Knockin’ on Heaven’s Illusory Door: Life & Death, East & West

Journey of Life & Death 001.jpgMama, take this badge off of me I can’t use it anymore. It’s getting dark, too dark to see I feel I’m knocking on heaven’s door. Knock, knock, knocking on heaven’s door. Mama, put my guns in the ground I can’t shoot them anymore. That long black cloud is coming down I feel like I’m knocking on heaven’s door. Knock, knock, knocking on heaven’s door.   Bob Dylan

Life’s journey will end in death we all know it, we all deny it, and few truly face it.

There has never been a more poignant view into the abyss than Sam Peckinpah offered in his 1973 film Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid. In the memorable scene Sheriff Garrett (James Coburn) accompanied by Sheriff Baker (Slim Pickens) and his wife (Katy Jurado) ride into an adobe homestead looking for Billy. In the ensuing gunfight Slim Pickens is mortally wounded, he staggers slowly toward the setting sun as Bob Dylan’s Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door begins playing. Katy Jurado follows as Pickens sits holding his bleeding stomach by the side of a slow moving river. No words are exchanged as Pickens and Jurado look at each other, knowing it will be the last time.

No death in history has been more analyzed and commented upon than Jesus’ death on the The Day the Revolution Began 001.jpgcross. In his new book noted Anglican theologian N.T. Wright approaches the subject anew with the question, “What would happen if, instead of seeing the resurrection (both of Jesus and of ourselves) as a kind of happy addition to an otherwise complete view of salvation, we saw it as part of its very heart?” The issue he suggests is, “That when Jesus of Nazareth died on the cross, something happened as result of which the world is a different place . . . Jesus’s crucifixion was the day the revolution began.” Well said.

Wright continues, “At the heart of it all is the achievement of Jesus as the true human being who, as the ‘image’, is the ultimate embodiment (or incarnation) of the creator God. His death, the climax of his work of inaugurating God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, was the victory over the destructive powers let loose into the world not simply through human wrongdoing, the breaking of moral codes, but through the human failure to be image-bearers, to worship the Creator and reflect his wise stewardship into the world (and to be sure, breaking any moral codes that might be around, but that is not the focus).”

Wright’s examination of the many aspects of Jesus’ death is laudable. His conclusion that “Humans are made not for ‘heaven’, but for the new heavens and a new earth” is well stated.

We don’t need ‘Eschatology‘ which maps out an ultimate future (death, judgement, heaven and hell). Or ‘Atonement‘ which offers the death of Jesus as forgiveness or pardoning of our own sins through the death of Jesus. Really, as if clever philosophical phrases and arguments will guide us through our own death. The Gospel of Thomas has the proper response to these queries, don’t ask them. Focus rather on what Jesus taught. He offered us a way to navigate death successfully, we need only follow.

Reading The Day the Revolution Began I felt as if I was witnessing an effort to summarize the wide fabric of America’s culture by counting the stitches on the flag. The limits of theology are plain. The old axiom used to be if you want to convey the true experience of space flight you need to put a poet into orbit. Hence the mystic, combined with a grasp of theology the difference is palpable. To grasp the limits to Wright’s work read and compare with  SOPHIA, The Hidden Christ of Thomas Merton.

Illusory Kalu Rinpoche 001.jpgYou live in illusion and in the appearance of things. There is a reality. You are the reality. If you wake up to that reality, you will know that you are nothing, and being nothing, you are everything. That’s all. –  Kalu Rinpoche

No culture has delved as deeply into death, in all its dimensions, than Vajrayana Buddhism. Karma Rangjung Kkunkyab (Kalu Rinpoche) was one of the first master yogis entrusted by Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, the 16th Karmapa, to bring Vajrayana teachings to the west. karmapa-kalu-rinpoche-001Having entered his three year retreat for lama training at age fifteen and then spending twelve years in solitary retreat in the Himalayan mountains of Kham, Eastern Tibet, Kalu Rinpoche was an authentic master in the Kagyu tradition that dates its origin to Tilopa one thousand years ago. Rinpoche (shown here with the Karmapa in 1973) introduced the traditional three year retreat method of Jamgon Kontrul in France and then New York and Canada. Kalu Rinpoche was one of the Tibetans Thomas Merton met with shortly before his death in 1968. Their conversation is discussed in The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton.

kagy-monlam-87-copyright-drolma-birneyIn 1983  Kalu Rinpoche, as head of the Shangpa Kagyu lineage, presided over the first Kagyu Monlam (Aspiration Prayers) celebration in Bodhgaya, India. This event,  which lasted two weeks was attended by two hundred monks, nuns and lay people. The fifth monlam in 1987 lasted three weeks (shown here from left to right: Beru Khyentse Rinpoche, Situ Rinpoche, Kalu Rinpoche and Bokar Rinpoche). Many of the attendees were dedicated American lay students who also received three year retreat empowerments from Kalu Rinpoche. Lay practitioners are the the skeletal strength and backbone of any monastic system, these yogins are the ties which prevent the rails from coming apart. All structured religious systems combine appearance with illusion. The more hierarchical the more illusion, simple really, no choice. A yogi has no need of title or label.

Niguma 001.jpgActually Kalu Rinpoche’s esoteric roots were sunk in the eleventh century when a Tibetan adept named Khyungpo Naljor (Yogi of the Garuda Clan), dissatisfied with the level of experience his intensive learning had brought him, traveled to India  seeking answers. Find Niguma he was told. Niguma was a legendary rainbow bodied dakini and Naropa’s sister. Having received the teachings he sought Khyungpo Naljor was admonished to limit their transmission to one person for each of seven succeeding generations. Returning to Tibet he settled in the Shang  region and became the “Guru of Shang”, hence the Shangpa Kagyu. His lineage was revived by Jamgon Kongtrul in the late nineteenth century. Kalu Rinpoche received the teachings in the 1940’s and popularized them in the west. A distinguishing feature of advanced Tibetan Buddhist practitioners is the ability  to manifest a ‘rainbow body’, that is to dematerialize their physical form as shown in the picture of Kalu Rinpoche above. Illusory Body teachings are one of the Six Dharmas of Niguma. More on all of this can be found in Sarah Hardings excellent study, NIGUMA: Lady of Illusion. The current Kalu Rinpoche (yangsi) said about this book: Niguma is Niguma. A book is a book. If you read with discernment, however, and put what is written in practice, you just might meet Niguma face to face.Rainbow Body & Resurrection 001.jpg

The Catholic Benedictine monk Brother David Steindl-Rast, who has a Ph.D. in experimental psychology and studied Zen Buddhism for many years, became interested in the phenomena of rainbow bodies. He requested one of his students, Father Francis V. Tiso, formerly Associate Director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, to investigate the relationship between the Buddhist tradition and Christianity, Rainbow Body and Resurrection explains Father Tiso’s findings. This is one of the most interesting efforts ever to explore spiritual phenomena and science without shortchanging either camp. Well done, and thanks to Brother Stendl-Rast and Father Tiso.

Tolstoy - Kingdom of God 001.jpg

When our flights of theology and rainbow dynamics have left us winded and wondering, what does this all do to improve the lot of suffering humanity, we can look to the answer provided by the author of War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy. He wrote The Kingdom of God is Within You after meditating on the life of Jesus and the failure of the Russian Orthodox Church to live up to the challenges Jesus laid down. The book was published in Germany after being banned in Russia. Tolstoy laid down the guidelines by which Gandhi and Martin Luther King revolutionized society. Tolstoy developed the radical concept of putting the words of Jesus into direct action. We allow tyranny only when we don’t confront it. Gandhi said The Kingdom of God is Within You was one of the three most important influences in his life.

Albert Schweitzer was a noted ProtestantAlbert Schweitzer - Strasbourg 001.jpg theologian, classical concert organist, pastor of St. Nicholas church and principal of St. Thomas College in Strasbourg, then in Germany. He was completing work on the book which would revolutionize contemporary views on Jesus, The Quest of the Historical Jesus and a critical analysis of Johann Sebastian Bach that led to the composer’s influence we feel today. Yet, he felt unfulfilled, he was describing faith not living it.

Let us see how Schweitzer himself describes his evolution. One brilliant summer morning at Gunsbach as I awoke, the thought came to me that I must not accept this good fortune as a matter of course, but must give something in return. While outside the birds sang I reflected on this thought, and before I had gotten up I came to the conclusion that until I was thirty I could consider myself justified in devoting myself to scholarship and the arts, but after that I would devote myself to serving humanity. I had already tried many times to find the meaning that lay hidden in the saying of Jesus: “Whoever would save his life shall lose it, and whosoever shall lose his life for My sake and the Gospels shall save it.” What the character of my future activities would be was not yet clear to me. I left it to chance to guide me. Only one thing was certain, that it must be direct human service, however inconspicuous its sphere.

One morning in the autumn of 1904 I found on my writing table in the seminary one of the green-covered magazines in which the Paris Missionary Society reported on its activities every month. Without paying much attention, I leafed through the magazine. As I was about to turn to my studies, I noticed an article with the headline “The Needs of the Congo Mission”. The author complained that the mission did not have enough people to carry on its work in the Gabon, the northern province of the Congo colony. The writer expressed the hope that his appeal would bring some of those “on whom the Master’s eyes already rested” to a decision to offer themselves for this urgent work. The article concluded: “Men and women who can reply simply to the Master’s call, “Lord, I am coming, those are the people the church needs.” I finished my article and quietly began my work. My search was over.

In a stunning act of faith and devotion Albert Scweitzer resigned his various positions and began a seven year course of study which resulted in his receiving a medical degree. His medical dissertation fittingly enough was, The Psychiatric Study of Jesus.

Scweitzer’s decision to embark on a medical career with the stated purpose of venturing to Equatorial Africa was met with outrage and derision by his friends and family. Again, in Albert and Helene Schweitzer 001.jpgSchweitzer’s own words: I had assumed that familiarity with the sayings of Jesus would give a much better comprehension of what to popular logic is not rational. Several times, indeed, my appeal to the obedience that Jesus’ command of love requires under certain circumstances earned me an accusation of conceit. How I suffered to see so many people assuming the right to tear open the doors and shutters of my inner self!

Albert Schweitzer was not alone. As is so often the case he was accompanied on his journey by an extraordinary woman, Helene Bresslau. (Photos from Schweitzer; A Biography) She was the one person who understood and supported his decision. Her family in Berlin was Jewish but converted to Christianity and moved to Strasbourg to avoid persecution. When Schweitzer made his decision to attend medical school she quit her job at an orphanage and studied nursing. They married in 1912 and on Good Friday in 1913 set out for Lambaréné, Gabon.

Following the Enlightened Mind path of Niguma and the Sacred Heart teachings of Jesus we can embark forward in the 21st Century marrying the complimentary visions of Buddhism and Christianity to establish God’s Kingdom on Earth as it is in Heaven. You can’t do Christ from the couch!

The Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson

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Lennon/Harrison: Music as Consciousness

In the twentieth century two towering figures reshaped the world, it’s meaning and our minds. George Harrison and John Lennon (shown here on Bob Spitz’s excellent account of The Beatles). Their list of accomplishments is staggering. Simply put, though, George and John introduced Asian culture to Western youth. In 1966 John was reading The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead by Timothy Leary. This wonderful book is itself based on The Tibetan Book of the Dead the classic teaching by Padmasambhava, Guru Rinpoche. Tomorrow Never Knows was the first recording made for what became the Revolver album. To Lennon, the book cried out for a soundtrack. He set this road map to the mind with the ultimate garage-rock conceit; a single chord driven furiously from beneath by bass and drums, with only two shifting modal harmonies up top . . . Tim Riley Trying to achieve the effect of Tibetan monks chanting John inspired EMI’s engineers at Abbey Roads Studio to develop two new techniques that were introduced on Tomorrow Never Knows. ADT (Automatic Double Tracking) used two tape recorders to capture one vocal and this was coupled with Flanging, a term applied when one of the tapes is deliberately delayed. The song was styled on Indian classical music using the C note as a tonic and dispensing with traditional chord changes. George supplied the drone effect by playing a tamboura. As radical as the musical concepts on Tomorrow Never Knows it is the thought stream on which the musical scheme floats that reverberate to this day . Turn off your mind relax and float down stream It is not dying, it is not dying Lay down all thoughts, surrender to the void, It is shining, it is shining. Yet you may see the meaning of within It is being, it is being Love is all and love is everyone It is knowing, it is knowing And ignorance and hate mourn the dead It is believing, it is believing But listen to the colour of your dreams It is not leaving, it is not leaving These lyrics, written by John Lennon, inspired by Timothy Leary are actually the teachings of Guru Rinpoche/Padmasambhava, who lived in the eighth century and is credited with bringing Vajrayana Buddhism to Tibet. Padmasambhava was both yogi and magician. He subdued the many wrathful, craved, demonic elements that held dominion over much of the rugged Himalayan ranges. In doing so he secreted many treasure teachings (ter chos) to be discovered by subsequent followers at more appropriate times for the message. The Great Liberation by Hearing on the Intermediate Steps (known in the West as The Tibetan Book of the Dead) is a manual that details the nature of the after-death state  and provides meditation practices to understand the nature of mind and prepare practitioners for travel through the Bardo realms. The first English translation was made in 1927 by Lama Kazi Dawa Samdup and W. Y. Evans-Wentz who wrote the Preface to Autobiograophy of a Yogi. Bardo means gap; it is not only the interval of suspension after we die but also suspension in the living situation; death happens in the living situation as well. The bardo experience is part of our basic psychological make-up. There are all kinds of bardo experiences happening to us all the time, experiences of paranoia and uncertainty in everday life; it is like not being sure of our ground, not knowing quite what we have asked for or what we are getting into. Chogyam Trungpa – The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Shambhala Dragon Edition The term ‘treasure-teachings’ is generally extended to include not only concealed ‘earth-treasures’ (sa-ter), but also revelations discovered in a telepathic manner directly from the enlightened intention of buddha-mind (gong ter), and pure visionary experience (dag nang). From The Tibetan Book of the Dead translated by Gyurme Dorje and edited by Graham Coleman with Thupten Jinpa. Sung Juk yuganaddha/unification/union/non-dual attainment of Buddha’s form/wisdom body, union of bliss/emptiness, attainment of clear light mind/illusory body Sangye Tenzin Rinpoche a Nyingma/Kagyu Lama from Kham who spent twenty years in Chinese captivity. His earnest willingness to transmit the Dharma experience to young Western practitioners will forever be cherished by all who knew him. Kindness is the essence of Dharma. He carried many rare transmissions and passed them on to the 17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje among others. He exemplified the Guru Rinpoche lineage. In 1971 George, with encouragement from Ravi Shankar, organized the first rock mega benefit concert at Madison Square Garden for the people of East Pakistan/Bangladesh who had been ravaged by a cyclone and civil war. Ravi Shankar, Ali Akbhar Khan, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan were among the performers. By 1985 over $12 million had been sent to Bangladesh. To this day all sales of the Concert for Bangladesh CD and DVD benefit the George Harrison Fund for UNICEF. In return for your investment you will hear the finest Bob Dylan set ever recorded. For a thorough history of the Bangladesh horror and the United States’ complicit role read Gary J. Bass’ excellent study, THE BLOOD TELEGRAM: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide. Read it and weep. George Harrison gave generously throughout his life to spiritual causes. He exemplifies the Artist/Yogi. Throughout his life as a closet yogi, chanting served as Harrison’s conduit to the mystical world, his favored method of remaining God-conscious and acruing good karma. In a conversation with Mukunda Goswami, he likened life to a piece of string with knots tied in it. The knots represent a person’s karma from previous lives, and the object of a person’s life is to untie the knots already there in order to be free. However, not being aware of that fact, people tend to create more knots while failing to untie the previous ones. Chanting and God-consciousness, Harrison believed, have the power to untie the knots. The key is accepting the truth of the old axiom “As you sow, so shall you reap.” We have no one to blame but ourselves for the situation in which we now find ourselves, but on the other hand we can earn our way back to daylight through positive actions now. And positive action can be as simple as chanting. As Harrison says in “Awaiting on You All”; “But here’s a way for you to get free/ By chanting the names of the Lord and you’ll be free.” Working Class Mystic by Gary Tillery.

There’ll come a time when all of us must leave here Then nothing sister Mary can do Will keep me here with you As nothing in this life that I’ve been trying Could equal or surpass the art of dying Do you believe me? There’ll come a time when most of us return here Brought back by our desire to be A perfect entity Living through a million years of crying Until you’ve realized the art of dying. George Harrison
The time of death arrives for all, uninvited, sudden . . . final.
No tradition has unraveled the intricacies of the death state like Vajrayana (Diamond Thunderbolt) Buddhism. Death and the Art of Dying by Bokar Rinpoche is one in a series of concise elucidations on the principles of Tibetan Buddhism published by Clear Point Press.
In June 1969 Timothy Leary, Tommy Smothers, Allen Ginsberg, Petula Clark, Dick Gregory and others joined John and Yoko in their room at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal. Their ensemble recording of Give Peace a Chance reshaped history. The citizen activist we see in the Occupy Movement are the organic flowering from John and Yoko’s seed ideas. This is it boys, over the hill. Stop the killing, Do It Now.
Subliminally at least, most of us who are old enough, remember when we first heard Give Peace a Chance. Released on July 21, 1969, three weeks before the Woodstock Festival. I was going to summer school at the University of Kansas and thinking of visiting my friend Clippy in Tuxedo, New York. I hadn’t heard of the festival until I arrived in NYC. I though it was a hoax, nobody could assemble those acts. But Michael Lang did, I had actually attended one of his three day festivals in Miami the previous December. Thank you for that and more, Michael.
The Beatles - Love 001Its hard to believe that one of the most imaginative and magical Beatle albums would not come out until 2006. LOVE is an editing collaboration between George Martin, his son Giles and Dominic Champagne from Cirque du Soleil. The second cut opens with the chords from A Hard Day’s Night then Ringo’s drum solo from Abbey Road and seques into Get Back. The effect is phenomenal. But the real tour de force is the drumming from Tomorrow Never Knows mixed with George’s vocal from Within You Without You. C’est Magnifique.
In September, 1969 John performed with Yoko, Alan White, Eric Clapton and Klaus Voorman as the Plastic Ono Band at the Toronto Music Festival. Voorman on bass was an old friend from the Hamburg days who also illustrated the awesome Revolver cover.
Mind Games has never been popular with music critics, it’s one of my favorite John Lennon songs.
We’re playing those mind games together Pushing the barriers, planting seeds Playing the mind guerrilla Chanting the mantra, peace on earth We all been playing those mind games forever Some kinda druid dudes lifting the veil Doing the mind guerrilla Some call it magic, the search for the grail Love is the answer and you know that for sure Love is a flower, you got to let it, you got to let it grow So keep on playing those mind games together Faith in the future, outta the now You just can’t beat on those mind guerrillas Absolute elsewhere in the stones of your mind Yeah we’re playing those mind games forever Projecting our images in space and in time Yes is the answer and you know that for sure Yes is surrender, you got to let it, you got to let it go So keep on playing those mind games together Doing the ritual dance in the sun Millions of mind guerrillas Putting their soul power to the karmic wheel Keep on playing those mind games forever Raising the spirit of peace and love For me this song resonates with many of the qualities which I love in Lennon’s music . . . druid dudes . . . the karmic wheel . . .  chanting the mantra peace on earth . . . absolute elsewhere in the stones of your mind.Critics suck! Like what makes you feel good.John Lennon received inspiration from dakinis. His poetic chorus in Number 9 Dream,  “Ah! böwakawa poussé, poussé” came to him in a dream.
Dakinis are Feminine Wisdom/Sky Dancers, the guardians of the gates to the Pure Lands. To meet a dakini is to face our own enlightened mind. The great yogis who blazed the paths we follow were all taught by dakinis. Tilopa and Naropa, founders of the Kagyu lineage, both had old hags appear to them and declare that their spiritual attainments which they were so proud of came to naught. Water may wash away stains but never water itself. Perhaps, as Vessantara suggests, “they had so lost themselves in scholarship, that the upsurging forces of inspiration, which dakinis embody, had become dull and neglected. Dakinis are the Dharma felt in one’s gut.”
Simhamuhkha, The Lion Headed Dakini, Sengdoma in Tibetan, was one of the principal teachers of Padmasambhava. Her nature embodies the wrathful force of anger redirected as joy, i.e. enlightenment. Even the most realized teachers do not immediately recognize the dakini, whose ambiguous, semiotic quality accounts for the richness and variety of her lore. Judith Simmer-Brown
Without any production whatsoever, mind itself is the self-liberated dharmakaya within which arises self-liberatred mahamudra: this key, of self-liberated samaya, I possess. Calligraphy by Tai Situ Rinpoche.
This teaching by Tilopa contains the essence of the Kagyu (transmitted mastery) lineage he founded.Tilopa lived in Bagladesh over one thousand years ago, during the day he pounded sesame seed to extract oil, by night he procured customers for a prostitute. Full time, he was an enlightened yogi who trained Naropa who in turn trained Marpa who took the Kagyu transmissions  into Tibet from whence we receive the pure essence of enlightened wisdom from Tai Situ and the Karmapas. For more on dakinis read Dakini’s Warm Breath by Judith Simmer-Brown.The greatest source book for information on Tibetan Buddhism is Meeting the Buddhas by Vessantara (Tony McMahon).Thank you George and John – Life goes on within you and without you.
Aspiration prayer from the Long-Chen Nying-Thig (Heart Essence of the Great Expanse) Assemblage of Vidyadharas translated by Tulku Thondup. Vidyadharas are Knowledge Holders, heart sons of Padmasambhava.
Yeshe Tsogyal, consort and principal student of Padmasambhava. She was the principal steward of the terma tradition that hid spiritual teachings in both physical and spiritual realms to be retrieved by future students. Adverse conditions are the true wealth of the practioner – Guru Rinpoche.