Participatory Spirituality for the 21st Century
On David Marshall's Integral Archipelago forum, a member there named Shashank recently posted a blog (and initiated a discussion) on the relationship between horror and
fantasy literature and spirituality that I am quite enjoying. I invite
you to read it, if you're interested. Here, I wanted to open a related
discussion, based on some of my comments to Shashank, particularly if
any of you enjoy the horror or fantasy genres. (I wish I had time to
compose something nice, but I don't, so here are a few jotted notes).
I no longer read fantasy or horror, but I used to read and write quite a lot of both, and I still enjoy an occasional horror or fantasy film. In my conversation with Shashank, we were discussing the respective approaches of Clive Barker and H.P. Lovecraft. I was noting that Barker tends to see "order" behind the terror and horror, and redemptive or transformative potential in the encounter with darkness and evil, whereas Lovecraft attempts to present a vision of reality as ultimately alien, containing dimensions which are wholly other -- realms and beings that are wholly unassimilable, human contact with which can only result in madness or destruction. In other words, absolute limit conditions.
In my reading, Lovecraft's Otherness is an Otherness that must remain Other for the human center to hold, and for our higher ideals to flourish (though those who encounter it now come to see those ideals largely as flimsy defenses in the face of a vast, menacing, terrifyingly alien realm). If I had to place Lovecraft along the values line, I'd say he was a Modernist -- writing for a genteel Modern audience, many of whom were likely in hard flight from "animal nature." This is revealed, I think, in his preference for pre-human, visceral images to represent the Other: slime, gelatinous substances, crustacean or invertebrate anatomy, etc.
But while Lovecraft is primarily a modernist (as opposed to Barker's more postmodern approach, where otherness is a functional limit condition of particular stages of development or perspectival frames rather than a concretely identified, metaphysical "thing" or "realm"), I still find his work offers something interesting to consider, particularly in the context of Integral spirituality: he presents a powerful challenge to complacency and a "comfortable" anthropocentric view of the universe, a view that honestly I sometimes feel marks much New Age and even Integral discourse and thought. I don't think Lovecraft is an Integral thinker (as I said, I view him as essentially a Modernist, though some post-metaphysical materialist writers find kinship with him as well), but I think he makes a kind of move -- a firm presentation of That which intractably challenges and disturbs present boundaries and narratives -- that we could use more of in Integral circles, in my opinion. With talk about "making sense of everything" in Integral marketing, and even in the popularized use of phrases like "swallowing the whole universe in one gulp" (assimilating it in its entirety to the "known"?), I feel there is a move towards what we might call the suburbanization (or urbanization) of the Kosmos. No spooky corners left, no pesky unknowns, no threatening or destabilizing shadows. (This is why King, Barker, Lovecraft, etc, are so powerful: they bring the 'unknown,' the terrifyingly alien and powerfully Other, back into our comfortable suburban back yards).
So, I guess what I'm groping toward is the question, What is an Integral nightmare? What, in its appearance or irruption, would deeply disturb, even terrify, Integral consciousness? What are the boundaries of our (often comfortable, suburban) narratives, and what has the potential to shred them?
I enjoy and appreciate this topic because I think wrestling with, encountering this sort of "dark" or Otherness, is both humbling and chastening (something Lovecraft cultivates through his shocking, chthonic vistas) and potentially transformative (a la Barker). I am thinking here of several things: Rilke's terrible angels, which perhaps show up in modern popular form in something like Strieber's Communion series (where the Other is a vastly more evolved and powerful entity, an entity that has a disturbing, inscrutable agenda for us); and which showed up for me, in a wilderness visionary experience many years ago, as powerfully disturbing -- even terrifying -- entities who I associated with Krishnamurti and who put me through a mind-blowing (and humbling) ordeal. And I think also of the "darker" aspects of Tibetan practice, which I explored when studying with Dzogchen teachers: practicing ch'od, for instance, or purposefully going to graveyards or other frightening places in order to practice. But even doing that, I also was aware of bumping up against worldview differences: not all of the images cultivated in traditional Tibetan practice were really terribly disturbing for me, and I recall wondering at the time what a modern equivalent could be -- how could the practices be made more challenging and relevant for our time?
What would scare the bejeesus out of the Integral community? :-)
I like this from Lecture I, the section labeled "in point of fact, the religious are often neurotic":
"There can be no doubt that as a matter of fact a religious life, exclusively pursued, does tend to make the person exceptional and eccentric....such individuals are 'geniuses' in the religious line; and like many other geniuses who have brought forth fruits effective enough for commemoration in the pages of biography, such religious geniuses have often shown symptoms of nervous instability. Even more perhaps than other kinds of genius, religious leaders have been subject to abnormal psychical visitations. Invariably they have been creatures of exalted emotional sensibility. Often they have led a discordant inner life, and had melancholy during a part of their career. They have known no measure, been liable to obsessions and fixed ideas; and frequently they have fallen into trances, heard voices, seen visions, and presented all sorts of peculiarities which are ordinarily classed as pathological. Often, moreover, these pathological features in their career have helped to give themtheir religious authority and influence."
I highly recommend the new horror movie Cabin in the Woods (but it doesn't deserve its own thread). Not for like an Oscar or anything, just for fun. At first I thought another dumb slasher but I saw several approving reviews and gave it a chance. Well worth it. It's also funny and has an interesting plot twist with a neat revelation at the end, a theme we've touched on in this thread. I can't say more because I don't want to give it away.
"Scott Bakker’s Neuropath is a science-fiction thriller about a rogue neurosurgeon who kidnaps people and grotesquely manipulates their brains, sometimes killing them in the process, and other times releasing them once their minds have been subtly but horribly deformed. It’s pretty disturbing on a visceral level.
"The Argument in Neuropath goes something like this. Consciousness is severely limited. It is a very recent evolutionary adaptation, superimposed upon a wide array of older neural processes of which it is unaware, and which it cannot possibly grasp. We are only conscious of a very thin sliver of the external world; and even less of our internal, mental world. Most of our 'experience' of the inner and outer world is a neurally-based simulation that has been evolutionarily selected for its survival value, but the actual representational accuracy of which is highly dubious. We are not conscious, and we cannot be conscious, of the actual neural processes that drive us. And indeed, nearly all our explanations and understandings of other people, of the world in which we live, and above all of ourselves are delusional, self-aggrandizing fictions. It’s not just that we misunderstand our own motivations; but that such things as 'motivations' and 'reasons' for how we feel and what we do actually don’t exist at all. Everything that we say, think, feel, perceive, and do is really just a consequence of deterministic physical (electro-chemical) processes in our neurons. 'Every thought, every experience, every element of your consciousness is a product of various neural processes' (pp. 52-53). In particular, 'free will' is an illusion. We never actually decide on any of our actions; rather, our sense of choice and decision, and the reasons and motivations that we cite for what we do, are all post-hoc rationalizations of processes that happen mechanistically, through chains of electrochemical cause-and-effect. All our rationales, and all our values, are nothing more than consolatory fictions."
I know, sounds like reductive eliminativism. Read on!
My friend sent me a link to this story about the "Mount Everest of insane '70s Italian movies," a bizarro sci-fi/horror mash-up:
I look forward to checking this out!
Yes, the ch'od rite. I was remembering in India how we used to go smoke hashish at the cremation ghats. Not because it was "cool" to do so but because the gang used say Om Shambhu" as they lit the chilum. I'm imagining the Shaiva equivalents of the Tibetan you menation: Kali, the Aghori dudes, the Shivanetras, various anarchic Shaivas like the Pashupatas or better the Kapalikas who used a skull for a begging bowl, Shiva Bhairava, the terrible, the destroyer, god of dissolution and the void.
The Aghoris are related to Dattatreya, and Dattatreya features in the Avadhuta Gita.
From good ol' Wiki:
Although akin to the Kapalika ascetics of medieval Kashmir, as well as the Kalamukhas, with whom there may be a historical connection, the Aghoris trace their origin to Kina Ram, an ascetic who is said to have lived 150 years, dying during the second half of the 18th century. Dattatreya the avadhuta, to whom has been attributed the esteemed nondual medieval song, the Avadhuta Gita, was a founding adi guru of the Aghor tradition according to Barrett (2008: p. 33):
"...Lord Dattatreya, an antinomian form of Shiva closely associated with the cremation ground, who appeared to Baba Keenaram atop Girnar Mountain in Gujarat. Considered to be the adi guru (ancient spiritual teacher) and founding deity of Aghor, Lord Dattatreya offered his own flesh to the young ascetic as prasād (a kind of blessing), conferring upon him the power of clairvoyance and establishing a guru-disciple relationship between them."
Baba Keenaram was held to be an incarnation of Shiva, as have been each of his successors. Aghoris also hold sacred the Hindu deity Dattatreya as a predecessor to the Aghori Tantric tradition. Dattatreya was believed to be an incarnation of Brahma,Vishnu, and Shiva united in the same singular physical body. Dattatreya is revered in all schools of Tantrism, which is the philosophy followed by the Aghora tradition, and he is often depicted in Hindu artwork and its holy scriptures of folk narratives, the Puranas, indulging in Aghori "left-hand" Tantric worship as his prime practice.
On the page for Ch'od we read:
"ku-su-lu-pa¿ is a word of Tantrik mysticism, its proper Tibetan equivalent being gcod-pa, the art of exorcism. The mystic Tantrik rites of the Avadhauts, called Avadhūtipa in Tibet, exist in India."
[Editor: lol. I'll have to remember that insult!]
Avadhūtas, or 'mad saints,' are well known for their 'crazy wisdom.' Chöd practitioners (chödpas) are a type of avadhūta particularly respected, detested, feared or held in awe due to their role as denizens of the charnel ground. Edou says they were often associated with the role of shaman and exorcist:"The Chö[d]pa's very lifestyle on the fringe of society - dwelling in the solitude of burial grounds and haunted places, added to the mad behavior and contact with the world of darkness and mystery - was enough for credulous people to view the Chödpa in a role usually attributed to shamans and other exorcists, an assimilation which also happened to medieval European shepherds. Only someone who has visited one of Tibet's charnel fields and witnessed the offering of a corpse to the vultures may be able to understand the full impact of what the Chöd tradition refers to as places that inspire terror."
More Wiki on Aghoris and the shmashan or "charnel grounds":
Barrett (2008: p. 161) discusses the 'charnel ground sadhana' (Sanskrit: shmashān sādhanā) of the 'Aghora' (Sanskrit; Devanagari: अघोर) in both its left and right-handed proclivities and identifies it as principally cutting through attachments and aversion and foregrounding primordiality, a view uncultured, undomesticated:
"The gurus and disciples of Aghor believe their state to be primordial and universal. They believe that all human beings are natural-born Aghori. Hari Baba has said on several occasions that human babies of all societies are without discrimination, that they will play as much in their own filth as with the toys around them. Children become progressively discriminating as they grow older and learn the culturally specific attachments and aversions of their parents. Children become increasingly aware of their mortality as they bump their heads and fall to the ground. They come to fear their mortality and then palliate this fear by finding ways to deny it altogether. In this sense, Aghor sādhanā is a process of unlearning deeply internalized cultural models. When this sādhanā takes the form of shmashān sādhanā, the Aghori faces death as a very young child, simultaneously meditating on the totality of life at its two extremes. This ideal example serves as a prototype for other Aghor practices, both left and right, in ritual and in daily life."
Feuerstein on the avadhuta:
"The appellation "avadhuta," more than any other, came to be associated with the apparently crazy modes of behaviour of some paramahamsas, who dramatize the reversal of social norms, a behaviour characteristic of their spontaneous lifestyle. Their frequent nakedness is perhaps the most symbolic expression of this reversal."
Expressivism (think Edvard Munch's "The Scream" if you're wondering what expressivism is) begins in film with The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Metropolis, and Nosferatu, and reappears later in Frankenstein, Mad Love, and later still, Touch of Evil, Night of the Hunter, Psycho, Repulsion, Carnival of Souls, Night of the Living Dead, and Eraserhead.
One art historian defines it as,
"...the attempt to give shape to psychological states through stylized images."
Here is another interesting description of expressionism in film:
"Similar to their counterparts in the art world, Expressionist directors are concerned more with an unabashedly subjective experience of reality, not how others might see it. Psychological or spiritual truths they feel can best be conveyed by distorting the surface of the material world."
One of the most famous descriptions, by Czech historian:
"Expressionism rejects immediate perception and builds on complex psychic structures mental images that pass through the soul as a filter condenses forms transcribed into symbols and formula."
Another critic writes:
"Films classified as expressionist managed to adhere to the movement's general aim of rendering an internal state through external means."
Perhaps the most evident technique of the expressionism in film is the use of distortion and exaggeration: high contrast lighting, off kilter angles, skewed sets, extra long shadows, impossible staircases.
As for its effect, historian Marezynski wirtes,
"distortion is both a means of representing the psyche, and a releasing the soul of the object."
Robert Kurtz writes that the effect is to,
... create a psychic reaction in the spectator... The emotions released are different than with gradual curves and gradients... The sharp angles create anxiety and terror.
Like the dark side of Surrealism, Expressionism harkens back to an earlier movement: Dark Romanticism (Poe, Hawthorn, Mary Shelly's Frankenstein), which resembles the Gothic though it has more terrifying elements. Dark Transcendentalism opposed the Transcendentalism of Emerson and Thoreau. Rather than a search for self-perfection and order, it emphasized, through examination, the idea that man can also tend toward self destruction, depravation, and mental disintegration (eg. "The Black Cat," "The Raven," cf. Polanski's Repulsion). For Dark Romanticism, the world is animated, or "spiritualized", but this world is an alien world to man, strange, dark and mysterious with a tendency toward decay (eg., "Fall of the House of Usher"). Fear and evil are anthropomorphized as ghosts and revenants, and imbued ib an atmosphere of the macabre or supernatural.
Dark Transcendentalism itself can be said to evoke Nietzsche's category of the Dionysian. Where the Apollonian represents order, identity, clarity, calmness, wholeness, the Dionysian reflects chaos, loss of self, the blurring of reality, disquietude, and fragmentation.
Like the Dark Transcendentalists, Lynch also refers to and inspects the dark side of nature. One is reminded of the close up of ants consuming a severed human ear at the beginning of Blue Velvet. Lynch himself recounts a similar moment from his boyhood: He sees a tree shimmering off in the distance. When he approaches the tree, however, he sees that,
"on this cherry tree would be this pitch oozing out, some of it black, some of it yellow, and there were millions of ants racing all over the pitch..."
"you see this beautiful world and on closer inspection you see it's all red ants."
"It's a strange world," opines Sandy Williams (Laura Dern) at an opportune moment in Blue Velvet.
Biological horror is, of course, is a specialty of Cronenberg. In his films we find outbreaks of contaminative agents (Shivers, Rabid), obstetric catastrophe (The Brood; Dead Ringers), and generally 'science gone bad' (The Fly). And there are films exploring alternate realities, which Cronenberg effects by intentionally blurring of the line between reality and hallucination (Videodrome; Naked Lunch).
Distortions of space and time -- "freakish curvatures of space" -- frightening hallucinatory alternate realities, portals into other dimensions, and cases of mental disintegration can also be found in the writings of Lovecraft. He writes in "Dreams of the Witch House":
Gilman's room was of good size but queerly an irregular shape; the north wall slanting perceptibly inward from the outer to the inner end, while the low ceiling slanted gently downward in the same direction. The loft above one ceiling -- which must have had a slanting floor -- was inaccessible. When Gilman climbed up a ladder to a cob-webbed level loft above the of the attic he found vestiges of a bygone aperture tightly and heavily covered.... As time wore along his absorption with the irregular wall and ceiling of his room increased; for he began to read into the angles a mathematical significance, which seemed to offer vague clues regarding their purpose. Old Keziah [a previous occupant], he reflected, might have had excellent reasons for living in a room with peculiar angles, for was it not through certain angles that he claimed to have gone outside the boundaries of the world of space we know? ... For some time, apparently, the curious angles of Gillman's room had been having a strange hypnotic effect upon him.... He had been thinking too much about the possibility that old Keziah Mason... had actually found a gate to those regions.
Two authors for whom Lovecraft might be said to be indebted are Arthur Machen and Algernon Blackwood. Both authors write of races of humanoid yet inhuman beings -- 'little people,' if you like -- who remain hidden to the typical person but who reveal themselves to various protagonists. In the stories of Machen, as in Lovecraft, they are often malevolent beings whose existence precedes the existence of humanity.
Blackwood, however, appears to have exerted other influences upon Lovecraft. Consider the following tract from Blackwood's "The Pikestaff Case," a story about a man who takes a room in a rooming-house so as to conduct certain experiments. Curious one day, the proprietor of the house enters his room:
"She examined Mr. Thorley's Books. The examination left her bewildered and uninspired. 'I couldn't make them out at all,' she put it.... 'Something to do with his work, I suppose -- mathematics and all that,' she decided, after turning over pages covered with some kind of hieroglyphics, symbols.... There was no printing, there were no sentences,... and the diagrams she thought perhaps were Euclid, or possibly astronomical. Most of the names were odd and quite unknown to her. Gauss! Minowski! Lobatchewski! And it affronted her that one of these was a German. A writer named Einstein was popular with the lodger.....
Conscience, nevertheless did prick her faintly as she cautiously turned over sheaf after sheaf of foolscap, covered with designs, and curves, and diagrams in ink.... And it was among these foolscap sheets that she suddenly came upon one sheet in particular that caught her attention and even startled her. In the centre, surrounded by scriggly hieroglyphics, numbers curves and lines meaningless to her, she saw a drawing of a full length mirror. Some of the curves ran into it and through it, emerging on the other side She know it was the mirror because its exact measurements were given in red ink....
Her mind was established now in a vague uneasiness though so vague at first she did not recognize it.... 'Something's on my mind...'. The picture of the first-floor lodger appeared, and she knew it at once. 'Oh, yes, its that mirror and the diagrams, of course.' It was akin to those childhood alarms that pertain to the big unexplained mysteries no parent can elucidate because no parent knows.
It was just before luncheon,... that the servant drew her attention to certain marks on the carpet... faint short lines drawn by dark chalk or crayons.... They found others on the bedroom carpet, too only these were not straight; they were small curved lines; and about the feet of the full length mirror they clustered in a quantity segments of circles, some large some small.
Meanwhile, thin strips of white paper straight, angled, and curved were pinned upon the carpet; threads of fine silk again stretched overhead connecting the top with of the door lintel with the window, the high cupboard with the curtain rods.... And the full-length mirror stood with its face close against the wall.....
[Later that night.]
Her thoughts turned to Mr. Thorley lyiang asleep on the floor above, his threads and paper strips and mysterious diagrams all about him -- when suddenly a voice broke through the silence with a cry for help. It was a man's voice and it sounded a long way off. But she recognized it instantly... It was Mr. Thorley calling, and he was in anguish.....
'Help! Help! Help!
Very distant, yet muffled, it was beyond all question the voice of Mr. Thorley. What she had taken for anguish in it she now recognized was terror...
Excellent posts, Kela. Regarding the aghori* babas, I used to hear horror stories about them when I was in India. A yogi from Badrinath told me about one who had been living in a forest nearby, and finally had been arrested and convicted of killing and eating a child. Of course, I think most of the common fear of aghori or naga babas, or of chödpas, is due to misunderstanding; but apparently some do cross the line from ritually confronting and embracing the strange and the terrible, to committing horrors of their own.
I recall encountering a mad, fierce yogi in the streets of India, growling at people and waving a human thigh bone around. I thought I had recorded that incident in an old story I wrote at the time, but it turns out (just looking it over this morning) that it was a different encounter that I wrote about: The Silence of the Rocks. I wrote this right after a visit to Hampi, India, back in the '90s. Not exactly a horror story, but I tried to convey a sense of creepiness and dread.
* The way he pronounced the word sometimes sounded very close to "ogre," but I guess no strong etymological link has been established yet.
well i think i reall y have strongly to object to all this loose mixing of terms: aghori , naga baba and chödpas as if these 3 are really 3 terms for the same thing. being myself a fully initiated chödpa , i can see the nonsense dudes like that sarat das has been writing , this is the same category of nonsense blavatsky has been making a living from and the same as that notorious evans wentz blöabbed about endlessly in his 4 non sense books . we are in the 21 st century ! and therefore should really stop using dudes from the late 19 or 20 th century for reference points . you see, kelamuni : what you are writing here is just blatant nonsense it has nothing to do at all with real chöd practise ... so whereas in the 19 th century anybody could just make up horror stories like this or just mix and match and "translate" texts and books about tibet and tantra as they please, this age is now over !!
we know what we are doing and we have authentic lineage and real teachers and do not rely for our knowledge on some doped up shiva babas , get it ??
this applies to the entire discussion about gurus and enlightenment etc
the times of endless projections into the east ARE OVER .
so either shut up or stick to the stuff you really know, because out here there are people who really know , not just from reading some books or wikipedia
so stop passing your fantasies as real knowledge of the east .
of course we can always get a good laugh out of such nonsense but then this site is soooo serious when some western egghead is discussing his "thoughts" about reality, splitting its hairs in a 100 bits
but when it comes to the east it is all the same all of a sudden or what ??
thats no way to get clearer .
Max, I have also trained in chöd and I am not intending to equate chödpas with naga babas or aghori babas, and I didn't get the impression that kela was either. Maybe I'm wrong about that, but I didn't think so. For the purposes of this thread, they all are relevant "figures" because they each push beyond the edges of convention in their deliberate confrontation or association with popularly "frightening" territories, practices, etc.
yes i can see that , in the sense i could take it just like that . but i am sort of tired of this trend of
kenianism , IF we ever want to really make some progress in integrating the real wisdom of the east THEN
we shoild start to stop mixing everything and everbody into the same bag . i like kelamuni´s posts usually but here he is going off into some real ....
if you look at the references he pulls : these guys have really never had any knowledge about this at all
if you have chöd teachings then you know thagt this is precise teaching , it has clear objective and practise
it has absolutly nothing to do with some doped up shiva babas weird outragous behaviour . anybody who has been to india knows that on one genuine initiated baba or sadhu you meet 5 fakes ! and especially the dope smoking sadhus : i think there the ration is probably 1 in 10.
and then we should also discuss the habit of indian society to dumb its mentally challenged relatives i to the many ashrams ....
so . you see i have noting against the avaduthis, the agoras et , india is full of weird and wonderfull and horror practises thats the beauty , just remember kali and there have been human sacrifices even recently to her ....
but this has absolutly nothing to do with buddhist tantrics and chöd IS a buddhist tantric practise and not some confused hindu thing.
its exsactly this wishy washy approach that has created and is still creating
the vast confusion that the word "integral" meanwhile stands for.
i mean ken is the uncontested master of this kind of confusion BUT kelamuni posts in this thread
are exactly the approach that leads there !
so i ha ve no ill feelings about kelamuni, still BS ing needs to be pointed out and directly so.
because otherwise the confusoon becomes normal . i mean C.G.jung wrote a stupid foreward anbout the incompatibility of the eastern wisdom with the west based on the dumb books of evans wentz,
who has been discredited since many years now for his fantasies that he passed off as genuine tibetan buddhist teachings or that other dude anagarika govinda .....
i mean at the time........o.k.
but now this has to stop and it needs to be pointed out in very strong terms !!
and kelamuin quoted one those dudes ,sarat chandra das , as IF HE said truth
that is inacceptable, absolutly IN- acceptable
we are not some blue eyed idiots around here !!
but committed to truth.
in any case enlightement is not the province of academia and it never was
those who doubt that should look at the biography of naropa.
he met the