Monday, December 17, 2012

The Strangeness of Self

"…if you think you know yourself, you haven’t looked far enough —- into that distance where your strangeness is. You hold more than you know, and that is how knowing opens."
-Heather McHugh
Heather McHugh, ia an American poet, translator, and educator

The Self can seem strange to the artist because the artist seeks originality, to say something that has never been said before. When the Self speaks through the poet, it is as if the poet is hearing his own language for the first time. j.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Saul Williams

You will sit in darkness,
Swallowed by silence,
Until the angel of solitude
Ignites your spine.

-Saul Williams

Saul Stacey Williams (born February 29, 1972) is an American singer, musician, poet, writer, and actor.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Inner Noise

The problem with listening, of course, is that we don’t. There’s too much noise going on in our heads, so we never hear anything. The inner conversation simply never stops. It can be our voice or whatever voices we want to supply, but it’s a constant racket. In the same way we don’t see, and in the same way we don’t feel, we don’t touch, we don’t taste.

Philip Glass, Listening to Philip Glass

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Why Does the World Exist?

In his book Why Does the World Exist?, Jim Holt explores the ideas of the great 17th-century philosopher Baruch Spinoza. 
“Of all the possible resolutions to the mystery of existence,” Holt writes, “perhaps the most exhilarating would be the discovery that, contrary to all appearances, the world is causa sui: the cause of itself.” For Spinoza, all mental and physical existents were temporally modified expressions of a single substance, an infinite substance that he called God or Nature. Albert Einstein embraced Spinoza’s idea that the world was divine and self-causing, as more recently have other “metaphysically inclined physicists” like Sir Roger Penrose and the late John Archibald Wheeler.

read more: the american scholar
According to Advaita (Non-dual) philosophy, the Self and the world are one. The Self is uncreated, ever existing, and the cause of itself. 

Because the world is inseparable from the Self, it too is uncreated, ever existing and the cause of itself.

Monday, November 19, 2012

There is nothing else but the Self

The beginning, the end, the manifest and the hidden.
The seer and the listener, all is Him,
He is in everything yet He is beyond,
there is nothing else, everything is Him;
abandon the duality of me and you,
see one, there aren't two at all,
understand this and disappear in it;
when you are not, then truly He is.

- Hazarat Ali

Hazarat Ali was the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad. Sufis identify him as the founder of their strain of Islam. For his courage, wisdom and compassion he is revered by Muslims (the Alawis even consider him to be an incarnation of the Divine), and he has also been greatly praised by Western scholars since the 18th century. The poet Kahlil Gibran wrote of Ali:

"In my view, ʿAlī was the first Arab to have contact with and converse with the universal soul. He died a martyr of his greatness, he died while prayer was between his two lips. The Arabs did not realise his value until appeared among their Persian neighbors some who knew the difference between gems and gravels."

The Prophet, Ali, Husayn and Hasan in Paradise, public domain image from wikimedia commons.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Changadeva Pasashti

To become one with the Self,
surrender all impulses of the mind.
Then you will know the sleep beyond sleeping, 
the wakefulness beyond waking.

-Shri Jnaneshwara, Chângadeva Pâsashtî

This statue, garlanded with marigolds, depicts the Hindu deity Shri Vishnu with half opened eyes, awakening from, or entering, cosmic sleep. Budhanilkantha Temple, Nepal.

Sunday, October 21, 2012


Several years ago I visited the spectacular Royal Palace in Mysore, South India.
The city's name is derived from that of Mahisha, the asura (demon) king who ruled there thousands of years ago, according to legend. 
One would think that, because of this, the area might not be very auspicious, but the goddess Shri Durga  is said to have trodden that ground also, when she defeated Mahisha, gaining Her the name Mahishasuramardini (destroyer of the asura Mahisha). On a hill near the city there is a famous temple to Her in the form of Shri Chamundeshwari, the destroyer of the demons Chanda and Munda.
This mural in the palace depicts a puja (ceremony of propitiation) to the Goddess Durga/Mahishasuramardini being performed by the Maharajas of Mysore, for whom the fiercely protective Mother Goddess is the traditional family deity.

Throne Room, Mysore Palace.

Saturday, October 06, 2012


“Most people have no imagination. If they could imagine the sufferings of others, they would not make them suffer so.”

- Anna Funder, All That I Am.

I've just finished reading Anna Funder's brilliantly researched novel: All That I Am, which traces the lives of a group of anti-Hitler activists in exile who gradually become aware that they are not beyond the reach of Nazi cruelty. The book suggests that the sufferings imposed by Hitler's regime were due to a vast and tragic failure of the human imagination. The watercolours Hitler produced whilst attempting an art career are evidence of this.

The line I've quoted from Funder's novel led me to contemplate the art of imagining, and the act of putting oneself in the shoes of another person. 
With that in the back of my mind, I began searching for another book to read, I randomly picked up an autobiography of the poet William B Yeats, The Unicorn, W. B. Yeats' Search for Reality, by Virginia Moore. I dipped into the book, also at random, and by strange coincidence, on the page I opened, the word 'imagination' appeared several times. Moore was exploring William Blake's influence on the philosophy and work of Yeats, specifically Blake's championing of the quality of Imagination (he was fond of capitalising abstract nouns, probably to lend importance to, or to personify, the qualities they signify).
Blake saw Imagination not as a silly realm of fictive irrelevance, but as something vital to the very existence of human beings, a divine gift awakened by Jesus in particular. He saw the growing rationalism of the European mind as a force smothering the capacity for imagination.

From the perspective of yoga, with its system of chakras, as elucidated by Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi, imagination is a quality of the Agnya Chakra (or brow centre), opened on a cosmic level by Jesus. This is not to say that only Christians are capable of empathy; in fact Europe, the seat of Christendom, has seen some of the worst persecutions of the 'other' in the history of the world.

At the Sahasrara Chakra (or crown centre), which is the next step in the evolution of consciousness, the universal Self is realised. After Self-realisation, a person not only can imagine themselves in the situation of another person; they actually share Selfhood with that person, transcending the duality of 'me' and 'other' in a single cosmic Self. Imagination becomes Reality.

"The imagination is not a state: it is the human existence itself."
-William Blake

Monday, September 24, 2012

Reincarnation and Judaism

I was surprised to discover recently that belief in reincarnation has been a part of Judaism for centuries, particularly within the Hasidic community. The Hasidic tzadiks (righteous teachers) were believed to know the past lives of people.
The first-century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus states that the Pharisees, the founders of rabbinic Judaism, believed in reincarnation.

All pure and holy spirits live on in heavenly places, and in course of time they are again sent down to inhabit righteous bodies.
- Josephus

One wonders why there is so much resistance to the idea of transmigration in Christianity, especially when there are hints at it in the New Testament: eg Christ's reference to John the Baptist as the prophet Elijah returned. Also, when asked why  a man was born blind, Jesus explained that it was not a consequence of sins the man committed in his present life, nor  of any sins of his parents; instead the suggestion is that his condition was due to acts committed in a previous life.
Certainly there were prominent theologians in the early Christian Church, such as Origen, who considered the transmigration of souls as an integral part of dogma.

From the viewpoint of the Self, belief in reincarnation is of little consequence, since for the Self there is no incarnation, or reincarnation, as individual, discrete, transmigrating 'souls'. Self is all-pervading, co-extensive with time and space, and therefore concepts of incarnation and reincarnation are meaningless.
From the human perspective, however, the idea that we have only one life to live has consequences for the way we live life. On the positive side, people in Western societies, that have developed under the influence of the Christian churches, can be motivated to live life to the fullest; while the drawback can be an attitude of impatience and even desperation to get the most out of life, also a lack of acceptance of what life throws in our way, possibly as a result of karma.
If you look at the history of spirituality, belief in reincarnation is almost universal, except within Christianity. Even in Islam, the Sufis and Ismailis have often accepted it.

It (the Self) is not born, and It does not die; nor is it ever that this One having been nonexistent becomes existent again. This One is birthless, eternal, undecaying, ancient; It is not killed when the body is killed.
-Bhagavad Gita

The Bhagavd Gita is a core text of Hinduism. It does not refute reincarnation as such, but merely points out that the Self, the ultimate reality, is not subjected to rebirth and karma.

As we live through thousands of dreams in our present life, so is 
our present life only one of many thousands of such lives which we enter from the other more real life and then return after death. Our life is but one of the dreams of that more real life, and so it is endlessly, until the very last one, the very real the life of God.
- Leo Tolstoy

There is no death. How can there be death if everything is part of the Godhead?
The soul never dies and the body is never really alive.

- Isaac Bashevis Singer, Stories from Behind the Stove

Thursday, September 06, 2012

To disregard what appears to be the self

This is love: to fly toward a secret sky,
to cause a hundred veils to fall each moment.

First, to let go of life.
In the end, to take a step without feet;
to regard this world as invisible,
and to disregard what appears to be the self.

Heart, I said, what a gift it has been
to enter this circle of lovers,
to see beyond seeing itself,
to reach and feel within the breast.

- Rumi,
The Divani Shamsi Tabriz, XIII

Indian miniature painting, Bhairavi Rangini

A poem by Vaclav Havel

It is I Who Must Begin

It is I who must begin.
Once I begin, once I try --
here and now,
right where I am,
not excusing myself
by saying things
would be easier elsewhere,
without grand speeches and
ostentatious gestures,
but all the more persistently
-- to live in harmony
with the "voice of Being," as I
understand it within myself
-- as soon as I begin that,
I suddenly discover,
to my surprise, that
I am neither the only one,
nor the first,
nor the most important one
to have set out
upon that road.

Whether all is really lost
or not depends entirely on
whether or not I am lost.

by Vaclav Havel
from Teaching With Fire

Friday, August 31, 2012

Steve Jobs on Meditation

“If you just sit and observe, you will see how restless your mind is,” Jobs told his biographer, Walter Isaacson. “If you try to calm it, it only makes it worse, but over time it does calm, and when it does, there’s room to hear more subtle things, that’s when your intuition starts to blossom and you start to see things more clearly and be in the present more. Your mind just slows down, and you see a tremendous expanse in the moment. You see so much more than you could see before. It’s a discipline; you have to practise it.”
-Steve Jobs CEO of Apple.
Steve Jobs in his Zen apartment

Jobs was a practitioner of Zen Buddhism. He took it up seriously, not just as a passing fad. Buddhism is part of the philosophical tradition of non-duality, and this may have influenced Jobs to converge different technologies and media into a single simple device. Being half-Syrian probably gave him a sense of being the convergence of two worlds. 
The Zen aesthetic is certainly there in the design of Apple products.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Boundless Self

"Self is a sea boundless and measureless."
-Kahlil Gibran

Friday, August 24, 2012

Carl Jung on Self-realisation

"It is most important that you should be born; 
you ought to come into this world 
otherwise you cannot realise the Self 
and the purpose of this world has been missed."
- Carl Jung, 1932, lecture on The Psychology of Kundalini Yoga

Still from the film Baraka.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Finding Yourself in India

One often hears people talk about so-and-so "going to India to find themselves". Most of the time this phrase is said in a disparaging way, and sometimes this suspicion can be justified. 
But actually, the Self does not reside particularly in any place, and not especially in India. Also the Self cannot be found, because it cannot be lost. The Self is who you are, and you cannot cease to be the Self, even if the body dies. 
And when we talk about finding the Self, we are really talking about losing the ego, getting rid of the illusion that we are not the Universal Self; and India is a great place to do that (I can say that from personal experience); but not the only place, by any means.
In India, especially in rural communities, people have not developed the ego to the extent we have in the West. There may be other problems there, but that's a different story. And when you are there, this lack of ego rubs off on to you.
Ego emerged in human beings as part of the self-preservation instinct - if there is something that seems to be threatened, there is a greater motivation to escape from danger or suffering. But that "something" is really just a by-product of body consciousness, and is not the Self. The Self cannot be threatened.
In India, in the past, the weather was mild and the natural environment was fruitful, which meant that there was much less of a struggle for a human being to keep body and soul together, or compete with others. Strong communalism in villages, helped give this sense of security. 
Things are perhaps not so good nowadays, with deforestation changing micro-climates and making it harder to live off the land; also people are increasingly moving to big anonymous cities where the extended sense of self as community is eroded.
India also has some very sacred places where, in a sense, you could say that the awareness of Self is 'concentrated' in those places.
And of course, the legacy of many saints and Incarnations is also to be felt there.

Village dance in Orissa, India.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Mental Silence Study

Meditation has two distinct meanings. One meaning of meditation refers to a psychological centering device such as mantra recitation, focus on the breath, mindfulness, or a visual focus. Psychological centering devices help one feel more relaxed and centered. The other meaning of meditation is the experience of complete mental silence. Traditionally, the purpose of centering devices is to achieve complete mental silence. Although the dual meanings of meditation have been documented since at least 1977, most studies involving meditation focus on centering devices and ignore the question of whether participants experience complete mental silence.
Remarkably, the experience of complete mental silence is practically unstudied in psychology. I believe that the experience of mental silence is more common than reference works on positive psychology suggest.
-Joshua Pritikin

I recently participated in Joshua's survey on the subjective passage of time and mental silence. I found it thought provoking and enjoyed going through it. You might enjoy it too. Take a look: 

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Source of Joy

Man in his search of joy and happiness is running away from his Self, which is the real source of joy.
-Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Hadewijch of Brabant

You who want
seek the Oneness

There you
will find
the clear mirror
already waiting.

Hadewijch of Brabant was a 13th century visionary, poet and mystic. I had never heard of her until she was mentioned on one of the blogs I follow, and I decided to see if I could find any of her poetry on the net. This is all I have come up with so far.
The Duchy of Brabant was a territory now divided in half between Belgium and The Netherlands; countries which did not exist at the time of Hadewijch.
A film called Hadewijch was made in 2009 but it has no relation to the historical figure.

From the Wikipedia entry:
She must have come from a wealthy family: she had a wide knowledge of literature and theological treatises in several languages, including Latin and French, in a time when studying was a luxury only exceptionally granted to women. She is considered to be a precursor to the mystic and theologian Jan van Ruusbroec, who developed many of her ideas, but in a more theologic-systematic way.

Saturday, August 04, 2012


Akbar The Great (1556-1561) was a Self-realised Mughal Emperor who combined strong leadership with wisdom and spirituality. At the end of his reign in 1605 the Mughal empire covered most of northern and central India, a region of diverse religious traditions. He is most appreciated for having a liberal, syncretist attitude to all faiths. During his reign, culture and art in the Subcontinent experienced a great flowering.
He convened gatherings of mystics, theologians and learned courtiers to discuss aspects of religion and spirituality, with the aim of uniting the various faiths of his subjects, including Islam (both Sunni and Shia), Hinduism, Jainism, Judaism and Christianity. One such meeting is shown in the Hindi film about his life and marriage: Jodhaa Akbar
Though born into a Muslim dynasty, he made a marriage alliance with a Hindu Rajput princess. According to the film, her name was Jodha or Jodhabai (though some historians debate this). Akbar allowed her to practise her religion freely and would not tolerate any religious prejudice against her from his Muslim relatives and advisers. 
During his reign, people were ennobled and promoted to administrative positions, according to merit, regardless of their faith. This policy of pluralism and tolerance contributed greatly to the strength and stability of the Mughal empire.

Friday, July 13, 2012


"Gnana means that you must know yourself. 
If you do not know yourself, you do not know anything. 
So it comes to that - 
you must get your Self-realization. 
You must know your Self.”

-Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi

The Sanskrit word gnana (also spelled gnyanajnana, jnyana) is translatable to English 'knowledge' and Greek gnosis. The 'k' in knowledge was not silent in Old English, and so the three words, in different languages all start with a similar sound. 
Gnyana, has the added dimension of meaning: knowledge of the Self, and is used in a number of different Indian religions. The idea of jnana centers around a cognitive event which is recognized when experienced. It is knowledge inseparable from the total experience of reality, especially a total reality, or supreme being.
In the Vedas, the most ancient scriptures of India, Gnyana means true knowledge, that jiva (one's individual self or soul) is identical with Brahman (universal Self, ultimate reality). Real knowledge leads to knowledge of Brahman, while false or speculative knowledge diverts one from knowledge of Brahman.

Monday, July 02, 2012


Socrates was an incarnation of the guru/teacher aspect of the Divine. A primordial master who returns again and again to guide humanity in various times and places. His own guru was a woman called Diotima, a seer or priestess, who, he said, taught him the philosophy of love.
In her view, love is a means of ascent to contemplation of the Divine. For Diotima, the most correct use of love of other human beings is to direct one's mind to love of Divinity. With genuine Platonic love, the beautiful or lovely other person inspires the mind and the soul and directs one's attention to spiritual things. One proceeds from recognition of another's beauty, to appreciation of Beauty as it exists apart from any individual, to consideration of Divinity, the source of Beauty, to love of Divinity.

Diotima, guru of Socrates.

The Oracle at Delphi declared that  no man was wiser than Socrates, but he maintained that he had no wisdom of his own. He interpreted the judgment of the Oracle to mean that only the Divine is wise. Being the wisest among men was simply to recognise that the individual ego is nothing in comparison with Divine Wisdom.
He continually exhorted the people of Athens to seek truth within, and not to accept everything taught by religion, including the mythical stories about the gods, many of which attributed human failings to the Divine (for example the supposed infidelities of Zeus). For this he was eventually accused of challenging accepted religious views, and corrupting the youth. 
In his speech in defence of his actions (The Apologia) Socrates stated that his way of self-knowledge had offended the vanity of the politically influential men who had accused him.
He addressed the court thus:

"Men of Athens, I honor and love you; but I shall obey the god rather than you; and while I have life and strength I shall never cease from the practice and teaching of philosophy, exhorting . . . [and] persuading you all, old and young alike, not to take thought for your persons or your properties, but first and chiefly to care about the greatest improvement of the soul. I tell you that virtue is not given by money, but that from virtue comes money and every other good of man, public as well as private. This is my teaching, and if this is the doctrine which corrupts the young, I am a mischievous person."

Socrates taught that virtue is sufficient in itself for happiness, and that it is not possible to learn anything unless one leads a virtuous life.
According to Plato, he also had a mystical side, discussing reincarnation and concepts such as the Sea of Beauty

From Wikipedia:
The Sea of Beauty is one of many analogies and similes employed to describe a high vision of reality. Some writers have employed this term upon having arrived at the most mature, the farthest, and the highest stages of the philosophical or mystical search. It is described variously as the Beatific VisionenlightenmentnirvanasatoriKenshoBodhi, awareness, true knowledge, etc.

Those who claim to have had such a high and final vision sometimes report that reality is, at its deepest level, utterly unified, like a vast ocean, and that it is unutterably beautiful, or rather, source of all beauty. Such likenesses are drawn many places, including the mystical poetry of Sufi Jalal'udin Rumi and the writings of Plato.
Rumi, in this unidentified excerpt, writes:
"The shop of Oneness,
The Ocean that has many harbours,
Yet where there is no division
Between man and man, or woman,
But only a unity of souls
In the process of return to their Creator,
Whose breath lives inside each one
An helps to guide us home."
Plato, in his Plato's Symposium (210d-e) writes (in the character of the priestess Diotima):
The result is that he will see the beauty of knowledge... the lover is turned to the great sea of beauty, and gazing upon this, he gives birth to many gloriously beautiful ideas and theories, in unstinting love of wisdom, until, having grown and been strengthened there, he catches sight of such knowledge, and it is the knowledge of such beauty... ... The man ... who has beheld beautiful things in the right order and correctly, is now coming to the goal of Loving: all of a sudden he will catch sight of something wonderfully beautiful in its nature; that, Socrates, is the reason for all his earlier labors."

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Auspicious Sign

The swastika (Sanskrit "auspicious sign") is an ancient symbol which existed for thousands of years before its use by Nazi Germany. Carved swastikas, about 12 000 years old, have been discovered in Ukraine. It appears in cultures all over the world, and often, as is the case with this Amerindian sand painting, there appears to be no way of explaining this in terms of intercultural influence. It suggests that the sign is somehow hard-wired into the collective psyche of mankind.
Though stigmatised in the West because of its adoption by fascist political parties, in the East the swastika continues to be very popular and widely used, and is a religious symbol of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. The Nazi swastika is banned in Germany, however, it is legal to use the sign in a religious context.
For religions originating in India it is a sign of auspiciousness. Its four arms are symbolic of the four petals of the Mooladhara Chakra, the energy centre which forms the base of the subtle body. The Mooladhara is the abode of the qualities of innocence and wisdom in a person. In Hinduism, the Swastika represents Shri Ganesha, the elephant-headed aspect of the Divine who resides in the Mooladhara.
The Nazis used a black swastika and rotated it into an unstable diamond shape. The traditional Hindu swastika is drawn, with auspicious red paste, in a stable square shape.

Auspicious clockwise swastika
in stable square orientation

The reverse (anticlockwise) swastika is usually considered inauspicious in India. This form originated in pre-Buddhist Tibet, but was incorporated into Tibetan Buddhism, which spread it to China and Japan.

Elephant statue with swastika, Carlsberg building, Denmark, dating from pre-fascist times.

Thursday, June 21, 2012


Dear readers
I accidentally posted a bit of text from a book study totally unrelated to this blog. Sorry for that.
It's easy to do when you have multiple blogs on your Blogger dashboard.

Advaita metaphor

The sea whipped up by a storm.
The hundred thousand waves are each unique, but they are all water.

Shri Nanaka

Guru Nanak, founder of the Sikh religion, dedicated his life to dissolving the man-made differences between Hindus and Muslims. By teaching a form of Advaita (non-dualism) he showed that Hinduism is not, in essence, incompatible with the basic tenet of the monotheistic religions - the unity of the Divine. 

"That which is inside a person, the same is outside; nothing else exists; by divine prompting look upon all existence as one and undifferentiated;"
-Guru Granth Sahib

Guru Nanak and his companions once visited Mecca. An official was angered to discover them sleeping with their feet towards the Ka'ba, the sacred shrine. As they were dragged away, the Ka'ba appeared to move too.
Guru Nanak told him: "God does not live in one place. He lives everywhere."
The Sikh view is that spirit and matter are not antagonistic. Guru Nanak declared that the Spirit/Self is the only reality and matter is only a form of Spirit/Self.

"When I saw truly, I knew that all was primeval. Nanak (the person), the subtle (spirit) and the gross (material) are, in fact, identical."

Nanaka is an incarnation of Shri Adi Guru Dattatreya, the teacher/guru aspect of the Divine.
The Primordial Guru is associated with the ocean. As the ocean gradually wears away the rocks of the shore, so the teacher gradually wears away our ego and conditionings.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Shakti Shekhinah Sakinah

In all the major religious traditions there is, or was, the concept of a feminine manifestation or Presence of God.

Shakti from Sanskrit shak – "to be able", meaning sacred force or empowerment – is the primordial cosmic energy and represents the dynamic forces that are thought to move through the entire universe in Hinduism. Shakti is the concept, or personification, of divine feminine creative power, sometimes referred to as 'The Great Divine Mother' in Hinduism. On the earthly plane, Shakti most actively manifests through female embodiment and creativity/fertility, though it is also present in males in its potential, unmanifest form.

Not only is the Shakti responsible for creation, it is also the agent of all change. Shakti is cosmic existence as well as liberation, its most significant form being the Kundalini Shakti, a mysterious psychospiritual force. Shakti exists in a state of svatantrya, dependence on no-one, being interdependent with the entire universe.

In Shaktism, Shakti is worshipped as the Supreme Being. However, in other Hindu traditions of Shaivism and Vaishnavism, Shakti embodies the active feminine energy Prakriti of Purusha, who is Vishnu in Vaishnavism or Shiva in Shaivism. Vishnu's female counterpart is called Lakshmi, with Parvati being the female half of Shiva.
-Source Wikipedia

The feminine, creative, transformative Presence of God is called Shekhinah in Judaism. Shekhinah is associated with the Throne of God and the holiest precinct of the Temple. She is said to reside within the Ark of of the Covenant. As a Pillar of Cloud by day, and a Pillar of Fire by night, the Presence of God, the glorious Shekhinah, guided the people of Israel.

Shekhinah is a feminine noun in Hebrew and derives from a word meaning 'dwelling', while the Hindu Shakti means 'power'; however, it may not be a coincidence that the two words are similar, both referring to the feminine power or manifest presence of the Divine.
In the Talmud, Shekhinah is the power which caused the prophets to prophesy and King David to compose his Psalms. 

"The Shekhinah does not rest amidst laziness, nor amidst laughter, nor amidst lightheadedness, nor amidst idle conversation. Rather, it is amidst the joy associated with a mitzvah that the Shekhinah comes to rest upon people, as it is said: 'And now, bring me for a musician, and it happened that when the music played, God's hand rested upon him' [Elisha]"

There is a tradition of the Shekhinah as the Sabbath Bride. This recurrent theme is best known from the writings and songs of the legendary mystic of the 16th century, Rabbi Isaac Luria. Here is a quotation from the beginning of his famous shabbat hymn:

"I sing in hymns to enter the gates of the Field of holy apples. A new table we prepare for Her, a lovely candelabrum sheds its light upon us. Between right and left the Bride approaches, in holy jewels and festive garments..."

A paragraph in the Zohar starts: "One must prepare a comfortable seat with several cushions and embroidered covers, from all that is found in the house, like one who prepares a canopy for a bride. For the Shabbat is a queen and a bride. This is why the masters of the Mishna used to go out on the eve of Shabbat to receive her on the road, and used to say: 'Come, O bride, come, O bride!' And one must sing and rejoice at the table in her honor ... one must receive the Lady with many lighted candles, many enjoyments, beautiful clothes, and a house embellished with many fine appointments ..."

In Christianity, the inspirational powers of the Shekhinah have been absorbed into the figure of the Holy Spirit.

The Islamic form of Shekhina, is Sakinah, and is associated with the quality of Divine Tranquility. Sakinah is mentioned several times in the Koran.

According to Ali, nephew of the Prophet Muhammad, "Sakinah is a sweet breeze, whose face is like the face of a human".
Ali's son Hussein, named one of his daughters Sakinah. The name has now become popular in Islamic countries.

Saturday, May 26, 2012


"There is no such thing as the subject that thinks or entertains ideas."
-Wittgenstein, Tractatus 5.63I

"There really is only one world soul, which I for preference call my soul..."
-Wittgenstein, Notebooks 1914-1916

Friday, May 18, 2012

Stop Thinking

Another great quote on thoughtless awareness:

“Stop thinking, and end your problems.
What difference between yes and no?
What difference between success and failure?
Must you value what others value,
avoid what others avoid?
How ridiculous!

Other people are excited,
as though they were at a parade.
I alone don't care,
I alone am expressionless,
like an infant before it can smile.

Other people have what they need;
I alone possess nothing.
I alone drift about,
like someone without a home.
I am like an idiot, my mind is so empty.

Other people are bright;
I alone am dark.
Other people are sharp;
I alone am dull.
Other people have purpose;
I alone don't know.
I drift like a wave on the ocean,
I blow as aimless as the wind.

I am different from ordinary people.
I drink from the Great Mother's breasts.” 
 Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Don't Think

"Don't think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It's self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can't try to do things. You simply must do things."
- Ray Bradbury, Writer

Most of us have heard elite sportspeople talk about being "in the zone" when they are performing at their best. They usually mean an effortless state in which their mind is free of distracting thought, where they are in the present moment, where nothing else intrudes, not even themselves.
The painter Claude Monet said that he tried not to think while he was painting - just to see.
While we can easily understand that the idea of doing things in a state of thoughtless awareness works for physical activities (which painting could be classified under), it's harder to imagine this being possible for writers. 
To all you writers out there, all I would say is: try it; see if it works.
Naturally, the making of great books - like anything else - also requires years of hard work, practise and training, as Ray Bradbury would be the first to point out. "The Zone" does not make itself available to the lazy.

Thanks to Mark for suggesting this post.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Happy Birthday Sophie Scholl

“I know that life is a doorway to eternity, and yet my heart so often gets lost in petty anxieties.
It forgets the great way home that lies before it.” 

“The sun still shines.”
(Last words spoken before her execution).

“Stand up for what you believe in even if you are standing alone” 

“Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just don't dare express themselves as we did.”

-Sophie Scholl


"I think continually of those who were truly great.
Who, from the womb, remembered the soul’s history
Through corridors of light where the hours are suns
Endless and singing.
…The names of those who in their lives fought for life
Who wore at their hearts the fire’s centre.
Born of the sun they travelled a short while towards the sun,
And left the vivid air signed with their honour."

— “I Think Continually”, Stephen Spender.

Monday, March 26, 2012


'Religions are in the end too complex, wise and fascinating to be abandoned simply to those who happen actually to believe in them'. 
- Alain de Botton

Although describing himself as an atheist, the Swiss British philosopher Alain de Botton talks about the 'deep self' - the self which transcends the everyday needs for material sustenance, and the chatter generated by superficial social interactions.
He has identified several important functions, common to the world religions, which help us to stay in contact with this deep self, and become more human. These include: educational principles unique to religious movements, religious art and culture, collectivity, the setting aside of time for contemplation.

While he shares the modern suspicion of ritual and religious indoctrination, he recognises that there are positive aspects to religious rituals, for example, the combination of aesthetic and moral principles in the Buddhist tea ceremony; art and code of conduct each reinforcing the other. He sees scheduled religious rituals and festivals as a way of repeating and reaffirming valuable life lessons, to combat the innate forgetfulness and lack of willpower the vast majority of us suffer from, our immersion in the mundane.

Crucial scene from the film Red Cliff in which the beautiful noblewoman Xiao Qiao delays and instructs an arrogant and ruthlessly destructive warlord through a tea ceremony, and so helps to bring about his defeat.

While religion is not everyone's cup of tea, anyone who has studied architecture would have to admit that it has produced some of the most beautiful buildings in the world. I had little interest in Islamic culture and religion, until I visited the Alhambra palace and gardens in Spain, many years ago. One building convinced me that I was missing out on something. Not that I converted to Islam, but I saw immediately that aesthetic subtlety of that degree is based on something true and worthwhile.
I had similar experiences at the Acropolis in Athens, and at Chartres Cathedral in France.
I see it as a sign that a religion is going off - becoming a corporation rather than a source of spiritual renewal - when it starts to build ugly buildings. As de Botton points out, this is not a superficial attitude; it's not judging a book by its cover. A lack of aesthetic awareness is usually a sign of simplistic or prejudiced thinking.
What springs to mind are photos I have seen of hideous concrete blocks housing the administrative headquarters of certain religions, towering disrespectfully over their own most sacred shrines.