Friday, May 22, 2015

Two Visions

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

In Peter Kingsley's remarkable book entitled In the Dark Places of Wisdom, he describes the general condition of "the hollowness we feel inside" and for which "the world fills us with substitute after substitute and tries to convince us that nothing is missing" (33 - 34).

"But nothing has the power to fill the hollowness," he says.
Even religion and spirituality and humanity's higher aspirations become wonderful substitutes. And that's what happened to philosophy. What used to be ways to freedom for our ancestors become prisons and cages for us. We create schemes and structures, and climb up and down inside them. But these are just monkey tricks and parlour games to console us and distract us from the longing in our hearts. 35.
Dr. Kingsley states directly that this problem introduces a very negative aspect into the very heart of Western culture specifically. He says:
Western culture is a past master at the art of substitution. It offers and never delivers because it can't. It has lost the power even to know what needs to be delivered. 35.
And yet, In the Dark Places of Wisdom explores evidence that at least some of the ancients -- even in what was later to become "the West" -- knew what needed to be delivered, and what's more they knew exactly how to deliver it (or, perhaps more precisely, they knew "how it is delivered").

The paradox is that what we are looking for in all of the external substitutes and external systems cannot be found in that endless train of substitutes -- but that we actually "already have everything we need to know, in the darkness inside ourselves" (67). The ancient wisdom keepers, including the pre-Socratic philosopher Parmenides, Dr. Kingsley asserts, understood that the answer was "all a matter of finding their own link to the divine," and that the link was within us all along (64). It was "just" a matter of going within and turning ourselves "inside out until we find the sun and the moon and the stars inside" (67).

I believe that this profound message is very much at the heart of what the ancient knowledge in all its different manifestations was trying to convey to us, or to help us to discover. It is expressed in metaphor after metaphor -- the one I have used as a kind of "shorthand" for all of them is the concept of the "raising of the Djed," but it is also found in many other forms, such as the contrast between the good red road in the vision of Black Elk and the fearful black road of troubles.

It refers to the re-discovery of the divine within, an awakening to the fact that we are actually already connected to the entire universe outside, and the practice of going into the darkness and stillness of the invisible world and awakening to our connection to it on a regular basis -- "to find out," Peter Kingsley says, "how you're related to the world of the divine, know how you belong, how you're at home there just as much as here. It was to become adopted, a child of the gods" (64).

A society that has somehow lost or destroyed or buried this knowledge can be expected to be characterized by the kind of desperate pursuit of "substitutes" that Peter Kingsley describes in the quotations cited above. 

But what a different attitude and approach to life is offered in the understanding that we already have the entire universe inside of us, that we are already inseparably connected to the invisible realm, described as "the realm of the gods," that in fact we are just as much "at home there" as we are in the material realm, the ordinary realm. That we are each somehow "a child of the gods" -- bearers of a divine nature lost and almost forgotten within our physical and animal nature.

What is taking shape in this discussion is a framework of two very different visions of the world, two very different "paths." They can be seen to be very closely related to the two "paths" or "visions" articulated in all the world's myths and sacred stories and scriptures which express this contrast using (among other things) the great cycles of the heavens, including the cycle of the year and the "cross" formed by the "horizontal line" between the equinoxes and the "vertical line" between the solstices, expressed in the mythology of ancient Egypt as the "Djed column cast down" and the "Djed column raised up" (for some background on this central concept, see this video and this video, and numerous previous posts such as "Scarab, Ankh and Djed," or "O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree," or "The Djed Column every day: Yoga").

The "great cross of the year" is itself a metaphor for the crossing of the material and the spiritual, invisible, or divine which together express the dual nature of every human being -- as well as the dual nature of the world around us. To the extent that our vision is operating along the "horizontal" or material line, we can be expected to exhibit the frantic pursuit of external substitutes described in Dr. Kingsley's quotations above.

But if we can awaken to the truth that we are already connected to the invisible realm, the divine realm -- that we actually "belong" in the invisible realm just as much as in the material realm with which we are more familiar -- the entire paradigm shifts (to use a phrase that has been ruined by over-use, unfortunately, but which I choose to deliberately employ here to describe the situation, because it expresses the complete transformation of the entire framework or way of seeing). 

It should be evident that the first situation (frantic and endless substitution) would logically tend towards an attitude of scarcity, of always needing more (because desperately needing new substitutes when the old ones turn out to be as unfulfilling as all those that went before them).

It should be equally evident that the second situation, in which it is known that what we seek is already in our possession -- that in fact we contain the "entire universe inside," that we are in some way an "adopted child of the gods" -- points towards a vision of plenty (we don't have to worry that we won't get what we need, if it is already and always securely within ourselves, and impossible to be separated from ourselves). 

The second situation, it can be seen, also leads towards a sense of connection with all other beings, if we ourselves are always in deep connection with the invisible realm, if we ourselves already reflect and embody the entire universe, which they (all other living beings) are also inseparably connected to and which they also contain. 

But, if you are still in the mode of desperately cycling through "substitute after substitute" because you don't realize that you already have access to exactly what you seek, it might lead to profound division and competition and conflict between different men and women, and in fact it has.

I believe these two contrasting visions, and the attitudes of "plenty" versus "scarcity," and the understanding of "connectedness" versus "division and competition" can also be seen to be very close to the powerful message shared with the world by the Lakota holy man Black Elk and recorded in Black Elk Speaks, a message with tremendous importance for all people today.

Black Elk offers a very similar contrast between two approaches to life and the world, expressed in his vision of the two roads: the good red road which runs between the north and the south (which would correspond to the "vertical column" between the solstices on the great cross of the year, and to the Djed column "raised up") and the black road which runs between the east and the west, "a fearful road, a road of troubles" (corresponding to the "horizontal column" between the equinoxes on the great cross of the year, and to the Djed column "cast down"):

In his explanation of his vision recorded in Black Elk Speaks, Black Elk contrasts the very different way of walking found on the two roads: traveling the black road, the fearful road, the road of troubles, he saw "everybody for himself and with little rules of his own" (215), while along the good red road he sees a fleeting vision of "the circled villages of people and every living thing with roots or legs or wings, and all were happy" (22), along with symbols of life blossoming forth in the world and in the heart of the people.

These characteristics are important: the attitude of "everybody for himself" is contrasted with the attitude of harmony and cooperation, and they relate directly to the contrast between what a previous post labeled "Vision A" and "Vision B," in which people and all other living beings lived together "like relatives" and in plenty (Vision A) versus everyone making "little islands" that separate people from nature and from one another, and the islands are always becoming smaller and smaller as a "gnawing flood [. . .] dirty with lies and greed" seethes around them (8). 

Upon further thought, the terms "Vision A" and "Vision B" don't really convey these concepts very well. It might be better to call them the "spirit road" and the "fearful road," or some other terms. But, we can lay out some of the characteristics inherent to each of these two opposing visions in a table below, each of which could easily become the topic for much more discussion and examination in the future:

  • Unity and community, "circled villages" vs. "Little Islands" and "Everybody for himself"
  • Vision of plenty vs. Vision of scarcity
  • Attitude of confidence vs. Attitude of fear and resentment
  • Connection to nature and to other creatures vs. division from and hostility towards nature and other creatures, and a desire to subjugate them (all part of the same endless pursuit of something that can never be attained)
  • Awareness of the dignity in each man or woman vs. racism, endless categorizing and divisions of humanity into "my allies" and "everyone else"
And there are many more contrasts that could be added to the list above.

Some might object that the "spirit road" vision is nice, but not practical "here in the real world." This is a broad objection, but I would propose that it is at least possible that this objection basically stems from an attitude of fearfulness, rather than an attitude of confidence -- and from a vision of scarcity rather than a vision of plenty. The important ancient philosopher Plutarch addressed these kinds of arguments from his opponents, when he laid out his treatises against the eating of flesh.

Just think of the profound changes we might see in our lives if we were to suddenly realize, on a very deep level, that we already have access to that which we have spent so much of our lives chasing after. How it might change the way we speak, or drive in traffic, or go about our daily lives. And how it might change the way we think about some of the bigger issues that have impacts far beyond our daily lives. 

I believe this message is very central to the message contained in all the world's ancient wisdom, bequeathed as a precious inheritance to all humanity, in the esoteric Star Myths found in the scriptures and sacred stories of virtually every culture on earth.

They are telling us that the connection to the entire universe is already right inside of each one of us, all the time. And every culture has (at some point in time) possessed knowledge of some of the different techniques for accessing that connection, and entering the realm of the gods, a realm we belong to just as much as we belong to this one.

In places where that knowledge has been lost (or deliberately destroyed), it is imperative that we find it again, for our own sanity and health -- and for that of the rest of the world.

The good news is that the answer is still there, in the stars over our heads -- which means that it is also right inside of us.

If we know about this, we owe it to others to tell them about it, because the substitutes "never deliver."

image: Wikipedia (composite of images here and here).

Monday, May 18, 2015

Mukasa, the Guardian of the Lake

The Ssese Islands, in Lake Victoria, indicated by the red arrow. Google Maps.

Among the Baganda people of eastern-central Africa, whose land in their own language is called Buganda but in the Swahili language is called Uganda, one of the central figures of the spirit world is Mukasa, the Guardian of the Lake.

Of this powerful entity we read in African Mythology by Geoffrey Parrinder (1967) that:
The greatest of the demi-gods of Buganda, Mukasa, was a great giver of oracles, a kindly deity who never asked for human sacrifice. Myths say that when Mukasa was a child he refused to eat ordinary food and disappeared from home, later being found on an island sitting under a large tree. A man who saw him there took him to a garden and lifted him onto a rock. People were afraid to take him into their houses, thinking he was a spirit, so they built a hut for him on the rock. They did not know what to give him to eat, for he refused all their food, but when they killed an ox he asked for its blood, liver and heart. Then people knew he was a god and consulted him in any trouble. Mukasa lived on the island for many years, married three wives, was cared for by priests, and at last disappeared as suddenly as he had come.
His temple was a conical reed hut, which was rebuilt at intervals on the express orders of the king. Originally it is said that Mukasa spoke his will directly to the priests, but later they used mediums who uttered his messages. The medium never entered the temple but had a special hut in front of it. When seeking to know the will of Mukasa she smoked some tobacco until the spirit came upon her, and then she announced in a shrill voice what was to be done. The medium was not allowed to marry, or walk about in the sight of men, or talk to any man but the priest, and once chosen held the office till death. 89-90.
This information is remarkable on several levels, and may immediately ring some bells for readers who have studied the previous two posts in which I presented arguments to support my theory that the details of the story of the Buddha underneath the bodhi tree, as well as the story of Jonah underneath the vine or "the gourd" or the palmcrist or the kikajon found in Jonah chapter 4, are based upon the celestial figure of Bootes the Herdsman sitting with his back to the glorious column of the Milky Way galaxy -- see "The Bodhi Tree" and "The sacred fig tree, continued: Jonah and the gourd."

The general details regarding Mukasa presented above are corroborated in other accounts of the Baganda. This page from the webiste, for example, discusses the understanding of a spirit world beyond this one, and Mukasa as one of the most important of the Lubaale or "Guardians" who dwell in the invisible realm. There, we see that the location of the oracle where the medium (or mandwa) obtained messages from Mukasa was located on Bubembe island, one of a chain of over eighty islands known as the Ssese Islands (after the tsetse flies which swarm there) in Lake Victoria. 

See the map above for the location of Lake Victoria -- which lake is known in the Luganda language of the Baganda as Nalubaale, or "Lake of the Lubaale" -- and the Ssese Island archipelago in that great lake. Nalubaale is the second-largest freshwater lake on earth, with a surface area of 26,600 miles, second only to Lake Superior in size measured by surface area (the subterranean freshwater lake of Lake Vostok in Antarctica has a surface area of "only" 4,800 miles although it is so massive that it contains roughly 1,300 cubic miles of water, compared to Nalubaale's 660 cubic miles and Lake Superior's 2,900 cubic miles and Lake Baikal's 5,700 cubic miles).

It is actually somewhat difficult to find a good detailed map labeling all the Ssese Islands and especially Bubembe island, the location of the oracle and primary temple of Mukasa, but I believe Bubembe is the island that I have indicated with an arrow in the map below, which "zooms in" on the Ssese archipelago from the map shown above:

The details regarding Mukasa given in the quotation above are further supported by accounts found in The Baganda: An account of their native customs and beliefs, by John Roscoe (originally published in 1911). There, we learn more information regarding the mandwa and her entering into a state of trance or ecstasy in order to receive information from the spirit world:
When she was about to seek an interview with the god, or to become possessed, she dressed like one of the priests with two bark-cloths knotted over each shoulder, and eighteen small white goat-skins round her waist. She first smoked a pipe of tobacco until the god came upon her; she then commenced speaking in a shrill voice, and announced what was to be done. She sat over a sacred fire when giving the oracle, perspired very freely, and foamed at the mouth. After the oracle had been delivered, and the god had left her, she was very fatigued and lay prostrate for some time. While giving the oracle, she held a stick in her hand with which she struck the ground to emphasize her words. 297-298.
Again, these details are extremely significant and noteworthy. First, they provide yet another example of a concept that can be seen to be absolutely ubiquitous around the world -- the understanding of the the existence of a spirit world with which it is possible to communicate and to which it is possible to journey even during this life, and the importance of doing so in order to obtain information or effect change which impacts aspects of this material world, which is intimately connected to and in fact can be said to be "interpenetrated by" and even "projected from" the spirit world in a very real sense. We have examined the importance of this concept in numerous previous posts including:
and many more.

Second, they again demonstrate that the actual techniques with which human beings may enter into a state of ecstatic trance or contact with the invisible realm are incredibly diverse, a fact borne out by the encyclopedic research presented by Mircea Eliade in the landmark text Shamanism: Archaic techniques of ecstasy (first published in 1951), and discussed in the previous post entitled "How many ways are there of contacting the hidden realm?"

But perhaps most importantly and most strikingly, the details provided above illustrate powerful and undeniable points of resonance with other sacred traditions from different cultures around the globe, and what is more these points of resonance can -- I argue -- be seen to be distinctly celestial in nature, relating very clearly to specific important constellations which are used in other cultures and other traditions to point the way to the importance of the realm of spirit within and around us, just as they do in the sacred traditions of the Baganda.

Let us examine some of those details more closely.

First, we see that Mukasa shares very clear points of correspondence with the story of the life of the Buddha: he seated himself under a tree, he refused ordinary food, he was against sacrifice (in the case of Mukasa, he was specifically against human sacrifice).

Further, the temple of Mukasa is described as a "conical reed hut," and the mandwa herself also dwelt in a special hut near the conical temple or shrine of Mukasa, although she did not enter it herself, even when she communed with the Lubaale himself, but instead smoked a pipe of tobacco in her hut and sat over a fire, perspiring and even foaming at the mouth. John Roscoe shows an image of one of the conical shrines of the Baganda in his 1911 book, and it looks very much like the image shown below of one of the sacred tombs of the Baganda:

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

We also see in the accounts that the mandwa is always a woman, that she begins her contact with the god by sitting above a fire and smoking a pipe, but that at the end she falls down exhausted, and lies prostrate for some time.

All of these details have very powerful correspondences to the specific details of the constellation Bootes the Herdsman and the other surrounding constellations and celestial bodies near Bootes, which the previous posts on the Buddha and the bo tree and on Jonah and the gourd have argued to be the foundation of those sacred stories as well.

The clear celestial connection of the story of the Buddha, the story of Jonah, and the details of the powerful Mukasa of the Baganda is extremely significant, and extremely powerful evidence supporting the actual celestial connection of all of the world's ancient sacred wisdom.

Let's spell out those celestial correspondences (which will be illustrated in the planetarium image below):
  • The sitting figure of Mukasa on the rock, the Buddha under the bodhi tree, and Jonah under his gourd are all related to the constellation Bootes, who can clearly seen to be seated in the sky (and can also be envisioned to be kneeling). In fact, the figure of Bodhidharma who is known as Da Mo in China and who traditional legends describe as bringing Buddhism to China and kneeling in front of a stone wall for nine years without moving, and in some cases to have originated the martial arts as a way of strengthening the monks and giving them a physical-spiritual practice that would function as a kind of "moving meditation," can also be shown to be connected to Bootes, as I have demonstrated in previous posts such as this one.
  • The beautiful tree arching over their heads is the shining column of the Milky Way, which rises up behind the sitting or kneeling figure of Bootes in the heavens.
  • The "conical hut" (or the "booth" that Jonah makes under the gourd) is most likely the outline of the constellation Ophiucus.
The diagram below shows the major players in these Star Myths. The constellation Scorpio is also outlined, latching on to the base of the Milky Way, because Scorpio almost certainly plays the role of the worm who smites the vine that shelters Jonah, and causes it to wither away, much to Jonah's frustration and anger.

Note that in the diagram, the gigantic constellation of Hercules with his raised club is also outlined. This constellation plays a role in the legend of Da Mo (where, I argue, Hercules represents Shen Guang, the faithful follower and first disciple of Da Mo). Interestingly enough, the proximity of Hercules to the seated figure of Bootes provides an important confirmatory piece of evidence that this celestial interpretation is correct for the story of the Buddha as well. 

The image below, from the 2d century AD, shows the unmistakeable figure of Hercules (or Vajrapani) standing behind the seated figure of the Buddha underneath the bo tree, exactly as the constellation of Hercules can be seen to stand behind the seated figure of Bootes in the night sky. This confirms beyond a shadow of a doubt that the ancients knew the connection between the Buddha and the celestial figures of Hercules and Bootes:

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

What is perhaps most striking in the sacred Baganda tradition surrounding Mukasa is the way in which the mandwa herself enacts the postures of the celestial constellations when she makes contact with the spirit world: first she sits above the fire smoking a pipe, just as Bootes can be seen to be "smoking a pipe" in the outline shown above, and then she falls down prostrate just as the constellation Virgo (who is located directly below Bootes and whose outline is shown in the image below from the Jonah story) can be said to be "lying prostrate and exhausted" in the way the constellation is arranged in the sky:

Note also that the mandwa carries a stick with which she strikes the ground for emphasis while reciting the message from the spirit world during her trance. The constellation Virgo can be seen to have a distinctive "outstretched arm" (marked by the star Vindemiatrix), which in some legends from around the world becomes a stick (and in other world myths it is a sword, a bow, or another implement connected to the story in question). 

She is thus enacting, in the most direct way imaginable, the concept of "as above, so below," which conveys a number of deep teachings, one of them the fact that every single man and woman embodies within themselves, contains, and connects to the infinite universe itself: that we are each a microcosm which reflects and which in fact is not separate from the infinite macrocosm around and above us.

It is also extremely noteworthy that the famous Pythia who sat in the tripod at the oracle at Delphi can also be shown to reflect the constellation Virgo, who herself is in a seated position and who is directly above a celestial serpent, the constellation Hydra (corresponding to the dead carcass of the Python who was supposedly entombed deep beneath the temple at Delphi). In other words, the priestess at Delphi also entered into a state of ecstasy and communion with the gods by actually imitating the constellation Virgo, and embodying the concept of "as above, so below" and the microcosm/macrocosm.

Thus, we see that the sacred traditions surrounding the benevolent deity Mukasa of central Africa share extremely close and significant correspondences with the sacred traditions at the heart of Buddhism, ancient Greece, the scrolls of the Hebrew Scriptures and specifically of the prophet Jonah, and the legend of Da Mo in China, and that they thus provide an extremely powerful and significant piece of additional evidence to support the thesis that the world's sacred myths, scriptures, and traditions all share a common celestial foundation.

This fact, if true (and I believe the evidence is overwhelming and nearly beyond dispute; dozens more examples are discussed in other posts and in my previous books, a partial but by no means exhaustive index of such discussions can be found here) is of incredible significance for world history, and for our lives today.

Some of the implications might be:

  • That the sacred myths, scriptures and traditions of the world are not literal but that they are sophisticated celestial metaphors and that they use the celestial realm to convey the reality of the invisible realm of spirit.
  • That we are not in fact separate from the realm of spirit, but that we are intimately connected to it at all times, and that it is also within us at all times (as above, so below: microcosm and macrocosm).
  • That if the various myths and sacred traditions teach that we are "descended" from figures in Star Myths, they are talking about our spiritual nature, and that such stories are not intended to be used to divide people on the basis of ancestry (or supposed ancestry) -- in fact, since they teach the existence and importance of the infinite spiritual nature inside each man and woman, this can be seen to supersede the far less important external distinctions which people have used to set men and women against each other based on external differences.
  • That we are all deeply connected to one another and in fact to all beings and even to the universe itself.
  • That on this basis, it is wrong to kill other beings, and especially that human sacrifice is profoundly wrong -- in fact, Mukasa's ordinance against human sacrifice can be seen as teaching that it is wrong to take the life of another man or woman, and that one cannot even use "religious devotion" as an excuse to harm another man or woman.
  • That the ancients clearly understood these sacred myths to be connected to the constellations over our heads, and that they consciously depicted this understanding in their art and in their ecstatic practices and techniques.
  • That this ancient understanding has been subverted, and that it has in fact been overturned or "stood on its head," such that for at least seventeen hundred years it has been taught that sacred traditions are only meaningful if taken literally.
  • That literalism tends to invert the original meaning of the myths themselves, including all of the points outlined above. 
  • Literalism tends towards creating divisions between different people and different groups based on supposed descent from figures in stories that were originally intended to be understood as celestial metaphor. 
  • Literalism has often been used to "excuse" (or, it should be said, only "supposedly excuse," since it does not in fact excuse) violence against other men and women.
  • Ultimately, all of these sacred traditions point us towards the importance of the spiritual realm, and especially the importance of the spiritual realm within ourselves and within everyone around us: the importance of recognizing and elevating and evoking the spiritual and the divine side of ourselves and of the cosmos, rather than demeaning and debasing and brutalizing and denying the spiritual and the divine in ourselves and in others and in the world around us.

And there are many other implications, in addition to those listed here.


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The sacred fig tree, continued: Jonah and the gourd

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

The previous post on The Bodhi Tree examined the very strong evidence that the imagery of the sacred fig tree under which the Buddha is described as attaining enlightenment has powerful points of resonance with the "vertical Djed" symbology found throughout the mythology of the world, and associated with the invisible, divine, spirit-component in human beings and indeed in all the universe.

This "vertical component" symbology can be shown to be directly related to the "vertical component" of the great cross of the year which runs from the winter solstice (at the "bottom of the year") straight up to the summer solstice (at the very "summit" of the year), in contrast to the "horizontal component" that connects the two points of equinox and which represent the "crossing points" between the worlds of spirit and matter. In contrast to the vertical spirit-component of this great cross, the horizontal component almost always pictures the physical, animal, material nature into which we are "cast down" when we incarnate in this mortal life, during which time we are "crossed" in the human condition of being simultaneously spirit and matter, divine and animal, vertical and horizontal.

Hence, the vertical-component symbology of the bodhi tree under which the Buddha achieves enlightenment can be shown to be related to the reconnection with the divine and the transcendence of the dual and conflicted condition in which we find ourselves: a spiritual transcendence which can only be achieved by actually entering into the lower or material realm (in much the same way that plants  and trees which grow up towards the heavens must first begin as seeds planted in the "lower realm" of the earthy soil, as Alvin Boyd Kuhn frequently explains in his writings on the subject).

Readers who are familiar by now with the thesis that a common system of celestial allegory can be shown to run through virtually all of the world's ancient myth and sacred tradition may have already begun to question whether this sacred fig tree under which the Buddha achieves the height of divine consciousness has any echoes in other sacred traditions around the world -- and indeed we would probably be very surprised if a symbol of such central importance did not have echoes in other world mythology.

Students of classical literature, and especially those who love the Odyssey of Homer, might immediately think of the fig tree which saves Odysseus from certain destruction between the whirlpool of Charybdis and the ravenous snaking heads of the monster Scylla, in the Odyssey's Book 12 (particularly lines 464 - 478). This fig tree is almost certainly connected to the fig tree of the Buddha -- because I believe that in addition to being associated with the vertical "Djed column" which runs through the great circle of the year from the lowest point at winter solstice up to the highest point at summer solstice, the "fig tree" of sacred tradition can be shown to be associated with a very prominent feature of the starry heavens, the same feature that runs between Scylla and Charybdis, to which Odysseus is described as clinging to "like a bat" in order to escape being sucked down into the vortex.

Students of the Hebrew Scriptures may have read the previous post about the Buddha sitting beneath the sacred fig of the bodhi tree and been reminded of the numerous passages in which the promise that "every man should dwell safely . . . under his vine and under his fig tree" is given as a formula that describes the golden age under King Solomon in 1 Kings 4:25 and which is referenced in many other passages in the books of the prophets, including the scrolls of Isaiah and Micah and Zechariah.

Students of the New Testament scriptures may have considered the discussion of the Buddha underneath the bo tree and been suddenly reminded of the passage found only in the gospel according to John, in which Jesus calls Nathanael and tells Nathanael that he saw him "when thou wast under the fig tree," before Philip had told Nathanael to come and see Jesus (John 1:46 - 51).

In other words, fig trees feature prominently in myths and sacred stories around the world! There are many more like these, including from sacred stories in the Americas, some of which are examined in Hamlet's Mill (1969). Many readers will also have thought immediately of Adam and Eve, whose story certainly involves a central tree, and who are specifically described as making coverings for themselves out of fig leaves in Genesis 3:7.

What celestial feature might be playing the role of the fig tree in all of these celestial allegories?

Perhaps the most revealing passage which helps to decode this vitally important symbol, and one which was the first one that I myself thought of when reflecting on the image of the bodhi tree, is the story in the book of Jonah, which describes Jonah as taking shelter beneath a friendly kikajon or vine, translated as a "gourd" in the 1611 English translation.

There, in the fourth chapter of Jonah, after Jonah has been persuaded (by a stint in the belly of the fish) to preach to the Ninevites (whom he begrudged God's grace and did not want to see spared), we read:
5 So Jonah went out of the city, and sat on the east side of the city, and there made him a booth, and sat under it in the shadow, till he might see what would become of the city.
6 And the LORD God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was exceedingly glad of the gourd.
7 But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered.
8 And it came to pass, when the sun did arise, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and wished in himself to die, and said, It is better for me to die than to live.
9 And God said to Jonah, Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd? And he said, I do well to be angry, even unto death.
10 Then said the LORD, Thou has had pity on the gourd, for the which thou has not laboured, neither maddest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night:
11 And should I not spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?
And on that note the book of Jonah ends.

There are certainly deep subjects being treated here in these passages, but it also seems that Jonah sitting under his gourd has some points of resonance with the Buddha sitting under the sacred bo tree, even though the vine that shelters Jonah is not specifically described as a fig (although other passages in the Old and New Testaments specifically indicate a fig and characters who sit underneath one, as we have already seen).

As with so many other sacred myths around the world, and so many other passages based on celestial allegory in the passages of the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, enough "clues" have been included in the passage above for us to determine with some confidence just which celestial figures this ancient sacred story brings down to earth and clothes in "terrestrial form," so to speak.

Perhaps the feature of this story that does the most to unlock its celestial correlatives is the figure of "the worm" in verse seven, which is depicted as gnawing at or "smiting" the sheltering vine and causing its demise. If you are familiar with the night sky, you might immediately recognize this "worm" at the base of a glorious vertical tree or vine in the heavens as the sinuous constellation Scorpio, one of the most beautiful constellations in the heavens and one that is situated right at the very "base" of the thickest and brightest part of the shining band of the Milky Way galaxy, as it rises out of the southern horizon during the summer months (for observers in the northern hemisphere).

Below is my interpretation of the celestial figures depicted in the events of Jonah chapter 4, beginning with the "worm" of Scorpio, and working around to the rest of the events depicted in the chapter:

This is a modified Stellarium screen-shot of the night sky as it looks to an observer at a latitude of about 35 north, looking towards the southern horizon (almost due south), such that east will be to the left and west to the right. There, stretching upwards like a mighty tree, is the shining "trunk" of the Milky Way galaxy, and directly at its base or its "root" we can see the dreaded worm, in the zodiac constellation of Scorpio.

Just above Scorpio is a constellation we have not previously discussed on this blog (you can see a handy index of many of the stars and constellations that have been discussed in previous posts here), and we won't really discuss it at length in this post either, except to remark that its outline may well be the explanation for the line in Jonah 4:5 cited above in which we see that "Jonah made him a booth," in which to get a little shade as he sat looking towards Ninevah. The outline of Ophiucus is indeed somewhat suggestive of a "booth" or a narrow peaked tent, and although the interpretation of Jonah 4 does not stand or fall on the identification of Jonah's "booth" with the outline of Ophiucus, this correspondence appears to be a strong possibility. 

Just outside the "booth" (if that's indeed what it is), we see Jonah himself, sitting with his back to the vine. It is almost certain that the constellation of Bootes the Herdsman is playing the role of the seated  (and sulking) prophet Jonah in this chapter, and you can see that the constellation Bootes itself does indeed have a seated posture. In fact, the same seated posture can also be envisioned as being a posture of kneeling, or of sitting "cross-legged" or even in a "lotus position," if we envision a horizontal line connecting the two lowest points on the constellation as shown above.

We have already seen strong evidence that the constellation Bootes plays the role of the kneeling sage Bodhidharma or Da Mo, who knelt against a wall for nine years without moving (in some versions of the story, without even blinking), as discussed in a previous post entitled "Bodhidharma, Shen Guang, and the Shaolin Temple." 

I believe it is very likely that the seated prophet Jonah, the kneeling sage Da Mo, and the meditating figure of the Buddha underneath the bodhi tree, are all manifestations of one and the same celestial figure in the sky, the constellation Bootes beside the glorious vertical column of the Milky Way.

This identification, at least in the case of Jonah, is strengthened by the events described in verse 8, in which the worm has destroyed the gourd, and the sun comes up and beats upon the unprotected head of Jonah, who then faints. While the constellation Virgo located below Bootes figures in numerous Star Myths around the world as the wife or lover of the figure played by Bootes, such as in the story of Adam and Eve in which Bootes is almost certainly Adam and Virgo is almost certainly Eve, in this particular passage it seems quite likely that the figure of Virgo stretched out below Bootes represents Jonah having fainted from the sun beating down upon his unprotected head (and indeed Bootes does have a prominent and rather bulbous head, based upon the outline of the stars themselves in the constellation). The many places in Jonah chapter 4 in which Jonah says he might as well die or he is angry "unto death" would seem to add support to this identification in this particular part of the Jonah story.

Further confirmation that the fig tree of the world's sacred myths is indeed identified with this portion of the Milky Way can be obtained by considering again the story of Odysseus escaping from Scylla and Charybdis: in this story, Scylla is undoubtedly Scorpio, which appears to have multiple long heads emerging from its body on snaky necks, while the "top" of the Milky Way stretches towards the point of the north celestial pole, around which the entire "starry ocean" of the northern celestial sky appears to turn, just like a whirlpool.  

Between these two mortal threats, Odysseus is rescued by the friendly fig tree, to which he clings "like a bat" -- and you can easily confirm for yourself that just above the Scorpion in the shining path of the Milky Way there are two great bird-constellations, Aquila the Eagle and Cygnus the Swan, either of which might be playing the role of the hapless hero Odysseus, clinging for dear life to the fig tree in order to avoid being sucked down into the vortex of Charybdis (a vortex which is actually located in the "up" direction, for observers on earth, but not for players upon the great stage of the heavens, where "up" and "down" can take on different meanings in order to make the poetry work).

Still further confirmation is provided by the fact that the head of the constellation Bootes actually appears to resemble a "gourd," and is so described or depicted in many another Star Myth around the world. See for example the illustration of Da Mo shown on this page, (scroll down to the image in which Da Mo has a crooked staff over his shoulder, from which a gourd can be seen to dangle), or the image of Daikoku and Otafuku from Japanese myth shown and discussed in this previous post (scroll down for the discussion of the image, in which Daikoku represents Bootes and holds an enormous gourd, while Otafuku represents Virgo and holds a wand in one hand).

Thus, we have fairly strong evidence from literally around the globe to support the identification of Bootes with Jonah when Jonah is sitting "under the gourd," and fairly strong evidence from many of the world's myths to support the identification of the ubiquitous fig tree with the "vertical trunk" of the Milky Way as it rises up from the horizon.

Of course, the figure of the Buddha sitting under the bo tree achieving the state of highest divine consciousness, and the figure of Jonah petulantly nursing his anger that the LORD God has shown mercy to Ninevah could not present a greater contrast.

But note: the scroll of Jonah ends abruptly with the verses quoted above. We are not told anything more about Jonah. We only see that he is being admonished for his failure to have pity upon the people of Ninevah, whom he apparently hates because they are of a different family of humanity than he is -- and the divine voice tells Jonah in no uncertain terms that Jonah is wrong to think of them in this way.

We do not know at all whether or not Jonah ever achieved enlightenment, like the Buddha who likewise sat beneath the same celestial tree.

And here once again we must return to the incredibly helpful quotation from Alvin Boyd Kuhn, who reminds us that these stories are not about an external figure but that they are in fact about each and every man and woman on earth, and the experience of each and every human soul.  

In other words, we are both Jonah and the Buddha.

The depiction in one story describes one aspect of our journey, while the depiction in the other depicts another part of our ultimate experience. We should not spend too much time wondering about whether Jonah ever changes, and spend perhaps more time considering our own state of mind and consciousness. 

As well as our concern for our fellow human beings, whether they live in Ninevah or elsewhere. 

Blessing and not cursing.

Ultimately, these stories point us towards the concept of "raising the Djed" (or "the fig tree") and all that concept appears to have entailed, in the ancient system of sacred wisdom imparted to the human race.

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

Saturday, May 9, 2015

The Bodhi Tree

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

The Buddha is traditionally said to have attained enlightenment while sitting and meditating underneath the bo tree, or bodhi tree.

The term bodhi is one word for enlightenment, and does not mean a specific type of tree: however, the bodhi tree itself is traditionally understood to have been a ficus religiosa or "sacred fig," also known as a pipal (in Hindi) and an ashwanth (in Sanskrit). Buddhist monasteries in parts of the world in which this tree can prosper will almost invariably have one as one of their most sacred treasures

Additionally, in order to be designated a bodhi tree today, a tree is supposed to be descended from that original tree by direct propagation from it or one of its descendants. There are several such bodhi trees said to be descended in a direct line from the original bodhi tree under which the Buddha achieved enlightenment; one of those is pictured above.

The sacred fig or ashwanth has a distinctive heart-shaped leaf, clearly visible in the statue of the Buddha under the tree shown below (from the first century AD):

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

The shape of this leaf is so deeply associated with the achievement of this blessed state, and so imbued with meaning in Buddhist culture that this shape appears in stylized form even with no additional "explanation" necessary:

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

Now, what I find extraordinarily interesting and significant is the fact that the ashwanth or sacred fig, the very tree associated with the bodhi tree under which the Buddha achieves enlightenment, is associated in the ancient Vedic tradition of India with a specific celestial pair of stars, designated together by the name Pushya. 

You can see this ancient association between certain important Nakshatras (stars) and specific tree species attested to in various texts, for example in the scholarly publication of the Proceedings of the Seventh International Congress of Ethnobiology for 2002, and particularly on page 90 of that collection, shown here

Now, you might be asking yourself which specific star or stars are associated with the Nakshatra known as Pushya! Self . . .

Astonishingly enough, Pushya is associated with two stars: the Northern and Southern Colts, Asellus Borealis and Asellus Australis, which flank the beautiful Beehive Cluster in the zodiac constellation of Cancer, and which we have already seen to have been associated with the Manger in which the Christ is born and the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem in the New Testament scriptures.

We have also seen that the zodiac sign of Cancer the Crab is located at the very "top of the year" on the zodiac wheel, beginning immediately following the point of summer solstice, and that it is thus associated with the upraised Djed column and all that that powerful symbol was intended to convey, including the "raising up" of the invisible and divine spirit within the individual and within all of the material-spiritual cosmos through which we sojourn in this incarnate life. 

Due to this positioning at the "top of the cycle" which the great zodiac wheel symbolizes in its entirety, the upraised arms of the Crab (visible in the constellation itself) were associated in ancient symbolic art and in ancient myth with the upraised arms of the sacred Scarab, with the upraised arms of the ancient Egyptian god of the air (Shu), with the upraised arms of Moses when signaling victory, and with the upraised arms depicted on the sacred Ankh above the vertical Djed column, such as in one famous image from the Book of the Going Forth by Day (also more commonly known as the Egyptian Book of the Dead, or in previous centuries sometimes referred to simply as the Ritual) found in the Papyrus of Ani.

Now, the association of the bodhi tree of the Buddha with the stars of the zodiac sign of Cancer the Crab thus becomes incredibly important, and powerfully resonant with all the other manifestations of this same concept in the ancient wisdom of the world -- the concept which I usually refer to as the "raising of the Djed" with all of its myriad layers of significance. 

This association means that, in addition to all else that this "vertical element" in the great cross of the year represents (all that is "vertical" or spirit-elevating in our individual journey and all that brings forth the invisible spirit world that infuses and animates everything in the universe around us), it is also directly related to the concept of enlightenment, of transcendence of the "cast down" condition we experience when we enter into incarnate form and of profound connection with the infinite.

The bodhi tree can thus also be seen to have connections to the World Tree which Odin ascends and upon which he must hang until he is suddenly granted a vision into the invisible realm of the infinite, and to the tree which the shaman ascends literally in cultures around the world as part of the ecstatic journey.

Ultimately, this is a journey undertaken not just by Odin or the Buddha but in fact by every single human soul. I believe (and have quoted Alvin Boyd Kuhn on this specific point several times in the past) no ancient myth or cycle "is apprehended in its full force and applicability until every reader discerns himself or herself to be the central figure in it!" 

One need not journey to a specific location where an external Buddha is said to have achieved his enlightenment, nor visit a specific tree reputed to be descended from the very tree under which he sat when he achieved this union with the infinite (although there is nothing wrong with doing so, and it would indeed be a beautiful experience to be in the presence of one of the sacred ficus trees revered and lovingly tended by so many generations of fellow-journeyers through this vale of tears). The bodhi tree, and enlightenment, are in fact inside us at all times (see the tremendously helpful perspective shed upon this concept by Peter Kingsley, discussed here).

We can each sit under that very tree at any time, no matter where in the universe we happen to be.


(Note the two "small celestials" to either side of the Buddha, each of which I have indicated by a red arrow. I believe the Buddha and the bodhi tree in this image clearly relate to the "vertical line" running up from the winter solstice through the summer solstice, while the two flanking figures represent the two equinoxes and the horizontal line between them: the line of being "cast down" into incarnation, which the Buddha and the enlightenment under the fig tree overcome with the "raising back up" of the Djed. In this interpretation, the two flanking figures thus play the same role that Isis and Nephthys play in the Papyrus of Ani image linked before, while the Buddha and the Tree play the same role as the Djed column and the Ankh with upraised arms in that Papyrus of Ani image. This role is also played by Cautes and Cautopates in the Mithraic symbology discussed here).

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Djed Column every day: Ahimsa

original image (background): Wikimedia commons (link). "Ahimsa" added by the author.

We've been exploring the concept of "raising the Djed" as part of daily practice, and have been examining some of the different paths from around the world which appear to be related to that idea.

As the preceding post discussed, the practice of Yoga may qualify as one of the most well-preserved of the great "streams" of ancient knowledge which has survived to the present day. It is a practice which contains in its broad current much more than the asanas or Yoga postures which are most commonly associated with Yoga, and it is a practice which has as part of its explicit aims the ultimate transformation of the consciousness and the elevation of the "divine flame within oneself" which is clearly very closely connected to that idea which appears to be so central to the world's ancient sacred traditions, which the ancient Egyptian symbolism described as the "raising back up" of the Djed of Osiris, and which is present in other forms in other myth-cycles, and in the Great Cross of the Year created by the "horizontal line" between the equinoxes and the "vertical line" between the solstices (see here).

While much more can be said about the significance of the Yoga asanas, their very ancient origin (some postures, indeed, being depicted on seals and miniature sculptures dating back to Mohenjo Daro and Harappa, circa 2500 BC, as discussed by Victor H. Mair in the important examination of parallels between concepts in the Taoism and Yoga found on page 158 in the appendix of his translation of the Ma-Wang-Tui texts of the Tao Te Ching, 1990, and other Yoga-like postures depicted in certain artistic representations from ancient Egypt, as discussed by John Anthony West in his indispensable 1979 study, Serpent in the Sky, for example on page 93), and while Yoga itself as a comprehensive system encompasses many important disciplines in addition to the asanas which can each be seen as disciplines for "raising the Djed" in daily life and which are also found in other streams of the ancient wisdom of the human race, we will here focus in on one particular facet of Yogic expression which all by itself can be seen as an essential distillation of the concept of elevating the spiritual aspect in this dual material-physical universe: the concept of ahimsa.

Ahimsa is a Sanskrit word which combines the negative prefix "a-" and the word himsa, which means "to do injury" or "to do harm," and which comes from a root word meaning "to strike a blow." Thus, ahimsa is often translated as meaning "non-injury," "non-violence," "non-harm," and by extension "compassion" and "beneficence towards all." It is often understood to go well beyond the idea of not actually doing physical violence to another, and to encompass also the idea of "not even wishing to do violence" or "not even harboring harmful intent at all."

In an essay on the wider concepts of "Yama and Niyama" published in 1903 (beginning on page 637 of this publication), Yogic and Vedic scholar Hirendra Nath Sinha wrote of this wider understanding of ahimsa:
What appears on the physical plane as an injury to another is from the stand point of spirit, really an injury to one's self. Every act and thought of ours recoils on ourself and affects our prospects. Non-injury has therefore been defined as not injuring another by thought, word or deed. [. . .] There should not be even the least shadow of ill-feeling in the one's mind. We may do a good deed or be charitable on the pressure of circumstances; but if the heart does not concur or the mind hesitates even for a moment we are far away from the realisation of Ahimsa. We generally do greater harm mentally than by words or acts, because our thoughts are not so very easily detectable as our words or acts and capable of being restrained. 645-646. 
Clearly, such an expression of beneficence and non-harm would be very difficult to achieve even for a fleeting instant, let alone for long stretches of the day, and thus the concept of ahimsa can certainly be seen to be a practice we can try to incorporate into the pattern of our lives, without worrying that we will achieve it very rapidly and have to search around for another goal to accomplish once that one's "out of the way"!

In fact, Mahatma Gandhi put a very high value on the practice of ahimsa, positing a symbiotic relationship between the pursuit of ahimsa and the pursuit of Truth, and he himself wrote about how elusive the pursuit of true ahimsa, even for a fleeting moment, was in his own life. He says in his autobiography, entitled The Story of My Experiments with Truth:
My uniform experience has convinced me that there is no other God than Truth. And if every page of these chapters does not proclaim to the reader that the only means for the realization of Truth is Ahimsa, I shall deem all my labour in writing these chapters to have been in vain. And, even though my efforts in this behalf may prove fruitless, let the readers know that the vehicle, not the great principle, is at fault. After all, however sincere my strivings after Ahimsa may have been, they have still been imperfect and inadequate. The little fleeting glimpses, therefore, that I have been able to have of Truth can hardly convey an idea of the indescribable lustre of Truth, a million times more intense than that of the sun we daily see with our eyes. In fact what I have caught is only the faintest glimmer of that mighty effulgence. But this much I can say with assurance, as a result of all my experiments, that a perfect vision of Truth can only follow a complete realization of Ahimsa. 453-454.
Clearly, this concept of ahimsa is very difficult to achieve in this dual physical-spiritual "vehicle," and yet it can undoubtedly be shown to be closely bound up with the concept of "elevating the spiritual" which is expressed in the symbol of the "vertical Djed column" (as also the vertical portion of the symbol of the cross, in contrast to the horizontal element of the cross), and thus with the concept of evoking or re-connecting with the invisible and divine spark that is present but unseen within us and all around us, and thus with connecting to "the ultimate" or with what Gandhi appears to be pointing towards above when he speaks of "Truth" which is also identified with "God."

(For further elaboration on the symbolism of the "vertical component" and the "horizontal component" as they relate to the concept of spiritual and physical and to the concept of the Djed column and to the symbology of the equinoxes and solstices that can be shown to be present in nearly all the sacred traditions, texts and mythologies of the world, see for example this previous post, as well as this video, among others).

We can draw out the connection between (on the one hand) the concept of "raising the Djed" that we have been exploring in all of the recent posts and (on the other hand) the concept of ahimsa by revisiting some of the previous discussions regarding the idea of violence, and the undeniable tendency of violence (whether physical, verbal, or even mental) to "objectify" the target of the violence, to "degrade," to "debase," and to "brutalize" -- that is, to deny or belittle or even to stamp out the presence of spirit and of the invisible and the divine within the object of violence, to reduce to the level of gross matter or to the level of the animal nature (the "horizontal component"), instead of trying to elevate and call forth the "vertical component," the spiritual component, the divine component, the invisible component (all of which is expressed in the "vertical Djed column" as opposed to the "cast-down Djed column").

Ultimately, of course, violence leads to the actual killing of the object of violence, which can be seen as the ultimate in "casting down" or "denying the vertical component," because it reduces the target of the violence to a corpse, a thing, an inanimate object (it seeks to beat down the "vertical" into the "horizontal," instead of lifting up the horizontal to the vertical again, which is the goal described and depicted in virtually all of the world's sacred traditions).

Previous posts which have dealt with the brutalizing or degrading aspect of violence include:

(among many others). Thus, the concept of violence which casts down or suppresses or seeks to deny the spiritual and the divine in others and in the universe itself can be seen to be analogous to the concept of cursing, and the concept of non-violence and even further of compassion and beneficence that is contained in the word ahimsa can be seen to have strong resonance with the concept of blessing, discussed in previous posts here and here.

And, while Mahatma Gandhi and others cited above testify to the elusiveness of the possibility of fully incorporating a spirit of true ahimsa into every minute of our waking life, it is certainly a practice which we can at least pursue whenever we can think to do so, and which would seem to have great benefits to ourselves and to others to the degree we do make it a daily practice in our lives.

Indeed, the Sanskrit epic known as the Mahabharata of ancient India (the origins of which probably stretch back at least as far as 900 BC, and possibly earlier) repeatedly enjoins the practice of ahimsa, saying at one point:
अहिंसा परमॊ धर्मस तदाहिंसा परॊ थमः
अहिंसा परमं थानम अहिंसा परमस तपः
अहिंसा परमॊ यज्ञस तदाहिस्मा परं बलम
अहिंसा परमं मित्रम अहिंसा परमं सुखम
अहिंसा परमं सत्यम अहिंसा परमं शरुतम
सर्वयज्ञेषु वा थानं सर्वतीर्देषु चाप्लुतम
सर्वथानफलं वापि नैतत तुल्यम अहिंसया
अहिंस्रस्य तपॊ ऽकषय्यम अहिंस्रॊ यजते सथा
अहिंस्रः सर्वभूतानां यदा माता यदा पिता
एतत फलम अहिंसाया भूयश च कुरुपुंगव
न हि शक्या गुणा वक्तुम इह वर्षशतैर अपि
ahimsā paramo dharmas tathāhimsā paro damah
ahimsā paramam dānam ahimsā paramas tapah
ahimsā paramo yajñas tathāhismā param balam
ahimsā paramam mitram ahimsā paramam sukham
ahimsā paramam satyam ahimsā paramam śrutam
sarvayajñesu vā dānam sarvatīrthesu cāplutam
sarvadānaphalam vāpi naitat tulyam ahimsayā
ahimsrasya tapo 'ksayyam ahimsro yajate sadā
ahimsrah sarvabhūtānām yathā mātā yathā pitā
etat phalam ahimsāyā bhūyaś ca kurupumgava
na hi śakyā gunā vaktum iha varsaśatair api[17]

which translated means in part:
Ahimsa is the highest religion.
Ahimsa is the highest self-control.
Ahimsa is the highest penance.
Ahimsa is the highest sacrifice.
Ahimsa is the highest friend.
Ahimsa is the highest happiness.
Ahimsa is the highest truth . . .
It should be noted that, while the concept of ahimsa has been interpreted in varying ways by various traditions that look to these ancient texts, and to other ancient texts and traditions which similarly enjoin the supreme importance of ahimsa, the understanding of ahimsa does not always entail what we might term "complete pacifism" -- that is to say, many commentaries (including ancient texts, such as parts of the Mahabharata itself) appear to teach that there is a distinction between not harming another, and using force in order to prevent someone else from harming another.

In other words, the concept of ahimsa or "not harming" does not necessarily teach that one may not use force in order to stop someone from being harmed (including one's self). Indeed, it may be seen to be consistent with the concept of ahimsa to use force to stop a violent intruder who has broken into one's household in order to do harm (although, in fairness, it must be noted that some interpretations of ahimsa would disagree).

Nor does it necessarily follow that anyone pursuing the concept of ahimsa must necessarily renounce completely all debates and discussions of what we might call "politics" -- indeed, it seems to follow rather logically that if one perceives that violence, injury, or oppression is being perpetrated against others, the concept of ahimsa would enjoin us to oppose that violence and seek to bring about its cessation.

It should also be said that such a situation -- the stopping of violence -- is the only "excuse" for the use of force, and that no one gets any special "license to kill" simply by virtue of donning a uniform, or quoting a scripture, or through any of the other forms of mind control used to condone violence in violation of ahimsa, which of course cannot be condoned or excused in reality and in the actual karmic laws of the universe.

Much more can of course be explored on this powerful subject. However, in the scope of this particular abbreviated examination of ahimsa, which focuses in particular on the concept ahimsa as it relates to the concept of the "vertical Djed column" and the "raising back-up" of the "cast-down Djed column," it is perhaps enough to simply say that there are many possible "life disciplines" which we can explore as options for connecting with and elevating the spiritual and divine spark that is always present in ourselves and in everyone and everything around us, and which we can choose to make a daily part of our own walk. The conscious cultivation of ahimsa would seem to be one very fundamental and vital "Djed-raising" mindset that we can consider pursuing more consciously and consistently, and one which is perhaps needed today more than ever.

However, in closing this particular discussion of ahimsa as it relates to the contrast between the "vertical component" and the "horizontal component" (both of which are present at all times in us during this incarnation, and both of which are manifest in the dual-natured universe in which we find ourselves), it might not be superfluous to point out that in our daily practice of ahimsa, as we cultivate not just the practice of not harming others but of not even desiring harm or imagining about harm, that we live in a point in time in which visual entertainment is perhaps more violent than at any time in history up until now.

Certainly it could be argued that the epics and sacred scriptures of the world are filled with descriptions of battle, but it can also be countered that describing a battle, even in poetic language, and depicting it along with copious CGI visual effects of gore and ballistic impacts in the visual medium of film are actually quite different in their impact on the brain (it can also be convincingly demonstrated, I believe, that those ancient epics and scriptures are almost entirely allegorical, and describe the "battles" created by the motions of the heavenly bodies and the cycles of the year, and of the sun, moon, stars, and visible planets -- rather than actual literal-historical conflicts in the vast majority of the cases; see examples of my analysis of a few dozen ancient "Star Myths" listed here, and there are many more such analyses which I intend to publish in the future).

But can one really imagine a guru or a serious practitioner of Yoga or of ahimsa actually enjoying the countless execution-style killings depicted in a television series such as the Walking Dead? Or the frenetic blasting apart of swarms of humanoid robots in movies such as the latest Avengers or its previous forerunners?

I mention these particular series, not to pick on them in particular, but to highlight what I believe is an extremely regrettable -- and perhaps an especially insidious -- aspect of these specific orgies of violence, and an aspect which relates directly to the distinction between the "horizontal" and "vertical" components of the Djed column which we are exploring in this discussion of ahimsa (and of the concept more broadly of "raising the Djed" or the spiritual and divine component), and that is that shows which graphically illustrate the repetitive blowing apart of "zombies" or of "robots" seem to be deliberately removing the spiritual or "divine spark" component from the victims of the violence, and thus reducing them to the status of "all horizontal and no vertical" right from the outset.

This "removal of the human spirit" from the victims can perhaps be argued to "make it OK" -- blowing apart robots (or zombies) doesn't really violate ahimsa at all, does it? A robot doesn't have a spirit at all, it's not even alive (neither is an undead creature like a zombie, I guess), and so blowing them apart with large-caliber weapons fired at close range (or other, even more creative ways of physically removing their ability to move around and cause trouble) is just good fun to watch, right?

The problem I see with this particular genre of cinematic mayhem, which is not just popular right now but practically ubiquitous in visual entertainment being offered at every turn, to viewers of all ages, all the time, is that these supposedly "soul-less" robots and zombies actually resemble human beings rather closely (that's part of what makes them so disturbing, after all). Watching the execution-style killing of zombie after zombie may be argued to desensitize the viewer to the fact that in point of fact there is no such thing as a zombie, and anyone being executed in real life is in fact a human being who does indeed have a spiritual component!

Could it not be argued that watching the super-speed blowing apart of what must be tens of thousands of human-shaped robots in movies such as the Avengers, or the agonizingly slow-speed execution-style "killing" of what must also be tens of thousands of "walkers" by now in that popular (and, it must be admitted, well-written -- from the one episode I did actually watch) series actually desensitizes people to the fact that everyone they will ever meet in this world actually does have a human soul (unlike a zombie or a robot), and that the very real and very horrific physical violence being perpetrated on human beings by artillery shells, high-caliber chain guns, depleted-uranium sabot rounds, bombs dropped from jet aircraft, or "hellfire" missiles fired from drone aircraft (to name just a few examples that have taken place in unspeakably large numbers in recent years, and which continue this very minute in various places on our planet) are actually tearing down the spiritual component in real "dual-nature" men and women and children, and reducing them to horizontal bodies?

In short, to what degree do such repeated depictions encourage us to identify with the protagonists, and view people around us as zombies, or soul-less robots? Doing so, of course, is the opposite of blessing and of ahimsa.

It seems that this argument could in fact be made, and that as entertaining as these films and television shows might appear to be, they are in fact very dangerous for our own souls, not to mention inimical to the "cause of ahimsa" in the world at large.