via Incense Box.
Once the gods walked among us in the Golden Age of humanity. The divine spark in every being was burning brightly because we were pure and our karmic debts were as yet non-existent. We were awake, not slumbering and responding blindly to delusions. We had not yet retreated into the cavern of our ego-mind, and we did not block and interfere with natural processes.
We did not have or need to have opinions, and we had not yet become attached to gratification, so our intents were pure and rooted in the sacred. In this era, we humans had no need to practice to wake ourselves up and focus our spirits through mindfulness and meditation. We wore the weight of the human form with ease, not weighted down as we were in later eras.
In short, we did not need to rehearse or practice how to locate and connect with the divine, because we were divine performers, not practitioners as we are often referred to today. The notion of practice in modern English historically implies doing or acting, but post 15th century it often was connected to a profession, e.g. medicine or law, implying that a skill had to be performed repeatedly in order to perfect it.
Gradually, the practical or ordinary human attitude prevailed as we moved increasingly further and further away from the divine, from our higher minds. Finally, in our present degenerate times, we so-called developed peoples are so remote to the divine, wedged tightly into secular worlds, that we have to obsessively practiced to make contact with our higher selves, and so with the divine, if we are so disposed.
Most of us moderns place our own sensory needs, according to our own view of the world synthesized by our human minds, first. We eventually lose touch with our spiritual being, our divine nature, all together. In such a view, if we are not gratified, we indulge ourselves in delusional behavior and thought, such as fear, anger and all manner of machinations to get what we feel we are entitled to. But our True Nature is one with the universe, so it craves nothing for itself.
Once, we had no fears because we were totally in tune with the love of the great universe of which we are a vital component. Our divine nature is a special thread, its texture and colour vital to complete the tapestry of the Universe. At that time, we had not become arrogant and wilfully separated ourselves away to try to make our own tapestry.
The ‘spiritual practices’ or performances of indigenous people are akin to those of this Golden Age. I experienced them first-hand when I stayed with a tribe which was returning to traditional life deep in the interior Lands of Australia. Their desert lives are totally integrated with those of their creation heroes who manifest all around them in the natural environment, which is known as ‘The Dreaming.’
They consider themselves to be not separate from the universe, and view natural phenomena as they view themselves, part of the Great Mother Nature’s creation. They interact directly with the external world, never needing to put themselves apart from it by constructing their own concepts of it or filtering their perceptions.
The climax of their lives is The Djang, the glorious death ceremony. Each of them is in love with death, longing for the moment when their spirit is freed from its physical vessel, the body. Preparations for Death ceremonies last usually for 12 days, and they are filled with ritual dances and observances. Then, as the moment of the Djang approaches, they sit and wait for creator spirits to visit the sanctified Burial Ground, and for that moment when the deceased is released, having learned all the lessons of being human. Their spirit rises up into the sky against the backcloth of a full moon, and travels on into other dimensions. Life conducted in full knowledge that death may come at any moment is perhaps the greatest spiritual practice of all.
In the western world, meditation is one of the prominent and fashionable forms of spiritual practice, in modern times. However, there is great danger that it becomes the be-all and end-all of spiritual pursuits, representing an end in itself. Many of us desire transformation; we are convinced that we are imperfect, that our minds need wiping clean because they are fundamentally flawed. This is an impossible feat, indicative of the tendency towards dependence: we ask someone or something else to give us a fresh start.
We must learn to accept all our thoughts, good or bad, sincere or insincere; simply stand back and witness them as if we are staring up to the surface of the iceberg from its massive body (the tip is the conscious mind, and the body of the iceberg is the unconscious mind).
It is inspirational to consider what ordinary people were like going about their daily lives in the early periods of so-called ‘civilisation.’ In this Golden Era of ancient India, several thousand years before the Buddha’s appearance, the gods, the Holy Beings, lived among the members of communities, making the divine easily accessible and full enlightenment possible by simply being in their presence.
This notion is based on the premise that all humans born into the physical dimension are endowed with a divine flame, an indestructible link with the sacred; that, unlike today, in the Latter Era of the Dharma or Law, when our societies are in serious decline and our karmic debts on a colossal scale, we were originally sacred beings, with natural faith born of our closeness to the divine.
The situation in ancient India was similar in Ancient Greece where the gods were constantly present, tangible, as they were in many other European civilisations. In other areas of the world, we can see today that surviving indigenous peoples, e.g. native Americans and Australians, unexploited African and South American tribes, et al, also live in the constant presence of their divine beings, their Creation Heroes as they are often known.
If we fully and equally respect each entity that we encounter during all the moments of our life, we will be able to live in complete harmony and with joy and wisdom once again.
spiritual and physical integration in standing
Reality is the result of various invisible energies coming together in time and space, in the physical dimension. We inhabit the physical dimension in human form, and unfortunately the overdeveloped intellect becomes rigidly attached to it, and insistent that it is the only dimension that truly exists. The visible has become the be-all-and-end-all of modern life for a large majority of us, and that majority has the loudest voice steeped in reason and logic, and often heavily laced with fear and guilt.
Permanence has become mandatory in human life: we crave it desperately and fear its disintegration. This craving and fear often deprives us of the unadulterated pleasure of vibration and resonance and pitch, and the divine way they are combined to create unforgettable music.
It is this realization that sound, like food, is concrete, which can liberate us. We cannot truly interpret it in our physical form even though the tendencies of the intellect are to assume we can. Neither can hold on to it, pin it down, possess it. But on the other hand, it may pin us down and posses us, because the combination of resonance and pitch and rhythm match our own physiology and energy constellation. The energy expressed by a sound or pattern of sounds is simply a mirror reflection of us, because we are energy in the same way. When this moment occurs, tears stream or pulse rates increase because we recognize ourselves, our energy body, in the sounds.
When we perform musical pieces, or when we utter any intentional sounds from the body, it is important to remain aware that we are contributing to the vast bank of the sounds of the universe, which are eternal and utterly indestructible. This has been referred to as the ‘Music of the Spheres’ by various civilisations in different eras.
Sound is infinite and indestructible, so we have a responsibility to make beautiful positive sounds, which will help to balance our troubled planet. As a crude example, if we complain endlessly with a discontented even bitter intonation, then that negative energy will remain somewhere in the universe. But often the mind elbows past this truth and instead distracts us with egocentric thoughts, with concerns about either how others will critisize or envy us, how we will be classified, or at the other extreme, leads us to be ignorant of the importance of what we are doing. In each case, these distracting ‘thoughts’ are blocking the open channel which connects us with our divine or spiritual origins, with the invisible world.
Redirecting the use of one’s mind away from these distractions is so important to open up the channel again, and keep it open. It is our true nature at the centre of the onion, which we need to connect with – peeling back the layers of tough tasteless conditioning and expectations until we find our real centre. So, first, accept that your true nature needs locating and tuning up, polishing until it sparkles, and then that you possess all you need in your physiology and anatomy, and the unique arrangement of your energies, to be the perfect conduit for sound.
Redirect your attention in readiness to perform in the following way:
While standing, visualize your spine as the central core of your physical being. It is your axis to keep you upright and grounded in the gravitational field. You/you and your instrument must negotiate this field efficiently in order to have optimal dexterity and resonance.
first, as a masterpiece of physiology and anatomy – muscles, bones, joints, ligaments and tendons, operated by fluids and pumps;
and secondly, as a constellation of different kinds of energies and DNA, a spiritual being, a concrete gathering of energies. These concentrations of energy are well illustrated by the ancient Indian system of chakra, or 6 wheels of energy situated along the axis of the body. They are at the base of the spine, slightly above and behind the navel, at the heart, the throat, between the eyes, and at the very top of the head or crown.
The spinal bones, arranged one on top of the other, form a protective covering for the precious spinal chord which is the centre of the nervous system; the energy wheels correspond to intense foci of energy at the 6 chakra points connected to the spine. As you stand visualizing, affirm strongly that you are a being in two different ways: first, physically and second, energically. Now you need to integrate these two models in your mind so that both systems are enhanced by the attention of your mind.
Ask your body and mind politely to comply with your directions, as follows. You can either close your eyes lightly or keep them open, whichever is most comfortable.
- “Mind, please shift up to the top joint of my spine at a point just above the ears, and then proceed in a straight line vertically from that place to the crown of my head, which is a site of intense and special energy. In my mind, send this energy up into the blue sky, beyond any clouds that are passing by, up towards the sun. Remember that humans get energy in the form of light and heat from the sun and moon just like plants and animals do. So, without doing anything, without consciously stretching or moving in any way, I can visualise or see with my inner eyes. The crown of my head is attracted irresistibly towards the sun or moon.’
Pause to truly experience this positive feeling and to say thank you. Take as long as you need.
- ‘Mind, please shift down the length of the tower of my spine, passing all the chakras or energy pools, to the bottom of the spine. Its smallest bones are located here; they are the only remains of our tails in the evolutionary stage when we were animals, but they are mostly redundant now. However, they are a good focal point to give my directions to. So, I must encourage my tail bones to point downwards towards the earth. The base chakra is located in this area, so I connect this energy into the earth. It is like plugging myself into the earth’s current, and appreciating that I am part of the earth, without which I could not exist. also. Plants put down their tap roots deep into the earth, and I can do the same. I can see my tap root as the continuation of my spine, down into the earth where my being is nurtured by soil and moisture. As I give and follow these instructions, I feel my feet making closer and wider contact with the earth or floor I am standing on. To avoid locking my knees when I stand, I must bounce slightly and feel a softness behind my knees. This will help my feet to increase their contact surface area with the earth.’
And breathe a little more deeply than usual, enjoying this sensation and being grateful for the life-giving energy of the earth. We sentient beings could not survive without it.
Pause to truly experience this positive feeling and to say thank you. Take as long as you need.
- ‘Mind, please now travel up and down the length of my spinal column: up to the crown and the warmth and light provided by the sun, and down to the tail bones, and the nutrients and moisture provided by the earth. As I move, I notice the chakras at the crown, between the eyes, at the throat, the heart, the navel and the tail bones. Notice that with this kind of inner attention, the awareness of my spine, its location, small changes that are occurring, increases, and I feel more grounded, stable, and at the same time taller, lengthened. If my eyes have been closed, now I will gently open them, and if not, I will close my inner eyes and open my physical eyes now. I look around, freely moving my neck, and I notice that my visual sense is keener and my view clearer.’
And breathe a little more deeply than usual, enjoying this sensation and being grateful for the life-giving energy of the sun, the earth, and your mind and spirit, which allow you to experience these pleasant and illuminating sensations.
Something to ponder on as you go back into your daily life:
All that composes this beautiful unique universe we inhabit, exists only because we can perceive it with the laser of our mind. It has no independent existence. It is our unique view which no-one else can access, so we can use it as the source of our being.
Please practise these 3 steps as often as you can until they become second nature to you.
Part 2: spiritual and physical integration in sitting
When I was a youngster in northern Britain, my father was a very strong calm influence in my life. One day, we were playing cricket during the leisurely lunchtime as we often did during school days, and listening to the radio at the same time. I can still remember those dark brown voices the BBC prided itself on, floating out into the perpetual sunshine of my child’s life. The smoothness of the cricket bat handle wound immaculately with cotton, the ‘chonk’ of the hard ball as it struck, the moving forward of my body to strike in a straight line as I had been taught, and the indestructible sound of words which totally changed the direction of my life.
‘It is hard to be born a human being, and harder still to encounter a Buddha. It would be like a blind sea turtle encountering a floating log with a hole in it and poking its head through.’
At the time, I had no idea what a ‘Buddha’ was, as I was born an Anglican Christian from strong Catholic heritage on both my maternal and paternal side. But I could deduce that this encounter was extremely rare, and I could imagine the sea turtle in a vast salty ocean, suddenly spotting the hole in the log on the surface, and then swimming furiously upwards towards it to pop its green neck through and view the sky first-hand.
My parents kept their religious views quiet, but my younger brother and I were very religious, always inspired and fascinated by my devout grandmother’s faith. He served as acolyte, assistant to the parish priest, and later became head choirboy of a famous boys church choir. Meanwhile I, slightly resentful that the role of women was to step back and support the holy men, stayed quietly kneeling in the pews, watching his progress. But I remember feeling so comfortable in the darkness of our local stone church, content to listen to Latin reverberating around the white marble altar and the swish of robes, and entranced by the candlelight and fragrant incense.
For several years after hearing about the zealous turtle, I remember waiting for a ‘Buddha’ to appear, though I still had no idea what it was, and I desperately wanted to be a holy figure wearing robes in order to serve this ‘Buddha.’
I will never forget the experiences of deep Christianity I had with my grandmother. We offered candles together to various saints, spent a great deal of time bowing, genuflecting and making the sign of the cross. She almost always had tears in her eyes once we set foot inside a church. As a young child, I found this quite worrying because she was always so jolly in everyday life. So, I remember asking her once why she was crying, and if she was sad. She looked down at me from her constant gaze at the crucifix and statue of Mother Mary and said, ‘These are tears of deep joy that God loves me and protects me, and that I am special to him. One day you will feel this deep joy if you show your gratitude and respect every moment of your life.’ I was very moved by this, crying myself, at which she swept me up into her arms with absolute delight and passion.
Then in my early teens, my inspirational grandmother with such pure faith died, and I knew she had chosen me to carry on her legacy of strong Christianity. However, when I came to practise on my own, Christian practices, especially of prayer and confession, felt wrong, seemed dark and rather negative to me. It was at this point that I realised that out of adoration and awe of my grandmother, I had wanted her approval and so practised willingly with her, but that I could not be sincere without her by my side. So, I made a conscious decision not to practise Christianity, and instead to explore other pathways and take my grandmother’s spirit along with me. I was sure she would approve.
As my faith exploration became more determined, and my intellectual wings became strong, I was so shocked to find out just how lacking in peace most Judeo-Christian sects were. They seemed consumed with rage and revenge, and were power-seeking above all, having been at war for hundreds of years since the Crusades in Europe, and still continuing to fight. For a long time I couldn’t understand why my grandmother seemed not be aware of this aspect of her deep faith, but later I did come to understand, as I also did her tearful joy.
Soon I entered the turbulent waters of relationships, and found that I easily became involved with angry and disturbed people, even though I felt little of those negative emotions myself. My transient partners like the crusaders were also lacking in what I considered pure faith and instead invested themselves in intellectual analysis and wholesale rejection of the invisible world. I was saddened by this incompatibility and longed to find my life partner and settle down to sharing the magic and joy of existence that my grandmother had lived out. Usually and as a result of these strong pre-requisites, my relationships were short-lived and filled with numbing drama.
It was during this time, while studying as a performing pianist and cellist at a national conservatoire in northern England, and very much influenced by the great Russian Romantic composers like Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsy and Skriabin, that I finally found the Buddha of turtle fame!
One day, as a respite from my hard physical practice schedule, which often ran to 10 hours a day as I was ambitious, I attended a lecture simply called ‘The Buddha Shyakamuni,’ which recounted his life and outlined the basic Mahayana systems of karma (cause and effect), Bodhichitta (focus on enlightenment) and Sunyatta (emptiness). I turned these exotic Sanskrit phrases round and round in my mouth with the sudden realisation that the Latin of my churchgoing childhood had been a mistake.
I was so impressed to at last actually encounter the Buddha and his breath-taking methods of becoming permanent, for the first time, and to have some basic understanding of what he stood for. In fact, I felt like the sea turtle itself, so thrilled to find the hole in the driftwood, and to take in the whole of the heavens in one dazzling vista. Coming down to earth a little, I also noted that I should start to prepare my robes of servitude.
After this, I instantly recognised that this was my pathway, so I took my beautiful grandmother’s spirit with me and started out on the way. Of course, the Buddhist path was somewhat at odds with my immersion in Russian Romanticism, but I believe it brought about some realisations I would not have otherwise had. One such realisation was that I temporarily lost my mind while working to learn the whole of the famous Rachmaninov piano concerto 2, as he himself had done while writing this magnificent tour de force.
The well-known musical themes permeating this work are sublime; I think they are filled with the joy, renunciation and devotional gratitude, of a hugely religious nature. But creating these themes took its toll on him and he became exhausted and seriously depressed for many years as a result. The physical and emotional demands of this work left their mark on my spirit too, which led me to eventually renounce Romantic music altogether and turn to early vocal music of the troubadours of Europe. Its simplicity centred me, allowing my Buddha nature to shine brightly once again. My new musical obsession also had its roots hidden in my ancestry, connected with my grandmother and the mystical Cathars. But that’s another tale for another occasion.
It was while I was recovering from this period of musical breakdown that I discovered the power of meditation as opposed to prayer. I spent increasingly longer periods of time meditating with various masters. This part of my pathway healed me and moved me on, and soon I became a meditation teacher myself and would work with others to help heal them.
I later discovered through the Nirvana teachings, the final teachings of the Buddha at the end of his long life, and towards the end of mine, that my distant ancestors were healers. So, I have carried that legacy forward by using healing hands and working with energy fields in my life here in Japan.
In the evening of my life, padding between the pagodas and sleek temple roofs, a million miles away from cricket bats and the BBC, I became a Buddhist priest serving the Buddha in my robes. There was incense and chanting, and my grandmother was clearly ecstatic. She did indeed detest the revenge and warring of her devoted Christian faith, but now in the Buddha’s spiritual world, she is in a land of complete peace and bright joy.
Then, one day, the turtle led me beyond all this. Having found Nirvana, by progressing through all these necessary elements in the pattern of my long life, I realised they were a means to an end. I kicked away these supports and found myself in complete oneness with all. Concepts are no longer needed, and I fully understand the enigmatic instruction, ‘if you see a Buddha on the road, kill him.’ Formlessness, the vague flux and flow of constantly changing sensory phenomena and energies, are the great blue ocean, and I am the turtle.