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Jingle the bells

‘So, it was that time of the year again,’ said my old friend, the world famous Red Cap, from the top of the Christmas tree. I thought it would be a good idea to have a philosophising Cap on top of the tree instead of the traditional star or angel. From up there he will have a better view of the festivities and traditions of us the, according to him, “inferior mere mortals”.
‘Yes,’ I confirm merrily. ‘Jingle Bells were ringing joyously down the isles of shops in tune with the jingling of cash registers all over the world, and Boney M’s Little Drummer Boy competed with the sound of children throwing temper tantrums in front of shelves stacked to the roof with toys of all description while desperate mothers, in the spirit of Christmas, tried not to murder them in public. It was marvellous, absolutely wonderful, don’t you think?’
‘Yes, I know you are mad about it, you just love the spirit of it. You find it thrilling and exciting and joyful. Me, I fail to see the sense in any of this, but then again, you are a mere mortal, a stupid creature driven by senseless passion and uncontrollable emotions.’
‘But look at all the beautiful Christmas trees with the little lights in them. The streets were aglow with colourful lights and marvellous decorations,’ I tell him. ‘The people were happy and friendly and more forgiving. Laughter and love was in the air. It always stirs something deep in you, it fills you with wonder, with awe as if some miracle is about to happen. (meer…)

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Conversations with a famous Red Cap.
Nisargadatta Maharaj
“Listen to this,” I say into the darkness of my wardrobe. ‘When you open yourself to the continually changing, impermanent, dynamic nature of your own being and of reality, you increase your capacity to love and care about other people and your capacity to not be afraid. You’re able to keep your eyes open, your heart open, and your mind open. And you notice when you get caught up in prejudice, bias, and aggression. You develop enthusiasm for no longer watering those negative seeds, from now until the day you die. And you begin to think of your life as offering endless opportunities to start to do things differently.’
“You wake me from hibernation on a cold morning like this to tell me something so obvious, a damn mule can understand it. What is your problem? You going mad or something?” replies a grumbling voice from the darkness.
I suppose I should have anticipated a reaction like this from The Cap. He has been sleeping in a dark corner of my wardrobe since the beginning of the winter.
“Are you just telling me this great, earth shattering truth for the hell of it, or is there a question in there somewhere?” glowers the Red Cap from the darkness of his lair.
“Sorry,” I say into the darkness. “I need to talk to you. This is a quotation from ‘The Pocket Pema Chödrön’, that old Buddhist Master from Tibet.
“I know,” scowls The Cap from the comfort of his dark, warm hiding place. “Why are we bothered by old Master Pema and her wisdom so early on a bloody cold morning like this? And by the way, she is not a Tibetan Master from Tibet, she is an American Tibetan Buddhist, born as Deirdre Bromfield-Brown in 1936 in New York City, USA. Her religion is Vajrayana Buddhism from the Shambhala Lineage and her current title is that of Bhikkhuni. She is the Director and principal teacher at Gumpo Abby in Nova Scotia Canada. Anything else you want to know about Pema Chödrön?” (meer…)

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The last leg of the journey. A desperate race against time.

As usual, TZ is up early. Early means 4.30 in the morning. Normally he spends an hour in meditation before going for a brisk walk which is yet another exercise in mindfulness. But this morning there is an unusual urgency about him. Unlike his usual calm demeanour, he seems to be in a hurry to get going.

He hurriedly goes off to wake the moron up but finds the bed empty. He searches the rest of the apartment but there is no sign of the-seeker-after-eternal-truth. Going outside he finds us in the garden. The moron is sitting in the full lotus position under a tree with his backpack at his side … he is stark naked. Except for me, the famous Red Cap sitting on his balding scalp, he has no clothes on at all, not even shoes.

“What in the world is going on here?” asks TZ perplexed. “Why are you sitting here completely naked?”

I am so ashamed of this foolish companion of mine that I turn crimson red under the bright full moon.

“Did you not say yourself sir,” he retorts, “that if we want to go to God we must go completely naked or not go at all?”

“O Lord,” TZ moans softly. “Figuratively, I meant it figuratively as in empty, as in without any preconceived ideas, as in like an innocent child. Not without clothes! Please go and get dressed, and make sure you put on your hiking boots or else you will not make it even half way up the mountain. Hurry up, I’ll wait for you.” And as a sort of afterthought he adds, “and keep that Red Cap on your head, I think it stirs something good in you, something sensible.” (meer…)

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I found this article by Maria Popova and thought it shares a lot with what Adyashanti has to say regarding the self. Reading this might shed some light on my previous Red Cap “In the shade of the mountain” and other posts as a quest after eternal truth. As Jacob Needleman says: “Out of the inquiry itself arises an immensely hope-giving offering — a sort of secular sacrament illuminating what lies at the heart of the most profound experiences we’re capable of having: joy, love, hope, wonder, astonishment, transcendence.”

I enjoyed reading this. I hope you will too.

Real freedom begins with obedience to a higher influence — a higher, finer energy within oneself. –Jacob Needleman

I Am Not I: Jacob Needleman on How We Become Who We Are

–by Maria Popova, syndicated from brainpickings.org, Dec 24, 2016

“This is the entire essence of life: Who are you? What are you?” So proclaimed Leo Tolstoy in the diaries of his youth“I: how firm a letter; how reassuring the three strokes: one vertical, proud and assertive, and then the two short horizontal lines in quick, smug succession,” eighteen-year-old Sylvia Plath marveled in her own diary a century after Tolstoy as she contemplated free will and what makes us who we are. Indeed, these three smug lines slice through the core of our experience as human beings, and yet when we begin to dismantle them, we begin to lose sight of that core, of the essence of life. What, then, are we made of? What, then, makes us?

In I Am Not I (public library), philosopher Jacob Needleman picks up where Tolstoy and Plath left off, and enlists more of humanity’s most wakeful minds — from Nietzsche and Kierkegaard to William James to D.T. Suzuki — in finding embrocation for, if not an answer to, these most restless-making questions of existence. Out of the inquiry itself arises an immensely hope-giving offering — a sort of secular sacrament illuminating what lies at the heart of the most profound experiences we’re capable of having: joy, love, hope, wonder, astonishment, transcendence.

Needleman writes:

Among the great questions of the human heart, none is more central than the question, “Who am I?” And among the great answers of the human spirit, none is more central than the experience of “I Am.” In fact, in the course of an intensely lived human life — a normal human life filled with the search for Truth — this question and this answer eventually run parallel to each other, coming closer and closer together until the question becomes the answer and the answer becomes the question.

Needleman first confronted this question when he was eleven years old, thanks to a neighborhood boy named Elias Barkhordian, who became his dearest childhood friend and most indefatigable comrade in intellectual inquiry. The two would sit together after school for hours on end, discussing astronomy and spirituality with equal rigor of openhearted curiosity. But it was Elias’s untimely death, as much as his short life, that catapulted Needleman’s existential puzzlements into new heights of understanding. More than half a century later, he writes:

Elias died from leukemia, at that time incurable, just before his fourteenth birthday. In the months that followed the onset of his illness, I would meet with him in the quiet music room at the back of his house, facing a large, carefully tended, sunshine-filled garden. As his illness progressed and he grew weaker, my feeling about his mind deepened. He spoke openly about what awaited him and regretted only that he would not live long enough to understand everything that he wished to understand about the universe. But somehow, doubtless because of the more frequent appearance in us of shared conscious presence, his death eventually, in the years that followed, brought me more hope than grief, the hope that arises from the “sound” of a truly sacred consciousness calling to us from within ourselves.

I see now that it is the intimation of this quality of hope that I have all along been trying to bring both to myself and to my students and readers in the face of the illusory hopes and inevitable pessimism so characteristic of our era.

To explore these questions, Needleman structures the book in the classic style of a Socratic dialogue, but modernizes and enlivens the form with the imaginative twist of staging a conversation between his childhood self, Jerry, and his present 80-year-old self, Jacob. I am reminded here of Joan Didion’s memorable quip that “we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not” — advice often difficult to implement as we wince at the petulance, foolishness, and hubris of our former selves, yet something Needleman accomplishes with tremendous grace, warmth, and generosity of spirit toward the imperfect, impatient boy he once was.

Jacob Needleman (Photograph: David Ulrich)

In one of these exchanges, Jacob articulates to Jerry the central premise of the book itself:

The struggle to exist, to not disappear in this moment, is the advancing root of the struggle to exist throughout the whole passage of time. We need to help each other in this struggle. You by asking, I by struggling to respond. This is the law of love, which rules the universe.

In another, reminiscent of Alfred Kazin’s beautiful case for embracing contradiction, Jacob exhorts Jerry:

Stay with the contradiction. If you stay, you will see that there is always something more than two opposing truths. The whole truth always includes a third part, which is the reconciliation.

The willingness to sit with contradiction, Needleman argues, is the beginning of true self-knowledge and of the deepest kind of truthfulness. Echoing André Gide’s assertion that sincerity is the most difficult feat of all, Jacob tells Jerry:

This is the beginning of sincerity.

Because you are struggling, your question begins to deepen… What you will discover, always for the first time, always new, in the fleeting moment of wonder — before that moment is captured by the ambitions of personality. You, I, in that moment, will discover the need to serve the energy, uniquely human and also sacred, that starts as the pure awareness of one’s own existence. And even as this idea — this beginning idea — of what is human, even as this idea of what is man, begins to appear — even in that fleeting moment of the pure awareness of my existence given now by a great idea — in that moment in front of a living idea, an awakening idea, a glimpse appears of the uniquely human yearning to serve; the need appears, the need to obey that energy, the need to attend to it, to be nourished by it, to receive the help that comes then and only then, when you are objectively obliged to give, to serve, to manifest that energy in action and understanding. It is only that energy of conscious existence that gives you, a human being, real strength. The energy that is the total awareness of one’s own existence is — or can become, can be — the strongest energy in human life.

In another exchange, Jacob steers Jerry toward the idea that acknowledging the illusoriness of free will liberates us rather than taking away our freedom. Pointing out how impossible it is to understand freedom without understanding the influences acting upon us, the laws of the universe, and the nature of reality, he considers the source of real freedom:

Ask yourself what is your understanding of the influences acting upon us — of the universal laws in nature? What are your thoughts about that? And the teachings of religion — the idea of faith, obedience to the higher, responsibility for others and oneself, the deceptions and revelations of sleep and dreaming, the very idea of man’s place in the living, breathing, sentient cosmos, our place on our planet, the demand for morality, the nature of animal instinct and intuition within us and around us, the function and the meaning of pain and pleasure, the idea and the experience of consciousness and conscience, the subtle nourishment in the air we breathe, the food we eat, the genuine and the fabricated needs and desires of the body, the powerful influences of symbols, the cosmic and intimate force of sex, the inevitability of death, the illusion and the reality of time.

Working like this, and maintaining the fundamental attitude of sincerity about yourself and your discoveries, you will become disillusioned not only with your certainties, but with the structure of your mind itself. You will realize that what you need is not new beliefs, new information, new theories, but an entirely new mind.

Such dissolution of certainty, Needleman argues, is the gateway to real freedom:

Real ideas open the mind to the heart, to the heart of the mind, to another level of reality within ourselves… This is the taste, the beginning, of inner freedom. Only fools imagine that freedom means getting what one happens to desire. Real freedom begins with obedience to a higher influence — a higher, finer energy within oneself.

What is higher in yourself? That way of thinking about the question is the beginning of the answer — because it involves a real idea which has been handed down to humanity over thousands of years… At such a point you yourself will find the answer — not as a thought, but as an experience.

You will for a moment become the answer! You will not only have a taste of real freedom; you will for a moment be freedom.

How to cultivate such a capacity for self-erasure in the service of self-transcendence and self-liberation is what Needleman goes on to explore in the remainder of the thoroughly elevating and illuminating I Am Not I. Complement it with Aldous Huxley on the divine within, astrophysicist Marcelo Gleiser on how to live with mystery in the age of knowledge, and philosopher Amelie Rorty on the seven layers of identity in literature and life, then revisit Plato and the perplexity of free will.

 

 

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drosdy-agterkant

 In the shade of the mighty Mountain

“And the fire and the rose are one”

T.S. Eliot

Swellendam was founded by the Dutch East India Company in 1747 and named after the governor Hendrik Swellengrebel and his wife Helena Ten Damme. The townspeople were not happy with the way they were governed and soon they rebelled against the Dutch oppressors and declared themselves a Republic, indeed the smallest republic in the world at the time. But alas, they soon lost their brief independence when the English conquered the Cape and sent the Dutch packing. And naturally, being from rebellious Dutch and French stock (and being human, all too bloody human, obstinate and quarrelsome), they eventually rebelled against the English too.

We book into a guest house for the night to rest up before our final assault on the summit of our own Mount Sinai.

In this beautiful town the dear wife of our seeker after eternal truth joins us briefly. Mrs M is a level headed, strong woman who calls a spade a spade, and some ghosts by their first name.

It is still early in the day, so we set off to explore the historical sights of the town. We have lunch in a restaurant which used to be the Old Post Office, which was also the house of the postmaster, who was also the gaoler in yonder times. Next we visit the museum where you can see a lot of old tools used by the craftsmen of old, but TZ declines the invitation to join us on our little historical excursion. “There is no time,” he says. “Even history is an illusion,” and he wonders off to a secluded spot in the lush garden to sit in the shade of a majestic old oak tree to meditate.

“There is time, lots of it,” queries my deluded master. “We have all day to do whatever we please.”

TZ just shakes his head and smiles benevolently at his reluctant student and then wanders off.

Across the road is the old Drostdy, home of the first magistrate of the Swellendam district. This is an impressive building in the old Cape Dutch style, now also a museum open to the public. The receptionist/tour guide is a stern lady bent on the detailed transmission of historical facts to the unsuspecting tourist. “Interesting but too much information,” says Mrs M ever so sternly. “There is someone in the kitchen, it’s a man, do you know that?” Our talking bundle of historic information is taken aback and the incessant flow of information stutters to a halt.

“I … I, what … I mean who … yes I know. How do you know?” she asks incredulously. Suddenly she is a transformed woman. No more the formal by-the-book tour guide on auto-pilot, but a human being curiously interacting with another human being.

“I can see him, that’s how,” Mrs M replies dryly. “I don’t think he is very friendly, in fact he seems to be rather hostile?”

“Yes, you are right, there is something in the kitchen and it is not friendly, I am scared of it, but fortunately he never comes to this reception area and I do not go into the kitchen. I cannot see what it is, but I know it is there,” says our miraculously transmuted tour guide still in shock after the revelation that someone else could also see what she sees, or think she sees, or see what she suspects she sees. “But I don’t talk to other people about it, they will think I am mad and I will lose my job. I don’t want that,” she adds meekly, wringing her handkerchief and nervously wipe perspiration from her forehead.

“There is a picture of an old man against the wall opposite the kitchen. That is a picture of the man in the kitchen,” says Mrs M.

“Oh dear, oh dear,” says our psychic tour guide. “That is a picture of a former owner of the house long after it was used as a Drostdy, but long before it was turned into a museum.”

“Interesting,” murmurs Mrs M to herself. “I wonder why he is still hanging around. But tell me; while we were walking towards the Drostdy just now, you came down the steps from the buildings in the back. There was a boy with you, a boy with a hat. Who was it?”

“Oh boy,” our tour guide almost shrieks. “That one I can see. He is always in that building, it used to be a workshop in the time of the magistrate, the one the Drostdy was built for. The boy comes to me and walks with me when I am there, but he never comes with me to this building. He is rather carefree and seems to be busy all the time. What do you make of him?”

“He is about ten years old I’d say. He is dressed in Khaki shirt and short pants,” Mrs M replies. “I get the name Willem, yes it is definitely Willem, but nothing else. Curious, why would he hang around for more than two hundred years? They always amaze me, and sometimes even scare me.”

Me, the world famous Red Cap, is always amazed by these strange human beings. They are forever saying things that either don’t mean a damn thing, or that does not mean what you think they are saying, and then they habitually and vehemently deny that the things they said, that did not mean what they said, was what they meant in the first place. And THAT is scary! (meer…)

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The Red Cap and the Seeker After Eternal Truth Descends into the Low Country

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We leave the wilderness behind and travel west down the coast towards the Cape of Storms, not our final destination, but perhaps an apt description of things to come in our quest after truth.

We travel fast on the highway winding downwards towards a place called Little Brakriver, a lesser destination on our arduous, questing way to transcendence. It seems that we must first descend into the low country of sensual existence, before we can move into the high country, there perhaps first to meet Jung’s “burning one and growing one” before entering the void.

“Most of spirituality is a construction project. But enlightenment,” says Adyashanti, “is a demolition project.” This deconstruction project is nothing like Dirida’s deconstruction philosophy where he took things apart piece by piece to examine them and then tried to put them together again (He did it with Philosophy and couldn’t put it together again. He did it with religion and the church embraced him with vigour, and now, after the devastation, they are still trying to put it all together again). No, Adyashanti’s demolition is a deliberate breaking down of structures of knowledge and thinking, to rebuild it from scratch into something completely new, something that has always been there, even before time began.

Little Brakriver is not much of a town, but it is quiet and right next to the sea with a beautiful, unspoiled beach and not many people around. Being a town consisting mainly of holiday homes of rich upper-middleclass people, most of the houses stand empty for most of the year, which is of course a terrible waste, but regarded as normal in our abnormal society. The result is you have to drive to the next town (Great Brakriver) to get supplies, which is a bit of a bother. Our accommodation is a small flat called “The Beach Cottage”, which is quite a misnomer; it should have been called “The Cottage far from the beach”, because it is situated next to the railway line more than halve a mile from the beach. But we are not complaining, it is nice and clean and the owner is a friendly, helpful old lady, quiet and graceful in a country sort of way.

We unpack and then we walk down to the beach for a refreshing swim (says my moron); for our seeker after wisdom’s first serious session of meditation while the sun is setting in the west (says TZ).

We get to the beach and sit down on the sand, catching our breath after the brisk walk. After a moment my moron jumps up excitedly, pointing to a young girl coming out of the sea. “Just look at that,” he says. “Have you ever seen such beauty, such gracefulness in a girl in such a small bikini in your whole life? I think I will walk down there and talk to her, maybe I’ll get lucky,” he says smiling from ear to ear and start walking in her direction. “You stay here, I’ll be back shortly,” he says to me and chucks me down in the sand with his other belongings. Me, the famous Red Cap in the sand, on the beach! What utter disgrace!

“Don’t be stupid,” I shout after him. “She is young, she could have been your daughter. Come back here you moron and start acting your age!” I shout furiously after him, but he walks on, ignoring me. The desires of the flesh are a burning fire, and it drives the fool to his final humiliation, and onwards toward the inevitable dark night of his soul.

The fool struts down to the beach, tucking in his protruding middle age belly in a futile effort to look young again. He walks up to the young lady and start talking to her, no doubt flattering her and making a fool of himself. She smiles shyly, laugh at his stupid witticisms and then they start walking off down the beach and disappear behind some big rocks, still chatting and laughing. (meer…)

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One famous Red Cap and one Moron. Seekers after eternal truth.

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Our bags are packed. At the airport the green bird of Kulula is waiting to take us to the Fairest Cape, while I will be taking my moron deeper into the illusion that is life, and the sod is so happy he can wet his pants like an exited child. He does not know where he is going. He never does.

We started our little journey with Kierkegaad’s: “I stick my finger into existence – it smells of nothing. Where am I? Who am I? How did I come to be here? What is this thing called the world? What does the world mean? Who is it that has lured me into the thing, and now leaves me here?” and we intend to keep on poking at life and demand answers, (or demand to see the Director, like my obstinate, overly excitable moron usually does.)

On this journey we will have as trusted companion Roshi TZ, an honourable Zen master and expert on the writings of Adyashanti and his enlightened and enlightening wisdom. We are going to listen to “Emptiness Dancing”. Together with TZ we are going to try to wake the moron up. “Awakening,” says Adyashanti, “is the end of seeking, the end of the seeker, but it is the beginning of a life from your true nature. That’s a whole other discovery.”

But we have a problem, me and my wise companion. Our problem is that the moron, like all his fellow morons, do not know that they are asleep. They are under the illusion that they are wide awake, and the worst part is, they know it all, they know everything there is to know, or they will … one day. Sagacious as they are, the Universe can keep no secret from them, ever.

TZ pokes me in the ribs and says; “tell him”.

“Tell him what,” I ask.

“Tell him that my speaking to him on this trip is to shake him awake, not to tell him how to dream better. He knows how to dream better”.

“But I am awake,” says my moron agitated and promptly falls asleep, and stays asleep for the rest of the flight.

“How do we,” says TZ gravely, looking at my snoring companion “convince him that he is a living Buddha, the divine emptiness, the infinite nothing, in fact the human expression of oneness?” (meer…)

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