Yugas: The Hindu Map of Time

Yugas: The Hindu Map of Time

  The Eastern view of time is completely different to the Western view. A perfect example of this is the Hindu time system called the Yugas. The word yuga in Sanskrit means age, cycle, or world era. The yugas are a complex world-age doctrine of four ages. The yugas map the cycles of change within the universe and consciousness. The yugas build a solid framework for understanding how we experience time and eternity, and how they are related to one another. This way of thinking is completely different to the view of time and eternity held firm by Western religions and the West in general. The Western view of time is linear and this effect’s the Western view of eternity, as the idea of an eternal “heaven” becomes something we have to wait for until after death. This Western concept implies that eternity is bound to time. This is ridiculous considering eternity can only be ever-present in this very moment and can only be experienced when limiting thoughts and thinking have completely ceased.


  The Eastern view of eternity illustrates that eternity can be nowhere else but in this present moment, and a lot of their time systems and philosophies are based on it. As a result, the relationship between time and eternity is thought of very differently in the East, especially in the yuga system. Many Eastern traditions don’t map time in the linear sense, but instead, they designed systems to understand time’s nonlinear qualities in relation to matter, mind, and spirit. In Hinduism, the nonlinearity of time is broken into the yuga cycles, which map the consciousness that drives the process of linear time fueling human civilization.



  There are two yuga systems that are somewhat similar, but also a lot different. There is an ancient long-count system and a more recent short-count system. Both systems are based on the concept of kalpa. Kalpa is a Sanskrit word that means aeon in Hindu and Buddhist cosmology. A kalpa equals 4.32 billion years. This massive period of time is not about lifetimes or an age, but rather the life of Earth.


  The concept of kalpa is described in the ancient texts of the Puranas, especially the Vishnu Purana and Bhagavata Purana. One kalpa of 4.32 billion years is regarded as a day of Brahma. If you think this is a long time, a mahakalpa consists of 100 years of Brahma which is 313, 528, 320, 000, 000 years.


The Long-count Yuga System

  In the long-count system one kalpa is made up of one hundred mahayugas (great yugas). The duration of a mahayuga is built on a system of four yugas. These yugas are Satya Yuga, which is the ideal or truthful age spanning 1,728,000 years. Next is Treta Yuga, which is the age where virtue has declined by a quarter of Satya Yuga. Treta Yuga spans 1,296,000 years. Treta Yuga is followed by Dvapara Yuga. Dvapara Yuga is the age where virtue is reduced by half of what it was in Satya Yuga. Dvapara Yuga spans 864,000 years. The last yuga, and we could say definitely the least, is Kali Yuga. Kali Yuga is where virtue is reduced to a quarter. Thankfully in the greater scheme of things, Kali Yuga only spans the time of 432,000 years. Well, I know it’s still a long time, but in the universal sense it’s quite small.


  According to the long-count system what yuga are we in right now? It is commonly believed we are in the heart of Kali Yuga. According to the dates suggested by authorities, we might only be at the beginning of this yuga. It is believed that the dark age of the Kali Yuga commenced with the death of the Godly sage Krishna after the famous battle in Kurukshetra, documented in the Mahabharata epic. Traditional Hindu authorities put this date at 3102 BCE. Though many scholars dispute this date, as they believe a date of around 1500 BCE is more probable. Nevertheless, if we are to take the yuga world-age doctrine seriously, we are only at the beginning of the Kali Yuga. We’ve been on this long descent from the golden age of the Satya Yuga until now. This slow process spanning millions of years stupefied our mind into the characteristic of Kali Yuga.


The Character of the Kali Yuga

  What is the characteristic of the Kali Yuga? The core characteristic is our minds identification with the external world and a turning away from the inner world. This is where we focus on everything in the outside world and forget about the inner world. We focus on how we look, our anxiety about how we are perceived by others, our reliance on sensory needs, our dependency on relationships, our over attachment to people and material possessions, and our focus on acquiring assets to promote our own self-interest. The Kali Yuga, then, is basically the involution of the human mind into gross matter, which means our mind is entangled with the outside world. Materialism, then, is the heart of the Kali Yuga. The minds tendency in this age is geared towards consumerist thinking. Consumerism becomes the accepted way of life in this age. And it is hard to argue with this ancient view of the Kali Yuga when we look outside and see what mainly drives people.


  The lowest point of the Kali Yuga might be technological transhumanism, as many people would rather be a robot and live forever than a natural human. The integration of mind into technology will likely be the lowest point of the Kali Yuga, if it happens. This technological motivation is the Kali Yuga belief that the material universe is everything. As a result, the inner world of consciousness is not considered valuable without the material world. This type of thinking is one of the greatest threats to the survival of human race. So before you play unconsciously with your phone, ask yourself what that habit is doing to you and how is it training your mind to be. I find it interesting that when I criticize social media or technology people jump to their defense, which is just plain odd when you think about it. They are not living things. They are just objects. Could you imagine how stupid I would look if I defended a toaster like it was my friend. I’d look like an idiot.


  The reason people defend social media and technology is because they want to justify their unconscious habits. Just ask yourself how many times do you unconsciously reach for your phone during the day? Though this may seem insignificant, it’s all leading to a movement away from raw nature and our own naturalness and connection to the universe. From the naturalistic view, the integration of mind into technology will be a permanent hell we cannot escape. In the Kali Yuga the fear of death is intensified because we believe matter is everything. Hence, we yearn for immortal life through technology.


  As we began to move into the Kali Yuga after Krishna left this world, some enlightened people could foresee our future and they wrote the PuranasTantras and other scriptures to serve our spiritual needs in this dark age. These were specifically designed for a spiritual seekers inherent difficulties in the Kali Yuga. In the Kali Yuga we lack the moral fiber and mental concentration necessary to pursue the path of liberation. But fortunately we have access to these ancient texts that can bring our awareness back within ourselves. The hope is that there are enough people in the world who wake up to their divinity, which is revealed when we cease the minds gravitational pull towards the external world. Only then can the human race survive the Kali Yuga and progress into the golden age of Satya Yuga.


  In various Puranas they speak of the tenth avatar of Vishnu named Kalki, who is foretold to come into this world near the end of the Kali Yuga. Kalki is thought of as riding a white horse brandishing a blazing sword. His task is to destroy the present age to give birth to the age of Truth with a capital T, Satya Yuga. Maybe Kalki could be you or it could be all of us who are willing to wake up.


The Short-count Yuga System

  Though the idea of the Kali Yuga may seem grim and depressing, a short-count system of the yugas was designed which is more of an optimistic view of where human civilization is currently heading. The short-count yugas was introduced by the Indian mystic Sri Yukteswar. Sri Yukteswar explains the short-count system in twelve brief pages in his classical book The Holy Science. Sri Yukteswar doesn’t base his understanding of the yugas much on the older long-count tradition. His system of the yugas was born from his own self-realization. The short-count system of the yugas focuses on the correlation of inner consciousness and outward behavior. Sri Yukteswar explains that as human consciousness changes, so does civilization and human development. With this short-count model we can begin to perceive a discernible pattern in our seemingly chaotic history.


  In Daniel Steinmetz and Joseph Selbie’s book called The Yugas, they trace our known history in a way that supports the claims of the short-count yuga system. They show a recognizable cycle of human civilization that descended to a certain point of time and evidence of an ascension. To understand this, I need to explain how the short-count yugas are different. First of all, Sri Yukteswar’s theory is based on the idea that our own sun revolves around a dual star which is a cycle of 24,000 years. It’s a binary star system. Sri Yukteswar explains that this is a celestial phenomenon caused by the backward movement of the equinoctial points around the zodiac. The common explanation for this is precession, meaning the wobbling rotating movement of the earth’s axis. Sri Yukteswar explains this in The Holy Science. He states:


“The sun also has another motion by which it revolves round a grand center called Vishnu-Naabhi which is the seat of the creative power Brahma, the universal magnetism. Brahma regulates Dharma the mental virtues of the internal world. When the sun in its revolution round its dual come to the place nearest to this grand center the seat of Brahma (an event which takes place when the autumnal equinox comes to the first point of Aries) Dharma the mental virtue becomes so much developed that man can easily comprehend all, even the mysteries of Spirit.”


  Each age has its own dharma, meaning virtue. And our dharma is at the height of virtue when our sun and its dual are closest to the grand center of the universe, the creative power of Brahma. To map where we currently are in the short-count system, we need to understand how the complete cycle of 24,000 years is mapped.


  As with the long-count system, the short-count system is made up of four yugas using the same yuga names as the long-count. But the difference is the short-count system splits the yugas in two, resulting in eight ages that mirror each other. So one full cycle of 24,000 years goes through 12,000 years of descent and then 12,000 years of ascent. In the short-count yugas the golden age of Satya Yuga is a duration of 9,600 years split into 4,800 years of ascent and descent. Satya Yuga is considered the spiritual age. As a result, it is in the Satya Yuga where our dharma is so virtuous that we can understand what the Godhead is intellectually. And we also have no sense of separation.


  The next age is Treta Yuga. It has a duration of 7,200 years split into 3,600 years of ascent and descent. It is the mental age, where we can use our mind to influence matter and other things. Some scholars who support this short-count system suggest this was how we might have erected megalithic structures like the pyramids. Also, we are supposedly able to access telepathy easily.


  The next age is Dvapara Yuga. It has a duration of 4,800 years split into 2,400 years of ascent and descent. Dvapara Yuga is the age of energy, the age where we begin to understand that everything is energy and we begin to use energy to our advantage. The last yuga is the Kali Yuga, which has a duration of 2,400 years split into 1,200 years of ascent and descent. As with the long-count system, the Kali Yuga in the short-count system is the material age, where our minds are turned outward into the illusion that matter is all that exists.


  Between each yuga there is a transitional period known in Sanskrit as sandhis. This transitional period is the time when the state of mind in the previous yuga still lingers until we move into the new yuga completely. By following the cycle of the short-count system the pinnacle of the spiritual age was not too distant in the past. The height of Satya Yuga was specifically at 11,501 BCE, or 11,500 BCE to simplify it. The life in the spiritual age is thought to be much simpler than our modern complex world. Scholars suggest that some of the evidence for the Satya Yuga in this time period is discovered in places like Gobekli Tepe, because it is some sort of spiritual complex rather than residential, and its oldest structures have been dated to around 9,000 BCE placing it right in the short-count Satya Yuga. This idea also supports Graham Hancock’s lost civilization theory. It also supports somewhat the idea of Atlantis. But since that time we went into the descending period of the yugas.


  Our lowest point according to Sri Yukteswar was 499 CE; we could say roughly 500 CE. This time of 500 CE was when the vernal equinox was at 0 degrees Aries. He placed the beginning of the golden age at the opposite point when the vernal equinox was at 0 degrees Libra. The lowest point of the short-count Kali Yuga was 500 CE, which means the end of Kali Yuga was the year 1700 CE, specifically 1699 CE. This is why Sri Yukteswar’s model of the yugas can be viewed as more optimistic, as it places us in the ascending cycle of Dvapara Yuga.


  We moved into Dvapara Yuga proper in 1900 CE (allowing for the transitional period, sandhis). The amazing thing about this transition is that Sri Yukteswar predicted several developments that eventually happened. Keep in mind that he wrote The Holy Science in 1894. He predicted the rapid development of knowledge in the twentieth century and also the discovery that energy underlies all matter. Basically the idea that everything is energy. His insights predate Einstein’s E=mc2 by over ten years.


  Though, the idea of everything is energy has been a hallmark of Eastern thought for as long as anyone can remember. Einstein’s theory, on the other hand, came five years into Dvapara Yuga proper and this changed our world view. Sri Yukteswar predicted that it was inevitable for this knowledge to surface because energy is the characteristic of Dvapara Yuga. From Sri Yukteswar’s perspective, the relationship between energy and matter would have been brought to light by someone else if Einstein didn’t reveal it. From Sri Yukteswar’s view of the yugas, we can see that energy is a primary focus in the world today, and this is increasing with the evolution of clean energy which ultimately benefits the world, and also the growing interest in Eastern spiritual practices that focus on how we use our subtle energies.


  In conclusion, both systems have their reasons why we should believe them. We can see the validity of the ancient long-count system because of the materialistic world around us, and we can also see the validity of the short-count system because of our modern focus on energy and how intelligent use of technology can help humanity and also how an intelligent understanding of spiritual practices can help the individual. But in the end it’s really up to how you feel. It’s a matter of whether you trust the deep intuitions of Sri Yukteswar or prefer to trust an ancient tradition going back thousands of years.

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Understanding Flow – Part 3 Intelligent Spontaneity

Understanding Flow – Part 3 Intelligent Spontaneity

  The story of Cook Ting is about how we effectively move through the world with skill and not feel resistance. Reaching your optimal potential is also the same, meaning you attain expert skill in your desired craft and that extends into life in general. This feeling of effortlessness, or flow and wu-wei, is a state of psychological ease we feel through our whole body.


  The goal of wu-wei, then, is to effectively move smoothly through all aspects of your life, where even unexpected events in your life are dealt with spontaneously with intelligence. No obstacle is too big or even really perceived as an obstacle anymore. In a state of wu-wei you don’t press up against obstacles, but instead you act in the same fashion as the gentle key trying to open the door, which means you may absorb the pressure of an obstacle but because you don’t resist it you overcome it without forcing the outcome. This absorb and action technique is one of the foundational pillars of traditional martial arts.


  Modern martial artists, especially mixed martial artists, often use the word flow. It is used when someone appears to be very lucid and in the zone. Yet, as I mentioned, common understandings of the concept flow are at a novice level and this goes for a lot martial artistsThe spontaneous nature expressed through us in a state of wu-wei is the deeper and more powerful raw material of our hot cognition functioning optimally. When there is no interference from the over-analytical cold system, you express the spontaneity of human nature intelligently.


  Intelligent spontaneity, then, is a fully embodied state of mind where one is perfectly calibrated to the environment. The environment essentially becomes an extension of your skill. For example, when you are in a state of intelligent spontaneity in martial arts you are perfectly calibrated to the obstacles you face with an opponent. The opponent will try everything to land a blow but you see it almost in slow motion, like Neo in the Matrix. As a result, you act spontaneously without it feeling like a reaction because there was no conscious thought driving it.


  And even if you do absorb a blow you move with it, which is a technique in the Korean martial art Hapkido. This technique makes the opponent overextend and lose balance, where they usually fall to the ground. In ancient Chinese thought this approach is explained by the concepts yin which is a Chinese word for the feminine and passive energy of the universe and yang which is a Chinese word for the masculine and active energy of the universe. In Chinese thought yin nourishes yang. This means that when we are intelligently passive, or have poise in other words, we give birth to correct action minus aggression. This is a key point, correct action minus aggression.


  We overextend in Hapkido, or in any martial arts and life in general, when we are full of aggression and emotions. Essentially, if we are not receptive enough we will be hard and rigid. And someone hard and rigid is easily overcome by someone who is soft and flexible because they have poise and are fully present in the moment. As Bruce Lee once said, “Be like water my friend.”


  This effortless cognitive style is similar to the movements of a graceful dancer. Intelligent spontaneity is not only the effect of a dancer being perfectly calibrated to the environment, but it is also the essential goal of martial arts, or any skill for that matter. In a state of intelligent spontaneity we approach life with a mind of no deliberation. An expert craftsman embodies this effortless state of mind.


  The craftsman integrates the two systems into mind-body holism. As a result, they are perfectly adapted to the world around them. But, to cultivate expert skill and skill in life, we have to understand how a craftsman disengages from the cold system to allow the hot cognitive virtues of nature to spontaneously flower.


  The expert craftsman is a perfect example of how both systems function together to evoke intelligent spontaneity. Their mind absorbed in their craft is a metaphor for how we too can be absorbed fully in life through a chosen skill. A skilled craftsman’s integration of mind and body back into its original holism is the result of years of training their embodied cognition to be as natural as nature itself. The craftsman moves effortlessly through their skill and this is applied to life in general. When the two systems function naturally in harmony you will be perfectly calibrated to the environment. This integration of both systems means that the mind is embodied and the body is mindful.


  To make the two systems integrated and working together harmoniously, we need to develop the ability to concentrate for extended periods of time. This will eventually evoke a deep level of focus that arises from the hot system. A skilled craftsman can evoke this ability spontaneously anytime if it is needed, to the extent that it is as normal as chewing food.


  The way the process begins is through the long and arduous training which is required to call on a skill upon command. The process of learning a skill to this heightened degree is dependent on a strong cold system to begin with. A strong cold system is dedicated to the theory of a particular skill and the discipline required for it to become embodied.


  We have all tried to get better at something which requires practice every day. Usually we don’t want to use a lot of effort but something inside says “stop being a weakling. Suck it up and push forward.” That inside dictator is of course the cold cognition, and it is a strong cold cognition if the message is taken on board to push forward.


  When a craftsman strengthens their cold system and becomes a dedicated student to whatever skill they’re learning, they are ever so slowly downloading the subtle nuances and theoretical details of that skill into their hot cognition. As a result, the skill begins to unconsciously manifest. The hot systems ability to fine tune a particular skill continues when a strong cold system has an iron will to reach beyond the known limits.


  As this process of cultivation continues the craftsman invariably encounters an unexpected snag, which is that the cold system begins to inhibit flow states of consciousness. So once a skill has become ingrained in the hot system, the cold system is a hindrance because of its tendency to analyze and over think.


  When a skill has become embodied, the primary way to get better is to continually perform that skill through constant repetition. But this cannot happen if the cold system is still functioning, meaning when it is essentially in the way. From a contemporary cognitive science perspective, this is what it actually means when we say we are in our own way, which in their terminology means the cold system is in the way of the hot system naturally expressing itself.


  If the cold system cannot be downregulated, it inhibits intelligent spontaneity. The effortlessness in a performance, no matter what it is, is ruined when we begin to over think about what we are doing. As a result, we regress back into mind-body dualism training.


  The problem in trying to attain intelligent spontaneity is we don’t know how to temporarily shut down cold cognition. What you need to remember is that when you are fully engaged in what you are doing cold cognition is naturally downregulated because parts of the brain are not activated when they are not necessary. And when intelligent spontaneity comes to life, cold cognition is not activated because it is not part of nature’s spontaneous beauty. But it is not that easy for most of us, especially if you are starting out in a particular skill.


  There are numerous methods for downregulating cold cognition, some intentional and others unintentional. For example, alcohol downregulates our cold cognition allowing us to communicate and experience the world authentically with no agenda, well that is up until a certain point when we lose our way and the drunken arguments and fights break out.


  Psychedelics and marijuana also downregulate the cold cognition, resulting in different effects to that of alcohol. But these methods I don’t condone, as they are not sufficient methods for downregulating cold cognition nor do they have lasting effects to achieve that end on a regular basis. Intense aerobic exercise also downregulates cold cognition, but the problem with this is you can’t exercise all the time and it doesn’t train the mind outside of utilizing will power.


  Meditation is the advanced tool for training your mind to naturally downregulate cold cognition. Specifically vipassana meditation practiced in Theravada Buddhism and open awareness meditation practiced in Zen Buddhism. Both practices train you to perceive reality from that deeper level of focus we usually only attain in a flow state. These practices evoke a flow state of consciousness without intentionally trying to do so.


  The practice of open awareness meditation, for example, is an objectless meditation we engage with a simple, stable posture while we try to observe the mind in the hope of silencing and emptying it through focusing on the anchors of breath or by fixing our attention on something in the environment. We don’t need these anchors as much as our practice continues because we begin to embody a more natural effortless state of consciousness, not attracted to the tendency of resistance or force.


  This type of meditation, like vipassana, has a positive effect on mental concentration, reaction time, motor skills, and sensory sensitivity to the environment, making it more conducive for intelligent spontaneity. You are essentially tilling the soil in your mind and producing peak performance as a natural result. These two practices will benefit your hot cognitive ability to be effortlessly spontaneous in your skill and life.


  When the spontaneity of the hot system is expressed, through a skill or otherwise, cold cognition is downregulated. When skill is ingrained in the hot system we access, more often than not, a deep level of focus where the sense of “you” doing “something” has evaporated. You have merged as one with the activity. There is no distinction between you and your skill, they are one. As a result, you are one with the terrain your skill has to navigate through. This experience is commonly referred to as “being in the zone.”


  The real reason you are in the zone is because your cold cognition has been downregulated to let the spontaneous nature of life come alive through you. This is intelligent spontaneity. Essentially, there is no “person” because the cold system has downregulated. Remember the cold system is where we identify with ourselves as a person, just this very small part of brain in the prefrontal cortex. We are much more than that.


  So in the experience of intelligent spontaneity we come in contact with a deeper level of existence beneath our personality within our hot system. This deeper level of existence is where the naturalness of life spontaneously arises. This spontaneity arising of itself is the Chinese concept of ziran, which ultimately means nature is fundamentally of itself and your skill can become as nature is if you discover that flow state within your chosen skill. This in turn trains you to extend those skills into everyday life.


  Ultimately being in a state of flow is not truly about the aesthetic beauty of the performance, but rather it is about how the discipline trains you to be as nature intended, which transforms your character into becoming more humble, compassionate, and forgiving. This is the end goal of intelligent spontaneity, or flow and wu-wei. Your skill is your second nature in the sense that it is as effortless as opening and closing your hand. You have disentangled yourself from the clutches of rational thinking and become an expression of nature, because that is who you truly are. Now you truly understand what flow is. Now it’s up to you to enter that flow state so you can bring your ingrained skill forth to inspire the world.


Figure i.1

Understanding Flow – Part 2 Ancient Philosophy

Understanding Flow – Part 2 Ancient Philosophy

  The embodied model of the self was the primary viewpoint during the Warring States period of China, and also other parts of Asia. But it was in China especially that we discover the embodied mind model. During the Warring States period there were numerous philosophers and sages whose names we still know today. Most notably Lao-tzu, Confucius, Mencius, and Chuang-tzu. Though their philosophies may somewhat differ, their way for understanding the mind and body was the same. Their view of human nature was mind-body holism. Their philosophies, social systems, religions, and ritual practices reflect this holistic view.


  From centuries of ancient Chinese people following their philosophies and rigorous training to cultivate harmonious dispositions in the self, there is no doubt according to them that human cognition is embodied. Any other model, such as mind-body dualism, was shown the contempt it deserved.


  If in ancient China the embodied model of the self was understood to be how humans are hardwired, then we can see why a healthy skepticism developed towards mind-body dualism and its idea of a rational agent in control of an unruly body. In the East, in general, this skepticism shown towards rationality is culturally held firm. The battle within us, then, is not between a rational agent attempting to lord it over an unruly body. But instead it is a tug of war between an allocation of function between the two systems of hot and cold cognition.


  In the West and modern developed world, majority of our energy is allocated towards the function of the cold system trying to control the natural hot system. But in the ancient East it is absurd to try and overemploy the cold system, especially when you consider the main driving force within us and our essential nature is within the hot system. The focus in ancient China, then, was more about ingrained skill and shaping our character because they can both be cultivated in our hot system as natural and spontaneous.


  Eastern thought, then, especially the ancient Chinese embodied model of the self, is an essential corrective to the way modern Western philosophy has a tendency to focus on the cold cognitive aspects of conscious thought, rationality, and willpower. As a result, the modern revolution of embodied cognition in cognitive science was inspired partially by Eastern thought, especially ancient Chinese thought.


  The main focus of many ancient Chinese sages and philosophers during the Warring States period was the concept wu-wei. Wu-wei literally means non-doing, non-force, and effortless action. The effortlessness of wu-wei is ultimately a state of intelligent spontaneity. And I believe intelligent spontaneity is a more accurate term than flow when we are talking about that effortless state of mind. Keep in mind though that how wu-wei is achieved differed slightly among each philosopher and sage.


  Chuang-tzu’s focus was on effortless skill, or in other words effortless action, which actually adapts perfectly to modern cognitive science. We can understand the effortlessness of wu-wei when we think of those times we try too hard to achieve something. When we are trying too hard to achieve an outcome we are not allowing for life to naturally happen.


  For example, when we put a key in a lock and try to turn the key too fast we feel resistance. To open the door you need to be loose and relaxed and when you jiggle the key ever so softly the door opens effortlessly. By not forcing you effortlessly move through the task of opening a door. The key and door analogy is not only about how expert skill is effortless, but it is also a metaphor for how we move skillfully through life.


  No other sage or philosopher during the Warring States period explores skill more than Chuang-tzu. The Chuang-tzu text is like a manual for cultivating skill and training spontaneity, upon a lot of other wisdom about life. And this is why Chuang-tzu synthesizes well with modern cognitive science.


  The skill emphasized by Chuang-tzu in the Chuang-tzu text is not only about expertise, but also life skills which are supposed to contribute to developing harmonious dispositions in the self. Chuang-tzu, on a subtle level, examines the science of skill and how to reach peak performance to the point of explaining what the actual experience is like. Chuang-tzu understood that spontaneous skill comes from the deeper, more evolutionary ancient hot system. Somehow we need to ignite the spontaneity within the hot system naturally without any effort to do so.


  The cold system interferes with the spontaneity of life. Even in ancient China people overly identified with the cold system which gives one this sense of being an isolated self. Chuang-tzu explains that our real nature, the authentic self, is beneath the rational cold cognition. He articulates this through skill stories that exhibit this transfer of functional allocation from the cold system back to the hot system. He uses the craftsmen as an example to explain how skill and virtues can become so much a part of us that they are instinctive and spontaneous, they are hot.


  One of the most famous stories in the Chuang-tzu text is about a butcher called Cook Ting (or Butcher Ding). The Cook Ting story setting is a traditional religious ceremony where an ox will be sacrificed in public for the ruler Lord Wen-hui and a large crowd of onlookers. Cook Ting is the center of attention for this religious event. This ritual of animal sacrifice demands the difficult skill of using a blade with precise timing and perfect execution. But this is not a difficult task for Cook Ting. He slices and dices the ox up so effortlessly that Lord Wen-hui is astonished.


  Lord Wen-hui cannot believe such a mundane skill can reach the heights of beauty similar to an artistic performance. He approaches Cook Ting to ask how he can cut an ox up so effortlessly. Cook Ting explains that after years of cultivating skill he now encounters the ox with his spirit and it spontaneously guides him in the right direction. Cook Ting says:


  “What I care about is the Way (the Tao), which goes beyond skill. When I first began cutting up oxen, all I could see was the ox itself. After three years I no longer saw the whole ox. And now – now I go at it by spirit and don’t look with my eyes. Perception and understanding have come to a stop and spirit moves where it wants. I go along with the natural makeup, strike the big hollows, guide the knife through the big openings, and follow things as they are. So I never touch the smallest ligament or tendon, much less a main joint.”1


  Cook Ting’s ability to allow spirit to move where it wants from a contemporary perspective is the spontaneity of the hot system naturally functioning without the hindrance of cold cognitive analysis. When Cook Ting says, “Perception and understanding have come to a stop and spirit moves where it wants” what he is really saying from a contemporary perspective is “when I have stopped the cold cognitive thinking apparatus, the spontaneous nature of the hot system takes over and moves effortlessly with the environment.” And yet, this ability of Cook Ting’s expert butchery was something that took three years to master.


  From years of repetition and discipline, the skill of butchery was effortless, instinctual, and spontaneous. The need to think about what he is doing evaporated. All that is left is a movement of effortlessness which feels no resistance in mind, body, or environment. Cook Ting and his skill as a butcher are one because the skill is so ingrained in his hot cognition that it is as effortless and spontaneous as walking for him. His embodied mind has reached the height of skill, which is a state of intelligent spontaneity. Intelligent spontaneity is a common experience for the skillful craftsmen.



1. Chuang-tzu, The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu, (Columbia University Press, 1968), 50, 51.


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Enlightenment Today episode Flow and Wu-wei 


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Understanding Flow – Part 1 Modern Science

Understanding Flow – Part 1 Modern Science


  What is the nature of being in a flow state of consciousness? How and why do we experience flow? What truly is flow? The term flow was first coined and popularized by Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi who is a Hungarian psychologist. He wrote a fascinating book called Flow back in 1990. When we think of flow we think of an athlete, musician, writer, craftsman, or any artist when they appear to have this laser-like focus and precision which is equated with them being in the zone.


  But flow is a much more ancient concept going back to the Warring States period of China (475-221 BCE). Its original ancestor is known in Chinese as wu-wei, which is a concept at the heart of Taoism and martial arts. Many of us are familiar with the term flow but not with wu-wei. Understanding wu-wei and the Eastern mind it came from, is imperative for us to truly understand the depth of flow.


  Yet, in the modern day, our understanding of flow and how to induce it is at a novice level. The word is loosely thrown around in popular culture. We hear people proclaim that “they’re in the zone,” or more to the point “I’m in the zone” or “I’m in the flow,” which actually implies you’re not in any state of flow if you have time to speak about it. We often hear athletes state after a great performance how they felt they were in a state of flow, where all the external noise of the world was eliminated. They essentially had tunnel vision.


  To be highly effective at our chosen skill we need to enter a flow state of consciousness. But the problem for most of us is we have no idea how to enter a flow state. Many of us incorrectly believe this dimension of effortless skill and peak performance is a state of mind isolated to world-class performers. You need to eliminate this way of thinking and really absorb the information I am about to give you.


  First and foremost, cultivating skill and reaching peak performance, in other words entering a state of flow, really depends on how we understand the mind and body. This is not some new radical way of thinking. This was actually the primary focus of numerous great thinkers throughout history. It doesn’t matter whether East or West, understanding human thought and the minds function has been a central focus for as long as we can remember. We’ve always been fascinated with why cultures and traditions developed, why certain religions were born to bind community, and why someone is more skillful at a particular craft than someone else. The process of thinking and how and why we think is at the foundation of philosophy, science, religion, and art.


  For thousands of years, both in the East and West, there have been numerous systems for understanding the mind. Some have stuck and many have disappeared. But for as long as we can remember there has been a persistent myth pervading human civilization: mind-body dualism. This dualistic model of mind and body has become the standard template for which we study the mind and the body. As a result, it is common for us to feel this split within us, which is evident in our language and actions.


  This dualistic model of mind and body is the big reason we don’t understand the nature of flow. We tend to feel we are these rational minds in these completely irrational bodies. Mind-body dualism is the disembodied myth embedded in our modern thinking. This myth has led us to focus and believe firmly in an abstract rationality, where reason trumps all. So we end up believing we are these disembodied rational agents imprisoned within this meat suit we call a body.


  The disembodied myth is a philosophical hangover from Plato down to influential philosophers such as Descartes and Immanuel Kant. Philosophers such as these three propelled the dualistic model of mind and body along based on vague intuitions they had about a distinction between people who have minds and the physical world, which apparently doesn’t have a mind according to them. Their metaphysics led to a dualism between a disembodied mind and a physical world of things.


  In post-Enlightenment Europe and its colonies rational thought was portrayed as the essence of human nature. Reason became something completely disconnected from the physical world around us. Our mind, and its rationality, is thought to be superior and distinct to the body and its emotions. The disembodied myth has implanted a split within us that confuses us to no end. We have bought into the disembodied model of mind without questioning its validity.


  Science also has been handicapped by the disembodied model. Cognitive scientists in the mid-twentieth-century treated the human mind as a brain in a container. Many experiments were concerned with abstract information processing which led them nowhere. It wasn’t until the past few decades that cognitive science began to change its perspective. Cognitive science is slowly moving away from the disembodied dualistic model and instead is beginning to treat human thought as fundamentally embodied.


  Cognitive science has shown through extensive research on embodied cognition that we are not the paragons of reason we assume to be. Though, science is just catching up to this perspective. Many sages, artists, philosophers, and even athletes have questioned the overuse of rationality, as the actuality of their experience tells another story. This also might be why many artists, writers, and philosophers are usually considered as having eccentric behavior by the general public.


  Many sages from the East, on the other hand, are often suspicious of rational people because rational people often think too much about everything. An artist would say being overly rational destroys beauty and truth. Ask yourself what is rational about a lot of art? Or even for the beauty in sport for that matter? Beauty is intrinsically in the performance, it is not something you have to think about, but instead it is something you appreciate and are inspired by. And yet, though the embodied state of mind may be the normal perspective for sages, artists, philosophers, and athletes, cognitive science has developed a sophisticated model for understanding the mind-body integrated system.


  This model is known as dual process theory. It is based on two systems of cognitive function. Psychologists like to create unique terms which define them as different from the rest of the scientific community. So these two systems are known as hot cognition (or System 1) and cold cognition (or System 2).


  The hot system is the cognitive function that is automatic, spontaneous, fast, effortless, mostly unconscious, and what is the primary driver of emotions. It is located in the more unconscious regions of the brain. Hot cognition operates automatically and is fast and spontaneous, with little or no effort required. In the hot cognitive process there is no sense of voluntary control.


  Cold cognition, on the other hand, is the cognitive control centers within our brain located in the prefrontal cortex (PFC). The cold system is self-conscious, slow, deliberate, effortful, and it is the part of our mind we refer to as ourselves, the “I.” Cold cognition, then, is associated with the subjective experience of agency, choice, and concentration.


  In our growing rational world, we have overcompensated for the cold system and don’t realize that both systems have their benefits and flaws. We need to understand that even though we feel as though we are these subjective agents who have conscious control of our lives, hot cognition is mainly driving us.


  In regards to expert skill, it is ultimately the result of the hot system. The time and practice spent on a particular craft cultivates ingrained skill. From the NRL legend Johnathan Thurston’s ability to kick a winning goal in the dying moments of the game onto NFL quarterback Tom Brady’s ability to throw a touchdown pass under pressure, and also the ability of someone like Ida Haendal to play the violin, they all possess an ingrained skill that is as effortless as opening and closing their hand, well for those three individuals anyway. This is expertise.


  This is where the skill has become embodied and the cold function of thinking and analyzing has temporarily shut down. Spontaneity takes over and as spectators we can appreciate the natural beauty of their skill. Not only does hot cognition bring the spontaneity of our natural movements to life, but it also brings the peak states of skill to the forefront of humanity, making our world much more beautiful than if we had to think and analyze everything we do as something that should be rational.


  Both systems are required to function optimally to develop skill. In music, you need to learn music theory over and over again to the point that it is like reading your mother language. On top of this you need to learn how to manipulate the body to make the noise coming out of the instrument sound like a melody rather than a dying cat. For violin you need to train your body to hold certain finger positions and also learn how to hold the bow. For drums you need to learn how to hold the sticks and how to hit the drums while your feet simultaneously press down on the pedals with a beater attached to hit the bass drum, or kick drum in other words.


  As with most things, learning any musical instrument takes time. But after a while the skill becomes embodied. The musical instrument ends up being an extension of your body, like a fifth limb, because it becomes as easy and unconscious as walking. It is the constant focus and repetition exercised by a strong cold cognition that ingrains any particular skill into our hot cognition.


  A strong cold cognition can focus on a task for a good length of time. While a weak, or lazy, cold cognition is prone to answer questions with the first thing that comes to mind which leads to intuitive errors. Other characteristics of a weak cold system are impulsivity, impatience, and a desire for immediate gratification.


  A strong cold cognition, on the other hand, is essential for cultivating ingrained skill. Once we download the cold cognitive details and theory of a particular skill into our hot cognition, the skill becomes spontaneous and can be accessed without having to consciously think about it. This process is constant in cultivating skill. Psychologist Daniel Kahneman explains this cognitive phenomenon by stating that “As you become skilled in a task, its demand for energy diminishes. Studies of the brain have shown that the pattern of activity associated with an action changes as skill increases, with fewer brain regions involved.”1


  If you are seriously dedicated to a craft you will continue to develop skill. This process teaches us to disengage from our cold cognition as well, and this is really important to understand. Even though world-class performers use cold cognition to learn a certain skill, once it has become embodied cold cognition is like kryptonite to the effortlessness of the hot system. For example, a musician will perform without the sense of “them” doing it. When they start to think about what they are doing they begin to make mistakes. We, as the cold cognitive conscious self, are in our own way. When we are out of our own way, meaning our cold cognition has downregulated, we are in the zone (downregulate means decrease, diminish, or turn the volume down).


  The dizzying height of skill is to have the ability to remain in this state of being in the zone for longer periods of time. Our cold cognitive concentration gives way to a much deeper level of focus. If you are focused, and not thinking, your cold cognition will slowly downregulate and you will be in the zone, in a state of flow.


  The effortless cognitive ease we feel in a flow state is the result of the lights being on but nobody is home, meaning the slow cold thinking function that we mistaken for who we are has shutdown. As a result, the aesthetic beauty of the natural world comes alive through your skill. Understanding this modern science of flow demonstrates how human cognition is embodied.


  The methods for cultivating skill should be approached with the new embodied model of the self rather than the hangover of an old and dusty disembodied model of the self. And yet, though the embodied mind may appear new to cognitive science, it is only catching up to an embodied model of mind which is much more ancient. To sufficiently understand how to experience flow we need to understand the wisdom and science behind the development of skill first explored in the East.



1. Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow, (Penguin, 2012), 35.


Recommended Viewing

Enlightenment Today episode Flow and Wu-wei 


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History of the Monarchical View | Book Excerpt from Enlightenment Now

History of the Monarchical View | Book Excerpt from Enlightenment Now

  Tracing our history back to pre-agrarian culture, humanity was a people living in and with nature. We existed in small tribal and shamanic communities taking only the necessities of life, rather than whatever we wanted. Those archaic cultures did not have to seek equilibrium with the environment because they were already naturally harmonious. They perceived nature in all of its glory, as an extension of themselves, instead of our modern approach to nature as a separate and tyrannical lord. Material acquisitions were of no importance, as the welfare of the individual and the community were the main priorities.


  This is not to say that these cultures were above individual and collective folly, but the stark difference to our modern civilization is that their faults were generally addressed with an attempt to heal any problem through a consensus of opinion in a communal setting. An individual’s problem was the community’s problem and vice versa. The welfare of one was the welfare of all. In such a model, there is no individual above the others who decides what is good for the people. Even the rise of the shaman and holy person did not threaten this communal importance within tribal cultures. The shaman and holy person, though, is respected as the one who has done the internal work to possess the innate wisdom that heals others’ physical and psychological ailments. This is not to say that a shaman or a holy person necessarily held a position of authority over the community. On the contrary, in most cases the shaman and holy person was a hunter and gatherer just like anyone else, but differed in having a keen interest in medicine and healing, in much the same way that certain women of the community had a keen interest in arts and crafts.


  In this statement we are not suggesting that only men were shamans or holy people and that only women were interested in arts and crafts; that would be a common mistaken assumption. Within many tribal communities in ancient times the shaman and holy person, either female or male, held a place of equal importance to other members of the tribe, which is hard for us to fathom in our current era from a state of consciousness that tends to perceive reality in the mold of layers and levels of hierarchy.


  There were tribes in ancient times that did kill and shun shamans or holy people as outsiders. But in many cases tribal communities were based on the natural philosophy of mutuality as opposed to the modern view of individuality because individuality had not blossomed as it has in our current era. Tribal cultures are traditionally a partnership society based on mutuality and anyone in those ancient times who sought individual salvation from the group ran the risk of nature’s wrath. Those who were not mutually in sync with the other people of the tribe were viewed to disturb its harmony. Individuality, then, in those times was about how one benefited the group. Everybody had their place within the community by following what their natural God-given talents were. No one had to be assigned duties, as there was no one in the role of a dictator in the community assigning duties to others.


  In the Taoist philosophy of China, each and every individual has his or her own unique psychosomatic pattern that they express either physically or psychologically, which ultimately brings harmony to the world. In Chinese this unique organic pattern is known as li (理), and by following your li you naturally harmonize with the universal essence and order, Tao (道), which brings harmonic resonance into the world of form, known as ying (應) in Chinese. The ancient Taoist sages understood the natural tribal values brought down from living with nature and then into agrarian society. Invariably our li, in other words, our intrinsic human nature, is linked to art, because art in its purest form is the self-expression of one’s organic pattern. Because of this, the artistic path calls to the artist, and is not the result of personal desires and perceived pleasures.


  Pursuing your personal desires and pleasures within the apparently secure confines of your own physical and psychological comfort zones is no way to discover your organic pattern or freedom. This vain pursuit actually has more in common with a prison than anything else. That calling which naturally dawns upon our mind is the path of the hero, if we choose not to be distracted by what our egotistical mind is attracted to, because the ego is invariably associated to the hypnosis of laziness and procrastination. Mythologist and philosopher Joseph Campbell beautifully called following this calling “the Hero’s Journey.” He adeptly explained that if you discover your li and follow it—“following your bliss” in Campbell’s terminology—then you not only continually grow along the path of life, but you also change the world through your self-expression as it harmonizes with everything in reality, that is, ying. For example, artists often have the ying ability to bring people together, move them emotionally, and inspire others. Ironically, though, a lot of people strive to become an artist for fame or to appease their own intellectual pursuits and in both cases they usually fall short of the mark. On the other hand, successful artists in a lot of cases never intended to be famous and weren’t originally passionate about their craft, but from following the intuitive calling of li along the hero’s journey they continue to grow and become extremely passionate without any intention to do so at the outset.


  Establishing harmony between the individual and the community was common etiquette among many ancient natural tribal cultures. The community was an extension of the individual and so the individual is the community. The inner life of the individual becomes the culture. The microcosm and macrocosm are both one and the same. This view is shared in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) where the small picture and the big picture are the same picture, which means the world is a reflection of what is happening in the inner life of the individual. The knowledge attained from this way of life is that if you want to change the community you have to change yourself, as the community is the result of many individuals. This is still the way life is now, and it can never deviate from this course because any community, no matter how large or small, is always the outcome of the individual. But something in those ancient times compelled those small tribes to grow and merge into larger communities with ultimately larger problems. We deviated from the natural course of following our natural talents, and as a result were thrust into assigned duties. As larger communities continued to grow, the necessities for living became increasingly scarce as a result. Commonplace aspects of tribal life had to be changed or cast aside.


  The greatest change of those times was when our way of life went from living harmoniously with nature to the formation of agrarian cultures. This was the beginning of individuals giving their innate power over to a society that molded them into conforming with what it needs to function. Agrarian culture is more mechanical than humanistic, so for such a society to operate sufficiently its components—the people— need to be assigned specific duties to maintain the cultural framework.


  Pursuing one’s natural creative calling, which eventually brought harmony to the community, became a distant memory as the people suppressed such desires in favor of money attained for their labor, which supplied them the means to purchase food, clothing, and shelter. These means, which were once our natural right, became a commodity run by the society. Because of that, we as individuals lost our sense of responsibility, because the society and culture took over our responsibility in the role of a parental figure. A lack of responsibility leads to passive conformity—and not the receptiveness of humility, but instead a docile passivity more like that of a zombie than anything else. Instead of a society and culture acting in accord with the individual mind, the individual begins to take on the functions of the society and culture, resulting in the average human being living their everyday life as mere machines. We take on the machinelike operations of the society and culture in all aspects of our life. In the modern era, many people are not conscious of this machinelike behavior because it has become so ingrained into the psyche that they never question its authenticity.


  Since the beginning of agrarian cultures these machinelike habits and tendencies of the individual took over our natural self-expression. Instead of communal values based on individual artistic satisfaction, we took on an assigned and a somewhat slavery orientated division of labor and a division of function within the society to keep the social engine running like a well-oiled machine.


  In our mechanical model of a linear world, the external order begins to dictate a way of life to the individual, which is in reality artificial. A conformist society begins when we relinquish our power away to a machine that is unnatural and devoid of life. This passive conformity can be traced back to the origins of the Hindu caste system and medieval western Christian society under the feudal system.


  When a settled agrarian culture is born, such as the ancient Hindu and Christian societies, they tend to build a township not only to protect people from outside influences, but also to develop a mental framework based on rules and regulations that one should abide by. A division of labor and division of function is the result of the complexity of an agrarian culture. From this division, the ancient Hindus of the Vedic civilization developed a caste system to assign the labor and function of society. The Hindu caste is made up of the Brahmins (priesthood), Kshatriyas (nobility), Vaishya (merchants and farmers), and the Shudras (laborers). A direct reflection of this caste system is that of the medieval Christian society under the feudal system, where we have the priesthood of the church, feudal lords and royalty of nobility, farmers and merchants of the commons, and the serfs who were the slaves. This pattern is still with us today, as when we are born into this world we come out of nature and are taught to submit to a caste and rule of society and culture.


  This is the crucifixion of the individual and the sacrifice we all suffer. According to the tyranny of the machine, this crucifixion is for the “common good.” But there is a stark difference between the Hindu and Christian societies of ancient times, and that difference is that once a Hindu has fulfilled their duties for society in this life, they are allowed to break away from caste and become a sage in the forest, which is loathed by Christian society as one is thought of as useless if they do not contribute to the social order. This break away from caste is viewed as a return back to nature and could be thought of as a resurrection. A sage is not moved by the social mind and its motives and so they do not conform to its rule. Jesus was a sage in this mold, and is why he was not thought of as a particularly good member of society and he was actually put to death by such a deluded conformist society. Those who submit lose their natural innocence.


  Our submission to rule annihilates the freedom that is innately ours. In such a structure of submission, enlightenment is something one can only ponder in the hope of experiencing it in later life according to the Hindu caste system. But as we see in modern-day India, the life of a vanaprastha (Sanskrit for an individual living in the forest as a hermit after giving up material desires) is seldom taken on because its appeal has been diminished by our society and culture, which suppress individual spiritual liberation. From the inception of agrarian culture until now, the society and culture dictate life toward the individual. We develop a subtle psychosis from trying to tiptoe our whole life within the prisonlike confines of the rules and regulations that keep the machine ticking.


  This form of social and cultural suppression, as we see with the ancient Hindu caste system, evolved from groups of people attaining positions of power, such as the Brahmins (priesthood) and Kshatriyas (nobility). It would be hard for us to speculate how this all occurred. But our world now is the outgrowth of that original conception. From the beginnings of this hierarchy the average individual is made to feel subordinate to the higher classes. And so we develop this view that life is governed from above. This view is in stark contrast to how life was within pre-agrarian tribal communities, because they were part of a group consensus who all belonged to nature. The governing-from-above view of life infiltrated all aspects of society, culture, and religion. All the way from the highest ranks to the lowest, people have this idea of a governing system of control from above.


  Religions were quick to adopt this system of authority. Our spirituality coming out of the natural world was molded into a tool of indoctrinated belief to rule the population. According to Sigmund Freud, the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten, known as Amenhotep IV before the fifth year of his reign, who Freud suggests is the pioneer of a monotheistic religion that Moses was probably a follower of, spawned the concept that the universe is governed from above. As a result of this common belief, the universe took on the role as a governor and lawgiver from above. The ancient Persians had a tradition of “king of kings,” which came from Darius I (550–486 BCE). This tradition is based on a kingly God lording over the world, which is the essence of a political analogy of the universe that many kings throughout history employed to maintain control of the masses. During that time, the idea of a king of kings was a foreign way of looking at the universe, and was diametrically opposed to the thought of China, Greece, India, and the great philosophers of those civilizations of that time, most notably Lao-tzu, Pythagoras, Gautama the Buddha, and Confucius. It does not matter whether we were living in Egypt, Babylon, Chaldea, India, or anywhere else, because the king of kings tradition became a social norm that one should adhere to. As a result of this belief, we began to think of God as a king, along with the idea that “he” punishes us for our sins. The irony here is that what we perceive as sins are only judged as such according to what is not accepted for the beneficial upkeep of the society, culture, and religion.


  If God is all-loving, why would she/he/it punish its children or cause them any harm intentionally? We are again giving away our sense of responsibility here, because we expect God to punish us for our sins, rather than admitting that we are punished by our sins. This differs vastly from Eastern wisdom. In the East we discover the law of karma, which is based on the obvious phenomena of actions and their processes of cause and effect. The major difference is that according to the principle of karma there is no good or bad, as these are personal judgments that differ among individuals. But instead karma aligns with the age-old phrase “you reap what you sow.” This also corresponds to the sixth principle in Hermeticism:


Every Cause has its Effect; every Effect has its Cause;
everything happens according to Law; Chance is but a
name for Law not recognized; there are many planes
of causation, but nothing escapes the Law.1


  Law in Hermetic terminology is not to be thought of as a governing apparatus in the sense of a law giver from above. But rather it is a natural flux of the universe and consciousness that keeps reality harmonious, which is actually in alignment with the Chinese Tao and Sanskrit Brahman. Inquiring into this, we discover that the monarchical view of reality has developed far more in Western religions than those of the East. For example, in the West we think of God as a “creator” of the universe in the kingly sense, as how one would govern from above. Yet in the East there is still a relationship to nature, because in most spiritual paths of the East they view the universe as an organism that grows without any aspect of monarchy, as monarchy is a human concept. A child in Europe, for instance, may ask her mother, “How was I made?” but in China a child may ask her mother, “How did I grow?”


  The fundamental differences between the Eastern and Western views of the universe can be attributed to the Book of Genesis. According to Genesis the universe is “made” in the same way that a carpenter builds a house. The world is an artifact from the hands of an all-governing creator God. Remember how we are all taught that Jesus was the son of a carpenter, which is actually an allegory, because Jesus was also the son of God (creator or carpenter). This model of the universe is what British philosopher Alan Watts called “the ceramic model of the universe.”


  Christianity and its thousands of sects are based heavily on the principle of God as creator of the universe. This is why most Christians think of God or Jesus as a king. In The Book of Common Prayer it states:


O Lord our heavenly Father, high and mighty, King
of kings, Lord of lords, the only Ruler of princes, who
dost from thy throne behold all the dwellers upon


  The effect of kingly worship leads people to relate to the world as if they were subjects under a king. The church is based on this monarchical theory with the Pope on his throne and also in how the leader of the congregation can come across as a tyrant wielding the fear of God rather than as a holy man. A great Catholic cathedral, for instance, is known as a basilica, a Latin word that derives from the Greek basileios stoa, meaning both a “Royal Stoa” (ancient Greek architecture) and a tribunal chamber for a king. So a basilica is a house fit for a king, such as the Pope, for example. On top of this, the ritual of the Catholic Church is based on the court rituals of Byzantium.


  In direct relation to this kingly place of worship, the Protestant Church is built on the same principle as a judicial courthouse. Both Catholic and Protestant architectural structures are built on a monarchical and political view of the universe. All of this disassociates the individual from the church and ultimately from God. The monarchical view of the universe suggests that there is a difference between the maker and made, creator and created, and so on. As we have stated, this model originated from cultures whose governments were monarchical.


  This assumption of a difference between maker and made is upheld by the established authority of our time, whether that be religion, nation, government, corporate, banking or commerce. To define and promote the apparent difference between creator and created benefits such institutions because people erroneously believe the status quo, which tells them they are only an effect rather than a cause. This perception results from the concept that we are made in the same way that a carpenter builds a house with his hands, meaning anything that is created by work performed from the outside inward, as a sculptor carves wood. Again, this is vastly different from the perception of the original tribal cultures, and also the wisdom of the East, because there the universe is perceived as an organism that grows. So when we watch anything that grows in nature it manifests from the inside out, as a flower blossoms and expands from a simple humble bud.


  We do not necessarily need to debate about this natural growth fact, because this is the way things are in nature. All organisms are in accord with this natural growth pattern from the inside out. Yet the human mind has been conditioned into the opposite perspective of the monarchical view of reality since the dawn of agrarian culture. As a result, control and force have been substituted for organic growth. Even within our human body we feel the effects of this monarchical view.


Enlightenment Now by Jason Gregory © 2016 Inner Traditions. Printed with permission from the publisher Inner Traditions International. www.InnerTraditions.com



1. Three Initiates, Kybalion, 38.
2. Society of Archbishop Justus, The Book of Common Prayer,
http://justus .anglican.org/resources/bcp/Shorter/preay&thanks.htm.


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The Way of the Warrior and Path of the Sage | Book Excerpt from The Science and Practice of Humility

The Way of the Warrior and Path of the Sage | Book Excerpt from The Science and Practice of Humility

  A human has two primary states of awareness or modes of being. As we have mentioned there are those who are drawn into the daily dramas of life and those who have an elevated perspective, capable of seeing a fractal harmony within all life. These two states of awareness run parallel with the conscious state of the false ego and the true self, respectively. The ego perceives the fine details of reality. Like a microscope the ego focuses on the very tiny matters of life, then mistakenly builds its psychology around these insignificant situations. On the other hand the true self is the state of consciousness so pure that it constantly sees that life is pattern; in this state the unfolding universe can be visualized. This state of awareness is a mind of no deliberation, a mind that does not attach itself to any circumstance or thought—past, present, or future. The true self dwells within the spiritual plane and knows the soul vibrations, hence the evolution of perception. We associate this state of consciousness with a teacher of eternity or a sage, and the state of consciousness of the ego caught in the details with the masses or the profane. Both primary states of awareness are built into the universal structure. These two viewpoints have been an area of confusion throughout the ages. Yet both are necessary and together form a cosmic law.


  The teacher and student relationship is found in all levels of life, whether as parent and child, teacher and student, or— the most mysterious of all—master and disciple. In the immutable relationship between master and disciple, the disciple is still deluded by the mind, whereas the master knows the totality of our being. These two modes are represented in ancient scriptures and mystical stories as “the warrior” and “the sage.” Many examples of a sage teaching a warrior are found in the Vedantic treatises of India, most notably the Bhagavad Gita and Ribhu Gita (Song of Ribhu). The Bhagavad Gita tells the story of Arjuna the warrior and Krishna the sage, while the Ribhu Gita refers to Nidagha the warrior and Ribhu the sage. In both classics the warrior is suffering from his own mind and plight within this world. As he begins to question his mind, the guidance of the sage appears. In both scriptures the whole process is to lift the warrior’s mode of perception out of the details of life into the vision of the Divine. In the Bhagavad Gita Krishna attempts to move Arjuna’s awareness out of the daily mundane struggles of life into the vision of Brahman, which is to see the infinite in all things. Verses 31, 32, and 33 of chapter 13 of the Bhagavad Gita state:


When a sensible man ceases to see different
identities due to different material bodies and
he sees how beings are expanded everywhere,
he attains to the Brahman conception.

Those with the vision of eternity can see
that the imperishable soul is transcendental,
eternal, and beyond the modes of nature.
Despite contact with the material body,
O Arjuna, the soul neither does anything nor
is entangled.

The sky, due to its subtle nature, does not mix
with anything, although it is all-pervading.
Similarly, the soul situated in Brahman vision
does not mix with the body, though situated in
that body.


  This is only one of many ways to interpret these scriptures, but this way of understanding the relationship between the warrior and sage is imperative to the practice of the science of humility. These two modes of being correspond to the flow of chaos (warrior) and order (sage) within consciousness. One of the biggest problems to plague this planet throughout time has been the fostering of the warrior’s consciousness and the continual suppression of the sage’s consciousness. It comes back to the individual, so there is no one to blame for this other than ourselves. Our obstinate refusal to look within ourselves to find the true problems in our world has allowed us to further justify our own habitual ways that are slowly killing the human species. For us to ward off this fate, we need to understand where our awareness is rooted. To do this we need to explore the characteristics of a warrior and a sage.



  The warrior is an ephemeral state of awareness that gets swept up in trying to change the world. To achieve this implied change, warriors attempt to impose their will on others. In the belief they are striving for world peace, they cause more trauma. The warrior does not know that fighting for a solution only increases a problem. Why do we fight? Here “fight,” means to have conflict or oppose some situation either within or without.


  One of the major dilemmas of the human psyche is having the notion that something is either good or bad. When an individual judges if something is good or bad, it comes back to the false psychological state known as the ego: humans judge if something is good or bad according to their own conditioning from birth. Not being conscious of this, warriors seek to change the world according to their likes and dislikes. So a warrior does not truly want to bring peace to the world because he is in fact conspiring against it. The majority of beings on Earth have a warrior’s consciousness, which is evident in the chaos of the physical and mental worlds. Those who believe that what is right for them is the way for everybody else are not truly concerned about another being’s authentic way of life.


  A warrior harbors an artificial internal conspiracy, that of believing that we are our thoughts and our accumulated conditioning. Buying into the grand delusion of conditioning fragments reality into chaos and separation. The warrior knows the chattering within the mind but is ignorant of the one who hears the thoughts. As warriors are only conscious of the physical and mental planes, they ignorantly perpetuate their beliefs of separation. These beliefs usually fall into the categories of political, religious, social, and so on.


  If you are taking upon yourself the responsibility to change the world, on whose authority are you doing this? Is this through your dharma, which inspires others, or a belief system that you want to uphold? Warriors who try to push their personal agenda upon others through any means necessary get caught up in hatred and violence toward those who oppose that agenda. The question we need to ask is whether the world needs to change and according to whose plans?


  As the warrior is projecting all of her inner falsified qualities on to the world, surely the salvation that needs to take place is within the individual. Those who are stuck in the awareness of a warrior, and are drawn into worldly affairs with an illusion of changing the status quo to their liking, will only contribute to decay on all levels of life, leading to the annihilation of the race. Real evolution has nothing to do with changing finite matters; it is only found by stepping out of worldly affairs with a determination to change the individual who sees the world.


  The great work of eternity is about refining the consciousness to a single point. This refined consciousness allows the individual to bring the eternal virtue of the science of humility into the manifest world. The single-pointed consciousness we are speaking of is not snagged by any thought, emotion, or external circumstance, because the awareness is rooted in the universal perspective. The one who knows the science of humility knows that to try to control any aspect of the universe is futile.


  A sage is someone who is sincere in the search for the eternal within. Those with the evolved consciousness of a sage do not put off enlightenment for their next life as they know truth is only here and now. Nothing distracts their focus on how to truly see themselves and the totality of the cosmos. This is a major difference between a warrior and a sage: a warrior remains distracted by external events while a sage sees distractions as mental projections of the ego, and turns inward to see the true source of the problem. By turning within the sage realizes that the result of perceiving the world through the eyes of individual conditioning is that all judgments and desires are not based in the foundation of one’s being. A sage then seeks to eradicate latent tendencies and habitual ways of thinking from his consciousness. For warriors this is a scary undertaking, because the majority of beings on this planet will do anything to distract themselves from facing their own psyche. Sages do not see this as scary but as imperative to evolution and salvation. As they begin to move away from all of the external noise, more space begins to enter their being, which gives them the crystal clear clarity of how to see through the universal eye.



  The subjective consciousness of the warrior is caught in the details while the objective consciousness of the sage sees correctly. In all esoteric work the whole purpose of any system is to take us from a subjective worldview to an objective reality. The more we refine our consciousness, the more we begin to access this objective reality.


  Upon self-reflection the sage sees that what he wanted for the world and himself was attuned to his egocentric conditioning. So the process of ridding himself of his own inner conspiracy doesn’t end until the very last remnant of illusion is combed out. This process is what moves the sage from being concerned with worldly affairs. A sage knows fundamentally that to truly change the world, we need to change where the world comes from. And where it comes from is the individual’s perception of it. This is a bitter pill to swallow for some, because this means that force actually never truly changes anything. At best it may provide a momentary Band-Aid for a situation.


  Force and humility are the two virtues that distinguish a warrior from a sage. Warriors see external events and seek to change them to suit their conditioning, yet this is a process of forcing their own version of reality upon others. In most cases this appears as a revolution. It doesn’t matter whether it is the overthrowing of a particular political party, religious group, or social system; they are all only temporary solutions from the same ground of the ego. Warriors do not see that they have their own agenda to perpetuate. What is most astonishing is that the inner and outer actions of the warrior actually imply that the universal design of creation is faulty and that God made a mistake. A warrior would not question the structure of his own abode, so how could he ignorantly question the structural design of consciousness? The illusion of separation continues to distort the universe through this ignorant mode of awareness until the vanity of the warrior is exposed through a fight that cannot and will not be won.


  The sage, on the other hand, knows that no matter how hard we try, we will never defeat the universe and its unfoldment. The sage knows that life is pattern and each fragment of the universe is connected to every other part; nothing can escape this cosmic web. The sage sees no reason to fight because she is attuned to the universal harmony from her elevation of consciousness. Sages know it is absurd to question the design of the universe, so instead seek to find how they are part of the universe. Through their inner exploration, sages discover that the universe is in constant change and that this universal process is unfolding within them as well. So the grand choice becomes apparently clear: we can either fight the universal stream, or we can swim with it. We can force ourselves upon the universe, or become humble students of it.


  The gulf of understanding between a warrior and a sage has been with humanity since ancient times. The teacher of eternity known as Chuang-tzu once described an imaginary dialogue between two of the great masters of antiquity, Confucius and Lao-tzu. It is believed that Confucius was a disciple of Lao-tzu. In this dialogue you will see a conversation between a warrior and a sage beautifully depicted.


“Tell me,” said Lao-tzu, “in what consist charity and duty to
one’s neighbour?”
“They consist,” answered Confucius, “in a capacity for rejoicing in all things; in universal love, without the element of self. These are the characteristics of charity and duty to one’s neighbour.”
“What stuff!” cried Lao-tzu. “Does not universal love contradict itself? Is not your elimination of self a positive manifestation of self? Sir, if you would cause the empire not to lose its source of nourishment—there is the universe, its regularity is unceasing; there are the sun and moon, their brightness is unceasing; there are the stars, their groupings never change; there are the birds and beasts, they flock together without varying; there are the trees and shrubs, they grow upward without exception. Be like these: follow Tao, and you will be perfect. Why then these vain struggles after charity and duty to one’s neighbour, as though beating a drum in search of a fugitive. Alas! Sir, you have brought much confusion into the mind of man.”2


  The unfoldment of the universe is always teaching us that no matter how hard we try, things are just as they are supposed to be. On another level they are paradoxically viewed as problems to be overcome. These two ways of perception are built into the fabric of the universe, with both a warrior and a sage playing their role in the grand unfoldment of the cosmos. While warriors see separate parts and seek to change them, the sage sees the totality of the universe. The sage does not fight anything either within or without, because distinctions do not exist for a sage. The sage begins to act and move as the universe does, and the evolution of perception brings the realization that the focus of attention that the warrior possesses is only a part of the universal makeup.


  The sage’s revelation is the understanding that even if warriors aspire to go beyond the mind and reach enlightenment, they will always fall short. Even though the goal is higher, trying to reach it by fighting will not be successful. Ultimately the sage reveals the wisdom of the universe: that no matter how hard you try, you cannot hold on to yourself. This is what is referred to by terms such as samadhi, satori, and enlightenment. As a reflection of the universe a sage will change with it. The process of the universe is not something that takes gigantic leaps; it moves in very small stages. So the movement of perception from that of a warrior to that of a sage is a constant flow of conscious energy. Like a mountain stream the universal stream moves in a fluid motion without being attached to what is perceived as external reality; in not being caught anywhere, it moves toward the larger body of water.


The Science and Practice of Humility by Jason Gregory © 2014 Inner Traditions. Printed with permission from the publisher Inner Traditions International. www.InnerTraditions.com



1. Prabhupada, Bhagavad Gita As It Is, 561–63.
2. Watts, The Way of Zen, 26.


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The Skill of Martial Arts is Yin Over Yang | Book Excerpt from Effortless Living

The Skill of Martial Arts is Yin Over Yang | Book Excerpt from Effortless Living


  The science and practice of martial arts are based to some degree on the science of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). This is evident in the fact that TCM focuses on how our body is a miniature inner universe. When we know and understand this inner universe, we begin to know the greater, outer universe and see how both function the same. Martial arts make use of this idea through movement methods that are supposed to open up the meridian channels of the body. This allows qi to flow freely, so that the mind and body are in harmony with the effortlessness of the heavens. This experiential knowledge attained by martial artists is supposed to transfer over into daily life, as it did with Thor Heyerdahl. Trust, then, is at the heart of martial arts, as they are based on the fundamental Taoist philosophy of wu-wei. The problem with martial arts is, as I have mentioned, that they have been infected with the cultural tendency toward doing, which becomes an intellectual game of striving for a so-called goal. Our whole world is invested in the energy of yang at the expense of yin.


  Our modern habits of doing, control, and force are deeply entrenched in both spiritually oriented and combat-oriented martial arts. And yet the core of both methods is the same, as martial arts are about transforming your character to reveal your true nature. This is the spiritual heart of martial arts, but it has been misinterpreted by Westerners and also by numerous people in the East. Many people think that the spiritual transformation in martial arts is about attaining powers or experiencing some altered state of consciousness similar to a psychedelic experience. This way of thinking is the “amateur spirituality” to which Chuang-tzu alluded. Amateur spirituality is the attraction to peacock consciousness, meaning that people still have the yang habit of showing off or telling other people about how peaceful and lucid their state of mind is. The irony of peacock consciousness is you find these people always talking about themselves, to the point where the listener feels ill and exhausted. This is especially true for those people trying to attain supernatural powers, called siddhis in Sanskrit.


  Such proclamations prove that no real transformation has occurred. All that has occurred is that one has become a well-trained show pony. This show-pony attitude is yang-oriented and has nothing to do with the basis of martial arts. As a result martial arts in the modern world are based on the perpetual activity of yang and failing to embrace the nondoing of yin. We discover this yang-over-yin temperament in the sport of mixed martial arts (MMA), which is best-known through the organization of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). The athletes of MMA are well-trained; many of them function at a rate of peak performance, which can be quite a spectacle to watch. But the problem is that many mixed martial artists and spectators believe martial arts are about talking trash and beating the hell out of the opponent. Though this may be entertaining for the spectator, we should not delude ourselves into thinking this has anything to do with martial arts. Rather it is just martial arts on steroids, polluted with the idea of yang over yin, doing over non-doing.


  This attitude inclines one toward competition because of its innate characteristics of force and control. If mixed martial artists, or any combat sport athletes, for that matter, were serious about martial arts, they would need to understand and embrace the essential tenet of cooperation. Cooperation in martial arts is evident in the internal practice of pushing hands, known as tui shou in Chinese. In the practice of pushing hands, each person is feeling and moving according to the energy of the opposing person. Pushing hands works to undo our natural instinct to resist force with force by teaching the body to yield to force and redirect it. Force does not exist in this practice, because in feeling and moving according to the energy of the other person, we are accessing our receptive yin nature. Yin evokes the art of cooperation. Although it may appear that pushing hands is a form of competition, it instead is a dance, as you essentially need two to tango. Even so, pushing hands, like many other aspects of martial arts, has succumbed to the tendency toward the yang characteristics of competition and peacock consciousness.


  In both spiritually oriented and combat-oriented martial arts and MMA, the yin art of cooperation is at the core of all forms of cultivation. For example, if a mixed martial artist is trained properly, he or she will know that there is no opponent other than himself or herself. You are essentially testing yourself against your so-called opponent. The only opponent is yourself, and your perceived opponent is a mirror of where you are in your training. The mirror of the opponent reflects back to you your spiritual development as well as aspects of your character that have not been transformed or cleansed out of your psyche. So no matter what form of martial arts we are talking about—including MMA—the essential heart of the art is to blunt your sharpness.


  Blunting the sharpness is a phrase used by Lao-tzu in the Tao Te Ching to describe the softening of one’s rigid personality. In martial arts, it is about evoking the yin qualities of humility, compassion, forgiveness, respect, and honor. For thousands of years, martial arts have been mistakenly seen as practices to cultivate the yang, masculine characteristics of power, force, and control. This incorrect perspective has only increased our tendencies toward competition and trying to stand out in the crowd. Martial arts are not based on yang over yin but on yin over yang. They are a practice that mimics life, as the majority of the time we are in the yin of nondoing. When those brief moments of time come for us to act, we are precise and our timing is impeccable.


  The nature of our psychosomatic organism is to reside in yin and only activate yang when needed. This is actually the fundamental function of our psyche. Our attempts to reverse this order are causing psychological problems and mental-health issues that contribute to a world gone insane. The natural function of residing in the feminine yin while moderately accessing the masculine yang was explained by Lao-tzu in the Tao Te Ching thousands of years ago:


Know the male,
yet keep to the female:
receive the world in your arms.
If you receive the world,
the Tao will never leave you
and you will be like a little child.1


  In the humility of yin we do not seek to be special or to attain superpowers. We go about our life quietly and do not make a noise about the mystery of Tao that we experience within our consciousness, because it is in itself indescribable. This is the elite spirituality of Chuang-tzu. This means we know experientially, but it is not intellectually explainable. The experience of Tao/Brahman/Godhead within is beyond knowing logically or finding a conclusion, because it is nonlinear and eternal. Only in the finite realm of existence can we come to logical conclusions and dissect with our intellect. The principal method of the practice of koans in Zen Buddhism is to overcome the intellect, and this is the prevailing philosophy of the East. In the Tao Te Ching Lao-tzu states:


The tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name.

The unnamable is the eternally real.
Naming is the origin
of all particular things.2


  This wisdom is also found in India in the ancient text of the Kena Upanishad from the Vedic era of India:


Brahman is unknown to those who know It, and
is known to those who do not know It at all.3


  The meaning of this verse is that those who say they know Brahman still have a concept or object of knowledge in their mind. Since Brahman transcends the mind and our thinking, no concept can capture it, and so we cannot say we really know it. The academics and intellectuals who believe they can explain the universe and its mystery by somehow coming to logical conclusions are deluded. They have lost their intrinsic sense of awe and cannot witness beauty without analyzing it.


  Many people in the world are in the yang habit of using their intellect as a scalpel to dissect life into pieces so as to analyze the details. Many of us who underwent a formal education had the chance in science class to dissect an animal, usually a frog or toad. When we dissect a frog, it becomes a mess. When our dissection is finished, though we can describe the frog’s internal organs, we have lost sight of its beauty. In dissecting the frog, we pulled it apart into discrete pieces, destroying its inclusive totality. When we dissect life, we destroy it. This is occurring right now, as our world is embracing yang over yin, which is against nature’s way.


  Effortless Living by Jason Gregory © 2018 Inner Traditions. Printed with permission from the publisher Inner Traditions International. www.InnerTraditions.com



1. Lao-tzu, Tao Te Ching, chapter 28.
2. Lao-tzu, Tao Te Ching, chapter 1.
3.Quoted in Columbus and Rice, Alan Watts, 52–53.


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Harmony of Nonconformity | Book Excerpt from Effortless Living

Harmony of Nonconformity | Book Excerpt from Effortless Living

  In a linear world, the external order dictates an artificial way of life to the individual, creating a conformist society and forcing us to relinquish our power to a machine that is unnatural and devoid of life. This passive conformity can be traced back to the origins of the Vedic Hindu caste system and the feudal system under medieval Western Christianity. When a settled agrarian culture such as these is born, it tends to build towns, not only to protect people from outside influences, but also to develop a mental framework based on rules and regulations.


  The complexity of agrarian culture leads to a division of labor and a division of function. From this division, the ancient Hindus (the Vedic civilization of Dravidians and Aryans) developed a caste system. The Hindu caste system is made up of the Brahmins (priesthood), Kshatriyas (nobility), Vaishyas (merchants and farmers), and the Shudras (laborers). A direct parallel to the Hindu caste system can be found in medieval Christian society, where we see the priesthood and the church, feudal lords and nobility, farmers and merchants of the commons, and the serfs.


  Although we no longer have a caste system, this underlying pattern is still with us today. When we are born into this world, we come out of our mother’s womb (nature) and are taught to submit to the rules of society and culture according to our socioeconomic status. This is the crucifixion of the individual; it is the sacrifice we all make. According to the tyranny of the machine, this crucifixion is for the “common good” or “greater good.” But there is a stark difference between the Hindu and Christian societies of ancient times.


  First of all, the function of the Vedic caste system was an act of surrender to Brahman (ultimate reality/godhead). Individuals would crucify their egos and their desires in favor of the lives they had been given by nature. This means they would not seek another path or to try and control their lives according to their interests. Instead they would abide by the order of society, which helped them diminish their egos so that they could feel the presence of Brahman within themselves. This is dharma as social duty.


The second difference is that, once Hindus have fulfilled their social duties in this life, they are allowed to break away from caste and become renunciate sages in the forest, a practice and title known as vanaprastha in Sanskrit. (This possibility is loathed by Christian society, because one is thought of as useless if one does not contribute to the social order.) This breakaway from caste is viewed as a return back to nature and could be thought of as a resurrection. A sage is not part of society and does not conform to its rule. Jesus was a sage in this mold. This is why he was not thought of as a particularly good member of society and he was actually put to death (if we take the story of Jesus to be real). Those who submit invariably lose their natural innocence.


Conformity is the result of force. When individuals are forced by society and culture into life situations that are against their will, they give away their natural sovereignty in exchange for comfort and servitude and are psychologically reduced to sheep. We have developed this sheeplike behavior as a result of the belief that the morals and ethics forced upon us by society are avenues to success and freedom. But this notion is absurd inasmuch as the success and freedom of our world are unnatural. These goals are gauged only by finances. But obviously this is not true success or freedom, as money is empty and void of meaning, and it provides no happiness other than that of acquisition. Happiness cannot be contained in anything that we need to force to happen.


  As human life is forced into a sheeplike way of being, happiness is reduced to momentary stimulants of excitement. In such a life we can never express our natural divinity, li, because we are following the model of someone else’s idea of life. Yet conforming to anything other than one’s own innate world destroys us physically, mentally, and spiritually, as te, the virtue of Tao, cannot come through the organic pattern of the individual, li. Anxiety, depression, and stress are so prevalent in this day and age partly because we are forced to live such lives. Wars and social unrest then reflect the individual’s anxiety.


  Liberated individuals are in alignment with their own nature and with the Tao. They do not benefit the accepted social order and are regarded as useless in the eyes of institutional and organizational power. Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu were treated this way, because they could see the unnaturalness of an artificial society. The Buddha and Jesus of Nazareth were two other such sages who could see through the hypnotic veil. A liberated sage understands that anyone who continues to act out the unnatural patterns of conditioning is contributing to chaos and destruction, either consciously or unconsciously. One who is liberated, on the other hand, begins the yoking process until a crystal-clear perception of the Tao in reality can be experienced. In Richard Wilhelm’s translation of the I Ching, he states:


Not every man has an obligation to mingle in the affairs of the world. There are some who are developed to such a degree that they are justified in letting the world go its own way and in refusing to enter public life with a view of reforming it. But this does not imply a right to remain idle or to sit back and merely criticize. Such withdrawal is justified only when we strive to realize in ourselves the higher aims of mankind. For although the sage remains distant from the turmoil of daily life, he creates incomparable human values for the future.1


  Evidence for these “incomparable human values” can be found in the legacy that a sage leaves behind. Lao-tzu is a good example. It has been over 2,500 years since he lived, and yet his wisdom still reverberates within our consciousness today. This is the power of te.


  The virtue of te is only available to those who do not seek power, control, or force. Governments, politics, banking, religions, and commerce, on the other hand, are constantly striving for control by forcing the population to their will. This poses a significant hurdle for humanity to overcome. What would it take to bring the individual and the collective back into harmony with the Tao?


Effortless Living by Jason Gregory © 2018 Inner Traditions. Printed with permission from the publisher Inner Traditions International. www.InnerTraditions.com



1. Wilhelm, The I Ching or Book of Changes, 78.


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The Evolution of Human Cognition | Book Excerpt from Fasting the Mind

The Evolution of Human Cognition | Book Excerpt from Fasting the Mind

  As the human species began to move to different locations on the planet, our minds naturally adapted to the environments and circumstances that we confronted. This is highly significant in regard to which parts of the brain were in function and the worldview that was shaped accordingly. This is evident when we explore Asiatic and Western cultures from before the Common Era. When we go back to the first two millennia BCE some of the biggest civilizations were the Greek and Chinese cultures. Due to environmental factors, both civilizations developed cognitively different.


  When we explore the evolution of ancient Greece we discover mainly small groups of people spread out along a vast area of the Mediterranean coastline. Living in smaller communities meant that the sustenance for survival was oriented toward more individualistic activities. Hunting, herding, and fishing were the main sources of food and labor that the Greeks were engaged in, and they are very individualistic activities. Contrary to the Greeks, the ancient Chinese civilization evolved around the Yellow River valley of northern China. The ancient Chinese lived in larger communities due to the need for establishing large irrigation systems for rice cultivation. Rice cultivation requires a lot of people and is a collective activity, as we still see today in Asia.


  The environmental factors that both cultures encountered determined which part of the brain developed further. In ancient Greece life was oriented more toward individualism as a result of the environment. This individualistic perspective exercises more of the cold cognitive controls in the prefrontal cortex (cold cognition (known also as System 2) is the self-conscious, slow, deliberate, and effortful part of our mind, which we refer to as our self, the “I,” found in the prefrontal cortex (PFC), which is the cerebral cortex that covers the frontal lobe of the brain). As a result people began to be increasingly analytical, not because the people were naturally like that, but because that was what was required to sustain life due to the environment. This tendency toward the function of the cold cognitive controls was the seed of the Western psychological trait of analysis. The Western analytical perspective has become the primary cognitive response to life around the world. Beginning in the West, as a result of analytical thinking, everything is dissected, unpacked, and pulled apart in the hope of always coming to a logical conclusion. Yet we are blind to the fact that our logical conclusions are based on our conditioning, which is subjective and not objective.


  This analytical view has influenced the modern world tremendously, starting in ancient Greece. The Western view of the universe, God, society, and culture is almost always analytical. The analytical view gave birth to linear thinking, which corrupted Western institutions. For example, Western religions take on a very linear and authoritarian view of God as an egotistical ruler, which results in a political view of the universe, rather than a more natural view. The idea that God created this world and we are subject to him as a king comes from the analytical view of how individuals apply themselves to life. This means we think of a universe that is created, in the same sense of how we build a home: from the outside as an external agent. Western religions think of God in this way, and it has influenced most Western religions deeply. For example, Jesus was the son of a carpenter and also the son of God, and both are seen as builders.


  The cold analytic view is attracted to what stands out rather than the relationships of the background to the foreground. Western thought tends to dissect and categorize anything—God, for example—making it the pinnacle of thought, without realizing that if you highlight one object you exclude the rest, which ultimately implies duality rather than the oneness of God. Because of analytical thinking those in the West divide the world into opposites that are separate and isolated. God and humanity are opposites, likewise black and white, female and male, and so on. This way of thinking is completely opposite to that of the East and many indigenous cultures.


  There is psychological evidence to prove this difference. Research shows that when Westerners and Easterners are shown the same images they each describe different features and focus on different aspects. For example, one of the better-known research tools is a picture that shows a large object in the foreground and a background composed of smaller objects. One such image shows a big fish in the front while the background is composed of much smaller fish and coral (see figure 1).


Figure 5.1

Figure 1. The differences between foreground and background.

By Dao Stew.


  Looking at this image in the research laboratory, a group of Westerners and Easterners were asked what they see. The majority of the Westerners described the big fish in the foreground, showing little or no awareness of the background. The majority of the Easterners, on the other hand, described the background and its relation to the foreground. This same test has been done many times with similar results. The conclusion of such research illustrates that Westerners are cognitively conditioned to perceive things that stand out due to analytical thinking, which results in a tendency to divide life into categories and objects. The Easterners, on the other hand, are cognitively oriented toward perceiving the world holistically, likely resulting from the collective tendency to perceive life through context and relationships. Both of these different perceptions of life gave birth to the social, cultural, and spiritual philosophies that Easterners and Westerners tend to unconsciously uphold. As Richard E. Nisbett states:


So long as economic forces operate to maintain different social structures, different social practices and child training will result in people focusing on different things in the environment. Focusing on different things will produce different understandings about the nature of the world. Different worldviews will in turn reinforce differential attention and social practices. The different worldviews will also prompt differences in perception and reasoning processes—which will tend to reinforce worldviews.


  Focusing on relationships and context is a hallmark of Eastern thought. This Eastern view naturally came about because of the environmental factors, which were mainly community driven in the East. For example, in ancient China what was good for me on a personal level was not necessarily good for the community. And because the main source of food was rice, it was not beneficial for everyone to pursue personal interests. Social harmony was imperative in those times, over and above egocentric desires. As a result the cold cognitive functions were not overly employed because the naturalness of the hot system took over the individual, and so the community could work in unison (hot cognition (known also as System 1) is the function of our mind and body that is automatic, spontaneous, fast, effortless, mostly unconscious, and thought to be emotionally driven. The hot system is found in the more primal part of the brain, which developed earlier in human evolution and which we associate with the unconscious).


  Over time this hot cognitive approach to life led to the holistic perception of the world. The holistic view comes from always considering what is best for the greater whole at the expense of your own interests. The holistic view is a state of consciousness that is always mindful of the big picture, while the analytical view keeps us blind to the big picture because it is lost in the detail of one’s own mind and circumstances that are driven by our personal agenda.


  The philosophies and spiritual traditions that result from the more holistic Eastern perception of life, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism, tend to reflect the view of the totality and how important it is to act in accord with the greater perspective, be that Brahman/Tao, society, or what have you. The wisdom traditions are then based on mutuality and a sense of mystery rather than thinking we know everything. One idea prevalent in the Eastern wisdom traditions is that opposites are mutual, and in their deepest essence one and the same. For example, God dwells in humanity. Also, there is no beginning of night and day, as they are one process. The Chinese concepts of yin (feminine, receptive, earth, cooling energy) and yang (masculine, active, heaven, hot energy) are only apparent opposites when we compensate for one over the other, but when they are in balance we discover their intrinsic unity. Even when we start out in the womb we are all the same. We can’t see this obvious reality when we are overly dependent on the analytical cold cognition. To overuse the cold analytical cognition will exhaust you physiologically, causing the hot system to take over to compensate, taking the “I,” the sense of self, out of the equation. As we become exhausted, we loosen our grip on the daily dramas of life and lose our apparent control so that the unconscious wisdom of the universe can take over. In losing control you gain the kind of control you were always after, which is divinely powerful. This is the wisdom of the East.


  That power arises from the unconscious regions of the brain, which are the regions of the brain that were primarily in use in ancient China that results from the collectivist environmental factors. Not many sages, philosophers, and deep thinkers, except for political leaders and royalty, were self-interested in the ancient East because that led to selfishness and the illusion of a personal identity. In both ancient times and today the problems and suffering in the world come from the same place: the wrong perception of an “I” separate from the universe. The idea of the person that you think you are eclipses your understanding that you are one with the universe as the universe. Our mind is plagued with contents that we identify with, without sensing the pure awareness deep within that we truly are.


  When we think of “I” we are only thinking of the cold cognition, the troubleshooter that scans the environment for obstacles based on our conditioning, what Chuang-tzu would call the human flaw of qing (qing means “species-specific essence,” and in relation to humans it means the “ability to discern between this and that,” which Chuang-tzu believes is a fundamental flaw). Since our fundamental problem in ancient times is the same as today, both ancient and modern sciences can be combined in understanding the framework to eventually downregulate the sense of “I.”


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The Ancient Eastern Science of the Nervous System | Book Excerpt from Fasting the Mind

The Ancient Eastern Science of the Nervous System | Book Excerpt from Fasting the Mind

  The spiritual path of Buddhism came into existence as a result of this yearning to completely slow down our nervous system so we can experience real freedom. In Sanskrit such freedom is called nirvana, meaning extinction, freedom from suffering, and ultimately the unconditioned eternal reality that we experience as enlightenment. In the story of Gautama the Buddha, he sought methods of practice and philosophy that would evoke the state of nirvana. He followed asceticism and strict spiritual practices for six years. It wasn’t until he was exhausted in his efforts that he finally took some milky soup from a young girl herding cattle and sat under the famous Bodhi tree in the small town of Bodh Gaya, India. In doing so, he completely relaxed without the need for striving. His original efforts had been futile because he was approaching enlightenment in the same way that we purchase a cheap suit. In striving for anything, there is still agitation in the mind, and this perception of life comes from the ignorant view of how we supposedly achieve things in this world.


  Whether knowingly or unknowingly, Gautama the Buddha accessed a part of our nervous system that remains dormant when we are always in physical and mental motion. This part of our nervous system is known as the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS).


  To gain a better understanding of this we need to know what makes up the nervous system. The nervous system is the part of an animal’s body that coordinates its voluntary and involuntary actions and also transmits signals to and from different parts of its body. In vertebrate species, such as human beings, the nervous system contains two parts, the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system (PNS). The central nervous system contains the brain and spinal cord, while the peripheral nervous system consists of mainly nerves, which are enclosed bundles of long fibers, and axons, which are long, slender projections of nerve cells that conduct electrical impulses away from the neuron’s cell body. These nerves and axons connect the central nervous system to every other part of the body. The peripheral nervous system is divided into the somatic nervous system (SoNS) and the autonomic nervous system (ANS).


  The autonomic nervous system is our central focus when related to psychological or spiritual inner work and transformation. The autonomic nervous system is a control system that largely acts unconsciously and regulates our bodily functions such as heart rate, respiratory rate, digestion, pupillary response, urination, and sexual arousal. The autonomic nervous system has two branches: the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS). The sympathetic nervous system is sometimes considered the “fight or flight” system because it is activated in cases of emergencies to mobilize energy. It is what we activate when we are in motion and being stimulated through our senses. Without it we could not do anything. The parasympathetic nervous system, on the other hand, is often considered the “rest and digest” or “feed and breed” system because it is activated when we are in a relaxed state. We activate the parasympathetic nervous system when we essentially do nothing. It is also responsible for stimulation of “rest and digest” and “feed and breed” activities that occur when the body is at rest, especially after eating, including sexual arousal, lacrimation (tears), salivation, urination, digestion, and defecation. The parasympathetic nervous system is what makes us drift off to sleep every night. It is stimulated most when we relax deeply.


  The war on our nervous system is essentially the overstimulation of our sympathetic nervous system along with an understimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system. When we stimulate only the sympathetic nervous system without activating the parasympathetic nervous system, we increase the probability of chemical imbalances in our brain from not having a healthy balanced lifestyle. Because of this, the vast majority of us are teetering on the edge of psychological suicide.


  People may say in response to this statement that they have time to relax every day. But are our methods for relaxation really relaxing? Our perception of relaxing is sitting in front of the television or computer, playing with our phones, chatting with friends, and so on. This is not true relaxation. Actually, when we engage in such activities we are still stimulating the sympathetic nervous system and not the parasympathetic nervous system. Accessing the parasympathetic nervous system requires a complete shutdown and withdrawal of the senses and mental activity, known as pratyahara in Sanskrit. This shutdown is important to Hinduism, Taoism, and especially Buddhism with its methods of practicing meditation.


  No matter whether it is Theravada, Mahayana, Vajrayana, or Zen, the various strands of the Buddha’s teachings have at their core the necessity of starving or fasting the mind. This is done to allow the parasympathetic nervous system to play its role within our psychosomatic organism. One of the more effective methods that the Buddha supposedly taught was vipassanaVipassana is a Pali word (vipasyana in Sanskrit) used in the Buddhist tradition that means “insight into the true nature of reality.” The meditation practice of vipassana is an ancient method that is believed to have come from Gautama the Buddha himself and which survived through other Buddhas throughout history. Vipassana meditation is thought of not only as a meditation practice in all life but also a disciplined technique that is supposed to evoke vipassana in all life. This technique was reintroduced by Burmese Theravada Buddhist teachers Ledi Sayadaw and Mogok Sayadaw. It was then popularized by Mahasi Sayadaw (a Burmese Theravada Buddhist monk and meditation master), Saya Gi U Ba Khin (the Burmese vipassana meditation teacher and an influential leader of the vipassana movement), and his student, Satya Narayan Goenka (better known as S. N. Goenka), who is well known for spreading the vipassana movement worldwide with more than a hundred centers located in various countries around the world.


  The vipassana meditation technique is like shock therapy for your nervous system, consisting of a ten-day course in seclusion away from worldly distractions, where you meditate for hours each day, eat small portions of vegetarian food, and sleep, with no talking at all for the whole duration. The effect this has on us is immense. During the ten days people are finally giving themselves the chance to allow the parasympathetic nervous system to function without the interference of the sympathetic nervous system habitually seeking stimulation. The result is that a lot of the subconscious content lying dormant within our nervous system—content that drives our unconscious reactions and responses to the world—rises to the surface of our conscious mind, giving us the opportunity to finally reveal and heal our deep-seated conditioning.


  Vipassana meditation practitioner William Hart explains how we can use “right awareness” and the awareness of respiration (anapanasati in Pali and anapanasmrti in Sanskrit) to bring us back into the ultimate reality of the here and now. He shows how, through the awareness of respiration we can start observing the normally unconscious autonomic functioning of the psychosomatic organism. In Hart’s book The Art of Living: Vipassana Meditation he states:


Focusing on breathing can help us explore whatever is unknown about ourselves, to bring into consciousness whatever has been unconscious. It acts as a bridge between the conscious and unconscious mind, because the breath functions both consciously and unconsciously. We can decide to breathe in a particular way, to control the respiration. We can even stop breathing for a time. And yet when we cease trying to control respiration, it continues without any prompting.


For example, we may begin by breathing intentionally, slightly hard, in order to fix the attention more easily. As soon as the awareness of respiration becomes clear and steady, we allow the breath to proceed naturally, either hard or soft, deep or shallow, long or short, fast or slow. We make no effort to regulate the breath; the effort is only to be aware of it.


  Observing our conscious, intentional breath leads us to awareness of the normally unconscious, autonomic function of our natural breath. This meditation on the breath guides us beyond superficial reality toward an awareness of a subtle reality, while the illusion of past and future eclipses this awareness of a subtle reality. Human suffering stems from the looming anxiety of the future and the stress from our past experiences. This temperament has us obsessing about ourselves in an unconscious “me, me, me”–centered attitude. As a result our mind is often lost in the fantasies and illusions of the past and future, where we hold on to pleasant experiences while trying to erase unpleasant experiences of the past, without realizing that both will stay dormant within the subconscious if they are not brought to the surface of consciousness.


  When we are mindlessly out of sync with the here and now we are unaware of the cravings and aversions that our subconscious continues to fuel and that drive our unconscious reactions toward the world. Anapanasati is an advanced method that will deliver us from this dilemma of suffering and the perpetual subconscious obsession we have about ourselves. The awareness of respiration, especially if practiced earnestly throughout our life, will allow us to be ever present in the here and now effortlessly, without the need for trying. But this might not be the case in the beginning because we have become accustomed to distraction over the course of our lives. Some effort, then, is necessary at the start of disciplining our attention to be focused in the present moment.


  Vipassana is a flawless method for digging into the unconscious material within our mind to give us a glimpse of our true nature. The only problem with this method of fasting the mind is what to do with it when we come out of seclusion and return to the world. American mythologist Joseph Campbell called this “bringing back the boon,” referring to anybody who chooses to break away from fear to embark on the “hero’s journey” and then return to the world to share what they have learned. Campbell explains:


The whole idea is that you’ve got to bring out again that which you went to recover, the unrealized, unutilized potential in yourself. The whole point of this journey is the reintroduction of this potential into the world; that is to say, to you living in the world. You are to bring this treasure of understanding back and integrate it in a rational life. It goes without saying, this is very difficult. Bringing the boon back can be even more difficult than going down into your own depths in the first place.


  Many people who come out of a vipassana course often fall straight back into familiar habits when they return to their usual surroundings. The constant practice of fasting the mind hasn’t taken root yet because people fall back into the habit of excessive stimulation. When we get back into that habit we begin to overuse the sympathetic nervous system again. Few people, no matter whether they have done a vipassana meditation course, are conscious of how they consume and transform energy taken in through the nervous system.


Buy Fasting the Mind:

Amazon Paperback http://amzn.to/2zhsAY1

Amaz​on Kindle http://amzn.to/2z60LOe
Amazon UK https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1620556464/
Amazon Canada https://www.amazon.ca/dp/1620556464/
Direct from Inner Traditions https://www.innertraditions.com/fasting-the-mind.html
Direct from Simon & Schuster http://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Fasting-the-Mind/Jason-Gregory/9781620556467       

Barnes &​ Noble https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/fasting-the-mind-jason-gregory/1124693189