Tag Archives: ego

The Tibetan Book of the Dead

This has been on my list of mystical books to read for quite a long time. A couple years ago, I found a copy at a garage sale and bought it. Of course, I felt guilty every time I saw it unread upon the shelf. But I finally got around to reading it, and probably right when I needed to.

This particular copy includes a large amount of introductory text. Usually, I skip introductions, but the commentaries here were very enlightening and I’m glad I read them, particularly Carl Jung’s introduction to the text.

Before embarking upon the psychological commentary, I should like to say a few words about the text itself. The Tibetan Book of the Dead, or the Bardo Thödol, is a book of instructions for the dead and dying. Like The Egyptian Book of the Dead, it is meant to be a guide for the dead man during the period of his Bardo existence, symbolically described as an intermediate state of forty-nine days’ duration between death and rebirth. The text falls into three parts. The first part, called Chikhai Bardo, describes the psychic happenings at the moment of death. The second part, or Chönyid Bardo, deals with the dream-state which supervenes immediately after death, and with what are called ‘karmic illusions’. The third part, or Sidpa Bardo, concerns the onset of the birth-instinct and of prenatal events.

 (p. xxxv – xxxvi)

Because the book deals primarily with what happens to one’s consciousness after death, the text is understandably highly symbolic. As Lama Govinda points out in his introductory section, whenever the subconscious is being explored, it must be approached through the use of symbols.

If, through some trick of nature, the gates of an individual’s subconsciousness were suddenly to spring open, the unprepared mind would be overwhelmed and crushed. Therefore, the gates of the subconscious are guarded, by all initiates, and hidden behind the veil of mysteries and symbols.

(p. liii)

Lama Govinda then points out a common misconception regarding the Bardo Thödol. Many people may assume that the text is a set of instructions solely intended for the dead or dying. But this is not the only purpose. For people pursuing a spiritual path, there comes a time when they must symbolically die, essentially killing their former selves so that they can be reborn as an enlightened being.

Such misunderstanding could only have arisen among those who do not know that it is one of the oldest and most universal practices for the initiate to go through the experience of death before he can be spiritually reborn. Symbolically he must die to his past, to his old ego, before he can take his place in the new spiritual life into which he has been initiated.

(p. lix – lx)

During the 49-day period in which a person’s consciousness is in the Bardo, the individual experiences numerous visions. The text is very clear that these visions are nothing but illusion. The goal, then, is to recognize that what we perceive, in this reality as well as in the Bardo, is illusory by nature. Once we recognize that what we sense is illusion, our consciousness becomes free.

The whole aim of the Bardo Thödol teaching, as otherwise stated elsewhere, is to cause the Dreamer to awaken into Reality, freed from all the obscurations of karmic or sangsāric illusions, in a supramundane or Nirvānic state, beyond all phenomenal paradises, heavens, hells purgatories, or worlds of embodiment.

(p. 35)

The text offers a great prayer which should be used when facing the terrifying visions associated with the Bardo state.

Alas! when the Uncertain Experiencing of Reality is dawning upon me here,
With every thought of fear or terror or awe for all [apparitional appearances] set aside,
May I recognize whatever [visions] appear, as the reflections of mine own consciousness;
May I know them to be of the nature of apparitions in the Bardo:
When at this all-important moment [of opportunity]of achieving a great end,
I may not fear the bands of Peaceful and Wrathful [Deities], mine own thought-forms.

(p. 103)

Fear is a manifestation of our thoughts. While some fears may be justified, the fact remains that fear is pure thought, which then triggers a physical response to the mental visions. This is something that is carried on with us to the next stage of existence. When our consciousness moves to the next plane, it brings with it the capacity to generate fearful images which can then paralyze the progress of the spirit.

O nobly-born, whatever fearful and terrifying visions thou mayst see, recognize them to be thine own thought-forms.

(p. 147)

I realize that I have barely scratched the surface of this symbolically rich and complex text. But hopefully I encouraged you to read it yourself and explore the wisdom woven into the book. I suspect that this is something I will read again in the future.

Cheers!

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“Be Here Now” by Ram Dass

Several months ago, I went to see the film “Dying to Know” which was about Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert, who changed his name to Ram Dass.  The film reminded me that Ram Dass’ book, Be Here Now, was one I have been meaning to read but had not gotten around to. So I decided to bump it up on the list and recently finished reading it.

The book is essentially the hippie’s guide to meditation and mindfulness. It’s lavishly illustrated with surreal psychedelic spiritual images that aid the reader in tuning in to the proper state of consciousness when reading this text.

The book is divided into four sections:

  • Journey – The Transformation: Dr. Richard Alpert, Ph.D into Baba Ram Dass—This first section details Ram Dass’ explorations in consciousness expansion through the use of psychedelic drugs with Timothy Leary, which ultimately led him on a journey to the east where he met a guru and discovered his spiritual path.
  • From Bindu to Ojas—This heavily illustrated section, which comprises the bulk of the book, contains Dass’ spiritual musings and thoughts.
  • Cook Book for a Sacred Life—This section offers suggestions and practical advice for individuals starting on the spiritual path.
  • Painted Cakes Do Not Satisfy Hunger—This final section is a long list of suggested reading. As I perused this list, my own reading list swelled exponentially.

While the language of the text is very hippie dippy, and feels a little dated now, the spiritual insights are still profound and relevant. There is way too much to share in a single blog post, but I will share a few that resonated deeply with me, and I encourage you to take the time to read the book closely and ponder what Ram Dass offers.

Georges I. Gurdjieff, a westerner who went on this higher trip or at least on a large part of the trip, said: you don’t seem to understand you are in prison. If you are to get out of prison the first thing you must realize is: you are in prison. If you think you’re free, you can’t escape.

(p. 42)

Reading this made me think of the average American. Americans love to believe they are free: free to seek happiness, pursue the careers they want, travel, elect who they like, etc. But American freedom is just an illusion. We are constantly being manipulated by media, advertising, peer pressure, and so forth. Americans have allowed themselves to be enslaved by a consumer society that profits from their exploitation. But don’t ever try to tell an American that he or she is not free. Americans are quick to fight in the defense of their belief in freedom.

That psychosis business is an interesting business. If you go through the doorway too fast and you’re not ready for it you’re bound hand and foot and thrown into outer darkness. You may land anywhere and lots of people end up in mental hospitals. The reason they do is: they went through the door with their ego on.

(p. 98)

We hear this warning over and over again: it is important to stay grounded when doing spiritual work. I have witnessed people close to me slip into mental illness because they explored consciousness without remaining properly grounded. It is sad, because you are powerless to do anything for that person. They become trapped within their own subconscious and can no longer function in this plane of reality.

When your center is firm, when your faith is strong and unwavering, then it will not matter what company you keep. Then you will see that all beings are on the evolutionary journey of consciousness. They differ only in the degree that the veil of illusion clouds their vision. But for you . . . you will see behind the veil to the place where we are all ONE.

(p. 53)

This is something I need to remind myself about on a regular basis. With all the craziness, intolerance, and fear that I see on a daily basis, I need to remember that all of us are spiritual beings on the path, and we all progress at our own pace. I have to resist the temptation to judge others based on where I am on my journey. All I can do is follow my own course and maybe I might inspire another person on his or her path. What a blessing that would be!

Thanks so much for stopping by. And remember, don’t cling to the past or obsess about the future, just be here now, because this moment is all we really have. Everything else is a mental construct and an illusion.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 24” by Lao Tzu

TaoTehChing

One on tip-toe cannot stand.
One astride cannot walk.
One who displays himself does not shine.
One who justifies himself has no glory.
One who boasts of his own ability has no merit.
One who parades his own success will not endure.
In Tao these things are called “unwanted food and extraneous growths,”
Which are loathed by all things.
Hence, a man of Tao does not set his heart upon them.

This passage deals with ego and the need that some people have to seek validation from others. We all know people like this; those who go on about their glory days, trying to make themselves and their accomplishments seem greater than they actually are. And probably, we are all guilty of this to some extent. I would be disingenuous if I said that I had never put my achievements on display in order to gain acceptance or praise. But I recognize the danger in this. If we seek to define ourselves through the validation of others, then we are limiting our potential, because we are not being true to ourselves. We become more concerned about our appearances to others than about internal happiness and spiritual growth.

Humility is difficult, but it is a spiritual value. Today, I will try to be humble in my actions.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 23” by Lao Tzu

TaoTehChing

Only simple and quiet words will ripen of themselves.
For a whirlwind does not last a whole morning,
Nor does a sudden shower last a whole day.
Who is their author? Heaven-and-Earth!
Even Heaven-and-Earth cannot make such violent things last long;
How much truer is it of the rash endeavours of men?

Hence, he who cultivates the Tao is one with the Tao;
He who practices Virtue is one with Virtue;
And he who courts after Loss is one with Loss.

To be one with the Tao is to be a welcome accession to the Tao;
To be one with Virtue is to be a welcome accession to Virtue;
To be one with Loss is to be a welcome accession to Loss.

Deficiency of faith on your part
Entails faithlessness on the part of others.

I suppose it is no coincidence that I read this passage today. I have been thinking a lot about the power of words lately, especially in light of the vitriol associated with the recent election. It seems that people feel the need to rant and rage louder and louder about their indignation, thinking that this is the way to foster change. It is not. No one responds to harsh words the way you hope they will. Softer, empathetic words have a deeper impact. They are accepted and plant the seeds of change within another person. The violent storm washes the seeds away; it does not nourish the seeds.

The part of this passage that puzzled me at first was the meaning of the word Loss. It seemed that Loss was something desirable, but it took me a little while to figure out why. I think Lao Tzu meant the loss of the ego, of the self-righteous indignation that causes individuals to speak harshly against others. This will definitely draw you away from the path. So before you lash out verbally at someone, take a breath, relax, and try to lose some of the anger and indignation that is at the root of the harsh words. By doing so, you will be a better communicator and a bringer of positive change.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 11” by Lao Tzu

ChineseWagonWheel

Thirty spokes converge upon a single hub;
It is on the hole in the center that the use of the cart hinges.

We make a vessel from a lump of clay;
It is the empty space within the vessel that makes it useful.

We make doors and windows for a room;
But it is these empty spaces that make the room livable.

Thus, while the tangible has advantages,
It is the intangible that makes it useful.

I found this passage to be somewhat cryptic, so I will offer only my interpretation.

It seems that the empty space, or the void, is the unknowable source of all existence. While we cannot perceive this ineffable emptiness, it has a direct impact on our physical beings and our daily lives.

I also have the impression that Lao Tzu is cautioning against attachment to material things. Trying to grasp and hoard things in life tends to create mental clutter and creates a barrier between ourselves and the divine essence.

Finally, I can apply this to my meditation practices. I see all the tangible things as the thoughts that clutter the mind. When I meditate, I try (often unsuccessfully) to quiet that mental chatter and open myself to the profound silence which is the subconscious mind. It is impossible for me to describe this connection. As soon as I try to analyze or think about it, the conscious mind takes over and the connection is lost. But those brief moments of deep mental quietude help put the rest of my life and thoughts into perspective.

I would love to hear your thoughts and impressions on this passage. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section. Cheers!

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 10” by Lao Tzu

TaoTehChing

In keeping the spirit and the vital soul together,
Are you able to maintain their perfect harmony?
In gathering your vital energy to attain suppleness,
Have you reached the state of a new-born babe?
In washing and clearing your inner vision,
Have you purified it of all dross?
In loving your people and governing your state,
Are you able to dispense with cleverness?
In the opening and shutting of heaven’s gate,
Are you able to play the feminine part?
Enlightened and seeing far into all directions,
Can you at the same time remain detached and non-active?

Rear your people!
Feed your people!
Rear them without claiming them for your own!
Do your work without setting any store by it!
Be a leader, not a butcher!
This is called hidden Virtue.

In this passage, Lao Tzu provides guidance to leaders on how to best govern. But since this advice is based upon spiritual principles, it applies to all of us in our daily affairs.

Many of us have a tendency to rest upon our laurels. We work hard to reach spiritual harmony, and when we reach it, we run the risk of thinking we are done. We begin to neglect that which we worked to attain, just as the leaders who attain power often begin to neglect their people. When Lau Tzu advises rulers to rear and feed their people, he is also advising the sage to nurture the spiritual enlightenment that the sage has found.

There is something else that I think Lau Tzu was warning against, and that is self-righteousness. Consider the last lines of the first verse:

Enlightened and seeing far into all directions,
Can you at the same time remain detached and non-active?

Throughout my life, I have met many spiritual seekers who, once they reach a spiritual goal, assume a holier-than-thou attitude. They allow the self to revel in the spiritual advances that they made, and as a result, begin to lose what they gained. It’s an easy trap to fall into, and I confess that it happened to me at one point also. The key then is humility, allowing yourself to remain detached enough to remain centered on the path and continue growing spiritually. And stay vigilant, watching for when feelings of superiority or self-importance seep in and become obstacles.

Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to read my thoughts. I hope you have a truly blessed day.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 7” by Lao Tzu

TaoTehChing

Heaven lasts long, and Earth abides.
What is the secret of their durability?
Is it not because they do not live for themselves
That they can live so long?

Therefore, the Sage wants to remain behind,
But finds himself at the head of others;
Reckons himself out,
But finds himself safe and secure.
Is it not because he is selfless
That his Self is realised?

It’s kind of an oxymoron that self-realization only occurs when you shut off your self-importance and self-obsession. You must lose the ego in order to find your true self.

This makes me think of the spiritual principles of charity, compassion, empathy, and service. When you turn away from the cycle of chasing after personal gains and shift your focus to things outside yourself, something happens internally. There is a spiritual kindling and you realize that you are more than just your self; you are part of a larger whole that existed before you were born and will exist after you are gone. And you become aware of a deeper meaning to your existence. I think this is the key to finding meaning and fulfillment in your life.

In our crazy lives, it is increasingly difficult to step outside our small world of the self. But doing so is of utmost importance, especially in these turbulent times.

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