History was never one of my favorite subjects in school. I always had a difficult time remembering all the names and dates, let alone seeing what the relevance of something that happened, say, three thousand years ago had to do with what I was going to do the next day. Maybe it was because I just wasn't geared toward the subject or maybe I just had boring history teachers, but science always had a much greater appeal to me, along with girls once nature deemed fit to bless me with hormones in my teenage years. Of course, that was a long time ago-ancient history, shall we say?-and I have come to appreciate the importance of the subject, especially when it comes to learning not to make the same mistakes over and over again. However, there is history, the subject, and then there is history-the kind that one never gets from books. When I refer to the latter, we begin to touch upon a subject that has quite an immediate importance to our lives and does indeed affect what we will do for the next day and all of our days to come, for what I mean when I talk about that is what most of us know as Soul-history. Soul-history forms a lot of what science calls the subconscious mind, which is the basic patterning that determines so much of how we behave. This is the patterning from relevant past lives that gives us our inclinations toward certain cultures, activities, foods, interests and talents, and it is that history that points toward an understanding of what our purpose is for life and how that is to work out.
It is a fascinating thing to watch children as they come into the world and grow up. They have certain distinct likes and dislikes. They gravitate toward certain people, objects, music, activities and so forth, each one as if there were something old and familiar in whatever they are drawn toward. I remember from my childhood that I was always attracted to the stars and science. When I discovered Chinese food in the fourth grade I was hooked. I could eat it at every meal and never grow tired of it. All things Chinese have held a deep fascination for me and, of course, music has been a huge influence in my life. There is one thing I always realized when I came across something new that spoke to me, though-if I felt pulled toward it, there was invariably a feeling of comfort, familiarity and peace about it. I didn't have to think about it or try to figure it out. I always knew it was right. It was as if I was simply remembering something instead of learning new things, which is actually very close to the truth. In the end, though, what eventually evolved out all that 'remembrance' was a more or less clear sense of a direction forward in life, and when I would get involved with things that really spoke to me there was never any question in my mind as to what I should do or how I should do it. I just knew. My path for the time or period was illumined, clear and compelling. Such clear knowing is a characteristic of the sign Taurus, and the concept of purpose as a steadily unfolding process is as well.
Certain themes of Buddhism seem to stand out to me this full moon. There has been a strong undercurrent with this letter and a prompting to look at the Buddhist tradition as it relates to human spiritual evolution. Many people call the Taurus solar festival (full moon in Scorpio) the 'Festival of the Buddha'. The phrase is actually a little unfortunate, for the Wesak period is not about the personage of Sakyamuni at all, but rather indicates an attainment or orientation to achieve a specific state of being-that of atmic consciousness, or spiritual bliss, if you will-which relates more to spiritual Will than it does to Love. Many people have commented to me how difficult each Wesak period has since I started writing these letters, and I would have to concur. It is because the sign Taurus has such willful energy and a one-pointed focus that the Wesak period is difficult for many, especially for those who are more heart-oriented. One of the main tenets of Buddhism is compassion for all sentient beings, however, so although the Wesak interval might seem difficult each year, it does highlight that we are all in this together and that we should have compassion for the trials of those with whom we have contact. In that realization we find that the Wesak festival says a lot to us about the opening of the human heart and that it is not simply a time of purging, hard work or simple realization of purpose in life. So, just what is Buddhism and why is this full moon always associated with it?
To begin with, there are countless Buddhas in our local universe-not just one. Each one of us is a buddha in our higher nature. We each have the Buddha within us, literally and figuratively. The Wesak festival is a celebration of that fact. What does it mean to be a buddha, though? Loosely defined, a buddha is one who has achieved liberation from the wheel of rebirth (one who has reached a stage of relative perfection in the human sense and no longer needs to be reborn in this world)-an Adept, in esoteric parlance-one who dwells fully and always in a state spiritual bliss (full functioning and consciousness in the realm of buddhi) and who has achieved a measure of consciousness in the realm of Nirvana (anupadaka). There is a great deal implied in this definition that would take too long to explain, but what has just been described is the simple truth of the matter. In short, a buddha is one who has completely gone beyond all association with the personal and who thus works purely in the spiritual realms, even though they might still be found with a physical form. The fact is that they are simply not identified with anything personal, and it is that term 'identification' that gives the key to buddha-hood. However, humanity has had one shining example of our own kind who reached that exalted state of affairs and that was in the personage of Guatama, the Buddha. Through his own struggles in life he came to certain realizations and was liberated from the need to struggle. His message was one of great simplicity, yet profound in its import, and it gave us the keys needed for our own liberation and realization of the essential purpose for our lives. His message goes something like this:
There are three basic laws of existence.
- All phenomena is impermanent (change is the great constant in life)
- Identification with phenomenal existence is unsatisfactory (to do so causes suffering because form is always changing)
- There is no fixed essence (sense of Self), only becoming (all is evolving spiritually).
In addition, he gave us the Four Noble Truths.
- Attachment to form is suffering.
- Desire is the cause of suffering.
- Suffering can be ended by the attainment of Nirvana (not the band, the state of being)
- One should avoid all extremes of self-mortification and/or self-indulgence (the Noble Middle Path)
These laws and truths give rise to the Noble Eight-fold Path (the method of attainment), a simple statement but difficult of accomplishment, and those eight requirements are: Right view, Right intention, Right speech, Right action, Right livelihood, Right effort, Right mindfulness and Right concentration. There is a lot more to his teaching, but this will suffice for the purposes of this letter.
If we look at it, the Noble Eight-fold Path outlines a sequence and thus a process, all of which leads to one of the things for which Buddhist practice is best known-meditative discipline. It is only through meditative discipline that the exalted states of consciousness for which a buddha is known are achieved. Those exalted states of consciousness are beyond what we know as life, for what most people think life is about is all about what goes on around them, not who they are. So caught up in the drama of circumstance, ensnared by the thoughts that others have foisted upon us, bound by the duty of care and the necessities of modern materialism, we all lose track of our essential Being, yet it is there-we are there-at all times. In the West we tend to separate ourselves and talk glibly about this or that realm of existence and our other 'bodies' as if they were a thing somehow outside us, yet we live and move and have our being at every level simultaneously. We have simply lost our identification with what is real, only to replace it with what we perceive through the senses. It is an abstruse subject, but it is grist for the mill of Buddhist practice, for everything comes down to mental training in the end, all with the aim of going beyond that and back into our true essence, whatever that is. Even then, once attained, we are told even that essence is still in a process of 'becoming'. Evolution goes of ad infinitum.
So, if we had to take one piece from the Buddhist tradition and relate it to our current world situation, what might that be? Basically, every being is in a long process of becoming-on the Path of 'return', so-to-speak. Taurus gives the Light which illumines that Path and points to the steady progress forward needed to attain the goal. Thus, we celebrate the Festival of the Buddha at the full moon of Taurus, whether Guatama was actually born in that sign or not. Since we are all in the same process of becoming, then we owe a duty of care to those who are not as far along and we should feel compassion for the struggles of those who may or may not see the issues at hand in those struggles as clearly as we do. On that path of becoming we find a sense of purpose in each life, for our purpose is to fulfill the obligations associated with our chosen way and to make the way easier for those who follow. We simply call that duty of care by the name 'service'. The chosen way in a given life has a lot to do with one's soul-history, for all outer life has some causative factor rooted most likely in previous lives. Therefore, the Wesak festival reminds us of our direction on the Path, what is needed to fulfill it and the purpose behind why we walk the path we do in life. Moreover, we are reminded of the wisdom behind all of which we encounter, for the wisdom of God (Life) is infinite and in our most refined essence, we are like unto God. With that, let us see what is on offer this Wesak interval.
Most of us have observed that the past few months have been rather unsettling personally in many ways. Currently we are under the stressful emphasis of Mars conjoined with Uranus-a very accident-prone configuration, but one also with a tremendous capacity for breaking out of restricting conditions or circumstances. There have been some terrible road accidents in Adelaide over the past week and many people I know have had accidents at home, all indicative of the energy of the Mars/Uranus conjunction. On the whole, though, the 'air is being cleared' in many ways and people are being given fresh starts or unwillingly being removed from situations or relationships that are no longer suitable. The whole idea of 'liberation', of which the Buddha was the key exponent, is being put squarely before us. The full moon occurs at 8:09 PM AEST (10:09 AM UT) on the 2nd of May 2007.
Aside from the association of this festival with the Buddha, the symbol for the degree of the Sun gives us an idea of how to proceed in terms of finding the purposes to work out during this year. It reads:
"A young couple window shopping." 12 Taurus
Are we not always searching for something-the next step ahead, the latest and greatest gadget/seminar/item for the wardrobe, that special someone who can make one's life complete or even, perhaps, the latest, most fashionable philosophy of life that will solve all of our problems? This symbol relates to desire, which is ever the keynote of Taurus. One of the big problems with desire is that, whether satisfied or not, it always leads to some form of dissatisfaction with life. This points to one of the main tenets of Buddhism-that the basis of suffering is desire. In his commentaries on the Sabian symbols (which is the set of symbols I use in these letters), Dane Rhudyar associated this symbol with what he calls 'socialization of desires'. However, the true meaning here goes much deeper than simple socialization. What we actually glean from the Sun's symbol goes to the very heart of the human condition and to why the world is in such a turbulent state at the moment. As human beings we are never content. We may satisfy our desires at any moment, but eventually the satiation wears off and we are left wanting again, only worse for it because we become attached to that which satisfies us and thus want more and more of the same. Satisfaction of desire sows the seeds of discontent in it more so, if not as much, as desire being unfulfilled.
Another note on the Sun's degree symbol gives a view of Buddhist practice scarcely mentioned anywhere. 'Window shopping' can mean spiritual aspiration in the higher sense of the symbol-looking through the window of the mind toward the attainment of a spiritual goal and the use of the mind to visualize that which is desired with the aim of manifesting it. When we window shop we either 'see' ourselves with what is observed, in which case we go after it and actually manifest ownership, or we do not, in which case we move on to the next 'window'. The fact that there is a couple looking together can also point to the attainment of the desired goal together as householders-as spiritual consorts for each other. There is a great amount of fascination with and misinformation about sex in relation to tantra. Some people call the sexual side of tantra 'black tantra', which is a misnomer if it is properly done. People might assume that sex is somehow unspiritual due to mistaken religious upbringing and social taboos, but there is a side of 'white tantra' (as spiritual practice) that actually uses sexual union as an adjunct to enlightenment. It is beyond the scope of this short missive to go into the subject here, but there is a close connection between the 'mind of clear light' (which is a specific type of mind that is used for true meditative work) and the sex force. There is a point to be made in this regard, however. The sort of sexual practice to which is referred here is only to be practiced under the strict guidance of a proper spiritual Teacher, and that is a rare commodity in the West at this time in history. Householder and Monk/Nun-neither state of affairs is any better for spiritual practice than the other.
The point here is not to emphasize sex as an adjunct to spirituality, but rather to indicate the use of the mind (which the window in the symbol represents) for the attainment of inner union, of which the sexual embrace is the outer symbol. This 'inner union' is actually the coming together of the lower self and higher Self for the purpose of liberation from the long cycle of birth and death to which we are all bound. There is something about self-forgetfulness in sexual union, as well as there is with high meditative practice. Both are a type of 'little death' when properly practiced, meaning that we are taken out of the realms of phenomena and thus merge with the timeless consciousness of the higher Self. Taurus has a long association with all types of desire, especially with sexual desire, but the highest expression of Taurus is the realization of the 'Light of the Path', which is always a manifestation of the 'mind of clear Light' in its essence, and that Light is only realized when we attain a state of being that is removed from awareness of the outer worlds and we are thus detached from the attraction that 'window dressings' (phenomenal existence) have upon us. Do we desire what is outside of us-things, displays or phenomena, in other words-or do we aspire to overcome the limitations of our desires and misguided thinking? That leads us to a consideration of the symbol for the lunar degree in the full moon figure.
The symbol for the Moon's degree holds the key to that which must be resolved and which is reflected back to us for our learning. It reads:
"An official embassy ball." 12 Scorpio
There is a lot in this symbol about ritualized display, a practice in which most religions and large organizations/governments place great stock. Ritualized display can either keep people hooked into old established patterns of behavior, thus keeping them more easily controlled, or it can be a vehicle for transcendent vision and real magical work in the hands of a spiritually-focused group. Embassy balls have the implication of nations coming together, if only on the surface, with the hope of peaceful cooperation between the attending nations after the fact. They are diplomatic functions for the ruling classes. The message here is that it is better at times to use established methods for the advancement of causes rather than self-effort, to forego personal effort and to see the greater picture in that there are often people better than we equipped to handle certain situations. On the other side of things, there is a need to forego display and established methods in favor of self-determining action. There is something about display in both of these symbols, as well as a sense that we need to be careful of that with which we identify. Do we rely on desire and display to advance along our path or do we seek the true essence life and find contentment in that? The previous sentence holds the key to the dynamics of this Wesak period and points us to look carefully at what our purpose for doing things is throughout the year.
This is quite a dynamic chart and the following aspects are in evidence for this figure:
The Sun and Moon are involved in a Great Cross with Saturn and Chiron. In addition, Saturn is opposite the midpoint of a Chiron/Neptune conjunction. Basically, if you want to be liberated from troublesome relationships, this is the figure that will give it to you. There is little in the way of personal happiness represented at this full moon. It is, on the whole, powerful in terms of detachment and people are likely to have some painful lessons around that for this year. Saturn, Neptune and Chiron together spell heartbreak, and when they are square to the full moon axis, the dynamic is further amplified. This is eased somewhat by sextiles and trines by the Sun and Moon to the nodal axis, which means that our instincts about where to take things should serve us well, but there is little in the way of personal comfort. The 'personal planets' (the Sun through Mars) are adversely aspected for the most part in this figure. When they do make favorable aspects those aspects are to the outer planets, meaning that the benefits come from impersonal avenues. The implication of what is shown is that if we want to resolve our personal lives in line with our higher purpose in the world we will have to look outside ourselves and our intimate relations to do so.
The Moon is trine to Uranus, giving a wide humanitarian outlook and an openness to many new avenues of thought, but this also tends to give a cool and dispassionate emotional outlook on life-not great for romance, but excellent for friendships and work in the world. Venus is trine to Neptune, also giving a very wide humanitarian outlook, as well as a high idealism. In addition, the aesthetic sensibilities will get a big boost through this influence. These are the only two favorable aspects to personal planets in the entire figure.
Mars is bringing a great amount of stress to bear at the moment. It conjoins Uranus and squares Jupiter and Venus. The indications from this are breaks in relationships, sudden associations, but quarrels as well, unusual associations between people, sudden or unexpected changes in relationships (not likely of a desired outcome) and accidents due to excess, carelessness and foolhardiness.
Jupiter has retrograded into a tight trine with Saturn, which is good for finance and big projects, but care should be taken at a very personal level due to all the other dynamics just mentioned. Otherwise, all the best laid plans can come undone due to frustration, things said and done out of turn and a distinct tendency to argue points when things are better left alone.
Venus, the orthodox ruler of Taurus, opposes the midpoint of a wide conjunction between Jupiter and Pluto, which is a big warning about not doing things to excess. Affairs outside of established relationships are a concern as well, because they have the capacity to do real damage to people's lives under the very strong energy of the Taurus full moon period (always the most powerful full moon of the year). This is further amplified by the square to Venus by Mars, Uranus and the Nodes. If you are in a relationship and you or your partner are not happy, do all you can to mend things unless the relationship is better off ending anyway. There is a lot in this chart about changes in relations of the heart at many levels, not just between people. This refers also to one's relationship to the higher Self, which Venus represents, and another thing that is strongly highlighted is a need to establish a much stronger and more regular link with one's own higher Self on a daily basis. That is, after all, where the link to one's true purpose is to be found.
Detachment, release from suffering, compassion, the impermanence of the forms we know, the avoidance of extremes, dissatisfaction with various forms of and in life and lessons in compassion-this full moon has it all. Of all the Wesak figures I have seen in recent years, this one is perhaps the one that most perfectly describes the Buddhist tradition in a way. We have everything we need at this Wesak figure, figuratively speaking, to give us a fuller idea of what the Buddhist tradition is all about. Struggle is indicated, but through that struggle we learn compassion for those around us because we see them struggle as well, and we eventually see the folly of chasing after things that are either unattainable or too easily had. Above all, we will be given an opportunity at some point this year to find out the essence of what is really important to us rather than focusing upon the outer trappings and the dramas that so often engulf us in our day-to-day life. From that, then, our lives will take on their proper tone and course and the way will not seem so hard because we will have let go of a lot of our expectations about things and other people. Most of our suffering occurs because of unfulfilled, thwarted or unrealistic expectations. Lastly, the truth of many aspects of life will be made plain to us as we are pushed and squeezed by the accelerated pace of our human interactions. People are quite stressed these days as we are increasingly nudged forward to a more goal-fitting existence. We are called upon to let go of our little antagonisms and worldly cares and to seek a simpler way of life wherein we can give more to those who struggle with meaning and devote more time toward the realization of our inner truth rather than everyone else's projections upon us.
It is said that hindsight is a wonderful thing. It is a pity that our foresight is not nearly so revealing more often than not. Looking back at my own history has given me a lot of insight, especially when it comes to seeing how I could do things better. I have had many opportunities to have a good laugh at myself as a result. Then again, there have been many times where I have been able to look back after the fact and know that I did the best I could in any given situation or that I even had a great success here and there. Through it all I have been able to see a steadily unfolding purpose to my life-something that takes me beyond what the rest of the world would have me do (which is quite limiting in many instances) and past my own limited thinking. Struggle has a way of doing the latter bit for me. I have come to realize that my purpose is only where I feel joyful and that only comes for me when I know that I have wrested the truth from whatever I am presented, made my life better as a result and have then been able to offer what I have learned to others so their lives will be enriched as well. My existence thus feels like it has some meaning, rather than being an endless series of repetitive and soul-destroying activities day after day. There has to be some reason for getting up in the morning other than just simply earning a few dollars so I can gather more things around me and pay everyone else for their time. Life only feels right to me if I have somehow made things better for myself and others. Only then can I rest contentedly.
In these times may your own search for truth and meaning bring you great successes. May the times that you give pause to laugh at your own foibles be increasingly replaced by the mirth of shared successes with loved ones. In this Year of the Red Pig we will hopefully have a greater sense of our shared human familial lineage and a fuller sense of sharing amongst ourselves. We all have a few 'war stories' to share with each other when we come together. In that, we see that we are not so different from everyone else and that our way is perhaps not so difficult as we supposed. Take pause to listen, and then remember as we weigh what we hear against our own experience. As a result, we will find the grain of truth amongst the chaff of outer trappings. Yes, the days of late are intense in their application, but full as well in their offerings. Let meaning grow out of what we might call the 'daily grind'. In my trade grinding brings out the luster of the base material and gives a polished finish to the work. Is that not what struggle does for the human condition? May your struggles bring Light and luster to your lives and may you be lifted as a result. We never toil alone. What we think is work and adversity is the playground for the Soul and the fountainhead of joy. History has shown it, if we care to look.
May the blessings of the Buddha bring you peace.
2 May 2007