Tuesday, June 9, 2015

"Beyond the Fourth Way- P. Groves" - review and some notes.

I recently found a book "Beyond the Fourth Way" on the Internet while browsing, and which captured my interest from the description, since it spoke of both Fourth Way, going beyond it, and also some aspects of Swedenborg's teachings.

I was a little disappointed on reading through it twice though. My review of the book, which seems a bit harsh on first sight was:

This rather odd book or compilation was made out of notes that the author amassed during his decades of teaching philosophy and esoteric systems. Apparently it was salvaged and compiled posthumously by some of his students, and relates generally to ideas found in the Fourth Way and Gurdjieff schools, as well as crossing into the author's interests with Swedenborg, theosophy, symbology and other areas. This book is not at all practical, and contains a couple of lines throughout which actually speak about the practices of 'self-remembering'. Nothing is mentioned of 'self-observation', the centres, or other common Fourth Way topics. The lines on 'self-remembering' are vague, and relate to the author's idea that it involves both having an overarching awareness of both internal and external states, but at other points in the book, seems to relate only to having an awareness of the body's inner 'feeling'. Overall, this book may appeal to those with a philosophical bent, or who are interested in theosophical type information and ramblings (such as correspondences between the human body and esoteric symbology, or on the conceptual hierarchies of the 'spirit world' etc.). I would class it as very supplementary for anyone interested in the Fourth Way, and it would serve little purpose apart from informational material (or interesting reading for a rainy day) for those without any actual first-hand experience of 'self-remembering' or Fourth Way practices. I had hoped for more with a title such as "Beyond the Fourth Way", which should have been entitled something like "Discussions on The Fourth Way, Swedenborg, and Ancient Symbology".

The reason that the review was a little harsh was that:

- the ideas on 'self-remembering' were very vague at best, and incorrect at worst. In some instances, it likened self-remembering to 'enlarging the field of consciousness so both inside and outside worlds were grasped together', and then in other places, it was just relaxation and noticing 'a new quality of consciousness inside oneself' was present. Still elsewhere, it was feeling the inside of the body (sensations?).

- the author exhorted the reader again and again to apply self-remembering, resist negative states, the ego etc. etc., but gave no actual means to do this (unless of course this was given in his lectures, but which was not stated). As with most spiritual literature, the author assumes that the common reader even has the capacity 'to do' (as opposed to Gurdjieff's chief claim that "man cannot do" and was but a machine (unless this realization had already set in, and one had started to work on himself/herself in a specific directed way).

- 95% of the book was informational / conceptual material, and had to be taken on a pure faith basis- relating to ideas such as spiritual realms, spiritual functionings of the physical body, the real meanings behind ancient art and architecture, etc. etc.-- which is all well and good, except that it didn't really relate at all with The Fourth Way, or go beyond it. Ouspensky was shot down in a few places throughout, but is actually much more practical and easier to understand in relation to what 'self-remembering' entails. (The author probably latched onto Gurdjieff's worst teachings (in terms of impractical nonsense that probably was aimed at entertaining would-be seekers and those interested in theosophy type discussions), such as the idea of genetic information passing from one generation to another, the enneagram, the Hydrogen-Oxygen-Carbon theory, extracting 'secrets' from ancient art works etc.-- all of which are just distractions away from practicing self-observation and self-remembering)

However, there were a few positive points, and a couple of interesting notes, (for those with the experience to discern:)

* Relaxation and breath awareness is useful, and can lead to a becoming aware of a different state of internal consciousness-- which we would normally experience as 'calm', 'peace' etc. Noting the presence of this 'new' state at different times can help to develop it more often, and also compare it to our normal state of mechanical existence.

* What we are aiming at is to experience ourself as the 'ABSOLUTE' (or rather I would term 'pure awareness' or nondual awareness), which is the goal of SELF-remembering (author's spelling).

* There is a description on p35 of the use of Sufi meditation / mantra use, and this is an excellent description (for those with experience in using mantras), of using a mantra and directing it at different body parts, or over the whole body, and using parts as a 'sounding board' in order to experience a more global awareness, and also in order to lessen the hold of the 'ego' or 'nafs'.

* It is of great help (towards self-remembering) to practice 'sensing' or 'feeling' oneself from the inside of the physical body- which really means sensations, and return to this practice as often as possible throughout the day. This can initially be done as a formal sitting practice (meditation), and later extended to other times.

* It is a useful practice to be simultaneously aware of one's internal state and the external objects that are appearing in one's awareness. The author states that this 'knife's edge" is key to the gaining of a 'third state' that surpasses both. (Again details on this are minimal).

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Mindfulness of Death (Part I)

Mindfulness of Death (One of the 10 Recollections)

I've recently been reading a book on Theravada Buddhism ("The Experience of Samadhi" by R.Shankman), which details some core differences in the practice of Concentration, Jhanas (and Mindfulness) taken in both the Pali Suttras and the Commentaries (Vissudhimagga). It is really a good book and recommended reading for some in depth analysis on the nuances around developing concentration and subsequent entry into the Jhanas.

Some attention is given to the use of 40 objects that may be meditated upon as gateways into deep concentration (access level concentration and beyond into the Jhanas).

One particular object was the recollection of 'death', which may only lead to 'access concentration', due to its complex nature, but has been nonetheless extremely interesting and useful for me over the last few days, and really has delivered the goods (ie producing access concentration levels immediately on recollecting the nature and object of personal 'death').

I may write more on this over the coming days.

In the meantime, here's some notes on the 40 objects for contemplation, and also on the 10 Recollections (from the Vissudhimagga and suttas):

Ten recollections (things to contemplate, pursue, and develop):
1. Recollection of the Buddha
2. Recollection of the Dhamma
3. Recollection of the Sangha
4. Recollection of virtue
5. Recollection of generosity
6. Recollection of devas
7. Mindfulness of in and out breathing
8. Mindfulness of death
9. Mindfulness of immersed in the body
10. Recollection of stilling
(from Anguttara Nikaya 1.287)

Mindfulness of Death  

§41. "Now, based on what line of reasoning should one often reflect... that 'I am subject to death, have not gone beyond death'? There are beings who are intoxicated with a (typical) living person's intoxication with life. Because of that intoxication with life, they conduct themselves in a bad way in body... in speech... and in mind. But when they often reflect on that fact, that living person's intoxication with life will either be entirely abandoned or grow weaker...

"Now, a disciple of the noble ones considers this: 'I am not the only one subject to death, who has not gone beyond death. To the extent that there are beings — past and future, passing away and re-arising — all beings are subject to death, have not gone beyond death.' When he/she often reflects on this, the (factors of the) path take birth. He/she sticks with that path, develops it, cultivates it. As he/she sticks with that path, develops it and cultivates it, the fetters are abandoned, the latent tendencies destroyed."

— AN 5.57

Forty meditation subjects

Of the forty objects meditated upon as kammatthana, the first ten are 'things that one can behold directly', 'kasina', or 'a whole':
(1) earth, (2) water, (3) fire, (4) air, wind, (5) blue, green, (6) yellow, (7) red, (8) white, (9) enclosed space, (10) bright light.

The next ten are objects of repulsion (asubha):
(1) swollen corpse, (2) discolored, bluish, corpse, (3) festering corpse, (4) fissured corpse, (5) gnawed corpse, (6,7) dismembered, or hacked and scattered, corpse, (8) bleeding corpse, (9) worm-eaten corpse, (10) skeleton.

Ten are recollections (anussati):

First three recollections are of the virtues of the Three Jewels:
(1) Buddha
(2) Dharma
(3) Sangha
Next three are recollections of the virtues of:
(4) morality (Śīla)
(5) liberality (cāga)
(6) the wholesome attributes of Devas
Recollections of:
(7) the body (kāya)
(8) death (see Upajjhatthana Sutta)
(9) the breath (prāna) or breathing (ānāpāna)
(10) peace (see Nibbana).

Four are stations of Brahma (Brahma-vihara):
(1) unconditional kindness and goodwill (mettā)
(2) compassion (karuna)
(3) sympathetic joy over another's success (mudita)
(4) evenmindedness, equanimity (upekkha)

Four are formless states (four arūpajhānas):
(1) infinite space
(2) infinite consciousness
(3) infinite nothingness
(4) neither perception nor non-perception.
One is of perception of disgust of food (aharepatikulasanna).

The last is analysis of the four elements (catudhatuvavatthana): earth (pathavi), water (apo), fire (tejo), air (vayo).

Of these, due to their complexity, eight recollections (excluding the recollection of the Body (kāyagatāsati) and of Breathing (ānāpānassati)), the perception of disgust of food and the analysis of the four elements only lead to access concentration (upacara samadhi).

Absorption in the first jhana can be realized by mindfulness on the ten kinds of foulness and mindfulness of the body. However, these meditations cannot go beyond the first jhana due to their involving applied thought (vitaka) which is absent from the higher jhanas.

Absorption in the first three jhanas can be realized by contemplating the first three brahma-viharas. However, these meditations cannot aid in attaining the fourth jhana due to the pleasant feelings associated with them. Conversely, once the fourth jhana is induced, the fourth brahma-vihara (equanimity) arises.

Due to the simplicity of subject matter, all four jhanas can be induced through mindfulness of breathing and the ten kasinas.

Meditation subjects and temperaments
All of the aforementioned meditation subjects can suppress the Five Hindrances, thus allowing one to fruitfully pursue wisdom. In addition, anyone can productively apply specific meditation subjects as antidotes, such as meditating on foulness to counteract lust or on the breath to abandon discursive thought.

The Pali commentaries further provide guidelines for suggesting meditation subjects based on one's general temperament:
Greedy: the ten foulness meditations; or, body contemplation.
Hating: the four brahma-viharas; or, the four color kasinas.
Deluded: mindfulness of breath.
Faithful: the first six recollections.
Intelligent: recollection of death or peace; the perception of disgust of food; or, the analysis of the four elements.
Speculative: mindfulness of breath.
The six non-color kasinas and the four formless states are suitable for all temperaments.