Tag Archives: spirituality

Thoughts on “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind” by Shunryu Suzuki

This is one of those books that I have been wanting to read for a while, since it was often referred to in other spiritual books and articles which I have read. The beauty of this text is its simplicity. As humans, we excel at complicating things, especially when it comes to religion and spirituality. With this in mind, Suzuki reminds us that sometimes we just need to stop talking and thinking, and just be in the present moment.

“We have had enough discussion, so let’s have a cup of tea!”

(p. 39)

In addition to simplicity and being in the present, the spiritual principle of acceptance is emphasized, especially in relation to the transiency of all existence.

The basic teaching of Buddhism is the teaching of transiency, or change. That everything changes is the basic truth for each existence. No one can deny this truth, and all the teaching of Buddhism is condensed within it. This is the teaching for all of us. Wherever we go this teaching is true. This teaching is also understood as the teaching of selflessness. Because each existence is in constant change, there is no abiding self. In fact, the self-nature of each existence is nothing but change itself, the self-nature of all existence. There is no special, separate self-nature for each existence. This is also called the teaching of Nirvana. When we realize the everlasting truth of “everything changes” and find our composure in it, we find ourselves in Nirvana.

(p. 91)

I found this book very inspiring, and suspect I will read it again at some point. I don’t feel there is anything else I need to say about this book at this point. I’ll just encourage you to have a cup of tea.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 70” by Lao Tzu

My words are very easy to understand, and very easy to practise:
But the world cannot understand them, nor practise them.

My words have an Ancestor.
My deeds have a Lord.
The people have no knowledge of this.
Therefore, they have no knowledge of me.

The fewer persons know me,
The nobler are they that follow me.
Therefore, the Sage wears coarse clothes,
While keeping the jade in his bosom.

Although the translation of this text states that Lao Tzu’s teachings are “very easy,” I suspect that what is meant is that the teachings are “simple,” yet the understanding and application of those teachings are more challenging. I am very aware that the simplest lessons in life are often the most difficult. Then, to make matters worse, we often beat ourselves up for failing to grasp what is basic and obvious, telling ourselves “We should know better.” But growth and change are never easy, which is why it is important to be gentle with ourselves.

Something else that I gleaned from this passage is that individuals often approach teachings with preconceived ideas, and that these preconceived ideas often distort what is being conveyed. Additionally, we may have impressions about the teacher which may distort our understanding of the teachings. I was taught many years ago to “focus on the message, not on the messenger.” That is sound advice and I try to keep that in mind.

Thanks for stopping by, and have a great day.

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“The Secret Teachings of All Ages” by Manly P. Hall: Part 9 – The Universe in a Grain of Sand

In “Chapter XXXV: The Theory and Practice of Alchemy, Part I,” Manly P. Hall states:

One of the great axioms is, “Within everything is the seed of everything,” although by the simple processes of Nature it may remain latent for many centuries, or its growth may be exceedingly slow. Therefore, every grain of sand contains not only the seed of the precious metals as well as the seed of the priceless gems, but also the seeds of sun, moon, and stars. As within the nature of man is reflected the entire universe in miniature, so in each grain of sand, each drop of water, each tiny particle of cosmic dust, are concealed all the parts and elements of the cosmos in the form of tiny seed germs so minute that even the most powerful microscope cannot detect them. Trillions of times smaller than the ion or electron, these seeds—unrecognizable and incomprehensible—await the time assigned them for growth and expression.

(pp. 499 – 501)

As I read this, I was reminded of the opening lines from William Blake’s poem, “Auguries of Innocence”:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour

What I find so fascinating about this is that both Hall and Blake expressed this concept long before modern physics would bring us chaos theory, the idea of a holographic universe, or the ability to view particles at the sub-quantum level. It almost seems like modern science is in the process of validating ideas that existed within the realm of metaphysical thought for centuries. For me, this is exciting. For too long, spirituality and science have existed in opposition to each other. I genuinely believe that humanity’s future lies in the possibility of uniting science and spirituality; essentially, an alchemical marriage of sorts.

That was all I had to share about this. I hope you found the quotes as inspiring and thought-provoking as I did. Thanks for stopping by and sharing in my musings. Stay safe.

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The Library of Esoterica: Witchcraft

This is the third book in Taschen’s “Library of Esoterica” series. These are art books that explore esoteric fields of study through art. While this volume was not as good as the first two—Tarot and Astrology—in my opinion, it was still an interesting read.

The book is a collection of essays, which augment the artwork presented in the book. Pam Grossman sums the text up nicely in her Foreword.

What follows is a kaleidoscopic, wide-lensed look at depictions of witches throughout history – both as we’ve imagined them and as they self-identify. The tome spans time and space, gender, and geography. You’ll find real rites and contemporary rituals in its pages alongside wild, unbridled visions by artists through the ages.

(p. 6)

In the essay “Art is a Spell,” also written by Grossman, she establishes a parallel between artists and witches, which I found interesting.

Like a witch, the artist conjures, shapes reality, manifests. The practice of magick is sometimes referred to as “the arte magickal” or “the dark arts.” That there is a kinship between those who craft magick and those who conjure art is undeniable. And sometimes they may be one and the same, and the Venn diagram of artist and witch collapses and melts into its own magick circle.

(p. 446)

And this succinctly sums up what the strength of this book is—a blending of art and magick that demonstrates how one influences the other. Because, there is no question that throughout history, art has inspired those on the spiritual path, and likewise, spirituality and mysticism have been an endless source of inspiration for artists across all mediums.

I think that’s all for this post. Going to keep it short. Thanks for stopping by, and have an inspired day.

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“The Secret Teachings of All Ages” by Manly P. Hall: Part 8 – The Worst Disease

In “Chapter XXXII: Rosicrucian Doctrines and Tenets,” Manly P. Hall states:

The Rosicrucian medicine for the healing of all human infirmities may be interpreted as a chemical substance which produces the physical effects described or as spiritual understanding—the true healing power which, when a man has partaken of it, reveals truth to him. Ignorance is the worst form of disease, and that which heals ignorance is therefore the most potent of all medicines. The perfect Rosicrucian medicine was for the healing of nations, races, and individuals.

(p. 464)

At first pass, this might seem like a harsh statement, especially when one considers the plethora of physical ailments and the devastating effects they have on individuals. But if we step back and reflect, the veracity of this assertion becomes evident. The fact is, we do not know about that which we do not know. In other words, we are ignorant of our own ignorance. If you don’t recognize and acknowledge that there is a problem, then it is almost certain that you will not take any steps to rectify that problem. For example, an alcoholic who does not see that he or she has a problem with drinking will never take the first step toward recovery. Ignorance, therefore, like addiction, is one of the most insidious of diseases, and often individuals fail to become aware of the problem until the damage is done.

We see validation of this claim in our current world. Social media, biased news sources, and “smart web search” technologies have created information silos that keep people ignorant about the broader spectrum of views and ideas, the result being the fractured, angry, and mistrusting society in which we all live. Never, it seems, have we been in greater need for the “perfect Rosicrucian medicine” that would provide for “the healing of nations, races, and individuals.”

I challenge everyone to keep an open mind in these strange days. Things are changing, and they are changing rapidly, and it is in our best interest to be as thoughtful and reflective as possible. It is certainly OK to adhere to a belief, but at least validate it by considering an opposing idea.

Thanks for reading and thinking. Have a great day.

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The Library of Esoterica: Astrology

This is the second book in Taschen’s “Library of Esoterica” series. These are art books that explore esoteric fields of study through art. So far, I have been thoroughly impressed with these texts.

In addition to the stunning illustrations, the book provides an historical overview of astrology’s development, as well as some information about the symbolism behind the signs and planets.

Of all the esoteric practices, astrology is perhaps the most ancient, developed by the peoples of the earliest known cultures: the Sumerians, the Babylonians, and the Egyptians. Long-ago civilizations throughout Africa, the Islamic lands, Asia, and South America, documented their study of the stars and planets and created a shared and interconnected mythology. Astrology, in some form, has been ritualized in nearly every ancestral tradition around the world.

(p. 10)

It is not surprising that both astrology and astronomy developed along with calendar systems, which were important in agricultural societies.

For many, the advent of astrology – and astronomy – occurred alongside the development of calendar systems tied to agricultural seasons and their feasts. In ancient Egypt, for example, the annual flooding of the Nile created a discernable pattern of events: the star Sirius, the brightest in the sky, would appear in the east just before sunrise, heralding the arrival of the waters.

(pp. 18 – 20)

After Copernicus advanced the heliocentric model of our solar system, science distanced itself from astrology; but artists and writers continued to draw inspiration from the practice.

But all was not lost post-Copernicus. While astrology was cut loose from astronomy and science, its practices and lore spread to places where mystery was still permitted – literature, art, and psychology – where it animated and inspired the work of artists and thinkers including Goethe, Byron, Blake, and eventually, in the 20th century, Carl Jung.

(p. 41)

One fact that I found particularly interesting was that “during World War II, both the Axis and Allied forces used astrologers, especially for propaganda purposes.” (p. 45) Having studied propaganda in school, I can envision how governments could employ astrology to bolster their “information.”

I personally feel that practices like astrology are more valuable as tools of self-exploration than as predictors of events. This method of using astrology is tied to the field of psychology.

The advent of psychology in the 19th century changed the practice of astrology from being mostly a predictive tool that looked toward the future to an interrogative tool for exploring the inner, rather than outer world.

(p. 497)

To conclude, this is a beautiful book and a nice addition to any personal library. I suspect I will be returning to it again and again. Thanks for stopping by and have a great day.

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“The Secret Teachings of All Ages” by Manly P. Hall: Part 7 – Inaccuracies in Ancient Texts

In “Chapter XXVIII: Qabbalistic Keys to the Creation of Man,” Manly P. Hall cites the following:

Prof. Crawford Howell Toy of Harvard notes: “Manuscripts were copied and recopied by scribes who not only sometimes made errors in letters and words, but permitted themselves to introduce new material into the text, or to combine in one manuscript, without mark or division, writings composed by different men; instances of these sorts of procedure are found especially in Micah and Jeremiah, and the groups of prophecies which go under the names of Isaiah and Zachariah.” (See Judaism and Christianity.)

(p. 398)

The importance of this statement cannot be overstressed. Many ancient texts are considered to be absolute truths, either the exact words of the author, or sometimes, the exact words of the Divine. Add to that the fact that translations of text in ancient languages do not capture the details of the original words, and it becomes evident that what we read today in English translation may be vastly different from an original scroll that appeared on the desk of a scribe for copying over a thousand years ago.

Now, this does not mean that we should reject ancient texts, or dismiss reading them because they are in translation. We should of course read these texts. But, we should do so with the understanding that we may need to work a little harder to get to the essence of what the original author was trying to convey. In other words, we must always read critically.

I think that is all I have to share on this topic. Thanks for stopping by, and keep reading interesting stuff.

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“The Secret Teachings of All Ages” by Manly P. Hall: Part 6 – Elemental Beings

In “Chapter XXIII: The Elements and Their Inhabitants,” Manly P. Hall discusses the beings that are said to inhabit invisible realms associated with the four elements: earth, air, fire, and water.

Just as visible Nature is populated by an infinite number of living creatures, so, according to Paracelsus, the invisible, spiritual counterpart of visible Nature (composed of the tenuous principles of the visible elements) is inhabited by a host of peculiar beings, to whom he has given the name elementals, and which have later been termed the Nature spirits. Paracelsus divided these people of the elements into four distinct groups, which he called gnomes, undines, sylphs, and salamanders. He taught that they were really living entities, many resembling human beings in shape, and inhabiting worlds of their own, unknown to man because his undeveloped senses were incapable of functioning beyond the limitations of the grosser elements.

(p. 329)

The association of the beings to the elements are as follows:

  • Gnomes inhabit the elemental sphere of earth
  • Undines inhabit the elemental sphere of water
  • Sylphs inhabit the elemental sphere of air
  • Salamanders inhabit the elemental sphere of fire

It is important to note that these elemental spheres are not the elements we find in our physical world, but exist beyond our perceived reality. This is why elementals can only be perceived when humans are in states of heightened or altered consciousness.

Many of us have been introduced to these elementals through literature and the arts. Hall mentions a few examples.

Literature has also perpetuated the concept of Nature spirits. The mischievous Puck of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream; the elementals of Alexander Pope’s Rosicrucian poem, The Rape of the Lock; the mysterious creatures of Lord Lytton’s Zanoni; James Barrie’s immortal Tinker Bell; and the famous bowlers that Rip Van Winkle encountered in the Catskill Mountains, are well-known characters to students of literature. The folklore and mythology of all peoples abound in legends concerning these mysterious little figures who haunt old castles, guard treasures in the depths of the earth, and build their homes under the spreading protection of toadstools. Fairies are the delight of childhood, and most children give them up with reluctance. Not so very long ago the greatest minds of the world believed in the existence of fairies, and it is still an open question as to whether Plato, Socrates, and Iamblichus were wrong when they avowed their reality.

(p. 330)

It would be about 25 years later than when Manly P. Hall wrote this text that J.R.R. Tolkien would publish his famous trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. This would become the quintessential example of elementals in modern literature and a source of inspiration for generations. It would appear that interest in elemental beings has not waned, but increased.

I suppose the best way to end this post is to quote Gandalf from The Fellowship of the Ring as he describes how astounding he finds the earth elementals: “Hobbits really are amazing creatures, as I have said before. You can learn all that there is to know about their ways in a month, and yet after a hundred years they can still surprise you at a pinch.”

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 69” by Lao Tzu

Image Source: Wikipedia

The strategists have a saying:
I dare not be a host, but rather a guest;
I dare not advance an inch, but rather retreat a foot.

This is called marching without moving,
Rolling up one’s sleeves without baring one’s arms,
Capturing the enemy without confronting him,
Holding a weapon that is invisible.

There is no greater calamity than to under-estimate the strength of your enemy.
For to under-estimate the strength of your enemy is to lose your treasure.

Therefore, when opposing troops meet in battle, victory belongs to the grieving side.

I must confess, when I first read this, I was not sure I would have much to say about it. Military strategy is not really my thing. But I thought a little about the principles expressed through the passage, and I realized it is applicable to our broader society.

There is a socio-political trend right now which is to oppose anything that is contrary to one’s beliefs, and to staunchly refuse to compromise or give in on anything, regardless of how trivial it is or whether the opposing viewpoint has merit. This is a problem, and it is contributing to the stark divide in our society. No matter what the issue is, both sides seem poised to dig in and not give an inch. A society cannot function in this way, nor can a government. There has to be compromise, and compromise needs to be on both sides, not the version of “compromise” where we demand the other party change their views to align with ours.

Eventually, things will have to change. We will either learn to work together with respect and consideration, or our social structure will collapse. I personally am hopeful for the first option.

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“The Secret Teachings of All Ages” by Manly P. Hall: Part 5 – Lotus Symbolism

In “Chapter XX: Flowers, Plants, Fruits, and Trees,” Manly P. Hall discusses the symbolism of the lotus.

In the Hindu system of philosophy, each petal of the form bears a certain symbol which gives an added clue to the meaning of the flower. The Orientals also used the lotus plant to signify the growth of man through the three periods of human consciousness—ignorance, endeavor, and understanding. As the lotus exists in three elements (earth, water, and air) so man lives in three worlds—material, intellectual, and spiritual. As the plant, with its roots in the mud and the slime, grows upward through the water and finally blossoms forth in the light and air, so the spiritual growth of man is upward from the darkness of base action and desire into the light of truth and understanding, the water serving as a symbol of the ever-changing world of illusion through which the soul must pass in its struggle to reach the state of spiritual illumination. The rose and its Eastern equivalent, the lotus, like all beautiful flowers, represent spiritual unfoldment and attainment: hence, the Eastern deities are often seated upon the open petals of the lotus blossoms.

(pp. 293 – 294)

The comparison between the lotus and the spiritual growth of an individual is clear from Hall’s explanation, but what I think is interesting is applying the lotus symbolism to the cycles of human development as a whole. If we take a step back and look at historical cycles, they seem to mirror the growth of the lotus. Collectively, humanity begins in a state of materialism, which gives rise to increased intellectualism. This in turn leads to state of collective spirituality which, unable to sustain itself for a prolonged period of time, ultimately reverts back to materialism and the cycle begins anew.

What is worth considering is that these cycles seem to be increasing in speed. It used to be that one stage of the cycle would last hundreds of years (consider the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Age, just to name a few). In our modern world culture, we are seeing these cycles in terms of decades and not centuries, and it almost feels like we are spinning toward annual stages in the cycle. What this means and what the end result for humanity will be is anyone’s guess. Personally, I see us nearing the center of a Yeatsean gyre. What will happen when we reach the point that the center can no longer hold? That will be a question for future historians.

That’s all for today. Thanks for stopping by and sharing in my musings. I hope you have a blessed day.

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