London Group – Meeting Reports 2011

November 2011

Life Reflects Music: Music Echoes Life

The key signature of Edi’s talk was Beethoven’s famous affirmation ‘music is the mediator between the spiritual and the sensual life’. In acting as mediator we were shown how the inexpressible content of music and of life reflect and echo each other: so to study music is to learn about life; and to look at life is learn about music. Edi provided a wealth of examples to illustrate this theme, such as the difference between power and strength, the presence of the past in the lineage of music, the distinction between head learning and heart wisdom, and a brief extract from Daniel Barenboim’s 2006 Reith Lectures providing a graphic demonstration of the relationship between content and time. En route, Edi played us an extract of Chopin’s music recorded on Chopin own (restored) Broadwood piano on which the great composer himself played to Queen Victoria at Stafford House

Edi then turned to show the indomitable courage and immense diligence of some great virtuosos who let no obstacle or inner suffering stand in the way of their life’s mission to serve humanity through their chosen art, such as the great Hungarian virtuoso György Cziffra who practised for 12 hours a day to recover his piano technique following hard labour and torture in a communist labour camp. The importance of humility allied to the urge to press ever onwards and upward was emphasized using the example of Franz Schubert who, after completing his greatest works and when only weeks from death, asked a Viennese pedagogue for music lessons in counterpoint. Finally we were left in no doubt about the power of sublime music to sooth the savage breast. The two cases in point were the Polish pianist Natalia Karp who had her life spared when she played Chopin’s last Nocturne in C sharp minor to the commandant of a Nazi concentration camp; and the great Russian pianist Maria Yudina whose recording of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in A major was found on Stalin’s gramophone player upon his death. We ended with a short extract form this very recording.

Members can listen to the talk by accessing this page via the Members’ Area and clicking on the link below.

October 2011

The Quest for Hermes Trismegistus

Gary Lachman, a prolific author who writes about the intersection between consciousness, culture, and the western esoteric tradition came to talk about his latest book The Quest for Hermes Trismegistus. The name Hermes Trismegistus was of course known to all of the people attending, but this evening Gary spoke about the character behind the name. He started by explaining that Hermes Trismegistus is a mythical figure, said to have lived before Plato and before the Floods. He is Trismegistus, or Thrice Great ‘ a magus, a philosopher and a sage. For 1000 years his name was lost until 1463 when Cosimo de Medici’s friend Leonardo de Pistoia came across the Corpus Hermeticum in Macedonia and brought it back to Florence. Aware of its importance, Pistoia convinced Marsilio Ficino to put aside his current work on the translations of Plato and attend to this with urgency. So important was the message uncovered in the Corpus Hermeticum that it became a driving force in the Renaissance, influencing the work of artists and scientists, including Botticelli, Newton, and Copernicus. The myth tells that Hermes Trismegistus, a contemporary of Moses received the original primal revelation from the Supra Consciousness Nous, who told him everything he wanted to know about Man and the Cosmos. This ‘prisca theologia’, or Perennial Philosophy, was then passed on to Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato etc. In the middle ages, when Man and the World were seen as sinful and corrupt, the rediscovery of the hermetic tradition helped reverse this notion by conferring on Man the status of co-creators with the divine.

In mid 17thC, Casaubon was asked to write a history of the Catholic Church and discovered that the Corpus Hermeticum texts were in fact written between 100 and 300 AD. Once this became known, Hermes Trismegistus became seen as a fraud as he could not have been a contemporary of Moses and the philosophy lost its status and went underground (as it had done several times earlier under the stress of fundamentalist religions).

It is believed that several authors living in Alexandria during a time of religious tolerance, when Greek and Egyptian knowledge was being combined, wrote under the name of Hermes Trismegistus. He might have been a blend of the Egyptian god Thoth and the Greek god Hermes, or a union of the gods Horus and Apis. Even the Church Fathers knew about the texts and were influenced by them, but once Christianity was declared the Roman state religion, pagans were persecuted and had to flee Alexandria and they took the texts with them. These then appeared in Haran in Mesopotamia (which for a time became a hermetic city), then in Bagdad (influencing the Sufis) and then Macedonia where they were found by Pistoia.

This tradition has been surfacing and disappearing all through history, more recently its influence can be detected in the work of Gurdjieff, Ouspenski, Blavastki and others. We can further see the sensibilities of hermeticism bubbling up in the 60s and even now, 40 years later.

To learn more about Gary and his other books go to his website (link below) and members can listen to the talk by accessing this page via the Members’ Area and clicking on the MP3 link below.

Gary Lachman

September 2011

Women Awakened: Stories of Contemporary Spirituality in India

September brought Swati Chopra to London and she graciously agreed to speak to the London Group about her latest book, Women Awakened: Stories of Contemporary Spirituality in India. Swati is a New-Delhi based writer and spiritual seeker who wrote a travelogue of the spirit Dharamsala Diaries and a modern introduction to Buddism, Buddhism: On the Path to Nirvana.

For this latest book Swati set out to explore a historically less researched subject, women mystics, gurus and renunciates in a country in which traditionally men hold the authority and the power in spiritual circles. The book includes conversations with eight mystics and in her talk Swati introduced us to four. Amongst the reasons for exploring gender in the field of spirituality we learned that spirituality offers women a way of liberation from the constraints of male dominated society which women have sought throughout the world. There is however a glass ceiling in the hierarchy in the spiritual community beyond which women are not allowed to venture. This we found curious for it is understood that when enlightenment or non-dual realisation occurs in the life of a mystic, there is an insight that all is one, nevertheless we heard that women are still as much discriminated against in the ashrams of male mystics, as they are in the outer community! However, women mystics courageously respond by including this condition as part of their spiritual path, and use the opportunity to discipline their egos.

We heard stories about Sri Anandamayi Ma, The Mystic Mother who lived in early 20th C through the conversations Swati had with some of her followers and about possibly the only woman Rinpoche, Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche, for which Swati travelled to the foothills of the Himalayas. Two of the other mystics were actually Western women, one British (Nani Ma) and the other American (Sadhvi Bhagwati) who followed their call to live their spirituality and fulfil their path as mystics in India.

It was a most wonderful evening listening to those stories from wise and courageous women, and the book is an absolute treat to read for Swati’s writing style is engaging as well as insightful!

To find out more about Swati and her work use the link below and members can hear the talk by accessing this page via the Members’ Area and clicking on the MP3 link below.

Swati Chopra

July 2011

Archetype, Psyche and the Mutative Self

Dr. Tim Read, a consultant psychiatrist, is interested in understanding the deeper layers of the psyche and understanding psycho spiritual growth. He suggests that non-ordinary states of consciousness (NOSC) offer a means of working at archetypal level and bringing about a closer relationship with the higher Self. From a young age he has been drawn to the ideas of Jung and also of Stanislav Grof who became famous for his research into NOSC with LSD. When this avenue was closed to him Groff developed holotropic breathwork, a technique understood to achieve the same aims. Tim has trained in this method and finds it particularly powerful for promoting psycho-spiritual growth. Techniques using breathwork or psychedelics or other psycho spiritual technologies allow people to experience archetypal energies relevant to them on a personal and transpersonal level offering insights and allowing an opening to the deeper layers of the psyche which can be of profound benefit, especially in people who have some spiritual practice. Tim spent some time explaining the meaning of archetypes according to Jung, but also how other great thinkers, such as Plato, Aristotle, Homer, Hillman etc understand the concept.

Tim suggests that archetypes derive from what Bohm called the Implicate Order, and emerge sometimes spontaneously and powerfully at important moments in our lives. From examples in his clinical work we learned that encounters with archetypes are a regular feature of non ordinary states of consciousness. Tim showed a moving clip of a woman suffering from ovarian cancer, who transitioned from a state of heightened anxiety to one of calm and tranquillity through her experience of archetypal images of peace facilitated by the ingestion of psychedelic assisted psychotherapy. Archetypal encounters are always material for potential growth, even if they are negative and frightening, which they sometimes are. We were challenged to think about how to work with archetypal energies to facilitate psycho spiritual growth and what does this indicate about the relationship between ego and self, the personal and the transpersonal.

Members can listen to the recording (which regrettably is of less than excellent quality) by accessing this page via the Members Area and clicking on the link below.

June 2011

Conversation with Ravi Ravindra about ‘Science as a Spiritual Path?’

Ravi Ravindra, an honorary member of the SMN, is Professor emeritus at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he served for many years as professor in Comparative Religions, Philosophy and Physics. He is also the author of many books on these subjects. Ravi started by reflecting on what is consensually considered as science. He quoted Max Plank who said: ‘whatever cannot be measured cannot be real’ which he contrasted with Vivekananda who said: ‘whatever can be measured cannot possibly be real’! This set the scene for the discussion on what is science and he drew on physics, philosophy and spirituality to address the question of science as a spiritual path. He pointed out that this is not an outrageous propositions as it may seem to us in the West, as eminent scientists such as Einstein, Feynman, Schrodinger were profoundly aware that the fundamental basis of scientific endeavour is inspiration, a knowing from within. They also experienced profound awe in the face of the mystery of the universe.

We had a splendid and clear narrative of the meaning of living with awareness of our connection with the greater whole from the perspective of various spiritual traditions. Ravi drew our attention to the existence of different levels of internal and external realities, which can only be understood from within the same level. In other words, eyes of the flesh can only see things of the flesh, where as eyes of spirit can see things of spirit. Science at the level of spirit means participating in the endeavour with the whole being, body, mind and spirit. Whereas Einstein is reported to have said ‘science without religion is lame and religion without science is blind’, Ravi would amend this statement to say: ‘science without spiritual practice is blind and spiritual practice without science is lame’. By emphasising spiritual practice, Ravi is saying that to process scientific knowledge the experience and familiarity of spiritual reality is beneficial for a deeper interpretation of what is being observed. Conversely, spiritual practice without discrimination and rigour of science can fly off into magical thinking. It was a fascinating evening, which it always is whenever Ravi Ravindra is around!

To listen to the recording, members (accessing this page via the Members’ Area) can click on the link below.

May 2011

The Turin Shroud: Scientific evidence for authenticity and the physics (and metaphysics) behind the image

This month we heard GP Dr. Andrew Silverman talk about his fascination with the Turin Shroud. He started by describing the Shroud which is now kept in Turin, but there is evidence that it has passed through hands in Jerusalem, France and Odessa. The clearly visible creases indicate that the shroud has been kept in a box and taken out from time to time. The blood has been confirmed as real by researchers and even a type has been tentatively indicated. The image seems to indicate that the shroud was used to wrap the body of a crucified man after his death. With the use of a photograph, Andrew pointed out the signs on the image taken to correspond to wounds inflicted on Christ by the Romans, as well as others identified as corresponding to the results of crucifixion. Evidence of it being genuine comes amongst others from the fact that the image is only on the surface fibres and no brush strokes can be identified, pointing to burning rather than painting. Curiously an image enhancer of the photographic negative (first taken at the end of the 19th C) will reveal the details of facial features in relief, providing a very clear image. The research in 1988 which declared the Shroud to be a medieval fake seems not to have followed proper protocols including the fact that only one sample was taken, and this from a corner which shows evidence of re-weaving, probably in medieval times. Andrew is convinced of its authenticity and his explanation for the image is that the wrapped body experienced an intense flash of radiant energy shortly after the man’s death, which Andrew relates to the de-materializing of the body. The man in question had therefore special characteristics leading to the conclusion that it was indeed Jesus. Going further, Andrew refers to Gospel quotations which indicate that Jesus repeatedly asserted that he is one of ‘us’, a man as well as divine, and his example can be followed by us all. Relating this to free will – everybody can lead the kind of life Jesus led – Andrew reaches the conclusion that the image is not a miracle, but the result of a transformation in consciousness that at least potentially, everyone can achieve.

For further information go to the website below, and members can listen to the talk by accessing this page via the Members’ Area and clicking on the link below.

April 2011

The New Philosophy of Universalism: The Infinite and the Law of Order.

Nicholas Hagger, a prolific author, spoke about his recently published new book The New Philosophy of Universalism: The Infinite and the Law of Order. The philosophy of universalism is about the structure of the universe and it seeks to incorporate the outlook of evolving fields, which he names as: world literature, world history, comparative religion, philosophy and philosophy of science and international political relations. It is the unity of human kind in different disciplines.

Universalism sees the universe as a whole and assimilates every experience and all possible concepts in it including the infinite. It incorporates the idea of universality, focuses on universal science, the idea of universal order, human kind, universal being, universal cosmic energies etc.

The 15 tenets of Universalism are:

1.focus on the universe rather than logic and language
2.focus on the universal order principle in the universe, a law which may act as a fifth force
3.the universe/Nature manifested from the infinite/timelessness
4.the universe/Nature and time began from a point and so everything is connected and one
5.the infinite/timelessness can be known through universal being below the rational, social ego
6.reunification of man and the universe/Nature and the infinite/timelessness
7.reunification of fragmented thought and disciplines
8.reunification of philosophy, science and religion
9.focus on the bio-friendly universe, not a multiverse
10.affirming order as being more influential than random accident
11.affirming the structure of the universe as unique, its cause being the universal order principle from the infinite/timelessness/Void/Being/’sea’ of energy
12.affirming the eventual reunification of humankind
13.affirming humankind as shaped by a self-organising principle so it is ordered and purposive
14.affirming all history and culture as being connected, and one-world government and religion
15.affirming that life has a meaning

More information can be had at the website below and members can hear the talk by accessing this page via the Members’ Area and clicking on the link below.

Nicholas Hagger

March 2011

Erwin Schrödinger and the Biological Basis of Consciousness

Dr. Peter Bowman, Science Coordinator for the University Preparatory Certificate at the Language Centre of UCL, and an enthusiastic student of Vedanta philosophy gave a very interesting talk on a side of Erwin Schrodinger (1887-1960) 1933 Nobel Prize winner in physic, little known to some of us. He started by pointing to a survey in 2005 commissioned by the journal Science, which tried to identify the top125 questions in science. Top of the poll was “what is the universe made of?” and second came ‘what is the biological basis of consciousness?’ Looking at this question through the lens of Schrodinger’s ideas was the essence of this talk. Peter started by telling us that Schrodinger, had a deep understanding that materialist explanation go only part of the way to explain Reality and he set himself the task of resurrecting metaphysics. He wanted to engage in philosophical wonder, the wonder and astonishment at the way things are ordinarily. As well as Kant and Schopenhauer, Schrodinger studied Vedanta and this philosophy became the lens through which he understood the world. He had a profound sense that our consciousness is the singular manifestation of the oneness of Mind, best understood in the idea that Atman is Brahman. Schrodinger, a brilliant scientist used physics and chemistry amongst others to study biology at a time in which genes were known biologically but scientists did not know how it works. He foresaw DNA and set the agenda for the understanding of genetics. But ultimately the question remained ‘ if everything can be explained through physics and chemistry, what does that make me? Something is being left out. I must be more than just physical elements and chemical reactions! Perhaps I am a unique collection of sensory experiences and memories, or the background or canvas on which they are collected. Are they personal or universal? He felt they must be universal, an idea which echoes the Christian belief ‘ I am one with God, or in Hinduism Aham Brahmasmi ‘ I am Brahman. But mainstream science is resistant to the top down approach to Consciousness, preferring the bottom up, which explains consciousness as an epi-phenomenon of brain. Why is that? Schrodinger sought the answer to this question in Greek thought which proposes that the world can indeed be understood (rather than it being a mystery) and that the world is outer and objective. The Greeks did not consider the inner world, they focused on the content of awareness rather than awareness itself which is where it differs from the Vedanta approach. Shankara the Hindu philosopher wrote a commentary on the Brahma Sutra, the culmination of Vedanta knowledge, and Schrodinger may have come across the recent translation by Max Muller. This text clarifies the difference between I and the not I, the cause of much confusion. The I, is the observer, awareness, the subject and the ‘not I’ – that which is being observed, the content of awareness, the object. The subject of science is the Witness, everything else is object. Consciousness is therefore the I, the subject, which cannot be the object of science. Science can therefore not examine consciousness because consciousness is the subject. The question therefore ‘ what is the biological basis for consciousness is clearly put on its head!

Members can listen to the talk by reaching this page via the Members’ Area and clicking on the link below.

February 2011

The Riddle of Time and New Dimensions of Reality

This month Prof Bernard Carr, Chair of the SMN, gave a presentation which attracted a record audience! Bernard is Professor of Mathematics and Astronomy at Queen Mary, University of London and has a deep interest in consciousness. He brings together his professional and personal interests by aiming to extend physics to incorporate consciousness and associated mental, psychical and spiritual phenomena. Bernard started by stating that only recently has consciousness become respectable within physics yet a brief examination of quantum theory, the anthropic principle, paranormal phenomena or the flow of time shows that mind is not incidental, but fundamental to understanding the nature of the universe in which we live. To show the interconnection between mind and physical reality, he took us on an interesting tour around certain fundamental principles relating to space and to time. Starting with space, we heard the history behind the suggestions of additional dimensions to the three (length, width and height) we are familiar with, proposed by various philosophers and scientists over the years. First four (spacetime), then six (superstrings), finally the 11 dimensions of current M-theory and we can of course not rule out the addition of more in the future. Against the background of these dimensions, can psi phenomena be explained as an interplay between mind and other dimensions? If we assume these are non-physical spaces (as is the space in which we experience dreams, memory, or visualisation for instance) could a super-position of physical and non-physical spaces explain paranormal phenomena such as apparitions, ghosts, OBEs etc? To complete the picture Bernard addressed the riddle of time for which we need to know about specious time. This is the unit of time necessary for our consciousness to make sense of what we apprehend, in other words, the time duration necessary to apprehend the present moment. Specious time can vary in our own human experience, for instance in mystical experiences or in an accident, perception of time slows down sometimes almost to a standstill whereas when we have a fever or in an NDE life review it speeds up. It is therefore reasonable to suppose that specious time is different throughout the universe, where a whole hierarchy of consciousness may exist however human consciousness is limited to what we can perceive in our ‘ human ‘ specious time. The understanding of potential existence of other dimensions and specious time together with the limitations of our consciousness to apprehend both space and time opens up a whole range of possibilities to explain that for which we currently don’t have an explanation and therefore label ‘paranormal’.

Space does not allow for this report to reflect the richness of this presentation. Members can listen to it by accessing this page via the Members’Area and clicking on the link below.

January 2011

The Archetypal Cosmos: Rediscovering the Gods in Myth, Science and Astrology

At the first meeting of 2011 Prof. Keiron Le Grice talked about his book The Archetypal Cosmos: Rediscovering the Gods in Myth, Science and Astrology. Keiron is adjunct Professor in the Philosophy, Cosmology and Consciousness programme at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) and is also the founding co-editor of Archai:: The Journal of Archetypal Cosmology. The new discipline of Archetypal Cosmology uses the archetypal attributes of the 10 planets in astrology to create a framework by which to understand the events that shape us and the world around us, within the micro and the macro picture. His work is inspired by the writings of CG Jung, Groff, Hillman and Joseph Campbell on the one hand and from a scientific perspective by the work of Rupert Sheldrake, Fritjoff Capra, Teilhard de Chardin, Brian Swimme and David Bohm. The book came out of his own need to understand his worldview and his work resonates strongly with that of R. Tarnas who is a colleague at the Institute. In his book Keiron looks at the human need for meaning and the role of myths in this regard. He quotes Campbell who examined both oriental and occidental myths and describes how they gave rise to meaning in the various cultures. In the West when Nietzsche declared God was dead he was communicating his experience of the prevalent demise of meaning. Shortly after however Jung gave the world the gift of his insights, including that of archetypes and individuation helping us again to reconnect with meaning. Archetypes inform nature as well as psyche and if we consider that the Cosmos is the materiality of Psyche and Psyche the interiority of the Cosmos we see that inner and outer are subject to the influences of archetypes. And that is Keiron’s message. The ten planets are singular in their archetypal meaning and Keiron proposes that personal as well as world and even cosmic events are influenced by these archetypes and their astrological configurations. This perspective imputes meaning to the Cosmos. Using the same archetypal attributes used in personal astrology, Archetypal Cosmology is concerned with the Anima Mundi the interiority of the Universe.

Members can listen to the presentation by accessing this page through the Members’ Area and clicking on the link below.

Mid-Winter/Christmas celebration

Winter Solstice, a Dark Night of the Soul

On a cold and dark evening in December, by the fire Katriona Munthe invited us to reflect on the life of John of the Cross and his Dark Night of the Soul. We then celebrated the occasion with mulled wine and seasonal food.

Members can hear the reflection by accessing this page through the Members’ Area and clicking on the link below.