Sunday, 6 February 2011

Grail Cup

Hebeprhrenics are often preoccupied with the basic questions of life and the vaster problems of philosophy or science, while they themselves become increasingly unable to cope with day-to-day living, affecting strange mannerisms and perplexed by odd experiences
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from 'The Psychotic' by Andrew Crowcroft pg.44.



In the presence of a Perfect Master the atmosphere is charged with gnosis that can affect even the most obtuse. From time to time you are borne up and live as you know is possible for you by nature but that you now can only manage by grace. During those two months that I spent at the ashram the world was being made before my eyes. I looked on in wonder. Everything said its name.

The toilet for the ashram was the hill behind it. Women went to the left and men to the right. I often took my tin whistle with me to tootle random notes and trills. To go out on to the hill you passed a pathsala where the Brahmin boys were taught to chant the Vedas. In 20 years they would have them learnt by heart. I could hear them at it and now I imagine the pandit beating time on his knee. In the order of emanation of creation akash or space is the first to proceed from the Godhead, and it has for its sole, sensible, quality sound. The Vedas reflect that primal energy and thus channel it for the good of the world.

Just outside the compound there was a group of low benders that the road metal makers and their families lived in while they made the long mounds of chippings. They spend all day with an iron ring around boulders to capture the flying shards of metal that they make with small lump hammers.

On my way down from about 20 yards away I saw a woman come out of one of the benders and run up the hill and a man came out too and dashed after her. In a short distance he caught up to her and threw her down on the ground. This all happened very quickly. Horrified I watched as he picked up a rock and raised it above his head to smash down on her. From the plane of tranquillity I was on a rapid sequence of thoughts passed through my mind........If I call out in English he will not heed me, he will not understand and anyway it's just another busybody foreigner and it would anger him more and he would be less inclined to stop what I took to be immanent murder. No I will play on this whistle like Krishna and he will be pacified by the sound - it will enter his soul. That is what I did trilling like Muralidhara. The man showed no sign of having heard me but he threw the rock away and let her get up. She ran away crying and went back into the tent.

Still shaken I went into the ashram but by darshan time I had forgotten all about it. Baba came out as He usually does and was going round on the crowd. He looked straight at me and gave me a full beam smile. It was perhaps more for having forgotten what I did, than what I did.

God is a personal God in that He uses whatever is in you, there to hand, to teach you. He's working from your inside out. The reality of what we are is greater that the personal/impersonal dyad. It is as they say beyond the pair of opposites. God can only be experienced personally, what the realisation of God may be cannot be experienced. 'It comes and stays'. The mark of experience is that it comes and goes no matter how high it takes you.

Nature spoke to me infused with power in the Wordsworthian way. There in village India man moved upon the earth with the same motions as he had done for millennia. The carts were drawn by bullocks and the fields parted by wooden plows with steel shod socks. I stood aside to let pass a peasant driving a pair, one black one white, both had silver tips to their horns. With ample mild power they were day and night pulling the year.

I saw a field being irrigated using two bullocks to raise the water from a deep well in a large leather bucket. It was an ingenious device. A ramp slanted away from the well whose rim was higher that the barely tilted plane of the field. Down the ramp the driver went side-saddle on the back of one of them drawing the large bucket up and sending the water gushing down into a channel which led round the garden of 20 perches or so. The bucket being emptied the driver unhitched the rope and the bucket shot back down into the well again. Then he smartly turned his team around and up the ramp again he went and without a pause hitched up. The other ryots guided the water in a channel which was made round the perimeter of the garden and from this main artery they drew with their short broad mattocks subsidiary streams towards the rows and ridges of their crop. As the driver of the bullocks went down the ramp he gave a cry and a chant which was always the same.

Why did it affect me so much? There was a confluence of so many symbols embodied and melded in a cycle contained and bounded by the cry of the driver. Water, earth, chthonic power & fertility. I didn't think of any of this as watched the work. This was a continuous liturgy I attended in that fertile red soil where they can have three crops, water permitting. The Upanishads say that even the earth is in eternal dhyana. With mindfullness we dowse for living water and its freshets are always a surprise. The fly wheel of the robotic internal dialogue is stopped and for a moment or two we seem to see into the life of things.

I will now relate an incident which had no trace of irruption into consciousness about it, but seemed ordinary, albeit puzzling, at the time.

There were several women on the ashram at this time, mostly Americans. One of them was exceptionally beautiful, tall, blond, slim but when she walked she did so with a profound limp that was almost a genuflexion. The shock of this affront to her beauty was so great it was like a punch in the stomach. Her stern dignity was a reproach to pity. I shall call her Jennifer as that preserves the chime her true name had with one from Arthurian legend. Jennifer\Guinevere. I was attracted to her but there then was neither the time nor the place for secular love. A group of us had decided to go to the village after darshan to buy milk in the dairy. She would be among the party. How would I handle this? When I was coming across the compound she was standing there dressed in a sari. For a blink of an eye I saw her in a blue gown with a wimple, tall conical hat and a white scarf, her favour, flowing from its point. Very well I said, Jennifer/Guinevere when we go out today it will be as a quest. The sense I had was of the courtly love of the troubadours and their awareness of the diaphane of spiritual beauty that lay over the equivocal preying on weakness of lust. My talisman was effective.

We got to the dairy just at milking time. There were 4 or 5 cows in their stalls in the large hut open at the sides. It was very clean. A man and his wife were milking the cows and they filled our tin billy cans. We paid them. As though prepared for a festival, the place was spotless and so too were its owners. When we went to go they detained us to give us some milk to drink. Their daughter came out, a girl of about 15 dressed in a long jupe and shirt top. I was handed a chalice of milk. It had a foot to it and bosses like the Ardagh chalice only it was lower and broader. It was dull brass coloured and not that heavy. I had to drink from it carefully as the normal tip you would give to a cup would have sent it splashing all over my face. I took a drink of the warm sweet milk and I was going to offer some to the others who were over beside the stalls. The man said - They have theirs, this is for you.

They were drinking from a tumbler which was set with stones, bright flashy gems of varying hue, a czar's treasure of a thing. I remember feeling envious of their bejewelled cup and wanting to drink from it. When we were finished we gave the namaz salute to the family and we went back to the ashram. On the way in through the back gate Jennifer turned to me and said:

- All today I couldn't stop thinking of you as a knight of the round table.

This adventure was experienced in normal consciousness and part of me sought explanation in theories like family treasure, glass baubles or booty from war. It was a puzzle and it had a theatrical feel to it. The cup was going to be there and the mental gauze of quest was tacked on to a prevision of it to make a sort of Grail story. I didn't think to talk to any of the others about it at the time to find out if it was a shared perception. But why should I, it was palpably, potably real.

To what plane of existence does this experience belong? It was a teasing mystery until I read a book by Harold Bloom called 'Omens of Millennium'. He places it precisely using the categories which the scholar of the Iranian Sh'ite sufis Henry Corbin elucidates. In their world there is the interpenetration of the mundane by the Imaginal. In a sense there is a continuum and we can pass from one sphere to the other without noticing it.

"Our confrontation with the angel is neither empirical nor transcendental; instead it takes place in a middle world that Henry Corbin calls 'imaginal', which is neither imaginary nor what we generally call 'imaginative', in the Western aesthetic sense." Omens pg.156


This world has also affinities with the world of formation of Kabbalah. It is next door to the world of 'action', the normal empirical domain. Introducing a passage from the Talmudists Adam Steinsaltz's 'The Thirteen Petalled Rose' H.B. remarks: Steinsaltz charmingly emphasizes, as does Corbin in his account of the Sufi imaginal world, that our perception of angels can be quite as ordinary as if such messengers dwelt entirely in the world of action:

(
Steinsaltz) "Similarly, the angel who is sent to us from another world does not always have a significance or impact beyond the normal laws of physical nature. Indeed, it often happens that the angel precisely reveals itself in nature, in the ordinary common-sense world of causality, and only a prophetic insight or divination can show when, and to what extent, it is the work of higher forces. For man by his very nature is bound to the system of higher worlds, even though ordinarily this system is not revealed and known to him. As a result, this system of higher worlds seems to him to be natural, just as the whole of his two-sided existence, including both matter and spirit, seems self-evident to him. Man does not wonder at all about those passages he goes through all the time in the world of action, from the realm of material existence to the realm of spiritual existence. What is more, the rest of the other worlds that also penetrate our world may appear to us as part of something quite natural." pg. 168 Omens.


Be it understood that when the word 'angel' is used in the text I am not assimilating my condition to the translation of Elijah or Enoch, it is to the world of formation that I refer. In the system of the Kabbalah there are four worlds - emanation, creation, formation and action. The Sufis that Corbin treats of conflate the first two into a realm of Pure Intelligences. The Hindus have lokas - Brahma Loka, pitri loka, rishi loka, Deva Loka etc.. Kailasa is the abode of Shiva and deathless yogis meditate in caves in the hill of Arunachala which is hollow and the centre of the world. Did I read once of a sadhu who went to Brindivan and was woken in the morning by the sound of a flute? When he went to his window and looked out there was Krishna driving his cattle down to the Yamuna. Krishna Loka.

When you arrive in one of those lokas you will know it, the Kabbalah's imaginal world is one into which you may drift by grace and not know it. Even the subsequent pondering of mysterious aspects of your experience leave you uncertain whether you were there or not which is just as it should be. There will be less in it to tempt us to the vanity of supposed attainment.

6 comments:

elisa freschi said...

I am sorry to spoil the atmosphere of your enchanting post with down-to-earth comments. Thanks for sharing your experience. I really like your approach to "Angels", since you avoid both extremes (reductivist denial and positivist idea of Angels as physical beings with wings etc.) and challenge us to think outside our usual range.

As for "God can only be experienced personally", I somehow figured out you as an Advaitin and I thought you would have said that God can be experienced as the changing shift of our experience. What do you mean by "personally"? "Within one's subjectivity" or "as a person"? If the latter, do you mean to say that we can only experience God as, say, Kṛṣṇa, although the whole appearance of Kṛṣṇaloka is Divine?

ombhurbhuva said...

Hi Elisa,
Thanks for your kind words.

I was drawing the distinction between experience as a necessarily subjective/personal event and realisation as impersonal where the boundaries of the personal are annihilated, 'anantam' as in satyam, jnanam, anantam. There is that expression of the gradation between experience and realisation as "First you see the light, then you are in the light, then you are the light". The Krishna devotees try to live in Krishna consciousness, they want to taste the sugar not be the sugar (Ramakrishna's words). By the way have you ever read The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna by M. ? It goes into all the different levels (bhavas?) of bhakti and jnana in a way that lets you see how someone like Shankara could both write hymns and abstruse metaphysics without the feeling that one must somehow preclude the other. Your guest blogger Matthew Dasti is a member of the bhakticollective.com while wielding a metaphysical scalpel skillfully.

The characteristic expression in Advaita for the 'action' of consciousness is 'pervasion' but strictly speaking that can't be right if in reality Consciousness is everything. Moreover it can't even be the substratum of everything those annihilating ajativadins would say. Still here we are even if the reality that we know is merely analogical.

Is the 'ishta devatta' essential? I think it probably is for most people. 'My father has many lokas'.

elisa freschi said...

Dear Ombhurbhuva,

Do you mean to say that "God" can only be experienced as a person and within a subjective perspective, although a further gradation beyond the iṣṭadevatā is possible?
More important: should the gradation be necessarily understood as a progression? Is the iṣṭadevatā just the lower level of the experience of Consciousness? Or has the iṣṭadevatā the advantage of making one aware of Otherness?

Apropos, I did not read that book. I tend not to have any problem with this kind of split, since I have been reading Śaiva text and authors such as Utpaladeva can also shift from devotional hymns to philosophical claims about the only reality of consciousness.

Thanks and sorry again for translating back in dualistic terms.

ombhurbhuva said...

The distinction between saguna and nirguna brahman is well noted in the Vedantic commentaries. There is also in Yoga the distinction between sarvikalpa and nirvikalpa samadhi. There is probably a tendency to portray the passage from one to the other as a reflection of spiritual growth as though the formless was more 'real' than the formfull. The advaitic theory of superimposition comes into play as well. In a way it seems that the impersonal pure consciousness is the captive of the personal. So how do we stop superimposing? Is it through an understanding of the arguments for non-duality? If that were the case then self-realisation would be common. My recent reading of Bergson has given me some ideas about how practice and meditation play their part in loosening the bonds of ajnana. His thesis is that memory is not in the brain as neuro-science takes for granted. The buttons that memory laden experience press in the brain ready the human being for action or in other words complete the perceptual event. These reactions are the result of stimuli and conditioning and because they are so closely connected with mental events take on the aura of consciousness by a sort of adhyasa. This rote learning is by practice, mantra, japa, kirtan etc turned in the other direction, back towards consciousness so to speak. Bergson speaks of the experience of duration which is mysterious and seems to me to be like to a meditative state.

Two significant aspects of advaita are the term itself i.e. not-two and the other concept of non-difference of cause and effect. These are not just clever ways of being uncommitted to monism but a genuine feeling that ultimately differences between nirguna and sagunal, brahman and isvara are the result of the natural conceptual polarisation that grounds the mind just as every curve has a convex and a concave side but ultimately there is only the curve.

So we live the personal/impersonal but tat tvam asi.

elisa freschi said...

That's interesting. So, you mean that (suitable) repetition is a way of planting seeds of non-dual consciousness instead of the seeds of dual consciousness which keep on ripening within our conscience? But the latter are, I suppose, endless. How can any good practice ever counterbalance them?

ombhurbhuva said...

Tat tvam asi indicates that there is nothing to achieve because we are already there. Practice is merely reminding ourselves of this. Most of the Eastern traditions concur in this. Sankara even dismisses the idea of samadhi as being attainment.