Syntagma Digital
Editor, John Evans

Syntagma is back from summer hols

We are back in business again and will be adding new material in a day or two.

I hope all our readers are having a stimulating summer.

John Evans

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Midweek Mysticism: The end of the road?

Extra Sensory Perception

When I was six or seven I encountered death for the first time. I found my pet budgerigar stiff in the sawdust at the bottom of his cage.

I was both devastated and fascinated. I could see he was dead because something mysterious had left his body.

Later I called this, personage because it was what made him who he was. And now it had vanished. The aliveness was gone.

Much later I had the same experience when both my father and mother passed away.

My psychology professor refused to expand on the topic because, he said, it was a religious thing, not psychological.

I couldn’t see the difference. If personage doesn’t impinge on psychology what does? I think he was a little scared of death, as so many people are.

Determined to get to the bottom of the mystery I sought out the people who were equally fascinated by it. The first was a psychologist, the great Carl (C.G) Jung who led me into, first, mythology and then mysticism, all through his voluminous writings which have lasted well.

But I wanted more. I had read many mystical books in which some advanced souls had experienced “death in life”, that is to say mystical (spiritual) experiences, including out-of-body states.

Later I went through the gamut of such experiences myself, all within the context of a normal life. These were always given not self-induced, although years of reading and practice must have played a part. I think life will deliver what you ask for, if you make the right preparations.

All this has confirmed what has always been believed — better, known — by advanced souls and mystical adventurers: that death is not what it seems.

It is much more interesting than that.

John Evans

Coming soon to a bookseller near you: Practical Mysticism: A different way of looking at the world.

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Saturday Ramble: Ed’s had his bacon

Ed Miliband

Ed Miliband is in the thick of it again. His lacklustre showing in the local election campaign is raising more than eyebrows in Labour ranks.

We have been treated to pictures of him eating a bacon sarnie, which apparently was set up to show what a down-to-earth chap he is, not at all like those toffee-nosed Tories of Labour’s imagination. The shots portray him as a greedy guzzler who can’t even eat without putting his foot in it.

Whenever his name arises now, those images will be imprinted in voters’ minds.

Is there any hope for the lad?

John Evans

… who is the author of The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face? Available from Amazon and all good booksellers.

Coming soon: Practical Mysticism: A different way of looking at the world.

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Saturday Ramble: Mindfulness? The topic of the moment

FearLast weekend’s press was full of something called mindfulness, a Buddhist concept that contains a great deal of truth.

I’m not sure though that the word defines the principle with enough precision to get through to most people.

What is the mind full of? And is a full mind a good thing? In our intellectual age there’s a lot of stuff to fill countless minds, but is that what we want, or need?

I wrote about mindfulness here some months ago but in very different, and simpler, terms that could be widely understood. In the circumstances, here it is again:

Most of us are aware of a voice, apparently in our heads, that chatters away much of the time. It is not totally coherent and seems to flit over a variety of subject areas in a rambling manner. We think of it as “me”.

It isn’t.

In severe cases it can overwhelm an undisciplined mind and drive an individual to the brink of madness. But why is it there? What purpose does it serve?

When we are deeply interested in something, the intense force of our concentration overrides the chattering imp and silences it. Close observation of our mind, as in meditation, soon shows the voice who’s boss. Watch a cat stalking a mouse or a bird. It’s a masterclass in total integration of body and mind, embodied in silence.

Modern humans are split in many ways. The voice is only one indication, but the most apparent. The trouble is, we can’t abide silence and use many props, such as radio, TV, cinema and telephone, to overcome random silence.

Yet, in that silence lies sanity and wholeness. We are not the voice. We are the awareness in which our whole being floats.

To centre ourselves in that awareness is to be wholly who we are, free of the self-generated noise and din of the busyness we take for life. When we are concentrating on a book, or even writing one, we become like the cat, fully ourselves.

Mindfulness is a useful practice, but it needs to be defined more tightly. The basic idea is to reduce the contents of the mind so that a deeper truth can emerge without impediment.

Stuffing the mind with facts and notions is not what it’s about.

John Evans

… who is the author of The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face? Available from Amazon and all good booksellers.

Coming soon: Practical Mysticism: A different way of looking at the world.

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Midweek Mysticism: Christianity could benefit from Zen’s school of hard knocks

Fly Whisk Christianity is in the doldrums. It has settled into a comfortable old age, soothing rather than challenging its adherents.

Young people are not replacing the old as they pass away. Its trajectory is all downhill.

But need it be this way? Here’s a radical plan for waking it up to the modern age using the example of Zen Buddhism.

Zen arose out of Buddhism because the Chinese eye spotted what it saw as a major weakness in the older Indian Buddhist system.

The flaw was a tendency to formularising. As in other religions, the basic principles, intended to help the novice towards understanding, had lost their original force. Now they were just familiar phrases for chanting and disputation.

What had once contained a powerful meaning for unlocking the truth had degraded to mantra, a repetitious, magical formula for inducing a trance-like state. Think familiar prayers and hymns. There really is no difference.

The very sound of well-loved passages from ancient Buddhist texts produce in the faithful a soothing reassurance, a warm, self-satisfied glow that makes them feel good, and even spiritual.

The Christian Church has the same problem today when trying to change from the old known texts to modern versions in the vernacular. A storm of protest from traditionalists greets every textual alteration as if the very doctrine were at stake.

The feelgood factor is a strong motivator in popular religion, which is often a branch of the entertainment industry.

The intention of the Buddha, however, was not to make people feel comfortable and secure, but to shake them out of their complacency and force a reassessment of the world in the light of the reality of Buddha-nature, read “God.”

This inevitably meant inducing a lot of bodily and mental anguish in the aspirant. The Buddha never intended his followers to sit around discussing the Twelve-Point Chain of Causation, the Noble Eightfold Path, the Three Signs of Being or the Ten Stages in the Progress of a Bodhisattva.

Instead, he asked them to confront themselves directly, with soul-shattering insight, to look at the absolute centre of themselves without shrinking from the truth.

It was a bravura performance indeed when a student achieves this measure and comes through into the light of the Buddha-mind (God-consciousness).

A careful reading of the New Testament shows Jesus had the same problem and a similar solution: overturning the tables in the temple was just a start.

Master Rinzai’s apparent violence now becomes more explicable. When the intellect picks up the truth and starts to conceptualise (kill) it, that concept is best slaughtered with a sharp blow, thought the master.

An unexpected whack with a fly-whisk on a mesmerised student’s head brings him back to reality like nothing else does. Strange though it may seem, sudden pain, or shock, transcends the intellect and can liberate the spirit.

This is why suffering is the spiritual forge of many religions, and why the samurai warriors adopted Zen training methods when they were introduced in Japan.

Western New Agers have the same problem when seeking a romanticised spiritualism.

For Zen, the sound of a stone on bamboo, the wafting scent of spring flowers, or a sudden blow are all real, and have been enlightening factors to many a Zen novice. Thinking about them is not. When Zen is at its fiercest, it is precisely at its most honest and direct.

While I can’t see the Church of England introducing fly whisks into its services, it may well be essential to change or die.

John Evans

… who is the author of The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face? Available from Amazon and all good booksellers.

Coming soon: Practical Mysticism: A different way of looking at the world.

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