practised (Gk: ἡσυχάζω,hesychazo: "to keep stillness") by the Hesychast (Gr. Ἡσυχαστής, hesychastes).

Based on Christ's injunction in the Gospel of Matthew to "when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray", hesychasm in tradition has been the process of retiring inward by ceasing to register the senses, in order to achieve an experiential knowledge of God. (Wikipedia)

The Hesychasm movement also has many similarities to other mysticism traditions such as Sufism, Hasidism, and certain Indian schools.

Some key concepts and practices:

- Use of mantra/japa, along with breathing. Especially with the "Jesus prayer"
- Use of both somatic and psychological exercises (postures, heart and vital centres focusing, repitition of phrases, constancy in practice, fervour devotion/bhakti, etc.)
- seclusion to quiet places
- mystical leadership
- practice in stillness, inner silence
- Divine grace vs self-will or self-effort
- Repentance and self-honesty (confession)
- Self-observation and daily review
- transformation of thought and energy

Having studied the Gurdjieff/Ouspensky movement for some time, it strikes me as interesting how much Hesychasm features in the Fourth Way, yet is rarely acknowledged over other possible influences such as Sufism. Yet Gurdjieff himself remained an Orthodox Christian throughout his life, and was buried with an Orthodox service. Commonalities in both movements include self-observation, self-remembering, intentional suffering and voluntary spiritual labor, self-honesty, and the acknowledgement of Grace before one's own impotency to change.

One small point of interest is the use of the "Jesus prayer" or "Lord Jesus <or God>, have mercy on me, a sinner."

As with any devotional mantra, its use verbally is only a start. All sages agree that such mantras much be accompanied with sincere devotion and longing towards the Divine.

The use of this phrase is an excellent way to foster:
  • humility and self-honesty
  • increased devotion to Godhead
  • increased desire for liberation
  • the feeling of non-doership and release
  • attention to the self ("me")- which is nothing short of the direct path of self-inquiry/self-attention/"I AM" yoga.
Such facts were probably known to contemporaries such as Gurdjieff, who made use of this prayer, and of course, sages in the Eastern Rite, who made profuse use of this phrase accompanied with certain yogic or somatic practices.

As with any yogic or somatic spiritual exercise, guidance from an experienced mentor is highly recommended over going it alone.

Some further reading:

Monday, February 3, 2014

Direct vs Indirect paths. (Immediate vs Progressive paths). Body awareness.

One often finds a contradiction amongst legit realized teachers concerning the two ideas of whether a student should begin practicing 1) only with the Direct/Immediate methods aimed at non-dual awareness, or 2) with Indirect/Progressive methods first, before approaching (1).

Teachers that promote the (1) idea include those such as Sri Ramana Maharshi, Sri Sadhu Om, Sri Annamalai Swami, certain Dzogchen masters, fringe teachers such as UG Krishnamurti, writers such as Michael Langford, Michael James, and others in various schools (some Zen teachers for example).

Teachers that promote the (2) idea include most progressive path teachers in traditional systems such as Buddhism schools (all 3 Yana-schools), traditional Vedanta and yoga schools, Western Mystery schools, contemporaries such as Osho, Gurdjieff, Ouspensky, and too many others to list.

Some teachers include both (1) and (2) paradoxically in their writings, such as Nisargadatta, often due to the wide range of students they were attempting to instruct.

However, in my mind, this contradiction, which is rampant in writings all over the spiritual plane (Advaita, Buddhism, etc.), can be resolved.

Generally, teachers have attempted to teach the highest truth (1) if the student's capacity was evident. Failing this, they had to resort to (2) teachings.

Some teachers such as Sri Sadhu Om take the extreme view that even this approach should be dispensed with, and that everyone should only start immediately with apprehending awareness / consciousness ('first person' or Self) immediately. On further inspection though, it seems that his writing is aimed at dispelling the notion that full Self-realization can happen via subject-object or (2) type practices. This is a common view still prevalent in many progressive schools- that one can attain full realization (and nirvikalpa samadhi) simply by the advanced practice of concentration on an object. It is evident through reading any of Ramana Maharshi's writings and those in his stream, that this isn't true. Likewise, Gurdjieff mentions that "self-observation with self-remembering is useless".

I tend to side with Nisargadatta's approach on this issue, and that is that the method should be aimed at the student's capacity level, being- "wet charcoal", "dry charcoal", and "gunpowder" levels of readiness.

Further, in this day and age, I find that people, in general, (and myself in particular) are so divorced from their physical body and physical environment, so as to require some form of body awareness and re-acquaintance with what it means to live in a physical body. If "body identification" is a major obstacle (and it seems so from the writings of virtually any teacher worth their salt), then this can only be transcended and fully understood by first knowing what it means to be identified as a body.

As a means to this end, I've found some of the practices in Gurdjieff's work and the Fourth Way, as well as basic Theravada mindfulness practices to be effective in bringing one back to an awareness of living in a body. Eckhart Tolle also makes a good attempt through some of his 'feel the body's energy' exercises as developing this awareness.

In older times, it probably wasn't so necessary to keep focusing attention on and in the body- since people generally did much more labour work and physically used their body for a larger part of the day. Walking long distances, hunting, fixing things, cooking, farming, child-rearing with no gadgets, etc. etc. all clearly reminded people that they were living in a body, no special attention required. No so nowadays, with the invention of offices, desks, computers, mobiles, Internet, fast-food, day-care, factories, etc.- you get the message.

By experiencing oneself fully as 'a body' and by developing awareness of the body (and also awareness itself), one may be lucky enough to come to the realization that they are not in fact, a body.. thus dropping one of the biggest obstacles on the path. Nisargadatta alludes to this when he explains that the path is as simple as seeing a flower- "you know you are not the flower. There is 'you', and there is the flower. Investigate this." Simple, but not easy.

In summary, I find the progressive paths, and especially body-work, to be extremely helpful, and should be experimented with by all means. However, it should also be kept in mind that they are not ends in themselves, and that the apprehension of direct awareness of awareness, or investigation of one's 'self' as consciousness- and abiding there- will ultimately lead to the undoing of the "I" and hence the endless-dream or waking-sleep we find ourselves in here.

A final point to keep in mind is also that there will be times when resting in awareness (or being as Awareness only) will be easy, and times when it will not. James Schwartz would say this depends on how "satvic" your "vasanas" are. Whatever.. the reason isn't important. What is important is that one takes a break from direct practice, if needed, and moves down a notch - again, back to simple practices such as body awareness.

Kenneth Folk writes clearly about this in his "3-gears" approach. Michael Langford also notes that trying to keep up "Awareness watching Awareness" during one's daily activities is likely too difficult, and thus advises one to practice his "Loving-all" method. Personally, I find body-awareness to be more useful (for reasons above) than a mind-method such as mantra, japa, devotion, 'loving-all' etc.

An in-between approach may be to use an awareness of one's "self" (i.e.. perceived ego-I-self which equates to a 'me' in a body). This was used by Gurdjieff and Ouspensky (aka "self-remembering"), and is mentioned at times as a form of "self-inquiry" by writers in the Ramana Maharshi tradition. Others such as John Sherman call this "looking at oneself". It is a highly effective end-practice in itself.

<Apologies for the length and lack of structure in this piece- I'm constrained with time/location at the moment, and wish to "get it all down", rather than produce a perfect blog posting :) >