Friday, June 7, 2024

Margaret Dempsey's Buddhism Experience - Part 02

As time went on, I became more involved with the Buddhist organization which meant more contact with its founder. Every couple of months we went to his home for an intense meditation retreat after which he would join us for meals. It didn’t matter how often I saw him, I never felt comfortable. There was something not right about how subservient other people acted around him. I saw the normally feisty independent Sempais turn into small children around him. All I could see was how they were giving their power away. I didn’t ask questions or challenge him because he was sharp and ruthless I knew he would humiliate me if I tried. I watched him do it to others.

It got to the point where the conflict between what I was learning about the wisdom and compassion of Buddhism and the founder became too much. I started to voice my concerns to others in the group about him and his methods of teaching. This changed the whole energy within the group. Suddenly, I was a troublemaker. I wasn’t high up in the pecking order because I had only been a member for a couple of years. Others in the group began to resent me voicing my concerns. I was regularly told that my ego was the problem. This caused me much worry.


In the end I left, not able to reconcile the differences between the lack of compassion in the head of the organization and the central role that compassion plays in Buddhist theory. But I was to return three times before I left finally. At that stage, I had been studying with the group for nine years. Quitting had a huge impact. For a long time after my life felt empty without the Monday and Thursday evening Kempo classes, the yoga class on Saturday and the meditation class on Sunday. 

During this time I was racked by self-doubt. Had I done the right thing? Why couldn’t my ego be as subservient as the others? Why didn’t they see what I saw in this man — the contradictions and inconsistencies between what Buddhism says and practices, and what he said and practiced? How could I be the only one to see it?

What I didn’t know was the effect that my voicing concerns would eventually have on Andrew, the person who first introduced me to the group. He slowly began to see the leader in a different light and to challenge him in a way he had never dared to do before. This was particularly difficult for him because he had been his student for 18 years. The reaction of the leader was to expel Andrew from the group. A few years later, the organization folded — its founder dead after being convicted of sexual abuse. All of which left its followers bewildered and bitter about the years they’d spent devoted to a guru who turned out to have feet of clay.

Googling the name of this organization still brings up a discussion forum of past students, trying to understand what went wrong. I rejected the idea of finding another teacher. I resolved to become my own teacher. I was determined to go it alone. In my mind all teachers were corrupt. I had seen well-meaning and well-intentioned people exploited by a cynical, self-deluded man. It angered and saddened me. It was particularly upsetting to read a post from a student who had spent many years with the founder, saying that he had lost the motivation and enthusiasm for life that being a part of the organization had given to him.

After leaving the group I lost contact with everybody. I felt I had been the cause of the movement breaking down, but did not know it for sure. Before I arrived, the group had been operating comfortably for many years. I came along and started asking questions and pointing certain things out. Slowly, but surely the whole thing tumbled like a house of cards. I felt vindicated, relieved that my gut feeling had proven right. It strengthened my commitment to go it alone without any teacher.

Soon after I was offered the choice of redundancy at work or a change of position within the company. The position I was offered was “number cruncher.” My heart sank. Given my weakness with numbers and logic, accepting the job was inviting failure.

So I accepted redundancy. My study of Buddhism had nurtured a desire to visit India. And I saw redundancy as a karmic invitation to do so. I wanted to do a retreat in India. I found a meditation center, which ran retreats in southern England as well as in India.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Margaret Dempsey’s Foray into Buddhism

I reread Margaret Dempsey’s Female Kundalini a few days ago. I hadn’t looked at it since it was published by Life Force Books in twenty fourteen. No surprises. It had the same emotionally authentic impact at this reading as it had for my first go-around.

There are no claims of enlightenment or literary pyrotechnics here, just straightforward, down-to-earth writing that makes her story so moving and unaffected.

After listening to the enclosed excerpt—Margaret’s foray into Buddhism—I am convinced readers will flock to their favorite retailers: the book is that compelling.

 



“After the Cheirology course finished, I had a strong urge to ring up Andrew, the guy who had taught the course, and ask him what he was doing next.

He said, “I am starting a beginners’ course in Buddhism, would you be interested?”

Having been born and brought up Catholic, I had never heard of Buddhism, so I said. “What’s Buddhism?”

He replied, “Come along to the first class and see what you think. If you don’t think it’s for you, then you don’t have to come to anymore.

In the first class held at his home in London, there were five of us sitting on the floor in a room. He talked about Buddhism (Mahayana) being a philosophy and a way to live life, more than a religion. This got my attention. There was something about religion and, in my case the Catholic religion, which unsettled me, something contrary to what I had been taught when I was young. According to Buddhism, said Andrew, there isn’t some man in the sky who decides if we are going to be happy or not. It's the way we live our lives (our karma) that determines how content we are. For many years, I had been uneasy with the Catholic idea of a God who rewarded me when I was good and punished me when I was bad. The uneasiness stemmed from my experience of God's answering my prayer when I was nine and taking away the teeth that were causing me such misery.

Andrew spoke about achieving enlightenment and being free from suffering. He explained that the Buddha said that it was possible to become enlightened in one lifetime. I listened closely with a childlike belief, unquestioning and completely open to everything he said. He explained how Buddhism was concerned with developing wisdom and compassion.
Karma was explained as the results of actions undertaken in past lives. The way we live this life determines our future lives. Karma introduces the idea of reincarnation. Cycling back through many lifetimes to learn lessons and have experiences in order to perfect ourselves overtime made perfect sense to me. Learning about Buddhism that night gave me the feeling that I had come home. I had found the place where I belonged.

 Everything about it resonated. I also appreciated that the Buddha encouraged people to try Buddhism, but if they found it wasn’t for them, they could look for something else. Compared to the dogma and rigidity of Catholicism, this was a lot more flexible.

I heard one thing that night which was to alter my consciousness profoundly. It would resonate in the deepest part of me.

Andrew said, “Central to Mahayana Buddhism is the idea of a Bodhisattva. This is someone who is enlightened, someone who understands the causes of suffering and how to alleviate them, and who chooses to stay in the world until everybody else has become enlightened.”

 He had just finished the sentence when I was gripped by the most intense desire and the thought I want to be this. In that instant, it seemed like time stood still and there was just I and a burning desire coming from nowhere. I didn’t know how it would happen; I just knew I wanted it. I found myself making a silent vow: may I attain this for the benefit of all human beings. I also didn’t know it, but that moment marked a turning point on my spiritual journey. I gave up the pursuit of individual enlightenment except to the extent it might benefit all sentient beings in their quest for enlightenment.

 The moment passed and the class continued. I hung on Andrew’s every word. At the end of the evening, I told him that I wanted to continue with the course. Over the next ten weeks I built up my knowledge and understanding about The Four Noble Truths, The Noble Eightfold Path.When Andrew explained the first noble truth that everything is suffering, my entire being rebelled saying “no, not everything is suffering.”

I refused to accept this, or more accurately, my mind wouldn’t accept this because it was negative and depressing. But when I looked closely I saw through my own experience that life is suffering.

I wanted pleasant things to continue and unpleasant things to end. The second noble truth is that the cause of this suffering is attachment. Instead of accepting everything just the way it is and the way it isn’t we cling onto things that are pleasant and avoid things that are unpleasant. 

We want things to be different than they are and this wanting, or attachment to the way we want things to be rather than the way they are, is the cause of suffering for human beings. The third noble truth is that there is a way to free oneself from the cycle of suffering. 

The fourth noble truth is that the way to freedom is the eight-fold noble pathway.

 •••Keep an eye out for the 2nd installment of Margaret's Buddhist adventure, coming soon to this podcast...

Thursday, May 2, 2024

Don’ Know Nothin’ ‘Bout…

Or why people who’ve never written, published, or promoted a book should rethink their perspective.

The other day, I was discussing the fun and foibles of self-publishing with fellow writer Brian. I brought up the topic of criticisms—the assertions that bubble up from minds who know nothing of the subject.

“Remember,” he said, quoting Marcus Aurelius, “The opinions of ten thousand men is of no value if none of them knows anything about the subject.” 

I’d mentioned several criticisms I’ve received, one in particular, that said I knew nothing about Kundalini. Compared to the totality of what we have yet to learn about the World, the Universe, the Cosmos, our beings, and consciousness, I know relatively little. Even after an eruption of evolutionary energy in my body in 1971, an awakening occasioned by the distillation and combustion of psychic fuel, I know very little. Yes, after much research, I did find out what had happened had a name— kundalini. That much I do know.

People who troll the internet are like fruit flies: they hover over the peelings, narrowly escaping the adhesive behind the blue light. They’re off—until one day. Zap!

The six books I’ve written about this topic don’t amount to much more than Plato’s allegory of the cave… Anyone who tells you that they know it all—is mistaken.

Brian cited a passage from Michael Bradford’s, Consciousness: The New Paradigm.

One of the most amazing aspects of the Kundalini process is the way in which the psychic fuel is carried from the base of the spine to the brain. Gopi Krishna called it the reversal of the reproductive system, and it is mentioned in some of the ancient Sanskrit texts on Kundalini, which used the term urdhvaretas.

Although the literal translation of this term is 'upward flowing semen or seminal fluid', it is generally understood to mean the transmutation of the sexual secretions into the psychic fuel ojas, and its transmission to the brain via the spinal cord."

The Chinese tradition calls it the Backward-Flowing Method. For the fifty-plus years I’ve spent observing the psychic fuel coursing through my body, I’ve made it to the mouth of Plato’s cave. Barely.

Brian: I dare say it’s a bit more than that. I’ve read The Biology of Consciousness, the bit about defying Kundalini by what it’s not:

Because many people are confused by Kundalini’s real nature, we must do more to define it accurately, starting with what it is not. For example, it isn’t devil worship or a supernatural cult. Neither is it a religion nor a sect. It’s a biological process. You can’t be converted to Kundalini any more than you can be converted to a heart attack or an orgasm; they just happen. That’s the nature of biological processes: They just happen.

“Recently, there’s been a tidal shift as more and more people recognize the term Kundalini and practice some form of yoga related to it. As more and more people are living Kundalini awakenings, we’re past the point of saying we don’t know much about Kundalini, that it’s too mystical, too occult. We know a great deal, most of it derived from personal accounts. Scientists may question these accounts and tell us these experiences aren’t conducted according to the scientific method in a laboratory at some university. We tell them this surge in Kundalini experiences is more than proof of concept; it is a working hypothesis. We’ve used our bodies as laboratories to prove it. We know there’s more to it. It’s not only about bliss or magical powers; it’s about accelerating evolution.

“As more and more people explore Kundalini, we are able to examine the process in scientific terms. I like to break the process into two steps: triggers and effects. The aim of the trigger step is to activate a biological process that entails distilling sexual energy and guiding it to the brain. The triggers I used were meditation and yoga. Other triggers include drugs, rituals, sex, energy transference. It can even occur while minding one’s own business. The most reliable trigger I know of is meditation. And although most meditation systems have religious roots, we now have nondenominational meditation methods based on stress and relaxation research that consist of breathing and concentration exercises akin to aerobics. In the coming years, I predict we will also see physiological methods for activating Kundalini that are completely divorced from any religious influences.”

It might sound like I’m contradicting myself about my knowledge of Kundalini. I’m not. I’m at the mouth of the cave after eons in darkness. I look back; I see groping and infighting as advocates of one faith-based system excoriate the apostles of other belief systems.

From the mouth of the cave, I can see both what’s beyond and, looking back, what’s behind, in the darkness. I visualize my ordeal and how I struggled against it. In vain sometimes. Looking outward, I can see the slow movement of evolution.

If I’ve learned one thing after fifty-plus years of living with Kundalini, it is found in this line from PD Ouspensky’s The Fourth Way:

“There is no question of faith or belief in all this. Quite the opposite, this system teaches people to believe in absolutely nothing. You must verify everything that you see, hear, or feel. Only in that way can you come to something.”

To better understand how experience turns into dogma and doctrine, I’m a fan of Margaret Dempsey’s, Female Kundalini. The lessons she learned about top-down, authoritarian systems, that the dictionary defines as: “favoring or enforcing strict obedience to authority.”

The holes the authoritarian leader got his followers into. The holes he dug for them. How they fell right into them. She was the first to become suspicious.

That’s what’s so great about her book: how easy it is to become a follower, until…