The First Tower: Self-gnosis

*Please be advised that we are utilizing two different translations of The Interior Castle: The edition by Benedict Zimmerman, and the edition by Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D. and Otilio Rodriguez, O.C.D. (O.C.D. =Order of Discalced Carmelites).

Teresa continues her narrative of the first spiritual estate as what can transpire when the soul finds itself in the state of mortal sin. For Lankavatarians, “sin” translates as an obtuse ignorance.

BEFORE going farther, I wish you to consider the state to which mortal sin brings this magnificent and beautiful castle, this pearl of the East, this tree of life, planted beside the living waters of life which symbolize God Himself. No night can be so dark, no gloom nor blackness can compare to its obscurity…

The soul separated from Him is no longer pleasing in His eyes, because by committing a mortal sin, instead of seeking to please God, it prefers to gratify the devil, the prince of darkness, and so comes to share his blackness.

The saints portrayal here of the powers of darkness do not fall on deaf ears, in particular for the Lankavatarian who knows only too well the nefarious powers of Mara and what evil can be wrought when allowing one’s spiritual defenses to fall silent and unaware of impending spiritual distress….even the beloved Bodhi-pearl of the Unborn Mind can be stained with adventitious defilements:

But the soul by sinning withdraws from this stream of life, and growing beside a black and fetid pool, can produce nothing but disgusting and unwholesome fruit…

The soul is like a crystal in the sunshine over which a thick black cloth has been thrown, so that however brightly the sun may shine the crystal can never reflect it…

Remember, if death should take you now, you would never again enjoy the light of this Sun…

In short, as the soil in which the tree is now planted is in the devil’s domain, how can its fruit be anything but evil?

It goes without saying that the same holds for Buddhists of any school, the Buddhadharma needs to be planted in good soil, if it’s sour ground, then nothing but evil can come of it. The most salient point to keep in mind here is that if death should overtake one while in defiled-pluralized modes, then one can only look forward to additional rebirths, and not all of them good. One must eternally remain centered in the Bodhi-pearl of great price. She then proceeds to relay how the best defense against these infamous influences is proper Self-gnosis.

Let it walk through these dwelling places which are up above, down below, and to the sides, since God has given it such great dignity. Don’t force it to stay a long time in one room alone. Oh, but if it is in the room of [self-knowledge!] How necessary this room is – see that you understand me – even for those whom the Lord has brought into the very dwelling place where he abides. For never, however exalted the soul may be, is anything else fitting for it; nor could it be even were the soul to so desire.

As on most spiritual paths, it is indeed this [self-gnosis] that needs to be a dominant factor in the makeup of the developing mind-soul. Take full account of right self-development; if this is lacking then no firm spiritual foundation can be laid. Always be advised that one’s innate Buddha-nature is clean and sound, it’s all about being self-mindful of what type of influences are perhaps getting in the way of ITs rightful dominion over your life. The True-Self always knows what is best in any given situation.

So I repeat that it is good — indeed very good — to try to enter first into the room where self-knowledge is dealt with rather than fly off to other rooms. This is the right road, and if we can journey along a safe and level path, why should we want wings to fly? Rather, let’s strive to make more progress in self-knowledge. In my opinion we shall never completely know ourselves if we don’t strive to know God. By gazing at his grandeur, we get in touch with our own lowliness; by looking at his purity, we shall see our own filth; by pondering his humility, we shall see how far we are from being humble.

With Self-gnosis comes humility—to admit that, of our own accord, we are powerless over the affairs of the divided body-consciousness; that our apparent lives are truly sunya, self-empty of the undivided light of the Nirvanic Element of truth. This also entails humbly invoking aid from the boundless and undivided bodhipower of countless Buddhas and bodhisattvas.

Now then, what would happen, daughters, if we who are already free from these snares, as we are, and have entered much further into the castle to other secret dwelling places should turn back through our own fault and go out to this tumult?

This translates for a Lankavatarian as once the great turn-about within the deepest recesses of consciousness has occurred, how foolish it would be to reverse this, and instead of focusing on the Prior Primordial Self-Mind, one should instead focus on defiled dharmata.

A good way to assist in all this proper Self-Recollection is to next engage our parallel study of Atisha’s Seven Points of Mind Training. This text on mind training, referred to as lojong in Tibetan, was brought to Tibet by Atisha (982–1054) in the eleventh century. Essentially, Atisha brought over 100 instructions to Tibet, this particular text being compiled by one of his later disciples, Chekawa Yeshé Dorjé,  who condensed it into the present form that we have today of seven points. What concerns us presently is the first point of Mind Training, or “The Preliminaries” (constituting four foundations). One can only surmise that if Teresa herself had the benefit of these Buddhaic teachings, then her own inner spiritual struggles would have been greatly allayed.

The Four Ordinary Foundations:

The Great Fortune of having a Human-Birth

Yea, how fortunate to have a human birth, such a blessing may not occur in millions of existences again. As such, a great potential to become liberated and enlightened (via the Buddhadharma) in this very lifetime thus never again experiencing the awful diurnal wheel of dependent samsarahood.

Death and Impermanence

Nothing is as certain as carnal death and the awful truth of impermanence in this saha-realm. Attending to the Noble Truths is the only exit from this samsaric nightmare. Meditation on this Realization incurs Right-Effort in transcendence.

The Truth of Karma

Karmic [Actions] and their consequences are inescapable. One is totally responsible (we create our own thoughts that are spurred into action) for avoiding potential doom and even consequential happiness.

The Inherent Perils of Samsara

Mind has created samsara and its body-consciousness that perceives reality in so many deceptive ways. As the Lanka itself teaches, it’s all about a faulty imagination (read: false body-consciousness) and thus erroneous discrimination and false reasoning run amok–perceiving the false to be true and the true to be false since time immemorial.

Another Mind-utility for overcoming the human condition are the Five Daily Recollections, or elements from the Upajjhatthana Sutta. This is an excellent vehicle that reveals how the best Self-gnosis is based on thorough Self-Recollection. It is presented here in its entirety for your consideration and practice:

 

Upajjhatthana Sutta: Subjects for Contemplation, translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

“There are these five facts that one should reflect on often, whether one is a woman or a man, lay or ordained. Which five?

“‘I am subject to aging, have not gone beyond aging.’ This is the first fact that one should reflect on often, whether one is a woman or a man, lay or ordained.

“‘I am subject to illness, have not gone beyond illness.’ …

“‘I am subject to death, have not gone beyond death.’ …

“‘I will grow different, separate from all that is dear and appealing to me.’ …

“‘I am the owner of my actions, heir to my actions, born of my actions, related through my actions, and have my actions as my arbitrator. Whatever I do, for good or for evil, to that will I fall heir.’ …

“These are the five facts that one should reflect on often, whether one is a woman or a man, lay or ordained.

“Now, based on what line of reasoning should one often reflect… that ‘I am subject to aging, have not gone beyond aging’? There are beings who are intoxicated with a [typical] youth’s intoxication with youth. Because of that intoxication with youth, they conduct themselves in a bad way in body… in speech… and in mind. But when they often reflect on that fact, that youth’s intoxication with youth will either be entirely abandoned or grow weaker…

“Now, based on what line of reasoning should one often reflect… that ‘I am subject to illness, have not gone beyond illness’? There are beings who are intoxicated with a [typical] healthy person’s intoxication with health. Because of that intoxication with health, they conduct themselves in a bad way in body… in speech… and in mind. But when they often reflect on that fact, that healthy person’s intoxication with health will either be entirely abandoned or grow weaker…

“Now, based on what line of reasoning should one often reflect… that ‘I am subject to death, have not gone beyond death’? There are beings who are intoxicated with a [typical] living person’s intoxication with life. Because of that intoxication with life, they conduct themselves in a bad way in body… in speech… and in mind. But when they often reflect on that fact, that living person’s intoxication with life will either be entirely abandoned or grow weaker…

“Now, based on what line of reasoning should one often reflect… that ‘I will grow different, separate from all that is dear and appealing to me’? There are beings who feel desire and passion for the things they find dear and appealing. Because of that passion, they conduct themselves in a bad way in body… in speech… and in mind. But when they often reflect on that fact, that desire and passion for the things they find dear and appealing will either be entirely abandoned or grow weaker…

“Now, based on what line of reasoning should one often reflect… that ‘I am the owner of my actions, heir to my actions, born of my actions, related through my actions, and have my actions as my arbitrator. Whatever I do, for good or for evil, to that will I fall heir’? There are beings who conduct themselves in a bad way in body… in speech… and in mind. But when they often reflect on that fact, that bad conduct in body, speech, and mind will either be entirely abandoned or grow weaker…

“Now, a disciple of the noble ones considers this: ‘I am not the only one subject to aging, who has not gone beyond aging. To the extent that there are beings — past and future, passing away and re-arising — all beings are subject to aging, have not gone beyond aging.’ When he/she often reflects on this, the [factors of the] path take birth. He/she sticks with that path, develops it, cultivates it. As he/she sticks with that path, develops it and cultivates it, the fetters are abandoned, the obsessions destroyed.

“Further, a disciple of the noble ones considers this: ‘I am not the only one subject to illness, who has not gone beyond illness.’… ‘I am not the only one subject to death, who has not gone beyond death.’… ‘I am not the only one who will grow different, separate from all that is dear and appealing to me.’…

“A disciple of the noble ones considers this: ‘I am not the only one who is owner of my actions, heir to my actions, born of my actions, related through my actions, and have my actions as my arbitrator; who — whatever I do, for good or for evil, to that will I fall heir. To the extent that there are beings — past and future, passing away and re-arising — all beings are the owner of their actions, heir to their actions, born of their actions, related through their actions, and have their actions as their arbitrator. Whatever they do, for good or for evil, to that will they fall heir.’ When he/she often reflects on this, the [factors of the] path take birth. He/she sticks with that path, develops it, cultivates it. As he/she sticks with that path, develops it and cultivates it, the fetters are abandoned, the obsessions destroyed.”

Subject to birth, subject to aging,
subject to death,
run-of-the-mill people
are repelled by those who suffer
from that to which they are subject.
And if I were to be repelled
by beings subject to these things,
it would not be fitting for me,
living as they do.

As I maintained this attitude —
knowing the Dhamma
without paraphernalia —
I overcame all intoxication
with health, youth, & life
as one who sees
renunciation as rest.

For me, energy arose,
Unbinding was clearly seen.
There’s now no way
I could partake of sensual pleasures.
Having followed the holy life,
I will not return.

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2 Responses to The First Tower: Self-gnosis

  1. scott says:

    Powerful words of profound truth. Thank you kindly. May i ever be mindful of these five truths.

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