November 20, 2019

Some Quotations Hinting at Universal Spiritual Truths That Transcend Religious or Cultural Distinctions

All humans across time and space share a fundamental nature that is unaffected by any degree of cultural variance. This fundamental human nature seems to include a tendency to seek truth. Each human individual seeks truth (in widely varying degrees of intensity and awareness) through their subjective filter of reality (i.e. their own selves). Rumi, a 13th-century Sufi poet, offers this perspective:
“All the hopes, desires, loves, and affections that people have for different things - fathers, mothers, friends, heavens, the earth, palaces, sciences, works, food, drink - the saint knows that these are desires for God and all those things are veils. When men leave this world and see the King without these veils, then they will know that all were veils and coverings, that the object of their desire was in reality that One Thing.” 

It is worth noting that my understanding of the distinction between a subjective human person and the common human nature that unites each individual person (i.e. a deeper level of identity than personhood) came directly from the great writings of Bernadette Roberts, an extraordinary Christian mystic with a contemplative orientation.

Words attributed to Krishna in a 1935 English translation of the Bhagavad Gita express a similar idea from a slightly different angle:
“No matter by what path men approach Me, they are made welcome. For all paths no matter how diverse lead straight to Me. All paths are mine, notwithstanding by what names they may be called. Even they who tread the path of the lower deities and imaginary gods and who pray to them for success through action—even these, say I, meet with reward, for they reap the success that comes from earnest application and industrious action. Through the laws of Mind and Nature, do their gods, real or imagined, answer them.”
Krishna revealing truth to Arjuna

Perhaps the various things that Rumi mentions (fathers, mothers, friends, heavens, the earth, palaces, sciences, works, food, and drink) could be potential forms of the “lower deities” referenced by Krishna?

As you may well know, any word that is used to refer to the transcendent reality that supports all things is nothing more than a symbolic pointer to that ‘One Thing’ which can never be expressed in words. Keeping this in mind, please feel free to use whichever word(s) that most resonates with you and try to ignore any potential negative baggage that certain words may carry. For example, the word ‘God’ can turn a lot of people off due to negative experiences they had with a religious tradition that heavily emphasized a particular concept of God. Please pardon this imprecise use of language—there does not seem to be a ‘best’ word to use to refer to the ineffable, so within the context of this writing, words such as ‘truth,’ ‘God,’ ‘Reality,’ ‘that One Thing,’ etc. are interchangeable. (Other words that may also be used to refer to the ineffable: Intelligent Infinity, the Creator, All That Is, the Tao.)

Ralph Waldo Emerson published a poem called “Brahma” in the Atlantic Monthly in 1857. When he heard that many of his readers were perplexed by it, he chuckled and said, “Tell them to say ‘Jehova’ instead of ‘Brahma’ and they will not feel any perplexity.”


Krishna continues his testament to the ultimate universality of truth:
“After many lives, and with accumulated wisdom, the Wise Ones come to Me, knowing Me to be All. Such are called Mahatmas [i.e. great souls], and are rare and difficult to find by lesser men. And the others, who are drawn away through lack of understanding, to this deity, or that one, with various rites and ceremonies, find other gods. They find that which they seek, according to their natures. 
But, knoweth this, O Arjuna—and note it well, for it is difficult of understanding among those who are bigoted, fanatical and narrow of mind and sympathy—the truth is this: that though men worship many gods, and images, and hold many conceptions of Deity, which they reverence as objects of worship—yea, even though these men seem utterly opposed to each other, and to Me—yet doth their faith arise from a latent and unfolded faith in Me. 
Their faith in their gods and images is but the dawning of faith in Me; in worshipping these forms and conceptions, they wish to worship Me, although they know it not. And verily, say I unto you, such Faith and Worship, when honestly and conscientiously held and performed, shall not go unrewarded nor unaccepted by Me. Such men do the best possible to them, according to their light of dawning knowledge; and the benefits they seek, according to their faith, shall come to them, yea, even from Me. Such is my Love, Understanding and Justice.”
Krishna asserts that the sincerity of one’s heart is more important than the particular form of religion or spirituality they practice.

This does not mean that all spiritual practices are equally good. According to the Bhagavad Gita, sincerity of heart is the necessary prerequisite for producing spiritual fruit. Humans can produce a wide variety of “good” or “bad” fruits through their intentions and actions. All humans are drawn to thought and action by their internal Guiding Principle (i.e. their highest aspiration). This principle operates subconsciously if it is not known by the conscious aspect of one’s mind. Whatever a being cares most about and takes to be the most important thing in existence, that is their God, and one will rise as high as their highest aspirations. David Foster Wallace put it well:
"Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship–be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles–is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness."
Jean Bodin, a 16th-century French philosopher, expresses a message parallel to Krishna’s through one of his fictional characters by the name of Senamus. Senamus says that religious variety is inevitable and “proposes an affective criterion of authenticity. He suggests that because no certain set of true beliefs or right behaviors can be identified, one must take the world as it is and accept sincere religiousness or piety—an inner quality of the heart—as sufficient where it ultimately counts—in the eyes of God.”

Jean Bodin

Senamus “illustrates the modern turn to subjectivity..., wherein truthfulness [i.e. sincerity] makes do in the absence of an absolute ethic. This position shifts attention away from referential questions about the ‘religious object’ (about which consensus is not possible and therefore not necessary) to subjective matters about what characterizes the authentically religious person, and from what is true to what is an appropriate response to the ultimate reality to which all religions bear witness.”

Through Senamus, Bodin “spells out the pluralistic implications of his single criterion of sincerity: ‘I believe that all the religions of all the people, the natural religion which Toralba loves, the religion of Jupiter and the gentile gods, whom the Indians of the Orient and the Tartars cherish, the religion of Moses, the religion of Christ, the religion of Mohammed, which everyone pursues with his own rite, not with faked pretense but with a pure mind, are not unpleasing to eternal God and are excused as just errors, even though that which is best [but cannot be known with certainty] is the most pleasing of all.”

I came across a piece of writing in my late grandfather’s exercise room with the title “As Unto Me” (written by Roy Lessin). Lessin’s words echo themes present in both Krishna and Senamus’ statements, such as the primary importance of sincerity and integrity in the spiritual quest:
Others may not notice your efforts or give you recognition for something you’ve done. The credit may even go to someone else. Do it anyway, as unto Me, for I am pleased by your service and will honor your obedience. 
There may be times when a job you have done will be rejected. Something you have prepared may be delayed or cancelled. Do it anyways, as unto Me, for I see all things and will bless the work of your hands. 
You may do your very best but have your labors fail. You may sacrifice time and money to help someone and receive no words of appreciation. Do it anyway, as unto Me, for I am your reward and will repay you. 
There may be times when you go out of your way to include others and later have them ignore you. You may be loyal on your job and still have someone promoted ahead of you. Do it anyway, as unto Me, for I will not fail you or make you be ashamed. 
You may forgive others only to have them hurt you again. You may reach out to bless others only to have them take advantage of your kindness. Do it anyway, as unto Me, for I know your heart and will comfort you. 
You may speak the truth but be considered wrong by others. You may do something with good intentions and be completely misunderstood. Do it anyway, as unto Me, for I understand and will not disappoint you. 
There may be times when keeping your word means giving up something you would like to do. There may be times when a commitment will mean sacrificing a personal pleasure. Do it anyway, as unto Me, for I am your friend and will bless you with My presence.
Roy Lessin

Lessin articulates, in his own way, one of the central themes of the Bhagavad Gita: that one should not concern themselves with the fruits of their actions but should instead focus on living rightly, to the best of their knowledge and ability, in accordance with universal truth.

Discussing the nature of religion will never produce a final, definitive answer to the question, “What is religion?” Despite this, it can be worthwhile to consider various perspectives on the nature of religion because doing so can deepen one’s appreciation of the beauty and diversity of humanity and creation as a whole.

Many people who have thought deeply about the nature of religion came to the general conclusion that the root of each diverse expression of religion stems from the same source. William Blake called the source of all religious and philosophical ideas the “Poetic Genius,” which is something akin to the human imagination.

An impression by William Blake

William James, a 19th-century American philosopher of religion, provides this broad definition of religion:
"Were one to characterize the life of religion in the broadest and most general terms possible, one might say that it exists of the belief that there is an unseen order, and that our supreme good lies in harmoniously adjusting ourselves hereto.”
Religions can be thought of as human constructions based on subjective experiences of objective truth (i.e. revelations). Many religions have their origin in an individual’s (subjective) experience of universal truth. This revelation usually leads to the recipient translating their experience into some form of spiritual teaching, which is then shared to others and spread far and wide. William James viewed the basic experience which unified all religions as “a sometimes life-changing personal event in which one perceives the [interconnectedness] of all things as one unified whole.”

Like biological species, religions naturally change over time (in healthy and unhealthy ways) due to numerous variables which are ultimately outside the control of any person or group of persons.

Diana L. Eck, a modern scholar of religion, says that religions are more like a river than a stone because humans and their environments are in a constant state of flux. All religious traditions will naturally change at varying rates through the course of history as humans (and cultures) evolve and adapt. One can think about this metaphor from another angle that perhaps goes a bit deeper. Rather than solely a river, religion could be analogous to a stone getting carried along by the current of a river. The stone can represent the innate drive to seek transcendent truth that all humans experience and the different positions that the stone briefly inhabits along its journey through the river of time can represent all of the different ways the human drive to seek truth manifests itself in the form of religious traditions.

The Ganges River in India

Because of the virtually infinite degree of diversity amongst human persons, it could be said that the amount of adherents to any particular religion is ≥ 1. (By the way, this diversity amongst persons does not negate the existence of humanity’s common nature because this nature exists beneath the level of personhood.)

No two persons have the exact same subjective experience of life, therefore it could be argued that in a sense, every single person who adheres to a religion adheres to a religion that is uniquely their own (to varying degrees of course). The numerous nuanced subjective perspectives of religion, and reality in general, are, necessarily and practically, simplified by broad labels which conveniently encompass large numbers of people. For example, each person out of the more than 450 million who identify as Buddhist today, practices a version of Buddhism that is uniquely their own due to their inherent subjectivity and unique window into the human experience.

The subjective nature of consciousness and religion should NOT imply that truth is ultimately relative or that all religions are equally good or bad. On the contrary, each and every religious belief and practice exists somewhere along a spectrum between absolute truth and absolute falsity. No one religion gets everything right or wrong. It’s not important to attempt to actually place various religions on this imaginary spectrum; the point is to recognize that no religion has a monopoly on truth but that all (or at least most) religions have at least some access to truth, represented in various ways.

On a practical level, religions can serve as technologies for perceiving and knowing truth. Any religious system adopted for the (sincere) purpose of serving as a vehicle to help one orient oneself to truth should not be denigrated, because as long as the intention to seek and know truth is genuine, that drive will eventually bear spiritual fruit (at least according to Krishna, Senamus, and others). The only justification for seriously condemning a religious belief system is if that belief system causes a significant degree of demonstrable harm on any conscious being. All I really want to say about that is to encourage each person (myself included) to strive to listen to their genuine heart before casting judgement on others, but to also not be shy about condemning destructive religious behavior.

Each religious aspirant has the potential to eventually get to a point where clinging to a religious system is unnecessary. This phase in the journey can lead to a realization of all religions’ inability to comprehensively contain truth. “Every religion is the product of the conceptual mind attempting to describe the mystery” says Ram Dass. The mystery of being can never be boxed in by the conceptual mind.

A popular Buddhist metaphor nicely illustrates the spiritual journey: one can liken religious practice to a raft that helps an aspirant get from one side of a river (i.e. ignorance) to the other side (i.e. a direct experience of truth or union with truth). Some people prefer rafts made out of wood while others prefer plastic rafts. You get the idea.

To reiterate, this article is not endeavoring to posit that all religions are equally true or valuable, or that in the final analysis they are all really saying exactly the same thing. Rather, the attempt is to explore the mysterious and seemingly universal human inclination to intuit, represent, and seek a transcendent dimension of reality. In other words, the goal is not to water down a multitude of religious ideas to one basic idea; the goal is to explore the possibility that the various examples quoted here may be referring to the same transcendent truths which ultimately exist beyond all representations and symbols.

Friedrich Schleiermacher, a German theologian who died in 1834, postulated this explanation for the origin of religion:
"Religion is the outcome neither of the fear of death, nor of the fear of God. It answers a deep need in man. It is neither a metaphysic, nor a morality, but above all and essentially an intuition and a feeling… Dogmas are not, properly speaking, part of religion: rather it is that they are derived from it. Religion is the miracle of direct relationship with the infinite; and dogmas are the reflection of this miracle. Similarly belief in God, and in personal immortality, are not necessarily a part of religion; one can conceive of a religion without God, and it would be pure contemplation of the universe; the desire for personal immortality seems rather to show a lack of religion, since religion assumes a desire to lose oneself in the infinite, rather than to preserve one's own finite self.”
Here are some more relevant quotes from various religious and spiritual thinkers across time and space:
“God is a circle whose center is everywhere and circumference is nowhere.” (Timaeus of Locris)
“Religion… is universal and it is one. We cannot possibly universalize particular customs and conventions; but the common element in religion can be universalized, and we may ask all alike to follow and obey it.” (Paramahansa Yogananda)
Paramahansa Yogananda
“Despite such a notable gulf between East and West, and considerable varieties within each bloc, there is a strong undercurrent that seems to bring all religions, scattered so widely by time and geography, back together in a common fold. That is the consistent emphasis made by the authors in this book, that salvation—which in mythological language is located in the hereafter or in the idealized future—is attainable now, in this life. Both Hinduism and Buddhism are represented here as claiming the possibility of ultimate release in the midst of this life. The New Testament faith… and the theological development of Christianity… bring home the point that immortality is not ‘more life after death,’ but the realization of life in proper relation with God, the center of value, right here in this life. The reader will be struck by the amazing degree of consensus found in these faiths that are otherwise so much apart from one another. But that is, after all, precisely the essence of cross-cultural overview among these, the axial religions, that has enriched human experience down through the centuries.” (from the intro to Death and Afterlife: Perspectives of World Religions by Hiroshi Obayashi)
Also relevant, here’s a summation of Aldous Huxley’s Perennial Philosophy (highly influenced by Vedantic Hinduism):
  1. The phenomenal world of matter and of individualized consciousness—the world of things and animals and men and even gods—is the manifestation of a Divine Ground within which all partial realities have their being, and apart from which they would be nonexistent.
  2. Human beings are capable of knowing about the Divine Ground by inference; they can also realize its existence by a direct intuition, superior to discursive reasoning. This immediate knowledge unites the knower with that which is known.
  3. Man possesses a double nature, a phenomenal ego and an eternal Self, which is the inner man, the spirit, the spark of divinity within the soul. It is possible for a man, if he so desires, to identify himself with the spirit and therefore with the Divine Ground, which is of the same or like nature with the spirit.
  4. Man’s life on earth has only one end and purpose: to identify himself with his eternal self and so to come to unitive knowledge of the Divine Ground.
Aldous Huxley

What is the ultimate destination of the human journey towards God? No one can know ahead of time and language can hardly even begin to adequately reference this mystery, but it may be something like full and eternal union with God. Krishna puts it this way: “After many lives, and with accumulated wisdom, the Wise Ones come to Me, knowing Me to be All. How could it be any other way if God is the All in All? This mystery could also be loosely referenced as the merging of all apparent dualities and polarities (i.e. primordial, utmost unity), which is a perspective expressed by Ra in The Law of One:
“In truth there is no right or wrong. There is no polarity, for all will be, as you would say, reconciled at some point in your dance through the mind/body/spirit complex which you amuse yourself by distorting in various ways at this time. This distortion is not in any case necessary. It is chosen by each of you as an alternative to understanding the complete unity of thought which binds all things. You are not speaking of similar or somewhat like entities or things. You are every thing, every being, every emotion, every event, every situation. You are unity. You are infinity. You are love/light; light/love. You are. This is the Law of One.”
What if the transcendent drive to seek and merge with truth that all humans seem to share is not exclusive to human beings? What if every particle of the fabric of reality is continuously, individually, and collectively evolving upwards to states of greater complexity? Humans currently exist on a plane of evolutionary development that is distinct from other planes/paths, such as the plant kingdom. Despite the distinction of different stages and branches of evolutionary development, the fundamental attribute of an inherent drive to perpetually grow is shared by both plants and humans, and possibly every other form of life in the entire universe. Another way to put this idea is this: Every aspect of the created spirals upward into greater complexity until there is no more any distinction between the Creator and the created.

Fractals are a striking way to visually represent infinity.

The great Irish bard Terence McKenna contributed to this speculative dialogue with an idea he dubbed “The Transcendental Object at the End of Time.” Terence postulated that the universe is continuously increasing in novelty and complexity at an exponential rate and that this constant increase of novelty will eventually culminate in a state of maximal novelty commonly referred to as “the singularity.”

Terence would often wax poetic about his intuition that the universal agenda is to produce maximal novelty through continuous, progressive evolution.

Related readings:

“The Ecumenical Council” by Salvador Dali represents the "interconnectedness" of the Omega Point.

I’ll end this somewhat long musing with a more modern quote: an excerpt from Deirdre McCloskey’s The Bourgeois Virtues:
“In other words, we humans, even we bourgeois humans, cannot get along without transcendence - faith in a past, hope for a future, justified by larger considerations. If we don’t have religious hope and faith, we’ll substitute hope and faith in art or science or national learning. If we don’t have art or science or national learning or Anglicanism, we’ll substitute fundamentalism or the Rapture. If we don’t have fundamentalism or the Rapture or the local St. Wenceslaus parish we’ll substitute our family or the rebuilt antique car. It’s a consequence of the human ability to symbolize, a fixture of our philosophical psychology. 
We might as well acknowledge it, if only to keep watch on transcendence and prevent it from doing mischief, as did once a Russian hope for the Revolution and as now a Saudi Arabian faith in an Islamic past. The Bulgarian-French critic Tzvetan Todorov, who has seen totalitarianism, warns that ‘democracies put their own existence in jeopardy if they neglect the human need for transcendence.’ Michael Ignatieff put it well: ‘the question of whether… the needs we once called religious can perish without consequence… remains central to understanding the quality of modern man’s happiness.’ Evidently the answer is no, a religion cannot perish without consequences. There are bad consequences and there will be more. That is not a reason to return to the older sureties, it is a reason to take seriously the transcendent in our bourgeois lives.”

If you made it this far, thank you for joining me in the endless, fascinating, speculative, and sometimes absurd quest to discuss the ineffable.

Actually, I can’t resist ending with some inspired words that flew from the heart and pen of the mystical Walt Whitman:
“This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.”
Walt Whitman

I do not interpret Whitman’s words to be primarily prescriptive (i.e. as a call to emulate his particular mode of being); instead, I take them as his way of saying something like, “Do not be afraid to trust and follow your own soul as you explore the mystery of being!”

In the face of the vast mystery of being, there seems to be no other choice than to simply be what one naturally is and to strive to accept whatever comes as the present moment continues to offer new phenomena for conscious beings to experience and ponder.

I wish you, reader, nothing less than the very best in your unique yet universal journey to an unknown destination.

November 6, 2019

Alternate Solution to "OS X could not be installed on your computer. No packages were eligible for install."

When trying to upgrade from OS X 10.6.8 Snow Leopard to OS X 10.11.6 El Capitan, I repeatedly encountered a frustrating error message: "OS X could not be installed on your computer. No packages were eligible for install. Contact the software manufacturer for assistance. Quit the installer to restart your computer and try again."

My end goal was to install macOS 10.13 High Sierra. I read online that one must upgrade to OS X 10.11 before upgrading to macOS 10.13 if one is starting from OS X 10.6. This upgrade route did not work for me no matter how many solutions I attempted. I eventually found a solution to this frustrating problem which I'll share below, but before I do that, I'd like to share what did NOT work for me to hopefully help others avoid unnecessary frustration and wasted time:

Solution attempts that did NOT work for me:
I tried changing the time to the correct present time and to a past time when the installer certificates may have still been valid (mid-2016). The upgrade problem persisted either way.

Manually setting the date and time via the Terminal (see above link) to an earlier date is worth trying because it has worked for some people. Try this time: 1010101015

2) Erasing my internal hard drive using Disk Utility in Internet Recovery Mode
All this did was remove my data, but the persistent "OS X could not be installed..." problem remained.

3) Booting from an external hard drive that was formatted to act as an installer for OS X 10.11

4) Booting in the Internet Recovery Mode option to install the version closest to the operating system that came with my Mac (Shift+Option+Command+R).
My Mac came with Snow Leopard, which is not available to download, so it attempted to install Lion, but wasn't able to do so because I had not purchased it with my Apple ID.

Here's the upgrade route that DID work for me:
2) I booted in the Internet Recovery Mode option to install the version closest to the operating system that came with my Mac by holding down Shift+Option+Command+R while my MacBook was restarting.
3) I selected "Reinstall Mac OS X" in the "Mac OS X Utilities" window that appeared when Internet Recovery Mode fully booted up.
4) When prompted, I entered my Apple ID information that was used to purchase and download OS X 10.7 Lion and allowed the OS X upgrade to proceed to completion. I then had a fresh version of OS X 10.7 Lion installed on my Mac.
5) The next step was to upgrade from OS X 10.7 Lion to macOS 10.12 Sierra using these steps.
6) Once macOS 10.12 Sierra was fully installed, I upgraded to macOS 10.13 High Sierra using these steps.

My MacBook Pro is now successfully running macOS 10.13.6 High Sierra.

Basically, what worked for me was circumnavigating the suggested route of installing OS X 10.11 before installing macOS 10.13. Instead, I followed this upgrade route: 10.6 to 10.7, then 10.12 to 10.13.

I thought it may be helpful to share what worked for me in case someone else out there is trying to upgrade from OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard to macOS 10.13 High Sierra and encountering the issue I encountered. Please feel free to ask me any questions about this and I will do my best to help.

Walt Whitman's 19th Century Words About Universal Inclusivity Resound with Relevance in 21st Century America

"America must welcome all—Chinese, Irish, German, pauper or not, criminal or not—all, all, without exceptions: become an asylum for all who choose to come. We may have drifted away from this principle temporarily but time will bring us back. The tide may rise and rise again and still again and again after that, but at least there is an ebb—the low water comes at last. Think of it—think of it: how little of the land of the United States is cultivated—how much of it is still utterly untilled. When you go West you sometimes travel whole days at lightning speed across vast spaces where not an acre is plowed, not a tree is touched, not a sign of a house is anywhere detected. America is not for special types, for the caste, but for the great mass of people—the vast, surging, hopeful, army of workers. Dare we deny them a home—close the doors in their face—take possession of all and fence it in and then sit down satisfied with our system—convinced that we have solved our problem? I for my part refuse to connect America with such a failure—such a tragedy, for tragedy it would be."

"America has its purpose: it must serve that purpose to the end: I look upon the future as certain: our people will in the end read all these lessons right: America will stand opposed to everything which means restriction—stand against all policies of exclusion: accept Irish, Chinese—knowing it must not question the logic of its hospitality."

"The poor Italian immigrants! The popular fury now seems to be applied to them—and what have they done, indeed? I wonder if our people really believe the Chinese menace our institutions—the industrious, quiet, inoffensive Chinese? Maybe our institutions ain't no good if they're as thin-skinned as that."

"It is with America as it is with nature: I believe our institutions can digest, absorb, all elements, good or bad, godlike or devilish, that come along: it seems impossible for nature to fail to make good in the processes peculiar to her: in the same way it is impossible for America to fail to turn the worst luck into best—curses into blessings."

"The exclusion of the Chinese, the tariff, prohibition, all that is of one piece, and I for one not only despite it but always denounce it—lose no occasion. The policy which allows some fellow who wishes to make buttons or some fellow who wishes to make tin to go to Washington and set matters up there so that the foreign fellows with their tin and buttons are barred out is no policy of mine."

"I look ahead seeing for America a bad day—a dark if not stormy day—in which this policy, this restriction, this attempt to draw a line against free speech, free printing, free assembly, will become a weapon of menace to our future."

"Can any sound man believe in a patriotism that means America alone?"

"America means above all toleration, catholicity, welcome, freedom—a concern for Europe, for Asia, for Africa, along with its concern for America. It is something quite peculiar, hardly to be stated—evades you as the air—yet is a fact everywhere preciously present."

"Restrict nothing—keep everything open: to Italy, to China, to anybody. I love America, I believe in America, because her belly can hold and digest all—anarchist, socialist, peacemakers, fighters, disturbers or degenerates of whatever sort—hold and digest all. If I felt that America could not do this I would be indifferent as between our institutions and any others. America is not all in all—the sum total: she is only to contribute her contribution to the big scheme. What shall that contribution be? I say, let it be something worth while—something exceptional, ennobling."

"While I seem to love America, and wish to see America prosperous, I do not seem able to bring myself to love America, to desire American prosperity, at the expense of some other nation or even of all other nations."

"America now should stand for the world—should bear witness not only to her own success, but human solidarity, universal union, the largest possible circle of comradeship."

"Solidarity, intercalation: not Philadelphia alone, Camden alone, even New York alone, but all together, all nations: the globe: intercalation, fusion, no one left out."

"Solidarity, unifying—unification! This is in fact my argument for free trade—not that it will produce so much and so much in dollars—though that too is to be said, and I feel that free trade could be justified even on that ground—but that it will break down partitions, dividing lines—lines of demarkation—bring the race together—interests not worldly alone, but on the human side—the high deep embracing spiritualities."

April 24, 2019

Douglas Harding's 'The Headless Way'

Douglas Harding (1909-2007)

        Douglas Harding was a scholar/philosopher who experienced mystical awareness himself, which informed his theories about mystical experiences. He writes about a state he refers to as ‘headlessness,’ which is a present-immersed state of perceptual clarity, free from identification with thoughts. His experience of ‘headlessness’ made him realize that he was not who he thought he was: “[This hole where my head should have been] was a vast emptiness vastly filled, a nothing that found room for everything... I had lost a head and gained a world... “utterly free of ‘me’, unstained by any observer. Its total presence was my total absence, body and soul. Lighter than air, clearer than glass, altogether released from myself, I was nowhere around” (Harding 6). In other words, Harding woke up from the dream of everyday life, which usually entails identification with one’s thoughts as representative of reality, and clearly experienced an awareness unconditioned and unaffected by mental activity.

        Harding wrote that when people use their present, immediate experience as evidence for their identity rather than hearsay from other people or their own imagination, one incontrovertibly discovers that one does not possess a head. Everything that can be experienced in the phenomenal field of awareness, including physical sensations of the body, are “swallowed up in the abyss at the center of [one’s] being” (Harding 9). Harding wrote that anyone can reconnect to their inherent emptiness, free from identification with a transitory mentally-derived ego. According to Harding, all it takes is “alert naivety..., an innocent eye and an empty head (not to mention a stout heart) to admit [one’s own] perfect emptiness” (Harding 9).

        Harding created a theoretical map (dubbed the ‘Headless Way’) of what he believed were the eight major stages of development for a human being: (1) The Headless Infant, (2) The Child, (3) The Headed Grown-up, (4) The Headless Seer, (5) Practicing Headlessness, (6) Working It Out, (7) The Barrier, (8) The Breakthrough (Harding 27).

        Stage 1, The Headless Infant, is the primordial state of awareness that all human beings start with. It involves feeling at one with the world as it is perceived. Things are taken at face value, without any mental projections obscuring the experience of the present moment. Babies do not identify with their faces reflected in a mirror, it is simply taken as what it is: a temporary visual phenomenon that is distinct from one’s true identity of spacious emptiness. Harding says: “I have never been anything but this ageless, measureless, lucid and altogether immaculate Void” (Harding 11).

        Stage 2, The Child, involves a mixture of pure, headless awareness and the beginnings of a mentally-constructed identity that is fueled by ideas from other people, not solely from one’s own immediate experience of life: “At this stage you come near to making the best of both worlds—the unlimited non-human world you are coming from and the limited human world you are entering. All-too-briefly, you have in effect two identities going, two versions of yourself” (Harding 28).

        Stage 3, The Headed Grown-up, involves increased identification with one’s limited self, one’s ego, to the point that one no longer feels as though one contains the world, but that one is a small entity contained within the world. Harding writes that at this stage we grow greedy, resentful, alienated, lonely, suspicious, frightened, defeated, tired, stiff, uncreative, unloving, and crazy because we lose our identification with our timeless, spacious identity and become identified with a small self that has all sorts of problems (Harding 29-30). This is the stage that most adult humans get stuck at. “We actually believe (contrary to all the evidence) that we are at 0 meters what we look like at 2 meters—solid, opaque, colored, outlined lumps of stuff. How can our life and our world stay sane if their very Centre has gone insane?” (Harding 30).

        Harding asks the question: is it necessary for a developing human to pass through the pain of stage 3, or can it be bypassed? Harding’s answer is yes, it is necessary: “In fact, there’s no route from the Paradise of childhood to the Heaven of the blessed that doesn’t lie through the Far Country, through some kind of Hell or at least Purgatory” (Harding 31). In other words, one must fully pass through delusion before achieving true clarity; one cannot skip around the pain of delusion and jump straight to clarity.

        Harding puts it this way: “Really to lose our heads, we must first have them firmly in place... It is the precondition of a freedom that can be had no other way” (Harding 31). One must pass through the stages of childhood innocence through adult ignorance to then eventually re-establish a living, conscious identification with the clarity that was unconsciously experienced in childhood. T.S. Eliot’s famous lines are apt to be quoted here: “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

        Stage 4, The Headless Seer, is achieved by turning one’s arrow of attention towards oneself and consequently directly realizing one’s inherent emptiness and spaciousness, which is not defined or limited by social or individual concepts. This is only possible if one “is willing to drop for a moment opinions about [oneself] based on heresy and memory and imagination, and to rely on present evidence” (Harding 32).

        Stage 5, Practicing Headlessness, is best described by Harding himself:
The repetition of this headless seeing-into-Nothingness till the seeing becomes quite natural and nothing special at all; till, whatever one is doing, it’s clear that nobody’s here doing it. In other words, till one’s whole life is structured round the double-barbed arrow of attention, simultaneously pointing in at the Void and out at what fills it. Such is the essential meditation of this Way. It is meditation for the market-place, in fact for every circumstance and mood, but it may usefully be supplemented by regular periods of more formal meditation—for example, a daily sitting in a quiet place enjoying exactly the same seeing, either alone or (better) with friends. (Harding 37)
        Stage 6 is called Working It Out and involves a further deepening of understanding of insights gleaned from the state of headlessness. An example of an insight that one could deepen at this stage is when one sees into one’s own inner void, one realizes that the void encompasses all beings, and therefore all beings are fundamentally the same.

        Stage 7, The Barrier, is a painful yet necessary stage because it involves the surrender of the ego’s (often strong) will. The Western mystical tradition refers to this stage as The Dark Night of the Soul, which is a drastic purgative experience because the thing being purged is one’s own heart, the seat of personality (Harding 52). Total self-surrender is required at this stage in order to move on to the eighth and final stage: The Breakthrough.

        The purgation of stage 7 results in “a profound declaration of intent. It is the realization at gut level (so to say) that one’s deepest desire is that all shall be as it is—seeing that it all flows from one’s true Nature, the Aware Space here” (Harding 53). Harding says that ultimately, there is nothing one can do to bring about this breakthrough: “It’s not a doing but an undoing, a giving up, an abandonment of the false belief that there’s anyone here to abandon” (Harding 53). The ego-self must be lived to its fullest extent before it ceases to be needed as a function of the human psyche. The ego-self is put to various tests in the marketplace of regular human existence that gradually lessen its attachment to itself if the evolving self chooses to practice selfless action. The practice of self-surrender in the often challenging marketplace of humanity progressively whittles away at the self until there is no more self to lose

Works Cited
Harding, D. E. On Having No Head: Zen and the Rediscovery of the Obvious. The Shollond Trust, 2014.

April 23, 2019

William James' Conceptual Framework for Studying Mystical Experiences

  William James, a prominent 19th-century psychologist and scholar of religion, offered some conceptual frameworks to aid in the understanding of mystical experiences. James was self-admittedly not a mystic himself and made sure to clearly draw a distinction between first-hand knowledge and second-hand knowledge: “My own constitution shuts me out from [the enjoyment of mystical states] almost entirely, and I can speak of them only at second hand” (James 328). In other words, James was an outsider to mystical experiences looking in with his analytical mind with the intention to make some sense of the mysterious nature of mystical experiences.

William James (1842-1910)

  Despite James’ personal lack of mystical experiences, he viewed them with respect—as authentically real and of paramount importance to the existence of religion: “One may say truly, I think, that personal religious experience has its root and centre in mystical states of consciousness” (James 328). According to James, mystical experiences are the deepest form of religious experience because they involve some form of experiential communion with a reality transcendent to an individual. Contact with a dimension of reality deeper than what is immediately available to the conventional senses often produces modifications in the inner lives of individuals who have these types of experiences. For example, a Christian contemplative monk may actualize greater degrees of humility after experiencing the temporary suspension of his ego during a mystical experience that involved communion with what he would call God.

  William James articulated four main qualities of mystical experiences: ineffability, a noetic quality, transiency, and passivity. According to James, the presence of the first two qualities, ineffability and a noetic quality, are essential and will qualify an experience as mystical. The latter two qualities, transiency and passivity, are less common and non-essential qualities, but nevertheless notable aspects to many mystical experiences.

  The ineffability of mystical experiences means that they defy verbal expression. This is widely reported by countless people who have some type of mystical experience. Within the confines of conventional human language, this characteristic is a negative characteristic because it refers to the lack of language’s ability to accurately represent the experiential mystical dimension. James compares mystical experiences to emotions because both emotions and mystical experiences must be directly experienced to be known. One cannot articulate a description of sadness and expect the listener to grasp the experience if he or she has not experienced sadness directly for themselves. In the words of William James: “[The mystical experience] cannot be imparted or transferred to others” (James 329).

  The second essential quality to mystical experiences is a noetic quality. James writes that mystical experiences give the experiencer access to “states of insight into depths of truth unplumbed by the discursive intellect” (James 329). In other words, subjects of mystical experiences often report that the experience allowed them to see truths about themselves and reality that were not previously known.

A third common, although non-essential, characteristic of mystical experiences is transiency. “Mystical states cannot be sustained for long” says James. In his estimation, the average length of a mystical experience ranges from thirty minutes to two hours (James 329). One’s sense of the passage of time is often highly affected during a mystical experience. For example, one second of clock-time could feel like an eternity to the person having a mystical experience.

        Passivity is the fourth characteristic of mystical experiences that James delineates. It is not inherent to all mystical experiences, but it is common. James says that whether or not a mystical experience was coaxed into existence with proactive actions, once the experience sets in “the mystic feels as if his own will were in abeyance, and indeed sometimes as if he were grasped and held by a superior power” (James 330).

  There are countless methods designed to cultivate altered or mystical states of consciousness, but they can only take one so far. At most, methodical techniques enacted with the intention of coaxing a mystical experience into existence seem to be able to prepare the ground for such an experience. Traditionally, this involved cultivating a holistically wholesome life. The actual mystical experience usually alters the individual experiencer more profoundly than he or she could alter themselves using solely their own will and limited powers. James observed this phenomenon: “Some memory of [the content of mystical experiences] always remains, and a profound sense of their importance. They modify the inner life of the subject between the times of their recurrence” (James 330).

  For example, Christian mysticism is a mystical tradition that contains theories and techniques designed to help one reach states of mystical insight. The theory put into practice by Christian mystics is that negating lesser, sensual pleasures opens up the possibility of experiencing deeper, more subtle and profound truths. The fundamental practice to achieve oneness with God in the Christian mystical tradition is meditation (“the methodical elevation of the soul towards God”) (James 351). Conventionally, the Christian mystic practitioner cultivates detachment from the five externally-oriented senses in order to be able to more clearly discern the nuances of the inner world (i.e. the soul’s communion with God). A key component to Christian mystical experiences is a temporary negation of self that allows for one to be “awake in God”—this is known as the “orison of union.” Paul said: “Only when I become as nothing can God enter in and no difference between his life and mine remain outstanding” (James 362).

Contemplating God in a secluded forest

  James theorized that the universal “great mystic achievement” is to overcome barriers between the individual and the absolute (James 362). According to James, this fundamental goal is shared and expressed in various ways by numerous mystically-oriented religious and philosophic traditions, such as: Hinduism, Neoplatonism, Sufism, Christian mysticism, Whitmanism... (the list goes on) (James 363).

Works Cited
James, William. The Varieties of Religious Experience. Barnes and Noble Classics, 2004.

January 18, 2018

Casual Musings on the Multiverse, Reality, and Humanity

The Multiverse
The universe that we all (barely) know and (usually) love is not the only universe that exists. It is part of an infinite universal network known as the multiverse.

The multiverse can be visually represented by a fractal extending to infinity. Each universe exists as a particular node along the infinite multiverse fractal. According to Benoit Mandelbrot, "a fractal is a shape made of parts similar to the whole in some way."

This infinite fractal represents the substratum of all reality. It sustains every known and unknown universe. Krishna, the symbolic representation of God for many Hindus, says in the Bhagavad Gita: “The entire universe is suspended from me as my necklace of jewels” (Easwaran 153). Two more translations: “Upon me, these worlds are held / Like pearls strung on a thread” and “On Me all that is here is strung like pearls upon a thread” (Prabhavananda 82; Aurobindo 118).

In some sense, the hypothetical multiverse could be called the ‘Mind of God’ because from a human perspective, it would take God-like intelligence and consciousness to even fully conceive of the multiverse, much less create it. Needless to say, the multiverse hypothesis stretches the human mind to its limits.

Some universes are parallel and some are not. Any pair or set of universes are parallel if they contain parallel dimensions. The existence of parallel dimensions within parallel universes allows for the possibility of parallel universes converging in different ways and degrees, depending upon which dimensions are parallel.

May 20, 2017

Whitman the Rishi

This paper will attempt to highlight some connections between mystical elements found in Walt Whitman’s poem, Song of Myself (from Leaves of Grass), and spiritual revelations expressed in two classic Indian texts: the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita. I must admit, it feels a bit crude to try to use more words to explain aspects of these three profound texts, because they can undoubtedly stand alone on the strength of their own merit. However, my aim is not to posit arguments in support of the potential validity or invalidity of these texts, because I do not think there would be much value in that kind of commentary, and I do not imagine to have anything new to say—rather, my aim is to shine the light of my awareness on what has already been expressed in these texts with the hope that my prosaic distillations will spark an interest in some reader to explore the source texts themselves (English translations of the Sanskrit texts will suffice) and to consequently meet truth face-to-face through contemplation and meditation.

Walt Whitman

May 7, 2017

Contemporary Uses of Tibetan Sound Healing Techniques

A variety of sound healing techniques have been developed in the region of Tibet throughout its long history. This paper will explore a few ancient Tibetan sound healing practices that are still being employed today, such as mantra chanting, singing bowl meditations, and other sacred rituals.

The human voice is one of the most primal instruments used to make music and has the potential to elicit inner healing in individuals who intentionally use their vocal chords to produce certain vibrations. Bön Buddhism, which is the oldest spiritual tradition in Tibet, recognizes Five Warrior Syllables that contribute to inner healing in specific ways when they are chanted in a meditative manner (Rinpoche vii). The Five Warrior Syllables are: A, OM, HUNG, RAM, and DZA. The term warrior is used to refer to the practitioner's ability to “conquer the forces of negativity” (Rinpoche 8). The Five Warrior Syllables are also known as “seed” sounds because they contain in them the seeds of enlightened qualities (Rinpoche 5). These enlightened qualities are collectively referred to as the Four Immeasurables in the Tibetan Bön Buddhist tradition, which are love, compassion, joy, and equanimity (Rinpoche 10).

According to Tibetan Bön Buddhism, every person is innately pure—even if it does not seem so due to conditioning—and the practice of chanting the Five Warrior Syllables naturally leads to the awakening of one’s true nature which intrinsically contains the Four Immeasurable Enlightened Qualities (Rinpoche 10). Tibetan Bön Buddhist master Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche says: “With sound, we clear our habitual tendencies and obstacles and connect with the clear and open space of our being” (Rinpoche 5). It is important to note that if one wants to successfully achieve inner healing and uncover their innate enlightened qualities with the help of these seed sounds, consistent practice must be prioritized over intellectual theorizing, which has the potential to distract one from actually doing the necessary work that leads to healing. A common cause of suffering is over-identification with one’s constantly fluctuating mental activity; chanting leads to the cessation of mental clutter and the uncovering of one’s innately clear awareness.

March 26, 2017

Face to Face with Fear

Facing one’s fears directly seems to be the most effective approach to transcending them. One can discern this truth through direct experience as well as from the testimony of others.

Of course, confronting fears head on without resorting to psychological defenses is no easy task. Sometimes we are forced to face our fears when challenging experiences enter our lives. We can also choose to intentionally face our fears by putting ourselves in situations that cause us to directly deal with our various fear-based aversions. Regardless of the reason one comes to face one’s fears, facing them directly with courage and detachment is the only way to ultimately overcome them.

Ramana Maharshi and Dada Gavand were two highly conscious beings who each experienced powerful confrontations of their fears which led to breakthroughs in consciousness. Their respective stories of facing fear are inspiring to say the least and are linked below.