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Editor, John Evans
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Saturday Ramble: Ed’s had his bacon

Ed Miliband

Ed Miliband at lunch

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 and ketchup sarnie, which were apparently set up to show what a down-to-earth chap he is, not at all like those toffee-nosed Tories of Labour’s lurid imagination.

The shots (see above) 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

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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Saturday Ramble: Nosegate; Dylan Thomas Centenary

Nose 2

There has been much speculation for a while now on whether David Cameron has what it takes to win a General Election outright.

That question is the wrong one to ask. The pertinent query is: can we trust untried — and slightly odd — Ed Miliband with No 10, and the alarming Ed Balls with five years of running the country’s finances?

The Cameron question produces an indeterminate answer: it’s still not clear what sort of government Dave would run with a clear majority.

He has been in unwanted coalition with dithering Nick Clegg since the last election, an unfortunate situation that has severely muddied the waters around him and dismayed many southern Tories in the heartlands. So, logically, the jury’s still out.

But, that is not the crux of the matter. It’s clear that many Labour voters are holding their noses when considering their below par pair of champions. Could this give Clegg an unearned bonus in the poll?

My hunch, for what it’s worth, is that the broad centre-ground mass will vote against another indecisive result and that can only mean a proper Conservative Government.

Mind you, there’s going to be a lot of nose-holding come next May.

* * * * *

Dylan Thomas’s centenary is getting a lot of coverage in the Press and other media, especially the broadsheets.

Everyone it seems is refusing to go gentle into that good night. Me, I’d rather rage, rage against the dying of the light. But not just yet.

In my school and uni days, “Dylan” translated as “Bob”, as in “Times they are a’changing”.

Dylan, as in “The force that through the green fuse drives the flower” — although long dead — was something of a hero, particularly to those who enjoyed a tipple or two followed by a fracas, especially at weekends.

Naturally, Dylan’s sauce, consumed copiously, was to the forefront of the movement among male students. His rather ignominious demise in New York, drowning in Scotch and vomit, put some of the more delicate souls to flight.

I’m glad to say I was one of them. It is possible to have a debilitating excess of a good thing. Perhaps now we can concentrate on his writings*.

His prose often lit up the night sky, and still would today, if rescued from partial obscurity.

* The BBC has an interesting documentary on the go: Dylan Thomas a Poet at War, which covers his unexpected work as a wartime propagandist for the British Government in London.

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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Easter Mysticism: The evolution of consciousness

Library Angel It’s Eastertide, so let’s see if there’s anything new to be found in religion — which can be a touch boring at times.

The old platitudes of Christianity fail to impress the majority of people for most of the time. The same goes for most other “faiths”.

Is there a different way of looking at them?

Biology understands evolution as a random physical system which eventually created the human body — almost by chance. It scarcely pays attention to the evolution of consciousness, except as a by-product of physicality. An afterthought, if you like.

The world is a very different organism than that. Time is continuously created as a field in which the evolution of consciousness can take place. Indeed, that seems to be the sole reason for time to exist at all.

Speculating further, our human role is to function as the eyes and ears of the originating mind so that it can become conscious of itself.

In Meister Eckhart’s resonant phrase, “The eye with which I see God is the eye with which God sees me” — a sentence as profound as anything ever uttered or written.

The physical world we know is part of a continuum of existence based on consciousness, or spirit, if you’d prefer. Once we accept that mind precedes and therefore creates matter, all then is mind.

At that point, mind can be experienced as matter, and we can begin to imagine realms of being other than our own. The phrase “infinite possibilities” rises unbidden.

We all exist in time, even if we don’t know exactly what time is. We can only describe time using mechanical comparisons — a clock, for example. But that doesn’t touch the essence of it.

Time is indistinguishable from consciousness in the sense that the passing of time is the product of consciousness.

In the end, everything manifests as consciousness, which is the heart and soul of existence. Without knowing that you exist, what else exists?

Ultimately, consciousness is what we call God, even if we don’t know it.

We should therefore respect and revere our own consciousness as part of, and indistinguishable from, God. Without, of course, imagining that we are God!

Life was never meant to be easy.

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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