Richard Smoley (smoley) Tue 21 Dec 99 07:49
I really don't know what Vaughan is talking about. A practicing laboratory alchemist might - and it does seem likely that it has to do with a process that is both internal and external. As for Tantra, there has been so much nonsense uttered about it by people who clearly know nothing about it that it is hard to take seriously in the form it is commonly known in in the West. Mostly it seems to mean delaying or postponing orgasm, which can lead to altered states of consciousness, no doubt. There is an issue here which is often neglected. Altered states of consciousness are generally equated with "spiritual" experiences without much reflection. There is SOME truth in this. But only some. Jacob Needleman pointed out somewhere that in ancient times, when people were not accustomed to reading books, higher knowledge was regarded as being embodied in writing and texts: Thoth, the Egyptian God of Learning, the Torah, etc. Today, when we are buried in writing and texts, we tend to regard "spiritual" experience as being nonverbal, so that if we have some vivid experience of nature or the body or something of the kind, it is immediately chalked up as something spiritual. It IS different from what we take to be normal consciousness. But does that make it spiritual? A question perhaps worth pondering. The only really good book I have read that touches on practical alchemy today is about the training of a Taoist master. It is called _Opening the Dragon Gate_ and is published by Charles Tuttle Inc. I don't remember the names of the authors (they are Chinese, writing about their master's training in the '60s). It is very good and very readable, and discusses the use of certain alchemical potions, pills, etc. The upshot I get from reading this book is that alchemy is a specialized skill that requires serious training. We are no more likely to figure out what is being said in a text like Vaughan's than we are if we pick up a text of advanced theoretical physics and attempt to decipher it cold.
token beast (satyr) Tue 21 Dec 99 09:30
Doesn't the meaning of "spiritual" depend upon whether certain experiences have any objective reality or are (only) subjective and symbollic?
Jay Kinney (jay) Tue 21 Dec 99 10:21
I don't quite get what you mean, satyr? Can you expand on that a bit?
token beast (satyr) Tue 21 Dec 99 10:51
Well, if there is such a thing as a 'spirit' in the sense of a disembodied being, then "spiritual" means one thing, but if not then "spiritual" means something rather different. That issue being unresolved, "spiritual" ends up being overloaded with meaning, and ambiguous.
Jay Kinney (jay) Tue 21 Dec 99 16:38
In my own usage, which is not too far afield from common usage, 'spiritual' is used to refer to the individual's relationship with and experience of the divine or sacred. 'Religious', by contrast, generally refers to a group's relationship with the divine or sacred, as mediated by a particular religion. In this sense, one could have spiritual experiences or participate in spiritual rituals, etc. whether one believed in spirit as a disembodied being or not.
Richard Smoley (smoley) Wed 22 Dec 99 07:40
In the old traditions, "spirit" had a very clear and precise meaning. It is the level of being that is connected with the infinite; it interacts with, but is not identical to, the psyche, the world of thoughts and emotions, conscious and unconscious. St. Paul even speaks of these levels as "bodies." In discussing that vexed issue of the resurrection, he says, "It is sown a psychic body; it is raised a spiritual body" (I Cor. 15:44). Esoteric Christianity, like the Kabbalah, spoke of three levels of human existence: the physical, the psychological, and the spiritual. But these meanings have become quite occluded today. The difference, in meaning, for example, between "soul" and "spirit," which was once quite precise, is now quite nebulous. The question of "objective" versus "subjective" is an extremely vexed one as well. Usually "objective" is taken to mean something that can be verified empirically, through science or some other clinical means. But what kinds of means can be applied to validate spiritual experience in this sense? You could hook up electrodes to somebody's head and find they were putting out theta waves - but all that proves in the end is that they are putting out theta waves. I think in these areas objectivity is necessary, not in a kind of pseudoscientific sense, but in the sense of being as rigorous and impartial as one can be ABOUT ONE'S INTERNAL EXPERIENCE. And in the end acknowledging that none of this will convince someone of the "skeptical inquirer" ilk.
token beast (satyr) Wed 22 Dec 99 08:08
One of whom I am not, quite, being more agnostic than atheist with respect to ideas about being preceding and/or following material existence, or existing without benefit of it altogether. I acknowledge that there is much about which my senses do not inform me and also much that science doesn't yet understand, which perhaps even cannot be understood through scientific inquiry. It's that last point, actually, upon which I'm most skeptical. I tend to scoff at the idea of "supernatural", and tend to assume that all things are "natural" and accessible to something akin to scientific investigation, even if currently so poorly understood that we don't know what questions to ask nor how to go about answering them. There may well be a "soul" or "spirit", but I expect that if there is it will eventually be reconciled with scientific theory, not that doing so would ever stand in for the subjective experience. Meanwhile, those subjective experiences exist, whether they are as they seem to those having them or not, and are a window into the mind, at least.
Richard Smoley (smoley) Thu 23 Dec 99 07:22
I agree that eventually science and religion will probably come into harmony (cf. #43 above). And I agree that the supernatural - or what we term the supernatural - seems to have its own laws and its own structure. Various "technicians of ecstasy," as Mircea Eliade described shamans, seem to have done precisely this. What we are to do with what they've learned is another matter. But I think the educated West is beginning to digest some of these ideas. To investigate them, science itself may have to overcome some of its own blocks - for example, assuming that "normal" consciousness is all there is, and that it is somehow epistemologically privileged and so "truer" than other states of consciousness. But to be fair, scientists often seem more open-minded than many contemporary academic philosophers, who often come across as running dogs of scientism when they should be challenging it and asking it to transcend its own limitations.
Richard Smoley (smoley) Thu 23 Dec 99 07:24
My mistake; I've left out a thought above. What I need to add in the second paragraph is that shamans etc. have investigated the laws and structures of the supernatural... I keep getting disconnected for some reason, so I'm under the gun to write fast before losing everything...
Jay Kinney (jay) Thu 23 Dec 99 10:38
Richard, If you are using the Web and Well Engaged to participate here and are in the middle of writing a response when your connection drops (which will often happen after 10 minutes or so, for reasons I won't try to explain here) all you should have to do is keep everything as it is and reconnect. Then you can continue with the response and post it when done. There shouldn't be any need to close out of Netscape, lose your half-finished posting, and start over from scratch...
Richard Smoley (smoley) Sun 26 Dec 99 15:20
You're probably right, except that I'm using Explorer... Anyway, back to the topic... hope everyone has had a great Christmas.
Richard Smoley (smoley) Sun 26 Dec 99 18:17
Actually, it seems that our time is about up here on the ol' Inkwell...at least that's what Linda is telling us. It's been great. Speaking purely personally, I find it's hard not to let all kinds of rants and verbal spillage go over all the place in a setting like a WELL topic, and I must say we have been dealing with an area where rants and verbal spillage have been the rule rather than the exception: you know, interminable tomes purportedly spelling out the secrets of the universe (but chiefly consisting of denunciations of the author's rivals), incomprehensible glyphs and charts, etc., etc. There is a tendency in the human mind to complicate things, I think. And while this definitely has its uses, it's probably just as well to try to keep things simple in the end. For me it has to do with going back to the "I" that is conscious in each of us. And discovering that if you follow this "I" deep enough within you, it is the same in all of us. The "I" that is We, to quote Richard Moss. Another quote that impressed me of late, from an e-mail message that attributes it to Hopi Elders: "We are the ones we have been waiting for."
Linda Castellani (castle) Sun 26 Dec 99 18:41
Ouch! I am not really a tyrant, really! All I meant was that the two week official interview period is up, but you and Jay and John are welcome to continue as long as you like. As for that Hopi Indian quote, I heard it in a slightly different form from the a capella group Sweet Honey in the Rock. When we went to see them, they entered singing, "We are the ones that you've been waiting for." Perhaps it originated from the same source, but they attribute it to June Jordan's "Poem in Honor of South African Women." Either way, I love the sentiment it expresses.
Richard Smoley (smoley) Mon 27 Dec 99 07:38
As a matter of fact, I rather liked the whole thing, so I'm posting it below. Obviously I have no way of knowing whether it was really written by Hopi Elders or by a guy who owns a crystal shop in Sedona, but who cares? Recent message from the Hopi Elders "You have been telling the people that this is the Eleventh Hour, now you must go back and tell the people that this is the Hour. And there are things to be considered... Where are you living? What are you doing? What are your relationships? Are you in right relation? Where is your water? Know your garden. It is time to speak your Truth. Create your community. Be good to each other. And do not look outside yourself for the leader. Then he clasped his hands together, smiled, and said, "This could be a good time! There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are being torn apart and will suffer greatly. Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water. And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate. At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally. Least of all, ourselves. For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt. The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves! Banish the word struggle from your attitude and your vocabulary. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration. We are the ones we've been waiting for." Oraibi, Arizona Hopi Nation
Linda Castellani (castle) Mon 27 Dec 99 10:51
Lovely sentiment. Thanks for posting that.
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Mon 27 Dec 99 12:15
And a wonderful interview you've given, Jay and Richard. And while it is true that you have completed your two-week committment to inkwell.vue, continuing the discussion would be both welcome and a bonus. And thanks to John Shirley, your intrepid interviewer. John, BTW, will be returning to inkwell.vue in the near future as an interview subject, so we definitely have not seen the last of him.
Richard Smoley (smoley) Tue 28 Dec 99 08:59
Really? When will that be? It's really been a pleasure to do this. Thanks so much to Linda, Cynthia, and everyone else for making it not only possible but enjoyable.
Linda Castellani (castle) Tue 28 Dec 99 11:36
John Shirley's interview is scheduled to start February 4. Stay tuned...
Jay Kinney (jay) Tue 28 Dec 99 12:25
Boy. I go offline for two days and when I come back I discover everyone making their goodbyes and all...! Well, I'm still here and willing to take on any other questions, as long as they are not too far off-topic.
John Shirley (johnp-shirley) Tue 28 Dec 99 14:48
Jay, If you want something to chew on--something maddeningly over-general--then here's a parting shot (and I'll come around to read the answer): You've been for years exposed to some real teachers, like Rosemonde Miller in the Gnostic church in Palo Alto, and the Sufi teachers you know in Turkey; you've culled through a great deal of speculation and documentation and testimony for *Gnosis* Magazine...I could go on about your sources...Therefore, it seems to me not unreasonable to ask you, what *you* think happens after death? What is your notion of life after death? I realize it's ungraspable--but give us some kind of sketch anyway!
Richard Smoley (smoley) Wed 29 Dec 99 08:46
I can't answer for Jay, of course, but I could certainly throw in my thoughts FWTW. It's quite clear to begin with that the physical body dies. There is no dispute about this fact. It would also stand to reason that anything connected with the physical body would have to die as well. That is, all our tastes, appetites, opinions - everything connected with physical life as we have experienced it. Most traditions say that this is a process that takes place in the forty days after physical death. During this time survivors may have a sense of the departed, apparitions, etc. I know that a couple of days after my mother died, I was meditating in her house. I heard a voice calling me, "Richard! Richard!" It was loud and distinct enough that I went to the door, thinking it was my aunt, who lives next door, come to drop in. But there was no one. (My aunt in fact later told me that something very similar happened to her.) After this process of the "second death," to use the biblical term, there is something left - something that is entirely independent of physical life and which passes from stage to stage in the cycles of eternity. If someone has done a lot of spiritual work, this "Self" may be comparatively well-developed and may even be able to maintain a sense of conscious identity. If not, it drinks from the river Lethe (which means forgetfulness) and drifts into another life, perhaps on this earth, perhaps elsewhere, perhaps in a better state, perhaps in a worse. And so on. I would have to add that even this is to a certain extent a metaphorical approximation. Because after all, all our views and pictures of the afterlife are made on the analogy of earthly life. But we are in fact dealing with something that is NOT of earthly life. So we see it "through a glass, darkly" - through images, metaphors, approximations. Anyway, this is what makes sense to me, both on the basis of my own reasoning and from what various spiritual traditions seem to be saying. Jay, what do you think?
Jay Kinney (jay) Wed 29 Dec 99 10:38
I agree with Richard on most of what he posits about life after death. However, there are a few specifics that I don't agree on. I'm inclined to think that there is a self of some kind that continues on for everyone, whether spiritually developed or not. In fact, one could make the case (albeit without much evidence) that the "less" spiritually developed someone was, the more likely their since of a separate "I" would continue on, while the more highly developed would be able to merge with the big "I" soon after death. It all depends on whether you see the continuation of a separate I after death as being nifty or bothersome. I also have no solid sense of there being reincarnation. My hunch is that *this* life is the only one you get in a body, and it is unique from what transpires before and after material life. However, all of this is hypothetical on my part and is pending some experience that solidly indicates things being one way or another.
Richard Smoley (smoley) Thu 30 Dec 99 12:22
I suppose the chief issue is what exactly constitutes a "self." The Buddhists famously reject the notion entirely, pointing out that what we consider a "self" is really just a combination of different thoughts, emotions, etc. Any and all of which are in one sense or another dispensable. That is to say, you could be yourself without having any of these particular thoughts, emotions, etc. Thus none of them can be the "self." What I'm trying to say is that the "self" is what perceives and experiences everything that we experience. One could call it pure consciousness. Everyone and everything possesses this to one degree or another (cf. recent Wavy Gravy interview in _The Door_). But the extent to which one possesses it may be the result of inner cultivation. The esoteric traditions all seem to agree that this "self" that perceives, if you follow it far back enough, is the same in all of us. Thus it's not so much a question of a separate self, but a consciousness that is united to all other consciousness. It seems to me that this is what the mystics are trying to say, and from my own experience, reflections, etc., it makes sense.
Linda Castellani (castle) Thu 30 Dec 99 23:23
Edward Connolly, a reader on the Web, writes: Have really been enjoying discussion on "Hidden Wisdom". I have a question/comment to #72 and 73. I hope this is the right procedure. Thanks, Eamonn I have been perplexed by the buddhist notion of 'no-mind', 'no-soul', 'no-self', etc. But does not the Dalai-lama reincarnate with each new generation? Perhaps the key lies in the word 'permanent'. Perhaps the 'compound' that makes up what seems to us to be a self can maintain its integrity over lifetimes through 'spiritual practices'. Yet, still being subject to the laws of change and disintegration, the integrity cannot be maintained 'eternally.' Yet pieces of our selves, for better or worse, cling to existence and thus can loose themselves in new personages which must still learn how to liberate themselves from the illusion of an abiding self. I look forward to reading your book. Perhaps it can help me on with my real challenge, which is what to do between now and then. -Eamonn
Richard Smoley (smoley) Fri 31 Dec 99 07:03
Many thanks, Edward. I certainly share your perplexity about the Buddhist notion of "no-self" when combined with reincarnation. In fact the two ideas don't seem to fit together very well, and the conventional Buddhist explanations - from contemporary teachers as well as traditional texts - have an air of rationalization and special pleading about them. Sometimes the analogy is used of a wave on the ocean: something is keeping the waves flowing, but there is no real wave separate from the ocean, etc. Reincarnation is a problematic notion in nearly all traditions. In the West it has been eagerly adopted over the past generation, and it's easy to see why. It's a remarkably cheerful and optimistic view of the afterlife compared to the conventional views - prevalent in both Christianity and Islam - that a soul can be consigned to eternal torment for sins committed in a finite lifetime. This view is so ridiculous that people have grasped at anything as an alternative. Incidentally, some of these ideas are ably presented in Albert Brooks' film _Defending Your Life,_ which I admire quite a bit. I don't know where he got his ideas from, but his recasting of the myth of the judgment of the soul after death is really very entertaining and inspiring. Yet reincarnation, where it is seriously taught, as in the East and even in certain esoteric teachings of the West, such as certain lines of the Kabbalah, is regarded as a mishap. It only happens when you have not, as it were, learned the lesson you were meant to learn in earthly existence (whatever that is). In Buddhist texts, for example, the continuing cycle of life after life is generally portrayed as an incredibly depressing eventuality from which spiritual practice is an escape. For my money, I would say "in my Father's house, there are many mansions," and that the possibilities of existence in the afterlife are as manifold - and more manifold - than in physical life itself. Moreover, I suspect that in the afterlife, even more than in this life, we will all be given the ultimate reward (or punishment): we will be granted exactly the life and fate we want.
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