Friday, September 9, 2016

Secret versus Open Spiritual Teachings

I've been thinking about secret versus open paths. In some traditions, especially those with roots in Asia, the path is secret -- that is, outsiders are not permitted to know the details of how one progresses spiritually. The knowledge is considered esoteric, and it is thought that preparation is needed to understand the teachings. If people are not prepared spiritually, they will misunderstand what is being taught and perhaps even be injured by what they hear. They may also speak in a misinformed way to others about the teachings, which could therefore be corrupted.

Others seem to believe that having a secret teaching gives it a special power. For example, my mother, a follower of Yogananda, had a secret mantra. It was supposed to have been given to her specifically to address her unique spiritual needs.

In Rinzai Zen, where koans are employed, it is considered unwise to comment on the solutions to koans, as the answers are not to come out of discursive reasoning but out of one's deeper being. I remember once seeing a book of solutions to koans. A friend who read this book was sure that he now knew the meaning of all those koans. But in the Zen tradition, only the Zen master is capable of seeing whether the student has grasped the teaching embodied in the koan. Publishing the answers violates the premise that a koan is not an intellectual puzzle but a way of breaking through discursive reasoning to a deeper truth. Therefore, a Western student who does not agree to keep material confidential can run into trouble. It is said, for example, that Yasutani Roshi, dismayed that when his student, Philip Kapleau, included transcripts of Yasutani's interviews with his students in the back of his seminal book, The Three Pillars of Zen, cut him off. (I remember reading those interviews when I was young, with tears in my eyes, because I too wanted what was being pointed to.) The interviews, Yasutani had thought, were only for Kapleau's research purposes. The argument against such publication is that every student is different, and what the Roshi said to each is therefore different. Such conversations cannot be taken as a map of how to proceed, or as a statement of what is ultimately true.

But Westerners have trouble with secrecy. There are many sanghas in the West that have "Open" as part of their name. The American teacher, Adyashanti, for example, calls his sangha "Open Gate." The invitation is to everyone, and while seriousness is encouraged, no commitment is required. Anyone can come, anyone can listen to what he has to say, and anyone can pass on to others any or part of what he or she hears. And, simply due to sheer numbers, Adya no longer meets with students privately but only at satsang, so every student hears what he says to every other student. Some might apply to you; some not. Adya apparently trusts that things will sort themselves out: people will take what applies to them, and discard the rest.

As Westerners, we have been brought up in the tradition of openness, in the belief that if all views are aired, that which is true will ultimately prevail. "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it," is a quotation widely attributed to Voltaire. Whether or not Voltaire actually said this, the spirit of this freedom is certainly alive in Western world, and one definitely not shared with other all cultures. The culture clashes with Muslims in Europe, which sometimes have turned violent, are a case in point. 

To Westerners, secrecy means you have something to hide. So when Eastern paths are transported to the West, they often have to adapt to the West's openness. I have never been a part of a secret spiritual tradition, and maybe there is virtue in that approach of which I am unaware, but, whatever the virtue, I don't think such traditions can stay secret in the age of the internet. 

Friday, September 2, 2016

The Dangers of Shakti

I've written a bit before about transmission of shakti, or spiritual energy. What I want to focus on here are the dangers of transmission to the wrong person at the wrong time.

One way (and perhaps the only one) in which transmission is similar to hypnosis in that the recipient has to be open, has to have a welcoming attitude of trust. But sometimes, the recipient may not realize what s/he is opening to. In fact, the thought-wall that we use to protect our sense of a separate self is pierced in a transmission. The results can be blissful, startling, disruptive, confusing, or almost anything else. This is so because they depend on both the relationship already established with the transmitter and on the recipient's karma and how that karma reacts to being met with the pure, unmediated life energy.

It's not necessary, unfortunately, for a transmitter to be egoless. Some people learn to use this energy for power over others. I'm not going to discuss these situations here except to say that they happen. What I want to talk about is how transmission can cause confusion and pain even when the transmitter has the best of intentions.

Transmission can seem so easy for the transmitter. The transmitter knows that they intend to do – to open the other person to how the divine, unmediated by the mind, feels. But if the recipient has never known this before, the energy might not be interpreted this way. The result might be an extreme attachment to the transmitter in one form or another. It could come in the form of, you brought me bliss; no one else can do for me what you do, and now I love you forever. Or it can come in the form of some kind of repulsion or fear because the transmitter has upset the personality's balance of defenses. Sometimes, the chaos that ensues can last a long time. So one rule I think is important is, If you know how to transmit, don't do it unless you are willing to stay in the person's life to make sure it turns out the way you hope it will.

The life energy that gets transmitted can also be transmitted through other channels – through sex, for example. But sex requires physical touch, and generally people know it is coming and can decide whether they are up for it or not. There are also lots of societal rules about whom to have sex with. It's not like that with transmission. You can gaze at a person in a certain way – maybe even someone you have never seen before -- and suddenly they are in another dimension and it has happened so suddenly that they have no clue what happened to them.

Of course, that's part of the reason it is so effective: the defenses that are normally present aren't there because the transmission was unexpected. Suddenly, the connection between two people is more intimate than would ever happen in sex; sometimes the two people literally become one as boundaries disappear. How the mind interprets what happens can vary, but initially the mind actually can't get a good grip around it, and it is not until the mind learns to relax and let it happen that moving into deeper dimensions of consciousness starts to be truly fulfilling.