Sylvanus: 1st century Christian mystic, certainly fully embodied the Christian teachings


Christianity has strayed far form the original teachings and the beautiful minds of the gnostics and mystics who carried forward the true teachings of the spiritual Christ. In the Middle-Ages there was a clear recognition of the misguided and manipulative ways of the Church of Rome. The Cathars referred to it as the ‘Church of Wolves’ because the teachings increasingly dwelled on sin and the material Christ, choosing to ignore the spiritual and mystical aspects of the original teachings.

A relatively recent book, ‘The Lost Child of Philomena Lee’ by Martin Sixsmith in 2009, and the film adaptation called ‘Philomena’ directed by Stephen Frears (2013), traces the inflexible attitude to teenage illegitimate births of the Catholic Church. Accidental pregnancies are even today seen as evil acts demanding severe punishment and a life devoted to atonement for committing this sin of all sins.  15-year old Philomena’s son Anthony is wrenched from her at the age of 2 to be sold for big money to rich Americans. As an elderly woman she decides to search for him on his 50th birthday. It turns out that he has died of AIDS, but as the disease progressed he returned to the convent where he was born in Philomena’s native Ireland, to try to find her.  The greedy sisters, living in luxury thanks to their illegal income, fail to tell her of this, or even that his body was buried in the convent graveyard.

The senior sister at the time of this shocking incarceration of teenage Pilomenamothers and the nurturing of their babies born without pain-killers as penance, now frail and in retirement, is finally confronted by the journalist helping Philomena with her search. Sister Hildegarde says bitterly that she has kept her vow of chastity all her life so why shouldn’t others! Celibacy is something so unnatural and unnecessary in the name of religion. Catholics seem to thrive on the suffering and self-punishment meted out by an omnipotent and ruthless King of their imagining. These are the crooked interpretations of power-seeking egos surely, as it was in the Middle Ages.

This kind of religion demands that we submit and vacate our true and natural self. We buy into such hierarchies by deferring without question to their absurd and harsh rulings. The divine spark of original Christ is extinguished forever by the blood and sweat of human suffering and punishment as followers (those who follow and have no mind/nature of their own) become merely consumers buying a material set of beliefs and idols. In the story, Philomena’s sense of goodness is strong, natural. She doesn’t blame what Martin calls ‘the evil nuns,’ and yet her whole life has been ruined by the mistake she made at the age of 15. She considers herself to be a serious and irredeemable sinner. She is so pure that she defers wholesale to the rulings of God’s dubious representatives. What profligacy is this?

Sylvanus taught clearly, as did the Buddha and other remarkable energies, that we humans have the potential to be God. His model is realizable in our daily life. He says,

‘Light the light within you.  Do not extinguish it!  Certainly, no one lights a lamp for wild beasts or their young.

Many followers of religions look to the lights outside themselves for light. They mistake their own light as ‘ego,’ or some kind of arrogance which they must eradicate or hide. There is no place for the individual in the eyes of obsessive clerics who sadly climb into positions as educators and damage the purity and natural qualities of many of their ‘sheep.’

‘You were a temple, (but) you have made yourself a tomb.  Cease being a tomb, and become (again) a temple, so that uprightness and divinity may remain in you.’

Unfortunately, the world is dominated by living tombs who have lost all contact with their own unique voices. This is why we live in a world of mass mediocrity often studded with dubious and adulated stars.

‘Knock on yourself as upon a door, and walk upon yourself as on a straight road.  For if you walk on that road, it is impossible for you to go astray. And if you knock with this one (Wisdom), you knock on hidden treasures.’

We each have all we need inside us to become living Gods and Buddhas, now, in our lifetime. We all have a sacred mission which we constantly evade while deferring to other so-called ‘leaders’ and ‘holy beings.’ As Sylvanus advises, it is important to always keep in mind that ‘everything which is visible is a copy of that which is hidden.’ The Cathars referred to the visible world as the world of the Devil, created to tempt us away from the invisible and our essential being as spirit.

rebirth 2

Article 9: Becoming the Dharmakaya

spiritual practice 1

So far in this series of articles based on the final teachings of the Buddha, the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, the focus has been the final instructions the Buddha gives before he dies. For this article however, I would like to write more generally about broader notions of spiritual practice from my experience as a long-term Buddhist practitioner moving systematically through the early, middle and later teachings, and reaching the last teachings in the evening of my life. But also from the point of view of all spiritual practices, their forms, the motivation behind them, and the fundamental reason for their existence.

The sad parting of the historical Buddha Shyakyamuni from the human world – revered teacher and tireless devotee to the happiness and liberation of humanity from all suffering – creates a situation in which his disciples were forced to end their reliance on him. He had appeared in the human world of suffering, or samsara (Skt), and relinquished his privileged life as a Prince expressly to devote himself to this end. His appearance in human form is highly significant. It indicates that human beings needed detailed instructions and constant support in transcending their suffering and arrogance at this time. It is often proclaimed in the Buddhist sutras and scriptures of other religious traditions, that a spiritual leader appears in the human dimension when people have all but lost their spiritual direction. I believe that his presence as a model was desperately needed in an ancient India which was gripped by war and power-mongering. Even in his own lifetime, the entire Shakya clan, his own people, was massacred in a battle for supremacy and wealth, and his father’s kingdom appropriated.

anceint IndiaIt is interesting and inspirational to consider what ordinary people were like going about their daily lives in the early periods of so-called ‘civilisation.’ In what was known as the Golden Era of ancient India, several thousand years before the Buddha’s appearance, the gods, the Holy Beings, lived among the members of communities, making the divine easily accessible and full enlightenment possible by simply being in their presence. This notion is based on the premise that all humans born into the physical dimension are endowed with a divine flame, an indestructible link with the sacred; that, unlike today, in the Latter Era of the Dharma or Law, when our societies are in serious decline and our karmic debts on a colossal scale, we were originally sacred beings, with natural faith born of our closeness to the divine.

The situation in ancient India was similar in Ancient Greece where the gods were constantly present, tangible, as they were in greek godsmany other European civilizations. In other areas of the world, we can see today that surviving indigenous peoples, e.g. native Americans and Australians, unexploited African tribes, et al, also live in the constant presence of their divine creation heoresbeings, their Creation Heroes as they are often known.

So, when the gods lived among us, our divine spark was burning brightly. We were awake, not slumbering and responding blindly to delusions as most of us are today. We had not yet retreated into the self-made cavern of our ego-minds, and did not habitually block and interfere with natural processes. There was no need to assert our ego in the form of opinions or flattery, deceiving or telling lies, etc., because we had not yet become attached to and distracted by gratification: our intents were pure and rooted deep in the sacred. Unlike in modern life, we had no need to practice to wake ourselves up with perpetual meditation and mindfulness, an endless schedule of rituals and goals and empowerments. Our spirits simply were, and so they wore the weight of the human form with ease. As mentioned above, our karma was also pure, virgin and untarnished, so its negative form did not ripen forcing us to behave in a delusional way or to manifest illness or suffering, which is often the case today.

Imagine the world of ancient India then, long before the Buddha’s appearance. This was his legacy, and so witnessing the clairvoyrant Buddhadeterioration around him, his last teachings were intended to prepare us for the deterioration we witness in today’s world, which he predicated with his clairvoyant powers. But what had also happened among his disciples was that they had become dependent on him, literally following him around as he taught substantial congregations of seekers of the truth. This dependency on his physical presence, made them deeply fearful as his death as it rapidly approached.

He earnestly reassured them with the following words:

A Buddha does not die. Likewise, Dharma does not perish. Only tathata (shinnyo-Jpn) is real; everything else is illusory. The substance of the Buddha is shinnyo.’

Dharmakaya 2In his last moments, Buddha revealed to his beloved disciples that the teachings he was leaving for them would become his body, the Dharma body, or Dharmakaya (see previous article Dharmakaya at, after his physical death. In other words, to the first generations of disciples, the posthumous presence of the Buddha could be found in the form of his teachings, the Dharma. Later in the Mahayana, there are three ‘bodies’ of the Buddha; the Dharmakaya is the ground for the other two – the Enjoyment Body (sambhoga-kaya) and the Emanation Body (nirmanakaya). These 3 are synonymous with perfect enlightenment, transcending all perceptual forms and so not possible to perceive. They have many astounding qualities: freedom from all conceptualization; liberation from defilements; and the intrinsic ability to perform all activities. In later forms of Indian and Tibetan Buddhism, influenced by tantric thought, the Dharmakaya is considered to be equivalent to the actual mind of the Buddha.

While transmitting his final teachings to the first disciples, which have flawlessly been transmitted orally up until today in the various Dharma Streams, the Buddha entreats them to become a reminder of Buddhahood, a representation of the Dharma-Body for all sentient beings to return to. In chapter 12 of the Sutra, The Nature of the Tathagata, he says:

‘I (the Buddha and all disciples) shall become a stupa (a repository of holy relics), a reminder of Buddhahood that other sentient beings can respect, and represent the Dharma body for them to return to…….I shall be the eyes for the blind and also a true refuge for Hearers and Solitary Awakened Ones.’

stupaThis is testament to our divine origins, to our inclinations towards the good and moral, to kindness and compassion, which I believe are at our core. We each have the spirit of a Buddha, an awakened one. We each have the choice of waking up from the deluded dreams contaminating our minds, of sensing the formless nature of reality, of resisting indoctrination and repression. The Dharmakaya, the Dharma body of the Buddha, walks among us today as we struggle with our delusions in a secular world of overwhelming diversity. If we connect with our true nature, letting go of our addiction to gratification and living with the courage to be our true selves, then we will find happiness in the realization of our sacred missions.

We are each a stupa, a shining tower housing the essence of the Great Truth (Tathata {Skt} Shinnyo {Jpn}), but the divine can only work in us when we are empty of delusions, self-serving desires and attachments. There are numerous ways we can practice to realize this emptiness, but there is a danger that we practice with ego, becoming attached to the practices themselves, forcing and striving to achieve these states. This struggling against the current of the natural, this shouldering and manipulation and grasping by religious means, is perhaps burying our true nature even more deeply.

transformationIt is interesting and at the same time quite shocking that human beings often long to wipe clean the slate of their beings, to erase everything so that they can be reborn, totally transformed. Many of us view our thinking as flawed so we block it, hide it away; we experience a frisson of guilt at having such thoughts and then bury them, perhaps forever. I have learned to let my thoughts appear, let them surface as detritus or debris in water. I do not condemn myself for having so-called bad thoughts in the same way as I do not condemn myself for having so-called good thoughts.

It is impossible to wipe the slate of our human existence and our spirit entirely clean; instead, we can adapt and accept – making the effort to free the flow of the water of our life. We are essentially formless exactly like water; in its natural state it flows wherever it wants to, wherever it can. Sometimes over-zealous practice can freeze that flow, fixing our nature in a glacier. purityEmptiness is the free flow of our waters. They are healing and cleansing, refreshing and exuberant. They are not made to flow by our human effort alone, but by our spiritual permission.

Once we did not need to make an effort to keep our divine flame alight by spiritual practice. We were truly living out our original nature, flowing freely, merging with the fluid natures of those around us in loving harmony. Then, we are misguided in learning to utilize the intellectual mind to interfere in this natural process, and our blindness began, leading us to go our own egocentric way towards the secular and personal power.

We may meditate, we may reflect, we may take empowerments and initiations, we may doggedly follow the letter of our teacher’s advice, but we must not lose sight of the truth, the suchness, which is inside ourselves, inside our stupa. We must not rule out the possibility that our ancestors were divine beings who handed on their divinity through the generations, and that by simply being, by sitting with ourselves exactly as we are, that spark will burst into joyful flame once again.

religious followersWe may see ourselves merely as followers of a teaching, of a guru, but being a follower may imply that we are separate and different from our spiritual guide, and thus we are separate from the Buddha’s eternal presence, the Dharmakaya. In Chapter 23 of the final teachings, Bodhisattva Lion’s Roar, the Buddha teaches observing the holy precepts, entering into holy meditation, and acquiring holy wisdom by first stating what they are not:

Holy Precepts are not observed:

• for your own happiness

• for the sake of profit or worldly affairs

• out of fear that you may fall into the lower realms of suffering

• to avoid encountering danger or unhappiness

• to avoid being punished

• to avoid damage to your reputation

Holy Meditation should not be practiced:

• for your own enlightenment and benefit

• for your own safety

• to avoid negative things such as greed, being free from impurities, etc

• to avoid disputes and physical violence

Holy wisdom cannot be acquired with the following thoughts: If I become wise I shall

• be able to liberate myself and escape the suffering realms, as no human can liberate all beings from the sufferings of birth and death

• be able to become enlightened quickly, eliminating all delusions now I have encountered the Buddha, which is as rare as the blooming of an udambara flower (blooming once every 3000 years)

• be able to overcome the agonies of birth, aging, sickness, death and shine a light on my spiritual darkness

meditation then wisdomWhen we are truly practicing for the sake of others, we are not conscious of the form of wisdom, or meditation, or even the precepts, for they are our true nature. We do not have to be self-conscious of them. They are housed in our stupa, integral to our ancient unconscious minds. This is the aspiration of a truly divine being:

‘As one with wisdom, I wish to carry the burden of the inexpressible agony of all beings on my shoulders. I wish to remove people’s poverty, crudeness, insidious desire, and to soak up their poisons of greed, anger, and ignorance. I implore people to let go of their greed and lust, and not be bound by their desire to have a good reputation and respect. I wish to free people from the cycle of birth and death, but will stay in that cycle myself to guide every last one to Nirvana. I wish every sentient being to attain ‘perfect universal enlightenment,’ and to recognize and cherish their divine origins and missions.’


With each breath, each blink of the eye, each thought as it arises, we are a Buddha, here in the centre of this blink

moment. We are each flawless, inspirational, universal beings. We should look no further

for we are the divine.


universal beings

(My deep gratitude to Karen Armstrong for her masterpiece ‘The Great Transformation’ (2005, Anchor Books) which taught me so much about the ages of man.)

Article 3: Emptiness


Having a supple mind means that we can transcend the realm of worldly truths valid only in the human realm. Emptiness allows us to surpass the cycle of birth and death, eliminate delusion, and attain the great truth of permanence-bliss-self-purity. This is the official definition from a Buddhist perspective.

Buddha;s enlightenment

Emptiness is one of the elements of enlightenment the Buddha mentions in his final teachings. To be empty means to be released from all attachments, and to live in an enchanted undistracted state in the midst of the world of samsara. This ‘emptiness’ is the state the Buddha attained during the lead up to his enlightenment. He was determined to achieve such ‘emptiness’ saying ‘I will not move from this seat until I have obtained enlightenment.’ Mara, the demonic presence during this time, conjured up all manner of distractions and temptations to break Prince Siddharta’s concentration, envisioning them as distinct armies: The army of Greed, of Grief, of Hunger and Thirst, of Attachment, of Laziness, of Fear, of Doubt, of Obstinacy, of Fame and Fortune, and of Conceit, one by one, they were systematically defeated. In their place, the Buddha took hold of his principal weapon ‘wisdom’ declaring that from that moment on, he would let it fill him ‘just as water fills a jar.’

massive diamond

Emptiness, like Buddha nature, (see article is hidden, although it is there inside us all the time. We simply need to let go of everything and everyone and merge with the divine. For me emptiness is the beauty of the silence when my human eyes close and my spiritual eyes open. And this sublime silence is something, the last thing, perhaps the only thing, I desire. If one practices abiding in this state often, then eventually it is not something even to desire because it is perpetual. With practice and with purification, all craving and attachment ceases.

The Buddha earlier in his ministry said,

‘As the fletcher whittles

And makes straight his arrows,

So the master directs

His straying thoughts.

Like a fish out of water,

Stranded on the shore,

Thoughts thrash and quiver.

For how can they shake off desire?

They tremble, they are unsteady,

They wander at their will.

It is good to control them,

And to master them brings happiness.

But how subtle they are,

How elusive!

The task is to quieten them,

And by ruling them to find happiness.

With single-mindedness

The master quells his thoughts.

He ends their wandering.

Seated in the cave of the heart,

He finds freedom.

How can a troubled mind

Understand the way?

If a man is disturbed

He will never be filled with knowledge.

An untroubled mind,

No longer seeking to consider

What is right and what is wrong,

A mind beyond judgments,

Watches and understands.

Know that the body is a fragile jar,

And make a castle of your mind.

In every trial

Let understanding fight for you

To defend what you have won.

For soon the body is discarded.

Then what does it feel?

A useless log of wood, it lies on the ground.

Then what does it know?

Your worst enemy cannot harm you

As much as your own thoughts, unguarded.

But once mastered,

No one can help you as much,

Not even your father or your mother.

(Dhammapada:3; Mind)

the intellect

To busy intellectually dominated beings, thinking is compulsive, often leading to anxiety or arrogance or even premeditation, so that we cease to live our lives directly. We become convinced that this is reality, when it is in fact just a space in our minds filled with thoughts combined with our experience, culture, etc.  We could say that such thinking achieves nothing, like playing games. It can consume our waking hours, making time pass quickly, because to those who dislike contemplation or reflection in silence time goes slowly and is like an empty box which must be filled to be meaningful. We are living always in a self-made zone of concepts and notions distanced from our feelings and from the divine spark.

I first became acquainted with how to avoid this zone deep inside the south Australian desert about 25 years ago  (see “My Path So Far.”) when I lived briefly with some indigenous Australians.  ‘The Dreaming’ is a well-known aspect of their traditional life, which I came to recognize as reality. I was taught by Ninija, my spirit guide and traditional landowner or spiritual custodian of a huge tract of land in the desert, that I used language to make concepts, and that these concepts placed me always at the side of reality.  A common example of this cited by others who have also reaped the harvest of indigenous wisdom, is ‘stars.’ Ninija asked me why I was staring up at the incredible canopy of stars one night, and I told her that I had never seen so many stars before.  She had quibbles with the word ‘stars’ insisting that she did not know what I meant, and that they were the campfires of the travelers in the sky. Indigenous peoples believe that after they die their spirits rise up into the heavens and start traveling on to their next spiritual challenge, and if they get cold they stop to light a little fire and warm themselves. I later found out that there was no word for ‘star’ in aboriginal language.

Linden/129156587260233">Nirvana Linden.

Indigenous peoples, if living a wholly traditional life, are completely integrated into their lives in close communion with nature. They are not separate from it or from the Universe, but see themselves as an essential component of the fabric of the universe, each with a distinct mission. They do not think but instead fill their time with gratitude and joy for their human existence. Their environment is made up of the physical manifestation of their creation heroes and heroines, which they celebrate and make offerings to. Ninija’s main purpose was to watch the natural environment for new stories and then inform her people so that they could add the new story to their daily observances. Their partnership with the spiritual world or the invisible world in this way allowed them to live in reality and to live in full joy, or ‘fully integrated,’ as I later came to refer to it as.

intergationAchieving the state of emptiness also means that there are no fears. The Djang, the death of the physical body, is the absolute climax of their physical lives. They long for it.  It is symbolic of their having learned the human lessons, which they need to, in order to move on to the sky and the next stage. Ninija’s son Ginger died as a young adult as a result of alcohol and substance abuse, a common way for indigenes to die when they are corrupted by white-man ways. His wasted body was found in a telephone box in the alien city and he became a young hero when his spirit was released at the Djang, the most mysterious of all the rights of passage. As a result of receiving such wisdom, I too learned to long for my Djang so that I could rise into the sky and continue on with my spiritual journey.

sky heroes

Reading this, you may find it difficult to reconcile Buddhist beliefs with those of indigenous peoples, but I believe there is a huge spiritual connection. After I had received Ninija’s wisdom, my Buddhist pathway became totally clear, so I always include the Sky Heroes of the indigenes of the Pydjinjarra tribe in my pantheon of deities. It is our close connection with the great ‘Mother Nature’ that we have lost and/or abused, and I believe this can be interpreted as our connection with the Universe according to the Lord Buddha’s creed.

Emptiness then is something we achieve when we put aside all our concepts, notions and thoughts, and get back to a direct relationship with our origins in the natural world. Meditation and spiritual reflection, which are in tandem with our higher self, will help take us to that state. Of course this stripping away of concepts, notions and thoughts will open us to more spiritual aspirations and experiences until we are empty.

Emptiness is control and concentration, a return to our divine origins as beings of unconditional love. For me, unconditional love in the Mahayana way when we become able to put all living beings before ourselves, is the way to emptiness. As the Buddha said, what goes on in our own minds if controlled and enlightened can help us more that even our parents. Mastery of our minds is the key to our enlightenment , to our emptiness.

Permanence, bliss, self and purity image

Just a word about ‘Permanence, Bliss, Self and Purity,’ as mentioned in the last teachings of the Buddha Shakyamuni.  Of course, ‘permanence’ refers to the fact that our spirits are indestructible so that if we sincerely take refuge in the Buddha or indeed any qualified spiritual guide, we can work towards this liberation from the fears of temporal death. “Bliss’ means entering into the joy of being in one with all the holy beings, the state of grace or awakening or oneness with God , ‘Self’ means our true nature, our Buddha Nature, the fact that we need to be ourselves at all times, not blocking or pretending at any time, being totally honest first with ourselves and then with all others. Finally, ‘purity’ means that we work to purify our karma through ritual, and to develop merit through pure acts. We are, after all,  all pure beings when we enter our human manifestation, so there is a need to return to that state through practice.