Scent of the Divine: other ways of being

sensory deprivation

What can we learn from sensory deprivation about accessing other ways of being? How can we avoid the domination of visual processing, the consequent desire to own everything we see, and the ‘blind instinct’ to pin everything down into permanence in the realities we create in our minds? What we see, we want to possess and fossilize, and then that becomes our reality. Quite naturally we fear its loss.

For urban dwellers in the developed world, the allure and provocation of visual signals pulls us out of our true nature. In modern life, the monopolizing visual sense can generate synthetic conditions in which we ‘see,’ but more importantly ‘are seen,’ and interpretginza everything to suit us. Whereas the non-visual senses – listening/hearing, tasting, smelling, feeling – receive concrete data that needs no interpretation as it is invisible. In a series of articles soon to be made into a book, I will explore the ancient senses that I believe link us with our innate divinity.

Our true nature is both visible and invisible, never limitable to man-made concepts like space and time, or to merely seeing and being seen. I believe our responsibility in the visible world is to live with unconditional love and compassion so we can convey the lessons of humanity to others, and to revive our divine energy in these days of shocking social deterioration and urban isolation. In simple terms, our senses are out of balance. By closing down the visual sense and ‘going inside,’ we can make contact with our higher self and the vast magical land of the invisible.

The ‘I’ and the physical eye operate in a similar way. As mentioned, the visual sense is the most dominant in our consumerist closing downacquisitive societies. Diversity and pluralism overwhelm us with choices, alternatives, get-out clauses, and so on. If we cannot see something, there is a possibility that we consider it not to exist, or at the very least to have no validity. We need proof either with the naked eye, or in writing, to make things valid because our trust in others and in our perceptions of reality is so weak.

It is no wonder then that we cling desperately to the ‘self’ as proof that our flesh and blood actually exist. But in that clinging, there is a possibility that we may have lost all contact with our true self; that our divine flame is either guttering or extinguished altogether.

visual deprivationIn respect of the above, the visually impaired are fascinating. If we take away visual data from human existence altogether, then how do we make sense of the world? I have had the privilege of working with visually impaired children and adults as a Music Therapist. They have taught me so much about concrete communication, which contributes to my own spiritual insights, and helps me to step beyond the straitjacket of duality which most of us wear.

Before writing in detail about my professional experience, I would like to bring attention to a film, which movingly depicts how a person deprived of sight as an adult, makes sense of his new world. The title is ‘Scent of a Woman’ 1992, based on an Italian film released in 1974 Profumo di donna, (director Dino Risi, leading role Vittorio Gassman, based on the story Il Buio e il Miele by Giovanni Arpino). A colonel is injured in an accident, losing his sight entirely. He adapts badly to his disability drinking heavily and lashing out at everyone around him in an obnoxious way. scent of a womanHe sees no reason to go on living, so he employs a young student, paying his way at a local university, to accompany him to New York to take his final pleasures before shooting himself.

Booking into the best hotel, he lavishes them both during their stay. In the hotel there is a dance floor, a small band playing Latin American music in the afternoon, and guests dancing formally. The colonel senses the fragrance of a woman sitting nearby them and somehow knows that she is alone. He goes to ask her to join them for a drink, and then to his helper’s incredulity, invites her to dance the tango with him. He knows the steps intimately and the floor clears to watch the spectacle. His partner is nervous at first, but soon relaxes and they stride out together confidently.

This scene has incredible nobility for me because of my experience of visual impairment. Apparently, all the blind colonel needs to make the impossible happen is the fragrance of a woman, his healthy body receptive to vibrations, and his kinesthetic memories of dancing music therapythe Tango, all of them concrete data.

Is it possible to reconstruct a visually accessed environment in terms of sound and movement? I know first-hand that this is what the visually impaired do to make sense of their world. A young female client blind from birth had never seen anything or anyone; she did not experience even feint patterns of light or shadow. She used sound as her environment, making mountains out of piano blind child jumpingchords and snowy summits with her agile voice. She could create a journey in a ship by jumping high to make wave patterns and the rocking of the vessel, using her fingers and voice as the people on board.

She was happiest without words, entirely nourished by the vibrations of sound and sensing them in her body. No intellectual assessment or interpretation, only spontaneous integration with the stimuli.

Jiddu Krishnamurti, spiritual teacher and visionary, said, “The description is not the described; I can describe the mountain, but the description is not the mountain, and if you get caught up in the description as most people are, then you will never see the mountain.’ Of course, my young client had never seen a mountain and never would be able to do so, so instead she could sense it made of sound and smells, and her own bodily movements in space. This can teach us just taking off maskhow attached we become to words and their meaning. Being receptive to only the sound of the word can liberate us so we are able to revert to our true spirit nature beyond mere symbols.

Colonel Slade on the other hand, had seen many mountains and had lived their descriptions, but was now dependent on memories of mountains. Would he be content with this vagueness when he had made mountains so permanent in his life? Would his awareness of mountains gradually dissolve if it could not be refreshed? Would his sense of loss, of the living reality that everything is impermanent, finally hit home and bring him to an awakening, or would it be utterly unbearable. Or, would he now be consumed by the description of himself as a blind helpless and pitiable being, and fail to see that he was not the described, he was not those words. It would seem that his decision to kill himself in some way represented the final irreversible permanence: in other words, he would no longer be there to be seen.

Although occasionally troubled by the language and words of her carers and therapists, which she was often unable to interpret, my young client was completely happy, and reasonably well-adjusted in normal life. But she became aggressive if she was not allowed to move her body through the air, or blocked from feeling the vibrations of sound because this was the only way she could be certain thatno demons or dialogues she existed. So, in terms of her inner spiritual life, she was not beleaguered by dialogue from either her demons or her false angels, not attached to concepts and theories, and not hampered by the acquisitive ‘I’ or ‘eye.’ Whatever she needed to affirm her identity came from sounds and smells, touches and tastes. Words were not symbols, which developed an intellectual reality of their own to her and caused her to live in an abstract world of the mind.

The visible. The invisible. A famous blind and deaf phenomenon Helen Keller, who eventually learned to live in the visible and audible world said, ‘ the best and the most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or Helen Kellereven touched. They must be felt in the heart.’ This spiritual view of life comes from a grueling heart-breaking training to learn to live in the world of the sighted and the hearing from early childhood. Her adaptation is testimony to our ability to overcome anything if the divine flame in the heart is strong and we do not allow our senses to be out of balance.

As the world is designed for the sighted, it is impossible for the majority of the non-sighted to make sense of it. They experience existence more directly, more concretely, often from the higher self. This is an inspiration. Many of us have learned to access the higher self through meditation or prayer, which invariably entails closing the eyes and focusing our listening. But how we struggle with distractions in the form of words – notions, speculations, justifications, judgments, criticisms, ad infinitum.

We naturally want to escape from this relentless barrage of concepts, so look for a path leading away, taking us out of ourselves. It is mindfulnessironic that all we need is already located inside us if only we can quell the noise of our minds and just be in silence and stillness. The blind cannot escape and have no desire to usually. They are content to finger the complex textures of an item on and on, or jump continuously to experiment with their balance or to mingle with concrete energies.

In spiritual practice we aspire to go beyond words and other habitual interpretations of reality. We can learn to sink down into the firm yielding of now and here, of the great still silence where we too, like the mantras 2visually impaired, can detect vibrations and use other tools accessible to humans such as clairvoyance, perfect pitch, telepathy, that we once utilized. Colonel Slade’s tango with a beautiful fragrant woman almost pushed him over the edge, sending him to lock himself into his room and prepare his gun. Then he felt the love of his young accomplice in angry invective about his cowardliness and self-pity, and knew he could play a useful role in his young life. He could settle for concrete stimuli in time, and found wisdom behind his irascible intolerance. He could still believe in questions and their answers, somnambulating around the visual world learned from memory, at least for a while longer.

The questions the congenitally blind may pose are mere sound-play empty of meaning: hearing their own voices, imitating other voices, projecting the sounds their being can create to chart their environment. They are not desperate jabs at understanding existence, of ‘seeing’ through or behind impressions, of ‘understanding’ and interpreting everything as those of the sighted, because they know no questionsthere are no questions, so there are no answers.

They are not separated away from existence because they cannot see to measure and compare, to judge and sort, to speculate or criticize. We sighted need to accept everything and step beyond duality to reconnect with our divine origins. Whereas the blind are embedded in existence; they cannot easily move around in their concrete environment as we do in the virtual worlds we invent.

It is difficult for those who have always been able to see the world to imagine the world of the congenital blind. They are like ghosts using their body form as an instrument to detect their environment. They become concrete in the invisiblesame way that what they perceive best is concrete. They do not take what is visible and transient deep inside them and make it invisible in order to learn lessons and connect with the invisible world. They are invisible already.

They are usually calm and steady because everything is already lost in their world; they can hold on to little and describe nothing. Voices come and go, textures and temperatures are continually changing beyond their control. There is no light or shade. There are no models to imitate except vocally; and they are often excellent mimics because of their exclusive audio focus. We usually pity them, their deprivation of the treasures of the visual, such is our pride in being visual ourselves, but their insight into life is extraordinary and their link with the divine I believe functions strongly.healing 1

My blind client knew my inner thoughts. She had clairvoyance without doubt, and she could predict my future. As a music therapist I was one of the few people she wanted to be with all the time because I could make soundscapes for her, and she could use instruments and her voice and body to converse with them.

Our environment can provide concrete data such as resonance, smell, texture and temperature, taste and kinaesthetic awareness, none of which are open to the same kind of interpretation as visual data perceived only by the physical eyes. shamanic tranceThis data is invisible, the dimension and substance of our spiritual origin. The shaman in primitive tribes enters into a trance to connect with the world of spirits to access wisdom of the elder ancestors. He or she can no longer ’see’ in the physical sense. Soothsayers and seers have traditionally been visually impaired. We are told by Buddhist Masters that during our time in human life we are living in a dream world in which everything is impermanent and created by our minds, so we are perhaps selectively blind ourselves because we cannot see reality, only an abstraction.

The blind colonel on the dance floor moving his own body and his unknown partner’s through space to thesamsara majestic rhythms of the Tango inspired by the fragrance she is wearing, is a moving feat to the sighted. There is no hesitation, no speculation, just beautiful bodies moving trustingly through space, responding to resonances and scents. This is surely an scentunconditional act. At first, he intends this performance to be his swan song – resonance, rhythms, fragrance, bodily accompaniment- all that he needs to shift to the invisible world. But soon he realizes that he can adapt, and at the same time can make peace with his true self.

VISIONARIES Article 3: F.M.Alexander: Man’s Supreme Inheritance

(Visionaries is a work in progress, so if you would like to read the articles so far please go to the page ‘Visionaries’ in the menu at the top of the page)



Every thought we have affects every cell of the body.

Alexander, like Feldenkrais, was a body re-educator and a visionary. He also realised how crucial it was for people to be happy and comfortable in their bodies, and for them to find their true nature and live according to it. Unlike Feldenkrais, he was not a scientist but an artist, so having both of them in my life has provided an element of great balance. Feldenkrais was interested in organisms in movement, while Alexander was fascinated by stillness and the power of the mind and hands. He was a healer, and he came to teach others because he healed himself. His story in brief will follow, but first, my introduction to the Alexander technique.

I remember so clearly the first Alexander lesson I had. Alexander preferred the terms ‘lesson’ and ‘pupil’ even though he, like Feldenkrais, was handing over techniques for body-re-education, not cultivating a following. So, from that point of view, they were very similar in their determination that people should be independent and have the resources to change and heal themselves. In other words, they were both devoted to the notions of self-realization and self-education. The foundational position for Alexander work, and the position of ultimate rest for the ‘head-neck-spine,’ known as the centre of primary control  of the body, is called the semi-supine.

semi-supineOne lies directly on a hard surface, ie. the floor or a table, and rests the edge of the skull on 2 or 3 centimetres of paperback books. This is not a relaxation exercise, so there should preferably be silence, and no soft covering under the length of the body. The hard surface provides stimulation, the books the same, because only when the body is stimulated, can we interact in a meaningful way with gravity.

Alexander made a clear separation between relaxation and body work, encouraging pupils to utilize their full concentration to visualize the body and make changes inside it. Feldenkrais movement sequences are learned to bring about changes to reveal the natural self; whereas Alexander taught how to harness stillness to gradually return the body to its natural state.

Lying in this position of optimum rest for the central headquarters of the body, the spine, and gathering the energy of the mind to attend to areas of tightness and distortion, was such a relief to me in my busy life when I first started the Alexander Technique. Although, unlike other people I knew, I did not seek outJacqueline DuPres the technique due to illness or accident. I was a professional musician and teacher at the time, interested by Alexander work applied to performance and stage fright among my students, as well as to my own performance skills. As I taking the heademployed it more and more often in my own teaching, I could see before my very eyes, performers casting off layers of artificial conditioning, of negative suggestions and fears of criticism, which were often the result of old-fashioned teaching methods designed to induce fear.

The way Alexander created his Technique and the fascinating interfering mind-sets that he observed and then set about changing to make them more natural, is inspiring. Like all visionaries, the main topic of this series of articles, he had the determination to search doggedly and persevere through great hardship, to ease the dis-ease that many people experienced in their lives.

AlexanderHe was born in 1869 in Tasmania, and worked as an actor or reciter, and soon became established as an elocutionist. However, it is significant that as a child he suffered from acute respiratory ailments and then went on to embark on a career, which relied solely on his respiratory stamina. We could say that there was strong karma ripening in Alexander, and that mastering his breathing was part of his destiny.

In those days, a reciter would perform alone for long periods of time, without any electrical means of projection of the voice, so great Alexander reitingstamina was requisite. In addition, the style of acting and posture was stiff and rather military. One can imagine Alexander standing ram-rod stiff, the head held high, jaw protracted, the knees locked back, the arms in tension by the sides, wearing his formal evening dress, on a dim stage illuminated by gas lamps or candles. It is perhaps predictable that it was not long before he became hoarse and lost his voice entirely, which was a major problem as far as his livelihood went. He then set about finding medical treatment for his condition from the best larynjologists, none of whom could find the cause although they of course could treat the symptoms.

So, as this failure of the voice went on occurring even after rest and all manner of medicine and balms, Alexander concluded that there was something he was doing as he performed which was causing the blocking of the voice. He became determined to identify the exact cause for himself by closely observing his performance techniques. He set up a series of mirrors which allowed him to see every part of his anatomy as he stood in reciting position, and eventually he realized that the problem lay in the way he pulled back his head, and raised his jaw, so shortening the back of his neck and constricting his larynx.

At last he had the solution to his personal problem which was to lower his jaw and lengthen the back of his neck so allowing the larynx to gravitational fieldrelax and lie in a natural position. There were no further problems with his performance, but in addition he realised the importance of his discovery and its implications for performers and for anyone with a dis-ease, and set about teaching others. This is another feature of a true visionary – the Buddha, Christ and other spiritual leaders, etc – who are not content to become enlightened for their own benefit, but generate true bodhicitta (see my article: in order to lift all sentient beings out of their suffering. Of course, many may say that Alexander craved fame and power by developing his technique, but having studied his works, I feel strongly that this is not the case. His motivation was I am certain pure.

Lying in the semi-supine is a perfect preparation to receive the hands of an Alexander teacher working to encourage release of tension in the areas of primary control. This position allows refuge from the constant bombardment of gravity when we are vertical. The low back is often a cause of pain and dis-ease because we generally do not get the correct type of rest during long busy days.

In the semi-supine position, with the legs bent at the knee and the feet flat on the floor, the low back can naturally and gradually release downwards, thus using gravitational forces to advantage. The stimulating surface, which taking the head 1supports and helps release the length of the spine, gradually supports the low back also. This process usually takes about 20 minutes. As the low back returns to its natural shallow instead of pronounced curve, the other natural curve of the spine at the level of the neck correspondingly softens and drops downwards.

spineOnce the spine is functioning more naturally, the arms and legs, which are connected by nerve fibres into the spine also, begin to lose the excessive tension needed to sustain long periods without refuge from gravitational pressure. The elbows soften and increase their contact area with the supporting surface, as do the soles of the feet. Eventually, the whole skeletal system starts to change and the breathing deepens, all of which has a profound effect on the way the mind works.

Of course, it is difficult for some people to slow down or end their habitual patterns of anxious thought and inner dialogue, in order to simply be, breathing naturally and lengthening and widening; in other words, recovering from excessive gravitational stress. But once the mind slows down in tandem with the breathing, it can begin to appreciate the changes which are in progress, and to build up experience of well-being, which it then craves.

greater awarenessI remember when I started to crave this sense of balance and this quality of mind and attention. It seemed that nothing else mattered during my time lying in the semi-supine and the following lesson, so that I could focus myself in order to recharge my energy. This meant that I could go back into the vertical better prepared to avoid undue compression and exaggerated curving or tightening.

At a physical level, this became a marvelous resource which I could access any time independently of teachers or doctors, etc. But at the mental level, there was a new sense of balance and a realization that reality was here and now, exactly in each second as my mind voyaged around my body acquainting itself in a novel way. It became clear to me that Alexander had uncovered a way of complete meditation into IMG_20140731_0009the body.

On the spiritual level, many things happened: I became acutely aware; the tears flowed freely as I released into my natural state; a sense of pure joy arose as I was able to simply be. I felt as if I was a plant or animal in a state of harmony lying on the face of the planet, under an infinity of blue sky, breathing and filling with light which flooded into compressed areas of my body. Both my uniqueness as a fully functioning organism, and my role in universal terms, became so clear.

As a Buddhist seeker, while working with my Buddhist Alexander teacher Don Burton, I realized that unwittingly Alexander had opened up a route to emptiness, mindfulness and the revealing of Buddha Nature. (see:; He was not a self-confessed religious man, but his determination and vision made it possible for anyone to aspire to polish their Buddha Nature, and in the process to ease the body, relieving it of discomfort and pain.

The body work can speak for itself along with the healing hands and attention of the focused Alexander teacher, but in addition there are two psychological facets of the technique which can help us to change our ingrained and often detrimental patterns. The first is the notion of end-gaining; and the second, inhibition.

End-gaining: staying with the process

From his observations of himself in an array of mirrors, Alexander realised that sincere intention and motivation were the key to using the body naturally. In other words, actions usually start from thoughts, so if our thoughts are pure and altruistic, overflowing with the love that we can embody, then our skeleton and muscles will move smoothly and beautifully. Also, if that sincere thought is carriedmere cat into an action, then that action constitutes a process, and if we give our full attention to that process, the outcome will take are of itself. Conversely, if we are not sincere and we are only focused on results and outcomes, perhaps the process will break down and the outcome will be flawed.

In Buddhist terms, this has parallels with emptiness and Buddha Nature; in other words, the realization that the self-serving ego, the self that is created by the mind and imposed upon the natural self, always needs a witness and usually an ongoing dialogue. In terms of performance or martial arts/sports, etc. this is known as the condition of ‘no mind:’ if we want to execute a skill efficiently and smoothly, we should not allow the synthetic mind to interfere in that process. We can see excellent examples of bodies functioning without the critical mind with its negative tendencies in the animal kingdom and healthy human children.

sincere heartTake the example of serving tea to someone. If we are under the control of our negative mind, or if our mind is visiting another time or place other than the present one, we are likely to spill the tea or drop the cups, etc. If however, we are serving tea with loving thoughts, standing in the shoes of the recipient, then our bodies will behave naturally: for example, the teapot will be lifted in harmony with the gravitational force exerted on it, and the body will accurately measure its weight; the wrist will tip the spout of the pot smoothly and accurately so that the tea is poured efficiently, and it will stop the flow of tea easily and accurately, etc. Eventually, the tea cup or its saucer will be lifted and moved through the air to be placed elegantly within reach of the recipient, etc. Such a seemingly simple process is complex, but the body has all the skills it needs to execute tea ceremonyit perfectly.

Of course, when it comes to intricate processes like virtuosic piano fingering and velocity, or outstanding sporting or dancing feats, the absence of ‘mind’ and a state of emptiness, is essential. The skill itself and the skilled executant should be in complete balance and harmony. Invariably, Alexander teachers use the example of a ringing telephone to illustrate this point.

We habitually react to the ringing of a bell, which by its very nature signals something about to happen. In the case of the phone, we hear the bell and usually tighten all our muscles in order to answer it, so we often ignore the process of preparing properly to answer it. Modern life is filled with such kind of compulsions and external stresses, which we are expected to react to without question. This idea neatly leads to the next of Alexander’s seminal ideas, Non-doing/inhibition.

Non-doing/Inhibition: changing habitual reactions and mindfulness

Human beings are conditioned in order to live in social groups and to control the possibility of anarchy and total destruction, and so we are trained as children by parents and schools, to develop the correct habits and responses. In order to change such habits that may be non-doingexecuted badly and be causing physiological or psychological damage or detriment, Alexander proved that we can inhibit such a habit and so change it or eliminate it totally. Again, answering the telephone mindlessly is a good example.. We can inhibit this by mindfully preparing to get up to answer the phone, and if we do this many times, we stand to change that habit from the negative to the positive.

Mindfullness in Buddhist terms has similar possibilities. If we focus on the moment and our sense of now and here, we can eliminate fears of the unknown and regrets about the past. We can train to fully realise that there is no moment except this one; and that any other moment is a product of the mind. Living in the centre of the moment is something we do quite naturally, but modern life prohibits it. This is our true nature; to live in emptiness always from the position of our higher selves. We can observe this disposition in children before heavy conditioning starts, and also in indigenous peoples who spend their life-time in close contact with nature.

Animals can be tamed or trained by humans beings so that they can be controlled or domesticated. But humans are basically animals and conditioningso they also are trained in order to live in densely populated societies. Such training can repress or even replace one’s true nature, a notion which motivated Feldenkrais and Alexander to re-educate the human organism.

Spiritual training can help us to live harmoniously with awareness, and to allow altruism to be a driving force in all that we do. If we can allow ourselves to be exactly what we in essence are – breathing, loving creatures with higher consciousness – then we have an improved chance of regaining our balance as a species, and of in turn balancing the organism of the planet of which we are each a vital component.

Non-doing is another Alexanderian term, which basically means stillness as opposed to inertia; so many of us have to work hard to eradicate the traces of doing because our lives are so busy and stressful. We produce too much adrenalin through fear and desperation to meet society’s high requirements, which becomes trapped in the body. Alexander teachers can only work to aid release and return to a natural state, if the pupil is non-doing. Insights into this technique from the teacher’s point of view, can take this comparison with spiritual training to another level.

In addition to perfecting skills, the Alexander Technique can bring about magical changes in people who are emotionally blocked or chronically sick, which is the healing element of the technique. I trained as an Alexander teacher for 3 years and worked to develop the non-doing qualities of my hands. Traditionally, an Alexander lesson begins with the pupil sitting and standing into and out of a straight-let go 4backed chair; the Alexander teacher positions him/her self behind the chair. Then, non-doing hands are placed lightly around the back of the neck, and gradually, with instructions, freedom and mobility are facilitated. However, the pupil needs to also be non-doing, succumbing to gravitational pressure, which means not helping the teacher in any way.

This is achievable only by letting go of the mind, by trusting the teacher, and by removing any end-gaining or human struggling. Both the teacher and pupil need to access their higher selves in order to activate the level of awareness needed to bring about deep changes and releases; and both can work on their own unconscious minds during this process.

As Feldenkrais did, Alexander found a way of touching the unconscious mind, the mass of ice below the surface, to bring about lasting changes and stimulate new aspirations, by accident and without any spiritual training. Many people I know who were opposed to directunconscious mind spiritual training or membership of a religious group at a conscious level, were easily touched by this kind of body work to create new awareness and to become a bigger spiritual vehicle. In the same way as Feldenkrais’s system, Alexander training touched trainees indirectly, addressing their higher consciousness and often leading them to be open to more direct spiritual notions of the invisible world.

It would seem that Alexander, following his own higher self, created a system that would appeal to modern humans who have created their own synthetic worlds with their minds, and who have become isolated from their own hearts. His Technique meets trainees as their world, providing a way to use the energy of their minds to heal their ills and change deeply within.

I have witnessed so many people removing their masks during lessons, and then one day, taking them off forever. Once the principles of the Technique are assimilated and multiple experiences of freedom in the area of Primary Control are stored in the unconscious mind, then we can become our own teachers heightening our awareness of ourselves, and working to be our natural selves while living often unnatural lives.


Reading the Air: letter to Meredith


After extensive discussions with Meredith Capethorne, Professor of Temples visiting Japan, who is unable to believe in anything except academia and extensive proofs, Nohmen, a Buddhist priest, decides to write to her.  He hopes to encourage her faith in something other than herself and her version of reality.

Dear Meredith,

I realise that direct communication with you at the moment is not a good idea.  So instead, I want to tell you about the wonders of Kukai, or Kobo Daishi, one of his formal titles.  I’m sure you know that he is almost single-handedly responsible for bringing Esoteric Buddhism to Japan from China in the eighth century.  I will spare you the facts for you can access them for yourself I’m sure, and probably already have.  Instead, I wanted to give you a taste of my impressions and more direct experience of him.  I can’t imagine why the world at large knows so little of this saviour.  His optimism is something extraordinary.

KukaiKukai’s young life seems to have been a preparation for creating a Japanese breed of Buddhism, in the same way that my Master’s was, and like many geniuses, both needed teachers themselves for only a short time.  Each of them absorbed Buddhist sutras voraciously-Kukai is said to have read 10,000-and because of each of their unique and altruistic spirits, they were able to catch the fine thread of those sutras that were the most important for their respective eras.

As you know, one of the translations of the Sanskrit word ‘sutra’ is thread.  Putting it another way, they were able to tease out the fine threads from a tangled mass, and blend them together, a talent peculiar to the tradition of crafts in Japan, one of the first cultures in the world to painstakingly cultivate silk from the cocoons of the silkworm. silk 1silk

Like other spiritual leaders and makers of religion, Kukai was a kind of Renaissance man, capable of anything and everything.  He had a world perspective, and to my mind was able to be in touch with the universe despite his birth in seemingly isolated Japan.  Of course, his roots in Shinto-the way of the gods or kami-sama– the indigenous religion of Japan from the eight century to 1945, helped his cause.  He realised that all the elements of nature were divine, and that if they were illuminated, the great truth would become unveiled!

shintoIt was extraordinary that this man could conduct his whole life from the position of the then unknown teachings of the Buddha, and also vow to resist his own enlightenment, sattori in Japanese, until every last person was enlightened.  Even at the tender age of nineteen he realised the limitations of human life, and, perhaps more importantly, that being able to once recognize those limits meant that they could be transcended.

Imagine having the creative energy and the huge scale of thinking to be able to reinterpret Buddha Shakyamuni’s  wisdom from over a thousand years before, and adapt it for a totally different epoch and culture?  To be able to turn the notion that we humans are merely insignificant specks of dust, the main idea of early Buddhism, into the incredible idea that we each have the potential to become a Buddha ourselves. And not at the gates of Heaven in anonymity, but in the course of our daily lives!  In other words, that our individual becoming a buddhadivinity could be brought into our practice during the span of our life, and that the opportunity to embrace our fellow humans and help create world peace and harmony was, thus, very real. 

When I first came to Japan, I was quite surprised to find that many people, who practised religion – albeit in a tokenistic fashion, by visiting the shrine occasionally or at festival times, or in even more serious ways – were mostly looking for benefit for themselves and their loved ones, or their companies. This phenomenon exists in Christianity I know – the benefit-seekers who go directly from drinking in the public house at midnight on Christmas Eve into the nearest church to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  But I somehow expected spirituality in Japan to be different.

Of course, in both cases, it is usually some kind of fear or guilt, or a last resort situation, amounting to the same thing perhaps, which is often the only trigger to drive people to do some kind of religious practice. That, for most people, the marking of faith in an outward way, is a kind of seeking benefit seekers 2reward or conditional form of protection. Naturally, there are possible benefits to be had from believing deeply in something, and essentially, people want to find happiness in their lives and are perhaps unable to do this single-handedly.  In this way, they recognise that there are greater forces, and that, with help, they can tap into those forces and get what they want or need.

Meredith, I now realise through my studies and my experience of devotion to a teaching that the ancients took their altruistic model, perhaps, by observing the universe, and especially the animal kingdom in which there are creatures that give benefit to other creatures or organisms at the expense of themselves.  This is true devotion, I think, but in the animal kingdom, we cannot call it that.

That thing aside, maybe you have heard the Buddhist idea that we humans can be like a candle?  Exactly so -giving light to others by dedicating our bodies and souls unconditionally.  Ah! What freedom there is in being selfless and totally trusting that the universe will always take care of us. I can assure you this kind of life of giving is the best joy of all. Though I can hear you saying that surely that is one huge benefit in itself? But of course, the candlesaltruistic creature which serves others is not consciously seeking benefit. So, in a way, I’m suggesting that we humans are capable of living in just such an unconscious way, with no witnesses, with no or little ego.  You may remember that I once compared my own life with that of a tiny creature riding on the back of the earth!

So it was that Kukai realised that the generations of Indian Buddhists, who lived some hundred years after Shakyamuni Buddha, recognised that the difficult goals he set for reaching enlightenment were for those who would give up their lives as ‘householders’ and live a monastic life, and that most people did not want to give up the joy of living a full human life, just as Kukai himself did not. This realisation made the foundation for lay orders such as ours.  But, this is another large subject only to be touched on in this communication.

peacockThese ancient Indians, like the Aborigines of Australia and Japanese Shintoists, believed wholly in the supernatural and the natural world, and especially envied the characteristics of some animals.  The peacock was one such creature they revered and desired to emulate.  At first, they were afraid of the peacock with its mournful cry and fantastic plumage and feral ways  They were especially shocked when they realised on observing that it was capable of eating poisonous spiders and snakes in order to nourish it large physical structure, and could survive. Quite naturally, I think, they also wished to transcend such poisoning and human fragility, and so came to worship the peacock out of a mixture of envy and fear.

At this time in India, many mantras, or invocations, were used in everyday life, the ancient Indians possessing an authentic insight into the use of the spiritual voice to communicate with the invisible world. Thus, such mantras were developed to emulate the peacock and bring this animal god closer to the human world-mantras, which even incorporated the doleful cry of the peacock.  They really believed that by calling upon this magical and terrifying bird, they may themselves gain some of its divine qualities, and so transcend their weaknesses and limitations.mantras 1 

So, Mantrayana, the next stage of Buddhism, was created, and the idea that all poisons are the same, pondered upon, so that in time, the negative aspects of the human mind became known as ‘poison’ which required an ‘antidote.’ Indeed, mantras or invocations were viewed as just such a kind of antidote, and so became recognised as a part of nature, and not created by man.  They represented an esoteric language, which nature or the universe would respond to, and a way of fusing with the microcosm.

These people had enormous imagination, just as Kukai did, not having yet learned the passiveness of modern, intensively technological societies. So,Daigojihe easily latched on to these Indian modes of thinking and became convinced that this was the way forward to communicating with the universe for Japanese.  You probably know the rest – his studies in China, his return to Japan, and the building of numerous temples and creation of artworks in the name of Buddhism. In all he was able to create his entire system of Esoteric Buddhism in seven years.  I think you will agree that it is really a marvel that he knew how to adapt the original ideas to suit the Japanese character.

But Meredith, what incredible vision he had! At the age of 19?  It wasn’t a question of trusting a teacher, though he encountered and learned from many. His amazing faith was really entirely a question of trusting in his own vision and sense of altruism, of giving himself wholly to the good universe, and his place or mission in human life.  Kukai interacted with his own higher self, and so allowed the course of his life to flow down the mountain of existence like a magical stream, which eventually became a fabulous iridescent river.  In other words, he recognised his mission clearly.Homa

The other constituents of his immeasurable and unwavering faith were courage and fearlessness.  There are many accounts of priests from other Buddhist denominations at the time, which portray their terror of the dramatic rituals which Kukai regularly performed and thrived on.

For me, the greatest aspect of Japanese Esoteric Buddhism is the idea that there is nothing in the universe that remains still, and so there is truly nothing to lose because we humans actually possess nothing or no one.  I can imagine your reaction to that rather dramatic notion! But really, we are simply visitors here in human life, passing through it rivers of spirits, hoping to reach enlightenment. human lifeThis was also such a seminal idea in Kukai’s system – namely shunyataor emptiness. He, like my present masters, wanted to give hope to human beings daunted by the sacrifices monastic Buddhists were required to make. 

He saw actual human life as the greatest monastery of all where people could practise the teachings, really apply them in every action, thought and word of their daily lives.  As a result, we lay practitioners are able to breathe and be totally flexible because there is nothing to hold on to.  

sand through fingers

We can stand back and let life fritter through our fingers in a way, as along as we promise to obey the basic precepts or moral rules which are universally human, and always put others before ourselves. And just for completion, that’s what both my mentors, Alexander and Feldenkrais, I mentioned to you, advocated – you’ll perhaps remember-letting our bodies be natural and not allowing our negative minds to interfere in they way they work.

Kukai developed a beautiful and complete system of living which equally embraced the visible and the invisible, and had at its core the brilliant jewel of harmony amongst all people, and between all people and the earth. But, Meredith,  despite his learnedness and his countless initiations and experience of numina or spiritual phenomena, he filtered everything through his own higher mind. His doubts and questions leading him further andhigher mind further into ‘the beyond’ we talked about. And you must do the same.  Doubts, like mistakes in the learning process, will perfect your faith. They are simply feedback!

So, our masters, and myself and Kokoro, preferred to step forward and actually experience something in the pursuit of faith, rather than linger in a kind of twilight of virtual experience, cradled in a comfortable but anesthetized place.

Finally, I concede that I am arrogant as you suggest.  That is one of the poisons I am working hard in my spiritual training to eradicate, or to find the antidote to counteract.  I am truly sorry for my arrogance and regretful that I was responsible for upsetting or frightening you in any way.  But whether or not you decide to take off your mask for even a moment longer, please know that you are always in my prayers and Kukai 2meditations, and that I will care for you eternally and unconditionally.  My greatest wish is that you will find your real mission in life one day soon.

Please remember that the connection between us has been made and can never be broken.  Our destinies have intersected, so you will always be connected through me, to Kokoro and out masters, and so to those masters whose great wisdom and perseverance brought the most sacred teaching of all to its zenith in the Far East, such as Master Kukai.

In gassho

With the greatest loving kindness