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
TreeHouse Arts is running a contest through July 10th (Th.). Enter with a poem about snow. Winner’s poem will be published on their site. Good luck!
In the last couple of months, I’ve been happy to welcome many new blog readers and to celebrate I’m inviting everyone to enter to win a free, ARC (Advance Reading Copy) of Into the Land of Snows. All you have to do is leave a comment below to be entered. There are a couple of rules, though. I’m only going to be able to mail to a location in the US. Comments will close midnight (MT) on Wednesday, March 13th (2013). I will conduct a random drawing at that point and notify the winner. Enter only once. Just to have a theme, I’m requesting you comment on something about spring or summer. Here in Colorado, March is usually our snowiest month so spring often feels like it’ll never arrive. To start us off, I’ll post a comment so no one feels awkward to be the first to post.
Mar 14th: Thanks to everyone who entered. The winner is Augusta! Augusta- I’ve posted a notice on your blog but if you happen to see this first, congratulations. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll need your address to ship the book.
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.
With the Mind & Life Institute kicking off its international symposia in Denver today, I thought it might be interesting to look back on some of the work this group and others who study contemplative traditions have found. A member of one of my yahoo groups recently posted an article from the Wall Street Journal (How Thinking Can Change the Brain, Jan. 2007) which helped remind me of some of the discoveries in the last few decades dealing with the emerging field of neuroscience called neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity is the godsend that allows the brain to change its structure and function in response to experience including thinking. Nowadays we take this as a given. But once upon a time, not very long ago, the Dalai Lama asked a bunch of scientists if the mind might be able to affect the brain (the actual material entity). A brain surgeon told His Holiness that was impossible. Such downward causation from the mental to the physical was not possible. Don’t you just love science! So wrong- but this would take a series of experiments to knock the surgeon on his butt. You can find those and read about them, but my real interest is in the monks and what they can tell us. So let’s fast forward.
Since the 1990s Tibetan monks have been studied to see if their contemplative practice or mental training produces lasting changes in the brain. The monks were wired to record brain wave activity while entering a state of contemplation focusing on compassion and loving kindness. Gamma signals began rising and kept rising. Even between sessions, the monks’ gamma waves remained high. The more hours of meditation training achieved, the stronger and more lasting the gamma signal. It supplied Prof. Davidson at UCSF with the evidence he’d been seeking. Mental training can produce enduring brain traits. So the conclusion for me, is that we should try to keep an open mind about things and not jump to conclusions about what we think the world is or how we think it should behave. We know far less than we think we do, and arrogance and close mindedness will not be allies in the quest for truth (or Truth, if you like).