esothemes

Reflections, revelations and proposals esoteric: Themes to elucidate the depths of human potential.

Category: Tantra and Yoga

Notes on the Ten Sepirot Belimah

Before we elaborate on each of the ten steps of esoteric cultivation offered in the SY (Earliest Recoverable Text), it would be useful to do a quick paraphrase so the reader has an idea regarding where we are going with our exposition. Let us start with a description of sephirah anatomy. Each of these ten accounts of restraining (contemplation practices), has a title, followed by a two-part theme that constitutes our main target of focused attention. The title amounts to the meaning of the word for the corresponding number value of a given account. This, along with the preliminary contemplation practice involving the depth or mystery of the account’s conceptual label sets the stage for the main practice.

The first thing we do is look at the general structuring of the accounts themselves. As already mentioned, we are to organize the stages of practice in terms of serial pairs, defined by the labels we have been given as mysteries or unfathomable depths. In this manner, the first two depths are complementary as first and last. The next two- loosely and inaccurately translated- as good and bad follow. Then we have the complementary directions in the space around the practitioner (up/down, front/back, left/right).

In the center of these is the practitioner. Their strength in the practice of deep contemplation is the embodiment of the covenant of alignment so as to attain the mystical state of awareness necessary for success. The aforementioned covenant means the requisite level of proficiency in contemplation cannot be bypassed or glossed if the aspirant wants the process of cultivation to give up is fruits. This takes time, and cutting corners will at best severely dilute the power of our subsequent specified practices. As with the alleged practitioners of old, taking a path such as this is a matter of serious commitment; hence the allusion to the biblical covenant itself.

That being said, and given one has attained a level of experience that allows one to access deep states of awareness more or less easily, one can focus that ability to specific themes of focus. The stages are addressed in pairs, with contemplation practice being holding them together. That means after each pair is worked, the two are worked together. To work each pair we address the depth of each. This can be taken as the mystery theme behind the corresponding process. The number value complements this and can be understood as coupled with it. Thus, if the number one (AChD) is understood as a dynamic of self-reflection, the depth or mystery theme of the account is that of cause, where RAShITh literally means: first. These two words tell us what the account is addressing: the mystery of cause in terms of the self-reflecting dynamic of the number one. At the same time, such simple descriptions do not do the theme itself justice. Only contemplation on their connection can. In that sense, both the number and the mystery theme represent the tone that emerges from our experience of AIN.

The next part of the account is two-fold and establishes the framing of the account, or the way we relate to the procedure. The first represents the context, likened to a coal, and the second to the power that drives it, like the flame causing the coal to burn. At the same time, the relationship is reversed. The second part is context and fuel to the first, which is its driving force. We, therefore, treat these two parts as if each one were ignited within the other, which is its fuel. Let’s return to our example of the first account and just show the two-fold main body of the corresponding verse:

  1. Elohim [Power/Powers] of Life,
  2. …She is the Sanctifying Spirit [Intelligence] of This.

                                Alternate: It is this: the Sanctifying Spirit.

We have two interlocking themes here; the powers of life, and the sanctifying intelligence. The latter, depending on the translation details, is either a part of Elohim of Life or another name for it. Either way, the Spirit (RVCh) is of dedication to a specified purpose- entity or circumstance.

We will thoroughly explore the meanings apparent and implied from the above phrasing. In this analysis we aim to look at the framing of contemplation practice for the ten verses of accomplishment in general.

Clearly, before we can apply we need to understand. Before we can understand we need to approach in the most coherent manner, respecting the hints given to us in the text we have already analyzed for the Earliest Recoverable Text of the SY. Embedding the first and second parts of the verse into each other may appear like a questionable feat of conception. It makes sense because of the insight such a paradoxical coupling inspires. It also makes sense because it demands a thorough understanding of the two parts of each account or the flame in the burning coal will go out.

In the above example, we are challenged to not just have a sense of intellectual meaning, but to experience directly in and through contemplation what Elohim of Life is- at least to the one contemplating. If the translation is ambiguous or exhibits more than one rendering, we need to examine the options in relation to the first part of the account. Our touchstones of meaning are the number of the account, and the depth or mystery of the corresponding quality associated with the account.

The tactic of using complex contemplation practices to attain esoteric accomplishment is not uncommon in formal cultivation systems such as Indian yoga. In this case, we are weaving two parts of a single practice defined by a combination of the esoteric meanings of its corresponding number and a conceptual quality meant to trigger a gnosis experience in relation to the given verse. It is noteworthy that, from a cultivation perspective, if one masters a given account (sephirah), they can tune into its power directly by focusing on its corresponding number.

In that sense, the system may not simply be one of one-shot mastery of an end-goal. Such states of accomplishment are rare, and quite unlikely just the result of a pre-structured process of cultivation. There are many who can apply esoteric gnosis, but few who abide in it perpetually. One could, therefore, master the ten accounts as a series of steps to enter a state of esoteric empowerment for a specified purpose. Living in perpetual gnosis would be the goal of a mystic, and it may indeed have been the nature of the singular adept described in verse 2.V. For most disciples of the revived system, however, it would be much easier to selectively enter the hallowed state, so as to temporarily gain abilities a lay person would consider supernatural.

It is realistic to surmise, furthermore, that the aforementioned application could have been a precursor to that state of perpetual gnosis whose accomplishment would be considered more a matter of divine grace than diligent practice. Even if the aspirant did not or could not attain that final state of grace, they probably could activate a lesser or more temporary gnosis in order to heal someone, or divine the future or to acquire enhanced oratory capacity. It would be as simple as counting from one to ten for a master of the process. One could even perform feats of magic, such as constructing a golem, for example.

It goes without saying that our analysis is speculative, but also that this speculation is founded on text interpretation in the context of esoteric practices of other traditions past and present. The practice of condensing the power of a phrase (meant to activate either through ritual or some form of cultivation application) into a single word or even a gesture, is known as anchoring in the modern manipulative practice of Neurolinguistic Programming. Our accounts are. therefore, tapestries of potential meant to be weaved from a number of interacting strands of practice, themselves an outcome of progressive accomplishment.

They also relate to each other in at least three ways. 1) The first four are distinct from the last six. 2) The activation of each is dependent on feedback with its paired verse (the next or the previous). The test to see if one activates the first account is to easily be able to practice the second one, while the latter’s success depends on the quality of the former’s activation. 3) The accounts are progressive in a serial manner, which is how we can serially number them. In this way, each one sets the foundation for the next whether it is its polar pair or not. Keeping in mind the prerequisites and framings for each account, and how they are to be approached. We can proceed to a more in depth immersion by addressing them in the pairs emphasized by the text itself.

Final Preliminary Practices to Activate the Ten Sephirot Progression

This installment is a direct continuation of the Basic Practices post, which revolved around the previous two verses of the Earliest Recoverable Text of the SY. It also completes the discussion on preliminary practices, which began with the verses I have labeled as I and II. If you haven’t read those posts at least, I strongly suggest you do. Comprehension is a function of topic continuity where this information is concerned.

That being said, I would be remiss to the reader if I failed to provide a summary of the previous two discussions. First and foremost, the text in mention- the Book of Shaping or Sepher Yetsirah- can be taken as an instruction manual for the attainment of esoteric wisdom, something we point out in our analysis of the first verse of the text

The work refers to a process of ten steps, organized in pairs and made coherent by a certain internal alignment with the requisite state of awareness to stimulate their activation. This state is the product of working with the power of the word, demanding a certain focus of vocalization (be it voiced, whispered or expressed mentally). The process appears similar to the use of mantras or spells of sorts, a practice not uncommon in esoteric practices be they of a mystical bent or involving the application of magic.

The practices are based on a genuine divine revelation. They are neither mental constructs nor are they powered autonomously (the product of some form of idolatry, for example). In other words, the work is defined as being mystical in nature, a kind of internal alchemy rather than a practice of magic. Their actualization, however, results in the embodiment of a wisdom that activates in the practitioner the potential to affect things magically- and specifically via the power of the word and the use of symbol. This is no different than the nature of esoteric systems of South and East Asia where prolonged mystical training results in occult powers known as siddhis (accomplishments).

These practices are also undertaken after a suitable preparation. This preparation and how it is undertaken is itself an alignment or covenant with the powers behind them. The system in mention is anything but arbitrary. It is likely the result of an occult revival of sorts where a dying oral tradition had been taken off the shelf, and re-worked by a capable adept who appears to have founded or represented an occult lineage or tradition through their work. The work, according to the perspective expounded here, is of an esoteric nature based on contemplation practice. Being consistent in one’s practice and undaunted in one’s persistence despite difficulties is part of the commitment that is phrased in terms of a covenant.

The ten steps are undertaken in a specific manner. Each step has two parts: the initial part of the account and the latter part. So each step is a dual dynamic of contemplative focused attention. The first part of the account is practiced until results are gained, and the second part is weaved into it so the revelations of the first are like the fuel that fires up the second portion. As contemplation practice progresses, one enters the requisite state of awareness identified with the void known as AIN. The state of AIN is considered to manifest one’s awareness after the aforementioned framing is brought to fruition. That completes our review. From here we will be elaborating on the meaning of the following two verses:

V. Ten reckonings of restraining. And out of their power of ten, where AIN is their end-point: Cause is Unfathomable and Effect is Unfathomable; Security is Unfathomable and the Foreign is Unfathomable; Elevation is Unfathomable and The Underneath [one’s Ground] is Unfathomable; East is Unfathomable and West is Unfathomable; North is Unfathomable and South is Unfathomable. And a sole Adept of El [Power] was a sovereign of their revelation. The ruling by all of them was from the refuge of his sanctuary and a testimony of adornments of perpetuity.

VI. Ten reckonings of restraining: Their vantage-point is like a mirror of the lightning-flash; and their AIN extremity is an end for them. And his work with them is according to “[it is] run and [you must] return [it]”. And for his promise, like a whirlwind they will be the pursued and before his throne they are from that [state] brought down.

Our current post continues the progression of textual information with specific practices of contemplation to be undertaken. Once that state is accessed, each stage involves contemplation on one of ten corresponding principles. The word used for each of these is not the subject of contemplation, however. Each term is a superficial label that acts as a mental handle for the deepening of awareness surrounding it. That would the depth or mystery of the term. In the translation I identify this process in terms of what each term is: unfathomable.

AIN is the state of awareness required to access this depth and experience a fusion with what is to the temporal mind unfathomable. I could not help but associate the above description with a process described in the yoga literature as sayama, itself a synthesis of three distinct processes: a) localized focus, b) delocalization of focus while maintaining the disciplined attention of part (a), and c) a state of union with one’s own field of consciousness as the true authority of ones being. The first process is known as concentration, and the second is known as contemplation. The latter state of attentiveness ideally leads to the cultivation of a state of consciousness denuded of concepts. The third process of sayama is known as samādhi, and describes a state where ones power of consciousness and subjective sense are completely at one with the field of one’s experience so that all is That.

The verse goes on to mention a notable adept, who may or may not be the reformer mentioned earlier. This adept mastered the preliminaries- as well as the ten main stages- and through them accessed a state or stance through which the beauty and value of the unfathomable was not only at their beck and call in terms of experiencing them, but was able to manipulate the power that resulted from that alignment.

The next and final verse describing- albeit in a cryptic and easy to gloss over manner- the preliminary specifics to the ten steps, expresses a very zen-like description of the state of awareness we seek to embody. It is reminiscent of the phrase: “Before enlightenment chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment chop wood and carry water”. Similarly, our text tells us to continue our contemplative practice even after we have experienced the depths of contemplation and the state of AIN.

In that continuation our awareness is like a mirror in response to a violent lightning flash reflected in it. The reflection is picture-perfect, but the surface of the mirror remains unperturbed. In this way the chaos of all we embody in our contemplation practices becomes ordered. It, furthermore, structures itself around our centered position in sacred space- which is a point of focus in the last six unfathomable conceptions, to be elaborated in the ten procedures themselves. As such, we are now ready to engage in the latter…once the prerequisites are set, that is.

In the next installment, we will hone in on the unfathomable conceptions, rendered as depths in most translations. It might be useful to clarify these- although the third and fourth have already been discussed in length. We are dealing with references that propose an added dimension of meaning (depth) to what a single translated word might offer. An analysis of the Hebrew letter-equations might, therefore, provide further insight in terms of what we are actually exploring in the contemplation practices indicated.

Magic and the Powers of Yoga

I have written formerly about magic (magick), the ways and means of its expression for me, even going into the design of a personal system of it. In this presentation, I would like to elucidate in a different manner, and define magic as the worldly and otherworldy application of yogic accomplishment– that which in Sanskrit is known as siddhi. In addition, I would like to hone in on the cultivation of yogic accomplishment so as to focus on a single practice. In Sanskrit, the practice is called saṁyama.

It is described in the Yoga Aphorisms of Patañjali (a readily available text with a variety of online translations these days). This is a work best studied in the Sanskrit original.  Even if one is a scholar of the language, however, the terminology is that of yoga, and not of everyday experience. Unless one is actually practicing yoga and getting results, there is little or no conceptual reference frame to support coherent understanding. If the text was not precisely meant as an accompaniment to oral instruction, it was certainly meant as a reference for one’s one extended practice. This is a suggestion for caution, not an admonition against translations and/or theoretical study. Personally, I found many translations to be philosophically and religiously biased, while the aphorisms are instructions to practices that are to be evaluated and honed experience accumulates.

Saṁyama is greatly elaborated in the 3rd chapter of the aforementioned work entitled vibhūti (power). This is the distinctly experienced power resulting from mastery of the practices. In tradition, vibhūti is the ash with which the god śiva is said to cover his body. It represents transformed awareness and will, purified by the sacred fire down to its imperishable aspects. Divine power is the alleged outcome of this transformation of awareness. Saṁyama presupposes at least a degree of such a transformation to work. In yoga practice it arises from the fusion of the three culminating subdivisions of the eight-fold system into a single dynamic. The last limb is described in Sanskrit as samādhi, from sama (cognate of “equi”- meaning “equivalent to”) and ā+dhi (a prefix signifying proximity, and a ‘weaker’, more abstract form of the word for “holding”). The second term might technically come from a+dhi, where the holding of attention is negated. Thus samādhi would be a state equivalent with the complete release of attention. This second- albeit paradoxical- interpretation is not without merit.

It is noteworthy that the syllables dha and dhi are found in all three of the final limbs of the yoga of eight subdivisions or aspects. The stronger and more literal sense corresponds to the term signifying the ability to hold the attention or concentrate. This is dhāraṇā. The next aspect involves dhyāna (dhi-āna). It is more subtle than the conventional focusing of attention, and also easily considered to only differ from it by degree. Therefore, while dhāraṇā is a process familiar to the mind in everyday experience, dhyāna is a dynamic specific to esoteric practices that induces a characteristic altered state of consciousness with prolonged practice. The first syllable (dhi) describes a more subtle mind-flux than dha, while the next two syllables (ā+na) form a word meaning door, breath and mouth/face. It is our ambiguous metaphor that hints at a threshold through which the breath of life flows.

The aphorisms themselves clarify the distinction in verses III.1 and III.2. To focus awareness implies a contraction of one’s field of attention, regardless of where the contraction occurs. Meditation begins when the contraction increases until one’s focus is so singular and “tight” that pattern cannot register, nor fluctuation of consciousness. It is like looking closer and closer at a television screen until one is down to a single pixel. That is just the first step. It is followed by dilating our tiny window of attention while keeping it saturated with the one-point pixel and the unconditioned consciousness it represents. In other words, meditation involves a dilation of the unit of consciousness accessed through extreme concentration so that one is literally bathed in it and it becomes the nature of one’s world-perception. This is not, to my knowledge, how meditation is normally explained, but it is how I translated the relevant verse and experience the effect in practice. The Sanskrit word for meditation hints at this in that it can be literally translated as: “holding the door”. This door is also the opening through which breath (life force) flows; the mouth. It is, therefore, a placing of one’s sense of consciousness on the threshold of its own essence, where the proverbial serpent bites its tail, so to speak. If we were to explain this in stick figure terms, it is the state where all one’s awareness is the focus of being aware in the first place; where the eye stares into its own depths.

If dhyāna is a challenging term to unravel, then samādhi is even more so. As with every limb of the aforementioned yoga path the aphorisms elucidate, each aspect builds on the attainment of the previous. To get an idea of the eighth limb, we understand that it begins where the seventh is accomplished. As we mentioned earlier, the word denotes equivalence either with drawing attention to one’s self and/or releasing attention completely. Both options have merit, regardless of which one is considered etymologically correct. Noteworthy is that this state cannot be described with one word except in tersm of what it approximates.

Samādhi is traditionally considered a state of singularity-consciousness, where there are no distinctions, no fluctuations of awareness and nothing to identify. The Aphorisms (III.3) express this state as a stripping bare of one’s own nature- or rather any formative aspect of such. Meditation takes us to the threshold and once we master and can sustain it, the existential essence we have learned to dilate, can be fully embodied as one’s own true nature. This state ceases to be one of holding, even if the aspirant will have to consciously attain it again and again before it deepens enough to become effortless. The state is also akin to perpetual centering, albeit toward a center that is infinit in scope and not as a position in space. The eight limb is indeed the mystery of the whole progression of this system. Accomplished mastery in this yoga, and especially the last three subdivisions, is just the beginning of manifesting magical potential. For the attainment of saṁyama, in particular, we have one step to go: fusing the aforementioned yogic skills. That, along with a deeper exploration of the mystery of fusing the last three limbs, is a topic for the next installment.

 

 

 

 

Antakarana I: Reality, Ego and the Bridging Organ

In these ponderings, squeezing the products of contemplation and esoteric experience into neat packages of a thousand or so words is not always viable. Many of these posts, therefore, represent parts of more extended and often multifaceted themes that concern the esoteric activities of yours truly. This particular post is the first of a group around the Sanskrit notion of antaḥkaraṇa, which is too esoterically significant and too easy to misunderstand to restrict its interpretation to a single semantic dimension. Thus the blog will return to this topic every so often, as it will take far more than one posting to exhaust it to my satisfaction.

The aforementioned term antaḥkaraṇa is fundamental in Yoga philosophy. It can be translated as “the maker in the middle” or “middle-man making/maker”, but is usually rendered as “the bridge/bridging organ”. Regardless of nomenclature, the dynamic of antaḥkaraṇa embodies the process through which consciousness constructs- or reconstructs and even deconstructs- reality. This “organ” has four expressions or processes according to (my interpretation of) Indian esoteric thought:

  1. Manas is the perception matrix. This is the reality modeling/structuring network. Manas is associated with mind, although technically mind encompasses the full spectrum of the organ.
  2. Citta is the substance or medium of awareness (mind-stuff). It is the field of awareness or mind-field, whose fluctuations represent the other three expressions of the organ.
  3. Buddhi involves the will/initiative and active vectoring property of the organ. It is its discerning and choosing capacity.
  4. Ahaṁkara is the focusing and localizing function that defines the sense of self as a “person” or ego. It is the “I-am-function” aspect; the mind’s handle on itself, a construct of the former, as a handle is a construct of a pot. It is also what some forms of spirituality claim we need to trash- or just realize it doesn’t exist in the first place.

Contrary to Neoplatonic and Hermetic philosophy that claims all is mind, in the metaphysics of yoga, mind is an organ. Even if tradition did not claim this, however, it is still my understanding and conclusions drawn from three decades of practice. As a sort of middle-man of our embodiment dynamic, antaḥkaraṇa is not an objective observable, which we can place outside ourselves and remain true to its nature. It is experienced in the first person, which in the west has been translated as “ego”, probably because the word means “me” in Greek. This is not the ego of Sigmund Freud, nor is it the ego that is characterized in terms of selfishness and deluded pride. It is the first person perspective that is fundamental for the other three dynamics of the organ to work smoothly.

Ahaṁ-kara as the “I-am-function” is a dynamic of our psychic physiology, similar to how a physical organ operates as a dynamic of the body as a whole. This organ may be physically associated with the brain and its working, but the brain is an objective observable, while the bridging organ is first person by definition. That is the realization that places the ego in its proverbial place in my view, not the idea that individuality is somehow an existential flaw or falsehood.

If that were so, we could argue that manas and buddhi are also illusions- and some do, whether they are the wizened corpses of tradition or of a modern or postmodern pretense. On the other hand, all form is a patterning of a fundamental medium, and like the shape of a fluid being arbitrary, everything that can be measured is devoid of fundamental autonomy in terms of what it appears to be. That might be taken as an illusion if we use a movie analogy, but the association is misleading. The grand physical events in an epic flick are simply a play of insubstantial light. The play of light, however, is real. An illusion is all in our heads, and nowhere else. A mirage, on the other hand is a play of temperature in the air masking as a fluid medium. Mirage, however, is not an accurate metaphor for the nature of manifestation either.

I view mind as a function of the organic embodiment of consciousness within and through the equally living medium understood as “power” according to the Tantra traditions of South Central Asia. These traditions view the existentially omnipresent poles of consciousness and power as lovers, and not as a single divine being (consciousness) playing with an inert medium or field. Reality is born of their union and cannot be without both. Power (śakti) is formless chaos without consciousness, and consciousness is an insubstantial corpse without power.

According to the view described above, all that is experienced as reality is the dance of power, while consciousness infuses it with luminous direction and subjective presence. That does not mean the medium that is power is inherently just a random field with no existential sense of its own. It forms a whole with consciousness, which without power has no reference frame, and is not even aware of its own existence. It is consciousness of transparent infinity/eternity, and may as well be nothing. The same applies to power. Without consciousness, it is unconscious, and falls inert without an inkling of reference.

Thus power and consciousness are described in terms of female and male respectively. All that is, is an embodiment of dynamics of both to one degree or another. Power’s inherent existential mode is desire, a magnetic draw upon consciousness qualified in accordance to what is to be birthed with it. Consciousness is thus what is drawn in for birth to take place, and is what marks which directions the vibration of power will go to establish what is to be born from it. The bridging organ is a creation of both consciousness and power, with power in this case being of a subtle dynamic, and consciousness more prominent.

In this installment, we have referred to one of the four expressions of the (human) bridging organ, which is its existentially centralized “I-am” mode. It is a function that serves the purpose of centralizing consciousness so the form of its embodiment can cultivate existential autonomy. When unbalanced it can also promote existential insulation and alienation from all it perceives outside of itself, including its very own potential. In order to understand the “ego”-function, however, the antaḥkaraṇa anatomy needs to be described in greater depth.