Finished The last Alan Chapman and Duncan Barford book, A Desert of Roses, a good while back. Really enjoyed all three of the books and even recently re-read Advanced Magick for Beginners. As much as I enjoyed them, I am not sure I agree that the ultimate goal of magic should only be enlightenment and if that isn’t your goal then you are in Black Brother territory BUT overall they make some really good points and have some really interesting experiences. I was mostly interested by my own reaction to people claiming that they had become Enlightened. At first, I just thought – “Well, C’mon, that’s not true.” Almost immediately came the rebuttal – why wouldn’t it be true? Do I think Enlightenment is impossible? No. Then why do I think it is massively highly unlikely that people who are claiming to be enlightened are actually enlightened? It either exists or it doesn’t, and if it exists we should be seeing evidence of it.
Interesting I am back reading (or more correctly listening to audiobooks by) Brad Warner, a Zen guy, who would cover some of the same territory (minus any magic element) but would very much be the polar opposite in many respects to Chapman and Duncan. He would call most of the experiences outlined in the books “Enlightenment Porn” and would suggest that you really shouldn’t think too much about them.
Again, I am not sure about that either. Like I mentioned above, this stuff is either possible or it isn’t. If it is possible, which all three writers seem to agree on, then people should be having demonstrable results. If enlightenment is possible, then people should be getting enlightened. If we, as true believers, are so certain that Magic, for instance, actually works then why is the first reaction to a claim of magic usually disbelief? I can understand the lack of belief from skeptics but from people who actually champion this stuff? Don’t get me wrong, I am extremely guilty of this too, so I’m not pointing any fingers from any Ivory towers.
Brad Warner is really great, you should read his books, but for me, Zen and Buddhism comes from a place of “just give up and accept where you are, things will never get better and if they do they will get worse pretty quick afterwards.”. Just give up… Which from my Catholic upbringing feels too familiar for my liking. Don’t try, don’t try to better yourself, don’t try to be happy as it will ultimately lead to pain, just give up… accept your place in life, you are no one, you are not a special and unique snowflake and frankly, you are taking up space.
I sometimes feel that my adventures in Buddhist thoughts have really encouraged my more depressive traits and feelings. Couple that with Catholic guilt and you have a really decent cocktail for feeling that life is shit and best avoided.
But what I have recently found is that “just give up…” doesn’t lead to happiness or fulfilment or anything different from not giving up. I still feel the same way. If anything I feel worse about myself and life in general. All “letting go” it leads to is giving up… on everything. It’s similarly annoying and untrue as that other saying that really grinds my gears: “Say Yes to everything, you never know where it will lead!” which from my experience only leads to more stuff you don’t want to do. I say No a lot more and it has worked out much better for me. We really should test these sayings before we believe them.
Buddhist thought, Catholic guilt, Media, Politics, a lot of science, and whatever other flavour of modernity you want to choose, very actively bombards us with the notion that you/me/us are totally worthless and insignificant. They all remind you to stay in your place, stop reaching out, stop thinking you have any power or are any worth and more than that if you do get something nice it will end up being a nightmare. We are told “Careful what you wish for…” because obviously getting what you want will make things worse. Is there an actual study on this? Is there evidence that we really should be careful what we wish for? I have gotten stuff I wanted that improved my life and didn’t in any way bite me in the tail. “Money doesn’t buy you happiness”, so just stay where you are and accept the meagre circumstances of your live. EXCEPT – money does buy you happiness, to a point anyway. People who earn (depending on source) $65,000 to $75,000 a year are happier than those who don’t. Above that figure money doesn’t add any further to your happiness level.
Life may indeed be dukkha but dukkha with money and health is way better.
So, good on Chapman and Barford for talking about their enlightenment. I accept that Enlightenment exists as something that can happen, so I must believe that it has happened to some people. Otherwise it’s just a useless theory. Like a good Chaos Magician I am going to spend some time believing everyone’s tales of magic accomplishment, sudden satori and whatever else, let’s see what happens. I’m done with “Letting go”. 😀