The Way of the Heart as Advitayana Buddhism – Frog Perspective vs. Bird’s Eye View


Introduction by Georg Feuerstein



Frog Perspective vs. Bird’s Eye View

When, in 1336, Francesco Petrarca climbed Mont Ventoux in the South of France, he effectively freed himself from the tunnel vision of the reigning structure of consciousness of his time. His vision of the valleys far below jolted him out of the dreamlike self-containedness that characterizes the “mythical consciousness” 1 of medieval Gothic art, piety, and feudalism. He awakened to a new mode of perceiving the world; he began to see things in conscious perspective. And Petrarca (1304-74) was aware that his “discovery” of perspectival space would be of far-reaching importance to others.

1. I have borrowed this concept from J. Gebser, Ursprung und Gegenwart, 3d ed., 3 vols. (Munich, 1973).

Petrarca stood at the threshold of the Renaissance which, in a certain sense, can be said to have reached its climax in the genius of Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) who was the first to solve the theoretical problems of perspectivity. His achievement was paralleled and augmented by the heliocentric “revolution” of Nikolaus Copernicus, Christopher Columbus (who opened up earth’s space), Galileo Galilei (who used the telescope to disclose the vastness of outer space), Johannes Kepler (who replaced the ancient idealistic circular model of planetary motion by calculated ellipses), Andreas Vesalius, Europe’s first great anatomist (who explored the body’s inner space), and so on.

Petrarca’s Mont Ventoux experience has nothing in common with the sense of achievement, of egoic pride and self confirmation, that the veteran mountaineer feels when he has successfully scaled and “conquered” a particularly difficult peak. Nor must it be compared with the feeling of mere aesthetic pleasure of the occasional wanderer who, picnicking on a modest peak, admires the panoramic scenery of the valley beneath him. For Petrarca the experience was a sudden widening of his cognitive horizon, a strengthening of his capacity for world understanding and self-insight. His was an experiential encounter with a new “paradigm.” Although it occurred on the personal level, it was yet thematizing a new general awareness which was shared by other sensitive thinkers of his period and which, before long, became a part of the sensibility of the Western European civilization and its epigones.

I have begun this introductory essay with Petrarca’s auspicious discovery for two reasons. Firstly, because the full awakening to spatial consciousness which typifies the Renaissance is the psychohistorical foundation for the hypertrophy of reason, in the form of materialistic rationalism, witnessed today in all areas of human life. Secondly, because Petrarca’s Mont Ventoux experience affords a fitting metaphor both for the vantage point of Master Da Free John’s teaching in relation to religious or scientistic doctrines, and the implicit demand his communications make on the reader. Like Petrarca, the reader is expected to burst through his familiar cognitive universe into the wide-open horizon which informs Master Da’s teaching. In other words, he is encouraged to share Master Da Free John’s panoramic vision of existence as seen from the very summit of human life.

In the Yoga-Bhasya (1. 47), the oldest extant commentary on Patanjali’s Yoga-Sutra, an ancient stanza is cited which speaks of the yogin who has realized the summum bonum as follows:

Having ascended to the tranquillity of gnosis (prajna), the man-of-gnosis beholds all grief-stricken creatures as one standing on [the top of] a mountain [beholds] the valley dwellers.2

2. This is a recurrent metaphor in the Sanskrit literature of Hinduism and Buddhism

The same idea is epitomized in the well-known Sanskrit concept of kutastha which literally means “summit-abiding” or “standing on the peak.” The expression is for the first time met with in the Bhagavad-Gita, which dates back to the fourth or fifth century B.C. There it is applied to the adept who is fully “yoked”:

The yogin whose self is content in gnosis (jnana) and world knowledge (vijnana), standing on the peak with his senses subdued: he is called “yoked” (yukta), and to him clods earth, stones and gold are the same. (VI. 8)

In two other stanzas (viz., XII. 3 and Xv. 16), the term kutastha is employed to refer to the transcendental Reality per se This second usage is in keeping with the fundamental notion that the wholly realized adept is coessential with the Ultimate.

Interestingly, R. C. Zaehner3 drew attention to a striking parallel in the writings of two little-known but important Christian mystics, Hugh of St. Victor and Richard of St. Victor. In his De Vanitate Mundi, which is a commentary on Ecclesiastes, Hugh speaks of the “flight” of the soul whose “keen perception” – from the bird’s eye view-“naturally reaches further when directed from above on things that lie below, when it sees all things, so to speak, together.”4

Even more remarkable in its similarity with the Hindu metaphor are the following two passages in Richard’s Benjamin Minor:

The high peak of knowledge is perfect self-knowledge. The full understanding of a rational spirit is as it were a high and great mountain. . . . 0 man, learn to think, learn to reflect upon yourself and you will have risen to the deep heart! (75)

Let a man rise up to the heart’s high place, climb up the mountain if he desire to attain and know what is above the human mind. Let him rise up by himself above himself, and from self-knowledge to the knowledge of God. (83)5

3. See R. C. Zaehner, “‘Standing on the Peak’: A Concept Common to the Victorines,” Studies in Mysticism and Religion Presented to Gershom G. Scholem on His Seventieth Birthday Jerusalem, 1%7), pp. 381-7.

4. Ibid., p. 384

5. Ibid., p. 386.

The above considerations describe, I trust, most aptly the particular context in which the present essays and all the other oral and written communications by Master Da Free John must be placed if one is to do full justice to them. Master Da always and necessarily speaks as a realized adept or transcender. He has no secular ambitions and, in particular, no scholarly axe to grind. His “motive” is compassion (karuna), which is the natural complement of his transcendental realization (prajna). If, in this volume, he addresses some perhaps more technical and intricate matters, it is because he has recently been moved to respond on this level of sophistication.

This volume of essays is, then, an invitation and a challenge to the reader to examine and understand the inherent presuppositions of his own world-view and, having identified its intrinsic limitations, to ultimately and actually remove his cathexis in regard to it. In fact, only when such a metanoia has occurred in the reader can he hope to “hear” the essential argument of these essays. Prior to that he will be handicapped by the restraining influence of his personal “world hypotheses” which, for the most part, are only rarely the product of deliberate philosophical effort rather than subconscious “information” stemming from one’s socio-cultural environment and individual biography.

Thus, the reader is expected to make an advance comparable to Petrarca’s. He has to climb the mountain, that is, he has to countervail his own cognitive tendencies and habits of thought. But once he has reached the peak, that is, when he has successfully checked his resistance to change his mental outlook, all effort must cease. He must simply remain open, as Petrarca succeeded in doing for at least part of his experience, to take in the new vista and let it act upon his whole being. For some this may prove easier than for others, but in every case an epochistic6 bracketing of presuppositions is required: a mental holding of the breath as it were, when all doubt and superficial criticism is at least temporarily suspended, and when one has ears to hear and eyes to see.

6. This refers to the phenomenological act of epoche’ as formulated by E. Husserl. See M. Farber, The Foundation of Phenomenology, 3d ed. (Albany, N.Y., 1968), pp. 526f.

This free, open, unneurotic attitude is essential in reading this book. For, what Master Da Free John seeks to convey in his essays is both subtle and profound. It will only be offensive to those who have cut-and-dried answers to the big questions of life and who entertain hard-shelled preconceptions and prejudices about religion, spirituality, and in particular the Indian traditions. They will find that Master Da does not cater to any conventional expectations. He writes and speaks as a realized adept, not as a philosopher, scientist, politician, or novelist. He does not presume any of the usual limitations. In other words, he does not play the game. This is always vexing for those who fail to understand that their reaction to such enlightened “spoil-sports” is an expression of their neurotic relationship to life as a whole.

Scientists are, perhaps, especially prone to “cast the first stone” at any maverick who, as they would have it, encroaches on their pet discipline but does not play according to their rules. There is a high degree of conformism among scientists (as a subculture), which may partly be due to the world-wide streamlining of government-financed research since the 1940s. Bur in part it is undoubtedly also bound up with the scientists’ self perception as a group of specialists overtly or covertly cherishing the quasi-religious presumption of possessing the “true knowledge,” the key to understanding existence. In the course of the gradual debunking of the post-Enlightenment ideal of scientific objectivity, doubt has also been cast on the integrity of the scientist as a manipulator of data. And rightly so. The scientist is first and foremost a human being, and this means that his scientific activity, like any other activity he may engage in, is embedded in his total psychology. That is to say, he is subject to misunderstanding, ignorance, prejudice, misrepresentation, and even deliberate distortion of reality (‘tailoring of facts”). In sum, he does not enjoy the adept’s “view from the peak.”

Even where, as Isaac Newton has done, the scientist helps to institute a new “paradigm,” a new framework for formulating and interpreting scientific data, his vision remains partial and angular. This has to do on the one hand with the psychological and cognitive limitations of the scientist as a member of the species homo sapiens, but on the other hand also with the inherent boundaries of science itself. For, as Master Da Free John has explained in his illuminating talk “The Asana of Science,” science is a particular way of seeing the world. In his own words:

Science is an invention of Man that represents the development of one specific convention of interpreting reality exclusive of other possible conventions …. To do science, you must take on a pose. That pose is not the disposition, however, of Man as a whole contemplating Infinity.7

7. Unpublished Talk (October 25, 1980).

Science, as we know it today, is thus a product of the particular consciousness-frequency which, at least for Europe, emerged in the Renaissance and was developed ad absurdum in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Science is more than the organized and institutionalized study of phenomena with the view of predicting events in the material cosmos; it is more than the sum of accumulated knowledge acquired by applying the scientific methodological canons; and it is more than the cooperative effort of a group of specialists. It is also, and primarily, a specific cognitive mode. Master Da describes the scientific method as a mood of doubt. And he further indicates that in its globalization as scientlsm or scientific materialism it is, as Master Da styles it, a veritable culture of doubt. Scientism is not only a calling into question of everything, while being unhappily wedded to the psychological need for absolute certainty (even when it is cautiously expressed in probabilistic terms); it is also a concealed form of cynicism or nihilism insofar as its program excludes a priori certain “bothersome” questions, subject-matters, and methods which are dissparagingly branded “metaphysical.”

Although the methodological credo of scientism is to excise the observer from the process of knowledge in order to arrive at the “objective” truth, science as scientism has yet the most profound personal and social repercussions chiefly through the medium of technology. Indeed, it implicates the “observer” to the point of usurping and traumatizing him. The scientistic method of certainty-through-doubt has, in fact, become a way of life, a “metaphysics,” for millions of people. As Master Da Free John noted:

We are so used to the presence of science and technology in our culture that we believe science is a natural activity, a sort of professionalization or technical elaboration of something that everybody is already doing. But this may not be the case. The activity of science may not be natural at all.8

Today, scientism or scientific materialism is firmly entrenched in the cerebral pathways of the vast majority of “consumers” of the high-technology nations of the world; and, as a surreptitious component of the technological export package, it is beginning to take its toll also in the so-called Third World.

In his first essay in the present collection, Master Da Free John contrasts the scientistic culture of doubt with the culture of certainty which is rooted in what he styles the “Great Tradition,”, that is, the religio-spiritual traditions of the world. The punctum dolens which separates science and scientlsm from the Great Tradition is the existential status of the “invisible” or immaterial dimension of the universe. The scientist flatly denies the existence of what is valued most in the Great Tradition or, if he is inclined to make any concession at all, argues that if “higher” cosmic dimensions did exist, science could never know anything about them since their very invisibility or immaterially precluded scientific experimentation. The left-brained scientist demands “concrete” evidence which can be translated into instrumental measurements. His favorite sense is sight-not the visio Dei but the perspectival image conjured up by the neurons of the brain and the rods and cones of the material eyes. Naturally, the Invisible is beyond the pale of physical vision and therefore also does not figure in the scientific interpretation of the universe. The fundamental scientistic doctrine, amounting to a metaphysical axiom, is that “seeing is believing.” But “seeing” is always given a very restricted meaning, and “inner vision” is dubbed hallucination.

8. Ibid.

It is important to understand that in making the contrast between scientism and the Great Tradition, Master Da Free John does not merely restate in so many words the age-old scission between rational scientific knowledge and irrational, religious faith. For, he tacitly affirms that the method of science and the methods (“way”) of the religio-spiritual traditions of mankind are, on a comparable level, both generative of knowledge. Implicit in his argument is the predication that the Great Tradition is not primarily a culture of (blind) faith-as against the scientistic culture of (pure) knowledge and (absolute) certainty-but a culture of experiential knowledge. The “scientific method” of the Great Tradition is an inversion of the orthodox scientific procedure inasmuch as it is founded on the implication of the subject in the noetic process. In fact, the “theory” of the Great Tradition rejects the observer model of science as introducing an artificial disjunction between subject and object. This leaves it free, on the “experimental level,” to resort to epistemic means generally outlawed by orthodox science, viz., introspection and supra sensuous cognition which, in India, is known as “yogic perception” (yogi-pratyaksa).9 And the “instrumentarium” for the practitioner of the Great Tradition is his own body-mind.

9. All spiritual traditions of India are agreed on the possibility of supra sensuous knowledge. A distinction is made between paranormal cognition and the immediate apprehension (saksatkara) in mystical experiencing.

However, as Master Da Free John explains in subsequent essays, the respective forms of knowledge yielded by scientific materialism and the Great Tradition are, ultimately, both to be transcended. For, from the realized adept’s “summit” point of view, both are still mere representations of reality, and not Reality per se. But, whereas scientific materialism, confining itself to segments of the visible realm of cosmic existence only, is a dogmatic commitment to the frog perspective of unillumined intelligence, the Great Tradition has the intrinsic potential of generating the bird’s-eye view of the self- and world-transcending adept. Possibly, the phrase “bird’s-eye view” is still misleadingly suggestive of perspectival and hence one-sided knowledge. In actuality, the adept’s authentic locus is in what Master Da styles “Divine Ignorance” or “seventh-stage wisdom.” The adept, to be sure, is not a knower but a transcender of knowledge, knower, and known. His transcognitive stance, or mood of certainty through – Realization, truly enables him to serve and not merely ideologically exploit the world. The kutastha has, it is implied in the Bhagavad-Gita, “become the Absolute” (brahma-bhuta), and the Absolute is not hampered by the perceptual-cognitive apparatus of the body-mind; rather, it is traditionally styled “omniscient” (sarva-jna), though this omniscience is not knowledge of particularized objects.

Scientific materialism and the cultural attitude which it informs are implicitly atheistic, and where they are tenuously associated with theism, the latter is typically of a highly secularized, demythologized cast of religiosity. In his essay “God as the Creator, the Good and the Real,” Master Da Free John comments that “atheism proposes a myth and a method for ego-fulfillment.” This, mutatis mutandis, is also true of conventional religion and, to a degree, even of the modes of higher esotericism. Atheism is camouflaged religiosity. As Vincent P. Miceli observed, “Atheism’s vigor arises from its heroic will to create mythical gods in place of the true God.”11 Atheism is, therefore, as much an opiate for the masses as Karl Marx thought religion was. Moreover, as Master Da points out, in their political dimension both atheism and religion resort to materialistic modes of control. Both are manifestations of the ego and as such are partial approaches to Reality, angular visions of the Truth. Both may be regarded as instances of what one might call “the fallacy of misplaced finality”: the confusion of experiential knowledge of reality with Reality itself, that is, the absolutization or deification of fragments of reality.

It is only when the egoic root of our functional, worldly, and religious spiritual life is inspected, understood, and transcended that self, and world, and God are seen in Truth. (See below, p. 84)

The “mountain peak” of spirituality ascends so steeply that the ego cannot find a foothold on it. One could also say that the ego belongs to the climber’s gear which must be abandoned in the course of his ascent. The peak will only sustain the most sublime. Indeed, if I may stretch this metaphor still further, the mountain’s pinnacle looms into the truly rarefied atmosphere of the Invisible and therefore cannot sustain anything but that which is, or has become, invisible itself.

Whilst one may characterize atheism as the religion (or irreligion) of the visible, the raison d’etre of religion is the Invisible. Scientific materialism, which is per definitionem atheistic, is the glorification of the visible aspect of the universe. And by “visible” is here meant the entire spectrum of phenomena amenable to “verification” and translatable into ocular proof or its analogues. It is a left-brained monopolization of truth, seeking to grasp reality by way of “rationalization,” that is, literally, the “reckoning” by parting, dividing, fragmenting, atomizing,, or quantizing. Now, the Invisible can never be rendered visible. It is inconvertible. But the visible can be rendered transparent to evince its invisible, hidden foundation. That is the domain of religiosity and spirituality.

10. The phrase “Divine Ignorance” simply refers to the highest or “seventh-stage” Realization of the One Being beyond all experience and knowledge. From a practical point of view it is bodily surrender into the indeterminate Reality and abidance as the Transcendental Consciousness which is devoid of all content.

11. V.P. Miceli, The Gods of Atheism (New Rochelle, N.Y. 1971). p. xiv.

Master Da Free John’s teaching is securely founded on his personal realization of the ultimate Condition. And it is from the realizer’s or adept’s point of view, and not merely from the limited perspective of the theoretician, that he engages in metaphysical considerations. It is this fact which must be duly appreciated, for it lends uniqueness and authority to the following essays. This is, to all intents and purposes, the very first time that a maha-siddha communicates the realizer’s apical view in the medium of the contemporary mind. By virtue of this, Master Da’s communication is intelligently critical of the conceptual and ideological structures that are today’s forms of ego affirmation or denial, rather than transcendence. And, for the same reason, his message is not only searching and profound but also encompasssing. In his own words:

My Way is a radical Teaching that enters into consideration of all the stages of life and the entire Great Tradition of the ancients and their modern representatives. 

Just as Buddhism and Advaitism stand in critical relation to the traditions and stages of life that precede them, and just as each advancing stage of Buddhism and Advaitism stands in critical relation to its precedents, my own Work also develops a form of Argument based on criticism (positive and creative rather than merely sectarian and destructive) of the entire Great Tradition that is our Treasured Inheritance and all of the developing stages of life that are our school of transcendence.