Let's Look at the Non-denominational Principles of Cultivation Practice We Can Find ... Once Again ... In of All Places --Paganism
Silly are the people who always think spiritual progress is denominational. "My religion is right, yours is wrong and doesn't have any chance of gifting you with spiritual salvation." Sure, tell me about it…
Let's take a look at the earliest stages of spiritual cultivation, and how they end up transforming the body, to understand that true spiritual progress - and we're talking about the REAL STUFF here, the real spiritual stages and not some Sunday school lecture on loving kindness, forgiveness and the such but REAL spiritual states -- is nondenominational.
Previously we said that most people in life are just at the Stage of Merit and Wisdom Accumulation, also called the Stage of Study and Virtue Accumulation. They go to Church on Sunday, or the mosque or temple. They try to be good, study religious scriptures, participate in ceremonies and hope when they die they'll go to heaven if they live a good life. That's it. Be good, participate in ceremonies (or do nothing), die and go to heaven.
Next comes the people who actually cultivate meditation. They cultivate spiritual practice. It might be prayers, mantra recitation, visualizations, Zen practice, yoga, qi-gong, whatever. They're actively trying to cultivate to realize the Tao, to experience their original nature from whence all comes. Call it Allah, Brahman, Godhead, Buddha nature - they want to realize THAT.
If they follow the rules and correct principles of cultivation practice -- cessation and contemplation, emptiness all the way, mindfulness of emptiness so as not to lose it and merit making -- they usually start to make progress.
Their chi transforms. Their mind empties out (or clears out or pacifies or becomes still, however you wish to word it). Their body undergoes changes because their chi changes.
And if these things Don't HAPPEN, it's simply because their practice isn't good enough and not because these stages and transformations don't exist. THEIR PRACTICE IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH YET. It might be they're practicing incorrectly, or using the wrong vehicle, or not practicing hard enough or due to a whole host of other reasons. Nevertheless, anyone who practices correctly will experience results. The rule? It's like athletics:
Practice Method + Disciplined Effort + Time + Patience = Kung-fu Result
Now if they do practice correctly, people will always start to experience gong-fu and experiential states. They are truly at the Stage of Preparation, also known as the Stage of Preparatory Practices, Intensified Practices, Earnest Endeavor, Yogic Practice, or Purification.
99.999+% of the people in the world are not at this stage. Scholars and religious functionaries are not at this stage. Forget the fact someone is a monk, rabbi, priest, nun, pope, bishop, cardinal, mullah, whatever. Don't be fooled. Only those who practice meditation, and do so correctly, reach this stage.
What happens is that as people still or empty their mind, their chi changes and as their chi changes, the five elements of the body transform, and so the body changes. Why? Because chi and consciousness are linked, chi is linked with jing and your body is made of jing. So all sorts of purificatory things happen during this stage. let this process continue far enough and add in wisdom, and you may get samadhi. Hold on to this process by clinging, and therein interfere with it transforming freely, and you may also get nowhere except a healthier body.
You can cultivate your mind to bring about these changes, or cultivate your chi to bring about these changes. If you cultivate your chi you're doing "form practices." You're basically cultivating your body, and the job is NEVER done. Smart people cultivate the body a bit to kick off the process, and then switch entirely over to mind cultivation.
If you cultivate your mind you're following wisdom, no-thought, mindfulness or emptiness practices. They're all synonyms, so don't get stuck on the words. Vipassana is one such wisdom practice. But if you practice vipassana to watch body sensations and cling to the body thereby, you're doing a form practice. Get it?
When you cultivate correctly, eventually your chi will start moving and you'll feel your chi moving. Happens to everyone. Science says chi doesn't exist and you just have to laugh. Another bit of ignorance as you prove things yourself. Meditate enough and you'll feel your chi and then you can laugh at the "scientists."
Now the body may become hot, or cold, or feel stretched out, or get itchy, or feel under pressure, or poisons might be ejected out the skin, the intestines will change, eating habits will naturally change, and all sorts of other purificatory phenomena will occur as your chi channels start to open because you're cultivating empty mind and your chi starts to move. These are all catalogued in "Tao and Longevity" and in "Measuring Meditation." No one will experience exactly the same phenomena in the same order because everyone is different body wise, karma wise and practice wise. However, the purificatory reactions follow the same general pattern as delineated in these books.
Now these purificatory phenomena happen to everyone. At the earliest stages of the path, most all your spiritual energies go into transforming the body. A higher spiritual state requires a more refined mind free of thoughts, and since chi and thoughts are linked, chi has to become purified as well. That's why I always tell you that you can cultivate from the aspect of chi, or mind, to kick it off. Either way will do if you know what you're doing. And be virtuous about it as well, okay?
If you were a Jewish prophet during Old Testament times and you cultivated , these changes would happen to you as you opened up your chi channels. You cultivate, you experience kung-fu (gongfu) It's all a function of your effort, and not some grace or undeserved stroke of luck. That's why THEY achieved something and you haven't yet - it's a function of practice and not "selection by God." You select yourself by din of your own efforts, or Not. it's just that today we don't know what methods they used. We don't know the methods used in the ancient Assyrian traditions or Aztec and Mayan and many other traditions either.
Cross over to India and yoga practice and bingo - you see the same thing. Fast forward to some Christian monk doing 5 hours of prayers on his knees with an empty mind in a medieval monastery, and his chi will start to move and the same stages will happen again. Same for Taoist, Buddhist, Egyptian, Persian cultivators and so on. The results from correct spiritual practice are nondenominational. There are adding practices, subtraction practices, visualization practices, emptiness practices, mantra practices, etc. etc. etc. you can use, and the results are nonsectarian.
Now here's where people get confused.
In the Western spiritual traditions, this stage is referred to as the purification of the 5 elements. In my tapes on "The Atalanta Fugiens," they're always talking about the 5 elements of the body becoming purified at this stage. Why? Because the Greco-Roman tradition, upon which the Western culture is based, refers to the five humors or five elements in the earliest sciences and medicine and literature, and so this emphasis and descriptive scheme was carried forward into cultivation. You certainly would not talk about chakras and chi channels, or soon you'd find yourself in prison, or at the stake!
In Islam, as just one instance, things would be framed with references to the Koran. In Judaism, the Bible. In Christianity, the same. Socrates had to always frame things in reference to Greek myths and histories. Confucius chose to talk in terms of behavior out of choice. You have to pity the traditions that were started by low level masters, because they usually did not describe things deep enough or with enough detail because of their own lack of higher wisdom and attainments. Pity the poor masters who we reborn in those traditions to try to uplift them and had nothing to work with - it's hard to squeeze water out of a rock and get cultivation teachings out of texts that have none or are just filled with historical accounts or tribal customs and expedient means.
You always find the same stages across the world's religions, but described or emphasized differently because of the cultural undercurrents of a tradition. Different traditions focus on a different FACET of the same stage or phenomena. What is ACCEPTABLE is what is used in a tradition. What is not acceptable is not used because it will get you in jail or killed. So there are things you do NOT say out of wisdom and self preservation and because it wouldn't matter anyway -- people are just too ignorant anyway.
Basically, when you cultivate, you are purifying the chi of the body, specifically the chi of the five elements that make up the body, and so this is referred to in Western cultivation schools.
Take Paganism or NeoPaganism. Yes, Paganism. Most paganists are taught to do visualization exercises wherein some deity helps them purify the earth or water or fire element etc. of their body. You actually see the vestiges of this tradition on Saturday morning cartoons in the USA all the time, but regular people don't know the history behind this. To them it's just quaint because they have no deep cultivation roots or understanding.
Anyway, Paganists are taught to visualize some deity purifying the fire element of their body, or the earth element or so on. You'll find similar practices in Taoism, India and even in the esoteric schools. But of course, only at the LOW ENTRY STAGE to get things going. You'll also find practices in all these schools for cultivating yin and yang. BUT ONLY AT THE LOW STAGES of the path because they only apply to the low stages. Why do all these schools mention these things? Because they're rudimentary and because they work. Why do some schools not mention them? Because they don't want to emphasize them, or don't need to, and some schools don't have them.
The question, is this reference to purifying the 5 elements unique to the Western tradition, and are the methods or purification unique? Also, are there other ways of describing the same stage used in other traditions, and what are they?
Some branches of Chinese Taoism also use deity visualization to help kick off the purificatory stage of the path. Same as the Pagan schools - the parallels are striking. You use what works, as long as its virtuous and nondestructive. However, Taoism, usually just talks about the body being purified and puts more emphasis on yin and yang, because the yin and yang chi of the body become clarified due to cultivation and those terms are at the core of Taoism.
In other words, the chi channels open up. The chi becomes purified. Yin and Yang chi become clarified. When this happens the chi channels open up. The body transforms. Kundalini (fire element) arises. And you can kick off this process by all sorts of meditation and cultivation practices IF YOU FOLLOW THE PRINCIPLES OF PRACTICE CORRECTLY.
For instance, why do most Paganists fail to make progress? After all, they use cultivation methods in common with some branches of Taoism. Because as Paganists they tend to celebrate their sexuality and vitality, and as all cultivation schools will tell you, if you lose your jing (sexual energies) it's hard to make progress. No jing means no chi, no chi means no chi channels opening, and thus no chi to shen transformations and samadhi states. In other words -- no water in the boiler, no steam in the pipes. This is cultivation 101. Ignore this rule and you get no progress. Don't argue with me, I'm just telling you the principle. Others won't tell you because they don't know, or they don't want to hear it, or because in so saying they wouldn't sell their product (money flows).
What does Buddhism say about the purification of the 5 elements? Does it say anything at all? This is such a low stage that Buddha simply said that the five elements transform and that the chi of the five elements return to their source. Go read the Surangama Sutra for details. Buddha was smart and set up his teaching in such a way that he mentioned everything but never focused on the low stages of the path that deal with the body too much, knowing that any emphasis would cause people to cling to this and go astray. He discussed how to purify the five elements but didn't spend too much time on it. Why? Cultivate the mind and they purify naturally anyway, without any efforts. That's the basic practice method of Buddhism.
What we see in the Tao school, qigong, Tibet school, yoga school and other form based schools is that people concentrate on physical body purification, and then stump, stymie or block their own hoped for progress. Why? Because they emphasize form as the road of their cultivation, most people attach to form and cut off their wisdom life. They cut off form and thus cling to form, and cultivation means no clinging. After all, you want to reach the Tao, the state that is beyond form and formlessness, that is absent of form. So how will clinging to form, imagining form, or spinning form get you there if you're always holding on to form or trying to manipulate form?
People want a state that is beyond form, but cling to form in their cultivation and so never learn to access transcendental wisdom of no-form. If you're spinning your chi all the time, clinging to chakra visualizations and so on, you're focusing on form to produce experiential states that are also form based. Hence, no real high stage samadhi. As Master Nan, recognized as an enlightened master of Zen, Esoteric School and Taoism says, these are the real catastrophes because life after life they go on clinging to their energy states. That's why he never teaches the esoteric school. To my knowledge, I'm the only one he's ever taught.
What about Esoteric schools themselves? Yep, they have the same thing. They talk about the purification of the five elements at the early stages of the path, but the focus in these schools in on the opening of the chi channels, which is what happens when the chi is transformed and the five elements transform. After all, chakras, chi and so forth ARE the five elements. They are the purified versions of the five elements. So this school focuses on this particular result. Why? It's just the cultural tradition of this school, whose history we won't go into. Pick up a copy of "The Insider's Guide to the Best and Worst Spiritual Practices" if you want to understand this history.
So, Yes, the Western traditions recognize the same early purification stage of cultivation. They refer to it as the purification of the five elements. In the Pagan schools of Northern Europe, and in the Medieval Alchemy schools, you can see this clearly. In fact, okay, okay I'll let anyone purchase the Atalanta Fugiens tapes for the next two weeks only if you want to see this proved:
Anyway, Chinese culture, namely Taoism, recognizes this but focuses more on describing the process as a transformation of the jing, chi and shen, elixir fields, and the opening of the front and back chi channels. Why? because Taoism had its original focus on creating an immortal life out of this physical body, so the whole emphasis is ont he body and its transformations. Hinduism, the yoga schools and esoteric schools focus on cultivating the chi channels and the chakras and don't pay too much attention to the five elements other than to say they purify. Need I go further? Nah… up to you to do the research. My fingers hurt from typing.
So here's the key. Same basic process of cultivation: you empty your mind, or silence it from discriminative thinking, but do so in such a way that you don't BLOCK thoughts, but just let them die out. If you block them you're suppressing your energy flows. If you block them you're putting one big false thought on top of them. That's wrong meditation practice. As the Diamond Sutra says, you let your mind give birth without clinging; shine awareness on thoughts without clinging and they'll die off naturally because you'll stop feeding the process energy, and then you'll realize a bit of emptiness and these transformation will come out. That's wisdom cultivation, awareness cultivation, mindfulness.
You can find great details in the Complete (Perfect) Enlightenment Sutra - don't put one head on top of another, don't analyze or comment on your thoughts. Just let them be born without clinging them. After all, they are not you anyway. Amazon.com has all these books, so don't ask me.
Can you do it another way? Sure, there's tons of ways as I describe in 25 Doors to Meditation. Kashmir Shaivism has a great little book on over 100 methods. Read it, and if you apply the correct principles of cultivation I've taught you, then you can use any of them. You can also focus on the body to get the chi to move and as it hits the brain, it will wipe out (silence) the thought process somewhat and if you let the process continue without clinging, bingo you'll get similar results.
But if you crimp and cling to your body and thoughts, then you interrupt the natural chi flows that are supposed to be there when the mind is empty and aware, and therefore produce an artificial result in cultivation. Remember, the only natural, non-artificial, ontologically correct cultivation-meditation method is resting the mind. That's wisdom cultivation, as I've been teaching you.
What happens when you cultivate correctly?
Gong fu (Kung-fu), purificatory changes, experiential realms, physical changes. Do the Western schools have this, including Paganism? Sure, if you practice correctly. Do people practice correctly? In most EVERY school people are NOT practicing correctly, NOT practicing correct methods or according to the right principles, or practicing long enough each day, or on a devoted disciplined schedule, or they're doing something at the same time that is at ends with and destroys their practice (letting the elixir leak). It's like working hard to make money and then losing it all on gambling. Or trying to be healthy by eating organic food, and then smoking 2 packs of cigarettes a day. People defeat their cultivation efforts all the time. They do it in other areas of life constantly, so why not in cultivation?
So the whole point of today's somewhat lengthy little article is to say that once again, almost any school can produce cultivation results. The results are nondenominational, especially the lowest stages of the path. You see, even Paganism has them! But as to the higher stages of the path, well if you can't cultivate the lower you cannot reach the higher. Also, some schools just never go high enough. Some schools have no one who has ever reached the high levels. Some schools mistake certain high levels for the ultimate when they are not. Some schools misguide people and say that low stages and low objectives (just get to heaven) are good enough. Some misguide people and say that you don't have to do anything, just be natural or you're already saved, so everything is perfect.
Yep, that's correct too but you'll never realize your original nature that way. You'll never learn how to escape from pain by realizing your source nature. You'll never learn how to control your fate or birth and death. Let me not go into all the nots. There are too many of them. You can only discuss these matters with people of wisdom because after someone is indoctrinated into dogma, it's the dogma they'll believe and not logic or common sense. I've talked with enough people who have escaped from cults with really scary doctrines to just leave the conclusion at that.
So enough of that. The big dogma lesson today is that the path is nondenominational. The methods are nondenominational. The results are nondenominational.
But guess what?
Hardly anyone today knows the proper path or principles of the path. People don't practice correctly either. So people don't get any results and achieve nothing. Countless people I've seen who have been practicing incorrectly for YEARS. Another mistake? People claim the results are due to their religion, or to God, or something else other than personal karma and practice efforts (let's just toss it to fate or randomness then, right?). Well, enough "or" statements because we could fill pages.
If you want to see that Western cultivation tradition has the same stuff, same teachings, same stages as in the East, pick up a copy of the Atalanta Fugiens cassette tapes. I don't know why people don't like this topic. I just love this material and learned more when Master Nan gave me this set of lectures than most any book in years. Well, here they are for the next two weeks only.
And what prompted such a topic today anyway? Because for some reason these last few weeks I've been contacted by a stream of Paganists who are looking to cultivate, and didn't even know what the path was within their tradition. So lucky you.
As I say over and over again, I care not about your tradition. That's your karma, your business, your concern. It's up to you to take the true principles of cultivation practice and use them, incorporate them within your tradition to rejuvenate it and recapture its effectiveness. I don't have to convince you of anything. If you want one of our books, buy a book. You don't want it, then don't buy it. If you buy and don't like it, ask for your money back. Life is that simple. Cultivation progress is in your own hands.
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