Nonduality: The Varieties of Expression Home

Jerry Katz
photography & writings

Search over 5000 pages on Nonduality:

Click here to go to the next issue

Highlights Home Page | Receive the Nondual Highlights each day


#2023 - Friday, January 7, 2005 - Editor: Jerry


Highlights Home Page and Archive: 

Letter to the Editors: Click 'Reply' on your email program, compose your message, and 'Send'. All the editors will see your letter.





David Hodges
Live Journal



Deeper Than Love

by D.H. Lawrence


There is love, and it is a deep thing
but there are deeper things than love.


First and last, man is alone.
He is born alone, and alone he dies
and alone he is while he lives, in his deepest self.


Love, like the flowers, is life, growing.
But underneath are the deep rocks, the living rock that lives
and deeper still the unknown fire, unknown and heavy, heavy
and alone.


Love is a thing of twoness.
But underneath any twoness, man is alone.


And underneath the great turbulent emotions of love, the
violent herbage,
lies the living rock of a single creature's pride,
the dark, naif pride.
And deeper even than the bedrock of pride
lies the ponderous fire of naked life
with its strange primordial consciousness of justice
and its primordial consciousness of connection,
connection with still deeper, still more terrible life-fire
and the old, old final life-truth.


Love is of twoness, and is lovely
like the living life on the earth
but below all roots of love lies the bedrock of naked pride,
and deeper than the bedrock of pride is the primordial fire of
the middle
which rests in connection with the further forever unknowable
fire of all things
and which rocks with a sense of connection, religion
and trembles with a sense of truth, primordial consciousness
and is silent with a sense of justice, the fiery primordial


All this is deeper than love
deeper than love.


~ D. H. Lawrence 




Following the line to enlightenment

Special to The Japan Times

In order to write an article about renowned Zen master Tanchu Terayama's Hitsuzendo calligraphy exhibition, I was offered the rare opportunity to visit his mountain retreat in Ibaraki Prefecture to participate in a workshop with Terayama himself. I first got a call from Terayama's most dedicated student, Sarah Moate, an Oxford art history graduate from Britain and the only foreigner displaying work in the exhibition, who suggested I attend one of her lessons as an introduction to Terayama's teachings.

News photo
Tanchu Terayama (top) bowing before his calligraphy "Treasure True Insight" and (below) doing ki-raising and breathing exercises.
News photo

Like the master, she holds an inka (certificate of enlightenment), and is qualified to teach Zen calligraphy.

I'm not an 8 a.m. Saturday morning kind of learner, but was consoled by the thrilling prospect of being instructed in the subtle art of shodo -- brushwork kanji. The next morning, before getting anywhere near paper and a brush, I found myself with two other students barefoot in the grass, following Moate as she led us through exercises where we stretched, shouted and gasped.

In one exercise, she raised her hands and softly swayed in the air, making the shape of the character mu (nothing). We repeated the motion over and over, first with our arms, then with our bodies, arching to the right and then slumping over lifelessly, exhaling with the last kinetic "stroke." What did all this have to do with calligraphy?

True to the spirit of Zen: everything . . . and nothing. "[The exercises] are important in achieving 'no mind,' " Terayama said the at the workshop. "With them we can cut through the daily distractions of life. Then the line will be clean and pure and those looking at it will be purified."

Terayama's teachings of Hitsuzendo (The Way of the Zen Brush) were inspired by a lineage of Zen greats beginning with Yamaoka Tesshu in the late 1800s, who sought to elevate calligraphy above a fine art form to a spiritual tool for focusing the mind. What makes Hitsuzendo unique is that it eschews the methods of calligraphy prevalent everywhere.

The theoretical study of aesthetics, symmetry and form takes a backseat -- Hitsu zendo would rather focus on the energy within the line. "You're not trying to aim for attractive lines," Moate said. "What happens is you become awakened by the writing, and in that way you may produce something beautiful, but that's not the goal."

This focus was apparent at the dojo when were were first asked to practice by painting kanji on sheets of newspaper. Each piece was whisked away as soon as the brush was lifted off the paper, then folded and stacked on to a pile to be discarded. "The idea is, nothing is precious," Moate explained.

If the quality of the line reveals the inner person, my inner person was clumpy, uneven and prone to sailing off the paper. Yet Terayama had nothing but praise for me, saying that the characters were strong, and that I did a great job holding my brush softly. "Soft but strong, you can't get much better than that!" Moate whispered.

Such an encouraging approach, and handy English translation, makes it hardly a surprise the workshop is popular with foreigners. Terayama, a Rinzai Zen master, has taught more than 250 students from 10 countries, and the English translation of his book "Zen Brushwork: Focusing the Mind With Calligraphy and Painting," (Kodansha) is widely available.

Aiming for as broad an appeal as possible, the book includes black-and-white photographs of Terayama and Moate practicing the ki (vital energy) exercises in addition to a calligraphy how-to and an appreciation of work by ancient Zen masters who have influenced Hitsuzendo.

Moate started her search for for a master after receiving her inka, which is the highest honor you can receive from a teacher, it also represents the permission for you to become one. Throughout her six years of study, Terayama and Moate have often traveled to Europe and the United States together sharing Hitsuzendo with groups who gather from various parts of the world eager to experience the workshops and exhibitions.

Moate has also earned the distinction of being the only foreigner with a piece of work in the Hitsuzendo exhibition currently showing in Ginza, but both she and Terayama are quick to dismiss the significance of this. "There is no difference between East and West," Terayama said. "Zen is to go beyond these dualistic boundaries, beyond ego and national identity. One's state of heart and mind will be revealed in the line."

The exhibition will consist of an assortment of work from students ranging in age from 20 to 97 years old. It also boasts some museum-worthy relics from Terayama's personal collection.

One is a piece by Ekaku Hakuin (1685-1765). Terayama calls Hakuin the most influential Zen monk of the past 500 years. A prolific artist who produced over 1000 brush paintings and calligraphy during his lifetime, Hakuin was one of the first to develop breathing and exercise techniques to aid the study of Zen. The piece is called "Settled" and reads: "Fix yourself in the best place. Know exactly where to stop." It was painted in 1765 and is one of Hakuin's most revered works.

"These are the kinds of treasures that people keep hidden in temples and are only revealed at certain times of the year," Moate says. "It would be like seeing an original Leonardo [da Vinci], first-hand, not behind glass." Hakuin was 80 years old when he created the piece. It is fitting since the age of the contributors is one of the most striking aspects of this exhibition. Shown alongside the work of his students, Terayama has assembled calligraphy and paintings from many guests -- all of whom are over 80 years old.

"Older people are more aware of the links between the things in the natural world," Terayama said. The master won't have much of his own work in the show. He said he will wait a few more years for his 70th birthday, as exhibitions could become distractions that will take over his world. For now, this one will suffice.

"All I really hope for is that people will see it and leave the exhibition feeling healthy and more uplifted," says Terayama. And as the master himself will be on hand to discuss the work, visitors may even find the experience enlightening.

The Hitsuzendo calligraphy exhibition will be shown till Jan. 9, 11 a.m.-7 p.m., at the Kyukyodo Gallery, 5-7-4 Ginza (Ginza Station 4-chome exit). For more information call (03) 3574-0058. Free admission. The Hitsuzendo sessions at Fuji Dojo focus on breathing and ki-raising techniques as well as zazen and brushwork practice, taught in English; Zen brushwork classes in English, at Sangubashi Station on the Odakyu line (near Meiji Jingu) on the 4th Sunday of each month. 1,000 yen charged for materials. For more information on both contact [email protected]

The Japan Times: Jan. 5, 2005
(C) All rights reserved

Fearless - A movie masterpiece about transcendence

John Wren-Lewis

Professor John Wren-Lewis's review of Peter Weir's film Fearless (now available on video in the UK) first appeared in Pallicom, a hospice journal in Australia. An adapted form of this review follows.

'... This knot intrinsicate / Of life at once untie!' Shakespeare, Anthony and Cleopatra

'All changed, changed utterly; / A terrible beauty is born.' W. B. Yeats, Easter 1916

For readers of a publication like this, dedicated to showing that dying doesn't have to be terrifying and can even be a positive experience, Peter Weir's Fearless is a marvellous gift. Perhaps the best evidence of its masterpiece status is that airline companies haven't got together to buy up and destroy all copies, lest the public be put off flying forever by its vivid re-enactment of a jetliner crash from a passenger's eye view.

This occurs not just once in the film but three times, as the hero, Max (superbly acted by Jeff Bridges), flashbacks to the events that occurred when his flight home from Texas to San Francisco crashed somewhere in prairie-country. The wreckage we see in the film's opening shots is gruesome enough, but because Max is meant to be discovering progressively more in these flashbacks about what happened in the crash itself, each rerun shows progressively more of the howling destruction going on all around him as the plane breaks up, with no punches pulled and no detail spared. Yet far from aggravating fear of dying, the final effect is the absolute reverse. Weir has pulled off the incredible achievement of enabling viewers actually to feel for themselves how at such moments human consciousness can transcend fear, and indeed mortality itself, by moving out of time.

So effective is it, I even wonder if the film wouldn't be positively reassuring as in-flight entertainment on a bumpy run - or perhaps that would be going too far! The same cautionary thought makes me hesitate to press anyone with a really weak heart to see it, though I've not heard of any casualties in cinemas yet. But readers of this publication should be more prepared than most to envision what are, after all, well-known facts about death in air disasters, so having entered my caveat, I'll go ahead and urge you to catch Fearless on the big screen if you still can when this article comes out. If that's impossible, get a video without delay, and sit as close to the screen as you comfortably can when you watch it - because to get the full 'feeling-message' from the climactic final rerun of the crash, just before the film ends, you need to be surrounded by the vision and sound.

Then, if you've really gone along with Weir's enormously skilful lead-up to that scene in the rest of the film and can let yourself experience the roaring, screaming disintegration with Max himself, I believe you'll find a meaning you've never dreamed of in Shakespeare's now hackneyed statement that love 'looks on tempests and is never shaken'. I'll admit unashamedly that tears were streaming down my face as I watched it, for it recaptured for me the most important experience of my life, when I myself came to the brink in 1983 and discovered, in the moment of time-stop, that human consciousness is grounded in the same fundamental energy that moves the sun and other stars and tempests too - an energy for which 'love' is the only word we have, though its common sentimental associations are hopelessly misleading.

And from quizzing other viewers who have not had the experience personally, I believe Weir's artistic genius has succeeded in the almost impossible task of getting across even to 'outsiders' the fundamental feeling of Near-Death Experiences (NDEs), and why they change lives. Earlier movies on the subject which have tried to re-enact scenes of people floating up out of their bodies and moving down tunnels to heavenly light, fall so far short of capturing the life-changing feeling that I think they deserve the Monty Python send-up in The Meaning of Life. There, the middle-class couples who have died of food-poisoning float out of their bodies into 'astral' forms, drive down the tunnel in astral versions of their family cars, and find that the light at the tunnel's end is a luxury hotel, with a Hollywood-style Grand Christmas Cabaret perpetually in progress 'especially for you!)

Moreover it's not just lack of feeling in those feeble re-enactment movies that sells the reality of NDEs short. The feeling they do convey actually does violence to what I believe to be the most significant feature of the experience, for they suggest going away ffrom this world and this life to find the heavenly light and love in some other realm, whereas the life-changes that have impressed even hard-nosed sceptics into taking NDEs seriously, happen because experiencers find their eyes have been opened to light and love right here, in the world to which they return on resuscitation. The genius of Weir's film is that he starts from this fact and makes it the main focus of his story; he builds up to the time-stopping climax as the explanation of the extraordinary way Max has been changed by what seems, at the beginning, like nothing more than the shock of relief at having survived.

From interviews with Weir in the Australian media, I gather he hasn't himself had an NDE, and I know nothing about the author of the novel on which the screenplay was based, but between them the folk responsible for Fearless have managed to capture the feelings of a Near-Death Experience in an extraordinary way. For starters, it's still not at all widely realised that all the classic experiences which make the headlines when people are resuscitated from the brink of clinical death - disappearance of fear and pain, feelings of blissful peace, slowing-down or total stoppage of time, even the famous tunnel and encounter with celestial beings and heavenly light - can also occur to people who, like Max, narrowly avoid death without being sick or damaged in any way.

In fact one of the very first serious studies in this whole area was made by a Swiss alpine climber named Albert Heim back in the 1890s, who fell off a cliff to what seemed like certain death, only to land on soft snow with very minor injuries. As he went down, time seemed to become infinitely extended, fear vanished, and he experienced wonderful colours and music, plus a panoramic review of his life right from childhood, with a sense that even his nastiest acts were now somehow accepted without being in any way whitewashed. He was moved to write a scientific paper about it when he found many other mountaineers had similar experiences, but this received little if any attention outside Switzerland, and wasn't translated into English until Professor Russell Noyes of the University of Iowa did so in the 1970s, after Raymond Moody had begun to draw attention to NDEs experienced in clinical situations.

Even then very little attention was paid to this kind of Near-Death Experience, because journalists - and for that matter most professional researchers - were concerned mainly with finding possible evidence of a soul that could survive the body's death, which meant concentrating attention on people who might actually have been dead for a short time, as in the movie Flatliners. Australian sociologist Alan Kellahear, now at La Trobe University, played a major role in drawing attention to the similarity between clinical NDEs and the experiences of people in crisis-situations like shipwrecks and air disasters. In Fearless, however, this is one of the major plotlines. The movie's climax is the revelation that Max's strange post-crash behaviour - an apparently total loss of fear, disappearance of a long standing allergy, an aversion to lying even for 'good causes', estrangement from his wife and son while feeling great love for another crash survivor who is deranged at the loss of her baby - are due to his having experienced in the crash the same 'moment of death' that recurs weeks later when he comes close to clinical death through the return of his allergy.

The moral ambiguity of Max's post crash behaviour, which is the film's main plotline, brings out another feature of NDEs that doesn't get much discussed. Here again, researchers in the 1970s and early 1980s had an agenda that led them to bypass important facts. They were anxious to establish that NDEs were not just hallucinations produced by disturbed brains, so they were at pains to demonstrate, by means of interviews and psychological tests, that experiencers showed no signs of mental sickness, but were actually living healthier, more creative lives than before. The impression created was one of 'all sweetness and light', until in 1988 housewife researcher Phyllis Atwater of Idaho blew the whistle in her book Coming Back to Life, by showing that healthier and more creative living often involved upsetting conventional domestic and social applecarts.

Yes, experiencers do indeed come back with new spiritual drive and urge towards a better world, but that often means preferring poverty to dull jobs that would keep families in the style to which they're accustomed, helping strangers rather than going to neighbourhood cocktail parties, and looking at scenery for hours instead of taking Junior to Little League. Fearless explores this issue with enormous sensitivity, showing how Max's changed behaviour - sometimes generous beyond all expectation, but sometimes apparently foolhardy or even cruel - springs from his inability to countenance the compromises with fearful self-protection that are involved in even the 'happiest' marriages and the most 'regular guy' lifestyles.

In that timeless moment of the crash, he has experienced the wonder of infinite Aliveness which gets continually blocked out in so-called normal life by fearful evasion of any facts we've been taught to find unpleasant. As a consequence, he rescues several other passengers from the wreck in a way which they and observers consider heroic, though to him it really is, as he insists, nothing special. Yet the same 'fearlessness' later leads him to take risks that could harm people, both physical risks like crashing a car to jerk one of his fellow survivors out of irrational guilt about the fact that her baby was killed and she lived, and social risks like challenging the routine evasions practised by insurance agents getting the best pay-out for crash victims.

For Weir, however, the exploration of these moral ambiguities is more than just a human drama; what makes the film a work of genius rather than just a fine movie is the way he uses the story of Max's perplexing behaviour to introduce viewers gradually, step by step, to the experience of timelessness at the climax. First, he joins some of those earlier makers of NDE re-enactments in employing slow-motion photography, just to get us used to the idea of time-sense being changed. In Max's first and second flashbacks to the crash, we see how his rescue of other passengers was indeed no heroic defiance but something he can do quite naturally because time has slowed down for him, enabling him to see how to avoid falling debris, etc. For me, this echoes a story of my friend, Jack Geddes of Queensland, who performed a similar rescue of a mate from a blazing tank in World War 2, and is equally anxious to repudiate any idea that he was heroic. Such experiences are by no means uncommon, even outside NDE literature.

However, there's an added twist in Weir's presentation of the rescue scene which I wonder if I may perhaps be the only viewer to appreciate. As the plane breaks up all around, Max picks up a baby and then calls out to the passengers who are still relatively unhurt 'Follow me towards the light!' This apparently straightforward directive about how they can get safely out of the wreckage takes on highly symbolic significance when, in the final climactic flashback to the scene, the long body of the plane through which Max leads them becomes identified with the tunnel of his allergy-NDE. Since he clearly wasn't asking the others to follow him to the light of heaven beyond the grave, but taking them back to life on earth, Weir seems to be anticipating my own hypothesis (which I've never seen advanced by anyone else, and haven't yet published outside Australia) that the tunnel-to-the-light-phenomenon in NDEs is a discovery of 'heavenliness' as the true nature of this world when it's perceived without the veil of fear. And since it is timeless heavenliness, the question of whether it continues after physical death is entirely secondary.

Weir keeps giving hints of Max's 'heavenly' experience of the world all through the film - for example, in the way he finds the buildings of San Francisco fascinating when others don't even notice them, and is truly at a loss to understand how his fellow-survivor (the girl whose baby was killed) fails to see what he sees. Another example is his description of being free from society's entanglements because death brings freedom and he feels he's already dead. Some notable statements to this effect have been made by real-life Near-Death Experiencers: One that comes most immediately to mind is the great pioneer of humanistic and transpersonal psychology, Abraham Maslow, who described the blissful calm he experienced in the two years he lived on after his near-fatal heart attack in 1968 as 'my posthumous life'.

But here again, Weir introduces a twist which resonates with my own experience in a way I've not seen mentioned anywhere else in NDE literature. Max tells the girl survivor as they walk through the San Francisco streets that they're invisible to the crowds, 'because we're ghosts'. I dreamed exactly that on Good Friday of 1984, not long after I'd arrived in Sydney in the wake of the NDE just before Christmas. It was such a remarkable dream that I published a paper about it in an American psychological journal, but I can't imagine it was read by anyone involved in making Fearless.

The most interesting thing of all about the film as a whole for me, however, is the way it explores what I have come to see as the $64,000 question - why is it that something like a close brush with death is normally needed for the heavenliness of the world to be experienced? (And even that only works in a minority of cases!) The film's answer, if I understand it right, seems to be that the natural biological fear-response seems to have gotten out of hand in the human species, to the point where it governs the whole organisation of social life down to the minutest detail, blocking out aliveness in the process. For the fortunate minority, coming close to death unravels the knot, but then we have the problem of finding out how to organise practical affairs with fear as life's servant rather than its master, something about which even the world's greatest mystics and religious teachers have left us only very partial blueprints.

NDEs are often spoken of as rebirths; mine felt more like a resurrection, because I was reconstructed with all my past experience, but with the fear-response now operating 'to one side', as it were, so that for most of the time I can heed it rationally but not be run by it. For Max, however, the process seems to have been incomplete, in that he doesn't seem able to handle fear at all without it taking over and removing his pearl of great price, which of course he won't allow. I find in his story a quite uncanny parallel, in modern secular Western terms, to what happened in real-life history at the beginning of our century to the South Indian sage Ramana Maharshi, widely acknowledged as probably the most truly 'enlightened' mystic of recent centuries.

Though not at all given to religious life, he came to recognise in his late teens that fear was in some fundamental way keeping him from really living, so he put himself through what might be described as an artificial NDE. He emerged from it completely aware of the heavenly aliveness in all being, but quite unable to cope with routine living along the line of time. Because he lived in Hindu culture, where such consciousness changes are understood and catered for, he was promptly surrounded by devotees who looked after him almost like a child for seventeen years, simply for the privilege of being in his presence and hearing what few observations he chose to make about reality. Towards the end of that time he began to have anoxial fits, and after one of these he suddenly emerged able to cope, with delightful ease and simplicity and astonishing efficiency - the state known in Hindu philosophy as sahaj samadhi. It was as if the resurrection-process had only gone halfway with his artificial NDE, but now had completed itself.

I can't help wondering if the film isn't saying that Max too experienced only a half-resurrection process because in the crash he, like Ramana, didn't actually come to the point of real death. In the film's climax, his inability to cope with society's fear-organised conventions does indeed cause fear to overwhelm him, making his allergy return and really take him to the dying-point - and when his wife saves him by mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, he comes back out of that tunnel saying, 'I'm alive!' in an entirely new tone of voice and with a new look of 'solid' aliveness which I find a triumph both of acting and direction. Are we to conclude that now the resurrection process has gone to term, leaving him able to be in the world of compromise without being compromised? And if so, will he stay with his wife and child or not?

I don't know, and maybe when you see the film you'll have your own views about what its ending means. Meantime, I hope I've said enough to make clear that it's not to be missed on any account.


Literary Footnote

The remarkable story of Abraham Maslow and his 'post-mortem life' is told in The Right to be Human by New York psychologist Ed Hoffman, one of the best biographies I've ever come across. Ramana Maharshi's story can be found in Sir Arthur Osborne's The Teachings of Ramana Maharshi. good introduction to NDE research, which incidentally is very clear about the way they often disrupt marriages, is Cherie Sutherland's Tranformed by the Light, and it gives all the necessary references for you to read further. My own book about what one person's 'resurrection-life' feels like, The 9.15 to Nirvana, will hopefully be out soon.

Professor John Wren-Lewis, 1/22 Cliffbrook Parade, Clovelly NSW 2031, Australia.





In Praise of Wildness and In Search of Harmony With
Everything That Moves

 John McClellan

We can chose to regard all of existence as «alive», or we can regard it as «not alive»; we can regard it as «both alive and not alive», or as «neither alive nor not alive». These are all valid ontological constructions. What we cannot do, is divide existence into two classes, and call one of them alive, and the other one not. One a 'natural', kind, pure and nice biological nature, and the other a raw, unnatural, alien, bad and ugly machine industrial nuclear warfare pollution starvation toxic materialist greed poverty and television urban nature. There's just one nature around here.

As environmentalists, we must learn this way too. Bowing to what is, working hard and politely to improve it on a local level at the same time. Not trying to change the larger design, but simply contributing some tidiness and sanity to our immediate surroundings. Keeping a nice camp in this great howling universal wilderness, a reasonably safe and comfortable place where the gods are honored, the children are cared for, and good fun is had.

Outside such a camp there is Great Wildness. Sacred beings roam out there, on the street, enjoying dangerous degrees of sacred freedom. The gods are in charge out there. What they choose to do and to leave undone is their business, not ours. No one tries to control what goes down on the street, no one but gangs, drug lords, and cops. You don't want to be like that. You want to be a bodhisattva of compassion and awakeness, with sympathy for all forms of life. You want to tiptoe through the street in a state of reverence and awe, armed and able to defend yourself, as necessary, as in any wilderness area. But basically respectful of whatever you meet out there. Whatever. The street, regional ecosystem, or planet, should be considered a wilderness area, free to define itself, no matter what happens. This is basic Wilderness Ethic, and is the first and greatest rule of all deep ecology.

Reality does not need or want to be changed. It has gone to great trouble to establish itself as it is, and it's perfect. This very world of today, as it appears before us in all its glory and horror, this is God's will. What is. Our role is not to arrogantly critique this Great Perfection, picking and choosing in it according to the conventional wisdom of the day-our job is simply to join in with it. And there's no need to have a poverty mentality about the life in this world. It is not now, and has never been in any danger, no matter what happens on this planet. There will always be plenty of good life-filled world for us to join in with.

Don't Underestimate Any One

Everything moves. This alone should be enough to demonstrate inherent aliveness. From mindless hydrogen clouds swirling purposelessly in interstellar spacetime, to clouds of thoughts swirling around in the brain, all cloud forms are the same. They move-they have buddhanature. None of these patterns from beginning to end have any greater or more distinct 'separate self' than any other. All are meaningless, empty of personal intent. All are falling into their own true nature, effortlessly, along with all other illusory phenomena.

We must not underestimate them. All are beautiful to behold, including the ugly ones, all are precious, including the worthless ones, all are friends & relatives, even the dangerous ones, even when they kill you! Their value cannot be conceived in ordinary ways. Some of these (not all) have a tendency to grow in complexity, energy, and information density, to blow off greater & greater clouds of waste heat, to become increasingly improbable, ephemeral and fragile. Others prefer to stay simple. They are all good, because complete. Even the rocks & clouds are like this, even the technobiotia. This good life stuff is the swirling of clouds-nothing more-it's what evolution does around here.


top of page