The Valley Spirit – an Introduction to the Tao Te Ching
Shantena Sabbadini is an associate director of the Pari Center for New Learning in Italy, and a physicist who worked on the foundations of quantum physics. He has a deep interest in mystical traditions, especially Chinese, and has co-authored an innovative translation of the I Ching with the sinologist Rudolf Ritsema. He is at present involved in a translation of the Tao Te Ching along similar lines. This evening Shantena explored the use of language in Taoism which is an important part of the tradition. He pointed to some fundamental principles, which determine the meaning of linguistic expression in Taoism highlighting that what is expressed in the tradition is beyond language. Paradoxically, we define reality by the language we use yet we have no access to what is beyond language. It is against this background that Shantena explored the principles of naming. As soon as something is stated, the opposite comes into being. Ethically for instance, when something is declared ‘good’, ‘bad’ comes into being. In modern language, the issue explored here is one of ‘map’ and ‘territory’. When we speak about something, we are speaking about the map, not the territory and the Tao is the territory and when we speak about it, it becomes the map. Which is why it is called the ‘nameless Tao’, the way that can be told is not the constant Way. Shantena showed how a number of scholars translated this concept pointing to the effort invested in trying to describe the territory, an effort which however will always remain a map. Shantena also spoke about the two main books which contributed to the tradition, the Tao Te Ching or Lao Tsu and the Chuang Tsu and spoke about their different approaches. Being a physicist he drew striking comparisons with quantum physics and also with spiritual or transpersonal psychology when he spoke about the Self as not a ‘thing’ but a ‘doing’ and compared it with a wave being both the wave and the ocean. As in other mystical traditions the teaching is about moving ego aside and allowing the movement of life to fall through us with as little impediment as possible and Shantena showed how this tradition developed within this particular culture for the Chinese are a syncretic people who tend to combine rather than separate things. Members can (via Members Circle), download a pdf or Word file by clicking the link below.
Philosophy and the Spiritual Path
In this talk Network Chairman John Clarke spoke about Philosophy and the Spiritual Path. John is Professor Emeritus in the History of Ideas at Kingston University and has taught philosophy in several universities in the UK and abroad. The theme for his talk was the idea that Greek philosophy, the ideas which so influenced the West, was in fact a framework for living life and as such, a spiritual path. Epicurus is said to have proclaimed that ’empty are the works of that philosopher who offers no therapy for human suffering’. With this in mind John went in search for the spiritual questions which may have motivated philosophers and systems which have shaped Western thought. Rather than coming from a strict exercise in rational thinking, John showed by means of three examples, that although not necessarily a framework for living as in ancient Greece, modern philosophy does in fact come from what can be called a fundamentally spiritual drive which has to do with the desire to understand the meaning and our place in the world. The three examples John chose to support his argument were Descartes, Hegel and the philosophy of Scepticism. Although Descartes is seen as the father of rational thinking and science, when developing his theories we heard that Descartes was in fact suffering from a deep spiritual crisis which prompted him to search for that which he could not doubt, and this was ‘cogito, ergo sum’ – I think therefore I exist. The realisation of our own existence is the first step in the spiritual path, the first step in the discovery of God within, a real mystical experience. John then discussed Hegel, known for his science of logic and rational. Hegel was nevertheless also attracted to mysticism, which is evident in his work Phenomenology of Mind. The unhappy consciousness, he maintains, is that which experiences God as external to oneself, clinging to something which is other than oneself. John then explored his third strand, the philosophy of Scepticism and showed that their belief -that we cannot know anything apart from our own mind – is not dissimilar to Buddhist teaching, and leads to the development of a healthy acceptance and integration of uncertainty in life and living. John’s ideas sparked an animated discussion which brought other examples from philosophy and personal experience.
Members can (via Members Circle) listen to or download the talk by clicking on the link below.
The Missing Methodology; How to Hypothesise in Scientific Research
Ranjan is the Director of Studies at the Academy, a centre of excellence for Holistic Health Studies in Colombo, Sri Lanka. The main thrust of his talk was to draw our attention to the need for education to be more in tune with human nature and encourage right brain activity such as intuition, dreaming etc, which will enable future scientists to be more in touch with their creativity. Ranjan proposes that Natural Law is not the observation and explanation of Nature, but the interplay between Nature and ourselves, which consequently must consider the effects of the observer in any scientific investigation. For this reason it is important to know how human beings operate in body and mind, to realise that when the scientist is centred and fully in touch with himself in all modalities, the question to be posed in a scientific investigation will reveal itself through what Ranjan calls the scientist’s passion. Such ‘thinking outside the box’ will enable this inspirational rather than intellectual creativity to emerge, something not normally understood or accepted in conventional scientific circles.
School of Souls
In August we heard Z’ev ben Shimon Halevi on the Kabbalah and Schools of Souls. Halevi, or Warren Kenton – his English name – sees as his task to translate the Judaic line of the Kabbalah into modern form for anyone who wishes to walk its Way. He has been studying and teaching at home and internationally for forty years and is the author of many books. Warren started by describing a model of human development which encompasses 4 levels: the ‘vegetable level’ where the preoccupation is survival and feeding the senses, the ‘animal level’ where an awareness of other realities is awakened, the ‘human level’, the place of wisdom and higher levels of consciousness (eg the philosopher Martin Buber) and finally the highest level, that of the founder of Schools of Souls, where we find the Bhudda, Jesus etc. We saw slides of representations from different cultures which indicates the ubiquitous nature of the idea of levels of spiritual attainment. Referring to the sephirot, Warren briefly explained their individual qualities on Tree of Life. This Tree is the basic tool of Kabbalistic representation, a very complex but also very complete model, through which all human activity and belief can be understood. Schools of Souls of all traditions follow similar models, teaching by way of inner work the steps needed for the attainment of higher levels of spirituality, moving from self interest to service to others. They rely specifically on discipline and obedience, obedience that is, to the tradition, not the teacher. The human journey, sometimes through many lives, is one of ascent from the material level through the psyche then to soul, and progressive inner awareness draws us towards the upper regions of the Tree, towards the divine. Warren talked briefly also on the shadow side of this process, about false teachers who through charisma gain the trust of seekers and can do untold damage. Although using the right language, their attachment to the senses and the material world is a signal which should set alarm bells ringing. Warren’s Kabbalah Society has a website, and members can hear the presentation by clicking on the link below.
Stepping Stones to Transformation and Growth
In July we heard Dr. Peter Fenwick, the president of the SMN and a consultant neurophsychiatrist with long term interest in neuroscience, brain function and altered states of consciousness. Peter has been exploring the phenomenology of spiritual transformation and growth, specifically in respect to experiences of transcendent states. With the contributions of modern authors such as Wei Wu Wei, Alan Forget, Imants Baruss and Merrell Wolfe, and their perspectives, Peter set out to clarify a possible methodology to achieve a transcendent state, which is clearly beyond the ability or comprehension of the ordinary every day mind. The transcendent state is a discontinuity therefore to approach it through ordinary cognition is unhelpful and its ineffability makes it difficult to put the process itself into words. For this reason Peter referred to the experiences of various people including his own and that of Thetis Blaker (1927-2006 ‘ Painter, SMN member) as example. The experience of dissolution of the subject/object distinction, the feeling of being at one with all, the expansion of consciousness etc, reported by people who have had such an experience serves as basis to work backwards and the authors quoted developed a methodology which will encourage a favourable state of mind to bring about such experiences. Paradoxically however once there, the realisation is that there is no work to be done! Because when transcendence is experienced, there is the insight (which bypasses the rational mind) that we have always been such and unity is our fundamental state of being! Without duality of subject and object, there is no space, there is no time, I am not and the apparent universe is myself.
Members can (via Members Circle) hear the presentation by clicking on the link below.
The Shift Report 2007 – Evidence of a World Transforming
This month we had to move venues to a larger room to accommodate all who wanted to welcome the president of IONS (Institute of Noetic Sciences), James O’Dea from the USA.IONS is a sister organization to the SMN, which conducts and sponsors research into the potentials and powers of consciousness, including perceptions, beliefs, attention, intention, and intuition. James spent ten years as the director of the Washington DC office of Amnesty International, and five years as executive director of Seva a non-profit organization dedicated to international health & development issues in Latin America, Asia, and on American Indian reservations. He is also a member of Ervin Laszlo’s World Wisdom Council. The presentation focused on the recently published Shift Report 2007, which examines the current shift in perspective on ways we understand the world in which we live. It looks at perspectives in cosmology (the nature of the world) epistemology (how we know what we know) philosophy (what assumptions underlie our knowledge) ideology (how we structure and organise society) culture (what forms and means of relating reflect the way we live) and psychology (how we deal with the inevitable shocks and wounds of our existence). Our current default attention seems to be on the break down, the cracks and fault lines of our present reality, and we seem to be returning to a Manichaean perspective of polarized good and evil. Having examined and reported on the current state of affairs, the Report looks at the emerging forces which point to a new set of parameters in which different values and a different reality unfolds. It points to emerging new values in all areas, including ecology, education, health, the economy etc, which are leading to the development of new ethical guidelines and principles. Examples from many areas of activity, including the ubiquity of non profit organizations, the driving principles of internet such as shareware etc point to the shift of paradigm which indicate that rather than demise, we may be facing a more integrated future, even if the ride is bumpy. The Report is an invitation to access our deepest reality of human becoming. It can be ordered online from the Noetic website (below) and members can listen to the talk by clicking on the link.
The Extraordinary Experiences of the Bereaved
This talk was given by Dr. Louis LaGrand, Professor Emeritus at the State University of New York, who was one of the founders of Hospice of the St. Lawrence Valley and was also a member of the debriefing team for the TWA Flight 800 disaster. He is the author of several books and has been researching the subject for many years. Using the metaphor of an island, Lou pointed out that the larger the ‘island of knowledge in the sea of inexhaustible mystery’, the longer the shores! Such is the mystery of life and death! There is no standard terminology for the experiences referred to in his talk. They are those labeled paranormal, post death contact, death related sensory experiences which bereaved people have, often many years after a loved one has died. The experiences are spontaneous and the majority are intuitive (a feeling) or occur in dreams but they can also be visual or auditory. They feel very real and have a very profound effect on the mourner, often being life changing. People find themselves with renewed life purpose and with their general focus expanded. Although the current scientific paradigm cannot accommodate these experiences and they are often dismissed, studies show that they are not infrequent and their validation is of immense therapeutic value. Lou gave us a variety of examples drawn from his professional experience and in each of them the sense that they helped the person move forwards was indisputable. Knowing that love, the most powerful coping mechanism, goes on after death is a major source of strength and comfort. As CG Jung said, ‘meaning makes a great many things endurable, perhaps everything!’
Members can listen to the lecture by clicking on the link below.
Active Information – integration of Mind and Matter
Dr. David Peat was a friend as well as colleague of David Bohm (who was a also a member of the SMN) and he gave us some fascinating insight into the man as well as his work. He delighted us with anecdotes about Bohm, Pauli and Bohr, their personal and professional concerns. Bohm found it difficult to accept that quantum mechanics defied reason and sought to develop a model which would include causality and consequently rationality. To this effect he included in his model, the principle of Active Information as a fundamental influence affecting the way matter and energy behave. In other words, it can be said that electrons ‘read’ and then ‘respond’ to this information. This explains the universality of mind and matter and we experience it personally in the way mind influences our bodies and vice versa. This idea was incorporated into Bohm’s theory of Implicate Order and also informs us on the quality of what became known as Bohmian dialogue, which originated from his conversations with Krishnamurti, who believed there is no difference between thinker and thought, paralleling Bohm’s belief that there is no difference between observer and observed. We learned that the principle of implicate order was inspired by Bohm’s observation of CΓ©zanne’s painting in which each aspect contains the whole. The electron, which enfolds in and out again and the process of thinking in which one thought emerges from another, are also ways in which this principle manifests. On a personal note we learned with sadness that Bohm fought against serious depression at the end of his life. It was a most interesting presentation and some of us are looking forward to seeing David Peat in the Autumn, when the SMN will be holding its continental conference in Pari, Italy where he lives and works. See
Satan and the Meaning of Evil
Dr. Phillip Cole is Reader in Applied Philosophy at Middlesex University and wrote a book entitled The Myth of Evil, which was sparked by George Bush’s rant against the ‘axis of evil’. Phillip made plain that his approach is exclusively secular and does not include any transcendental consideration, which he leaves open as an uncertainty. This evening Philip examined Satan as a case study and used the 4 categories he identifies as models for understanding evil. These cover the idea that evil originates from outside human nature (monstruous model), evil exists for no reason other than pure enjoyment (pure evil), evil used as tactics in the furtherance of an aim, such as power, wealth etc (impure evil) or the fourth, the psychological model. He went through all the categories and showed that even Satan, the most obvious choice as a case study, cannot reasonably be framed into any of the models, and that it is in psychology that we find meaning when looking at evil. The point Phillip made in his presentation and makes in his book is that any evil deed needs to be understood before it is judged. Although condemnation may be appropriate, understanding needs to precede condemnation. The concept of evil is all too often used to plug a gap in incredulity, when some deed is so horrific that we cannot identify with or accept it. This however has the effect of putting a cap on understanding and the danger is that what created the circumstances or possibility in the first place remains undealt with, open for future repeat. The figure of Satan belongs to the mythical realm and so does the concept of evil. In an evil story, the meaning is in the plot, and not in the evildoer whose role is designed to highlight a moral message. It was an interesting evening and the questions and answers were challenging and thought provoking.
Psychical Research as the Bridge between Science and Mysticism
Bernard Carr is Prof of Astrophysics at Queen Mary University and combines the attributes of being a scientist with an interest in religion and psychical research. In his university years he enjoyed probing the mysteries of all three camps, and later focused professionally on research into cosmology and relativity. However he has continued to be active in the other fields of interest and has until recently been the President of the Society of Psychical Research and is at currently a member of the Board of Directors of the SMN. In this talk Bernard expanded on his proposal that parapsychology bridges science and mysticism, with the existence of an additional bridge ‘ paraphysics – between science and parapsychology and another one ‘ transcendental psychology – bridging parapsychology and mysticism. Mysticism is to be understood as including psychic experiences as these are not different in type from religious experiences, but lie on opposite ends of a continuum. Therefore if psychic phenomena can be subjected to scientific examinations through parapsychology, the same should be true of mystical experiences as both are interaction between mind and the physical reality. Paraphysicis and transcendental psychology examine experiences along that continuum for example, the levitation of St Theresa d’Avila when in ecstasy is of interest to transcendental psychology and the levitational aspect to paraphysics as well as to parapsychology itself. So are other human experiences. But of course both science and religion are suspicious of each other and being on this metaphorical bridge is an uncomfortable place to be. However, since what is being studied is human experience within a physical world, it must follow that in due course, such experiences must be available to science. What followed was an exposition in which Bernard expanded on his own belief of the kind of reality which would yield such understanding. It would require a paradigm shift involving a higher-dimensional reality structure or information space, which he terms the ‘Universal Structure’. This is supposed to accommodate all experience (be it physical, mental, psychic or mystical), including the (4-dimensional) physical world itself. This proposal has some connection with M-theory but interestingly, his ideas actually precede M-theory by some 20 years.
The Art of Letting Go
We started the year with Peter Russell, who attracted record attendance! Peter is a fellow of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, of The World Business Academy and an Honorary Member of The Club of Budapest and his principal interest is the deeper, spiritual significance of the times we are passing through. He has written several books in this area ‘ the latest being From Science to God. Peter started the lecture, which he entitled ‘The Art of Letting Go’, by drawing our attention to the fact that a shift in consciousness is essential in the current times, the world being in crisis the way it has never been before. The essence of such shift is a shift in the framework of perception, in other words, seeing the world through different eyes and the essence of such understanding lies in ‘letting go’, a theme which is at the basis of every spiritual tradition. Whether we talk of ‘surrendering to the will of God’, or ‘non attachment’, or ‘love’ (letting go of fear), or ‘acceptance’, ‘forgiveness’ etc, these are all concepts which point to the same ultimate aim ‘ getting in touch with our true nature. Attachment to outcome cause stress, and in Buddhist terms, suffering or more accurately, discontent. Letting go, brings peace. But how to do it? The first part of letting go, is ‘letting in’ for letting go is not about getting rid, but about changing something so that it no longer controls us. Peter has been using the gift of childlike curiosity to play with that sense of resistance to letting go, and found that upon doing this, things began to open up and release took place. A shift of consciousness occurred. A further step was to realize that all perspective is A perspective, not THE perspective, so the suggestion is to question one’s interpretation of a situation by asking ‘is there another way of looking at this’. We were given the opportunity to go into meditation for a few minutes and allow this question to float within our consciousness. It was an interesting experience and many of us reported feeling an opening to a shift in understanding.
Peter Russell`s website is