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Thoughts on Cultural and Spiritual Appropriation
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Renew Ancient Death Rituals
Article ID: 14465
Age Group: Adult
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Author: Grey Ghost
Posted: February 27th. 2011
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While all of the world’s religions have significant differences, some common themes or belief systems appear as one study the religions of the world. As an example common Judaism and Islam both hold a belief that there are seven levels in heaven. Most organized religions believe in some form of an afterlife or existence of some form after the death of the physical body. Even agnostics often express a hope that there is something beyond mortal existence. If you have ever had a loved one die and you asked yourself the question: “Why did they die?” then you have already begun the process of questioning the modern funereal rite.
… infinity… alpha…omega… symbol became sigil, sigil became letters, letters became words and words became volumes of thought through which we try to understand the world around us. But what do we do after the mind has died? How will the after life appear?
You just woke up, but you are not hunger; there is brilliant light coming through the windows. Whoosh; you are down stairs and there is a wonderful tree set up in the living room with lots of presents, but wasn’t it Samhain just a few days ago? Looking closely at the tree there are no presents for you, but your picture is on the coffee table with a shiny black ribbon around it. You feel like you are waking from a bad dream now, but you can’t wake up. You seem lost, though you’ve seen the map a hundred times. Landmarks don’t look familiar, yet you know you’ve been here before many times. You have been exposed to many great books on religion and philosophy, but you can’t remember the prayers and chants to move forward. Then the daze overcomes you and you go into the faint again. This is the Bardo, as described by various translations of the Tibetan Book of the Dead or related to us by various Hindu and Buddhist sages.
The Jewish and Christian texts call this time Purgatory, the “waiting room”, while Islam refers to this time as Barzakh. Numerous religious texts around the world describe what happens after the death of the physical body, as do countless medical books. The similarities of these narratives are more prevalent than the differences; common themes appear in almost all mystical religious texts. The modern cult of N.D.E, near death experiences, reinforces the descriptions given in many of these ancient tomes.
Once upon a time there was a vast Egyptian culture that stretched over a great part of northern Africa and throughout the Mediterranean. Pharaoh ruled the empire and was believed to be a living god, with divine authority to govern the people of Egypt. At this point in the history of the world, only the priesthood of this mono/polytheistic religion and a few of the very wealthy could read and write. Illiteracy was common among the masses and actual words represented by hieroglyphics were magical, having great spiritual power. The mystical spiritual word was the province of the priest class. Written word was divine. As valuable as written text was, scrolls with elaborate instructions on what to do after death, which have become known as the Egyptian Book of the Dead, are often found in the tombs of the dead. Leaving expensive to produce written scrolls in the tombs of a mostly illiterate population seems to be counter intelligent unless there was a strong belief that the dead could use these materials in an afterlife.
“To be or not to be”, that is indeed a good question to ask as you approach the subject of death. The art of dying is as simple as this over used quotation. You, without the least doubt, have heard the statement that we never die. That somehow we miraculously change into some type of spiritual entity, becoming a living being on another spiritual plane or dimension or heaven or Summerland or some place worse. Some New Age religions go so far as to expound that we go to another planet after death.
The populist television program Ghost Whisperer would have us believe that all one must do after the death of the physical body is put all our affairs in order, help our loved ones reconnect, make sure everything is happy-happy, joy-joy, forgive each other and “Walk into the Light”. This walk into the light scenario is repeated in an abundance of current literature and books about spirituality such as The Compete Idiot’s Guide to Life After Death by Diane Ahlquist, 2007. Based upon my own anecdotal experience and many years of study of ancient texts on dying, my opinion is that the “walk into the light” scenario is a religion-fabricated fantasy designed to placate the survivors.
My goal is to dissuade those that believe this simplistic view in the hope of reviving the old ways or forms of the funereal rite. I fervently support the need for a complex funereal rite which will aid the dead in their post mortem existence. These complex funereal rites do not require a great deal of expense, just a bit of dedicated thought and time. These rites are better when preformed by family or friends rather than clergy. You do not need the use of a funereal home or church to achieve results, nor do you need to spend vast sums on expensive caskets, burial vaults or monuments.
Psychiatry and psychology are used to treat the human mind. Most notably, Carl Gustave Jung realized that the conscious mind or Ego is only a small part of the true inner self. In spite of the habitual inclination of the scientific community to accept only what blatantly whacks them in the face, a few perceptive individuals have linked mental disorders to something beyond the conscious realm. Hindu and Buddhist monks have long accepted the fact that we are what we think. Madame Blavatsky and a few noted theosophists were among the first to introduce the idea of a mind spirit body connection to the Western culture.
Many cultures go to great lengths to separate the spirit from the body after death, such as the Navajo belief in ghosts that resented dying. The Navajo would burn the body quickly after death, destroy the home of the deceased and take a roundabout path back to the village to prevent ghost following them home. Voodoo followers believe that the spirit of an individual remains close to the deceased for nine days and must be locked into the grave by ritual on the ninth day to avoid control by sorcery. Whether it is three days, seven days, nine days or longer; most religious and secular text concludes that there is a time limit during which contact can be made to the departed inner spiritual being. Tibetan monks perform death rituals for as long as forty-nine days to ensure the dead pass over.
The various religious traditions that were researched in preparation for this essay have a multitude of viewpoints. The so-called Eastern religions are most often associated with Hindu or Buddhism. A leading teacher and author of the early 60s was Eknath Easwaran (1910-1999) , a successful professor of English literature, who came to the United States in 1959. He is credited with teaching the first course in meditation at a major university. He started the Blue Mountain Center of Meditation in 1961 and during his life wrote over twenty books on various aspects of spiritual advancement.
Master Easwaran makes a point that how we view our existence is fundamental in understanding the process of death. The first of his points is that we are not the body. To quote his analogy, “Let me put it this way. I have a tan Nehru jacket of worsted wool made about ten years ago in Hong Kong. It fits me nicely, and I give it proper care: I don’t drop it in a heap on a chair; I button it, smooth it out, and hang it up carefully in the closet so it will last several years. But when I wear this tan jacket, I always have another jacket on underneath: a brown one made in Kerala, India. It fit even better – not a seam anywhere – and has brown gloves to match. I take good care of it, too. Now, you wouldn’t confuse me with my tan Nehru jacket, would you?”
Master Easwaran makes the point that we think of ourselves in terms of the temporary body that we inhabit for a short period of time. While the importance of taking care of this vehicle cannot be underestimated, the point is that we are not the body. The body is a container for the essences of life, not life itself. During deep meditation when we leave the consciousness of the body behind we understand the importance of caring for the physical body and the “privilege” of using this physical body to complete the great work of spiritual advancement.
To quote master Easwaran further, “Someday my tan jacket will wear thin and have to be put aside. And someday too my brown jacket will no longer be useful for service, and I will have to put it aside in the great transformation we call death.” When we bring into context that we are here for a brief time in all sorts of beautifully colored jackets, it becomes clear to the native that the important thing in this incarnation is to make spiritual advancements needed for our evolution. This understanding will free us from the pursuit of possessions, which often encumber our ability to transcend the physical world during the process of death.
A second major point the master Easwaran makes in several of his books is that we are not the mind. The mind is the part of our existence that we deal with everyday we come into contact with others. The mind is the ego; the conscious existence that we confuse with our true selves. The wise choice of food, exercise, sleep, occupation, health habits, lifestyle, sleep – all these enhance our abilities to be healthy and vital. Yet, none of these will aid us in our search for spiritual advancement, nor will they come to our aid at the time of the death of our physical bodies. A primary need in spiritual evolution is the ability to separate our inner self from the mental ego that encases it.
One method of achieving this separation is through the use of a mantra. We must experientially learn to separate our inner selves from the physical body and mental body if we are to transition the great evolution, known as death, with the least amount of fear and mental pain. The mass medial and current crop of entertainments would have one believe that all we need to do at the time of death is, “Walk into the light.” Well, I submit to you that ascended masters and mystics throughout time would greatly disagree with this simplistic approach to the afterlife. Accepting a personal deity into your physical life will not guaranty a smooth transition into the spiritual spheres.
“Consciousness will always be present, though a particular consciousness may cease… The particular tactile consciousness that is present within this human body will cease when the body comes to an end… Consciousnesses that are influenced by ignorance, by anger or by attachment, these too will cease, but the basic, ultimate, innermost subtle consciousness will always remain.” – His Holiness the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of the Tibetan people.
The time is at hand for the Pagan community to embrace the old ways of the funereal ritual that center around reading a Pagan Book of the Dead for those that are about to die or have just died. The purpose of this reading is to transfer Pranic energy and information needed by the inner spiritual being of those who are about to die to enable them to negotiate the horrors and dangers of the astral world. The reading provides the formula, chants and prayers needed by the inner spiritual being to navigate the Sephira of the Tree of Life after the death of the physical body.
Meditation”, Eknath Easwaran (1910-1999) , The Blue Mountain Center of Meditation, Nilgiri Press, 1978. A short 250 page pocket book which contains all the material needed to successfully meditate, also on audio tape
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