10: The Same Pathway

breathe life into

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.

unconscious mind

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.

emptiness

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.

Ram rock

‘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!

calling meCalling

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 sala grove

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.

7: Making Bonds with the Universe

 

universe

The Buddha made it clear that we should create and maintain bonds with the universe even though we have been born into human life. The Cathars also were constantly connected to the spiritual or invisible world, regarding death, the ending of human life, as a simple veil that could be easily removed. The halo (a circle of light around the head of a holy being depicted in Christianity) and the aureole (a circle of light around the head and/or body of a deity in Buddhism), were and still are used as reminders of the spiritual origin of all things manifest in the material plane. In both systems of living out the lessons and struggles of human life (Christianity) or samsara (Buddhism), we aspire to make the transition back into the spiritual, formless world, taking all sentient beings with us.

reclining Buddha aureolehaloed beings

 

 

 

 

 

Cathars, who were vegetarians apart from eating fish occasionally, prescribed the endura, a form of ritual suicide, as a practitioner approached death, preceded by the administering of the consolamentum. (see post Consolamentum https://lindenthorp.wordpress.com/2013/11/17/consolamentum/  in this series on the Cathars)  In Buddhism, the diet is always important as it is important to allow the subtle inner winds (vayu– in Sanskrit) to blow naturally through the channels of the body, the body and mind being unable to function at subtle levels without these winds being balanced. So, in both cases, the awareness of what substances from the earth we put inside our bodies is central to the way we use them. These rules about living allow us to connect with mystical knowledge, to be able to be a channel for such energy, to fine tune in order to receive the countless messages and signs from invisible sources.

teachers

The mystical has always drawn me personally since being a young child. I could never accept that worldly achievements were the pinnacle of all existence, always being certain there was much more than that.  Of course, children are usually not yet conditioned as adults are: they are pure and still close to the universe before their intellectual capacities develop. I always dreamed of touching the mystical and my dream came steadily true through the Buddhist pathway and gnostic traditions such as Catharism and Sufism. Indeed, in my present practice, the Nirvana Teachings of Shinnyo-en, it is possible to become a spiritual medium so that through intense training and empowerment, one can channel messages from the Buddha and other deities, which will touch the hearts of those receiving them. I am almost at the end of such a training now, and so looking forward to devoting myself to being that empty pure channel to help guide people to true and lasting happiness in Nirvana.

mandala 1 Mandala 2

In Esoteric Buddhism, the mandala is the traditional way of mapping out the Dharma Lineage passed down through the ages from Buddha Shyakyamuni. It represents the whole universe, and if you are correctly connected to the Dharma Stream, there is nothing and no-one outside you, no ‘us’ and ‘them,’ you are actually in the centre of that universe.

Buddhists strive to release themselves from attachment to objects and people because attachment means separation: attachment requires the attached and the attacher. Once we are truly one with the universe and all sentient beings, then we have realized emptiness and the native silence and stillness of the heart. All cravings are extinguished, and it is said that we have crossed the great Ocean of Nirvana to the other shore.

waterfall training waterfall training

In Japan, there is a strong tradition of mountain asceticism, shugendo in Japanese.  Yamabushi  in Japanese (one who likes mountains) follow a special doctrine, which combines esoteric Buddhism, Taoism and Shinto. They are usually solitary and today mostly lay practitioners. Emphasis is placed on physical feats of endurance in the open air where the aspirants live in the primeval forests of rural Japan, and their goal is to find supernatural powers through such practices.

Shingon Buddhism, which my own practice is connected to, emphasizes enlightenment through isolation, the study and contemplation of oneself and nature, and of mandalas.  Yamabushi can often be seen engaged in waterfall training – standing under waterfalls in freezing winter, ridding themselves of their ego so that they can receive the esoteric. My own masters did this practice regularly, as did many other key teachers in my lineage of Shinnyo Buddhism.

The Cathars also had a strong reverence for and involvement with nature. The sacred caves of Sabarthes in Languedoc are known as the ‘doors to Catharism.’ Part of initiation as a Parfait was to climb a steep path leading up to these caves (a practice common in shungendo) to the cave of Bethlehem. There were four important elements inside the caves involved in this initiation before receiving the consolamentum, or making the final vow: first, a square niche in the wall which could have conceivably contained a mandala or manual of some kind; second, a rough granite altar; third, a pentagram carved into the wall, possibly symbolizing the 5 elements of the universe (a common symbol in Esoteric Buddhism); and finally, the telluric currents emitted from the rock walls and cave floor. The atmosphere in these caves fills one with awe. I was particularly sensitive while inside, and after visiting had a series of Cathar dreams which have recurred since that time.

The Sacred Caves of Sabarthes.

The Sacred Caves of Sabarthes.

Buddhists work to achieve emptiness and liberation from all attachments. If you step out of the enclosure of your mind, the view of the world you construct with your intellect, then you step into the Buddhafield or mandala where you are protected and qualified to receive by oral transmission the wisdom of the Dharma stream. At this moment, you become unified with the universe, and this is reality. You can take refuge in this powerful mandala whilst struggling in samsara to liberate all sentient beings and bring them to enlightenment with you.

Buddhafield

It could be said that the notion of making ‘bonds with the universe’ began with the young Prince Siddartha’s first experience of meditation. He was 7 years of age and already showing promise in his training to succeed his father and become King of the Shyakya clan. One day, he accompanied his father and entourage to an agricultural festival dedicated to the earth deity. While there, the young prince noticed a small bird pecking at a worm that had been turned up by a plough. He felt such compassion for the worm that he was inspired to sit in a nearby grove under a jambu (roseapple) tree and soon entered into an advanced meditative state. The sun was high in the sky, but the shade provided by the surrounding trees stood still, keeping the young child cool and sheltered from the hot sun. This first meditation inspired by nature demonstrated the highest respect and reverence for the treasures of the universe.

In my own meditations, I often use the image that everything inside me, beneath the thin membrane of my skin, can amalgamate with everything outside. That my heart can beat in unison with all the hearts in the universe, that I can breathe as one with all in the universe. It is easy to transcend the thin membrane of skin and realize deeply that this is all that makes me a physical individual being, acting in the world, fulfilling my own unique mission.

The Universe is the Spiritual Source. The Moon and Sun are our protectors. We climb the mountains, flow into the oceans down wide rivers, swing from stars and planets. It is only the mundane mind that sequesters us in its synthetic reality, away from the glory of the great Universe.

deep meditation

6: metempsychosis and karma: the Church of Love

rebirth

rebirth

If we come into contact with people at large during each day, packed on to commuter trains, or standing in queues because of the delays of seasonal rushes and peak times, it is easy to become irritated or even enraged. We can be indignant and incredulous that people around us are behaving so badly, in such a self-centred way. We wonder why they cannot be like us, civilized, considerate, ‘normal.’ These dramatic differences we perceive distance us from humanity, isolate us inside the world we create in our heads with all its synthetic standards and bars to jump. We make judgments, and in so doing place ourselves above others and outside the field of love.

The medieval Cathars of Languedoc were so focused on their practice of faith out in the community that they could easily accept and have compassion for all the excesses and ‘fascist’ attitudes around them. They helped as many people as they could, and put themselves at risk of being discovered and captured while administering the Consolamentum so that people could be saved from damnation. Corruption and deception were a way of life in medieval Europe, and the friars and cardinals leading the interrogations against the Cathars were merciless, torturing and imprisoning at will, and other atrocities. Betrayal of the trust of the Perfecti was common too.

Some say that medieval European society was as bleak as today’s, but as the Perfecti believed that evil spirits could jump into other bodies – metempsychosis (the transmigration of souls or rebirth)- they could accept that people behaved badly, driven by their occupying spirits.  Metempsychosis is one of the oldest beliefs in the history of humans in all parts of the world, Orient and Occident alike, and it is thought nowadays that it may be almost a natural or innate beliefs native to the human mind. As Christianity spread steadily across Europe, the eternal nature of the soul was a seminal belief retained by the Manichaeans and Cathars, and other gnostic sects, but the mainstream Catholic church rejected it as heretical. They put enormous defensive energy into eradicating such beliefs, and in a way maiming their own roots of Christianity in the process.

Cathars believed that Jesus was the manifestation of a pure spirit unbounded by matter. The God of the old testament was Satan, while the God of St John’s gospel in the new testament was the all-loving compassionate God. The human figure of Jesus was simply a messenger, an emanation of the true God, which could never be made manifest in the Devil’s world. Cathars thus attached no importance to the crucifixion and nativity due to their material nature. In this respect, they were indeed a highly spiritual and mystical sect.

God of Love

God of Love

My own upbringing was fairly strict, mainstream Christian, and although I felt deep reverence for the holy beings and saints, I was always rather scared of the suffering evoked by the crucifix and crown of thorns, the dark corners of musty churches, the negative emphasis on sin and guilt because Jesus died for humanity on the Cross. On the other hand, if I had had access to the faith of the Perfects, I would have aspired to become a Perfect and eventually to join the compassionate God in the celestial realms.  Christian practices were too materialist for me, too dark, to oppressive, so I turned to Buddhism as an older teenager, which surprised my family and seemed to be a betrayal of the faith into which I was baptized.

When I encountered the Cathars of Languedoc, I was so thrilled to find a meaningful Christianity that was so similar in essence to Buddhism. Siddhartha, the privileged Prince who became the Buddha, the Enlightened One, was also perhaps only a messenger manifest as flesh and blood. After his death and Parinirvana at the age of 84 or so, after his final teachings of Nirvana which I devote myself to today, he shifted to the spiritual source, the Dharmakaya (see previous article at https://lindenthorp.wordpress.com/2013/09/01/dharma-kaya-the-body-of-truth/)  and so in various emanations can eternally guide and protect those who take refuge in him. Engaged Buddhists connect themselves to the faultlessly transmitted Dharma Lineage, which stretches back to Shyakyamuni Buddha who became enlightened. Our commitment is beyond the narrow intellectual concepts of time and space, and we know that as we approach or turn back from Enlightenment, we will transmigrate into other realms, either higher or lower. In fact, most Buddhists practice specifically to break the perpetual cycle of rebirths so that we can return to the spiritual source.

Siddharta

Siddharta

Some scholars refer to the Cathars as ‘Western Buddhists.’  This is ironic as Buddhism is quite widely practiced in the west these days, and has, as in my case, superseded Christianity. This is not to say that the original teachings of the messenger or prophet Jesus are not superb, but with time and cultural distortion, and the tightening of the material grip on societies, they seem to have been outgrown. In contrast to the Christian, the approach Buddhists make to the spiritual world, the invisible world, with the correct protections and aspirations, is positive. There may be dark corners in our spirits, which need to be sluiced with the lights of virtue and merit, with purification, but our appreciation of karma, the injurious actions of our ancestors and of our own, motivates us to cleanse our negative karma.  The Cathars too believed in karma necessarily because of rebirth, and worked to purify themselves during their human sojourn.

karma: dependent conditions

karma

In 1244, after the Albigensian Crusade, which lasted 9 months and claimed the cities of Beziers, Narbonne, Carcassonne and Toulouse, the Cathars surrendered. That year, on March 16th,  over 200 of them were brought down from the hilltop fortress Montsegur and thrown on to a huge pyre to be burned. On March 14th before they surrendered, they held a religious ceremony and made the prophecy that the ‘Church of Love’ as they referred to it would be proclaimed in 1986, 700 years later. Their own words on that occasion best describe their creed:

Cathar Creed at the Fountain 1244

Cathar Creed at the Fountain 1244

The Church of Love

It has no fabric, only understanding.  It has no membership, save those who know that they belong.  It has no rivals, because it is non competitive.  It has no ambition; it seeks only to serve. It has no boundaries for nationalisms are unloving.  It is not of itself because it seeks to enrich all groups and religions.  It acknowledges all great teachers of all ages who have shown the truth of love.  Those who participate, practice the truth of love in all their beings. There is no walk of life or nationality that is a barrier.  Those who are, know.  It seeks not to teach but be and, by being, enrich.  It recognizes that the way we are may be the way of those around us because we are the way. It recognizes the whole planet as a Being of which we are part.  It recognizes that the time has come for the supreme transmutation, the ultimate alchemic act for conscious change of the ego into a voluntary return to the whole.  It does not proclaim itself with a loud voice but in the subtle realms of loving.  It salutes all those in the past who blazed the path but have paid the price.  It admits no hierarchy or structure, for no one is greater than the other.  Its members shall know each other by their deeds and being, and by their eyes and by no other outward sign save the fraternal embrace.  Each one will dedicate their life to the silent loving of their neighbor and environment and the planet, while carrying out their task however exalted or humble.  It recognizes the supremacy of the great idea, which may only be accomplished if the human race practices the supremacy of love. It has no reward to offer here or in the hereafter save that ineffable joy of being and loving. Each shall seek to advance their cause of understanding, doing good by stealth and teaching by example. They shall hear their neighbor, their community and the Planet.  They shall feel no fear, feel no shame, and their witness shall prevail over all odds.  It has no secret, no Arcanum, no initiation save of the true understanding of the power of love and that, if we want it to be so, the world will change, but only if we change ourselves first.

Today, there are many Europeans, born in the 40s and 50s, who feel that they are the martyred Cathars of Languedoc reborn. They believe that they exist now as the result of a powerful commitment made at the end of a previous life to return to make a significant contribution towards the spiritual rehabilitation of this planet and its people. As mentioned in an earlier article, during my time living in Languedoc, I had many mystical dreams and feelings, which I could not ignore. I was born in the 50s and lived in Languedoc in the nineties at the commencement of the new era of Catharism!

The Church of Love

The Church of Love

Three years ago as a result of elevation and spiritual guidance as a Nirvana Buddhist, I received a strict chastisement from my spiritual superiors for neglecting and criticising my Christian origins.  I was so shocked, immediately repenting with remorse. Now, a little more wisdom and research into the community of present-day Cathars, leads me to accept that perhaps I was critical of the Roman Church (the basis of modern Christianity) because it has distorted the original teachings of God. Now, I strongly believe my origins to be Cathar, and my affiliation, the Church of Love. This embracement of all original faiths was a huge realization handed to me by my compassionate Buddhist gurus and guides. My main mission nowadays as a Buddhist is to bring all original and true faiths into the stable light of harmony. The Buddha in his final teaching, the Mahaparinirvana sutra, said,

 All rivers of faith flow into the great Ocean of Nirvana.

Interfaith Harmony and Unity

Interfaith Harmony and Unity