Sunday, 29 November 2009

Why Beauty Matters - Roger Scruton, BBC2

The Birth of Venus - Botticelli

Why Beauty Matters by Roger Scruton, BBC2, 28th November 2009.

Modern art
Scruton's argument is that modern art has completely lost its way. It is self-centred and never looks beyond the basic biological animal existence of mankind, often having a puerile obsession with excretory functions.

The art of desecration and self-disgust

Mechanistic modern architecture is similarly anti-human. It attempts to reduce people to mere components of ugly utilitarian machines.

Scruton believes that all great art has a 'spiritual' dimension, even if it is not overtly religious. It is this transcendence of the mundane that we recognise as 'beauty'.

A path out of the spiritual desert.
In Buddhist terminology we would say that true art, even when it reflects samsara (the realms of chaos, addiction, squalor and suffering), shows that there is a path out, and often acts as signposts along the path. However most of modern art merely reflects, and often wallows in squalor, without acknowledging any possibility that there may be other states of existence. It has turned its back on beauty and wanders aimlessly in a spiritual desert.

Tantra and art
We could go further and say that great art is a 'tantric' practice in its widest sense, where tantra is the mental transformation of the ordinary environment to the environment of a spiritual being. Scruton emphasised this aspect in the transformation of lust (attachment) into Platonic love, where the energy of carnal desire is channelled into spiritual objectives.

Modern architecture reflects a materialistic philosophy which generates an environment fit only to be inhabited by automata, and is thus an expression of the philosophical doctrine of materialism , which rejects any possibility of a spiritual dimension of existence.

Brutalist Architecture - Demoralising and dehumanising to live in.

Modern art engages the mind on a purely superficial level by its constant attempts at 'originality', which usually end up as scatological attempts to 'shock' some imaginary strawman of middle class public opinion ('Épater la bourgeoisie').

But this public opinion has actually long since become jaded by the antics of the self-appointed avant-garde, which may have been shocking the first time round, but have become boring and vacuous with repetition.

Zen - Meditational art

Procedural and Mechanistic Cult of Ugliness
Scruton also attacked conceptual art and the cult of ugliness. Sculptor Alexander Stoddart claimed that conceptual art is word-bound and exhausted in its verbal description. After you have had the idea of putting half a cow in a tank of formaldehyde, the object itself can be dumped as irrelevant.

Conceptual art is mechanistic and procedural:
The concept(s) or idea(s) involved in the work take precedence over traditional aesthetic and material concerns. Many of the works, sometimes called installations, of the artist Sol LeWitt may be constructed by anyone simply by following a set of written instructions. This method was fundamental to LeWitt's definition of Conceptual art, one of the first to appear in print:
“In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art." -

In contrast, real art engages the deeper levels of the mind by invoking qualia - qualitative experiences of beauty that are non-material and go beyond mere mechanistic proceduralism.

- Sean Robsville


Rational Buddhism

Buddhism versus Materialism

Numinous Symbolism - Pagan, Buddhist and Christian

Chesterton on Mysticism

Reductionism and Buddhist Philosophy

Consciousness and mind are not emergent phenomena or emergent properties of matter

Qualia - Objective versus Subjective Experience



Friday, 27 November 2009

Buddhism and Process Philosophy

Never stepping into the same river twice

Process Philosophy versus Substantialism

Process Philosophy holds that the underlying basis of reality is change, process and impermanence. Becoming is more basic than being, and existence is really just impermanence in slow-motion.

The converse view - Substantialism, holds that true reality is 'timeless' and based on permanent ideal forms. Change is accidental, whereas the substance is essential.

Traditional Western philosophy has always denied any full reality to change, which is conceived as only accidental and not essential.

Buddhism is, of course, the ultimate Process Philosophy. According to Buddhism, all functioning phenomena are impermanent and have no essential natures or inherent existence.

Dominance of Substantialism in Western thought
However, Substantialism has dominated Western philosophy from the time of Plato until the early twentieth century, and is still deeply embedded within our culture.

There were indeed Process Philosophers among the early Greeks. For example Heraclitus pointed out that no-one can step into the same river twice. It's not the same river nor is it the same person.

Process Philosophy Field Trip

Nevertheless, the early process philosophers were ignored or forgotten, and the theory of ideal forms propounded by Plato was adopted by the later Greeks and then enthusiastically embraced by the Christian Church as a justification for Creationism, and the derived doctrines of Original Sin, the Fall of Man etc.

Darwinism and Process Philosophy
Creationists believe that species are unchanging and derive their forms by reference to a divine blueprint equivalent to Plato's 'essences' or 'ideal forms', which were fixed by God, unchanging and inherently existent. Bible-believing creationists claim that the world and all its species were created in six days of a single week around 4004 BC.

In contrast, Process philosophy is evolutionary. If all things are impermanent, constantly arising, becoming, changing and fading, then nothing exists 'from its own side' or by reference to some 'essence'.

Just as Buddhist philosophers had previously rejected the Platonic mechanism of production from 'ideal forms' as being the fallacy of 'production from inherently existent other', so the Darwinians came to the conclusion that a species does not correspond to any inherent reality, but is merely a concept that the mind imputes over interbreeding groups of plants and animals with similar characteristics (and the majority of their genes in common). The boundary between one species and another is not clear-cut.

The Michelson–Morley experiment
Just as the theory of evolution emphasised the dynamic processes of mutation and selection, rather than static species as the fundamental realities of biology,  a similar transformation of thinking was to affect physics a few years later with the negative result of the Michelson–Morley experiment.

Until the nineteenth century, it was thought that all waves must propagate through matter. In other words, processes such as sound and water waves needed some substance to support their existence.   It was therefore assumed that space was filled with a 'luminiferous aether' through which electromagnetic waves such as light, heat, radio waves, X-rays etc propagated like ripples on a pond.  But the Michelson–Morley experiment demonstrated that this aether did not exist, and thus electromagnetic waves were standalone processes with no supporting substance.   Quantum physics was later to show that the fundamental particles of matter are also processes.

Quantum Physics, Chemistry and Substantialism
Another blow to substantialism came from atomic physics. For 2000 years scientists believed that atoms were solid chunks of matter embodying the unchanging qualities of their elements. During the 20th century this has been superseded by subatomic physics, which views matter as being a manifestation of quantum interactions and processes.

Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev

In the 19th century chemists such as Mendeleev discovered numerical relationships between the elements. Then, with the development of subatomic physics, it was demonstrated that an element's properties aren't determined by its essential nature, but by the number of electrons orbiting its nucleus.

The worldview of quantum physics differs radically from that of classical physics. An an electron isn't actually a 'thing', it's a dynamic mathematical process known as a wavefunction.

Classical physics regarded the universe as being composed of clearly-defined building blocks ('things') which were specified by their own internal properties. Quantum physics sees the universe as an ever-changing set of relationships between entities which can be defined only in terms of those relationships.

Whitehead's Process Philosophy
The first real break with 2000 years of Western substantialism came with Alfred North Whitehead's Process Philosophy formulated in the 1920's: 'The process metaphysics elaborated in Process and Reality proposes that the fundamental elements of the universe are occasions of experience. According to this notion, what people commonly think of as concrete objects are actually successions of occasions of experience. Occasions of experience can be collected into groupings; something complex such as a human being is thus a grouping of many smaller occasions of experience.' -

Whitehead on Buddhism and Christianity
Whether Whitehead's formulation of Process Philosophy was influenced by Buddhism, or whether he arrived at his conclusions independently and later realised their similarity with Buddhism, is unclear.

Alfred North Whitehead

Whitehead famously remarked that "Christianity ... has always been a religion seeking a metaphysic, in contrast to Buddhism which is a metaphysic generating a religion." This observation is something worth considering in the current debates in the Buddhoblogosphere about whether Buddhism is a religion or a philosophy, and how far Buddhism and Christianity are compatible.

The underlying metaphysic that generates the religion of Buddhism is the Four Seals of Dharma.

'Existence' is really just impermanence in slow-motion.

To say that something exists is ultimately an arbitrary statement. All we are saying is that its rate of disintegration is negligible on the timescale of our lifetime. In reality, all functioning phenomena are impermanent - it's just that some are more impermanent than others.

'Change and decay in all around I see...'

All 'things' are impermanent, and so all things are in reality processes. Things do not stay the same from one millisecond to the next. Anything composed of atoms is composed of parts in a constant state of flux.

- Sean Robsville


Detailed Discussion of Process Philosophy and Buddhism

Rational Buddhism

Essentialism, Ideal Forms, Plato, Buddhism and Generic Images

Evolution is no Threat to Buddhism

Existence, Impermanence and Emptiness in Buddhism

The Four Seals of Dharma

The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in Science and Engineering

Essentialism in Physics, Chemistry and Biology

Sunyata - the emptiness of all things

Inherent Existence in Buddhist Philosophy

Quantum Buddhism - Buddhist Particle Physics



Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Permanence and Permanent Phenomena in Buddhism

Impermanent and Permanent Phenomena
It's a common misconception that Buddhists believe that all phenomena are impermanent. But in fact there are permanent phenomena in Buddhist philosophy. A permanent phenomenon is one that is not affected by circumstances and does not disintegrate moment by moment.

Buddhist philosophy states that all functioning phenomena are impermanent, however some non-functioning phenomena, such as unproduced* empty space, are permanent. Another group of phenomena which are classed as permanent are generic images.

The poor old Dodo may have suffered extreme symptoms of impermanence, but its generic image is permanently with us.

Permanent phenomena can only be known by the mind and not by the physical senses. Thus you can't see empty space, you can only conclude it's there by looking through it.

Emptiness also is a permanent phenomenon.

The integer numbers are permanent phenomena, being both generic images and, according to set theory, arising out of emptiness.

* As distinct from 'produced empty space', eg the quantum vacuum, which is seething with impermanence.

- Sean Robsville


Generic Images in Buddhism

Essentialism, Ideal Forms, Plato, Buddhism and Generic Images

Existence, Impermanence and Emptiness in Buddhism

Rational Buddhism

The Four Seals of Dharma

The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in Science and Engineering

Essentialism in Physics, Chemistry and Biology

Sunyata - the emptiness of all things

Inherent Existence in Buddhist Philosophy

Quantum Buddhism - Buddhist Particle Physics



Monday, 23 November 2009

Taliban destroy Buddhist Heritage in Pakistan

From Jihad Watch

'Cultural genocide is a consequence of jihadist warfare, as the supremacist impulse to impose Islamic law cannot tolerate any competition, especially from the non-Islamic past, or time of jahiliyyah. Ensuring submission requires extinguishing a populace's attachment to -- or curiosity about -- its prior existence, unless it can be subsumed in a narrative leading inevitably to Islam.
Hence the Orwellian drive here, and in the destruction of shrines in Saudi Arabia and Somalia, and among those eager to rewrite the history of the Temple Mount, to erase the past when it so rudely contradicts the party line.
"Taliban suffocate Pakistan Buddhist heritage," by Sajjad Tarakzai for Agence France-Presse, November 22:
TAXILA, Pakistan -- Archaeologists warn that the Taliban are destroying Pakistan's ancient Gandhara heritage and rich Buddhist legacy as pilgrimage and foreign research dries up in the country's northwest.
"Militants are the enemies of culture," said Abdul Nasir Khan, curator of Taxila Museum, one of the premier archaeological collections in Pakistan.
"It is very clear that if the situation carries on like this, it will destroy our culture and will destroy our cultural heritage," he told AFP.
Taxila, a small town around 20 kilometres (13 miles) south of Islamabad, is one of Pakistan's foremost archaeological attractions given its history as a centre of Buddhist learning from the 5th century BC to the 2nd century.
Violence is on the rise in Pakistan as Taliban bombers and gunmen strike with increasing frequency and intensity in the cities of North West Frontier Province and around the capital Islamabad.
"Even in Taxila we don't feel safe. The local administration has warned us about a possible attack on this museum. We have taken some extra security precautions but they aren't sufficient and we lack funds," said Khan.
"For weeks we don't get even a single foreign visitor. If visitors don't come, if sites are not preserved and protected, if research stops, what do you think will be the future of archaeology?" he said.
In March 2001, Taliban militants in neighbouring Afghanistan blew up two 1,500-year-old Bamiyan Buddha statues in defiance of international appeals.
The Islamist militia has since spread into Pakistan. Their opposition to music, art, dance, girls' education and idolatry makes archaeologists fear that Pakistani Buddhist relics are in the eye of the storm.
Italian archaeologists were active in Pakistan's northwest Swat valley from 1956 until they reluctantly discontinued work in 2007 after Taliban fighters led by radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah rose up demanding sharia law.
"It is not planned to carry on any research activity," Luca Olivieri, co-director the Italian archaeological mission in Pakistan, told AFP by email.
After 17 years as curator in Swat, Khan took no risks. With the Taliban killing and bombing their way through the valley, the museum closed in 2008 and he evacuated the most priceless antiquities.
That September, the Taliban twice tried to blow up 7th century Buddhist relics -- damaging a rock engraved with images of Buddha that for centuries had been a pilgrimage site....'

Read it all
See   No future for Buddhism in an Islamized World


Sunday, 22 November 2009

Cauldron, Chalice and Grail Symbolism in Buddhism and Celtic Wicca

Tantric transmutation visualizations
In Buddhist tantric practice, impure substances such as urine and dead dog's flesh, symbolising mental afflictions, are visualized as being transmuted to pure nectar of enlightenment by the power of a fierce wind-blown fire. The reaction is 'catalyzed' by addition of seed letters (These are actually syllables, as Tibetan uses a syllabary rather than an alphabet). The visualized vessel of transmutation is a skullcup, known as a kapala in Sanskrit:

Kapala - Tantric Vessel of Transformation

In Anglo-Celtic culture this imagery summons up associations with folk traditions of the witches' cauldron, into which all kinds of impure substances were added (think Macbeth) and then transmuted by recitation of spells . So is it possible that the witches were practising a form of alchemical tantra?

The female medieval peasant Wiccans ('witches') were demonised and persecuted by the Church, whereas the upper class male alchemists usually got away with their mind-expanding practices, by claiming they were engaged in transforming base metals into gold.

Despite what some Christians still claim, Wicca has nothing to do with Satanism. Wiccans no more believe in Satan than do Buddhists. Satan is a bogey-man dreamt up by Christian theologians to explain why, if God is loving, omnipotent and omniscient, there is evil in the world. Satanism is thus an offshoot of Christianity, and many of its rituals involve perversions or parodies of Christian rites.

As demonised by the Church

Karma in Wicca
Wiccans do not sacrifice any living thing, human or animal. They are specifically forbidden to cause harm to sentient beings and they believe in threefold karma - any evil they do will return to them three times over in this life or future lives. Neither do they drink blood, indeed many are vegetarian.

Wiccans may be organised into covens, though many are solitary practioners. The belief that a coven must have thirteen members is a pernicious fiction spread by the medieval Church in order to associate Wicca with Satanist parodies of Christ's Last Supper. Wicca has its origins in ancient Celtic beliefs and pre-dates both Christianity and Satanism.

Celtic Chalices, Cauldrons and Grails
In Celtic traditions, cauldron, grail and chalice symbolism abounds, so it is no surprise that the medieval witches are associated with use of 'vessels of transformation'. The story of the Holy Grail is a Christianised pre-Christian Celtic legend.

The Gundestrup Cauldron is also clearly a ritual vessel.

Healing potions
Wicca is a pagan healing religion. In pre-Christian times the knowledge of the healing power of herbs and psychological healing techniques was the province of the wise woman (or sometimes cunning man) of the village. Throughout the Middle Ages most of rural Britain, especially the wilder western Celtic areas, was only nominally Christian with ancient folk beliefs continuing to thrive.

It is interesting to note that the word 'pagan' derives from the Latin for 'countryman', and 'heathen' from those who live on the heaths (the heather-clad fells and moors of western Britain). For utilitarian purposes as well as magic, the wise women would have used cauldrons to extract the active ingredients form their herbs.

Towards the end of the Middle Ages political unrest, religious schisms and plagues led to a period of paranoia when all dissent was punished with sadistic severity. Many hundreds of thousands of traditional healers (and some early scientists) were arrested and burnt at the stake for being in league with the devil. This period is known as 'the burning times' by modern Wiccans.

Secret Wicca
The old beliefs went underground and survived in isolated areas of Britain and Ireland from the end of the sixteenth century until the repeal of the anti-Wiccan laws in 1951 (Wicca was still illegal in Britain until after World War Two !). The religion slowly emerged from obscurity and re-established strongholds in its traditional Celtic homelands (for example Glastonbury - the original Avalon of Merlin and the Arthurian legends). It arrived in the U.S. sometime in the late 1960's and found a fertile field for growth in the hippie counter-culture of that period.

Its growth then appears to have been steady but unspectacular until the mid nineties, when a combination of cultural factors and the growth of the internet led to a massive increase in numbers. There may now be as many as three million Wiccans and Wiccan sympathisers through the English-speaking world. Wiccans in the U.S. are still subject to prejudice, and many of them dare not 'come out of the broom closet'. The situation in Britain is normally more tolerant, as paganism in some parts of rural Britain has never been far below the surface.

Divine Feminine
Wicca is not a patriarchal or oppressive religion. There is no jealous, punitive sky-God. Wicca particularly venerates the feminine aspects of spirituality. In contrast, there is little or place for the feminine aspects of spirituality in standard Abrahamic monotheism.

Wicca celebrates the divine feminine with colorful ceremonies, symbolism and rituals. (Many Wiccans are accomplished artists and designers). The non-macho nature of Wicca extends to welcoming gays and lesbians, who are still treated as abominations unto the Lord by the Abrahamic religions.

In Harmony with Nature
Wicca is a nature-based religion which offers an escape from the soulless, stressed-out, dehumanised, over-regulated and proceduralised existence which is modern urban life. Nature festivals and rituals are extremely important in Wicca. There are eight of these representing turning points of the year which are the two solstices, the two equinoxes, and the four pivotal Celtic festivals:

  • Candlemas on February 1st - 2nd. Offering of lights to the Goddess in the aspect of the Maiden. Lengthening of the days becomes perceptible.
  • Beltane or May Eve on April 30th - May 1st. A fertility festival. Offerings of garlands to the Goddess in the aspect of the Mother.
  • Lammas 31st July - 1st August - beginning of the harvest.
  • Halloween 31st October. The death of the year. Festival of ghosts and spirits. Fires, lanterns and fireworks.
The turning of the year also symbolises the processes of birth, death and rebirth of the individual. To the jaded city-dweller, these ancient numinous festivals with their evocative names and customs seem to offer a glimpse of a long-lost pastoral idyll.

Seasonal festivals of the Prajnas
The FWBO has a program of ritually celebrating the female Buddhas, or Prajnas, on the day and time of the year associated with each of them. The cycle begins with the Summer Solstice and female Buddha Mamaki.

The Autumn Equinox, is a ceremony dedicated to Pandaravasini, the female Buddha of the Western direction associated with dusk and the wisdom of uniqueness.

Later in the year it is the turn of Samayatara, the female Buddha of the Northern direction associated with midnight and the wisdom of action (Halloween/Samhain); and Akasadhatesvari, the female Buddha at the centre of the Mandala beyond time and space. She is associated with the ineffable wisdom of the Transcendental. Her ceremony takes place at the time of the Winter Solstice.

 More information on Tantra in Volume 2 (downloadable) of

- Sean Robsville

Read more at Buddhist Philosophy


Islam will Dominate - What Pagans and Buddhists should know about Islam

Mysterians, Mysterianism and the Mystery of the Mind 

Celtic and Buddhist symbolism - triskelions

Celtic Buddhism - Buddhism in pre-Christian Britain

Honoring the Feminine in Buddhism

Alchemical Symbolism, Imagery and Visualizations in Tantric Buddhism

C J Jung, Buddhism, Tantra and Alchemy

Numinous Symbolism - Pagan, Buddhist and Christian

Buddha Tara Mantra and Seed Syllable TAM

Buddhism, Shamanism and the use of Psychedelics

Why Beauty Matters - Spiritual Art versus the Cult of Ugliness

Buddhist Candlemas




Alchemical Symbolism, Imagery and Visualizations in Tantric Buddhism

Western Alchemy

At one time alchemy was generally regarded as being a dead-end pseudo science which was obsessed with transmuting base metals into gold. The modern rational science of chemistry evolved out of the muddled thinking of the alchemists, which is of no further relevance.

However, a modern re-evaluation of alchemy by Jungian psychologists has shown that much alchemical work was actually ritual intended primarily to bring about spiritual realisations in the mind of the alchemist, rather than changes in the states of matter, which were symbolic aids to visualisations:

'Carl Jung reexamined alchemical symbolism and theory and began to show the inner meaning of alchemical work as a spiritual path.
[...] The practice of Alchemy seemed to change the mind and spirit of the Alchemist.
[...] Organic and inorganic chemical substances, physical states, and molecular material processes as mere metaphors for spiritual entities, spiritual states and ultimately, transformations. In this sense, the literal meanings of 'Alchemical Formulas' were a blind, hiding their true spiritual philosophy, which being at odds with the Medieval Christian Church was a necessity that could have otherwise led them to the "stake and rack" of the Inquisition under charges of heresy. Thus, both the transmutation of common metals into gold and the universal panacea symbolized evolution from an imperfect, diseased, corruptible and ephemeral state towards a perfect, healthy, incorruptible and everlasting state; and the philosopher's stone then represented a mystic key that would make this evolution possible. Applied to the alchemist himself, the twin goal symbolized his evolution from ignorance to enlightenment, and the stone represented a hidden spiritual truth or power that would lead to that goal' - Wiki

So behind the facade of attempting transmuting physical substances, the alchemists were really transmuting mental qualia.

Presumably, by claiming that they were actually doing something 'practical' like transmuting lead to gold they could hide their true intentions and thus avoid charges of heresy and the attentions of the Inquisition. Alchemical symbolism and visualizations provided vivid and immediate analogies to 'external' operations in familiar artisanal processes such as brewing, smelting, churning, rendering, herbal extraction, distilling etc to bring about transmutations of 'internal' mental qualities.

Alchemical Visualization in Tantric Buddhism
The visualized 'cauldron' or vessel of transformation is a skullcup, known as a kapala in Sanskrit. Impure substances symbolising mental afflictions are transmuted to pure nectar of enlightenment by the power of a fierce wind-blown fire, with the reaction being 'catalysed' by seed letters.

In a typical visualisation, urine, feces, brain/marrow, semen, blood and the meats of five taboo animals are transmuted into nectar

"When engaging in the generation stage practices one starts with the dissolution of everything into emptiness by reciting the mantra. This is done in order to eliminate self-grasping. From within emptiness the syllable YAM in a crescent moon arises, symbolizing wind. Then the syllable RAM in a triangle arises above it, symbolizing fire. Then from the syllable KAM arises a tripod of skulls. The skull which is the cauldron sits on the tripod. It is white on the outside and red on the inside. It is vast. In the center one pours urine in the form of the syllable HUNG. On the east one puts feces in the form of the syllable OM. In the north one puts brain in the form of the syllable KAM. In the west one puts semen in the syllable ANG. In the south one puts blood in the form of the syllable TRAM.

Meats, nectars and syllables

Then one puts fire in the form of HUNG. In the center of the five nectars one places human flesh in the form of the syllable HUNG. In the southeast corner one puts cow meat in the form of the syllable LAM. In the southwest one places dog meat in the form of the syllable MAM. In the northwest one places elephant meat in the form of the syllable HAM. In the northeast one puts horse meat in the form of the syllable TAM. The wind swirls around, generating fire out of the syllable RAM. This boils the substances in the skull cup, melting the five meats and nectars. As they boil, their color becomes orange red like the rays of the rising sun. The mandala of the moon is placed as a lid on the skull. On top of it are a white OM, a red AH, and a blue HUNG. Light rays radiate from the three syllables in the ten directions, reaching the Buddhas and bodhisattvas whose wisdom nectars are drawn back and dissolve into the vessels. The wisdom and samaya nectars become one and become white in color, cool in temperature, sweet in taste, and abundant in power. This becomes the collection of wealth and riches." - Tsok Practice

The urine, excrement, brain, sperm and blood represent the five contaminated aggregates to be purified. They are form, feeling, perception, karmic impulses and consciousness. The five meats symbolise the five delusions, which are confusion , miserliness, attachment, jealousy and self-grasping.

Another visualisation is the Kawang practice:

"At the heart of a Protector kangsol or puja, lies the recitation of the kawang otherwise known as kangshak, which literally means the ‘clearing of obstacles’. This is a special confessional prayer which is based on tantric visualizations, the recitation of which is to purify what may be significant accumulated negative karma threatening to obstruct one’s practice. Therefore, corresponding to the amount of obstacles that need to be removed, the actual visualization becomes particularly graphic. However, one should dwell on its true and subtle meaning and not on its apparently aggressive language that appears vicious, until the meanings are revealed. It follows that if the negative karma that blocks one’s practice is forceful, then the puja to counter it has to be equally intense.

The practitioner approaches the recitation of the kawang by visualizing the Three Poisons – Ignorance, Hatred and Desire which altogether encompass a myriad of other poisons such as delusions, negative karma, habituations and so forth. These negative elements are visualized in the form of a very large man or a woman. Then as the visualization continues, a dakini who is an emanation of Vajrayogini appears and she wields a cemetery chopper to slay that being who is the personification of our negativities. Then, she takes her chopper and slices the body in such a way that uncovers the inner organs.

First, she drains the blood into an offering vessel. Then, she cuts out the organs of the five senses – the tongue, nose, ears, eyes and heart and arranges them neatly into a skullcup thus resembling a grisly floral arrangement. Then, she pulls the bones out, arranges them into a vessel and burns the bones like stacks of incense sticks. Next, she extracts the human fat from the corpse and pours it into bowl, inserts a wick made of the human hair and lights it. Then she collects the rest of the bodily fluids like the bile, urine and so forth into an offering vessel. Then, she chops the flesh and mixes it with barley flour and places it into another vessel as food. Finally, she pulls the thighbones, cleans it and fashions it into a trumpet before placing it into a vessel as well.

While appearing grotesque at first, this part of the visualization is indeed a beautiful and meaningful gesture of transforming what is foul and turning them into sublime offerings. The blood represents the Water offering, the arrangement of sense organs represent the Flower offering, the crushed bones represent the Incense offering, the human fat set alight represents the Light offering, the bile and urine are transformed to represent the Perfume offering, the human flesh becomes the Food offering and finally the thigh bone becomes a trumpet to represent the Music offering...."
  Full article



C J Jung, Buddhism, Tantra and Alchemy

Numinous Symbolism - Pagan, Buddhist and Christian

About Tantra

Celtic and Buddhist symbolism - triskelions

Qualia - Objective versus Subjective Experience

Buddhism, Shamanism and the use of Psychedelics

Why Beauty Matters - Spiritual Art versus the Cult of Ugliness



Friday, 20 November 2009

C J Jung, Buddhism, Tantra and Alchemy

On first encountering Buddhist teachings, many Westerners wonder whether they are actually dealing with a philosophy or a type of applied psychology, rather than with a religion. Buddhism certainly has strong elements of both philosophy and psychology.

Buddhist Philosophy
Buddhist teachings do not require a suspension of the intellect by demanding a belief in scientifically implausible creation myths. There are no 'revealed truths' (i e doctrines which come from out of the sky and must be believed on the basis of faith rather than reason). Buddha encouraged his students to test his teachings against their own reason and experience. Only by thoroughly challenging the teachings can one gain confidence in their truth.

How things exist
One of Buddhism's main philosophical components is its ontology - the study of how things exist. A common misunderstanding is that Buddhists believe that 'things don't really exist' or that 'nothing exists'. In fact Buddhists believe that nothing exists by its own nature. All produced phenomena exist in dependence upon other phenomena - every cause is itself an effect of another cause. A table does not exist by virtue of it's innate 'tableness'. It exists due to the timber and the joiner, and its possessing a flat surface, a certain number of legs etc. It also exists by identification with the 'tableness' that is present in the minds of the observers (but not in the table itself!).

Tracing phenomena further back, the timber exists in dependence upon acorns, soil, sun, rain etc, and the joiner exists in dependence upon his mother, father and the midwife.

Buddhism as a Process Philosophy
In Buddhism, relationships such as cause and effect, structure and components, observer and observed are regarded as more fundamental aspects of existence than actual 'things'. Even the mind is not a thing or a substance. The technical Buddhist term for the mind is the 'Mental Continuum'. In western terminology we would regard Buddhism as a Process Philosophy.

Buddhist Psychology
Buddhist psychology is intended to be used for improving our state of mind. It is an applied science and is not usually presented as an abstract or academic discipline, because in order to understand it Buddhists are supposed to 'walk their talk'. Practices include meditation, visualisation and mindfulness throughout the day.

Buddhist Psychology and the Victorians
When nineteenth century Britons and Americans first studied Buddhism, they were impressed by the rational aspects of the philosophy, but were perplexed by some of the powerfully emotive and sometimes disturbing psychological symbolism and visualisations.

Victorian prudery about what appeared to be sexual and necromantic symbolism, and Protestant hangups about 'Idolatry' led many of them to denigrate these 'tantric' aspects as the corruption of an originally rationalistic philosophy by later mixing with primitive folklore and Shamanism. This is still a favorite Islamic critique of Buddhism. (See this Australian site for a robust refutation of this scurrilous propaganda and taqiyya. )

The Victorians had no concept of the power or even the existence of the subconscious mind. Then along came Freud and Jung.

Jung, Tantra, Archetypes and Alchemy
Buddha had recognised the importance of the subconscious activities of the mind, both individual and collective, 2400 years before the founders of Western psychology. He knew that purely rational arguments were insufficient to motivate a deep and lasting transformation of the mind. The practitioner also needs to harness and redirect the powerful emotional currents which well up from the depths. Jung discovered that the vivid symbolism of tantric art and visualisation involved the use of 'archetypes' - ancient patterns and symbols in the human subconscious which can be invoked to produce powerful emotional responses.

Since Jung's investigations, tantra has provoked much interest in the West, as well as many misunderstandings. For example, tantra is often portrayed as being just about sex. But in fact Tantra is about all kinds of transmutation and transformation of our ordinary mundane environment into the spiritual path to enlightenment:

'Secret Mantra [Tantra] is distinguished from Sutra by the practice of bringing the future result into the present path. For example, even though we have not yet attained enlightenment, when we practise Secret Mantra we try to prevent ordinary appearances and ordinary conceptions of our environment and instead visualize our surroundings as the mandala of a Deity. In the same way, we prevent ordinary appearance of our body, our enjoyments, and our deeds, and, in their place, generate ourself as a Deity, visualize our enjoyments as those of a Buddha, and practise performing enlightened deeds. By doing such practices, we can attain the resultant state of Buddhahood very rapidly. These four practices are essential for both the generation stage and completion stage of Secret Mantra.' - Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

Deity archetypes
'Deity yoga (Tibetan: lha'i rnal 'byor; Sanskrit: Devata) is the fundamental Vajrayana practice, often involving a sadhana liturgy and form, in which practitioners visualize themselves as the meditation Buddha or yidam. The purpose of Deity yoga is to bring the meditator to the realization that the deity and the practitioner are in essence the same, and non-dual. By visualizing oneself and one's environment entirely as a projection of mind, it helps the practitioner to become familiar with the mind's ability and habit of projecting conceptual layers over all experience. This experience undermines a habitual belief that views of reality and self are solid and fixed. Deity yoga enables the practitioner to release, or 'purify' him or herself from spiritual obscurations (Sanskrit: klesha) and to practice compassion and wisdom simultaneously.' -

There is frequent alchemical symbolism in tantra, with visualizations of base and impure substances being transmuted into nectars and elixirs by the application of fire and seed-letter 'catalysts' . This symbolism represents the transmutation of contaminated emotions into enlightenment. Jung came to the conclusion that something similar was going on in Medieval western alchemy, with the alchemical processes being metaphors for the transmutation of the impure soul into the perfected soul.

Read more at Buddhist Philosophy

Thursday, 19 November 2009

English Spelling is Tuff Stough

Dearest creature in creation
Studying English pronunciation,
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse

I will keep you, Susy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye your dress you'll tear,
So shall I! Oh, hear my prayer.

- The opening verses from The Chaos by Gerard Nolst Trenite

English is fast becoming the global language. This isn't because more people speak it than any other, but because it's widespread across the globe. It's also relatively easy to learn:
  • No grammatical gender (there are languages where cups are female and girls are neuter etc)
  • No case inflections (apart from pronouns such as she/her etc - in some languages all nouns are like this)
  • Few irregular plurals (goose/geese, child/children - in some languages all nouns are like this)
  • No tonal values. In some languages the tone in which you say a word can completely change its meaning.
  • There are few major (mutually unintelligible) dialect variations. Most dialects are dying out.

So why have we still got the self-inflicted idiocy of English spelling? It makes the language more difficult for non-native speakers to learn, and also for English-speaking children to learn to read and write. Spelling reform can't be that difficult.

Gerard Trenite, as a non-native speaker, was able to see just how chaotic English spelling really is. This is something that most adults have forgotten until they see it set out in the poem. However, young children have to struggle with this lunacy every day until they become proficient readers.

Here's Trenite's complete poem:

I will keep you, Susy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye your dress you'll tear,
So shall I! Oh, hear my prayer.

Pray, console your loving poet,
Make my coat look new, dear, sew it!
Just compare heart, beard and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,

Sword and sward, retain and Britain.
(Mind the latter, how it's written).
Made has not the sound of bade,
Say said, pay-paid, laid, but plaid.

Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as vague and ague,
But be careful how you speak,
Say break, steak, but bleak and streak.

Previous, precious, fuchsia, via,
Pipe, snipe, recipe and choir,
Cloven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, shoe, poem, toe.

Hear me say, devoid of trickery:
Daughter, laughter and Terpsichore,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles.
Exiles, similes, reviles.

Wholly, holly, signal, signing.
Thames, examining, combining
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war, and far.

From "desire": desirable--admirable from "admire."
Lumber, plumber, bier, but brier.
Chatham, brougham, renown, but known.
Knowledge, done, but gone and tone,

One, anemone. Balmoral.
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel,
Gertrude, German, wind, and mind.
Scene, Melpomene, mankind,

Tortoise, turquoise, chamois-leather,
Reading, reading, heathen, heather.
This phonetic labyrinth
Gives moss, gross, brook, brooch, ninth, plinth.

Billet does not end like ballet;
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet;
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.

Banquet is not nearly parquet,
Which is said to rime with "darky."
Viscous, Viscount, load, and broad.
Toward, to forward, to reward.

And your pronunciation's O.K.,
When you say correctly: croquet.
Rounded, wounded, grieve, and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive, and live,

Liberty, library, heave, and heaven,
Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven,
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed, but vowed.
Mark the difference, moreover,

Between mover, plover, Dover,
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police, and lice.
Camel, constable, unstable,

Principle, disciple, label,
Petal, penal, and canal,
Wait, surmise, plait, promise, pal.
Suit, suite, ruin, circuit, conduit,

Rime with "shirk it" and "beyond it."
But it is not hard to tell,
Why it's pall, mall, but Pall Mall.
Muscle, muscular, gaol, iron,

Timber, climber, bullion, lion,
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, and chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor,
Ivy, privy, famous, clamour

And enamour rime with hammer.
Pussy, hussy, and possess,
Desert, but dessert, address.
Golf, wolf, countenance, lieutenants.

Hoist, in lieu of flags, left pennants.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.
Stranger does not rime with anger.

Neither does devour with clangour.
Soul, but foul and gaunt but aunt.
Font, front, won't, want, grand, and grant.
Shoes, goes, does. Now first say: finger.

And then: singer, ginger, linger,
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, age.
Query does not rime with very,

Nor does fury sound like bury.
Dost, lost, post; and doth, cloth, loth;
Job, Job; blossom, bosom, oath.
Though the difference seems little,

We say actual, but victual.
Seat, sweat; chaste, caste.; Leigh, eight, height;
Put, nut; granite, and unite.
Reefer does not rime with deafer,

Feoffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Dull, bull, Geoffrey, George, ate, late,
Hint, pint, Senate, but sedate.
Scenic, Arabic, Pacific,

Science, conscience, scientific,
Tour, but our and succour, four,
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Sea, idea, guinea, area,

Psalm, Maria, but malaria,
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean,
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.
Compare alien with Italian,

Dandelion with battalion.
Sally with ally, yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, key, quay.
Say aver, but ever, fever.

Neither, leisure, skein, receiver.
Never guess--it is not safe:
We say calves, valves, half, but Ralph.
Heron, granary, canary,

Crevice and device, and eyrie,
Face but preface, but efface,
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.
Large, but target, gin, give, verging,

Ought, out, joust, and scour, but scourging,
Ear but earn, and wear and bear
Do not rime with here, but ere.
Seven is right, but so is even,

Hyphen, roughen, nephew, Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, clerk, and jerk,
Asp, grasp, wasp, and cork and work.
Pronunciation--think of psyche--!

Is a paling, stout and spikey,
Won't it make you lose your wits,
Writing "groats" and saying "grits"?
It's a dark abyss or tunnel,

Strewn with stones, like rowlock, gunwale,
Islington and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict, and indict!
Don't you think so, reader, rather,

Saying lather, bather, father?
Finally: which rimes with "enough"
Though, through, plough, cough, hough, or tough?
Hiccough has the sound of "cup."
My advice is--give it up!