Light of Eleusis
The goddess Demeter had two gifts for mankind: the golden grain as the basis of civilized life and the Mysteria that held the promise of ‘better hopes’ for a happy afterlife. One is tempted to think this involves food for the body and food for the soul. We know nothing for certain about the afterlife, just as we know nothing for certain about the secret of the Mysteria.
I believe that some of the mystai saw the light of eternity. Plato writes: “There was a time when with the rest of the happy band they saw beauty shining in brightness – we philosophers following in the train of Zeus, others in company with other gods; and then we beheld the beatific vision and were initiated into a mystery which may be truly called most blessed, celebrated by us in our state of innocence before we had any experience of evils to come, when we were admitted to the sight of apparitions innocent and simple and calm and happy, which we beheld shining in pure light”. The whole nine-day initiation gives me the impression of having been directed towards experiencing life as a divine gift, from procreation to eternity. Whatever the hierophant was able to make appear in the Telesterion must have been very profound. The Eleusinian hope for life beyond the death of the body can only be explained if the vision somehow referred to the source of all creation, matter and soul, male nor feminine. That would be very much in accord with Plato, whose beatific vision is the vision of the Good. I think the Mysteria of Eleusis provided the soil out of which Platonic philosophy grew and therefore its mystery lives on in Western thought and arts.
Excerpt from an essay for the MA on Myth, Cosmology and the Sacred of Canterbury Christ Church University.
PHANES was the Protogenos (primeval god) of procreation in the Orphic cosmogony. He was the primal generator of life, the driving force behind reproduction in the early cosmos. Phanes was hatched from the world egg (the primordial mixture of elements) when it was split into its constituent parts by the ancient gods Khronos (Time) and Ananke (Inevitability). Phanes was the first king of the universe, who passed the royal sceptre on to his daughter Nyx (Night),who in turn handed it down to her son Ouranos (Heaven). From him it was first seized by Kronos (Time), and then by Zeus, the ultimate ruler of the cosmos. Phanes was portrayed as a beautiful golden-winged hermaphroditic deity wrapped in a serpent's coils. The poets describe him as an incorporeal being invisible even through the eyes of the gods. His name means "bring to light" or "make appear" from the Greek verbs phanaô and phainô.
The living being had no need of eyes when there was nothing remaining outside him to be seen; nor of ears when there was nothing to be heard; and there was no surrounding atmosphere to be breathed; nor would there have been any use of organs by the help of which he might receive his food or get rid of what he had already digested, since there was nothing which went from him or came into him: for there was nothing beside him. Of design he was created thus, his own waste providing his own food, and all that he did or suffered taking place in and by himself. For the Creator conceived that a being which was self-sufficient would be far more excellent than one which lacked anything; and, as he had no need to take anything or defend himself against any one, the Creator did not think it necessary to bestow upon him hands: nor had he any need of feet, nor of the whole apparatus of walking; but the movement suited to his spherical form was assigned to him, being of all the seven that which is most appropriate to mind and intelligence; and he was made to move in the same manner and on the same spot, within his own limits revolving in a circle. All the other six motions were taken away from him, and he was made not to partake of their deviations. And as this circular movement required no feet, the universe was created without legs and without feet.
Plato, Timaeus, 33.
The golden section is showed up early in mathematics. It goes back at least as far as 300 B.C., when Euclid described it in his major work, the Elements. Moreover, the Pythagoreans apparently knew about the golden section around 500 B.C. The oldest examples of this principle, however, appear in nature's proportions, including the morphology of pine cones and starfish. The ancient Egyptians used the golden mean in the construction of the great pyramids and in the design of hieroglyphs found on tomb walls. At another time, thousands of miles away, the ancients of Mexico embraced phi while building the Sun Pyramid at Teotihuacan. The Greeks studied phi closely through their mathematics and used it in their architecture. The Parthenon at Athens is a classic example of the use of the Golden Rectangle. Plato in his Timaeus considered it the most binding of all mathematical relations and makes it the key to the physics of the cosmos. In the Middle Ages the mathematician Fibonacci devised a sequence of numbers that forms golden means and spirals. During the Renaissance, phi served as the "hermetic" structure on which great masterpieces were composed. Renowned artists such as Michelangelo, Raphael, and Leonardo da Vinci made use of it.
I Ching: chance and change
The Book of Changes, usually called the I Ching , is a Chinese oracle book. It contains a system of 64 hexagrams, six-line figures consisting of whole and broken lines. There are 26 = 64 possible combinations, and thus 64 hexagrams. All hexagrams have a number and name and indicate a situation the subject is in according to the oracle. Each hexagram is presented with a description of this situation and an advice on how to act to achieve positive result or avoid negative effects.
It is generally taken to be the Chinese view that there is no such thing as chance involved with the I Ching divination and that the result of the procedure is meaningful, even if not apparent. The I Ching text has a peculiar attitude towards free will. Hellmut Wilhelm writes in his book Change. Eight Lectures on the I Ching : “From this comprehensiveness of Tao, embracing both macrocosm and microcosm, the Book of Changes derives the idea that man is at the centre of events; the individual who is conscious of responsibility is on a par with the cosmic forces of heaven and earth. The individual must adjust to the fated order of heaven and earth, and only then does the framework of reference emerge within which action is possible and is demanded” . So there is only real free will within the framework of fate. Hellmut Wilhelm finds this a natural attitude for the Chinese.
The ‘Book of Changes’ has at its heart the concept of change. The 64 hexagrams were conceived as symbols of the successive stages in the ever moving cycle of universal change. While in Europe pure Being is taken as fundamental, the decisive factor in Chinese thought is the recognition of change as the essence. The I Ching makes change itself the centre of observation and recognizes time as an essential factor in the structure of the world and in the development of the individual. The concept of change of the I Ching has as its opposite reversal, regression, things going against nature. Lama Govinda says: “The dark begets the light and the light begets the dark in ceaseless alternation, but that which begets this alternation, that to which all life owes its existence, is Tao with its law of change”.
Excerpt from an essay for the MA on Myth, Cosmology and the Sacred of Canterbury Christ Church University.
"The sitting practice of meditation (...) is the means to rediscover basic goodness, and beyond that, it is the means to awaken this genuine heart within yourself. When you sit in the posture of meditation, you are exactly the naked man or woman (...) sitting between heaven and earth. When you slouch, you are trying to hide your heart, trying to protect it by slumping over. But when you sit upright but relaxed in the posture of meditation, your heart is naked. Your entire being is exposed-to yourself, first of all, but to others as well. So through the practice of sitting still and following your breath as it goes out and dissolves, you are connecting with your heart. By simply letting yourself be, as you are, you develop genuine sympathy towards yourself.
When you awaken your heart in this way, you find, to your surprise, that your heart is empty. You find that you are looking into outer space. What are you, who are you, where is your heart? If you really look, you won’t find anything tangible and solid. Of course, you might find something very solid if you have a grudge against someone or you have fallen possessively in love. But that is not awakened heart. If you search for awakened heart, if you put your hand through your rib cage and feel for it, there is nothing there except for tenderness. You feel sore and soft, and if you open your eyes to the rest of the world, you feel tremendous sadness. This kind of sadness doesn’t come from being mistreated. You don’t feel sad because someone has insulted you or because you feel impoverished. Rather, this experience of sadness is unconditioned. It occurs because your heart is completely exposed. There is no skin or tissue covering it; it is pure raw meat. Even if a tiny mosquito lands on it, you feel so touched. Your experience is raw and tender and so personal.
The genuine heart of sadness comes from feeling that your nonexistent heart is full. You would like to spill your heart’s blood, give your heart to others. For the warrior, this experience of sad and tender heart is what gives birth to fearlessness. Conventionally, being fearless means that you are not afraid or that, if someone hits you, you will hit him back. However, we are not talking about that street-fighter level of fearlessness. Real fearlessness is the product of tenderness. It comes from letting the world tickle your heart, your raw and beautiful heart. You are willing to open up, without resistance or shyness, and face the world. You are willing to share your heart with others."
Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche (the "bad boy of Buddhism")
Russel Williams is a simple man. On the surface, you would think of him as a fairly typical man of his generation, although perhaps one who looks unusually young and sprightly for his 93 years. If you visited him at home with his wife Joyce, you wouldn’t find anything unusual there either. Again, it would strike you as a fairly typical house for a couple of their senior years.
Russel is not educated – he left school at the age of 11 (in 1932) and has had no formal education since. He’s not an intellectual; he hasn’t read a great many books, and in his teachings he only rarely refers to texts or other sources. Although he has been the president of the Buddhist Society of Manchester since 1974, and sometimes uses Buddhist terms or talks about the Buddha as an individual, he doesn’t consider himself a Buddhist. He certainly doesn’t ‘teach’ Buddhism in any formal sense.
As a result, Russel’s spiritual teachings are very ‘naked’ and pure – that is, they are very free of theories, concepts and categories. This gives his teachings a rare clarity and power. There is no system. There are no rituals or rules to follow, and no ideas to take on board. You don’t have to believe anything. You don’t have to accept anything. You don’t have to become anything. All you have to do is be.
Russel often says that he’s not interested in convincing people of anything. He encourages people to play with his teachings, to question them, to find out for themselves whether they are true. He doesn’t think of himself as a guru, and has no desire to accumulate followers or disciples. Everything he teaches stems very directly from a particular state of being, one which he experiences as his constant reality, and which he has done for almost 65 years. There are many different terms for this state: stillness, pure consciousness, emptiness of being, the essence of our being, our true nature…
(Extract from the introduction to the book by Russel Williams "Not I, Not Other than I", by Steve Taylor.)