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Scare Tactics

By Peter Holleran

   "There are three methods of approach used by the teachers, depending on the level of the people they have to deal with. They are: first, terrorizing the lowest type by fears; second, coaxing the better evolved ones by baits and lures; third, giving a fair, balanced statement of the truth for those people who are mentally and morally on the highest level."

   “The pictures of hell as a sulphurous realm of shades were not therefore without their use for keeping unenlightened multitudes within decent bounds. Their lurid details of torture and torment indicate that the priestly minds which painted them originally understood well the inhibitive power of suggestions got en to the impressionable minds of the populace, especially the suggestion that evil-doing brings painful retribution.”
   - Paul Brunton (1)

   "If the mind will not be led by true reasoning, we restrain it by false." - Timaeus Locrius, teacher of Plato

   “The verbal teachings of the buddhas and ancestral teachers are just a snare and a trap…The Zen teachers imparted various expedient teachings and provisional techniques for the purpose of helping people enter into the experience of the Way…This is called recognizing the intent on the hook that the teacher uses to “fish” for the student’s true potential and not accepting the marks on the scale of a provisional definition as an absolute standard.” - Yuanwu (1063-1135) (1a)

   “In almost every person, every religion, every group, every teaching, and every teacher, there are ideas, beliefs, and assumptions, which are overtly or covertly not open to question. Often these unquestioned beliefs hide superstitions, which are protecting something that is untrue, contradictory, or being used as justification for teachings and behaviors that are less than enlightened. The challenge of enlightenment is not simply to glimpse the awakened condition, nor even to continually experience it. It is to be and express it as your self in the way you move in the world. In order to do this, you must come out of hiding behind any superstitious beliefs and find the courage to question everything. Otherwise, you will continue to hold onto superstitions that distort your perception and expression of that which is only ever AWAKE.” - Adyashanti (1b)

   “It has been said that awakening from ignorance resembles awakening from a fearful dream of a beast. It is just like that.” (Ramana Maharshi, Talks, p. 483).

   The sacred writings of all of the worlds religions place a great emphasis on the value of the human birth for spiritual growth and realization. From the more common exoteric teachings to the most esoteric, however, they all seem to have their version of stories designed to place fear and terror in the heart of the devotee in order to stimulate either his dogmatic obedience or true religious practice. The main lesson from all of these should be the inner dawning of an acute appreciation of the true horror of every minute spent in unawareness of ones real identity, and in apparent separation from truth, happiness, love, and oneness, and not from fear by the ego of facing the fires of hell - although such things are real and do happen. In this article will be examined a few of the more outrageous “scare tactics” still in use by religious and spiritual teachers to goad or provoke motivating reactions in their students. It should be distinguished at the outset that for mainstream religion some of these can be considered just crowd control, while in spiritual circles we cut the gurus some slack, for they must be free to play every 'card' in their deck, according to the intelligence of their disciples, in order to break a hypnotic spell of unconsciousness. The strongest card they play is one of love, apparently giving and withholding it at crucial times, in order to break open the hearts of the disciple. They will probably continue to play this card until the end of time. In the past, however, many strange teachings or verbal instructions were employed at different times and with different people for the purpose of cracking the mind, or simply keeping the disciples in their company (in which case at some times “the teaching could be seen as “fly paper” as one teacher put it), and no doubt will continue to be used until such time as they are no longer needed and things can be said more plainly, without losing the positive effect. Assuming that such a time has arrived, we will proceed with our mission.

   The more eggregious or unphilosophic the examples used, the more likely for the ego of the disciple to actually be reinforced, and the more skillfull the master will have to be in order to know who will or will not be adversely affected by his or her methods, and for whom they might be a catalyst for a breakthrough of some kind. I have seen both of these, with fruitful as well as disastrous results. Fortunately, there have always been a few, such as Ramana Maharshi, for whom the teaching has been an "open book", with no secrets and unnecessary remnants of pedegogic technique of days gone by maintaining unnecessary mystery among their disciples in order to keep them from backsliding or abandoning basic discipline. Times have changed, however, and it is time to speak plainly about such things. The basic discipline is self-understanding. The Way is difficult enough without years wasted in fear and trepidation over false views that are a distraction from what is already a terrible enough truth: the painful fact of ego and its separative life. Moreover, if the ultimate truth is one of no-self, no birth, no death, no bondage, and no liberation, how much good can it do to be repeatedly meditating on a fear of death and the ego-centered preoccupation with escaping some of its more imaginative forms?

   One of the lines repeated ad nauseum by oriental teachers up to the present day is the rarity and preciousness of obtaining a human birth. The analogy is given in Indian scriptures, I believe in a story by the Buddha, that it was as rare an event as it was for a turtle that pokes his head above the water once every hundred years to stick it through a small hoop cast at random into the middle of the ocean. Other teachers warn, particularly in some of the mystic traditions, such as the Sikhs, that if you fail to awaken in this human birth you may be reborn as an animal for who knows how many lives. There are many stories among Hindu and Buddhist teachers about high yogis falling from great heights to be reincarnated as animals after spending a long time in the hell realms. While it may be true that in many respects man still shows evidence of his animal nature, and some men in particular act beastly in character, does that make these stories actually true? Here is one example from the writing of a reknown Zen Master:

   “The study the Path you should step back and study with your whole being. Make birth and death your only thought. The worldly truth is impermanent, this body is not everlasting. Once you stop breathing then it’s already another lifetime. [so far, so good] In another birth you may sink into nonhuman species, and then you might go on for thousands of lifetimes through countless ages without emerging.” - Yuanwu (1c)

   Occult teachings, such as Theosophy and Anthroposophy, however, unequivocably say no, it is not like this. Paul Brunton also says no. Modern scientific, and evolutionary, theory, while a stranger to the mystic realms, and not strict proof, also argues against this possibilty. H.P. Blavatsky, in The Secret Doctrine, maintained that the doorway of passage from the animal kingdom to man in this (fifth) cosmic "Round" on this globe was closed, in both directions, some 8-9,000,000 years ago (she says it will be re-opened in the seventh Round, millenia from now). And that once self-consciousness arose in man he can not revert to the animal stage. Whether she was right, the gist is that there is an evolutionary guiding wisdom behind the Human Idea. Buddhist teachings argue to the contrary, however, saying that such an evolutionary teaching is a denial of the law of karma. Thus in Buddhism beings are continually cycling through the six realms of creation, until they become liberated and get off the wheel of birth and death. Buddhism has little room for a divine intelligence overseeing creation and all beings. Yet in so doing it has difficulty explaining a common world experience when it states that creation is solely the result of the karma of all beings, and a common experience the result of many beings incarnating simultaneously when the appropriate conditions/karma arise. Far more reasonable, it is suggested, is to assume there is a master guiding world-image of a divine mind projected through all individual minds at the same time to account for such commonality.

   Hindu teachings such as taught by Paramhansa Yogananda also say that a man can revert to an animal form, but for one incarnation only, as a form of punishment. That, however, is rare. The aforementioned Philosophy teaches that in general no matter how uncivilized, nasty, and inhumane a man may be, he is still a man and a man he will remain for the forseeable future and for indefinite forseeable incarnations. He may face a less than favorable destiny, however, and even be 'put in cold storage' somewhere, so to speak, for an indefinite period of time until his evil karma runs out, at which time he may, so to speak, start at a lower rung of the human ladder once again. This type of teaching is still prevalent in India and Tibet, with the Tibetans saying that it is only through accumulating infinite merit through eons of time that one is blessed to get a man body, and that in the lower realms (such as the animal realm) the thought of practicing Dharma or gaining merit would never even arise. But one can easily see the contradiction here: if this were true then there would be no way to ever get the human form at all! So maybe that is not exactly how it all works?

   Further, regardless of the spiritual significance of a man's last thought at the time of death, which some eastern teachings assert as being of primary importance, such as in this often told Hindu story, if that thought happens to be of a man's pet cat it is not very likely the case that he will be reborn as a cat! The overriding determining factor is a man's character; that will follow him and make him what is is. After a brief swoon at the beginning of his separation from the gross body, he will awaken as his ego and subtle personality and undergo many experiences in the intermediate realms where he will have a lot more things to consider and see and think about than the pet cat. His eventual “second death” and rebirth in a new body will be once more as a man, for better or worse, and his ultimate destiny is for the better.

   Stories like the following from Guru Nanak should most likely be read both for amusement and for their deeper underlying meaning rather than the literal one:

   “On one of his journeys, Guru Nanak, accompanied by his companions Bala and Mardana, met with a strange sight on their path. A large worm was writhing on the ground as hundreds of ferocious ants were biting it to death. Being tender hearted, Bala asked the great Guru what terrible deeds this poor worm had committed to warrant such suffering. Nanak replied that in a former life that worm had been a false master and the ants were his disciples. They had to be reborn in this form - cruel though it may seem - to balance the scales of karmic justice.” (2)

   Of course, we must leave open the possibility for exceptions, which are always possible when dealing with such-like Saints! This also works both ways. An exception to the rule of the "closed evolutionary doorway" is sometimes mentioned in the case of pets who through extreme devotion to their masters may possibly gain a human birth in their next life, or even realization in this life such as Lakshmi the cow, whom Ramana Maharshi said had experienced nirvikalpa samadhi and even liberation. A gyan guru known as Dadasri also taught, contrarily, that it is possible to be reborn as an animal (and that 85% of humanity is in this condition!) but only for 100-200 years, or a maximum of seven lives - and even for as little as five minutes - but just no longer necessary to go through the entire wheel of 8.4 million species again - to which I say, "thank God." He also taught, rather bizarrely, that if one dies in a coma he will be reborn as an animal - unless one has attained self-realization beforehand. That would doom a number of spiritual masters and advanced practitioners who, in fact, have died in that manner. His successor offers a no-charge self-realization in just two hours, which will assure one of liberation in only one or two more lives. Strange teachings indeed].

   A favorite saying of some teachers, from the Koran, warns that at the time of death it is as painful as if a “thorny bush being pushed into the rectum and extracted through the mouth", is now somewhat humorous to me. In my shabd meditations decades ago I had experienced a couple of times being partially withdrawn from the body, up to about the solar plexus, when upon my concentration being interrupted there was an apparent battle between the ego-consciousness and the withdrawal process. The awareness of what was going on interrupted the smooth and effortless inner concentration and withdrawal of attention or the sensory currents, and I felt a heat and pain in the body, until the process wound itself down and I was brought down, as it were, into the world and my normal condition. Having nothing better to do I asked Kirpal Singh if there was any danger in this, or if any damage could be done by such an experience. With a sweeping gesture and laugh he loudly said, “Not the least!” So then and there I knew that the fear of having such an experience at the time of death was kind of a joke and not, in a true understanding, much of an incentive or motivation to sustain a lifetime of practice, and particularly fearful practice at that. (3) Yet many high masters still repeat similar stories, such as one found in the Puranas, that at the time of death it is "like a thousand scorpions stinging you all at once," or that "there is a long drawn-out process in which it feels as if all of ones joints are twisting and breaking." Patrul Rinpoche repeats teachings that strike fear into the heart, saying,

   "At that time, unless you have already mastered the path, the fierce wind of your past actions will be chasing after you, while in front a terrifying black darkness rushes towards you as you are driven helplessly down the long and perilous path of the intermediate state. The Lord of Death's countless henchmen will be pursuing you, crying, "Kill! Kill! Strike! Strike!"

   Padmasambhava said, "Your consciousness, already wandering in the intermediate state like a dazed dog, will find it very hard to even think of higher realms." There is some truth in this, but it may not be exactly as it is often so traditionally portrayed. (5)

   Similarly, the process of life in the womb has been described as a painful one in which "one's bones are formed in intense heat." Guru Rinpoche says, "Both mother and child go halfway to the land of Death, and all the mother's joints, except her jaws, are wrenched apart." After contemplating such stories one may well question how anyone could be motivated by such worries, for surely a lifetime of suffering in the many ways possible is a much greater concern and torment than a few minutes of pain at the time of birth or death. And by that we mean not the suffering from bodily disease prior to death, but the actual death process itself. The evidence that has now come out through the findings of Near-Death Experience (NDE) researchers is that many ordinary persons have quite peaceful deaths. There even seem to be chemical and biological processes that are activated in the brain and body that make the transition more easeful, especially so in those who have even a little faith in a divine reality. Sri Nisargadatta said that, regardless of appearances, death itself is rarely an unpleasant experience. (6) So unless one has the 'luxury' of holding on for dear life (and not falling directly into a coma or swoon), the suffering due to withdrawal from the body itself is likely to be not great. Kirpal, in a private conversation, admitted as much when asked about non-initiates who appear to die in peace (for which we now have thousands of case histories):

   "The end comes only as a result of the whole life's essence. Every man has not the same story behind him. One may be devoted and of good character. There are various cases." (6a)

   The rebirth story gets even more outlandish when we consider some idiosyncratic Hindu versions. Here is one such tale:

   "If during his lifetime the individual had performed some special acts of merit (punya) or demerit (papa), then the jiva-atman would proceed to heaven or hell. After spending his special karma-phala there, he comes back to the earth. However, if the jiva-atman has not performed any exceptional karma, then he will come back straight to the earth and not at all go to the intervening heaven or hell [In the Tibetan tradition only those who commit one of the four unpardonable sins, such as killing a saint, or spreading false doctrine, must immediately come back to earth]. Anyhow, while coming to the earth, he enters into rain and through it into food grains. Here comes the role of God. Circumstances have to be set into place for the jiva to be able to enter into the appropriate father. The conditions however may not yet be suitable for the father to have him right away. In the meantime, it may so happen that an animal consumes the particular food grain containing the jiva. But after digestion, the jiva will again come out of the animal’s body through waste discharge and then re-enter the food grain. This shunting will go on till the appropriate father is ready to receive the jiva. When that particular food grain is consumed by the father and digested, the jiva is not thrown out again. Rather, it gets into the father’s seed and from there enters into the mother’s womb, soon to be reborn again." (7)

   Such teachings appear crazy, but then, who knows?! In the general teachings of esotericism, however, none of these views are entirely reasonable. Many factor are said to go into the time period between births, and which is usually fairly long, with less evolved people spending a shorter period in the subtle realms, in more or less awakened condition (but still at least months, if not year), while more evolved types not only possibly having some say in the matter, but it may be anywhere from 0-3000 earth-years, as and when a suitable vehicle becomes available, and the post-death entity has accomplished what it needed to do. Further, many beings cooperate in a complex process of building a new body and guiding the reincarnating monad into association with it. And humans stay human, for thousands of lifetimes, and do not go down all the way through the 'wheel of eighty-four'. This would be contrary to all logic of evolution. So scare story number two can be set to rest.

   Theosophical teachings have suggested that anyone who commits suicide will commit suicide for four more lifetimes. Why they stop at four I do not understand. It would seem like an infinitely regressing proposition, since each time one did such an act he would incur another four lifetimes in the future where he felt impelled to repeat his sin. It is obvious here that the major emphasis of this statement is on driving home the serious nature of such an action, its unfavorable spiritual consequences, and also its basic failure in achieving its true aim, i.e., the relief of suffering, which belongs, says one such as PB, more to the ego than to the body itself. Ramana Maharshi said, on the one hand, that a person who commits suicide is only trying to remove the source of his suffering, but also made sure to add that it was the false identification of the infinite Self with the bodily-based ego that was the true suicide. Yet who will cast the first stone in morally judging someone who feels so miserable as to take his or her own life? There also remain ethical questions about terminal illnesses, extreme pain, etc., that even high Buddhist lamas argue over. (8)

   Another tale sometimes told in the Sant tradition is that the soon-to-be-born-soul hangs upside down in the womb, suffering great agony, heat and misery, and then and there prays to the Almighty that if he ever gets out he will devote his lifetime to doing good to others and trying to find God. This description of intrauterine life, however, is contradicted by a great amount of research involving pre-natal and peri-natal experiences in deep feeling therapies, such as primal and Stanislof Grof’s holotropic breathwork, among others. The experience of being in the womb, except in some cases of trauma or in the later stages after labor has begun, is most often remembered or re-experienced as having been heavenly or paradisical, and not hellish.

   The Bhagavata Purana says that all men in this world were women in their previous births, and vice versa, and that each died thinking about the opposite sex. In his book, Good Life, Good Death, an otherwise compassionate and balanced work designed to console, clarify, and offer gentle, helpful wisdom, the respected Gehlek Rinpoche similar claims that the bardowa (subtle personality in the after death realms), sees his future parents making love, and becomes envious and resentful to the parent of the opposite sex, “dies in rage,” and re-enters the womb:

   “The transition from the bardo to the next life is provoked by the force of a powerful emotion that draws a person to the sexual engagement of parents. The bardowa finds perfect, fertile, genetic conditions that can generate life...As a bardowa, you have an attachment to either the male or female - their lovemaking will draw you. Since you don’t have a physical identity, you will fall into their lovemaking and get caught in it because of jealousy or aversion. The mind of the bardowa flows in and is caught. Unable to escape, the bardowa dies of rage and takes on a new life. If you are drawn toward the female, you are jealous of the male, and you are born as a male; if you are drawn to the male, you are jealous of the female, and you are born as a female. (9)

   When I first read this I was at that moment in a vulnerable state and it hit me hard. I was scared because I felt the strength of such emotions in myself. But is that strong feeling I had proof that these are the sole determinants of the nature and timing of ones rebirth? I don’t think so. PB wrote in The Wisdom of the Overself and also the Notebooks that the afterlife time-frame varies, from months and years in some cases to much longer than earth life in others. The distillation of most esoteric traditions is that one generally first experiences a life-review, a period of consolidation of the past life, and maybe some new learning in the dreamlike environment of the bardos, followed by a long and refreshing sleep. It is not universally taught that one “plunges’ headlong consciously into a womb based on a Freudian sexual theme - something I also find a little odd coming from a Tibetan perspective. A close friend of mine who has spent much time in Tibet as well as with Tibetan teachers told me that, in his opinion, sex in that country is generally not that big of a deal. Moreover, in the village of Drugpa Kunley (the famous and revered “crazy wise” sex-guru, who is famous for uttering epithets such as “you like samadhi, I like pussy”), there are icons of his penis over nearly every house, emitting semen as well. I asked my friend, incredulous, “you've got to be kidding, how could they do that, what about the kids there?” He laughed and said, "it's like it's nothing, nobody really cares.” (Apparently, infertlle women come from miles around to spend a night next to Drugpa Kunley's shrine, ask for his blessings, and more often than not soon become able to conceive). So these stories in the tradition about re-entry into the womb don’t jive in my mind with the cultural milieu from which they arise. Perhaps sensing this, Gehlek Rinpoche somewhat hedges his position when he continues:

   “From the Buddhist point of view, those conditions appeal to you because of your karma. Karma or no karma, you happen to be passing through, the love making happens to be happening, you happen to be drawn to it, out of attachment or jealousy. You go to it because you want to participate. It can be attachment. It can be profound love. It can be anger or it can be self-esteem or self-determination. The emotions can be right or wrong, good or bad, but they are strong. These powerful emotions cause the transition from bardo to life.” (10)

   So the issue of incarnation is very complex. Many karmic factors and agencies are involved in creating and providing a suitable body for a being's evolvement. While the "last thought" at the time of death, if it be for enlightenment and a higher purpose, may be very important and auspicious for the next incarnation, it is unlikely if one is semi-conscious and has a brief thought of a loved one or a favorite pet he will come back in such a form strictly to fulfill that fleeting thought. There are too many other intervening experiences, and ones reincarnation, or more properly termed, incarnation (in that the gross and subtle personalities die while the light, the consciousness that is the true person or being, continues), is not generally immediate in any case - unless perhaps, one is a sage or boddhisattva needing only a brief rest before his perpetual return to serve all sentient beings.

   The threat or fear of hell has its purpose. First, such experiences are real. I know numerous initiates of Kirpal Singh, for instance, who had the experience of being mystically transported in a protective bubble, as it were, by the Master, on a preview of a hell realm, where they saw various people, and I myself had several night time experiences when I felt myself being drawn “down,” wherever that was, and heard ghoulish ball and chain sounds and groans, etc. During these experiences I recalled my readings of the Tibetan Book of the Dead wherein it says that one should realize such things are only visions or manifestations of ones own mind, but such memories of the teaching failed to make the visions or the fear go away, because, the way I understand it, at that time in the dream-like world I was basically identified with the dream character and my thoughts were on the same level and therefore failed to break the spell of the experience! Bottom line, it is not so easy to disidentify with "the dream" when you are in it. The hell (and heaven) realms are not ordinary psychological states, then, although they have their counterparts as such during earth-life.

   Secondly, however, the perennial wisdom teachings on hell are counter to the orthodox Middle Eastern religions in that one is not “eternally damned” to such a place, but can only remain there for a time, before the elements that make up his personality disperse and one experiences a deep sleep before being born once more. The dualistic war between God and Satan, Kal, or the Devil, Heaven and Hell, the forces of Good and Evil, Light and Darkness, the Spirit and the Flesh, and signs and tribulations of the End-Times, may have first appeared in ancient Persia with the teachings of Zoroaster, and from there made their way to Sumer and Rome. The Apocalypse of John, of disputed authorship, considered spurious by Eusebius, unauthentic and definitely not written by John the apostle by many church fathers, is an amalgam and epitome of such teachings:

   “He shall drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured unmixed into the cup of his anger, and he shall be tormented with fire and sulpher in the presence of holy angels and the presence of the Lamb...And the smoke of their torment goes up for ever and ever; and they have no rest, no day or night, these worshippers of the beast and its image, and whosoever receives the mark of its name.” 11)

   This prophetic spirit as supposedly (but not likely) channeled by John is doubly confusing and fear-inducing, for the presence of sulpher has long been associated with that of the Devil or Satan, not the Lord. Moreover, in this Book of Revelation,

   “[John] denounces Greco-Roman civilization in all its richness and splendor as the work of the devil, but he appears to know and borrow freely from pagan iconography. Seven is a sacred number in Jewish tradition, to be sure, but it is also significant in the astrological beliefs and practices of classical paganism, which knew only seven heavenly bodies. Twelve is the number of the tribes of Israel, but it is also the number of signs in the zodiac. Astrology, in fact, is condemned in the Bible as one of the great besetting sins of paganism - “offerings to the sun and moon and constellations, all the host of heaven” - and yet John may have invoked precisely these images and associations in the text of Revelation.

   Among the most sublime and exalted scenes in Revelation, for example, is the “great portent” that will appear in heaven to mark the beginning of the end-times: “[a] woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” The woman, pregnant and already in labor, is stalked by “a great red dragon,” which waits to devour the newborn child as soon as she gives birth...”St. John’s mind sets to work on the lines of a very old mythic pattern,” writes Austin Farrer, who suggests that John borrowed the figure of the woman from pagan astrology - “the Lady of the Zodiac” who is “crowned with the twelve constellations.”

   The Revelation of St. John also distinguishes the elect 144,000 from the rest of humanity by their being ‘sealed upon their foreheads” with the name of God and the name of the Lamb.” (13) This number is replete with symbolic meaning, but is basically an astrological derivative of the 360 degrees of the zodiac times the 4 minutes it takes the sun to advance one degree, times ten to the 2nd power = 144,000 (14); furthermore, this book was apparently an ancient text relating the Mithraic legend of one of the Zoroasters (there were at least seven) in the form of an astrological mythos of the precession of the equinoxes, or the "Great Year" (25,000 years), in this case ushering in the age of Aries approximately 4400 years ago. Acharya S quotes Churchwood:

    "The drama appears as tremendous in the Book of Revelation, because the period ending is on the scale of one Great Year. It is not the ending of the world, but of a great year of the world...The book is and always has been inexplicable, because it was based upon the symbolism of the Egyptian Astronomical Mythology without the gnosis, or "meaning which hath wisdom" that is absolutely necessary for an explanation of its subject matter; and because the debris of ancient wisdom has been turned to account as data for pre-Christian prophecy that was supposed to have its fulfillment in Christian history." (15)

   Anthroposophist Rudolph Steiner argued that this dualistic philosophy of ancient Persia, perhaps the world’s first true religious dualism, was actually a necessary evolutionary stage in the long history of mankind, to be succeeded by a further stage embodied in the descent of the Christ, and additional evolutionary stages beyond that, in our present time and beyond. Incarnation, or bodily life, is not to be feared, but lived, transformed, and understood.

   In addition, the above reference in Revelation to the dragon waiting to devour the new-born child is similar to the myth of Zeus swallowing Metis and her unborn child, resulting in Athena - or wisdom - spouting from his forehead, signifying the birth of reason, the soul of Greece and that of modern man, something the eastern gurus at times seem to forget. Fear of thinking is a big one in mystic and religious circles.

   The Roman Church took care of that for a long time by making reading of the Bible taboo for the rare soul who could actually find a copy. Don't assume, however, that the problem was solved by the Protestant Reformation and the invention of the printing press. These in turn spawned a fear of damnation for not reading and interpreting the Good Book correctly. The Prologue of Tyndale's Bible warned,    "If you fail to read it properly, then you begin your just damnation. If you are unresponsive ... God will scourge you, and everything will fail you until you are at utter defiance with your flesh."

   So far we have: fear of being born as an animal, fear of the process of death, fear of emotions and desires (leading to rebirth), fear of going to hell, fear of thinking, fear of reading, fear of not reading, and even a hypocritical fear of astrology. (Oh, and curiously, those 144,000 elect in Revelation are virgins, undefiled by contact with the opposite sex. Therefore, add fear of the body to the list).

   Pardoning this long diversion, then, threats of hell are only of a relative value. More important is coming to the realization of how ordinary life is like a hell, and even an excruciating torment, when experienced apart from the realizing and knowing of who and what one truly IS. That in essence is the chief merit, if in this day and age there remains any, of such guru scare tactics.

   Still, if one is so inclined, he can take note of the following quote attributed to C.S. Lewis:

   "The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist.” (!)

   Perhaps, then, it also wouldn't hurt us too much to consider the words of Abbot Zenkei Shibayama of the Nanzenji Monastery in Kyoto, Japan, who puts a healthy fear of our apparent predicament into a particularly elegant form. He said:

   "The first step in pursuing the way to religion is to “empty oneself.” But this “emptying oneself” does not mean, as ordinarily understood, merely to be humble in one’s thinking or to clean out all from the self-deceived mind so that it can accept anything. It has a much deeper and stronger meaning. One has to face the “ugliness and helplessness” of oneself, or of human life itself, and must confront deep contradictions and sufferings, which are called the “inevitable karma.” He has to look deep into his inner self, go beyond the last extremity of himself, and despair of himself as a “self which can by no means be saved.” “Emptying oneself” comes from this bitterest experience, from the abyss of desperation and agony, of throwing oneself down, body and soul, before the Absolute."

   "It is the keenness with which one realizes one’s helplessness and despairs of oneself, in other words, how deeply one plunges into one’s inner self and throws oneself away, which is the key to religion. “To be saved,” “to be enlightened,” or “to get the mind pacified” is not of primary importance. Shinran Shonin, who is respected as one of the greatest religious geniuses in Japan, once deplored, “I am unworthy of any consideration and am surely destined for hell!”....When one goes through this experience, for the first time the words of the great religious teachers are directly accepted with one’s whole heart and soul...”

   "But wait," some might say, "isn't this just the fear of not attaining enlightenment?" Good question. It could be that, or then again, it might just be an honest sign of true repentance and metanoia, qualities in a high degree of scarcity today. This fear, or more appropriately, remorse, at a certain stage you are entitled to have. It is a sign of spiritual health.

   "Such was the primitive intellectual condition of the masses in former times that spiritual truth was best conveyed and easiest understood through parables, myths, allegories, and personifications. In our own day, improvement of the intellectual condition permits of straightforward statement and scientific precision in conveying the same truth...The teaching will always be adapted to the intellectual and moral capacity of its hearers. Hence the teachers will speak differently to different men or groups of men. Only at the highest level of intake will there be absolute identity and quality of teaching." (17)

According to an internet writer, the reference which I have misplaced, one respected early Church Father even spoke to this effect:

   "Clement of Alexandria, in the early third century, distinguished four senses in which Scripture can be interpreted: the literal sense and three "spiritual" senses. In addition to the literal sense, the "meaning of the law" is known by its spiritual senses as displaying a sign, establishing a command for right conduct, or making known a prophecy." This four-fold interpretative schema, which informed the Catholic consciousness throughout the Patriarchic and Medieval eras, was known as the Quadriga. In other words, it became accepted the there are four senses of scriptural interpretation: (1) the literal; (2) the allegorical; (3) the tropological, or the moral; and (4) the anagogical or spiritual.

   "The allegorical sense of reading scripture occurs when characters or events are presented for the sake of drawing the reader's attention to a larger theme or issue. Essential to the tropological sense of reading Scripture is the use of moral metaphor. It consists of reading, not literally, but figuratively. To read Scripture analogically is to read it in the spiritual sense. "Anagogue" is a Greek word implying an ascension on the part of a person, a "climb" upward."

[The author of this piece goes on to say - addressing Christianity, in this instance - that even the "literal" interpretation is often more nuanced, being distinguished in fact into "literal," "literal-historic," and "literal-prophetic" categories. Such a depth goes beyond the scope of this article.]


   I was going to leave this as is, but couldn’t resist one more scare story. To preface it, various religions have their unforgiveable or nearly unforgiveable sins. For instance, instilling distrust or dissention among the sangha, and especially, injuring or killing a Buddha, guarantee one a destiny in hell in Buddhism. In Hinduism a rebirth into an animal body is considered possible for subhuman behavior, but, according to teachers such as Paramhansa Yogananda, as a punishment and for one birth only, and not a fall to the bottom of the ladder of evolution. Being a false teacher seems particularly egregious sin, as the following story from Guru Nanak suggests. Who knows if it is true? “The ways of Karma are unfathomable,” said Lord Krishna...

   “On one of his journeys, Guru Nanak, accompanied by his companions Bala and Mardana, met with a strange sight on their path. A large worm was writhing on the ground as hundreds of ferocious ants were biting it to death. Being tender hearted, Bala asked the great Guru what terrible deeds this poor worm had committed to warrant such suffering. Nanak replied that in a former life that worm had been a false master and the ants were his disciples. They had to be reborn in this form - cruel though it may seem - to balance the scales of karmic justice.” (18)

(1) Paul Brunton, The Notebooks of Paul Brunton (Burdett, New York: Larson Publications, 1986), Vol. 2, 6.530; The Wisdom of the Overself (York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser, Inc., Second revised edition, 1984), p. 164
(1a) J.C. and Thomas Cleary, trans., Zen Letters: Teachings of Yuanwu (Shambhala, 1994), p. 57, 69
(1b) Adyashanti, The Impact of Awakening, reference misplaced
(1c) Cleary, op. cit., p. 77
(2) Arran Stephens, Journey to the Luminous (Seattle, Washington: Elton-Wolf Publishing, 1999), p. 288
(3) There may be some danger in the premature awakening of the kundalini energy, however. This could damage the 'etheric web' connecting the conscious entity to the physical body. And cases have been reported in Sant Mat where an unrelenting disciple was granted his wish to be taken up to higher planes, and suffering greatly as if being 'torn apart by lightning bolts', and even dying soon afterwards. This is an unusual incidence. Masters will generally not so endanger their disciples, and rather allow such development to occur gradually and naturally, when necessary.
(4) Patrul Rinpoche, Words of My Perfect Teacher, p. 17
(5) See In the Bosom of the Lord: Death for the Unliberated for some perspective on this issue.
(6) Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, I AM THAT (Durham, North Carolina: The Acorn Press, 2008), p. 284
(6a) Kirpal Singh, Heart to Heart Talks, Part One, p. 51
(7) Nitin Kumar, Moments Before Death: Transfer of Karma from One Birth to Another, Article of the Month, www.exoticindia.com, June 2013
(8) See On Suicide and the Spiritual Quest for additional perspective on this sensitive matter.
(9) Gehlek Rimpoche, Good Life, Good Death (New York, N.Y.: Riverhead Books, 2001), p. 39
(10) Ibid, P. 39-40)
(11) Jonathan Kirsch, A History of the End of the World (San Francisco: HarperCollins Publishers, 2006), p. 69
(12) Ibid, p. 93-94
(13) Ibid, p. 79
(14) Karl Anderson, Astrology of the Old Testament (Mokelumne Hills: Health Research, 1970), p. 85
(15) Albert Churchwood, The Origin and Evolution of Religion, p. 313, 366
(16) Abbot Zenkei Shibayama, A Flower Does Not Talk (Rutland, Vermont: The Charles E. Tuttle Company, Inc., 1970) p 172-173
(17) Brunton, op.cit., Vol.13, Part Two, 2.280, 2.271
(18) Kirpal Singh, Morning Talks, 4th edition (Bowling Green, VA: Sawan Kirpal Publications, 1991) pp. 257-258