Thursday, March 09, 2006

Thank you, thank you.

D.T. Suzuki's last words were: "Don't worry. Thank you! Thank you!" An introduction to his way of thinking can be found at the World Haiku Review. His small book, Introduction to Zen, is recommended. Photo of Dr. Suzuki's grave from World Haiku Review by Museki Abe of Tokyo.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The End of the World: dream of "Dali"

This more or less completes the ideas and themes which comprise this journal's original intentions. The other night I had a dream that I was driving into a city with "Dali" a Hindu Indian woman with whom I had been travelling every day to a city for lunch, over a bridge; she doing the driving. When I told her of my fondness and affection for her, she said, "I'm dying now." This is a dream of the Anima, the female part of a masculine personality - the muse, which guides to prose, poetry and pictures. Death in a dream like this, where the character is arcane as in Tarot cards, generally means a change and a rebirth - a prelude. It was a suitable dream and a suitable time for this to end, as I'd received a yellow robe from my mother-in-law and been writing in it the last two years, then at this Christmas I received from my wife a beautiful long, green fleece robe, made by her. I have had four robes in the last 21 years of marriage - red for the first ten years, then dark blue for another seven years, yellow during the Awakening of this, now green. All marking significant passages and transitions. Like Jim Dine's Husband with His Left Arm on Fire (above) - robes take on a significant cast to the quiet life - synchronicity, say shrinks; the quiet river which tumbles beneath the city - meaningful coincidence. Likewise, there have been dreams to mark these transitions. On the day before I married I dreamed that the Indian warrior Cochise came to my car and we two drove over a bridge, with him doing the driving. This dream with "Dali" was such a dream. One of the first entries in this journal (October, 2005) is miss3's dream of a woman dying, and rising from the death was the Sun God. The Sun God archetype appears throughout this artist's work, perhaps the greatest dreamer of all time, HIldegard von Bingen.

Appendix 1: Pictures

If you Google "Parthalon Flyingsnake DeCoursy," a name my kids helped make up, about 10 pages come up which interpret Surrealist paintings as dreams, much as they were conceived in the collective state of Unconscious in which these artists worked together and alone. (Or go to this Surrealist website and click on the pictures.) For example: two eggs - Man Ray, Magritte and Dali all had this dream and so did I and many others - a symbol of the New Creation in the Hindu, but not yet Awakened - pictured as a statue of Khrishna holding two eggs (wu chi - unhatched or unmanifest karma - later they will become two birds in a tree, or yin and yang, the life force manifest in tai chi). This picture of man and bird above on the left relates to the famous picture with the Green Apple face - the Son of Man on the right. Here at left he has a white tie, implying an inner condition, while the spirit bird flies to the left of frame, also the direction of the inner condition. In Son of Man the tie is red, implying an outward manifestation of the same condition (consider this to be an expression of wu chi and tai chi, and the moment of turning from the inner unmanifest condition to the outer condition of coming into the world at the date of these two paintings, 1964). This is discussed earlier at the beginning of these journals in the entry titled: Orange Monk: Salvador Dali's Dream of The Second Coming of Christ apparently as a Buddhist monk.

Appendix 2: Dreams

Better than a hundred years not seeing one's own immortality is one single day of life if one sees one's own immortality. - The Dhammapada

'I'd rather be dead than cool.
- Kurt Cobain

The richest dream I have ever had was of three ancient men in old, gray robes and wispy beards, kneeling in the pale light of an ancient Christian/Islamic temple, stone with large columns, like the Hagia Sophia or the Church of the Nativity. There was a swirling ball of light before them. I was told to keep my head down because I was in the House of God. (My children have found a very close equivalent in Magic: The Gathering cards drawn by Seattle artists at just around the same period.) Most lucid dreams occur between four and five in the morning, but this was at approximately 11 PM Eastern time (five or six PM Pacific time). I learned later that this dream occurred just as the singer Kurt Cobain died. I did not know who he was, so I learned. I felt he resembled Yeats’ Aquarian, the Unicorn born to a prostitute in a garret in Paris, a squalid picture not unlike the Seattle grunge scene in the 1990s, noted for heroin and cappuccino from which Kurt Cobain arose to short prominence in what was, as far as I can see, a singular quest to find God. A suicide in his early years, he was never able to kick heroin or depression. His short life is a starling picture of Americana in a tough logging town in the Pacific Northwest. An account of his death in Rolling Stone Magazine stated that when he was still a child his mother, in a fit of depression, tried to kill him by shooting him in the head. When the gun misfired she was shamed and threw all the guns her husband had left behind in a river. The young Kurt fished them out and traded them for his first amplifier that day at a pawn shop. His Awakening came while sitting under a leaky bridge while he struggled with poverty and drug addiction. I did not know what to make of this dream at the time. I still don’t. Maybe I will learn someday. I have held on to dreams which felt important for up to 30 years and suddenly found their purpose and understood them. I was prompted by this dream to study the The Three Celestial Ones which an earlier chapter is about, as they seemed so vivid in this dream. I do know that something seemed to happen in the world at about that time – something opened. I have had a variety of very interesting coincidences with a variety of Kurts since then. Another dream episode: One day I was talking to a student in my office about a dream he was having of Andre Breton (here by Max Ernst). In the dream he saw 13 concentric circles and as he drew them with pen on paper to explain, the electricity in my computer started wiggling. I told him to stop but he was wrapped up in his drawing. When he got to the 13th inner circle all the electricity went out in the building and there was a large explosion. Outside was a big hole, maybe eight feet across and six feet deep. It came from a surge in electricity they said, but they didn’t know what caused it.

In days gone by in the West, this journey into dreams was done by shamans, the one person in the tribe who could go into the unconscious and come out alive, bringing with her or him the goods of the psyche to show to his or her people. Anyone else, it should be noted, would risk madness. But without the shaman, the people were lost souls, lost in the material world, without access to the inner life.

Shamans are usually female and in cultures where they are male, they are almost always males that dress as women. The she/male is the link to the feminine ocean; the land of the dead, the Unconscious. The she/male’s female nature allows her into the unconscious without danger and her warrior ability allows him to climb back out. Characteristically, the shaman is the tribe’s soothsayer, healer and dream interpreter. Very often they are called to the position by a voice from the Unconscious, an archetypal deity of the tribe. They also have special roles in ceremony. Winktes, she/male shamans in New World Indian tribes, enter a trance state to find the appropriate name for newborn babies, for example. In rural Thailand, they often dressed like Marilyn Monroe when I was there in the mid Sixties. There they have an unofficial role in the carnival atmosphere of city squares in the evening, with the fortunetellers, snake charmers and astrologers. Western psychologists, of course, considers them to be insane, but they change their cloak of inauthenticiy so frequently that their credibility dwindles with every new garment they don.

Needless to say, this role has disappeared in the West, but at the cost of intimate knowledge of the Unconscious. Not only is this a loss to everyone in the West, but it was also a loss to those who would be shamans. Many traditional shamans, like Tibetan monks and the Taoist hermits of China’s Cold Mountain, practice celibacy, as the sexual practice is too tumultuous and disturbing to the life of the unconscious. (Too violent, said Surrealist painter, Salvador Dali, who was more shaman than artist.) The riddle proposed by the Rhine Maidens alludes to this. The inner life, they tell the journeyer, can only be seen by those who forgo love.

I have been listening to my own dreams and other peoples for 40 years. In the absence of shamans, here are some thoughts on dreams:

- You cannot have a productive dream life if you drink alcohol. (Daily drinking can short-circuit psychic life and inhibit REM sleep. Alcoholism, says one Zen Buddhist monk, has become a substitute for religion in the West.)

- Dreams accompany life. Coincidences related to dreams are important and are part of the dream and the life.

- Dreams form a kind of archaeology to your life and perhaps to your ancestors, but not if you don’t have a life. Dreams are not a substitute for life or an escape from life.

- You cannot have a continuously productive dream life if you live in a big city.

- The Chinese practice for activating the unconscious is to live three years away from the city, which is a rational matrix, and live alone or with monks on a sacred mountain. My own experience more of less concurs. In New York I dreamed sporadically. Exactly three years later on the farm in the foothills of the mountains, dream activity became much more enriched, eventually richer than I every imagined possible.

- Some people have a gift for dreaming as some people do for painting. Women are constitutionally better at it than men. Of the two most gifted dreamers I have ever encountered, the one is an Australian woman with access to the most primeval outbacks and nature. One of her dreams is given in the entry titled Returning. She has five children and had her first at about the age 18, and thus has lived in a psychological cycle in sync with the biological cycle. She is also to date unimpeded by higher education and the objectivistist matrices and orthodoxies which come with it. She is keenly intelligent, fearless and inherently curious by nature. The other, miss3, whose dream of the Sun King is discussed throughout this journal, is similar to the Australian woman. She lives in the northernmost forests of Ontario in the glow of the Arora Borealis with extended family on the very edge of the artic regions, far above city lights.

- Individuals with an aboriginal cast of mind are naturally good at dreaming. Related to this, people whose ancestors did not pass through the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason are better at dreaming and have better dreams than those who did. Zen Buddhism as it developed in classical Japanese culture is the antidote for those who did, and it was built specifically for that purpose by the analytically-inclined Japanese. It works as well for the analytically inclined in the West.

- People with a Myers-Briggs constellation of INTP or INFP, introverts who see the world flowing between events, are naturally good at dreaming. Taoism has it that the Inner Journey requires the two people; one with the gift of entry, the other able to understand what was there. These are different and opposite abilities. Whoever is good at the one will be constitutionally poor at the other.

- The Days of the Dead, Halloween, is, according to many folklore traditions, a period when the spirits of the dead run confluent with the living. This is said to be a good dream stretch, lasting to late into November.

- Births and deaths of loved ones, either blood family or friends, affect dreams. They are portals.

- Certain places are better for dreaming than others. The place for you to dream best is the place to which you belong.

- Between four and five in the morning the body temperature is at the lowest, and consciousness at the lowest ebb. This is the time when most animals are born (it is true with my animals) and according to folklore, when most people die. There is a dream window here that can be opened. This is a very dangerous practice. This is the hour of the wolf.

It should be stressed here on this last one, that this is extremely dangerous, particularly for men. It is a direct confrontation with the Unconscious. You could lose your mind. You could lose your soul. Or you could die. But everyone dies, and it is better to die like Kurt than not to have lived like Kurt. Live for love, die for love. Risk everything.

Appendix 3: Heading down the mountain

This and the other Appendixes originally were in my notes but didn’t fit in any text, but are interesting and amend what has been said. This part is about Tolstoy. He is most important and has been undervalued primarily because English professors who like his novels don’t like the second part of his life. But this second life has been the foundation of Gandhi’s non-violent movement in India and the Peace Movement in the United States. The great book on this has not been written yet, nor the great movie been made. Tolstoy’s teaching is central to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s vision of non-violence.

What is also important in Tolstoy is how he approached his old age. William James’ great book, The Variety of Religious Experiences should be required reading for those approaching 60 years old and I read in the paper this morning that there are approximately 80 million Americans approaching 60 in the next 20 years or so. Actual war babies, those born in 1946, turn 60 this year. It brings a crisis equivalent to adolescence, and it is a turning everyone must take.

Somebody tell the Clintons. I have an essay on my political blog that has been reprinted a couple of places about Bill Clinton being on the classic negative path of denial on this issue. Worse case, comes a sense of immortality. His attempt to start his own United Nations this summer qualifies as a episode of persona madness, to which the once important and famous, from Einstein to Clinton are prone.

For men in late 50s and 60s, the body depletes its driving hormones and the Mask of Death appears on the horizon and in your dreams. This, in the quaint phrase of Madison Ave. is called the mid-life crisis, and here is its most eloquent introduction:

When I had journeyed half of our life’s way
I found myself within a shadowed forest,
for I had lost the path that does not stray.

In a very different era but at precisely the same mid-life juncture, fictional Mafia boss Tony Soprano suddenly falls into a similar collapse at the sight of a flock of ducks taking flight. Like Dante, Soprano finds his Beatrice; a female psychiatrist who brings him into the world of the Unconscious. This brilliantly written, acted and designed production clearly begins with Dante: “The morning on the day I got sick I’d been thinking,” Tony tells his Beatrice in the first episode, “. . . its good to be in on something from the ground floor, and I came to late for that . . . I know . . . but lately, I’m getting the feeling that I came in at the end . . . the best is over.”

Tony Soprano is the working-class hero trying to find his way between old world and new world without succumbing to narcissism, individualism or the egregious business-class ethos of the “Wonder Bread wops.” Family, honor, duty, dharma, outcasts of the culture of denial, novelty, nihilism and eccentricity, today hide in Gangster Movies. But Tony's essential problem is disenchantment with his mid-life’s work after it has arced.

If you can travel through this chasm it can be your most creative passage – as it was with Dante and ultimately with Tony Soprano. It is like that described by J.R.R. Tolkien as a journey to Middle Earth. “So it went on, until his forties were running out, and his fiftieth birthday was drawing near: fifty was a number that he felt was somehow significant (or ominous); it was at any rate at that age that adventure had suddenly befallen Bilbo.” In fact, Tolkien, born in 1892, was himself just entering his fifties when he began his great work, The Lord of the Rings (composed between 1936 to 1949).

Probably one of the greatest and most creative middle life crises was by that “primitive oak” of a man, as William James called him, Leo Tolstoy, and his tenacious ability to carry through with it could be a lesson for today.

In his biographical book, Confession, written when he was 51, Tolstoy describes his previous life of literary fame lived on instinct, until five years before when something very strange started happening: “At first I began experiencing moments of bewilderment; my life would come to a standstill, as if I did no know how to live or what to do, and I felt lost and fell into despair. But they passed and I continued to live as before. Then these moments of bewilderment started to recur more frequently, always taking the same form. On these occasions, when life came to a standstill, the same questions always arose: ‘Why? What comes next?’”

And then, he continues, what happens to everyone stricken with a fatal inner disease happened to him: “At first minor signs of indisposition appear, which the sick person ignores; then these symptoms appear more and more frequently, merging into one interrupted period of suffering. The suffering increases and before the sick man realized what is happening he discovers that the thing he had taken for an indisposition is in fact the thing that is more important to him than anything in the world: it is death.”

At this turning point Tolstoy gave up entirely any interest in his literary work and took himself completely out of that period of this life to the work he would address in the next. Like many do at this transition, he turned to the church to which he was born, the Russian Orthodox Church. But here he faced the dilemma many of us face today.

When he returned to the Orthodox Church, he would not simply bow to the authoritarianism of the priests, but consider his own condition, and there he found a conflict.

Tolstoy grew up in the Age of Reason with a church from a previous age, and he was unable to reconcile the two. Rather than accept the authority of the church and believing on blind faith, which denied the integrity of the human being, he began to study other religions including Taoism, Buddhism, Islam and the Ba’hai religion, which was just taking shape in Persia.

When he embarked on his study of Christianity he felt himself, “. . . in the position of a man to whom is given a sack of refuse, who, after long struggle and wearisome labor, discovers among the refuse a number of infinitely precious pearls.” He decided to start from scratch, learned Greek and Aramaic, and translated the Gospel by himself, calling it The Gospel in Brief, because it left out what he considered to be side-show trickery, such as “the walking on the sea, and the raising of the dead.” These he omitted, he said, “… because contains nothing of the teaching and describing only events which passed before, during, or after the period in which Jesus taught, they complicate the exposition.” Their sole significance for Christianity, he wrote, was that they proved the divinity of Jesus Christ for him who was not persuaded of his divinity beforehand.

Tolstoy’s dilemma is our own dilemma. He grew up in a religion built with dogma and authoritarianism. Then he took off that coat and put it aside to enter his adult life. As he passed into old age he went back to his original church. This is the way it was done effectively for all time and at all places, as the going back takes place through the same gate through which one enters. But here he found that the coat he put aside in his youth did not fit and that there was no portal for him to enter into death.

Nor does it fit today. This is the Aquarian dilemma for the first few generations growing up in a new century. The old coat belongs to an age that is past and it no longer fits. It is a particularly American dilemma. Tolstoy’s solution was to build an entire religion firsthand, one with features of Taoism and Buddhism, but one he found within himself, echoing the ancient strains of the early Russian Orthodox and the Muslim of the Caucasus.

As one of his biographers said, Tolstoy was, in this period, a “being of evolution.” Russia faced its greatest transition in this period. The Romanovs would be murdered in a decade and the Bolsheviks would take power. But Tolstoy faced the changes that were taking place on a deeper level, a greater level, than the political and economic revolutionaries of his time.

We are “beings of evolution” and are just beginning to find our way through the murky darkness. The revolutionaries of Tolstoy’s time substituted a materialist fix for a decaying condition of the soul. We have done the same throughout the century with different prognostication and therapy, but still applying a materialist fix to a condition that is not at its root physical, but spiritual and psychological.

We will begin to find our way forward in this new century and in the first centuries after this. Tolstoy may serve as a guide, as he did to the non-violent leaders of the Civil Rights Movement and the anti-war movement in the 1960s. In his rigorous analysis and lucid proscription for action without violence, Tolstoy Awakened a new world. And those who grew up in an Englightenment tradition and still were instructed in the New Testament in youth will find his translation, The Gospel in Brief, instructive. When I read it I asked a dozen people raised Christian what the "moneylenders" at the temple were selling. No one knew the answer. They were selling animals for the purpose of blood sacrifice in the Temple. It is this which Jesus raged against. The conventional view based on the King James translation is that Jesus was angered at the Jews for sellling things on the Sabbath.
This makes no sense. There is nothing in Christ's life which makes him a fetish for Blue Laws. John 2:13-16, which relates the passage, makes no mention of blood sacrifice. The conventional translations change the story of Christ's life to fit the social scene of the early 1600s. As the English commerce class was rising, anti-Semetic pressures were growing and this passage as told created a mainstain charicature of Jews as petty and unethical financial dealers. If you Google the phrase "moneylenders in the Temple" today you find anti-Islamic entries - a new twist on a traditional Jew-as-Moneylender refrain. This passage as Tolstoy translates it makes an important point which has been twisted by Christian historians who have customized a Designer Christ to amend their own historiocal epochs. Tolstoy shows that as a Jewish reformer, one of the reforms Christ desired was the abandonment of blood sacrifice as barbaric and tribal. The Hebrews in fact abandoned this practise, but the Roman Church fathers, in conquering the northern lands, sublimated the Pagan practise of animal and human sacrifice as the primary ritual of the church, The Sacrifice of the Mass.