This is the last article in the present series which looks at the Cathars, a mysterious Christian sect at their peak in the Middle Ages in Europe, from a Buddhist perspective, and attempts to express my direct experience of living in Cathar territory while practicing as a lone Buddhist. I have had a good response to these articles and plan to turn them into a book as soon as I can. There is a need in this age for written accounts of spiritual experiences, and for authentic ‘voices’ as opposed to academic tracts. I would like to be able to breathe life into spiritual traditions in this plural and secular epoch, or as Buddhists refer to it as, ‘The Last Days of the Law of Dharma.’
As mentioned earlier, I had many dreams and spiritual experiences in the Lands of the Cathar, high in the Pyrenean Mountains forming the frontier between Spain and France. I will attempt to describe them here so that you can read a more abstract portrait and superimpose them upon some of the historical facts, as far as they go, I have provided. In this way, I hope your experience of these two traditions is more than cerebral and reaches deep into your unconscious mind. It is no accident that you are reading this article. Everything is pre-destined if we listen to the guides.
Following are several extracts from a novel I will soon publish as an ebook entitled ‘The Veil.’ Some of it was written in situation there among the secret pathways and crag-top fortresses where Cathar martyrs were finally thrown on the fires, some later when I had assimilated the incredible experience and become more spiritually evolved. I believe it is impossible to see the greater spiritual multi-dimensional design as it is happening. It is only later and with training that we can see all implications.
This first passage describes logging in a tree graveyard island, bisected by fierce mountain streams of snow melt from the peaks, close to the village where I lived.
This had become our island, a flippant possessive notion, although it was certain that we were beings closely watched by more legitimate ‘owners. It took us some time to be able to see our audience on the mainland as we worked, because our eyelids had become veils to protect our eyes from pollution and urban chaos. They must be lifted now. And the thundering of torrents from the high peaks drowned out the shallow breathing of the invisible spectators as they stared at their enemy.
By the river, green lizards stood transfixed on rocks, posing as fallen mimosa leaves. Male red deer concealed their spindly legs in a nearby birch copse. Their eyes were undistinguishable from tree bark, and their antlers like miniature trees. Only the flicking of their tails revealed them to us fleetingly. Gaily dressed Hoopees, their chestnut, grey and white plumage, their black combs, cocked their disbelieving heads at us. Then one day, we suddenly noticed a tall monk in a rough black habit, a simple rope around his narrow waist. He was kneeling on a rock drinking icy water from the cup of his dark hands. These wandering religious were known by the villagers as ‘les Parfaits,’ the good.
Later, I, for ‘The Veil’ is of course autobiographical, go to bed and sense the ancient atmosphere of the silent village.
The shutters have been closed earlier to try to keep in some of the latent heat created during the day by the sun. When the high winds blow, it is this tall exposed bedroom, which resembles a lighthouse. It is completely exposed to the silent unlit mountains without moon. I sit back and let my mind slow down, smiling until it ceases completely. Then I turn to listen out here. There is nothing to distract me from the silence inside despite the roaring of the rogue winds. I am merely a little bundle of energy deposited on this wild hillside, but I am certain that I am meant to be here. My mind had long ceased to fret and chew at problems of doubt and the unknown future, or the spoiled past; it no longer dwelled in a souse of fear either.
As I only listened, the devil wind played with the openings of the room as if they were drums, and I could feel the energy of the stars on the baked clay of roof tiles. I had tossed aside my scant knowledge of the power of the heavens, and instead vowed to have only direct experience of them out here where comets and shooting stars were wallpaper. They seeped in under the carefully overlapped edges of the terra cotta tiles. Then tumbled around the elderly cobwebs and warm corners borrowed by scorpion families and squirrels during this indoors period of cold. As I drifted into sleep, stars caught in the attic slipped quietly through the lath and plaster of the ancient ceiling and soft-landed on the down quilt. They were not completely silent, but gently fizzed and fingered in the sky.
I reveled in the hot smolder of a planet on my cheek, a comet flying between my toes, the eternal vibrating of the universe singing out in every pore of my skin. I was part of the Cosmos, the whole universe fitted inside me.’
And later, a Cathar convert called Fabrisse de Caramany, tells of her conversion to the Parfait to a large Rock called Ram Rock, which she can crawl inside the huge curled horn of. She must not divulge to anyone what miracles have come into her life for fear of being imprisoned and tortured by the Fat Cardinals from the valley who hound the Cathars and mean to wipe them out.
‘Oh Rock. The floor of the threshing yard was strewn with perfectly winnowed barley that day. The first harvest. Its creamy grains gathered in the thick flounces of sunshine. Mmmmmm. You know that dry earthy scent which comes off it. Father August went on squatting, the wet-earth brown of his robes perfectly at home in the enclosed courtyard full of our crop. He could not resist playing with the grains, watching them intensely as if a thousand rosaries had been broken there. And in the silence between us, as I brushed aside a strand of hair which had blown into my eyes, and he ran his lengthy olive fingers over an arc pattern of grains he was busy with, he said, “Each grain has an original blessing,” and looked at me full, his head slightly bowed, “like you.” He trained his rustling eyes down again on the grains saying, “and me.”
Behind him a pair of grey and white wagtails boldly pecked, and I shoed them away by a sharp intake of breath which unnerved him. ‘Those wagtails are real scavengers,’ I said, irritated by them. You know Rock, I was irritated by their opportunism, always ready to rush in and thieve, and I felt my cheeks hotter than usual.
He said smiling, “You have done the work of removing the husks for them. Look! They are pleased!” And at that moment a single hen wagtail moved towards him and pecked at a grain he offered her in the palm of his hand. He looked for many moments deep into the eyes of this twitchy silvery bird, in a kind of trance like soothsayers lapse into. The he said, without removing his eyes, “God is here in this flapping feathery spirit.”
He continued in silence to pour his being into this creature, and then turned to look at me sideways again with the same deluge of love. And I knew him to be Love in flesh, a divine being. That grain-filled yard, once a commonplace, had become a heart place into which I could step whenever I wanted. It had become my own courtyard chapel filled with the grains of God, with an irritating winged thief transformed into a blessed creature, and with a child of the invisible world.
We sat and talked on and on in the hot sun, and he said, ‘We in the mountains find different routes to God, in the way we find pathways over the mountain passes. We are quiet here. Each of us like a mountain.”
His eyes were no longer dried leaves tossed in my direction on a chance breeze, but moist mossy lights looking deliberately behind my heart and searching my soul.’
There is no single doubt in my mind that the past is a construct of the mind! The heart lives now. But outside the intellectual mind, we can contact the invisible world. During my time in the country of the Perfect, I myself experienced persecution as they had. I was surrounded by Catholics, but in fact I was persecuted by my partner, a lapsed Jew agnostic. As my Buddhist beliefs surged deeper through both passionate practice and study, my partner was unable to comprehend what I was experiencing, and so we parted ways. There was great antagonism and endless interrogations to find why I had “deserted.” I wrote the following poem at this time when my sutras were defiled and my shrine destroyed, my Buddhist images hurled around!
Sipping Rhone wine under the flounces
of the massive Lime-flower tree
aroma and scent trouble me.
The wine at its best, the flowers at their peak
and yet my habitual absorption in the sensory
is being tugged at
its tension overstretched like used muslin
its once overwhelming newness wearing thin.
The perfection of sky balanced on untouched forests
almost eludes me at this time
but the gist of your abstract words has already dropped
in the fine covering of flowers at my feet.
For someone is calling me from the white marble of Montpellier.
A dream in our shuttered salon
the logs in the stove like alpine witness wands
compels me to descend our mountain hairpins
on the weekly bus alive with grape-pickers
my suitcases slotted between their stained baskets
to the other North African haven of Montpellier.
You demand why and who and how I must go
down from this ultimate haven of Cathars
Catholics, shepherds, but the gist of your question
disappears in the evening sizzle of biftek
buried in an armful of bay leaves and vine twigs.
For someone is calling me from the vivid painted timbers of Montpellier.
The fierce row on the boards at bedtime
your coarse tears extinguishing the candles and
unbalancing the stable slab of incense
propel me out of your faithless fleshy cloisters.
You hurl bells, burn sutras in your ashtray
demand and denounce my path to this ‘borrowed’ deity
making last-ditch interrogations under a strong light.
But the gist of your spite is sucked into the Lama’s Himalayan eyes
dredged over the ample of his saffron robes
as he welcomes me to the wooden temple in an orchard
its specifications exact, my mission specific.
He has been waiting with his butter lamps and words.
‘‘You heard my calling. I knew you would come soon.’’
I left the high mountains as described and soon took up my place as a temple keeper in a tropical Montpellier Garden. The Tibetan Lineage of Kagyupa was my refuge for the next year, but I longed to go back to the Cathars, and realize now that my Buddhist persuasion is a perfect match with my Cathar inheritance. It has been confirmed that I am descended from Cathars, and I am now certain they were deeply connected to the Buddha’s path.
The next series of articles on NIrvana Linden will be about the final teachings of the Buddha, the Mahaparinirvana Sutra. Perhaps you have never knowingly read a Buddhist sutra or felt the urge to, but the final teachings of Gautama Buddha offer remarkable insight into a bright future for all living beings. Please explore the systems of genius made to perfectly fit human existence with me over the next weeks.