Buddhism and Theosophy: A Comparison
The following is excerpted from a manuscript-in-process entitled Dark Pool of Light: Reality and Consciousness.
There are profound similarities and differences between the Seven Planes system and the visualization practices of Vajrayana (Tantric) Buddhism as well as between theosophy and Vajrayana, Zen, and Dzogchen, and other lineages of Buddhism in general. These systems address the same Ultimate Supreme Reality from diverging cultural perspectives, at different emotional tones, from unique ontological and eschatological perspectives.
Historically theosophy and Buddhism arrive from opposite poles of West and East and reflect that European and Asian in their spiritual strategies, meditation techniques, lifestyles, styles of asceticism, and relative optimism or pessimism regarding our immediate and ultimate fate. A zendo with zafus for sitting meditation, chanting paramitas, and bowing is not the same brand of kiva as a lodge hall with plastic roses and quartz crystals and circles for conducting séances and summoning spirits. As the Zen initiate sits for hours, days, weeks, years on a cushion, trying to tame his monkey mind and regain his fundamental dignity, it doesn't look like a psychic student visualizing his grounding cord and layers of his aura. Yet each is running subtle energy. The long-term gap in cultural context is blatant: While internal meditation and alchemy in Taoist and Buddhist cultures gave rise to energetic breathing, gathering of interior chi, and nonattachment to form, the West's externalized alchemy produced forges, locomotives, and laboratories.
Of course, this is a oversimplification: the West has internal arts, and Asia originated technologies too. Both traditions are Deep Earth. Each shares the other's shamans, sybils, and psychics. Each is self-secret such that even if a person were directly given the teachings, he would not have the right context in which to understand or use them each requires transmission of rituals and techniques from teacher to student.
Each has tenebrous tendrils in the other, as the systems are complementary: one's surface tends to function as the other's depth, and vice versa. Buddhism has enlightenment as its explicit and apparent goal. Psychic work seeks personal reality and spiritual freedom. But those are cover stories. Spiritual freedom lies also at the core of Buddhism, and enlightenment is the alternate reality of theosophy. A lama is as psychic a practitioner as a tarot reader, and an Astral traveler is as concerned as a Zen monk about the precision of his or her meditation.
Riding a sublime current out of Hinduism, Buddhism has as its sine qua non: breaking the cycle of samsara (birth, life, death, and rebirth; incarnation and reincarnation): "Lead me from the unreal to the real. Lead me from darkness to light. Lead me from death to immortality."* Theosophy's corresponding goal is to participate fully in the world. But Buddhists party and carouse too, while theosophists aspire to get off the Great Roller-Coaster.
Buddhism is rooted in a Vedic view of life (existence) as illusion, transformation, and inevitable grief. Theosophy does not refute or evade this verdict, but it does not prioritize it or cast an existential gaze in its direction. Instead, it follows higher vibrations, as it leads the horse celebratorily around the corral (the corral being Life As It Is) and cultivates a resilient capacity for pleasure and sorrow and the ceaseless waves of change connecting them. At the same time, Buddhists participate in creative expression of Life As It Is and ride the Wave.
From a monastic Buddhist perspective, the world is a place of diabolic temptations, of traps that keep us from self-realization and immortality, luring us into one state of damnation or another. But why? In either instance actually-pleasure-seeking or strategic abstinence -- why? Or is "why" a mere bleat against the vastness and mysteriousness of our manifestation?
Both Buddhist monks and clairvoyant trainees disavow that our situation is an unfortunate exile outside of satori: instead, they understand that this is exactly how things should be despite "heartaches by the number and troubles by the score." We are here to take in the majesty of creation: "to be able to embrace everything with the mindfulness of awareness-wisdom, without losing the continuity of that awareness." (MM7)
Easier said than done; easier practiced over a period of resolve than maintained for the long haul. But that is the way to become a magician or master in either system, to escape the cycle of endless rebirth or whatever.
The Buddhist gaze is its act of sitting zazen and encountering limitless interior space, letting thoughts arise and fade away without beguilement or attachment to a goal. It is like looking an inner night sky. To make ourselves transparent and receptive enough to glimpse our ground luminosity is our opportunity for awakening within a dream to something not quite the dream. In fact, it is our only choice, the only solace we have in the face of inevitable loss, grief, and suffering. Japanese Zen master Shunryu Suzuki-roshi posted it this way:
"Suppose your children are suffering from a hopeless disease. You do not know what to do; you cannot lie in bed. Normally the most comfortable place for you would be a warm comfortable bed, but now because of your mental agony you cannot rest. You may walk up and down, in and out, but this does not help. Actually the best way to relieve your mental suffering is to sit in zazen, even in such a confused state of mind and bad posture. If you have no experience of sitting in this kind of difficult situation you are not a Zen student. No other activity will appease your suffering. In other restless positions you have no power to accept your difficulties, but in the zazen posture which you have acquired by long, hard practice, your mind and body have great power to accept things as they are, whether they are agreeable or disagreeable.
"When you feel disagreeable it is better for you to sit. There is no other way to accept your problem and work on it....
"The awareness that you are here, right now, is the ultimate fact. That is the point you will realize by zazen practice."
"Right here, right now" is the heart of Buddhist practice, reflected in popularized maxims like "be here now" and "the power of now." "Right here, right now" means refining a pinpoint awareness of the moment of consciousness and its effects. As a damp fog gradually drenches one, humbly practicing zazen while yielding to the universe soaks one with a stable joy.
Using quite different tools, theosophy also taps the energy of "life as it is," awakening our natural receptivity to joyful energy, but in a more vernacular, free-falling and county-fair kind of way. While it has its existential moments and groks the cosmic view, its repertoire for dealing with the universe skirts spiritually immaturity -- a version of flailing futilely in circles within samsara. Buddhism's advanced practices for attaining joy and neutrality are discriminating and discrete by comparison with anything in theosophy. So I wouldn't recommend dropping Buddhist practice for psychic tools in hopes of having more fun and getting off scot-free.
Drubwang Tsoknyi Rinpoche warns against getting trapped in idealized practices or conceptual frameworks (Buddhist or other). Even the goal of clarity and "being empty" is a snare unless one holds to the emptiness out of which all thoughts are proceeding. As the act of meditation focuses the meditator on present time, he may find himself counterproductively working with the "now" as a separate, dual concept, copied from a conforming observation of what insight or compassion should look like and how it should behave -- replicas and counterfeits. Instead one must let things be as they are, constantly recognizing the fact of the self-arising nature and source of mind, and waking ourselves to it through constantly shifting appearances. Then compassion will be compassion, and "now" will really be now:
"The real bodhichitta, which is awakened mind, is of course already present within us as our basic nature, but somehow it is covered up by our normal way of thinking, encased within the shell of deluded perceptions. It's not so easy to have it become visible immediately in a full-fledged way. It's as if we need to plagiarize awakened mind a little bit, by forming a thought as an imitation. There is really no way around this other than to make a facsimile of the awakened attitude.... [W]e need to copy bodhichitta by forming the thought of compassion for all beings. There is nothing wrong with that. Bodhichitta is not copyrighted; no company manufactures it, so it's not as if we'll be sued. We simply want to imitate what we have heard so much about, the awakened state realized by the buddhas and masters of the past."
We can't forge compassion. Yet such imitation -- copying energy, plagiarizing visualizations -- is not only permissible but de rigueur in theosophy. Of course, real psychic meditation does not get stuck in forgeries; it blows them up and moves on as directed by present energy. Dzogchen prefers clear mind; theosophy prefers clear energy. In the end these are the same. Different paths, same payoff.
The difference between these systems can sometimes be a matter of whether one believes that the gods and source energies of the universe are fundamentally benign and ecstatic or indifferent and cruel -- but that is a superficial reading too. Both systems accept a beneficent creation and our ultimate redemption. Buddhism doesn't project the universe as ruthless or punitive: our minds have ensnared us in a vicious cul de sac. Because of the deviousness of the snare, mature teachers tend toward abstemious strategies while keeping the main attention on the source of mindedness and the symptomology of our attachment to fleeting pleasures and security. Joyful and loving practice provides the basis for transcendence of our core deceptions.
Kagyu-lineage tulku Chögyam Trungpa's legendary "crazy wisdom" offers engagement with life as well as permission to participate in extreme forms of pleasure and experience as teaching modes. The rationale is that, insofar as all states are real in themselves and arise from the world, no act or encounter can be avoided indefinitely. Attempted avoidance merely creates agitated mind and habitual trance states as well as inauthentic piety without spiritual resilience. On the other hand, following one's innate desires down to their source energies is indispensable to transcendence.
"Crazy wisdom" uses the innate quality of pleasure-seeking to deconstruct itself. If one goes consciously on his or her own mindful trajectory with an awareness of inner luminosity and the innate brilliance of their own presence, then in fact every act is allowed and every experience becomes part of the training -- but only as long it is directed toward clarity rather than pleasure for its own hedonistic sake or for self-aggrandizement.
Trungpa is exhorting people to understand their own desires -- in their origination and intrinsic nature, and this is different from merely having fun. He and other such teachers may seem to be encouraging followers to indulge where they are drawn and attracted, but the path remains one of dropping attachment. Hedonism turns out to be symptomatic and superficial solace-seeking and not very pleasurable or fulfilling in its seeming gratification.
This teaching is way too easy to misunderstand and misapply because, after all, who doesn't want to have fun in the context of high-end spiritual permission? For some it becomes a license to engage in promiscuous sex, intoxications, and profound slackerdom as per desire. The dark side was provided in spades by many of Trungpa's followers and those of other "crazy wisdom" teachers. In the decades following the exuberant sixties, apologists performed a charade of spiritual practices under what they took as carte blanche: ordinary ethics don't apply to this here pilgrim and seeker!
What they rationalized from their gurus, unfortunately, was that, if you are a sincere Buddhist warrior, you can have all the wine, women, drugs, and hiphop you desire and, as a bonus, you can become enlightened in the process. If that sounds too good to be true.... The universe is an open road, gracious and magnificent to a fault, but it is not facile. Nobel-level abuses and criminal betrayals within Trungpa's own Naropa community speak for themselves-but the same brief could be laid at the feet of many other contemporary gurus, yogis, and dharma tactiticians (Da Free John/Adi Da, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, and Swami Muktananda among them).
As a serious Buddhist practitioner, Trungpa was trying to persuade his students to break their links with their self-absorptions, self-deceptions, smugly high self opinions, and other placations and adornments of ego. He decried the distractions of our monkey minds, in particular our attachments to pseudo-miracles and chimerical promises of soul depth. Too many would-be devotees fritter their lives and hopes away, he warned, for a god they never meet, an essence they cannot find.
When he urged his disciples to follow their own crazy wisdom, he meant not their desires per se but the roots behind those desires, the basic emptiness-to find those it exploration of energy rather than by monastic avoidance. The recipe was recognition of the impulse, not the satiation of its carnal expressions.
Egoic mind, Trungpa averred, does not really want to achieve clarity, basic sanity, or its own true nature or the cessation of its neurotic patterns because that would be planning its own funeral -- so it enacts fake versions of spiritual accomplishment and then tries to sell itself and others on their legitimacy and sincerity. He called these out as mirages and delusions on the switchbacking path to clarity.
Eventually we will be disappointed in all such practices because they do not lead to enlightenment or happiness or real pleasure. Even if they are practiced devotedly, they make one only more neurotic. I'm afraid he would consign Astral bodies, Seven Planes, golden suns, grounding cords, and the like to this nemesis.
However, the neurotic abuse of any sacred practice -- erotic, spiritual, or even compassionate and charitable -- is ripe for the taking, and in the present consumer society, righteous spiritual heavyweights as well as wannabes among the masses fall for most gaudy and grotesque attractions and achievements. It's Burger King reality. We wolf down more than we need or want. We make ourselves more sexually obsessed than called for by our desires or needs. We invent a metaphysics more decorous, inflated, and exaggerated than anything we can use psychospiritually or integrate therapeutically. We cut ourselves off from our own souls and paths of individuation, as we creatively psychopathologize ourselves beyond our ground pathologies and spiritualize ourselves in fictive and superficial realms where our soul doesn't dwell. We invent fake initiations in the name of gods and holy precepts and in the guise of Tantric quests and soul healing. Likewise we declare ourselves guilty for the wrong reasons, far guiltier in our self-blame than any actual sins we have committed would entail.
As failed practices turn into boredom, boredom seeks new toys, chimeras, neuroses and self-seductions, cleverer ones, with which to entertain itself. When these come in spiritual disguises and lead to frustration or boredom again, the boredom turns into anger and then rejection of practice altogether.
Trungpa insists that there is no hidden entertainment in true commitment to the dharma -- so boredom in fact is a very useful sword to expose the hollowness of ego and cut to the goal of egolessness.
This teaching plays out as a paradoxical medley of ascetic rejection of neurotic pleasure addictions with celebratory joy-rides on the world's delights and thrills.
In a theosophical counterpart to this debate (gratification versus clarity) John Friedlander asks people in workshops whether they would rather get what they want or be happy. These outcomes are rarely the same thing, which is a surprise to many. Of irresistible desires, he asks simply, "Do they actually make you happy? Or are they just what you want?"
In an ensuing exercise he invites students to look back over the lives and pick out something that they desperately had to have and would have given anything for, and didn't get. Would they be happier now if they had gotten?
More often, in retrospect, we will find that we dodged a bullet. This is likewise what he is calling attention to when he suggests looking at one's life, particularly its disappointments and sorrows, from the perspective of the Soul, outside of time and even after death, rather than from the standpoint of envy or regret about satisfactions unrequited. Real happiness is a subtle, profound, and elusive state and is quite different from exhilaration, fulfilled passion, or life success-though these draw their energy and pleasure from primordial core joy.*
It is sometimes hard to tell in instances of real practitioners and lives which belief is in fact in play, which practitioner is which: who is cheery and hopeful; who is dour and severe -- and what brand of spiritual epistemology either is practicing. It is often a matter of individual personality rather than philosophy -- an ecstatic magician can be depressed and alienated despite a productive practice, while a rigorously ascetic Zen monk can be as happy every morning as a child on Christmas.
From an operational standpoint theosophy finds more of a grand purpose in this veil of illusions: it has happened for a reason; it exists expressly for the contemplation or ecstatic recognition of the divine. We are alive because we are incarnated, and we have incarnated on the path to self-knowing. However debauched the divine has become here -- and the present predatory, commodity-ridden global culture would seem to be about the most anti-spiritual, nihilistic blowback to sacred reality short of Hell itself -- we are participating in cosmic co-creation, of which this world is a critical and nonoptional phase.
Thus, the karmic, reincarnative journey is available to all of humanity (and other creatures and entities) without running the Zen gauntlet. In the theosophical canon, the universe calls for active participation and co-creation more than renunciation or empty mind. Whatever creation takes away in loss, it gives back in another form, so one has to savor rather than renounce appearances. But that is also what karma and reincarnation are all about.
Buddhism finds fulfillment and divine service in confronting uncertainty and mortality moment by moment and building a capacity to tolerate, appreciate, and live it by translating despair into conscious acts of compassion and nonattachment. You can feel the cadence of Buddhist practice at its core when Sogyal Rinpoche reaches out to "to all beings, living, dying, or dead. For all those who are at this moment going through the process of dying, may their deaths be peaceful and free of pain or fear. May all those who at this moment are being born, and those who are struggling in this life, be nourished by the blessings of the buddhas, and may they meet the teachings, and follow the path of wisdom. May their lives be happy and fruitful, and free from all sorrow."
Theosophy does not approach any of these these matters so directly and existentially -- so, yes, at times its dilettantishness can result in a shallower spirituality -- but it works on blending shamanically with the intrinsic power of the universe, encountering its majesty and terror not as an ordeal or punishment but an opportunity for experience, knowledge, and transformation of meaning.
It is like saying: ‘We're in the heap, and the heap is all we know, so it must be the right heap, it better be the right heap, and we are meant to make peace and order and joy here because it's where and why we exist and the heap exists-so go to it, play magic, or whatever."
In that sense the Seven Planes is slaphappy and easy-going in its approach to practice, though it is fundamentally sober and serious in its overall view. It seeks focused attention and commitment through symbols, roses, auras, grounding cords, neutral space, and energy cultivation rather than by going directly at resistance through thought and breath. Of course Buddhism has its own lotuses, sacred colors, and tangkas for visualized pathfinding too.
For some who practice rigid Buddhism, enlightenment can be turned into a grim march up an unscalable mountain of infinite height -- a sentence of a trillion kalpas that has to be served and lived out (recalling the legendary Buddhist measurement of a kalpa as the time it takes for a mountain be worn down by a dove's wing brushing it -- in other words, a very long time). By contrast, the theosophical perspective has always tended to be gratifying, playful, affirming, reassuring.
Yet both warn that change is inevitable, profound, and our only destiny -- and you know what that means. Authoritarian theosophy can be as doctrinaire and grim as any Buddhist precept. Finally the world is the world, and where we are is where we are.
Aleister Crowley once remarked, upon the death of a child (and I quote approximately here from memory of something I read a long time ago), "Yes it's an illusion, but this one is a super-illusion."
Who is to judge or grade among run-of-the-mill everyday illusions and super ones which get to be the super ones? Buddhism makes it simple: they are all illusions, perhaps different scales and grades of illusion, but smoke and mirrors all the same. Magic meanwhile is a game for moving clouds and mists, either way.
I know people who have failed to achieve peace or clarity from years of Buddhist practice and then have broken through to deeper meditation in a matter of days via Reiki or aura reading-and then checked back on zazen and been able to deepen its state astonishingly from the insights gained in a less structured system. Relieved of the onus of a narrow meditational focus, they dropped into receptivity to simple flow. I have also heard of people traveling the other way -- from ritual magic to hard Zen -- and succeeding in deepening a previously blasé or opportunistic spiritual practice.
You can't dawdle in the paradoxes. In the intersection of these two viewpoints a world exists, a zone of energy, creation, joy, epiphany that is also utterly empty, a proposition of total forfeiture. We ignore this barren aspect, even in magical and shamanic contexts, at our peril. Yet we must meet the world's full ecstatic manifestation and expression, with an open heart, even in ascetic systems. Either way, we cannot afford mere ideology or one-track minds because reality is always waiting, at a degree of the real.
Creation may not be the Wild West or Las Vegas -- riding the bronco, figurative or real -- but neither is it the gloomiest extreme of samsara, enticing creatures into trance-based delusions and then dashing them indifferently on the rocks of those beliefs. The universe is both systems, both paths, in balance, always.
What is it in such circumstances, to have a serious as opposed to a flibberty-gibbet life? The best teachers of all spiritual traditions pose a challenge. You don't even need teachers. Our seriousness and our faith are precisely what let the universe take over, right now.
Both Buddhism and theosophy practice the art of the impossible through acts of faith, humility, and devotion. Suzuki Roshi introduces the Zen version of this paradox through the enigmatic practice of bowing: "Each bow expresses one of four Buddhist vows. These vows are: ‘Although sentient beings are innumerable, we vow to save them. Although our evil desires are limitless, we vow to be rid of them. Although the teaching is limitless, we vow to learn it all. Although Buddhism is unattainable, we vow to attain it.' If it is unattainable, how can we attain it? But we should! That is Buddhism.
"To think, ‘Because it is possible we will do it,' is not Buddhism. Even though it is impossible, we have to do it because our true nature wants us to. But actually, whether or not it is possible is not the point. If it is our inmost desire to get rid of our self-centered ideas, we have to do it. When we make this effort, our inmost desire is appeased and Nirvana is there."
Theosophy likewise advocates the impossible: reversing time, seeing the future, conversing with the dead, learning the details of past lives. It is not that we expect to accomplish these things and confirm them like the ordinary successes of life; it is that, since we can't tell the difference between accomplishing them or not at the subtle level of the techniquesso we might as well accomplish them. We might as well take journeys of meaning into the Truth Mystery.
The difference here is a subtle one: Buddhism says to proceed without attachment because it is impossible to get there, but along the way you find and embrace your own true nature and realize there is nowhere to arrive so you don't have to get there. Theosophy says to go it because the universe itself is a miracle and not only can any energy be turned into any other, but every energy is already being turned into every other on some frequency or other.
Either premise is only words, words and energy, words as energy, but the proof is in the pudding, and the pudding is energetic and functional, not intellectual.
Both Buddhism and theosophy have magic in their basic operational manuals, but Buddhist magic is different from theosophical magic. Shunryu Suzuki says quite: "We can put no magic on the world; the world is the magic. We cast no charms on the world; the world itself is the charm." We cannot additionally bedazzle the wonders of nature because nature is what is dazzling -- dazzling us into consciousness, beyond the repertoire of even the most accomplished thaumaturge. Everything in this creation is magical, so our tricks and tools stand paltry before the austere magic of there being a world at all.
In mature theosophy, we can put no magic on the world either-the world itself is a magic that we tune into. Students have gotten confused around this notion because, having been told that we create our own reality, they think that they should be able to control reality too, or that these are the same thing.
We can't control reality. That should be obvious; yet it isn't. Unfortunately most psychic schools in the West teach putting charms on the world. Naïve, petulant, pompous, and ultimately futile acts of attempted control are an epidemic among superficial psychics. They act as though the universe will open like a slot machine if they tweak the right spot. This has led practitioners of voodoo, love magic, remote healing, of idle fame and fortune to ruin, misery, even psychosis. When we pretend to control reality, we lose our chance to create reality; that is, to engage in a creative theophany with the universe. And reality is immune.
Zen students participate in creating reality-Zen mind-by bowing and acknowledging the innate divinity of the universe.
Theosophy should never become a game of magic evocation. Its path is the crease along which the whole of creation is trying to individuate, to express its true nature and become loving and whole. We are making ourselves real to ourselves, not doing party tricks.
In Buddhist guru yoga, a student unites his or her mindstream with the mindstream of the teacher, submitting to his or spiritual authority, sometimes saying a regular mantra to enforce the act. The essentially magical premise is to gain a measure of the guru's grace and karma, to skip steps (many lifetimes worth of them if possible) through riding on the avatar's swifter steed. Support and solace come simultaneously from higher intelligence and a local company of seekers. By invoking the mantra, by accepting the teacher's lineage, the practitioner merges his state of being and destiny with not just his guru, not only the collective realizations of all the masters and buddhas in the guru's lineage, or even all the avatars in associated lineages across space-time, but the Wisdom Mind of the universe itself.
This is a Tantric (mantrayana) practice from the first millennium that spread from India to Tibet. The 'mantra' is literally 'that which protects,' so the act of viewing the guru as the Deity/Buddha protects our mind from ordinary view. The actual prayer is a tool to remind us of the experience of non-duality, and a magical charm to enter more deeply into it. Ultimately guru yoga is not about emulating or worshipping the guru or lineage but about experiencing this non-duality (Dharmakaya), having the direct experience that the guru's mind and our mind are one, actually it is more accurate to say that our awareness is empty of mind. What the outer devotional aspect can do is to help soften and dissolve habitual mind and its view, but the real import is the experience of Dharmakaya.
Guru yoga is an option because Buddha Mind is already present in each individual. One is not merely sharing another's practice or meditational success; one is merging with his or her own innate spaciousness and radiance and reclaiming his or her true nature. Recognizing the guru or the lama is simply recognizing one's own mind.
Guru yoga is a forerunner of transference in Freudian analysis between therapist and patient-the same energy, the same operation but on a different psychospiritual plane. In each case something intrinsic-an insight or karmic trail-is transferred spontaneously.
Quite apart from the actual goal of guru yoga, many students make fantastic claims, to others certainly and to themselves as well, about the superior divinity of their guru. This is another example of the consumerist superstar/Hollywood personality. It becomes absurd to the point of blasphemy to presume that, for instance, Muktananda or Adi Da or the Dalai Lama -- sophisticated, compassionate, and powerful as each of these became in their own right -- have anything like the level of development or intelligence that the Earth itself, maintaining all its living and geological systems, has, or the Mother of all Caribou, or the Mother of all Turtles, or the Sun maintaining the orbiting planets and forms of an entire Solar System.
Yes, these transpersonal entities are also practitioners and alive beings in the sense of individuated integrities; they are gurus deserving of yoga too. They have perceptual levels and life-spans both inside and outside our frame. And they are practicing something very different from standard human enlightenment.
Theosophy has no exact equivalent to guru yoga, but it does likewise work on the basis of merging with exogenous intelligence through one's own intrinsic grace. Energies in the aura are the practitioner's link to the Wisdom Mind.
Western teaching does not provide a corresponding method for entering a guru's karmic zone, but there is a vague parallel in the concept of the Group Soul and another in the voice provided by a teacher to match in traveling through planes of consciousness. One might also extrapolate that Christians practice a form of guru yoga, by taking Christ in to their hearts, and wanting to "become as Christ."
While Buddhist yoga requires arduous training in attention and devotion to an advanced master, theosophical or Christian transference of wisdom and frequency is in principle automatic and at one's immediate disposal.
But the paradox that joins these systems tells us that the opposite method holds for each modality too: satori or enlightenment is available spontaneously in Buddhism, no matter one's level and degree of practice, and discrete attention is required to actualize energy for moving among tiers of consciousness. At the highest level of Buddhism, magic becomes obvious, though it is a distraction and ruse with mostly potential for spiritual remission at sublevels, while at the highest level of theosophy, one can engage a guru's karma if that is their intention.
Dzogchen, considered the ultimate Buddhist teaching, is literally the primordial essence of all teachings, the Great Perfection or Completion, not in terms of a final goal but a path through the ground of our primordial nature. Dzogchen is as subtle and profound a Mind teaching as Planet Earth offers. No matter how often you return to an authentic Dzogchen text, there is always more wisdom under its nuances and subtexts of words, pouring out the blessings and source luminosity, even in English translation.
Dzogchen goes to the basis of our incarnate situation, the big hitters: being, essence, manifestation, space, action, life and death, karma. Its teachings deliver these foci through their penetration of the tantra of existence -- a mixture of high philosophy and rigorous practice, which shows how we got here, where and what this is, and what we have to do in order to achieve self-realization through a non-discursive state of attention to self-arising forms.
Try telling any of this to the neuroscientists, behaviorists, and "map is the territory" realists cited earlier in this book, and they will mostly smirk. It is not part of their collective universe or agenda; it does not compute.
In an email to me on this text, reader James Moore observes: "I made a bumpersticker inspired by a Dzogchen teaching of Padmasambhava's: 'YOUR MIND -- You're Just Imagining It.' Which makes the crucial distinction between 'mind/thoughts' (which both science and Buddhism say is an illusion) and awareness of this thought stream, 'the true nature of mind,' which is a constant. So, our mind (or whatever stuff we want to talk about) can be an illusion, but the question then is, 'An illusion to whom, to what level of consciousness or quality of awareness?' This is the core teaching of Dzogchen, but I'm amazed it isn't more clearly elucidated in modern Western philosophy, psychology, and science (probably because it apparently requires a 'leap of faith' to accept this immeasurable/unquantifiable, yet obviously experienced, awareness)."
Functionalism may propose that subjective mind is an illusion. Dzogchen teaches to bypass the mind and access awareness directly, and that while the mind is an illusion, this 'nature of mind' is not -- the luminous awareness inherent in emptiness isn't an illusion (unlike other Eastern philosophers who state that it's all an illusion).
Science attempts to define mind in order to understand nature. Dzogchen considers that process a tautological feedback loop that muddies the glass through which humanity is looking for something deeper. The glass of materialism cannot in fact be cleaned because you cannot wash matter off matter. Its ultimate false clarification is to be scrubbed down to nothing but particles -- particles that are so dense and transparent at the same time that they are a de facto dead end.
I will leave it to you to decide which is a more sophisticated view of consciousness: the one offered by the functionalists and materialists promoting neuroscience or the Dzogchen approach. They mark the current diametric poles of human epistemology and the real battlefield of modernity. By comparison the rift between radical Islam and the West is a passing family squabble about who has bigger guns, more balls, and is going to kick more ass.
Dzogchen arrives at precisely the same intersection of transparency and opaquity as science but, recognizing it at once as a temporary conflation, cleans the glass of material tautologies and then looks again through its newly subtler rendering. But you can only clean the glass if you believe in mind as a real portal rather than a bioelectric mishmash of multiple drafts, a portal wherein the convergence of transparency and density is a view into something else, real and stable and lucent. If you get misled by extrinsic conflagrations and fireworks, and interrogate them as if the true reality and profundity, you never see the dark pool of light through which all self-originating forms pass.
In Dzogchen practice a person must transcend his or her thinking rational mind and enter Rigpa, "the naked awareness, within which everything is contained: sensory perception and phenomenal existence, samsara and nirvana. This awareness has two aspects: shunyata -- emptiness as the absolute, and appearances or perception as the relative." (ZP5) This insight is rooted at least a millennium before experimental science began in earnest though, from the standpoint of the super-sophistication of science, it is delusional, soft, uneducated, naïve.
Science seeks a map of primordial nondual reality. Rigpa is primordial nondual awareness in its seriousness and commitment to a continuity of tough empirical analysis (interior not external). Once one gains clarity, one sees that "the essence of mind is empty, spacious and pure from the beginning, like the open, blue sky; its nature is luminous clarity, unobstructed and spontaneously present, like the sun with all its warmth and light; and its energy of manifestation is compassion, unimpeded and all pervasive, like the rays of the sun that shine on us all impartially." (ZP6)
This is mind's natural, unperturbed, nonintellectual, meta-scientific state. It is not an intellectual or even emotional conceit; it arises from the nature of our being, our heart purity, and our uncontrived and genuine nature.
From a third position theosophy delivers a progeny of that same golden sun in a more procedural and operational manner without the goals of nonattachment or eventual enlightenment. Its point is not to catapult us out of the messy world that we are in; it is to synchronize and synergize that world with the higher energies that source and sustain it whether such energies exist or not. After all, we have our existence and our imagination, and everything else should be left to destiny and the gods. We don't have to figure it out because we can't figure it out; we just have to do our stuff, activate our energies, clear out old pictures; the rest will take care of itself. We don't have to find profundity: it finds us; it is us.
Another difference between theosophy and Dzogchen practice is that psychic work emphasizes, arguably to the exclusion or at least demotion of everything else, the energetic interference of other entities in one's aura, while Buddhism prioritizes one's own independently originating mind.
What one practices in Dzogchen, by contrast, is holding to the primordial state without effort or clinging so that "relative appearances are naturally freed in themselves, where they arise, and thus there is no need for renunciation." (ZP70) This is a transparent paragon to which psychic meditation aspires. Maybe.
Suzuki-roshi spoke eloquently on this: "The most important thing is to forget all gaining ideas, all dualistic ideas. In other words, just practice zazen in a certain posture. Do not think about anything. Just remain on your cushion without expecting anything. Then eventually you will resume your own true nature. That is to say, your own true nature resumes itself...."
The process of relaxing into one's own nature and experiencing its essential luminosity is fathomless, profound, and discrete, as reality and phenomena keep splattering the clear sky with distraction, fuss, and urgency. The unaltered core beneath this is the key to deepening mind and being.
Although here too I believe that the teachings and practices crisscross under the surface, it still remains that the space of Dzogchen and Vajrayana is very clean and empty -- literally spacious -- and in the ritual and existential cultivation of that spaciousness you go toward your own independently originating existence. By comparison the space of theosophy is ornate and jazzy.
The reason that I think that they crisscross is that the primordial source energy has only its own origin and realization of the divine and, whether one identifies it with intruders or one's own fragmented attention, the diagnosis is the same, and the imperative is to clear it.
Which method one chooses to practice depends on which layer of reality and existence one chooses to travel along en route to the same destination: Dzogchen for silent, deepening awareness en route to transcendence, theosophy for playing with and being played with by the world's energies in hope that enlightenment or its equivalent will work itself out because the universe is bonded to a singular resolution. Dzogchen says, "It's a bear and a bitch, so go to it." Theosophy says, "It's a bear and a bitch but "ooo-eee,/ooo-eee baby,/let me come and take you on a/sea cruise." Both are meant to be practiced in and among ordinary life while observing simutaneously the arts of family, householding, gainful labor, and social service. Neither is in principle monastic.
Dzogchen cuts through the paradox of why, if we are born out of creation itself -- out of spirit, out of enlightened and divine being -- we should be in such a fix and have to bother to practice so hard just to get by, let alone find any comfort, let alone become sane, let alone enlightened; or, for that matter, why it should make any difference what we do, since it is all divine -- or inversely, if we are not born divine and have to practice and train with great difficulty to attain transcendence, what's the point and how can matter cultivate in itself a quality which is not inherent and innate (plus what if we are just zombies anyway, with mere illusions of consciousness, mind, and compassionate action)?
"Let's say that I have just died," Tsoknyi Rinpoche proposes. "The particular type of group dreaming I shall now join -- whether it is a hell group or a hungry ghost group or a group of celestial beings is entirely dependent upon the karmic phenomena that I have created earlier.... Once...I am pushed in [a] direction by karma...the karma begins ripening. I start to experience that type of scenery, and at that point, even if I change my mind and think, 'I don't want to be here any longer,' it would be difficult to shift dreams. Why? Because it is ripening; it is happening.....
"Without understanding this important point, you may be uncertain as to what those realms actually are. Dependent origination and karmic experience are very central to the reality of what we are, and they are interconnected."
Something more profound than everything lies at our base and is unfolding through our lives and awareness to its own fruition. Such is, in effect, our situation on Earth and why this so-called life "illusion" can't be dismissed or just popped like a bubble. We are still ripening.
As noted above, a major difference between Buddhism and theosophy is that theosophy does not have enlightenment as its primary operative strategy. Enlightenment or even fortuitous reincarnations are not, in its terms, the supreme or only goals of the universe. We do not know what the goals of the universe are, but they may well comprise stuff far from enlightenment or an intention toward it. From this perspective, enlightenment is a particular agenda about which the universe has not yet commented yea or nay. The goal itelf is, in part, an attempt to control reality and claim confidential knowledge of the universe's agenda.
Enlightenment has been such an automatic construct and paragon in Buddhist and even New Age systems that it almost never deconstructed outside of the terms of its proposition, but one might consider for a moment that enlightenment roughly means particularly leaving this state of awareness, this frequency of self-reflective ego consciousness along one track of time (unidirectionality) and entering timeless nondual awareness.
But if that is the goal, what about the paradox that timeless nondual being has somehow and to some purpose chosen to manifest in the dual space of personal desire and the human individuality homing frequency? Why? Why has spiritual energy has chosen to constrain identity within subjective containers of stably fixed personal experience, to create the human platform: "a whole universe of physical, emotional and mental contrasts which arise when we think of ourselves as separate beings and we think of everything outside the boundary of our skin as utterly outside our self"?
John Friedlander thinks it worth considering that the pursuit of enlightenment and the tantric practices used for attaining it may rub out certain filters that are meant to be there. They are meant to be there for reasons that are concealed within the universe's arcanum, its undisclosed plan, so one shouldn't automatically presume the opposite: that removing them is prime and ultimate goal of existence.
What is enlightenment anyway? In a literal sense it is "light"-a state of being immersed primordial-ground light, a taming of mind so it becomes illuminated from within-ontological luminosity. But this is naked awareness, not enlightenment as such. I would suggest that naked awareness is a powerful enough goal in itself without the prize of enlightenment, though in either case these are words for something else.
In John's terms enlightenment is simply the removal of Etheric filters; it is a technical issue of practice. He says:
"As a result of thousands of years of ego development described I the last chapter, our Etheric body contains filters that create a pause of self-reflection between our experience and our interpretation of that experience. That pause of self-reflection and our subsequent individualized interpretation of our experience gives our experience a resonance, a folding back on itself that most other consciousnesses don't have. This is humans' unique contribution to the universe.
"Our bodies and the psychic underpinnings are like virtual reality goggles that create the perception and suggest the sense of me and not me, self and other. When a person becomes enlightened he or she changes her Etheric body and removes the filters that have created the apparent sense of a self utterly distinct from others. This removal of the filters takes enormous power and focus. Often practitioners seeking enlightenment will undergo years and even lifetimes of discipline cultivating good character to the point of sainthood.
"As a result, many enlightened beings are also saintly. But saintliness is not a requirement. Etheric filters can be shattered by intense esoteric practices without the person's developing emotional or mental maturity....
"In and of itself, enlightenment says nothing about the state of the enlightened beings' emotional clarity or mental wisdom."
That is certainly the case, as (for instance) Chögyam Trunga showed that it was possible to be enlightened and an alcoholic too, and other enlightenened masters, almost certainly legitimate, were pederasts, pedophiles, gluttons, and many other human things. Enlightenment is a state, a frequency, an enhanced mode of being, but it is not the state of perfection and infallibility; it is not the end of all growth, personal or otherwise, nor is it the ultimate goal of the universe. The universe is working on a vaster fabric of which enlightenment is one of the baseline threads.
From a more pedestrian theosophical viewpoint, enlightenment entails a capacity to travel among planes unimpeded, hence to enjoy Astral, Causal, Buddhic, Atmic, and Monadic zones; to experience their colorations of reality as familiar on their own terms; to be able to navigate transdimensional geographies; and of course to achieve the Adi, home source of "enlight," eventually to get to realms beyond the Adi in some form.
John puts it this way:
"Theosophy's aims are radically different. Theosophy explores a universe of evolution without end. Of course the ground of being, that simple sense of being comprising non-dual awareness, is the ground of being for all consciousness and for all evolution. Non-dual reality is the unchanging ground to which nothing can be added or taken away. But Theosophy explores another direction, the direction of perpetual evolution. Using an appealing straightforward structural model, the Victorian Theosophists redirected the mystical quest into a businesslike engagement of the world....
"In Theosophy, the soul is the center of human life. The soul, in Theosophical terms, is that eternal gestalt that puts down an incarnation into physical reality, learns from it, moves to its next incarnation, and learns from it. Through a linear series of incarnations, the soul (and deeper aspects still) achieve mastership rather than enlightenment. No mention is made of non-dual awareness. Instead the excitement is focused on ever greater kindness and generosity, and on an ever greater objective impeccability (more like the evolutionary chain of angels rather than humans)."
Enlightenment is a nonchoice in theosophy only because it is outside the system. There is no abstract heaven or domain beyond gradations of energies and their vibrational expressions. There is no rulebook or scheme of prerequisites for final karmic graduation. Everything is more complicated, entangled, enigmatic, and emergent than the goal of transcendence, or any goal, allows. There is spacious awareness without enlightenment: the Great Dance.
We have no way to get off the board because there is no board; there is only energy changing. Truly enlightened teachers of all traditions teach this too of course, but many Buddhists, like Catholics, still yearn to get out of here with their teachers and chums and go to that chimerically eternal better place-the Heaven or Nirvana where all these troubles and reversals cease and spaciousness extends forever.
Mythical enlightened beings such as the Hindu yoga-saint Babaji or the the figure behind indigenous American Trickster Coyote, are said to incarnate, to descend repeatedly onto the Physical plane anew and to take on a working simulacrum of their original cellular-genetic body at will. Ostensibly they can also, if summoned or so moved, travel here in an Astral body, a Mental body, a Monadic body. And while such entities are in the process of continual shape-changing, enlightenment is on hold, though they could go there too, vamoose from this planet for good. Maybe by now they have.
From one metaphysical perspective we have lives at all because there was nothing else to do with eternity. Time exists as an expression of energy, as there is no exogenous way otherwise to individuate and transmit soul and attention. From a cosmological standpoint, time is a contrivance to create cosmology. Sequentiality flows oneway because we are inside something, and that something appears to us as a moving temporality. All creatures are clocks, traveling motionlessly on a swift river that goes only one way, no return possible. All life is subject to birth, maturation, decay, and cessation. Inanimate matter is chugging along with us: you cannot smash an asteroid (or a piece of china) and then turn it around such that it flows back into its precise prior state.
In this zone we are born, mature, grow old, and pass-in time only. Then amnesia wipes out the workings and works of time. Only it is not amnesia; it is a deeper and more indelible memory.
Time is a tautology and a contradiction. To become enlightened is to be annihilated. To be annihilated is to lose individuality: individuated consciousness merges with cosmic consciousness. Since that greater consciousness field is eternal, changeless, and outside chronology, you are extricated from samsara and leave time.
But to where, from the standpoint of consciousness? If being enlightened is getting off the roller-coaster, where does one arrive from there?
Eternal bliss is a dangerous proposition, while total emptiness can sound a lot like a functional materialist's view of death as obliteration and eternal dreamless sleep.
Plus, how is the cosmic consciousness of enlightenment different from the primordial empty state in which reality and existence originated in the first place? The Big Bang!
Is the goal simply to travel from original mind through rough country back to original mind? Transparency into matter into transparency?
But there is another way to look at time and its obliteration. Time can be cosmological filler at one level and fall away at another so that all events in time are full (event-full) but simultaneous and synchronous.
Seth explains through Jane Roberts: "When I tell you that you lived in 1836, I say this because it makes sense to you now. You live all your reincarnations at once, but you find this difficult to understand." He says, "You lived in 1836," but he means, "You live in 1836."
Suzuki Roshi speaks similarly from a Buddhist chord: "We are always here. Do you understand? You think before you were born you were not here. But how is it possible for you to appear in this world, when there is no you? Because you are already there, you can appear in the world. Also, it is not possible for something to vanish which does not exist. Because something is there, something can vanish. You may think that when you die, you disappear, you longer exist. But even though you vanish, something which is existent cannot be non-existent. That is the magic."
The resolution to this koan-the ultimate fate of consciousness, root and ground nature -- is in the heart, beyond dichtomies and dialectics of the mind.
Buddhist and psychic lineages have roots in different ranges of the shamanic tradition. Buddhism models the inner, contemplative aspect of shamanism, whereas theosophy is a ritual, symbolic version of shamanism, retaining its ancient tool kit spontaneous healing, precognition, remote viewing, tekekinesis, and telepathy but adding a modern psychological and metaphysical strategy.
In this light, one can try to capture a glimmer of a pancultural North American Indian world-view which recognizes the individuality and awareness of Sun and Moon and Earth and of the archetypal totemic basis of animal species. It goes something like: the universe is a great dream in which warriors, gods, and totem spirits pour together. The landscape into which the European colonials sailed and then hacked was a Dreamtime in timeless cyclical continuum-Penobscot and Pawnee, Miwok and Chickasaw, Tlingit and Hopi. The invaders drove the indigenous mindedness off the land because they saw it as actual land, real estate inside time. In the process, they forced the habitants out of the dream. By introducing noncyclical, secular time, they shattered the ceremony and drove the spirits away.
America's native people didn't get it at all when the White Guys arrived in giant sailing vessels from beyond the Great Water with their deeds and flags, medals and gerunds. They could not wrap their minds around the concept. They did not see the scam coming because its premise was so incongruous to them -- that someone could show up and claim their ancestral territory, a sacred zone in which they had dwelled and hunted for generations immemorial, whose every hectare they had committed to memory, space which had been given them by gods, totems they had defended against intruders for timeless time -- that someone else could seize it in the name of a mere Idea and then hold it with muskets and cannons and a willingness to act at all times without morality, honor, or compassion. Law is a strange clan god indeed, but a god nonetheless. The natives never got it, and so they were dispossessed, by the Word. They put everything at stake in the ceremony and the dream, and that was not necessarily wrong, though they lost the battle on this plane and in this reality, for now.
The fact is, the realm they discovered and inhabited is still here and continues to lean on us and our consciousness and must be encountered before the bigger game is up.
For the Asian Buddhist, who shares shamanic ancestors with the North American natives, the bardo waking dream was subtilized into deeper layers of aware being. But that was after Hindu influences arrived from India, and those other "Indians" were long vanished, to new lands, where they enacted the Dreamtime in another plane, its warriorship, buffalo, coups, medicine bundles, scalpings, and vision quests-sacred and numinous acts that the Westerners coming around the planet the other way misperceived as pagan primitivisms.
When Buddhists arrived in Arizona in 1974, coming from the ancestral East, Tibetan Kagyu Karmapa and Hopi clan chief brought the shamanisms and dialects back together. In the words of an observer:
"It was early to mid afternoon in the 100-degree range as the big car, a gold-colored Cadillac, began to gradually spiral its way from the desert floor around and around this mountain-like mound of dry and dusty soil which was Mesa 2. As soon as we arrived at the top of the mesa, His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, emerged from the car and was greeted by a short, wiry, and weather-beaten Chief Ned, who was probably in his late seventies. The Hopi chief was clad in dusty Levis, an old plaid short, and worn-out snakers. In spite of the terrible hardships that had befallen the Hopis, here stood a man, a chief who, while showing signs of being worn out and downtrodden, possessed dignity and presence.
"His Holiness asked the chief how things were to which he replied, 'Not so good.' The chief explained that no rain had fallen in seventy-five consecutive days and the crops were failing, creating enormous hardships not only for his tribe but for others as well. His Holiness's response was swift and immediate. From his face there arose and radiated a great wave of compassion. His Holiness promised Chief Ned that he would pray for the chief and the rest of the Hopis. What followed was a special invitation from the chief to Holiness and his small entourage of five or so to enter the Hopis' sacred kiva. Afterwards there was a brief but warm farewall between Chief Ned and His Holiness.
"The Karmapa returned to the front passenger seat of the Cadillac and we began a gradual descept under a horizon-to-horizon spotless clear blue sky. We were hardly two-thirds of the way winding around and down the mesa when His Holiness began to recite a particular puja. A noticeable stillness ensued and with it a sense that we were circumambulating this mesa. We reached the desert floor and continued on a forty-minute ride to the eventual destination, a motel convention center.
"It was during those forty minutes that I witnessed nothing short of sheer magic. For as His Holiness continued the puja, I watched in wonder and amazement at the unfolding of a magically sped-up transformation of a clear blue sky into something else. This miraculous display easily upstaged the scene in the Cecil B. DeMille film The Ten Commandments of the sky above Moses as he parted the Red Sea. The Hopis had lost their siddhi for rainmaking...." The Karmapa was bringing it back from the East, the homeland, as there was still enough shared chanting energy to allow a psychic correction en route. It was the Hopis who made the rain, but it was the Karmapa who supplied the reconciliation of notes.
"I alternated between driving and watching, transfixed by something quite unbelievable, namely this stage-by-stage, magically time-enhanced transformation of a clear blue sky into a solid steel-gray-and-black colored-sky that was actually quite frightening to look at. It is challenging to behold such an intense level of concentrated, rapidly magnetized energy so suddenly made manifest from something seemingly empty."
Here shamanic manifestation meets psychic manifestation and magical invocatio and both meet transparency and spaciousness: the universe is revealed in its Unity Basis as one perfectly, subtly unfolding logic and nature. There is no actual discrepancy between naked mindful awareness and self-creating reality, between compassion and energy, between fullness and emptiness, between Eastern and Western or either and Indigenous branches of shamanism.
Another way of posing the difference between Buddhism and the various schools of theosophy is that Buddhism begins from the premise that this isn't real -- this manifestation -- and then works toward understanding it and participating productively in it because something is real. Theosophy begins from the premise that this is real, this whole creation, and then works toward understanding it and participating productively in it with the goal of encompassing its entire contingent energetic manifestation. Both try to wake us up by screaming: "Look at this. No, I mean really look at this. No, you don't understand. Really this! It is subtler, deeper, more deceptive, more incredible, more poignant than you grasp. Wake up. Look, damnit! It is absolutely beautiful and mysterious. Life is. Mind is. Being is. And there is more. Even more. And then there is even more."
Find the spot where 'This is real' is the same as 'This is not real,' and hold it. This is a very subtle fulcrum on which to balance because 'this is real' goes to the root of all that is; and 'this is not real' also goes to the root of all that is -- all that is, ever was, or will be; everything you have, ever had, or are going to have. The way in which both are simultaneously valid and, more than valid -- essential, and essential to maintain nondually-is the yoga of life. It is a sublime and existential yoga, an Eternal Object undercurrent, and it imposes its posture at every moment, and asks you to meet and maintain it. That is where Buddhism and theosophy embrace.
When I recited koan of 'this is real and this is not real' to John, he remarked that he had thought the identical thing but as follows: "It is better to experience our existence as unreal and meaningful than to experience it as real and meaningless." I love it. One can swing on that jungle gym too as with every lurch from bar to bar, the same ones back and forth, it gets deeper: real but meaningless (science), unreal but meaningful (Buddhism). "Unreal and meaningless" qua "real and meaningful" is equally profound in that it may add nothing to the original pair but it also takes nothing away.
In the tension between 'this is real and I know it is real and not only real but really profound and fathomless' and 'this is not real but an ecstatic mirage and not real in an unimaginably profound way,' an exquitely subtle reality arises. Your mission -- and it is too late to decide whether you should wish to accept it or not -- is to fuse the two views into one, an epiphany that cradles the universe (and your being) in its bottomless catacombs.
In moments of involvement in life as it is, we experience a kind of euphoria out of which an emanation radiates through those catacombs at every deepening and telescoping and microscoping layer such that the whole enigma of existence-at-all, of universe via starry corridor and raucous carnival, fills with the light of our own immaculate being, our inexplicable pinpoint of "I" from which we radiate and suffuse into said catacombs of universe (and self). Then 'this is real' is commensurate and inextricable to 'this is not real': simultaneous halves of a paradox dunking us in wonderment and horror both, a mutating, shifting, sensation of astonishment, exuberance, reverence, and shock-because it is all and only matter and we are matter too, as we resonate together in an unknown vulnerable space on the precipice of an utter and unknowable abyss.
And at each moment, you silently chant to yourself: "This is real. Get it. This is real. But this isn't real. It can't be real." Not only because it isn't real but because there is another context, another context for anything, and everything, and once you get it, you light it, at least momentarily, with the realization that every moment and thing in the universe is absolutely incredibly, insanely perfect -- magnificent, unprecedented, exquisite, beyond reckoning or explanation -- inextricable, irreconcilable, indispensable, imperative, eternal -- and here you are.
(BTW I don't think that this is the kind of stuff that zombies can do or be programmed to do, but I could be wrong. Perhaps someone has written two very subtle programs-Theosophy 3.0 and Buddhism 3.0. Either way, I think it is fine to run both of them together and let Zombie and Dzogchen chips fall where they may.)
Possibly no condition of our present Piscean incarnation is more subject to Aquarian metamorphosis than our way of dying. At death the material corpus that we carry around as ourselves turns into a corpse and is abandoned by the Self and the Soul (wherever they go). It beyond doubt is left to molder and dissipate, its corpuscles, membranes, and matrices lost as such. The Soul, if it exists, takes with it the luminosity and essence of the body's experience, but it forfeits something in the process. "There's something that's lost," John Friedlander posits, "when you leave your body behind." He recommends careful study and practice of the Rainbow Body, an echelon previously reserved for high priests, Kriya yogis, and Vajrayana lamas. If people cultivated a different attention, they might be able to leave here by way of the Rainbow Body, converting flesh into light and preserving crucial information stored in it at subtle levels. All unscathed experience is used in Creation's memory structure, beyond neurons, hard drives, and ganglionic centers.
"The Atmic is probably the plane that is involved in learning how to exit life in the Rainbow Body," John intuits, "in other words rather than dying in the way that almost all of us currently do, you simply transition, turning the cells of your body into light.... You transition into a different energy level.... That might be the preferred way of moving to your next spiritual step.... It is a great individual and group blessing...for people to learn to take their body with them as energy."
A Rainbow Body begins as a Physical papyrus of condensed light and neurons and personality engrams which burst into aura sheaths and dissolve into the Greater Cosmos like dew without losing their essence. Without Rainbow resurrection we can't find the gateway, we don't see the corridors or portals, for instance by which that little snake in the driveway got into this zone, now skitters across the gravel, looking here and there for passages through the dimension.
Tibetan lamas study and train for a lifetime (or more) to design their memory structure for continuity into a next life-they try to hold onto enough meaning and karmic structure to join the beads on the string, not in a science-fiction sense of assembly-line ghola clones of themselves but in the actual process that the structure of consciousness allows.
However, John says, that does not mean that all of the rest of us can't play or are not in the same game. It is the game at hand. We may not be nearly as good at karmic continuity as a Tibetan lama because we do not train it fifty thousand times, and we do not have the same stake in eligibility or primogeniture, but we are working with the same rulebook, the same cellular storage structure, the same Akashic record, an identical DNA-based gossamer Rainbow-Cellular frozen-light carapace with an innate karmic carryover regime. We don't reincarnate like them, but we eventually ford the same river to come upon the same ghost terrains. How could we not?
Referencing the spirit Seth, he proposes that our memory structure and ego existence after this life may not be exactly what is traditionally proposed or whgat we would choose or expect, but we will probably consider in the end that the universe has given us a fair shake.
A cellular-light body impregnated with a neural network coiled into a storage and ganglion is a temporal repository for the Soul or essential being. The Flower of Life vehicle of transformation, the theosophical instrument for psychic continuity is of pretty much the same vintage as the Hindu and Buddhist one -- how to get out of this realm and body in relative good shape and continue the journey.
Since we each inherit a Rainbow Body, we also can exchange it back into light, not as psychic acrobats but as ourselves. If Aquarian prophecy bears out, we should see more of this practice, and not just from lamas, by the middle of the twenty-first century.
Sometimes in a chi gung class when I am asked to make myself light and cleanse my bones with chi energy, I feel cosmic stuff pouring down through my crown chakra into my tan-tien, torpedoing through the bottoms of my feet into the earth. I feel that this is what I am made of, how my density was fashioned -- that I am yawing back to an original energetic state, to light itself, imagining and cultivating that sensibility not only in my mind but in my cells.
I feel it briefly; then the feeling passes.
This is our greatest secret as well as our most imposing shadow. We were once energy bodies, and we can be energy bodies again; it's that simple, that not-simple.
You don't have to be a lama targeting a rebirth to participate in your own high energies and transits of creation or to imprint your knowledge, internalizations, and experiences into the fabric of creation. "Rebirth by lama" is just one style. Buddhist practice may valorize its catechism, but the universe itself is not privileging or honoring only certain tickets of admission. Everything happens, everything works, as what it is.
*A Michigan resident teaching in Cincinnati, John joked that the happiness he was talking about was something a bit more substantial than "Michigan beats Ohio State," to which a voice in the audience called,"Now that's a fantasy!" I am reminded too of Robert Penn Warren in All the Kings' Men: "Were we happy tonight because we were happy or because once, a long time back, we had been happy? Was our happiness tonight like the light of the moon, which does not come from the moon, for the moon is cold and has no light of its own, but is reflected light from faraway." (226) The psychic entendre of RPW's merely existential metaphor radiates at multiple levels throughout my entire book.Tweet