Thursday, September 08, 2016

The Eight Limbs of Yoga vs. The Noble Eightfold Path

The primary purpose of the Eightfold Path is to bring an end to clinging and the suffering caused by clinging. In describing the fulfillment of this purpose the Buddha occasionally mentioned a Tenfold Path. In this expanded list, Right Knowledge and Right Release are added after the more familiar list of eight factors. When the Eightfold Path leads to the ending of clinging and suffering, Right Knowledge is the insight that brings about Right Release.
— Gil Fronsdal

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras describes The Eight Limbs of Yoga as a sequence of practices that culminates in “Samadhi” also known as Self-Realization or temporary Release.

The Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path are more general and intended as a way of life (The Middle Way) that also leads towards Self-Realization or temporary Release and eventually towards permanent Release or Liberation (the end of suffering). This could include many elements of Pantanjal’s Eight Limbs of Yoga or other practices suitable to the practitioner. Thus they are complimentary paths with some overlap.

The Noble Eightfold Path

  1. Right View (or Understanding)
  2. Right Intention (or Thought)
  3. Right Speech
  4. Right Action
  5. Right Livelihood
  6. Right Effort
  7. Right Mindfulness
  8. Right Concentration

The Eight Limbs of Yoga

  1. Yama (morality)
  2. Niyama (self-discpline)
  3. Asana (postures)
  4. Pranayama (breath control)
  5. Pratyahara (sensory withdrawal)
  6. Dharana (concentration)
  7. Dhyana (meditation)
  8. Samadhi (realization)
References

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

The Reflexive Universe

Recently I came across a wonderful documentary on the life and work of Arthur M. Young that helped me to understand how Nature involutes (constraints, structure, ego) in order to evolute (freedom, growth, egolessness). The first part of this natural process is like building a broad and solid foundation, while the second part is like building a tower that reaches up to the heavens. 
Arthur also speaks about the difficulty in reconciling the teachings of Eastern philosophy, and in particular Buddhism, regarding the idea of "non-selfhood" and egolessness. He says that we're not really trying to destroy the ego, as some mistakenly believe, but rather eliminate the ego as a compulsive, habitual, unconscious trait. This can be understood as relegating ego to its rightful place as servant instead of master — using the ego instead of being used by the ego, which requires radical presence, attention, and awareness.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Being and Becoming

I must be willing to give up what I am in order to become what I will be.
— Albert Einstein

Annihilation and Indestructibility

Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over again to annihilation, can that which is indestructible arise within us.
— Karlfried Graf Dürckheim

Doubt

No doubt, no awakening. Little doubt, little awakening. Great doubt, great awakening.
— Zen Koan

The Status Quo

The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power.
— Edward Bernays

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Divine Within

In all the activities of life, from the simplest physical activities to the highest intellectual and spiritual activities, our whole effort must be to get out of our own light.
— Aldous Huxley, The Divine Within

Friday, July 10, 2015

Island

It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them. So throw away your baggage and go forward. There are quicksands all about you, sucking at your feet, trying to suck you down into fear and self-pity and despair. That’s why you must walk so lightly. Lightly my darling…
— Aldous Huxley, Island

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

The Newsroom

The Newsroom is an assault on reason, an affront to facts and a weekly slander of good Americans. It is nothing but a propaganda piece designed specifically to rewire the voter before they enter the voting booth in this presidential election year. It is a raw manipulation of an unsuspecting populace who have been purposefully dumbed down and never exposed to the concept of critical thinking.
— Terrell AronSpeer

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Swordplay

A kind and soft-spoken grey-haired man was leading a unique mix of yoga and martial art forms. As I carefully followed his movements, I began to feel my hands tingle and pulse. It started off quite pleasantly; I found myself intrigued, studying my hands as they continued to move through the various forms. And then something happened: the tingling sensation started to intensify and spread upwards into my arms, torso, and lower extremities. My entire body was vibrating and seething with energy. A voice inside me said, “Calm the rising energy — you're pushing too far too quickly.” So I began expending energy by moving through the forms rapidly and with a great deal of muscular exertion and heavy breathing. After some time the energy began to subside. 
I walked to the edge of the large still pond, enjoying the sunrise while reflecting on the experience, when in the distance, a thickset Japanese man with long black hair came into view. He was engaged in a kind of solitary swordplay involving highly fluid and graceful turning movements. As I watched, I began to feel a shift in my awareness, where I ‘stepped’ out of myself. My awareness was no longer limited to my physical body alone, but I was larger, more complete, as if I extended several feet outside my physical body. And the answer to an unspoken question suddenly came to me: “You mean, ‘I’ don't exist!?” The Japanese swordsman abruptly ended his swordplay, looking up to the heavens in a gesture of exultation, laughing and nodding his head in approval. 
It was an experience of what it means to be free of the egoic sense of ‘I’ even if for only a brief moment. Of course, the ego came rushing back with all kinds of conceptualizations, explanations, and justifications. But there was a deep clarity, confidence, and security that pervaded the experience, as if anything I needed to know, I would know. Sensory perceptions were heightened, interactions between people came alive, and there was a silent knowing of why we were all here. 
— Anonymous

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Dhammic Socialism?

Of all the modern economic theories, the economic system of Marxism is founded on moral principles, while capitalism is concerned only with gain and profitability. Marxism is concerned with the distribution of wealth on an equal basis and the equitable utilization of the means of production. It is also concerned with the fate of the working classes—that is, the majority—as well as with the fate of those who are underprivileged and in need, and Marxism cares about the victims of minority-imposed exploitation. […] The failure of the regime in the former Soviet Union was, for me, not the failure of Marxism but the failure of totalitarianism. For this reason I still think of myself as half-Marxist, half-Buddhist.
— Ven. Tenzin Gyatso, H.H. The 14th Dalai Lama

I've met and read about some amazing human beings over the years who appear to have a deep understanding of human nature, and a profound knowledge of paths that lead to liberation of the mind. But that valuable knowledge doesn't necessarily translate into the same depth of understanding of political, economic, or even social systems of thought. These things, being in the realm of concepts and ideas, require careful study and examination in order to arrive at deeper insights and understanding.

The system of Marxism, and Socialism in general, is violent at it's root as it requires a select few to take away from some to give to others, often employing coercion when necessary. It assumes wise and benevolent dictators are the dispensers of the means and fruits of production, irrespective of merit, effort, or capability. Nor does such a system allow for the merit that arises from genuine acts of charity to manifest.

Whenever a select few are chosen to control and disperse the means and fruits of production, we have a serious problem, as we can never guarantee that those few individuals will always be acting fairly and justly in the best interests of their fellow man. For this reason, a true Capitalist system combined with a very limited hands-off role for a centralized governing authority, is the best way we have of both creating and dispensing wealth and fortune. All people in such a system have the opportunity to come to great prosperity, if they are sufficiently motivated, and then use the fruits of their labour as they see fit.

Such a system is far from perfect, however, as it is inextricably linked to the motivations and intentions of fallible individuals. But the solution to this unfortunate and unavoidable situation comes not from imposing an artificial system of seeming economic ‘fairness’, but rather from acquainting our captains of industry with Dhammic or Dharmic thought in its many and varied forms, so they voluntarily act in more compassionate, moral, and thoughtful ways, seeing it as a path to their own evolution and ultimate fulfilment. The less fortunate would receive benefits through voluntary acts of charity rather than coercive acts of the state.

There is nothing inherently wrong with gain and profitability. It's the attachment (or aversion) to gain and profitability which is the underlying problem.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

And I Go Home


Everyday a new picture is painted and framed, held up for half an hour, in such lights as the great artist chooses, and then withdrawn and the curtain falls. The sun goes down, long the afterglow gives light, the damask curtains glow along the western window, the first star is lit, and I go home.
Winter (The Writings of Henry David Thoreau)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Babels of Emotional Suffering

I've come to realize in one of those rare "Eureka!" moments that the vast majority of our verbal communication is unconscious. By "unconscious" I mean a lack of awareness of the distinct emotional undercurrent within our communication. Whenever we get caught up in conceptual abstractions, ideas, opinions or views, and we are attempting to communicate these verbally, we are almost always unconscious of what we're communicating emotionally. In these widespread unconscious communications, we are communicating fundamentally the underlying current of the weight of our unique and individual suffering.

What do I mean by that? Well, each of us has a core of suffering that is unique to us; it comes from the mass of unskilful handling of all the difficulties and challenges of life. This suffering has an emotional core that is felt on our physical bodies, but only if we are quiet enough to perceive it. When we communicate unconsciously we transmit this suffering to our listeners. Most listeners are unaware of the weight of this emotional suffering in the beginning, due to a pervasive socially conditioned lack of emotional awareness. Over time, however, most listeners will feel exhausted or "drained" at having listened to any one of us for any extended period of time.

Similarly, notice how when we speak with certain very positive and upbeat individuals we feel "energized" instead of drained. In these situations these individuals are consciously or unconsciously communicating to us an undercurrent of positive emotions, such as enthusiasm, joy, friendliness and even acceptance.

The question then is: how can this unconscious and unskilful communication be transformed to become more conscious and skilful? By cultivating an acute emotional awareness. First, of one's own emotional communication and intent, and second, of the emotions and intent behind other's communication. As simple as this sounds, this is no small task given our deep and pervasive conditioning. However, the rewards are great: we will have arrived at the extremely rare condition of penetratingly clear, calm, and conscious communication; with the much rarer ability to really hear and understand what people are saying.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Virtuous Selfishness and Individualism

I was recently treated to sit through a wonderful biography of Ayn Rand entitled Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life. It quite succinctly summarized her philosophy of Objectivism, and it's most prominent ideas of the virtue of selfishness and individualism.

When Ayn Rand speaks of selfishness and individualism she is speaking of non-altruism and non-collectivism. Altruism refers to self-sacrifice for the benefit of others. This is an important idea, as the concept of self-sacrifice is an extremely slippery slope that leads to self-sacrifice for the benefit of the collective, or the state. People in such circumstances have invariably been conditioned to identify their "selves" with the state. And this collectivistic philosophy is obviously problematic, as it can effortlessly enlist the support of the people en masse to advance the ambitions of the state (or rather, those in control of the state).

Individualism is the antithesis of collectivism, inoculating the minds of human beings thereby preventing blocs of people from sacrificing themselves to the ambitions of the state. Such people cannot be controlled by the state or any other group.

It is interesting to compare how this relates to the Buddhist philosophy of anatta (no-self), which may superficially appear to contradict the ideas of virtuous selfishness and individualism. In this philosophy what is asserted is the idea that a separate enduring "self" does not actually exist. But that doesn't mean that the collective exists. Even the idea of the collective is an abstract construct of the mind. In essence nothing truly exists in and of itself. All is change, and so there is no enduring entity that we can say has "selfhood," whether it be the individual, collective, state, or some other entity.

But, and this is an attempt at reconciliation, individualism as a temporary philosophy of life is very useful until such time that one can leave even this abstract concept behind. So it seems then that one must cultivate the ideas behind a strong sense of individualism, that is, independence, self-determination, self-worth, personal power, material prosperity, etc. before one can let go of identification with even these ideas. Perhaps because the process of entering into total freedom requires a certain independence, strength and flexibility of character to endure the very tumultous psycho-spiritual process, as described by Carl Jung in his work on individuation. And without independence, strength and flexibility of character, one may not survive the ordeal.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Meaning vs. Logic

Focault's Pendulum is an extraordinary book that forces the reader to question the nature of meaning and logic. What I found most fascinating about the book is the clever method employed to contrast highly logical explanations of a given phenomenon, in this case Ingolf's text. One explanation is infused with elaborate and obscure knowledge of conspiracies of secret societies, originating in the 14th century, while another explanation reveals a rather mundane shorthand description of a 17th century merchant's laundry list. How could such contradictory, yet highly logically consistent explanations exist? Incidentally, Umberto Eco alludes to how this notion of finding meaning is plagued with the same basic problems embracing numerology, that we find what we wish to find, that we are only limited by our creative capacity in forming connections between things.

The implication here is that a logically consistent system of thought does not imply truth. Even further, that a logically consistent system of thought says nothing about reasons or causes. Aristotle speaks of many types of causes: material causes, formal causes, efficient causes, and final causes. In other words, there are many levels of reasons for a thing, and the truth depends on what level we are dealing with. To be a complete (highest?) truth, a truth must involve all levels, otherwise it falls into the domain of relative truth, i.e., from a given perspective. And in the realm of language, can we ever have anything other than relative truth? Can language ever really catch the essence of a thing, conveying it totally and completely? And what does it mean to have the complete truth of a thing? It seems one would need to consciously become and fully experience the thing itself.

Slight digression. Although, I am me, I haven't the slightest idea of who, or what me is. But that's because I'm not really conscious of me, or rather, the full experience of me, except at a superficial level. And so I don't really know me, and therefore am not able to possess the complete truth of me. Somehow I've become unconscious of the experience of me. It seems peculiar to have become me and not know what that is.

Anyway, even our conceptions of simple words such as tree, rock, house, and cloud, differ greatly. It's a small wonder that we are able to communicate at all. Our communications then, it seems, are based on similarities in conceptions—a small subset—the intersection of our pooled conceptions of a thing, which in turn may be partly based in personal experience, and partly in collective or apprehended experience á la Jung.

So we see what we unconsciously wish to see—and we often attribute this to intuition. But true intuition can only operate when desire does not. In other words, we must be open to all possibilities. If we make any assumptions, those assumptions will become the lenses through which we see whatever follows. In making those assumptions, we have already pruned a large space of the tree of possibility. The state of mind we bring to any endeavour is all-important, and unconsciousness of our underlying motivations is literally blinding.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Desire

In his novel We, Zamyatin brings forward yet another profound idea around the concept of desire. The One State announces the availability of the "Operation" that will finally cure all inhabitants of that most insidious of reason-inhibiting diseases—imagination. The announcement is accompanied by the mocking, twisted logic of the beautiful I-330, who connects desire with imagination, that now everyone will be truly happy. Since desire is at the root of unhappiness, she reasons, eliminating desire, will eliminate unhappiness.

Although this idea was spoken mockingly, it is most intriguing as it seems to resonate quite strongly with Buddhist philosophy and the 4 Noble Truths. According to Buddhist philosophy, there is the truth of suffering, there is a singular cause of suffering, there is an end to suffering, and there is the Noble 8-fold path that leads to the end of suffering. But of particular interest is the second Noble Truth summarized as tanha in the ancient Pali language, often translated as "craving" or "desire." In this translation, the second Noble Truth states that "craving" or "desire" is the cause of suffering.

But is it really craving or desire that is the cause of suffering? What about natural animal desires such as for food or water, shelter, sleep, or even love? Should we eliminate desires in order to achieve true happiness as I-330 mockingly indicates and the Buddhist scriptures appear to advocate? Is this even possible? Reflecting upon this, it appears all we can really do is develop an awareness of the sensation of craving or desire as it arises in all circumstances. And then, interpose a question between the desire and the impulsive fulfillment of the desire: "Is this skilful?" Those desires to which we can answer in the affirmative are fulfilled, while those to which we answer in the negative remain unfulfilled. This begs the questions: why would we want to do such a thing, and what is "skilful"? Well, this would gradually move us from a place of unconscious reaction to one of conscious action; and "skilful" refers to anything that moves us in the direction of expanded consciousness or awareness.

What really appears to be at the root of suffering, then, is this unconscious, habitual, impulsive response to desires. Perhaps a more modern translation of the ancient Pali word tanha might be "habit" or "conditioning." It is these processes that plunge the mind into unconsciousness, impulsive reaction, thereby further strengthening conditioning or habit formation. And from here there develops an increasing attachment to the conditioned response for a given stimulus—a kind of subtle expectation that demands fulfillment, or dissatisfaction and unhappiness result. Or put another way, a sense of satisfaction arises when one experiences completion of an expected pattern, or intense dissatisfaction if realization of the full pattern is disturbed.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Out of Control


What's the matter with me? I have lost the rudder. The motor soars, the aero quivers and rushes at full speed, but there is no rudder, no controls, and I don't know where I'm flying: down—to crash into the ground in a moment, or up—into the sun, into the flames...


— D-503 (from Yevgeny Zamyatin's novel, We)


Discovery of the "Soul"

In his book We, Zamyatin does a masterful job of conveying the painful process the main character D-503 undergoes as he discovers he has a "soul." In this process there is a repeated swinging of the pendulum from confusion and delusion, to clarity and reason. A set of extremely powerful beliefs, with which the egoic mind had deeply identified itself through conditioning and circumstance, begin to give way and crumble. And with the falling away of these conceptual structures there is the attendant belief that the ego or sense of "self" will also cease to exist. I am reminded of the excellent quote by Karlfried Graf Dürckheim, "Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over again to annihilation, can that which is indestructible arise within us."

But the egoic mind is uncooperative of its own demise, and so there is a flurry of activity to shore up resources, barricade and prevent the ego's dissolution. There is a deep need to explain, justify, and defend—awash in a mood of impending doom. And this freneticism lends itself to a certain failure in reason, and the consequent birth of profound delusion, where everything that happens becomes living proof of the conspiracy against oneself. Where one cannot draw a breath without knowing it is part of the plot. D-503's continually shifting perceptions lend a certain surreal quality to his reality, where he is unsure of what is real and what is illusion.

On a parallel note, it seems that every society suffers from the same predicament of egoic enslavement of reason, will, soul, imagination. It is only the particulars that vary. And so it seems that the true measure of a society is the extent to which it provides suitable structures to aid its members in the supreme task of extricating oneself from the heavy yoke of the ego.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Unfreedom and Happiness

In Zamyatin's novel We, the main character D-503 in his conditioned state of mind, speaks of the happiness that comes from unfreedom—allowing the state to control and care for all. An odd twist of meaning, but perhaps what is really meant here is a kind of security. A superficial security-happiness that manifests well below the threshold of knowledge and understanding, a happiness that is born out of ignorance and social conditioning. But what of other kinds of happiness? A truer form that manifests only when preceded by the development of will, or put another way, the freeing of will. A will that allows human beings not to be enslaved to their lower reptilian (i.e., base-brain) or animal natures. A will that is not a form of Victorian repression but rather inner strength, fortitude and courage. A will that allows all experience as it naturally arises, and simultaneously shields the individual from being overwhelmed by desires, passions and intense longing. This, it seems, is the true freedom, the freedom that allows one not to be enslaved by any experience, any state of being, whilst fully allowing and embracing what is.

Dystopia and the Structure of Society

Reading Yevgeny Zamyatin's novel We sparks some interesting ideas on the nature of consciousness in its relation to rule, leadership, and the structure of society. There is some cognitive dissonance surrounding the main character's glowing description of what he clearly believes to be an utopian society, but which the reader, on the other hand, clearly perceives to be dystopian. A sense of concern arises as we consider the parallels of such a realistic dystopian society with an idealistic utopian one. In an utopian society, beneficial acts are performed through an act of free will on the part of the individual, with a clear understanding of how individual acts affect the whole. In a dystopia, these "beneficial" acts are forced upon the masses, are void of consideration and free will, and thereby lose their transformative value. The individual is no longer required to understand why, or why not, but instead submits themselves blindly to a "beneficial" rule, thereby halting their evolution towards consciousness.

While the intentions of the One State may be benevolent, it is misguided due to the lack of understanding of the nature of mind, and its progressions from less to more enlightened states. It seems very reasonable to speculate that this evolution must occur in stages, a mirror of natural processes. But what the One State has accomplished is forced all its members into an undistinguished congealed mass with catastrophic consequences. The state has usurped and supplanted the idea of Universal Mind—perfection, with One State—pseudo-perfection, or rather, false perfection, a tawdry mimic of the True and Real. Even if the One State is correct in its vision of an advanced society and its requisites, forcing individuals to conform creates dystopia. In other words, the ends do not justify the means: the "how" is inextricably linked with the end result.

How can we reconcile this view with the equally valid view of providing some order and structure to society in order to prevent injustice, and general chaos? It seems the only solution, from the perspective of government, is a minimum of intervention—just enough to prevent less evolved individuals or groups from harming or exploiting one another. A kind of surrender to the natural snail-paced evolution of man. Does this mean that those in positions of power who also possess an abnormally clear inner vision should refrain from acting? Certainly not. But the key is in non-forcing, and a certain non-attachment to ones goals and ideals. Then everything becomes possible.