Old Time Religion


Per Jonathan Ott:

“Shamanic ecstasy is the real “Old Time Religion,” of which modern churches are but pallid evocations. Shamanic, visionary ecstasy, the mysterium tremendum, the unio mystica, the eternally delightful experience of the universe as energy, is a sine qua non of religion, it is what religion is for! There is no need for faith, it is the ecstatic experience itself that gives one faith in the intrinsic unity and integrity of the universe, in ourselves as integral parts of the whole; that reveals to us the sublime majesty of our universe, and the fluctuant, scintillant, alchemical miracle that is quotidian consciousness. Any religion that requires faith and gives none, that defends against religious experiences, that promulgates the bizarre superstition that humankind is in some way separate, divorced from the rest of creation, that heals not the gaping wound between Body and Soul, but would tear them asunder… is no religion at all!”

I’ve been going back to my own spiritual roots these past several months, from which I escaped some 26 years ago and have dutifully avoided ever since. When I haven’t been avoiding it, I’ve been criticizing it, as though it has nothing to do with who I’ve become at age 45.

I’m talking about Christianity, of course… and specifically, the form of Protestant Christianity associated with evangelicalism, fundamentalism, fire and brimstone.

My father is a Presbyterian minister (who, thankfully, has migrated away from his Pentecostal roots into the far left wing of his denomination’s contribution to “Liberation Theology“). His father was a Pentecostal tent preacher who went on to found a large Full Gospel Tabernacle in Fresno, CA. My father’s father and uncle were also preachers. So, you can immediately understand why I had to rebel in a big way in order to put distance between myself and my family heritage.

[UPDATE: My father just emailed with a clarification on the above paragraph. I’ll just paste what he wrote here:

Full Gospel Tabernacle had been in existence for some years before my dad got there as pastor in about 1941. It was an old barn of a building with open rafters and hard seats, individually attached to the floor, kind of like a theater, but with no cushions. We tore it down and built a new building on the same spot in the early 50’s. Then, in 52 or 53, dad left with about 50 others to found Peoples Church, meeting in rented halls until we could buy land at Cedar and Dakota Streets where the first buildings were erected, mostly with volunteer labor.

Thanks, Dad!]

What I’m finding, some nine months after my mother’s death, is that you cannot ever get away from your family heritage.

For all my Buddhist meditation, my Hindu cosmology and my Sufi-inspired devotional ecstasy… I cannot help but be drawn back to my true spiritual roots, the fertile ground from which my experience of the Sacred sprouted.

Using some of the modest amount of money my momma left me, I’ve been buying up all sorts of Bibles, as well as evangelical “Bible helps” like concordances, word study dictionaries, interlinear Bibles, commentaries, sermons, systematic theologies, topical Bibles, Bible dictionaries/encyclopedias, Bible software, hermeneutic texts, Biblical criticism texts. I’ve read through the Bible from Genesis to Revelations twice in the last year, having never so much as read a single chapter beforehand.

Truth is, I am embarrassed to be seen with any of this material. I do all my studying at home, usually in conjunction with my still-rigorous daily meditation practice (three hours a day, as well as into the night when I manage to remain lucid in the sleep state). When a new book shows up in the p.o. box, I quickly slip it into my backpack and wait until the bus takes me home before I bust it out for a look. After spending the first 19 years of my life being forced to attend church, usually three times a week (Sunday morning and evening, Tuesday choir practice, Wednesday Bible study… which was more like a bull session amongst serious stoners), I’ve prided myself on being anything but a Christian. As I frequently say, the only times I’ve set foot in a church since 1982 have been for weddings and funerals — and I’m not the only one, because most of the weddings have been held outside the church, and funerals are usually done at the funeral home. When I got into Eastern studies, as well as astrology, Tarot and other oracular symbol systems, I proudly rode the bus with a Baghavad Gita or Dhammapadha held high in front of my face. I’ve felt no compunction against gently opening an English translation of the Qur’an at my favorite coffee shops.

But the Bible? No way.

Winding our way back to the point of our post — Shamanism — let me say that it is the issue of ecstasy that drives my current investigation into evangelical Christianity.

Like Jonathan Ott above, I’m finding that, outside self-described “charismatic” churches from within and without the Pentecostal fold, there is not a lot of institutional support for the cultivation of religious ecstasy. The church within which I was raised, Calvary Presbyterian Church in Fresno (which, I believe, no longer exists), was known for its silent congregation — no clapping or shouting, just polite recitals of well-worn hymns, combined with certain Scripture readings weaved into the liturgy — and even as a young child I would ask my father why there was no “experiential component” to our religious routine. He would just laugh and ruffle my hair.

Later, I would find that monastics from the Orthodox and Catholic traditions have left us a body of ecstatic writings, and from these I have been able to find a measure of validation for the “charismatic gifts” that have arisen from my meditation practice. The Christian Mystics would often equate the Holy Spirit with Sophia, or the Divine Feminine, and they would have to hide Her presence between the lines of their writings in order not to end up burning at the stake — but She is there, undaunted, performing her work of spiritual awakening within her lovers.

What about the Bible, which purports to be the inspired Word of God for Christians down through the centuries? Did Paul and the other early Christians have to hide the Spirit between the lines?

Have you ever seriously read the Bible? I’m talking about just plopping it open and beginning to read, day after day, until you reach the last page and immediately start over again at the beginning. I’m not talking about reading the Bible out of a fear of everlasting damnation in Hell, but rather as an act of spiritual thirst. Have you had this experience?

My reason for asking is, I am curious as to whether or not I am the only one to discover in the Word an actual living, energized, intelligent, transformative Presence that has a gradual building-up effect within the earnest reader. One may even say that diligent exposure to the Word is availing of true healing, from the inside out.

Am I the only one?

Maybe so — but I think not.

Let me just say that, when you read the four Gospels, Acts, Romans and the other early-church letters, you cannot help but be impressed by the Presence of Spirit. You cannot help but marvel at the life those early Christians led, totally surrendered and dependent on Spirit, to the point of giving up all worldly connections in order to answer a higher Calling. You cannot help but pine after that sort of fervency, tied as it was to intimate connection with Spirit that moved the early Christians well past faith into the realm of undeniable Truth.

The Shaman pictured above understands this connection with Spirit, this higher Calling.

I do believe that this Calling is available to us today, should we ever manage to distance ourselves from worldly concerns long enough for Spirit to integrate into us.

We may, unfortunately, also need to distance ourselves from the mainstream expressions of our chosen religious institutions, as the ecstatic has been all but banished from their current expressions.

In the absence of institutional support, we may need to make do with our individual contemplative practice, combined with immersion in the Word (i.e., Divinity written down, made available for those who are ready to receive), until Spirit deems us ready to assume our Calling.

God willing, new institutions will arise that recognize the religious centrality of the ecstatic.

Perhaps one has already begun to spring up… who knows?

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About Those Commandments….

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Makes you think!

Moses was high on drugs: Israeli researcher

High on Mount Sinai, Moses was on psychedelic drugs when he heard God deliver the Ten Commandments, an Israeli researcher claimed in a study published this week.

Such mind-altering substances formed an integral part of the religious rites of Israelites in biblical times, Benny Shanon, a professor of cognitive psychology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem wrote in the Time and Mind journal of philosophy.

“As far Moses on Mount Sinai is concerned, it was either a supernatural cosmic event, which I don’t believe, or a legend, which I don’t believe either, or finally, and this is very probable, an event that joined Moses and the people of Israel under the effect of narcotics,” Shanon told Israeli public radio on Tuesday.

Moses was probably also on drugs when he saw the “burning bush,” suggested Shanon, who said he himself has dabbled with such substances.

“The Bible says people see sounds, and that is a clasic phenomenon,” he said citing the example of religious ceremonies in the Amazon in which drugs are used that induce people to “see music.”

He mentioned his own experience when he used ayahuasca, a powerful psychotropic plant, during a religious ceremony in Brazil’s Amazon forest in 1991. “I experienced visions that had spiritual-religious connotations,” Shanon said.

He said the psychedelic effects of ayahuasca were comparable to those produced by concoctions based on bark of the acacia tree, that is frequently mentioned in the Bible.

You know, I must not have been there the day in Sunday School when they talked about this….


Huna Kapua

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Secrets divulged!

Huna is a Hawaiian word meaning “secret,” but it also refers to the esoteric wisdom of Polynesia. Kupua is another Hawaiian word and it refers to a specialized healer who works with the powers of the mind and the forces of nature. In that respect it is very similar to the Siberian Tungusic word “shaman.”

The understanding of Huna described here comes from the kupua tradition of the Kahili family from the island of Kauai, through Serge Kahili King, who was adopted as the grandson of Joseph Kahili and trained in his tradition.

Click the link only if you’ve been given Top Secret security clearance…!

Wheel of Fortunate

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I do, indeed, feel fortunate for having found (or been found by) Jeffrey Brooks (aka, Jhanananda) of the Great Western Vehicle.

What is the GWV?

Here’s a chunk of it:

The Great Western Vehicle (Mahaparacakkayana), is a 4th wheel (Catutthayana), ecumenical, engaged, ecstatic contemplative Buddhist tradition that seeks to teach Buddhist philosophy and contemplative arts within the context of any culture or religious tradition. We are not interested in Buddhism as a religion, but as a philosophy and practice strategy (dhamma/dharma) that any one can follow to enlightenment, regardless of one’s cultural or religious background. Thus the GWV does not expect nor require conversion to Buddhism, but seeks to forge alliances with other ecstatic contemplatives and their traditions.

[…]

The GWV is first and foremost a contemplative tradition. The teachers of the Great Western Vehicle are all contemplatives. One cannot become a lay teacher or monastic priest in the Great Western Vehicle without leading a life that is dedicated to the daily practice of meditation, which is oriented toward the cultivation of meditative absorption.

The GWV is an engaged, contemplative tradition, because we have dedicate every thought, word, action and resource to the benefit of all beings, Every teacher of the GWV endeavors to be a living example of an ethical life. In fact if a teacher of the GWV is found to not to be leading an ethical life, then he or she is immediately disqualified from a leadership roll within the GWV. We view ethics as not only avoiding the 7 deadly sins, but also leading a harmless life, and a life that meets the needs of the people, culture and environment. Thus, we support peaceful resolutions between peoples, institutions and nations; and preservation and restoration of wilderness areas; as well as environmentally sensitive and sustainable agriculture, habitation and transportation.

We are an ecstatic contemplative tradition because we recognize the meditative absorption states, which are what the Christian mystics called “ecstasy,” and what the Buddha called “jhana,” and what Patanjali called “samadhi.” We find the meditative absorption states are one and the same from culture to culture, and are the very definition of a correctly executed contemplative life, and they are also the defining quality of the 8th fold of the Noble Eight Fold Path. Thus all of the teachers of the GWV are committed to cultivating the ecstatic states, and teaching how one can cultivate those states.

Western ecstatic contemplative traditions need a canon of literature that supports their noble endeavor of leading a contemplative life for the purpose of cultivating the meditative absorption states. We find the early canon of Buddhist literature, as reflected in the Discourses of the Buddha (Sutta Pitaka of the Pali Canon), is one of the clearest and best examples of the ecstatic contemplative path, thus we consider the Sutta Pitaka should be considered a major aspect of the western canon of ecstatic contemplative literature.

[…]

By way of full disclosure, you should know that Your Proprietor completed teacher training this past summer, and is in the process of integrating into the GWV as a faculty member. I’m working on a bio for the faculty webpage, and will provide a link when available.

What drew me to Jhanananda is this business of “meditative absorption,” which is something I’ve experienced all my life — but especially since 1995, when I turned 33 and found that my meditation was filled with bliss, joy and ecstasy. These qualities have “matured” during the intervening years, especially since May of 2003, when I attended my first 10-day retreat with Jhanananda in Riverside, CA. Two years ago (almost — New Years 2007 will make it official) I dedicated myself to a three-hour-a-day meditation practice… which sounds horrific, probably, except that it beats anything I’ve ever done during my 44 years on Earth — including psychoactive drugs, sex, rock n roll, or otherwise partying with my homeys. In other words, spending three hours a day steeped in ever-deepening meditative absorption — and then spending the other 21 hours saturated in a baseline bliss — is a no-brainer, and I can’t figure out why everyone doesn’t do it.

That’s not really true — I know why no one does it, because I avoided it in spectacular ways for many, many years. It’s been a process of surrender to an innate gift, which I believe we all have access to, but which our culture does not understand, let alone support.

So, perhaps this post points to a major reason for my sticking around on planet Earth. Perhaps it says something about my remaining time, in that I do hope to attract others who are discovering this universal gift within themselves, and need a little support in anchoring it in their daily lives.

We’ll see.

Today’s PK Dick Moment

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Today’s offering combines material about two of the most influential figures in my development — Philip K. Dick and Mircea Eliade.

Mark W. Smith asks, “PKD: Sham or Shaman?”:

In February of 1974 Philip K. Dick was feeling a lot of personal stress: financial matters involving the I.R.S., lingering effects of the break-in of his home and other fears experienced in 1971, and family matters involving the birth of a new child. He was also dealing with the effects of an impacted wisdom tooth. Phil had been administered Sodium Pentothal during surgery and later was awaiting the delivery of a pain killer. Phil had also been taking lithium in prescribed doses for some time.

During this time Phil began to receive and experience a series of dreams, visions and other-worldly experiences that would change his life and times for ever. He would spend the remaining years of his life in pursuit of explanations for what had happened. What follows is a synopsis of possible ideas, borrowed from both western and eastern thought; past, present and even future.

In speculating on the condition of Phil’s psyche at this point, one must ponder the combined effects of the stress, pain and drugs. The vision quest is a ritual practiced for gaining a guardian spirit or asking for supernatural guidance. These three forces are often utilized in preparing the mind and spirit for this: stress, in the form of isolation, fasts, thirsts and physical danger; pain, through mutilation or self mortification; and drugs, such as hallucinogens. In the successful vision quest the combination of these preparations will place the individual in a trance and make him a receptacle for supernatural forces. The vision quest still lies outside the realm of tribal shamanism.

Shamanism itself exists within the social structure of the tribe and is the practice of entering an altered state of consciousness and traversing non-physical realities in order to heal sickness, both physical, emotional, and spiritual; or to tell of the future and of things to pass, or to contact the dead, etc. The shamans are not priests, but are often more like mystics, and as such are separated from the main function of the society by their intense experiences. Siberian shamans go down to the underworld of the ancestral spirits to gain their knowledge. This belief system has had parallels in other cultures as well; in yoga tradition, the Manomya and Akashaloka siddhis provide access to other dimensions of the universe. In Iranian mysticism, Hurgalya, the celestial earth, is accessible for spiritual travel.

Within the shamanic traditions it is a long-held belief that of the three chief methods of obtaining shamanic powers (1) family transmission, (2) spontaneous vocation, and (3) people who become shamans of their own free will, the self-made shaman is the least powerful.

Mircea Eliade in Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy says, “However selected, a shaman is not recognized as such until after he has received two kinds of teaching: (1) ecstatic (dreams, trances, etc.) and (2) traditional (shamanic techniques, names and functions of spirits, mythology and genealogy of the clan, secret languages, etc.).”

Looking at Phil’s experience through a shamanistic viewpoint, we can say that it was spontaneous, and upon receiving the “call” he had a series of dreams, trances, visions, etc. Then he spent the next eight years trying to learn the traditions of his people, their mythology, the names and functions of their spirits, and so on.

For the most part he was on his own in his attempts to relate the experiences to the traditions of his people, due to the spiritual poverty that existed around him, and one wonders what would have been made of his experiences if he had been born or lived in a culture of rich shamanistic traditions.

Smith moves onward into deeper territory from there, an interesting and provoking essay that touches on many of the themes that make life meaningful.

If you’ve got the time, pull up a chair, heat up your cup o’ Joe, and meander through a thought stream that begins to uncover the certain something that makes PK Dick such an intriguing literary figure for those who cannot quite buy the dominant version of “reality” being peddled to the masses.

[Crossposted at Spontaneous Arising.]