Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Ancient Mysteries: A Sourcebook of Sacred Texts

Book Review: The Ancient Mysteries: A Sourcebook of Sacred Texts   edited by Marvin W. Meyer  (University of Pennsylvania Press 1987)

The time of the mystery-religions was roughly from before 600 BC to about 400s AD. They flourished in the Hellenistic lands after Alexander’s conquests then in the days of the Roman Empire before the triumph of Christianity. Deities from Greece, Syria, Canaan, Anatolia, Egypt, and Persia were celebrated. Judaism and Christianity are also examined, particularly in their more Gnostic forms as mystery-religions. The mystery phenomenon preferred private worship among closed groups rather than outward public groups. Silence was often required regarding the details of the rites so not much is known about the mysteries. Some may stretch far back into antiquity. In the Eleusinian Mysteries there were three types of observances: legomena - “things recited,” deiknymena – “things shown,” and dromena – “things performed.” The things recited may have included the “heiros logos” – or sacred account of the mythos. Dramatic performances of these mythological scenarios were likely often part of the mysteries as well.

The first explored are the Greek Mysteries of the Grain Mother and Daughter and related mysteries here from Eleusis north of Athens. These Eleusinian Mysteries of Demeter and Kore refer to the grain as mother and the young grain as daughter. Kore is equated with Persophone, the Queen of the Underworld. Demeter may come from Crete and may be derived from the very ancient Cretan Mother Goddess. Pigs were sacrificed to the earth goddesses. When sacrificing to the powers of the earth, the cthonioi, one would pray by opening the palms toward the earth. Blood of the sacrifice and drink was offered in trenches so that it would soak down into the earth. This was most likely an agrarian festival rite meant to sow fertility and rain as well as religious salvation. Many other deities were venerated in Eleusinian Mysteries as well in relation to Demeter and Kore. In some myths Demeter mates with Zeus and bears the child Dionysus so the Bacchic rites are related although Dionysus is thought to have come from Anatolia. That there is an Homeric Hymn to Demeter and Kore attests that their worship is very old. The familiar myth of Kore being snatched by Hades (raped) and the subsequent sorrow of her Demeter was likely a key part of the mystery rites as well.

There are several types of textual sources in this book. I don’t think the subtitle, referring to them as sacred texts is quite accurate although some may be. There are plays, hymns – Homeric and Orphic, merely historical accounts, and revealing accounts by later Christians seeking to discredit them, and one novel – The Golden Ass by Apuleius – a great and funny account of a man who accidentally transforms himself into an Ass that I had read many years ago. In this form he encounters both the Mysteries of Cybele and Attis and those of Isis and Osiris. Heredotus states that the Eleusinian Mysteries were borrowed from those of Egypt. The Andanian Mysteries of Messenia included the Deities of Hagne (Kore), Hermes, and Apollo Karneios. Slaves were admitted to these rites at least in Roman times. One text examined is a sort of Rule of these Andanian Mysteries in Roman times and reads like a very boring and detailed legal document.

Next we come to the Greek Mysteries of Dionysus. The Dionysian rites are associated with the Greek Drama of Tragedy as frenzied murder and drunkenness were a part of the rites – in the case of murder whether metaphorically or actual is debatable. Dionysus was equated with the human soul, the animal life force (which is perhaps why the motif of an animal being torn with one’s bare hands and consumed raw was insinuated), and the spirit of wine and intoxicating plants. Sex was certainly a part of some of the Dionysian rites. The Orphic version has it that Orpheus was torn to pieces by the frenzied female devotees while trying to liberate his Eurydice. “According to the myth of Zagreus, it was the evil Titans who consumed Dionysus. Yet after Zeus incinerated the Titans for their wicked deed, human beings were created from the ashes. Thus human beings are bipartite, according to the Orphics: they are composed of a Titanic nature (the fleshy body) and a Dionysian nature (the immortal soul). Although the Dionysian soul is imprisoned in a Titanic body (or tomb), the soul may be delivered from its shackles by means of a life devoted to purity and realize its true Dionysian destiny.” Euripedes’ famous play, The Bacchae, from 500 BC is given as an example of the myth where the King Pentheus suspicious of the Dionysian revelry sweeping the land captures Dionysus. After Pentheus interrogates him rudely he lets him go so he can track him whereby Pentheus’s own mother and her other frenzied maenads tear Pentheus to pieces so this is the tragedy of the play. The Dionysian rites were associated with frenzy and ecstatic drunkenness but also with strange miracles, especially of fountains of water and wine arising from nowhere. Apparently around 186 BC the Bacchic rites near Rome became more violent as murders and much criminal activity was alleged and the Roman senate eventually voted to prosecute those responsible and several thousand people fled from Rome during the round-up. However, the Orphic version of the rites was much older and perhaps more sober and was attractive to Plato and likely Pythagoras as well as he was associated too with the Orphic rites of Apollo. Plato notes that the Orphic Dionysians conceived of an afterlife reminiscent of a symposia, or drinking party (in heaven there may be no beer – but wine aplenty!) A symbolic statement about the Dionysian Mysteries is, “the bull is father of the serpent, and the serpent is father of the bull.” Dionysus/Bacchus is equated with the bull. Serpents are typically cthonic/earth forces.

Next are the Anatolian Mysteries of the Great Mother and Her Lover, and the Syrian Goddess. The mountainous highlands of central Anatolia were home to the Indo-European Phrygians. Strange and ecstatic deities are thought to have come from this region including Dionysus, Sabazios, Kybele (Magna Mater) – the Great Mother of Anatolia, and her lover Attis. In 204 BC the Great Mother Cybele was welcomed into the Roman pantheon along with her eunich priests and the gory bull sacrifices. Devotees of the goddess played tambourines. In a rite they ate from drums and drank from cymbals and used a sacred vessel or dish of some sort. In the myths Attis is put in a frenzy by the offspring/alter-ego of the goddess and while mad he castrates himself with a flute under a pine tree. Apparently, some in mad, perhaps drunken too, fits emulated this act and became eunich priests of the goddess. Later there was a popular ritual of baptism by blood in a trench below a bull being sacrificed. This was apparently popular from 200 -400 AD in the Roman areas.

The Syrian Goddess was called Atargatis, or Derketo and was equated with Hera. So in the Hellenistic scheme it was Zeus, Hera, and a bearded Apollo that were celebrated. Also there were great temples to Aphrodite in Phoenicia and mourning rites for her mortally wounded lover Adonis. The bearded Apollo is equated to the Canaanite deity Baal, or Hadad. Aphrodite strongly resembles the Canaanite goddess Astarte, who is derived from the Babylonian Ishtar, who in turn is a form of the Sumerian Inanna. So one can fairly well trace Inanna to Venus. The mourning for Adonis has some similarity to the mourning for the slain Osiris. Lucian of Samasata in telling stories of the great Syrian and Phoenician temples around the city of Byblos, describes a Greek version of the story of Noah’s Arc that comes from this region. An account in - The Golden Ass – by Apuleius of Madauros – gives an account of rather unscrupulous and hypocritical priests of the Mother Goddess. The rites and practices of these goddesses as far as I can tell were a mix of religious piety – the cultivation of virtue and good habits – with rather bizarre ecstatic behavior. There was a Gnostic sect called the Naassenes that used the ideal of the eunich priests of the Goddess in a metaphorical way – so castration to them meant abstinence from sex. I am sensing that maybe some of the ideas of these cults of castration and sexual abstinence influenced the Jews of the time (in the same area) and the early Christians in their veneration of sexual abstinence and modesty and in their  disgust at prostitution and revelry.

Next we come to the Egyptian Mysteries of Isis and Osiris. “In Egyptian mythology the brother and rival of Osiris, Set, kills him, but Horus, the son of Isis and Osiris, defeats Set. Thus Horus, as the mythological counterpart of the living pharoah, succeeds his dead father and ensures the triumph of continuity and order in Egyptian life. Isis, meanwhile, along with Thoth, Horus, Anubis, and Nephthys, employs her magical powers to mummify Osiris and thereby restore him from death to life.” The very old Egyptian Mysteries of this sort were without a doubt different from the Graeco-Roman versions but the essential story is the same. Osiris is also the grain-Osiris so there is a fertility/agrarian component as the slain and risen grain god. The Egyptian conception was that the sun returned to the Underworld at night and so could be greeted there. The iconography of Isis as wel las her son Horus on her lap most definitely influenced the iconography of the Virgin Mary and that of the Madonna images. Isis was a moon goddess of magic and intimately connected with the dog star Sothis/Sirius and the annual flooding of the Nile. In Egyptian myth the early earth and sky deities - Geb and Nut (Nuit) were associated with Kronos (Saturn) and Rhea – the Titans, from the Greek pantheon according to Plutarch. Re (Ra) – the sun god equates to Helios and Thoth is matched with Hermes. Set is Typhon. Isis is sometimes compared to Persephone but also to Minerva, Venus, and Diana.  Osiris has been compared to Dionysus, particularly in his aspect as a god of life-giving moisture. Set is identified with drought. Horus they sometimes saw as Apollo. In the myth Set kills Osiris then Isis finds and hides his coffined body which Set finds and cuts into pieces and hides throughout the land. Isis both mourns and sets out on a quest to find each of the fourteen parts. She finds all but one, the phallus. She makes one and mummifies him and he communicates and interacts with his family from the underworld as god of the underworld. Osiris helps teach Horus the arts of war so he can defeat Set.  Isis and Osiris are identified as the queen and king of civilized life and culture. In ancient Egypt the dead became Osiris and traversed the underworld. First the rites were reserved for royalty but later more could take on the travels.  Isis is also a love goddess of sorts. There is a rather long section given in Apuleius’ Golden Ass where he has a vision of Isis and is freed from being in the form of an Ass. He then becomes a priest of Isis and then becomes initiated in the Mysteries of Osiris. Much info is given in this account of the rites and the religious nature of these mysteries. He describes Isis as, “the natural mother of all life, the mistress of the elements, the first child of time, the queen among those in hell, the first among those in heaven, the uniform manifestation of all gods and goddeses.”

An examination of the Mysteries of Mithras is next. The distinctly Roman version of these mysteries thrived from about the 200s AD for about 200 years and was mainly a male order associated with the Roman army. Its origins in Persia, Anatolia, or among the Cilician pirates may not have been so significant to the Romans. The stages of initiation were related to a hero’s path to salvation and this may have been more the emphasis in Roman times more so than the astronomical mysteries related to Mithras as mover of the heavens. There is still much debate as to how strong the influence of Iranian/Zoroastrian belief structure was to these rites. A Mithras Liturgy given describes the assent through the seven planetary grades. The stages of assent are given as follows:
1)      the four elements
2)      the lower powers of the air
3)      Aion (god of infinite time) and his powers
4)      Helios, the sun
5)      the seven Fates
6)      the seven Pole-Lords
7)      the highest god, portrayed like Mithras

There are many magical words and sounds given in the liturgy, some appearing Hebrew, some Egyptian, others Graeco-Roman. The rites were performed in caves and grottos and would include the use of honey and sharing of a ritual meal.

The last section is about the Mysteries pertaining to Judaism and Christianity. The format of the various Mysteries had a strong influence on all forms of Christianity and the Gnostic sects are basically Mystery religions. Philo of Alexandria (30 BC -45 AD) gives an account of Jewish contemplative life in the cosmopolitan Egyptian city. His people he refers to as the Therapeutae – who he says live a life of contemplation, rather than the life of activity lived by the Essenes. The life of the Therapeutae involved rigorous asceticism, prayer, strong seeking for a ‘vision of God’ and ritual singing. Philo compares these (Gnostic) Jewish rites to those of the Bacchic Mysteries in terms of seeking the ecstatic experience – but more through piety and asceticism than through indulgence. There is an account of the (Gnostic) Gospel of Phillip from the Nag Hammadi Library that elucidates the Mystical version of Christ where the participants become the Christ. The mysteries follow a pattern of baptism, chrism, eucharist, redemption, and bridal chamber. The bridal chamber secret involved restoring Eve to Adam – reuniting them into their original state beyond the dualities of the world and good and evil. A section of Clement of Alexandria’s Exhortation to the Greeks (from the end of the 2nd century AD) is given where he quite scathingly exposes the excesses of the Mysteries as fallacious. After reading this I can imagine how this document had a very strong influence on the rise of the popularity of Christianity in that in an intelligent and detailed language it brought out the worst parts of the various Pagan Mysteries and ridiculed them. Some parts such as the violence of certain rites and sacrifices were quite easy to criticize as uncivilized. Other parts were more of a tirade against non-Christian attitudes like shamelessness, indulgence, and physical ecstatic methods. Other statements were just ridicules. That Clement could get away with such statements criticizing the non-Christian sects attests to the growing power of Christianity – especially there in Alexandria. It would be another few hundred years before the Christians burned the great library at Alexandria and the great eclectic wisdom would have to go into hiding and the whole Hellenistic world would be so weakened as to fade under successive invasions and conversions.

In an epilogue the author notes that the prominent Christian theme of the dying and rising savior – indeed the central mystery of the cult – is nearly identical to several of the previous mystery cults – particularly those of the grain gods. Being re-born and rising to a new life were very common themes in most of the Mysteries. The similarities of Jesus mythos and fate to those of Baal, Osiris, Kore, Mithras, and Attis are worth examining.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Progressive Stages of Meditation on Emptiness

Book Review: Progressive Stages of Meditation on Emptiness  by Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche (Zhyisil Chokyi Ghatsal Publications – Prajna Editions 2001)

This is a book about the gross to the more refined views of reality in Buddhist Philosophy according to the Mahayana Tradition. The particular teachings given by Khenpo were derived from the famed 19th century non-sectarian teacher Jamgon Kongtrul from his,
“Encyclopaedia of Knowledge.”

First is the traditional Three Stages in the Process of Understanding Dharma Teachings: hearing/listening reflecting/pondering/contemplating, and meditation (by incorporating into one’s being). These three are also called the Three Fields of Investigation and the Three Ways to remove Doubt. There are Buddhist texts said to relate to these three activities. He gives as an example of hearing – The Jewel Ornament of Liberation – by Gampopa as a thorough exposition of relative truth. The Madyamakavatara by Chandrakirti is given as an exposition of the ultimate truth of emptiness. The Mahayana Uttaratantra Shastra attributed to Maitreya is given as a text to meditate on after studying the texts on emptiness. This text is about Awakened Nature, or tathagatagarbha. This Buddha Nature forms the theoretical basis for tantra and mahamudra. These also refer to the three turnings of the dharma wheel. So first study relative truth, then absolute truth, then the more subtle versions of absolute truth that reveal themselves through direct understanding beyond conceptuality. The progressive stages of meditation on emptiness refer to these subtle-ward realizations. In this system there are fives stages:
1)      Shravaka stage – the stage of the hearer
2)      the Cittamatra stage – the stage of the mind-only school
3)      the Svatantrika-Madhyamaka stage
4)      the Prasangika-Madyhamaka stage
5)      the Shentong Madhyamaka stage

The example is given of clay as a solid substance as a relative truth and as a collection of atoms as a truth grading toward the absolute. The gradual refinement process is also likened to zooming in on a target – getting more and more precise.

The main Hinayana (smaller vehicle) schools are given as Vaibashika and Sautrantika. The Mahayana is subdivided into Cittamatra and Madhyamaka (Middle Way). The Madhyamaka in this system is divided into Rangtong and Shentong. I think this is a Tibetan division. Here the Indian Yogacara school is associated with the Shentong view. The Rangtong is divided into Sautantrika and Prasangika. There is debate among the Tibetan schools as to which view is the most subtle. The Kagyu school from which this book derives favors the Shentong View as the more refined. The Geluk school usually favors the Rangtong and the Prasangika as the most subtle view.

First is the approach of the Shravaka, or hearer. At this stage the emptiness of self is contemplated. This refers to the selflessness, or anatta, taught by the Buddha as a mark of existence. He said that the root cause of suffering is clinging to the idea of a permanent, independent, truly existent self. The main problem we have is a habit of behaving as if the self were permanent and independent. These arguments are difficult for most people as the existence of the self seems rather obvious. “The question is not whether or not the person, personality, or ego is a changing, composite train of events conditioned by many complex factors. Any rational analysis shows this to be the case. The question is why then do we behave emotionally as if it were lasting, single and independent. Thus when looking for the self it is very important to remember it is an emotional response that one is examining. When one responds to events as if one had a self, for example when one feels very hurt or offended, one should ask oneself who or what exactly is feeling hurt or offended.” The exercise of looking for the self and of asking who is having the comfort or discomfort is key to exploring the nature of our idea of self.

“Clearly, in order to end one’s own suffering, there is nothing more important than to realize that when one acts as if the body and mind constituted a lasting, separate, independent self, one unthinkingly attributes to them qualities which they simply do not have.” All in one’s stream of experience is constantly changing. The Buddha gave an example of the dream to illustrate his teachings on emptiness. In this book the dream example is applied with increasing subtlety to each stage of emptiness meditation.  When one has a dream one may suffer in the dream but when one realizes it is a dream then one realizes that it is not really happening to them – whether one continues the dream or not. Khenpo says that understanding the impermanent nature of self like this intellectually is not enough – that one must examine in this way over and over until one reaches a certainty, a conviction that goes beyond intellectual. Then one can meditate and the veils of habitual patterns will eventually dissolve. The method of investigation for this stage is first to examine how we use the language that describes our conception of self. An example given is, “I am sick ... because I have a headache” He asks if we mean the ‘I” is one thing and the head another. Or is the head the “I”? He says to examine these conceptions of “I” the doer and “I” the experiencer. Examine by trying to pinpoint where the “I” is experienced. He goes through the arguments of those who would equate the self with the brain and the brain with the mind. If so then where is the mind? he asks. To say the self is the mind is like saying the self is the self or the mind is the mind. In a quick examination of Descartes’ famous saying, “I think therefore I am” he notes that the idea of “I am” is merely a thought. He kind of reduces it to, “I think therefore I think.”

“The Shravaka approach is to investigate experience by simply being as aware as possible every moment.” The Buddha’s thesis involves investigation of the five skandhas (the five heaps or aggregates). These are form, feeling, perception, mental construction, and consciousness. These, he says, are the five accumulations commonly mistaken for self. Form is body and environment. Khenpo says to examine the body limb by limb and see how it relates to the idea of self. The whole is merely a composite of parts that are dependent on other parts. When one sits in meditation one first notices the body as well as the environment so merely practicing the abiding meditation technique is a way of examining this skandha. Feeling is broken up into pleasure, displeasure, and indifference. If one examines one will find that these three take turns arising and falling, so none of the three are permanent. Perception refers to recognition of sensory input. This tends to happen continuously while we are awake. We tend to see the self as the experiencer of these perceptions but if we look – perhaps the experiencer has no validity without the perceptions themselves. Mental constructions include thoughts and emotions. In Sanskrit, these are the samskaras that arise due to previous habit patterns. He notes that feelings and perceptions are also mental constructions but are listed separately for the sake of teaching. If we examine thoughts and emotions we will find again that they are constantly changing. Referring to an idea of self one might say “I am sad” but it would be just as accurate and arguably more so to say, “there is sadness.” The Buddhist definition of consciousness, he says, refers to a moment of awareness. Consciousness as the doer or the experiencer of the other skandhas is the most amenable of them to be mistaken for self. A Sanskrit word referring to consciousness is vijnana, or divided knowing. Jnana is simply knowing, or wisdom. The division referred to is that of subject and object, knower and known. Each moment of experience has these two components. If one thinks the self is continuous awareness then one should examine and may find that consciousness is momentary in that it is merely a stream of vijnanas, of divided subject/object interactions. Thus the experiencer is constantly changing in reference to that which is experienced. So, he says, we find that our sense of self is a concept that we project onto a stream of experiences.

The idea of the self brings forth the idea of ‘other’, or ‘other than self.’ From the interaction of these divided concepts arise the unhealthy mental states of desire, aversion, and delusion which lead to suffering. The fruit of the shravaka is nirvana, or removal of suffering. This is the realization of ‘not-self.’ Thus the realization of the shravaka is quite profound. The veil of ignorance is removed since there is no clinging to self. His own suffering is removed. This paves the way for the higher vehicles where the goal becomes the removal of suffering for all beings. The meditation procedure is to reflect on the meaning of ‘not-self’ then, when one understands that self is only an appearance, simply to rest in that state as best one can.

Next we come to the Cittamatra approach. This is the first of the Mahayana approaches and is concerned with the enlightenment of all beings. The Shravaka realization of the Hinayana is said to remove the first of the two veils – the veil of the kleshas, or negative emotions that arise from karma. The more subtle veils of knowledge remain. He says that “the power to liberate others arises from seeing the true nature of reality more deeply.” Compassion for others is the motivation. The bodhissatva has two aspirations: to become enlightened and to liberate all others.

Cittamatra means ‘mind only’ or ‘merely mind.’ At this stage the reality of the conventional world is questioned. Here one is said to realize that the subject/object duality referred to before as defining our stream of momentary experiences is merely a conceptual notion. The Cittamatrin sees mind and matter as not separate. There is only the perceiving aspect of consciousness and the perceived aspect of consciousness. In response to the notion of some scientists that mind is a subtler form of matter he notes that if that is the case then the idea of matter would need to be redefined as capable of producing thoughts. The dream example at this stage is to ask oneself if one is dreaming right now and to examine whether this is possible. After examination one may find that “there is no characteristic of waking experience that clearly distinguishes it from dreaming.”

“Cittamatrins explain the phenomena of dreaming as the six consciousnesses which usually face outwards to the objects of the senses dissolving back into the base consciousness (Skt. alayavijnana) like waves into an ocean. It then starts to move within itself creating images of subjects and objects that the mind takes to be real and experiences like waking experience.” So they say there is a difference between waking and dreaming but that the substance of both worlds is the same. Rinpoche also notes the subjective nature of time – as in stories of meditators who go into samadhi for long periods of time and when they come out they think that very little time has passed. He kind of debunks the idea of consensus reality being real because of that consensus. He gives examples such as we see water as something to quench our thirst while to a fish it is home – or we see someone as a friend, others see him as an enemy, but a mosquito may see him as food. “ Consensus does not prove anything other than that certain relationships exist between different streams of experience.” The Cittamatrin might ask how something can be known without a knower. They say all is the mind experiencing itself.

In Cittamatra there is posited a third aspect of experience – that is the self-knowing, self illuminating aspect that is in essence the mind experiencing itself. This aspect explains how memories are stored as well as karmic impressions. Cittamatra doctrine divides experience into three natures: imaginary, dependent, and truly existent. The person, or self is of an imaginary nature (as in relative reality), the moments of consciousness (including the perceiver and perceived aspects) are of a dependent nature – since they derive from the causes and conditions of previous experience. The truly existent nature refers to the quality of emptiness, or absolute reality itself as not existing separately, permanently, and independently. When the self-aware aspect (the third aspect of experience according to the Cittamatrins) realizes no separation between perceiver and perceived it becomes Wisdom Mind, or jnana – so the alayavijnana, or base consciousness is said to be purified. The Cittamatrans refer to this Wisdom Mind as the absolute dependent nature which they say is real. They refer to it as absolute truth but the Madhyamakas reject this argument. Regarding the fruit of Cittamatra realization Rinpoche says that the experience of Wisdom Mind is a profound experience that is difficult to explain. The experience of the complete indistinction of mind and matter is said to purify more subtle veils related to knowledge. The Cittamatras tried to explain the experience as “a pure stream of self-aware moments of consciousness,” but apparently more refined teachings find contradiction in this explanation. The Method of examination at this stage is to reflect whether the inner perceiving aspect can be in any way distinguished from the outer perceived aspect. He gives suggestions for contemplating the nature of mind and matter both in the scientific frameworks and the philosophical ones. The meditation procedure is simply to reflect on the nature of dreaming and the three natures of experience given and to notice between sessions how all experience is like a dream. As the shravaka approach resolved the emptiness of self. the Cittamatra approach begins to resolve the emptiness of phenomena, or ‘other than self.’

The Svatantrika approach is the least subtle of the two Madhyamaka Rangtong approaches. These approaches aim to completely establish the “emptiness of self-nature of all phenomena, (dharmas).” The Svatantrika argues to refute the self-nature of phenomena and then further argues to establish their true nature as emptiness. The Prasangika View only refutes, it does not seek to establish that the true nature of phenomena is emptiness. The Svatantrika View is simply that the objective, conventional, relative reality is purely conceptual and the ultimate reality is emptiness free of concepts. The Cittamatra doctrine that is refuted by the Madhyamakas is that there is a truly existent substance called mind. So I guess they refute all concepts as imaginary. The dream example is that although fire may burn us in a dream it does not have the self-nature of fire yet it can still cause fear and suffering so in a relative sense it appears and functions like fire but when one realizes one is dreaming it no longer has that appearance or function. The conclusion of some Svatantrikas is the same as the Prasangikas – that relative and ultimate truth are inseparable. The former use arguments to establish this and the latter only refutations. The Svatantrika Views are based on the Prajnaparamita Sutras where Buddha states that, “all dharmas are emptiness.” Regarding his statement that ‘the three realms are merely mind” – they regard that as a provisional teaching meaning that relative reality is conceptual while the Cittamatras would regard it as a definitive teaching that ultimate reality is mind. The famous Nagarjuna was the founder of the Madhyamaka system of thought. One of his main analyzing arguments had to do with whether any thing is a whole or composed of parts. All parts can be subdivided into more parts so where or at what point would the whole be distinguished from the parts. The distinctions are only conceptual. The Nagarjuna asks’ “Is a moment of experience single or multiple?”  “If it is neither it cannot truly exist. If it were single it would not be able to have any duration.” Giving it a beginning, middle, and end would separate it into three separate moments of experience. Therefore it can be niether single nor multiple. Another way this is said is that there is ‘mere dependent arising of phenomena.’ If something arises dependent on something else, then by definition it has no self-nature. The meditation involves seeing all phenomena, both outer and inner as having no self-nature. Even though things appear both in waking and in dream, they are still empty and without self-nature. Meditating in such a way may help us see that because of this, enlightenment is possible for all.

The Prasangikas say that the Svantatrikas are still holding on to a little bit of conceptuality by trying to establish emptiness through reasoning. For this reason they do not attempt to use reason to establish the true nature of phenomena. All conceptual views are refuted so that one cannot say that something exists, does not exist, neither exists or doesn’t, or that it both exists and doesn’t. This is kind of a conceptual way to refute all conceptuality by refuting everything so that the mind may rest in non-conceptuality. The aim is to “free the awareness of its conceptualizing habit.” The Svantantrika View is said to be good for refuting all the non-Buddhist Views and the Prasangika View is good for refuting all grosser of the Buddhist Views. Regarding the dream, the Svantantrikas realize that the dream is not real but the Prasangikas would say - if there is no concept of real how can there be a concept of unreal? By keeping relative and ultimate reality separate there is still a conceptual component to the analysis. Really the distinction is merely conceptual. The meditational progression is that conceptual tendencies grow weaker while non-conceptual awareness grows stronger. Chandrakirti was the major exponent of the Prasangika View. Through this type of logic Chandrakirti refuted the notions of the non-Buddhist Indian Samkhyas who said that things arise from themselves. He refuted the ideas of the Buddhist Vhaibashikas and Sautrantikas who said that things arose from things other than themselves. He refuted the notions of the Jains who said that things arise from both themselves and things other than themselves. Finally, he refuted the views of the Ajivakas who taught that things arise from nothing. Of course, that was the end of it – he did not put forth any idea how things indeed arise but that by refuting these conceptual notions one may come to a profound understanding. In terms of base, path, and fruition Khenpo says that for the Svatantrika and Prasangika approaches the base is the two realities (two truths), the path is the two accumulations (conceptual merit and non-conceptual wisdom), and the fruition is the two kayas (Buddha bodies). In meditation on the Prasangika View one  rests without concepts on the inseparability of ultimate and relative reality, no time, no space, no body, no ideas, etc. In between sessions one practices the accumulation of merit through the six perfections as the best way to use relative reality as a means of support. The meditation is to rest without contrivance in the natural state.

The Shentong approach returns to the Cittamatra terminology – emptiness of the three natures: imaginary, dependent, and truly existent. Shentong does not accept mind or consciousness as truly existent as do the Cittamatrins. They hold the Madyhamaka View that it is non-arising and without self-nature. They see the Wisdom Mind as entirely non-conceptual rather than subtly conceptual as the Cittamatrins do. They see it as something that cannot be refuted by the Prasangikas. In a way it is kind of like saying – infinity plus one – but it works. They say it is something that is realized by non-conceptual direct means. This is the approach of Mahamudra and Dzogchen. They say that the self-knowing, self-illuminating awareness of the Cittamatrins is incorrectly interpreted by them to be a consciousness, particular a purified form of divided consciousness (vijnana).
Shentongpas would call the Wisdom Mind the Clear Light Nature of Mind that is beyond concepts and division. It is also called dharmata and tathagatagarbha (Buddha Nature). They say that Rangtongpas still hold some subtle conceptuality even in their total refutations of concepts. Shentong attributes the three turnings of the dharma wheel teachings thusly: the first cycle teaches the Shravaka level of meditation on selflessness, the second level teaches the Madhyamaka Rangtong View, and the third teaches the Madhyamaka Shentong View. Each successive one corrects the faults of the former. The third turning is explained in the Mahayanauttaratantrasastra attributed to Maitreya. Here it is taught that the nature of mind is Clear light and that tathagatagarbha pervades all being. In this text are given five reasons for teaching about this Awakened Nature – 1) it encourages all to try to arouse bodhicitta and attain enlightenment, 2) it humbles those who would feel superior after arousing the bodhicitta, 3) it removes the fault of taking unreal stains to be the true nature of beings. 4) it removes the fault of taking the Clear Light to be unreal, and 5) by showing that all beings are of the same nature as Buddha it allows beings to see no difference between self and other and so to arouse true compassion. Buddha Nature is the base, path, and fruit. The base is the time when it is completely obscured by stains, the path is when it is partly obscured, and the fruit is when it is purified, or unobscured.

Rinpoche also analyzes some of the other five treatises of Maitreya in order to show in different terminologies the profundity of the Shentong View which equates the unimaginable non-conceptual Wisdom Mind with Clear Light Mind and Buddha Nature.
This idea is said to be the basis of the notions of Buddha bodies (kayas), Buddha fields or realms and the mandalas of sambhogakaya tantric deities. For Shentong the dream example has to do with the Clear Light Nature of Mind in that dreams can manifest whether the mind is aware or unaware. “In the same way the Clear Light Nature of Mind is the basis for both samsara, which is when the mind is unaware of its own nature, and nirvana, which is when the mind is aware of its own nature.” In the state of Wisdom Mind whatever arises does not disturb the mind. The meditation at this stage is non-meditation, or simply realizing the continuous state of Wisdom Mind. He emphasizes the importance of a guru and devotion to the guru in unraveling this profound understanding. But he says that one can prepare the mind for such understanding by studying such works as this very text (from Jamgon Kongtrul’s Encyclopaedia of Knowledge). Kongtrul says that “Rangtong is the view for when one is establishing certainty through listening, studying, and reflecting. Shentong is the view for meditation practice.” At this stage one just rests in the natural state and there is no more investigation. All effort is non-rest so if one strives then one has not yet stabilized the realization. One rests until one is enlightened.

My review of this book was an exercise in hearing and contemplating these ideas. I have read the book twice now and studied it through this analysis. Now I have notes as well for
further contemplation. Through this conceptual understanding of the nature of reality as defined by so-called enlightened masters perhaps we can undertake such practices as might lead to such states since the possibility of doing just that is said to pervade all being. I have personally met this teacher and found him to be quite interesting as well as unconventional and rather refreshingly unpredictable.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Dreamways of the Iroquois: Honoring the Secret Wishes of the Soul

Book Review: Dreamways of the Iroquois: Honoring the Secret Wishes of the Soulby Robert Moss (Destiny Books/Inner Traditions 2005)

Awesome book. Loved it. Robert Moss is quite an accomplished dream shaman with great insights in the healing possibilities of dreaming. He starts off describing some of his childhood near-death experiences with several bouts of pneumonia where he became consciously separated from his body multiple times and for long periods. He also had long dreams where he spent what seemed a lifetime among certain spirit beings he later discovered were spirits of the Aborigines of his native Australia. Interesting that he mentions that as I read in Jean Houston’s book, “Jump Time” about an old Aboriginal woman who claimed that old Aborigine souls were being reborn in the white folk of the region. I infer from Robert’s notes that the two main human mythic energies available to us are those of place (past peoples of the areas we live and work) and those of ancestors. Through this narrative the author connects with both in rather symbiotic ways.

He describes buying a farm in upstate New York in an area formerly occupied by the Iroquois tribal federation. Here he sits under an old tree and watches a hawk. On the wings of the hawk he begins dreaming of old times and connecting with animal powers.
He dreams of places and people that he discovers to be historical people from the past of the area such as Sir William Johnson, an Irishman who became British governor and befriended the Six Nations of the Iroquois and helped mediate their concerns during and after the French and Indian War of the mid-1700’s. During a trip to Ireland the author went to Johnson’s place of origin there and while visiting the nearby megalith at Newgrange he discovered a mental portal for himself in the glyph of the double spiral which he calls the eyes of the goddess. Robert then proceeded to study the local history in depth and write two historical novels about it. Having a past as a best-selling horror writer – it was dreaming and its possibilities – that offered him a change, a new vocation as it were, a destiny of sorts. (Incidentally, during the reading of this book my son bid mecome and watch a movie - called Broken Chain - with Piers Brosnan playing William Johnson and giving a dramatic historical picture of the people and time).

Having dreams of an old Iroquoian woman dictating teachings to him in an archaic form of the Mohawk language and the Huron language (she was a Huron taken prisoner and subsequently adopted by the Mohawk) – he had to figure out what language it was and how old. This woman who he calls “Island Woman” apparently turns out to be a Clan Mother of the Wolf Clan of the Mohawks and the grandmother of Molly Brant, the Mohawk wife of this Sir William Johnson. She is also a dream shaman. She is an atetshents, or “one who dreams.”  He also received the word, ondinnonk, “the secret desire of the soul expressed by a dream.” The wishes of certain dreams must be headed in order to prevent soul loss of individuals and detriment to the tribe. Often these dreams indicated an impending attack or a place and time to hunt or find food. Dreams were acted out in ritual dramas following the slogan that “dreams require action.” The first part of the day in old Iroquoian societies was to tell one’s dreams. During the mid-winter rites of Ononhouroia, the Swirling of the Mind, there were dream-guessing games, or perhaps guessing one’s secret desires which would apparently end up as gift- exchanging activities. Even though the societies tended toward marital fidelity and modesty in public – there were occasional therapeutic orgies as a way to act out certain erotic dreams.

Through researching and keeping records of dreams for many years Moss offers that there are three basic types of dream related to the future: 1) Rehearsal dreams – which help us prepare by seeing the future consequence of a certain course of action,  2) Precognitive dreams – literal or symbolic, that are played out in later waking life, and 3) Early-warning dreams – showing events that may or may not happen in the future – showing only possible futures.

The old Iroquois believed that beings from the spirit world constantly try to contact us in dreams. Moss offers the possibility that this Island Woman is reaching across time through dream deliberately – perhaps due to struggles during her time with epidemic and war. The Iroquois say that dreaming is an important way to accumulate authentic power, or orenda. Orenda is also equivalent to life force. The neighboring Delaware, or Lenape tribe say that dreaming increases one’s access to maskan, the ability to do exceptional things.

Moss then describes several dream visitations of shamans, secret native words and practices and initiations received in dreams. He also describes encounters with various animal powers. He thinks that through his early experiences and dream encounters that he is able to more easily open gates between worlds. He has studied quite a bit under various Native American shamans and elders. Many Native Americans participate in his Conscious Dreaming Workshops and some consider him an elder in their traditions. Due to his abilities to function in the shaman’s realm he thinks that his destiny is to be a teacher of dreams – to help people reclaim dreams as a method of healing. He gives many examples throughout the book of dreams and visions with beneficial results. In his many encounters with spirits, ancestors, and shamans, in dreams he is often taught and shown things because “he sees the way the shamans see.” He has some dreams apparently that are straight out of Native American mythology. One thing that does kind of come across in these various dream descriptions is that most dreams are relevant mainly to the dreamer, not so much to others, although they may also be relevant to family or tribe. He speaks too of poetry and dreaming as ways to call forth the inner song of healing.

In a few chapters he goes through Iroquois myth such as Sky Woman making the earth world on turtle’s back and the story of the Twins, one light and creative, the other dark and destructive – and their interdependency. Next he goes through the stories of the Peacemaker and Hiawatha, thought to have occurred several hundred years before the coming of Europeans.

Next we come to the actual teachings of Island Woman, the Huron/Mohawk dream shaman of the Wolf Clan. The first teaching is an encouragement to get in touch with one’s Animal Spirits – said to be born when one is born. One’s animal double can move from one animal body to another. The guardian spirit animals are called oyaron. One may contact one’s oyarons(s) through dreams, other shamans, fasting and vision questing – or some other experience. She says the spirits hunt us, especially in dreams. Next she speaks about the soul components. She says that many folk have lost one or more of their souls and that there is a vast mass of walking dead soul parts wandering. The gaps left are in danger of being filled by malevolent spirits and maddening energies like addiction and depression. Dead souls are heavy and restricting and generally obscuring. It is said that some ancestors decided to stay close after they died. These can be available for guidance but they must be distinguished from the “hungry ghosts.” Part of the work is re-uniting souls with bodies. Dreaming can help us uncover our sacred purpose. She speaks of soul families traversing space and time and reconnecting with them. She says, “Unless you dream, you’ll never be fully awake.” She says that “Big Dreams” reveal secret wishes and needs. Here is a related quote: “Life is full of crossroads. Often you don’t even notice them until they are behind you, unless you know how to dream. Through dreaming you can scout out the different trails you might follow and see where they lead. Through dreaming, you are already choosing the events that will take place in your waking life.” Orenda, the life force that binds the universe is said to accumulate in old oaks, mountains, and stone. She suggests that when you recall even just one dream with detail that can be a point of departure for dream travel. She says that dreams can tell us when sorcery is being worked against us. This was maybe useful in her time when war magic was a common practice. She also notes jealous rage as a motivation for sorcery. She notes correctly I think that sorcery happens all the time – even when we don’t know we are doing it – when we think of someone consciously or unconsciously we are affecting them in some way. I thi nk in most cases we don’t need to fight against this but general protection against a malevolent attack might be revealed in dreams. The Seneca visionary called Handsome Lake had dreams that led him to give up alcohol (firewater) and revitalize his spirit connections. He also had visions that directed him to engage in a witch-hunt of sorts against sorcerous shamans. He may have been influenced by Christianity in this regard so this could be an improper use – but I don’t know the details.

Next Island Woman talks about the “Burden Straps” – a long strap made of woven elm bark or moose hair and wrapped around the forehead to pull a load connected to the other end. She refers to the metaphorical burden straps as Sky Woman (Ataensic) brought food
to feed her people in such a way. So the burden strap refers to taking care of the tribe by taking on its burdens. The requirements to taking on such a responsibility include being cleansed by water and fire and having your energy field combed with song. Being dropped blindfolded into a hole in the earth and overcoming fear – it is said – will make your spirit helpers reveal themselves. Island Woman says her spirit guardian (oyaron) is a Fire Dragon – rare and very powerful. She says men fear it and very few men can hold such power. She also talks of the Sisters of the Stones, a secret society of feminine energy that reaches across space and time.

            Moss gives some interesting suggestions for ways to share dreams. He thinks that the way we share our dreams is very important. His method he calls Lightning Dreamwork Method:    Step One: Tell the Dream as a Story with a Title – tell the dream as a clear and simple story. Step Two: The Partner Asks Three Key Questions – the first is how did you feel upon waking – the initial feeling-tone may be key to the quality and urgency of the dream. The second question is a reality check to determine whether a dream is literal, symbolic, or experience in a separate reality. Auxiliary questions can relate to whether anyone in the dream can be recognized in waking life and whether any events in the dream could happen in waking life. One thing to determine in his questioning is whether the dream gives advice. The third question to the dreamer is: “What would you like to know about this dream?"  Step Three: Playing the Game “If It Were My Dream” – this is to get the perspective of the dream analysis partner – who may have had similar or related dreams or dream types. He says it is important not to interpret the dream or pry, just to give feelings and associations that come up.  Step Four: Taking Action to Honor the Dream – here Moss gives an interesting quote: “Real magic consists of bringing something through from a deeper reality into our physical lives, which is why Active Dreaming is a way of natural magic.” Ways to honor dreams can include: making a short motto from a dream (like a bumper sticker), keeping a dream journal, create from the dream – music, poetry, drawing, theatre -, take a physical action such as traveling to the place in the dream, create a dream talisman to hold the energy of the dream (as a means to return to the dream) – he suggests stones, use the dream as a travel advisory, journey back to the dream (he gives a method later), and tell the dream to someone else it may relate to.

Next is an interesting section on “Navigating by Synchronicity” – paying close attention to symbolism, coincidences, and chance encounters and acting on their basis. He suggests that this is the way of dream in waking life and it is most certainly a long tested shamanic technique.

Net he gives the Dream Re-entry Technique: First pick a relevant dream with good recall and much energy. Relax. Focus on a specific scene in the dream in vivid detail. Clarify your intention – what you want to know and what you will do once you get back into the dream. Invoke animal powers. Perhaps enter through shamanic heartbeat drumming as he suggests. I have not tried this one yet but I plan to do so soon.

Next is Tracking Dreams with a partner. This may be a simple as lying together to take a shamanic visionary journey. Sharing and knowing the details of the dream before embarking is vital and having clear intentions is good. He has apparently used this method successfully in helping people with past trauma.

Moss says that many people are in need of a meaningful dream and suggests ways of bringing someone a dream in need of a dream. He has apparently encountered peopel who have never recalled a dream in their life and helped them to do so. He gives several
examples of finding dreams not only for the individual but often for their friends and family – or how to interact with them in difficult situations. In a chapter called Medicine Dreaming he talks about dream warnings of how to deal with possible and impending illness and the healing gifts of the animal powers. Bear is strongly associated with Medicine and Healing in the Native traditions. Horse may refer to vital energy as the windhorse of the Mongolian, Siberian, and Tibetan traditions.

In talking about soul loss he gives the following Symptoms of Soul Loss: (quoted)
1)      inability to ground yourself: spaciness, tendency to drift off, “check out,” or constantly trying to escape from situations around you
2)      chronic depression
3)      chronic fatigue
4)      dissociation and multiple personality disorder
5)      addictive behaviors
6)      low self-esteem
7)      emotional numbness
8)      inability to let go of past situations or people no longer in your life, for example, inability to move beyond a divorce or grief over the death of a loved one.
9)      obesity or unexplained serious weight gain (typical in women who are survivors of abuse)
10)  abusive behaviors
11)  absence of dream recall
12)  recurring dreams of locations from earlier life, or of a younger self separate from yourself

The last one is interesting and he gives some examples where dreaming of your younger self suggests certain unresolved trauma issues related to that time period.

Of dead souls and soul parts he reiterates Island Woman’s warnings about the earth-bound dead seeking revenge through inciting cravings, confusion, and bodily symptoms. So as in many shamanic systems it is thought that more than one aspect of energy and consciousness survives beyond physical death. Apparently the Hurons had an elaborate second burial to properly locate a soul part that stays close to the Earth. He suggests re-implementing such a practice to mitigate the homeless soul problem that some shamans say is becoming toxic. Apparently, the Iroquois associate this aspect of soul energy with the bones, or more accurately the bone marrow. It is called
ohskenrari, the burned bones – as he says – like the “living dead” of horror flicks. Moss describes a vivid dream/vision of being shown various soul components by being conscious within them.

Next he goes through dream talismans, dream poems, songs, paintings, theatre, etc as therapeutic activities and as a way to both entertain and honor the spirits.

He relates an interesting experience where he encounters a native fellow who gives him a message from the Kogi shamans on the mountainous coast of Columbia. They are a culture with a long and powerful dreaming culture where specially selected shamans are kept in darkness for the first fourteen years of their life to develop their dreaming abilities. The Kogi call the dream world Aluna and say that the Aluna is now coated with polluted energy of both human malice and ET energy that has taken notice. This they say is blocking the reception of messages from higher consciousness. They are seeking the help of powerful dreamers to basically fix the tears in the web of dreams so that better telepathic connections can stay open. Moss describes some interesting details of his and his workshop participants in this vein with surprising detail.

There is some great info and practice ideas in this book. I have tried one of the shamanic techniques with contacting animal/spirit allies with some success. One thing I have noticed about dreaming is that focus, intention, and repetition of that focus and intention does yield results (for me especially if I can get to bed soon enough).

There is an appendix that gives ideas for creating a dreaming circle in one’s “community”. We have done something of this sort in the Horus-Maat Lodge with our Group Dream Blog. This is relevant to Horus-Maat in that one focus is the development of a futuristic operational double-conciousness where one aspect is a group consciousness.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Andean Codex: Adventures and Initiations Among the Peruvian Shamans

Book Review: The Andean Codex: Adventures and Initiations Among the Peruvian Shamans  by Dr. J.E. Williams (Hampton Roads Publishing 2005)

This is an interesting chronicle of the author’s time spent among Peruvian and other Amazonian shamans. It starts out with an account of an ayahuasca (yaje) experience in the Amazon. Ayahuasca is a powerful hallucinogen that is strongly considered an entheogen – where shamans say the actual spirit of the plant is contacted and interacted with. Several anthropologists and entheogen researchers have provided remarkable and intense accounts of these experiences. In any event, the presiding shaman interprets the author’s experience as a summons to travel to the Andes and learn from the shamans there. So by a series of interesting coincidences he meets up with some Q’ero shamans (as well as some Tibetan monks passing through). They spend some time together in the beauty of the Andes. Incidentally, I have heard of a few Tibetan monks that have studied South American shamanism. The main story then ensues of the author’s multi-year adventures with his Q’ero teacher, Sebastian, and his mates and family.

The Q’ero live high in the Andes but the author meets his friends in the city of Cuzco near the most famous Incan ruins. Strangely, Sebastian and comrades are often in Cuzco when the author arrives from California. The author talks much about synchronicity and auspicious conditions being signs for shamans. Auspicious dreams are also important.

The author shares some great adventures in this book involving hardships of life in the Andes, high elevation illnesses, and braving the elements among a poor indigenous society that is by necessity very in touch with the natural world. In fact, among the Q’ero the relationship between humans and the natural world is the most important relationship. The author refers to it as an eco-spirituality. There is communication and relationship between the shaman and the spirits of nature. The spirit of the Earth is called Pachamamma, nature spirits are called Akikuna, and mountain spirits are called the Apus. Sebastian is also a curando, or healer/diviner. He divines with coca leaves, a staple in the Andes – where the leaves are offered in most rituals. They are also chewed and made into tea frequently to ward off fatigue and bring a feeling of well-being. The author refers to the paqos as shaman-priests. The author also notes the strange magnificent quality of the refracted light in the Andes due to high elevation air and proximity to the equator. He describes it as otherworldly and enhancing an already great beauty. He describes the small offering rituals called despachos which involve arranging special food and colorful offerings that are burned in natural places – kind of similar to a Vedic homa fire offering, a Tibetan sangchod or smoke offering, or a Native American smudging. The Akikuna nature spirits are venerated at wakas, or unusually shaped rock formations. The puma is a great totem animal among the Andeans and their predecessors the Inca because of its great power and ferocity. There are legends of the return of the Inca.

He notes that most Andean ceremonies are performed at noon when the sun is at its height. The Sun is the father as the Earth is the mother. The shaman carries a medicine bundle with sacred objects used in despachos and other more detailed rites. When the offerings to be burnt are readied there is first a ritual blowing on the offerings.

The Incan three worlds are described as our everyday world, the interior world entered through dreams, death, and shamanic experiences, and the higher world of “spiritual beings and universal energy.” The author uses mapacho tobacco – an hallucinogenic form of tobacco with large amounts of nicotine – as an offering and sacrament. The Q’ero shamans also indulge although it is used by other Peruvian shamanic traditions, not theirs.

The author then digresses about his early interest in the Andes from a book about a fabled hidden monastery there (called Secrets of the Andes by Brother Phillip). He tells an interesting experience he had in the 70’s at Mount Shasta in California where he sought sacred power and meditation. He was stranded there as his car brokedown so he visited a psychic who informed him that he was to meet Sister Thedra, whom she apparently did not know. Through coincidence and luck he found a place called Mount Shasta Abbey. He rang the bell and asked for Sister Thedra and was informed she was in permanent retreat. But she hears and meets with him briefly saying she was expecting him. She then tells him that she was on the original expedition in the 50’s to find this Monastery of the Seven Rays, near Lake Titicaca, and spent 5 years in Peru and Bolivia. She talked of a mystical form of Christ called Sananda. She mentioned that the monastery was there but had transitioned to a non-physical plane. The book he read was about their journey in the 50’s.

The author then describes his ritual at the cave Temple of the Moon near Machu Picchu. After this he describes the first of a handful of Andean principles. The first is Munay which means love, or loving-kindness and implies a sincere tranquil joy and beauty. During this chapter the author describes a long journey on foot to the land of the Q’ero over high mountains to 18,500 ft. All the mountains have names and are venerated. They reach the village and ready to go up to more mountains to do a karpay, a shaman’s initiation for the author. At this point he introduces the second principle, yachay, the way of knowledge – to learn, to know, to remember. This includes indigenous survival knowledge as well as intuitive inner knowledge. Shamans here spend much time isolated in nature – on vision quests of sorts. Some objects used for the karpay are condor feathers and llama fetus (as an offering to the lower world), and resinous incense. Sebastian notes that the power of stines is very important in healing and the Inca were people of the stone, being very intricate and precise stone-workers. During his initiation he is given special stones by Sebastian, some of a strange sort that are said to fall out of the sky, that have something on them looking like a carved spacecraft.

The next principle is llank’ay, the way of action. He describes this as the proper cultivation of love and work. In this section he describes the communal work life of the Andeans who live in small primitive stone huts heated with smoky llama dung. He describes the potato harvest that he takes part in. Apparently there are over 4000 varieties of potatoes and other roots cultivated there, all very small – about the size of one’s thumb.

The next principle is the way of life, or kawsay. This refers to the energy matrix, or web of life that connects all living things on Earth. He says that Pachamamma, Earth-time, and kawsay are inseparable. “Prayers, chanting, and drumming are traditional ways of  regulating energy and restoring balance.” Colored flowers and ribbons are used to lighten heavy energy. The author also mentions a method of placing stones on a person’s body when the energy is too light. This provides a grounding effect. The life force is called kallpa and heavy energy that may cause sickness is called hucha. There are reputed to be magical stone keys to open  gates to other worlds perhaps to be rediscovered at the return of the Inca. The energy of the Apus, or mountain spirits, are said to be male with colors of white and sky blue. The energy of Pachamamma is female and green in color.

The last of the five principles is ayni, the way of reciprocity. This refers to the interchange of the other principles – love, knowledge, action, and life-energy – between humans and the environment. Mutual respect and acknowledgement of interconnectedness are other ways to describe it. So a despacho rite is an offering of respect to nature – a way of acknowledging and working with that interconnectedness. This ayni is practiced both in ritual and in daily life.

Next the author describes a ceremony where he becomes part of the family as a sort of god-father to one of Sebastian’s daughters. Then they take a long journey (which they take every year) to the Mountain of Stars where 30 to 40,000 Andeans gather in mid-winter. There chunks of ice from a glacier are carried on the backs of ascetic pilgrims back to Cuzco, as a ritual offering.

Some Andeans do practice the ritual sacrifice of llamas, as offerings to the Apus and obviously for food. According to a book I read a few decades back called, “The Highest Altar: The Story of Human Sacrifice,” there is some evidence of an occasional child sacrifice to mountain spirits (although obviously illegal). Of course, most indigenous traditions practiced human sacrifice, even our European ancestors. The Vikings and Celts killed captives, slaves, and servants and wives to killed nobles, as recently as a thousand years ago. The Incans utilized human sacrifice all the way up to the Spanish conquest in the 1500’s and 1600’s so it is much more recent in the history and perhaps the minds of the people. As in many cultures the mountain spirits are said to be the most powerful.

The author concludes with another journey into the Amazon where he takes ayahuasca once more with chanting shamans and experiences more visions which he ties in with his dreams and previous visions.

Overall an interesting book, worth reading, mostly an account experiences but also an account of an apprenticeship in Andean shamanism.