Monday, February 27, 2012

Divine Silence

The knowledge of God is received in divine silence.
-St John of the Cross

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Letting go of Aesthetic Attachment

At some point in life the world's beauty becomes enough. You don't need to photograph, paint or even remember it. It is enough. No record of it needs to be kept and you don't need someone to share it with or tell it to. When that happens — that letting go — you let go because you can.
- Toni Morrison, Tar Baby.

Many times in the past, my enjoyment of the beauty of the natural world, has been lessened by a nagging desire to paint it, or record it in some way, even where this is impracticable, for example while driving. This desire to record can stem from the good intention to share the experience with others, but it can also be a kind of attachment, a desire to hold on.

The realisation that you are the Self - the Self which is not different to the world - leads to a kind of detachment from the world and it's beauty. But this detachment is not a lazy neglect, nor a cold lack of love.

Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi likens love to sap flowing in a tree: if, through attachment, the sap sticks to one part of the tree, the whole tree dies.

Attachment, even aesthetic attachment, is not love; it is a kind of possessiveness and stagnation.  Love and Beauty (which are really one and the same) must be flowing (current) if they are to produce enjoyment.

The Self is a state of Bliss so inseparable from Love and Beauty, that it has no need to possess them. What you are, you no longer desire.

Beauty is Nature's coin, must not be hoarded, 
But must be current, and the good thereof 
Consists in mutual and partaken bliss.
- John Milton, Comus

In modern usage, the word current means 'contemporary', but at the time of Milton, I suspect it meant 'flowing'.

I am Eternal Bliss and Awareness
I am Shiva, I am Shiva.
- Sri Shankaracharya, Tad Niskala, 8th century.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Black Goddess

The Goddess Melancholia. An illustration by William Blake to a poem by Milton.
The word melancholia derives from the Greek melas, meaning 'dark' or 'black'. Here, perhaps, Blake is recalling the Goddess who, in India, is known as Shri Mahakali, the dark-bodied destroyer of evil.
Milton uses the word melancholy to signify a mood of poetic introspection, not a depressive state. Melancholia was one of the four "humours", or temperaments, of ancient Graeco-Roman medicine (the other three being: choleric, sanguin and phlegmatic).
According to Humourism, the well-being of the body and psyche depends on these four qualities being in balance.
The humours are akin to the concept of the gunas (energy channels) of yoga philosophy, and doshas of Ayurveda (traditional Indian medicine).

But hail thou Goddess, sage and holy,
Hail divinest Melancholy
Whose Saintly visage is too bright
To hit the Sense of human sight;
And therefore to our weaker view,
O'er laid with black, staid Wisdom's hue.
-Milton, Il Penseroso

Robert Eisenman

The American scholar and poet, Robert Eisenman, has uncovered a radically different view of the origins of Christianity. His study of the Dead Sea Scrolls, in particular, has revealed that the earliest Christian community, led by James the Just (probably the brother of Jesus), was suppressed and almost written out of history by a violent figure with close ties to the corrupt Romanised dynasty descended from King Herod. Eisenman and other scholars have identified this figure with St. Paul, writer of the book of Acts. Paul himself, in his letters, admits that he helped to murder the followers of Jesus, before his conversion experience on the road to Damascus, and that he was a boastful person who changed his ideas, chameleon-like, to ingratiate himself with those around him. 

A primary source, known as the Clementine literature, tells that James the Just was thrown down the steps of the Temple in Jerusalem by a violent assailant, attempting to murder him. James' attacker is referred to simply as 'the enemy', but the word 'Paul' is written in the margins of extant manuscripts. 

Over the years, Eisenman has been a tireless campaigner for the release of the Dead Sea Scrolls for international scholarly examination. He sees parallels between the political, religious and ethical stance of the Scrolls and that of James the brother of Jesus, whom he identifies as the scrolls' 'Teacher of Righteousness', and sees 'the Wicked Priest' and 'the Man of Lying' as two different adversaries of the scroll community, the Wicked Priest being the High Priest Ananus ben Ananus, James' executioner, and the Man of Lying, St. Paul.

James' community were Jews, based in Jerusalem, who recognised Jesus as a prophet. The group were referred to as 'The Poor', even by Paul himself, which suggests that they may have been identical with a Jewish Christian sect known as the Ebionites, known for their rejection of Paul as a corrupting apostate. The name 'Ebionite' means people observing a vow of poverty, in the sense that they rejected the materialism of the Romanised elite in Judea.

For Eisenman, the Jewish Messianic community who wrote the Scrolls, were part of a resistance movement to the corrupt, collaborating Herodians and their priesthood. They were marginalized by a Herodian named Saul (Paul of Tarsus/St. Paul) and the gentile Christians who followed him. This version of Christianity, as it later emerged from a gentile milieu as led by Paul, transformed the apocalyptic militancy of the Ebionite/Essene Zaddikim into a universalist peaceful doctrine. In this manner, Eisenman sees the doctrine of Christianity as largely the product of Pauline dialectic and apologetics. In so doing, Eisenman attempts to recover the authentic teaching of Jesus and/or James from the obscurity into which it seems to have been intentionally cast by resultant orthodoxy. As he puts it at the end of his book James the Brother of Jesus, once you have found the Historical James, you have found the historical Jesus, or alternatively, “who and whatever James was so too was Jesus”.

Paul as an Herodian

Hand in hand with these theories went Eisenman’s identification of Paul as a Herodian, based on the view that Paul's version of Judaism was so peculiar that, more than anything else, it seemed to represent the interests of the Herodian Dynasty both in Palestine and as it sought to extend its influence into Asia Minor and further East into Northern Syria and Mesopotamia. He covered this in a series of papers and books beginning in 1984 and found the proof of this in Paul’s own salutation (if authentic), at the end of his Letter to the Romans, where he sent his greetings to his “kinsman Herodion” (i. e., “the Littlest Herod”) and “all those in the Household of Aristobulus” (the putative son of Herod of Chalcis and the ultimate husband of the infamous Salome – in fact, their son was “the Littlest Herod”).
He also found it in Josephus’ picture of a curious member of the Herodian family, an individual he also calls “Saulos” who actually seemed to have many characteristics in common with “Paul” in New Testament portraiture. Not only was this “Saulos” involved in an appeal of sorts to “Caesar,” he was also involved in violent behaviour in Jerusalem (although on the surface, at a somewhat later time); and it was he who made the final report to Nero in Corinth about the Roman reverses in Jerusalem which resulted in the dispatch of his best general Vespasian from Britain.
Finally he found this in Paul’s own outlook, his philosophy of “winning“ or being a “Jew to the Jews, a Law-keeper to the Law-keeper and a Law-breaker to the Law-breaker” also expressed in I Corinthians 9:19–27. In his own identification of himself as of “the Tribe of Benjamin” (Romans11:1 and Philippians 3:5), a claim he might have felt Herodians, as Edomites, were making for themselves, and his founding “a Community where Greeks and Jews could live in harmony, etc.,” where there were “no foreign visitors,” as well as in the easy access he seems to have had to positions of power, and his own Roman citizenship.
To complete his arguments, Eisenman cites the matter of an unidentified “nephew” of Paul, seemingly the son of Paul’s sister, resident in Jerusalem (Cypros married to the Temple Treasurer Helcias? – see his genealogies at the end of The New Testament Code and James the Brother of Jesus) who has unfettered entrĂ©e to the Commander of the Roman garrison in the Tower of Antonia who, in turn, then saves him from “Nazirite oath-taking” “Zealot”-like Jewish extremists who take an oath “not to eat or drink till they have killed Paul” (Acts 23:12–4) — Eisenman identifies this individual as Julius Archelaus, the son of this Saulos’ sister by the name of Cypros above. Nor is this to say anything further about his Roman citizenship or his own philosophy of paying the Roman tax to Caesar and seemingly placing Roman Law above Jewish Law as an expression of “the Righteousness Commandment” of “loving your neighbor as yourself” in Romans 13:1–10.

Thomas Jefferson and Leo Tolstoy, are amongst other figures who have identified Paul as a corrupting influence on the teachings of Jesus. Some have gone so far as to regard Paul as one of the false prophets the appearance of which Jesus himself warned.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

To Find Yourself

To find yourself, think for yourself.
- Socrates

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Samuel Palmer on the Art of Etching

"The charm of etching is the glimmering through of the white paper even in the shadows; so that almost everything either sparkles, or suggests sparkle... those 1000 little luminous eyes which peer through a finished linear etching."

Palmer was the central figure of a group artists, influenced by William Blake, known as The Ancients. He was a friend and disciple of William Blake. Like Blake, Palmer had visionary experiences as a child. Contact with Blake reawakened this gift for the visionary, which was expressed in his paintings and etchings.
Since its rediscovery, the mystical, Blake-influenced work, he produced while living in Shoreham, Essex, has become a major influence on contemporary British artists.

Monday, February 06, 2012

The White Buffalo Calf Woman

Bronze statue of the White Buffalo Calf Woman, by Lee Leunig and Sherri Treeby

The White Buffalo Calf Woman is central to the spirituality and culture of the Lakota Sioux people. Lakota oral tradition relates that she appeared to them from the north as a beautiful young woman dressed in a brilliant white dress to give the tribe the sacred rituals which form the basis of their religion. She also took the form of a sacred white buffalo calf. When she left the tribe, she told them that she will come back in the future.

The medicine man Crow Dog explains her importance:
"This holy woman brought the sacred buffalo calf pipe to the Sioux. There could be no Indians without it. Before she came, people didn't know how to live. They knew nothing. The Buffalo Woman put her sacred mind into their minds."

Perhaps the sacred pipe (chanunpa) represents the tube-like shushumna nadi, the central channel of the subtle body, through which the Kundalini, passes like smoke. She explained to them that it represented the living breath of the Great Spirit.
The pipe, is the holiest ritual object of the Lakota, and was traditionally loaded with a mixture of sweet smelling herbs, roots, leaves and barks, of which tobacco was only one ingredient. The smoke was not inhaled, and the use of the pipe was reserved only for very special occasions. It was in no way habitual nicotine abuse.