Zen riddles that I like…

Kõ-an – a paradox anecdote or riddle, used in Zen Buddhism to demonstrate the inadequacy of logic and provoke a more direct perception of reality called enlightenment.

Kõ-ans have always exercised an intellectual fascination over those who have come in contact with them. Some have found Kõ-ans profound and intellectually challenging while others have dismissed them as meaningless and absurd. But especially for those living in societies built on Enlightenment principles, the anti-rationalism of Kõ-ans has been a large part of their appeal.  Unknown.png

Although Reason is useful to conceptualize and categorize, it can also trap us in a limited and arbitrary view of the world. Once Reason gets tangled up with our socially conditioned biases, then rather like blinkers on a horse it can do no more than channel us down a predetermined path.

The practical purpose of Kõ-ans is not to rid us of our intellectual capacity but instead to allow it to function in a dispassionate way. This involves breaking down the everyday tyranny of our conditioned intellect by demonstrating the contradictions and absurdities to which it would otherwise necessarily lead.

Unknown.jpegUnlike puzzles and riddles, Kõ-ans do not have pat answers. Indeed, many Kõ-ans are not even in the form of a question. When used properly, Kõ-ans set trains of thought in motion and then derail them. With the continuity of our internal dialogue broken, we are no longer able to maintain our (false) sense of reality.

A properly constructed Kõ-an should contain many layers of personal meaning. It is most certainly not a case of ‘one size fits all’. According to Buddhist teaching, Truth can only be experienced by those who seek Truth for its own sake.  It can never be denied to those who are worthy as equally it can never be imparted to those who are not.

What is Spirituality? I’m sure that I should know…

A client asked for astrological insight on her spirituality. But what she meant by that, she wasn’t too sure. I told her she wasn’t alone in her confusion and suggested that we explore this together. She wasn’t too keen on that, however. For her, spiritualty was too personal.

OK – so I decided to come up with something by myself. It couldn’t be that hard, could it? After all, I do have an MA in the Study of Mystical and Religious Experience (University of Kent, at Canterbury). Revisiting my work from that course, I realised that it’s harder than I’d anticipated – at least hard in the sense of pinning down anything specific about the definition of spirituality.

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For the record, here’s my shortlist:

  • Finding purpose or meaning,
  • Tuning in to soul or psyche,
  • Giving over to a ‘higher self’,
  • Connecting with deity or the divine.

Granted, I may not know exactly for what I’m looking, but at least, as an astrologer, ought I not know where to look? Astrologically, traces of spirituality (however defined) are bound to show up in one’s natal chart. But where exactly should I start?

Jupiter is the most likely culprit, you say? Sure, why not. As long as you realise that Jupiter looks for meaning in your life – not mine – he is, after all a personal planet.

How about Neptune then? There’s a distinct possibility. Astrological Neptune most certainly has been ascribed spiritual qualities. But if you’re looking for some ‘truth’, then Neptune will be problematic, as I’m sure you can imagine. If it’s one thing about viewing the world through rose-tinted glasses that you can definitely say, it’s that what you see is not what you’ll get.

How about Saturn, then? At least he doesn’t lie. Not only that, but he’s hugely practical and possibly good for my bank account. However, upon further reflection I’m forced to admit that Saturn’s brand of spirituality probably won’t be as uplifting as I’d like. Not only is he dark and dreary, but also associated with death and misfortune. Even if I were willing to overlook that, Saturn is much too keen to point out my weaknesses and vulnerabilities.

If I’m really serious about my spirituality, then maybe I should go for organised religion. After all, they have been established by minds greater than mine. But after consideration, I’ve decided that I’m not that much into the suffering and sacrifice of Christianity and even if I were, I don’t see the worth of a paternalistic god. If He is only going to help those who help themselves, then of what worth is He? Besides I know that ‘believing’ can be dangerous and suspect that it isn’t very spiritual either. I mean, look at the Crusades – they were all about belief – and how ‘enlightened’ were they?

How about Buddhism? That sounds like my cup of tea. Not only have I pretty much given up consumerism but I’m also into yoga and meditation. Yet all that stuff about non-attachment and ego-surrender doesn’t really work that well in the western world, at least not unless I no longer have a mortgage, which unfortunately, I still do.Unknown.jpeg

It’s been awhile since I’ve done much with the ancient mystery religions. Definitely time to revisit those! Whilst I’m at it, modern mystery ‘religions’ like the Golden Dawn have always fascinated me and then – there’s alchemy and the kabbalah!

Spiritual lessons of Taurus

While Aries symbolizes the sprouting seeds of spirituality, Taurus symbolizes establishing the root system which will nourish them.

Astrologically, Taurus represents the “real world” where practical issues – like food and water – must be faced. This does not mean, however, that Taurus is slow witted or dull. Indeed Taurus’ ruler is Venus – the brilliant morning and evening star – which, according to the Ptolemy, “is the preeminent cause of abundance, good yields, and profit. ”

But success takes hard work and patience and it is only with the steadfast, loyal perseverance of Taurus that we can ever reach the stars for which we set out in Aries.

Yet all will not be well if–as so often is the case with Taurus–we become too enamored with the pleasures of the material world.

Buddhism,  which emphasizes the detachment and eventual elimination of desire offers one way of dealing with  the problem. Indeed Buddhism is strongly connected with Taurus as both the birth and enlightenment of the Buddha are celebrated at the time of the May full moon when the sun is in Taurus.

Likewise, for the Christian mystic, the material world is neither to be worshiped nor despised as a distraction.   Instead, it must be recognized as our only vehicle to enlightenment (Teilhard de Chardin, The Divine Milieu, Harper and Row, New York, 1968.)

To avoid choking in the weeds of the ‘real world’, Taurus should remember that spiritual growth doesn’t come by concentrating on its cultivation. The more she can forget herself  (i.e. forget self-conscious spiritual development or the accumulation of material goods), the more lively her spiritual growth.

Just as a seed grows while the farmer sleeps, so the spirituality of Taurus increases by simply going about the business of daily living.

The Unexpected Benefits of Shame

In his highly readable book, A Blissful Journey,  Geshe Kelsand Gyatos suggests that instead of being a punishment, shame  restrains us from doing that which the person that we wish (or ought to wish) ourselves to be ought not to do.

In this context shame is not a painful conclusion, but a joyous opportunity.

For Buddhists, shame is the frontline defence against inappropriate actions.  Such actions not only produce negative karma (locking you into the painful cycle of rebirth) but also lead to difficult rebirths.

But even non-Buddhists find inappropriate actions to be trouble.  Folks tend to get annoyed when one steals, murders, and cheats.   Likewise, they shy away from those who frequently lose their temper and fail to honour their commitments.  Indeed, during the course of a single day, you are confronted with a whole host of activities that someone considers inappropriate. If you wished to comply with all of them, you might as well just stay home.

The reality of life is that we cannot always abide by an external set of rules when deciding what we should or should not do.

Yet assuming that you want to be ethical, what standard might you use?

I suggest using your own ‘sense of shame’.

Assume that you wished to use your mobile phone in a place where it was prohibited.  You might be tempted to do it anyway – especially if you were (1) in a hurry, (2) pretty sure it wouldn’t harm anyone , and (3) fairly certain you wouldn’t be caught.  If – prior to giving way to temptation – you considered how you’d feel if you were caught, you’d have your answer.

If you’d feel embarrassed or guilty, then deep down you know that you ought not do it.  This is regardless of the logical arguments you might make to the contrary.

However, if you truly wouldn’t be fussed, then you might as well give it a try.