I’ve been taking some classes on a particular branch of Gnosticism and went in search of a book to help me see “the forest through the trees.” Certain things that were being taught on the transmutation of energy and enlightenment started to feel restrictive and I wondered how other spiritual traditions approached the subject. Author Barclay Powers has a BS in East Asian Studies from Columbia University and has studied meditation, yoga, and martial arts for over thirty years. His book allowed me to gaze across several Eastern traditions while confirming almost everything Gnosticism outlined.
Photo: Mark Donoher
Once upon a time, the secrets of the East were tightly restricted to advanced followers of personal lineages. That has all changed with new translations of ancient texts and a proliferation of skilled teachers. The internet itself can even act as a guru. Ancient wisdom is available from India, China, Egypt, Tibet, Japan, and eastern and western alchemy. Powers sees a paradigm shift coming. Science is now looking at states of mind through brain imaging and he feels science will eventually look at the phenomena of the “rainbow body”* (the dissolving of the body into pure energy). When that happens, the world has the potential to change and manifest the best of humanity resulting in a global Bodhisattva* civilization.
Photo: Dennis Jarvis
As we wait for science to catch up, individual practitioners all over the world are taking up techniques like meditation, yoga, tai chi, gi gong, kundalini awakening, and the internal martial arts. All of the methods begin in the body and ultimately unite the body, soul, and spirit. Instead of a psychological transformation, Powers is talking about a physiological process that spans traditions. The ultimate freedom of enlightenment is found when the individual transcends birth and death, as well as time and space. The bulk of the book is devoted to examining Indian (Kundalini), Chinese (Tao), and Tibetan (Tantra) teachings for their similarities of energetic enlightenment. This was a good book for getting an overview of the systems of enlightenment. I enjoyed learning more about Taoist philosophy and the difference between the internal and external martial arts. The book could be expanded to include more about western mysticism and the Kabbalah, but those are not Powers’ areas of expertise. This is probably not a book for someone without burning questions about the nature of reality and enlightenment. For the novice, these practices will, at times, be shocking. They are meant to be having spent a millennia being well guarded by the masters of many traditions.
Photo: Joe Mabel
*Rainbow body- a phenomena well-recorded in the East, especially when a great spiritual teacher dies
*Bodhisattva- someone who postpones full Enlightenment to return to help others: the ultimate expression of compassion
Since the release of INTO THE LAND OF SNOWS, there have been some questions concerning what’s real and not real in the book. From the perspective of this being a book whose main theme concerns defining that very line, it’s a somewhat amusing question. I concern myself with it because I’ve heard some people dismiss the book as fantasy. But that’s not the whole story.
The book is set in the magical Himalayas surrounded by a rich cultural tradition. In such a place, my job as author was relatively easy. I chose concepts and ideas already present there to create a story around an American teenager. I made up very little.
Now as to the facts.
1. Locations- The map at the beginning of the book accurately depicts the placement of real locations Blake would visit along his route, had Blake actually gone there. But the careful reader will notice that about half way through the book, Blake continues his journey, but the map stops. This is because Blake has left the material reality of our world. An alternate reality opens up for him to fully experience the magic and potential for enlightenment.
2. Mallory& Irvine- The story of these climbers disappearing into legend while on the Third Step is true. The camera Mallory carried that day is still missing. We don’t know (for sure) who summited Everest first, although Hillary is officially credited with it.
3. Yetis- These animals/beings remain a mystery. Sherpa culture recognizes different kinds of yetis. I took great liberty with the Tantric yidam concept.
4. Baian-Kara-Ula Mountains- There are legends of star people and an origination story. As late as the 1950s, stories of the Chinese gathering evidence in the region exist.
5. Chakra points- There are many different systems. Tibetans usually depict 5 while Indian schools generally have 7. Research by Dr. Hiroshi Motoyama revealed the heart chakra produced measurable physical light.
6. Singing Bowls- Are used for healing.
7. Lung-gom-pa/Tumo/Yidam- Are Tantric practices.
8. Birds- The sneaky placement of rare birds in the region was my invention and homage to HH. The 16th Karmapa, who loved birds.
His bare skin was draped in a blanket that had been submerged in a frigid, mountain stream. In order to pass the test, the young monk must completely dry the blanket using only his body heat. Once he accomplishes that, he will be challenged to dry two more saturated blankets. Only then will he be declared proficient in tumo.
In my book, INTO THE LAND OF SNOWS, Blake has the opportunity to watch young monks practicing tumo. Mesmerized by what he sees, Blake wants to join in. He soaks his own repa garment and begins to imitate what he sees the adepts do. But Blake hasn’t had the training necessary to accomplish the generation of body heat and he soon is in the throngs of hypothermia.
Tumo requires a lengthy training process of three years, three months, and three days. Those who complete the training and maintain it, sometimes meet in high mountain snow fields to compete against one another. The monk who melts the largest circle of snow beneath his body is declared the winner. Without any preparation, Blake is lucky to survive his attempt to dry his repa.
Like many Tantric practices, tumo requires the passing of an empowerment from master to student. The spiritual bond between these two is characterized by a telepathic link which even survives the death of the master. In this way, the master always remains available to the student. In the esoteric practice of tumo, a monk will learn to generate heat at the base chakra by practicing elaborate visualizations, advanced breath work, and body posturing. In 1982 researchers who studied yogis in India, reported that the tumo practitioners could raise the temperature of their fingers and toes by as much as 8.3°C.
Occult Tibet by JH Brennan
The Bliss of Inner Fire: Heart Practice of the Six Yogas of Naropa by Lama Thubten Yeshe