Descriptions of the dimensions or states of consciousness are not adequate to describe the depth and complexity at the heart of the experience of them.
It’s a bit like trying to describe the flavor of jackfruit by calling to memory things you might be more familiar with. Things like bubble gum, persimmons and unripened mango, using descriptions like the slipperiness of a peach with the granularity of a plum, neither too tart nor too sweet. The fact is, if you do not bite into the jackfruit you will not taste it, and if you have not tasted it, you don’t really know jackfruit.
The only problem with this particular fruit is that it only grows in far away regions of the world, making it difficult to export. And, since not enough westerners are interested in jackfruit as to put it in high demand, it’s not an everyday super market kind-of-thing. To taste this fruit, we must brave the treacherous terrain of an Asian or Indian market, or better yet, go to India or Thailand where they grow.
But why would anyone go through all the effort for a food they have not already tasted? How big is your appetite for a food you have not tasted before? Not very big, is it? Here’s another example to illustrate what I mean.
How does Kitfo leb sound for dinner tonight? It’ll be drenched in mistime and kibbeh and served with a side of injera and teff. Is this enough to get you to come to my house for dinner? Or, would you rather me tell you more about what it’s made from? What other food it’s like, does it have meat, how is it sourced and so forth? What if I said it’s Ethiopian food or even more generally, African? Might this get you to come over to my house for dinner? Maybe you’re a neighbor and can already smell the cooking. It smells great and you’re eager for an invitation. Or maybe you’re not very adventurous, and I’d have to work very hard to convince you to open up to something totally new. But if you haven’t had these dishes before, you really don’t know whether or not you like them. Right?
These are the kinds of things the Qabalists are considering when they write about the “the four worlds”. Sometimes they write for those who can already smell their cooking and are salivating for it. Other times, they write for those who have no previous experience to draw from and no appetite to inspire their curiosity. Sometimes they write in a mystical way: being symbolic and cryptic, trying to entice readers with esoteric hyperbole. Other times, they’re more specific and concrete because their readers are already filling their plate. They might talk about geometry to point out something to do with a kind of state of awareness. Or they might tell a story using a character to describe a cosmic habit of the universe. Sometimes they tell you they’re serving Kitfo leb, while other times they’ll just say it’s African food. Sometimes it’s up to the reader to find their way into the spirit of its meaning. If they do a good job, it means you’ll come on in, fix yourself a plate, have a bite and hang out for while, even though things are bound to start getting weird.
The upper and the lower, the inner and the outer are one thing
The mystics and Qabalists say that the fundamental pattern of creation is a timeless, changeless, ever-present reality of nested wholes within wholes. And, paradoxically, it’s also morphing, changing, birthing new forms and destroying others, dancing naked in its full glory in some places and hiding in others. This wild idea, something I think of as the perennial architecture, is something that transcends all descriptions and spiritual traditions, yet it permeates throughout all descriptions and traditions as well. Confusing right? Within the structures and patterns of its cosmic habits is the symbolic, archetypal soil out of which the worlds great religions have grown. In the west, the perennial forms have given rise to both Christianity and Judaism, while in the east, it gives rise to Advita-Vedanta and Hinduism.
But how do we verify this for ourselves?
The Qabalists say every animate and inanimate form of matter and kind of experience we have follows a universal organizational pattern that reveals its essential nature and its singular identity if we know how to look. From subatomic particles to atoms to cells, to organisms, planets and mind itself, the life power, what some call spirit, is the only thing that ever comes in to being. It’s just wearing different outfits, dancing different jigs, sleeping, dreaming or staring at you in the mirror with a goofy smirk. It’s purring and pawing you in the face before your alarm goes off in the morning, scratching at the door to be let out. It’s calling you on the phone to invite you over for diner or to collect that money you owe. Even emptiness, the very structure of the vacuum – no-thingness – is organized according to the perennial pattern of spirit. But these statements aren’t anything to be believed or made a fuss about in any way. I mean, people do make a big fuss about it, but that’s just because it’s so different than what usually seems to be the case. Some people already have a sense of this being the case or believe that it’s the case while others think it’s total and complete nonsense.
Whatever the case may be, the nature of existence, its fundamental, universal architecture and the nature of the self that’s made from it and lives in relationship to it is a jackfruit. I personally really enjoy jackfruit. I don’t like bubble gum, which is inspired by jackfruit and made to taste kinda like jackfruit, but it’s not even close in my opinion. Bubble gum is disgusting. I don’t get why anyone would chew it, it doesn’t even make your breath smell good! I just want the real deal. I especially like jackfruit popsicles, jackfruit smoothies and really jackfruit any kinda way supper cold. To me, it’s a tasty, exotic fruit that trumps every other fruit in almost every way. It might not be as colourful as other kinds of fruits, but it’s not too sweet and stays good for two months while other fruits rot quickly and give me a big sugar spike. And, if you pickle it or dehydrate it, you’ll have jackfruit long after the zombie apocalypse is over! Okay, now I’m making a bit of a fuss over it, but you get the idea.
My point is, tasting the real fruit is better than believing or disbelieving in it, accepting it or rejecting it. Maybe not better, just more rich and full. In order to taste for ourselves the ubiquitous presence of the perennial form of creation, both “out-there” in the world and “in-here” as our own consciousness, it helps if we develop our capacity to observe with a great deal of subtlety and attentiveness to detail. Subtlety, in this case, relates to the vertical or the “four worlds”. And detail refers to the horizontal, i.e. people, places, things, and events.
Your dog looks at you, you see her precious beautiful eyes. You are looking with all of your awareness there and see that maybe she wants you to pet her. You keep looking and also see her dogness and the love that her particular dogness has for you. You keep looking and see the creature consciousness behind the dogness. The creatureness is there transcending and including her particular dogness. But you keep looking and then you also see the livingness beyond the creatureness that’s more just life itself. It’s more basic than the dogness or the creatureness but also more encompassing. So you see the livingness itself, transcending and including the creatureness and her particular dogness. But you keep looking, and then you see that lifeness or the life power itself looking back at you. And that as you do, you notice that IT is the thing doing the seeing in you and in your dog, and it’s not actually a human or a dog but is within both, transcending and including them both in the looking and the seeing.
Then things get weird, your dog is wondering why you’re staring at her and not petting her, so you pet her and go about your day.
In this example, you have an experience of your dog, its particular unique form and personality –The Gross. Then you see the creature consciousness behind or within its form – The Subtle. Then you see the life power or essence within and beyond both the creature and the form – The Causal. Then things go super-nova and the seer –you– and the seen – your dog – fall away as an experience of awareness, of isness itself seeing itself, seeing the distinctions but seeing through them as one whole shining presence – The Non-dual.
But it’s hard to have this kind of attention! What do I do?
The best way to practice having more attention to subtlety and detail is through study and meditation. In Qabalah, they talk about the “four worlds”: Assiah, Yetzirah, Beri’ah and Atziluth, which means basically Action, Formation, Creation and Emanation or matter, abstract forms, more abstract forms and light. In less mystical terms, these “worlds” are referring to the gross, subtle, causal and non-dual states of conscious and their objects of awareness. In brainwave nerd speak, these states are associated to the beta/alpha, theta, delta, and gamma brainwave states. As we practice getting in to these states by doing meditation, we can develop a sensitivity to the subtle – universal forms, the causal – transcendent forms and non-dual – formlessness. And, if we also study things like physics, chemistry, human evolution and music, to name a few, the richness of details in the horizontal fills out with ever greater degrees of complexity which, after a while, all get organized in the simplicity of the perennial pattern (a.k.a. tree of life).
It’s really not that mystical or weird or special to experience these states or observe these dimensions of being, but they are tasty! And, in the similar way that jackfruit is not bubble gum, the descriptions of these states (beliefs), or the reports of mystics talking about the objects they see while in these states, are not the same as tasting these states. Juicy fruit gum is not jackfruit! At best the description may inspire you to find an Asian market and go hunt down a jackfruit to taste what it’s really like.
In the next blog post, I’ll go a bit deeper into the descriptions of these states and offer some resources that can help in building your proficiency with recognizing these ever present dimensions of being.