Crowley on Mindfulness, Concentration & Memory

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths - what can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
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Crowley on Mindfulness, Concentration & Memory

Post by danieLion » Thu Apr 04, 2013 9:21 pm

If it wasn't for Aleister Crowley, I very probably would've never been inspired to start a mindfulness of breathing practice or a satipatthana practice (see the end of lecture seven in 8 Lectures on Yoga, which inspired me in 1999 to begin). If it wasn't for Aleister Crowley I would very probably still have hardcore views against rebirth. So keep this in mind as you read the below excerpts.

What do I want out of this post? Criticsim or affirmation. You choose. My bet's on getting more of the former than the latter, especially from the cookie-cutter Theravadins here (I am a Theravadin Buddhist--just not that kind). Maybe they'll surprise me, but I doubt it.
Was the sudden cloudburst at the end of my last letter somewhat of a surprise, and more that somewhat of a shock? Cheer up! The worst is yet to come.

This is where clean thinking—a subject whose fringes I seem to remember having touched—wins the Gold Medal of the Royal Humane Society.

It is surely the wise course to accept the plain facts; to try to explain them away, or to excuse them, is certain to involve one in a maelstrom of sophistry; and when, despite these laudable efforts, the facts jump up and land a short jab to the point, one is even worse off than before.

This has to be said, because Sammasati is assuredly one of the most useful, as well as one of the most trustworthy and most manageable, weapons in the armoury of the Aspirant.

You stop me, obviously with a demand for a personal explanation. "How is it," you write, "that you reject with such immitigable scorn the very foundation-stones of Buddhism, and yet refer disciples enthusiastically to the technique of some of its subtlest super-structures?"

I laff.

It is the old, old story. When the Buddha was making experiments and recording the results, he was on safe ground: when he started to theorize, committing (incidentally) innumerable logical crimes in the process, he is no better a guesser than the Arahat next door, or for the matter of that, the Arahat's Lady Char.

So, if you don't mind, we will look a little into this matter of Sammasati: what is it when it's at home?

It may be no more than a personal fancy, but I think Allan Bennett's translation of the term, "Recollection," is as near as one can get in English. One can strain the meaning slightly to include Re-collection, to imply the ranging of one's facts, and the fitting of them into an organized structure. The term "sati" suggests an identification of Being with Knowledge—see The Soldier and the Hunchback: ! and ? (Equinox I, 1). So far as it applies to the Magical Memory, it lays stress on some such expedient, very much as is explained in Liber Thisarb (Magick, pp. 415 - 422).

But is it not a little strange that "The Abomination of Desolation should be set up in the Holy Place," as it were? Why should the whole-bearted search for Truth and Beauty disclose such hateful and such hideous elements as necessary components of the Absolute Perfection?

Never mind the why, for a moment; first let us be sure that it is so. Have we any grounds for expecting this to be the case?

We certainly have.

This is a case where "clean thinking" is most absolutely helpful. The truth is of exquisite texture; it blazons the escutcheon of the Unity of Nature in such delicate yet forceful colours that the Postulant may well come thereby to the Opening of the Trance of Wonder; yet religious theories and personal pernicketiness have erected against its impact the very stoutest of their hedgehogs of prejudice.

Who shall help us here? Not the sonorous Vedas, not the Upanishads, Not Apollonius, Plotinus, Ruysbroeck, Molinos; not any gleaner in the field of à priori; no, a mere devotee of natural history and biology: Ernst Haeckel.

Enormous, elephantine, his work's bulk is almost incredible; for us his one revolutionary discovery is pertinent to this matter of Sammasati and the revelations of one's inmost subtle structure.

He discovered, and he demonstrated, that the history of any animal throughout the course of its evolution is repeated in the stages of the individual. To put it crudely, the growth of a child from the fertilized ovum to the adult repeats the adventures of its species.

This doctrine is tremendously important, and I feel that I do not know how to emphasize it as it deserves. I want to be exceptionally accurate; yet the use of his meticulous scientific terms, with an armoury of quotations, would almost certainly result in your missing the point, "unable to see the wood for the trees."

Let me put it that the body is formed by the super-position of layers, each representing a stage in the history of the evolution of the species. The foetus displays essential characteristics of insect, reptile, mammal (or whatever they are) in the order in which these classes of animal appeared in the world's history.

Now I want to put forward a thesis—and as far as I know it is personal to myself, based on my work at Cefal—to the effect that the mind is constructed on precisely the same lines.

You will remember from my note on "Breaks" in meditation how one's gradual improvement in the practice results in the barring-out of certain classes of idea, by classes. The ready-to-hand, recent fugitive thoughts come first and first they go. Then the events of the previous day or so, and the preoccupations of the mind for that period. Next, one comes to the layer of reveries and other forms of wish-phanstasm; then cryptomnesia gets busy with incidents of childhood and the like; finally, there intrudes the class of "atmospherics," where one cannot trace the source of the interruption.

All these are matters of the conscious rational mind; and when I explored and classified these facts, in the very first months of my serious practice of Yoga, I had no suspicion that they were no more than the foam on a glass of champagne: nay, rather of

"black wine in jars of jade
Cooled all these months in hoarded snow,
Black wine with purple starlight in its bosom,
Oily and sweet as the soul of a brown maid
Brought from the forenoon's archipelago,
Her brows bound bright with many a scarlet blossom
Like the blood of the slain that flowered free
When we met the black men knee to knee."

How apt the verses are! How close are wine and snow to lust and slaughter!

I have been digressing, for all that; let us return to our goats!

The structure of the mind reveals its history as does the structure of the body.

(Capitals, please, or bang on something; that has got to sink in.)

Just as your body was at one stage the body of an ape, a fish, a frog (and all the rest of it) so did that animal at that stage possess a mind correlative.

Now then! In the course of that kind of initiation conferred by Sammasati, the layers are stripped off very much as happens in elementary meditation (Dharana) to the conscious mind.

(There is a way of acquiring a great deal of strange and unsuspected knowledge of these matters by the use of Sulphuric Ether, (C2H5)2O, according to a special technique. I wrote a paper on it once, 16 pp. 4{to}, and fearing that it might be lost had many copies made and distributed. Where is it? I must write you a letter one day.)

Accordingly, one finds oneself experiencing the thoughts, the feelings, the desires of a gorilla, a crocodile, a rat, a devil-fish, or what have you! One is no longer capable of human thoughts in the ordinary sense of the word; such would be wholly unintelligible.

I leave the rest to your imagination; doesn't it sound to you a little like some of the accounts of "The Dweller on the Threshold?"
From: MAGICK WITHOUT TEARS, Chapter XXVII: Structure of Mind Based on that of Body (Haeckel and Bertrand Russell)

Memory is of the very stuff of Consciousness itself. Consider that we can never know what is happening, but only what has just happened, even when most actively concentrated on what we call "the present."

Moreover, no impression short of Sammasamadhi can ever pretend to confer any coherent idea of the Self. That exists only in an order of Consciousness far deeper than direct perception, in a type of thought which is capable of combining the quintessence of countless impressions into one, as also of transforming this tabula rasa into a positive prehensile Ego. Whether this process be hallucinatory or no, it is surely memory which, more than any other function of the mind, determines its possibilities.

Now, whatever view we may take of the nature of the Self, it is clear that our limit of error will constantly diminish as the range of our observations is extended. To calculate the orbit of Neptune from a period of days when it is retrograde could lead to formidable fallacies. When memory is seriously weakened, the resulting state approximates to dementia. Memory is then, in a figure, the mortar of the architecture of the mind.

It seems impossible even to begin to discuss its nature as it is in itself; for it is not a Thing at all, but only a relation between impressions. We must be content to observe its virtues.

First of all is that already noted, its extent in time. Second is the faculty of selection.

It would be as undesirable as it is impossible for the memory to retain all impressions indiscriminately. Such memories are found only in lunatic asylums. The memory, whatever it may be, depends on cerebral metabolism; and it thrives on a proper harmony of exercise, repose, and economy just as does muscular strength.

Memory as such is practically worthless; it is like an abandoned library. Its data must be coordinated by judgment, and played upon by skill; it resembles a great Organ which requires an organist.

By classifying simple impressions, one obtains ideas of a higher order; the repetition of this process gives a structure to the mind which makes it a worthy instrument of thought. And this means enables one to retain, and to bring at will from their quiet resting-place, a thousandfold the number of facts which would overwhelm the untrained memory. One must model one's mind upon the arrangement of the ends of the nerve-fibres and the brain.

At will! Here is the great key to proper selection, that one should resolutely remember all facts that may be useful, and as resolutely forget all those impertinent, to the True Way of one's Star in Space. For so only can one economise the mnemonic faculty; and this is to say: no man can begin to train his memory duly until he is aware of his True Will.

There is then—as in all matters pertaining to the intellect—a vicious circle; for one can only become conscious of one's true Will by a judgment (of Samadhic intensity) upon all facts that it is possible to assimilate. The resolution of the antinomy is found ambulando: that is by the selective training above indicated.

A further complication of this whole question appears during the practice of Yoga, when, the sheaths being successively stripped from the mind, one begins to remember not only long-forgotten facts, but matters which do not refer to the incarnated Ego at all. The memory extends in time to infancy, to one's previous death, and so further to an unlimited series of experiences whose scope depends on the degree of one' progress. But, parallel with this intensification of the idea of the Ego, its expansion through the aeons, there arises (in consequence of the weakening of the Ahamkara, the Ego-making faculty) a tendency to remember thing which have happened not to "oneself," but to "other people" or beings.

Herein is one of the most irritating obstacles in the Path of the Wise; for the normal development of the memory in Time leads to a better understanding of the True Will of the individual (as he conceives of himself) so that he perceives an universe teleologically more rational as he progresses. To be compelled to assimilate the experiences of supposes "alien beings" is to become confused: the old hotchpot of Choronzon (Restriction be unto him in the name of BABALON!) gapes once more for the Adept, who possibly supposed himself already (in a sense) a Freeman of the City of the Pyramids.

But it is just this experience—in default of any other—which eventually insists on his undertaking to cross the Abyss: for the alternative to sheer insanity is seen to be the discovery of a General Formula comprehensive of Universal Experience without reference to the Ego (real or supposed) in any sense.

This paradox, like all others, should be a lesson of supreme value: this, that every difficulty is for our vantage, that every question is posed only in order to lead us to an answer involving a triumph infinitely more glorious than we could otherwise have conceived.

And meditation upon this whole matter may not unlikely bring us to this further vision of wonder: that the nature of things themselves is in reality but a function of Memory.
From: Little Essays Toward Truth

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Re: Crowley on Mindfulness, Concentration & Memory

Post by lojong1 » Thu Apr 04, 2013 10:08 pm

He is fun, and would profitably have remained a student of Mr. Bennett.

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Re: Crowley on Mindfulness, Concentration & Memory

Post by Polar Bear » Thu Apr 04, 2013 11:12 pm

danieLion wrote: If it wasn't for Aleister Crowley I would very probably still have hardcore views against rebirth.
What do you think it is about Crowley that helped you change your mind?

Also, Crowley's pretty cool in general as a western man breaking away from the norms of society in pursuit of something more than the hum drum of life as it's normally lived. He had a real sense of adventure, which I respect.

"I don't envision a single thing that, when developed & cultivated, leads to such great benefit as the mind. The mind, when developed & cultivated, leads to great benefit."

"I don't envision a single thing that, when undeveloped & uncultivated, brings about such suffering & stress as the mind. The mind, when undeveloped & uncultivated, brings about suffering & stress."

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Re: Crowley on Mindfulness, Concentration & Memory

Post by Monkey Mind » Fri Apr 05, 2013 12:39 am

DanieLion, were you ever a member of the OTO or participate in any of their festivities/ ceremonies/ rituals? Just curious.
"As I am, so are others;
as others are, so am I."
Having thus identified self and others,
harm no one nor have them harmed.

Sutta Nipāta 3.710

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Re: Crowley on Mindfulness, Concentration & Memory

Post by danieLion » Sat Apr 06, 2013 3:43 am

lojong1 wrote:He is fun, and would profitably have remained a student of Mr. Bennett.
May be.

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Re: Crowley on Mindfulness, Concentration & Memory

Post by danieLion » Sat Apr 06, 2013 4:05 am

polarbuddha101 wrote:
danieLion wrote: If it wasn't for Aleister Crowley I would very probably still have hardcore views against rebirth.
What do you think it is about Crowley that helped you change your mind?
MAGICK WITHOUT TEARS, Chapter XLVII: Reincarnation

And he acknowledges in the same book, two ways of remembering past lives (one Magickal, one Mystical--that is, as Theravadins like Allan Bennett did it) in Chapter XXXVII: Death—Fear—"Magical Memory:
I insist of putting forth the immediately useful point of view: "devotion to Nuit" must mean the eager pursuit of the fulfillment of all possibilities, however unpleasant.

Good: now see how logical this is." For how else could one have reasonable "certainty," as contrary with "faith" (=interior conviction), otherwise than by the acquisition of the "Magical Memory"—the memory of former lives. And this must evidently include that of former deaths. Indeed "Freudian forgetfulness" is very pertinacious on such themes; the shock of death makes it a matter of displaying the most formidable courage to go over in one's mind the incidents of previous deaths. You recall the Buddhist "Ten Impurities;"—The Drowned Corpse, the Gnawed-by-wild-beasts-Corpse, and the rest.

Magick (though I says it as shouldn't) gives a very full and elaborate account of this Memory, and Liber CMXIII (Thisarb) a sound Official Instruction on the two main methods of acquiring this faculty. (None of my writings, by the way, deal with the First Method; this is because I could never make any headway with it; none at all. F∴ Iehi Aour, on the other hand, was a wizard at it; he thought that some people could use that way, and others not: born so.
F∴ Iehi Aour is none other than (Charles Henry) Allen Bennett, a.k.a., Bhikkhu Ananda Metteyya, who wrote of the First Method in his The Training of The Mind
To the gaining of this knowledge of past births there is a way, a practice of meditation by which that knowledge may be obtained. This at first may seem startling; but there is nothing really unnatural or miraculous about it: it is simply a method of most perfectly cultivating the memory. Now, memory is primarily a function of the material brain: we remember things because they are stored up like little mind-pictures, in the minute nerve-cells of the grey cortex of the brain, principally on the left frontal lobe. so it may naturally be asked: "If memory, as is certainly the case, be stored up in the material brain, how is it possible that we should remember, without some miraculous faculty, things that happened before that brain existed?" The answer is this: our brains, it is true, have not existed before this birth, and so all our normal memories are memories of things that have happened in this life. but what is the cause of the particular brain-structure that now characterises us? Past Sankháras. The particular and specific nature of a given brain; that, namely, which differentiates one brain from another, which makes one child capable of learning one thing and another child another; the great difference of aptitude, and so on, which gives to each one of us a different set of desires, capacities, and thought. What force has caused this great difference between brain and brain? We say that the action of our past Sankháras, the whole course of the Sankháras of our past lives, determined, ere our birth in this life, whilst yet the brain was in process of formation, these specific and characteristic features. And if the higher thinking levels of our brains have thus been specialised by the acquired tendencies of all our line of lives, then every thought that we have had, every idea and wish that has gone to help to specialise that thinking stuff, must have left its record stamped ineffaceably, though faintly, on the structure of this present brain, till that marvellous structure is like some ancient palimpsest --- a piece of paper on which, as old writing faded out, another and yet another written screen has been superimposed. By our purblind eyes only the last record can be read, but there are ways by which all those ancient faded writings can be made to appear; and this is how it is done. To read those faded writings we use an eye whose sensitivity to minute shades of colour and texture is far greater than our own; a photograph is taken of the paper, on plates prepared so as to be specially sensitive to minute shades of colour, and, according to the exposure given, the time the eye of the camera gazed upon that sheet of paper, another and another writing is impressed upon the sensitive plate used, and the sheet of paper, which to the untrained eye of man bears but one script, yields up to successive plates those lost, ancient, faded writings, till all are made clear and legible.

So it must be, if we think, with this memory of man; with all the multiple attributes of that infinitely complex brain-structure.

All that the normal mental vision of man can read there is the last plain writing, the record of this present life. But every record of each thought and act of all our karmic ancestry, the records upon whose model this later life, this specialised brain-structure, has been built, must lie there, visible to the trained vision; so that, had we but this more sensitive mental vision, that wondrous palimpsest, the tale of the innumerable ages that have gone to the composing of that marvellous document, the record of a brain, would stand forth clear and separate, like the various pictures on the coloursensitive plates. Often, indeed, it happens that one, perchance the last of all those ancient records, is given now so clearly and legibly that a child can read some part of what was written; and so we have those strange instances of sporadic, uninherited genius that are the puzzle and the despair of Western Psychologists? A little child, before he can hardly walk, before he can clearly talk, will see a piano, and crawl to it, and, untaught, his baby fingers will begin to play; and, in a few years' time, with a very little teaching and practice, that child will be able to execute the most difficult pieces --- pieces of music which baffle any but the most expert players. There have been many such children whose powers have been exhibited over the length and breadth of Europe. There was Smeaton, again, one of our greatest engineers. When a child (he was the son of uneducated peasant people) he would build baby bridges over the streams in his country --- untaught --- and his bridges would bear men and cattle. There was a child, some ten years ago, in Japan, who, when a baby, saw one day the ink and brush with which the Chinese and Japanese write, and, crawling with pleasure, reached out his chubby hand for them, and began to write. By the time he was five years old that baby, scarce able to speak correctly, could write in the Chinese character perfectly --- that wonderful and complex script that takes an ordinary man ten to fifteen years to master --- and this baby of five wrote it perfectly. This child's power was exhibited all over the country, and before the Emperor of Japan; and the question that arises is, how did all these children get their powers? Surely, because for them the last writing on the book of their minds was yet clear and legible; because in their last birth that one particular set of Sankháras was so powerful that its record could still be read.

And thus we all have, here in our present brains,the faded records of all our interminable series of lives; a thousand, tens of thousands, crores upon crores of records, one superimposed over another, waiting only for the eye that can see, the eye of the trained and perfected memory to read them to distinguish one from another as the photographic plate distinguished, and the way so to train that mental vision is as follows: ---

You sit down in your place of meditation, and you think of yourself seated there. Then you begin to think backwards. You think the act of coming into the room. You think the act of walking towards the room, and so you go on, thinking backwards on all the acts that you have done that day. You then come to yourself, waking up in the morning,. and perhaps you remember a few dreams, and then there is a blank, and you remember your last thoughts as you went to sleep the night before, what you did before retiring, and so on, back to the time of your last meditation.

This is a very difficult practice; and so at first you must not attempt to go beyond one day: else you will not do it well, and will omit remembering a lot of important things. When you have practised for a little, you will find your memory of events becoming rapidly more and more perfect; and this practice will help you in worldly life as well, for it vastly increases the power of memory in general. When doing a day becomes easy, then slowly increase the time meditated upon. Get into the way of doing a week at a sitting --- here taking only the more important events --- then a month, then a year, and so on. You will find yourself remembering all sorts of things about your past life that you had quite forgotten; you will find yourself penetrating further and further into the period of deep sleep; you will find that you remember your dreams even far more accurately than you ever did before. And so you go on, going again and again over long periods of your life, and each time you will remember more and more of things you had forgotten. You will remember little incidents of your child-life, remember the tears you shed over the difficult tasks of learning how to walk and speak: and at last, after long and hard practice, you will remember a little, right back to the time of your birth.

If you never get any further than this, you will have done yourself an enormous deal of good by this practice. You will have marvellously increased your memory in every respect; and you will have gained a very clear perception of the changing nature of your desires and mind and will, even in the few years of this life. But to get beyond this point of birth is very difficult, because, you see, you are no longer reading the relatively clear record of this life, but are trying to read one of those fainter, under written records the Sankháras have left on your brain. All this practice has been with the purpose of making clear your mental vision; and, as I have said, this will without doubt be clearer far than before; but the question is, whether it is clear enough. Time after time retracing in their order the more important events of this life, at last, one day you will bridge over that dark space between death and birth, when all the Sankháras are, like the seed in the earth, breaking up to build up a new life; and one day you will suddenly find yourself remembering your death "in your last life." This will be very painful, but it is important to get to that stage several times, because at the moment when a man comes very near to death, the mind automatically goes through the very process of remembering backwards you have been practising so long, and so you can then gather clues to all the events of hat last life.

Once this difficult point of passing from birth to death is got over, the rest is said in the books to be easy. You can then, daily, with more and more facility, remember the deeds and thoughts of your past lives; one after another will open before your mental vision. You will see yourself living a thousand lives, you will feel yourself dying a thousand deaths, you will suffer with the suffering of a myriad existences, you will see how fleeting were their little joys, what price you had again and again to pay for a little happiness; --- how real and terrible were the sufferings you had to endure. You will watch how for years you toiled to amass a little fortune, and how bitter death was that time, because you could not take your treasure with you; you will see the innumerable women you have thought of as the only being you could ever love, and lakh upon lakh of beings caught like yourself in the whirling Wheel of Life and Death; some now your father, mother, children, some again your friends, and now your bitter enemies. You will see the good deed, the loving thought and act, bearing rich harvest life after life, and the sad gathering of ill weeds, the harvest of ancient wrongs. You will see the beninningless fabric of your lives, with its every-changing pattern stretching back, back, back into interminable vistas of past time, and then at last you will know, and will understand. You will understand how this happy life for which we crave is never to be gained; you will realise, as no books or monks could teach you, the sorrow and impermanence and soullessness of all lives; and you will then be very much stirred up to make a mighty effort, now that human birth and this knowledge is yours; --- a supreme effort to wake up out of all this ill dream of life as a man wakes himself out of a fearful nightmare. And this intense aspiration will, say the Holy Books, go very far towards effecting your liberation.

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Re: Crowley on Mindfulness, Concentration & Memory

Post by danieLion » Sat Apr 06, 2013 4:13 am

Monkey Mind wrote:DanieLion, were you ever a member of the OTO or participate in any of their festivities/ ceremonies/ rituals? Just curious.
I heard they were just a bunch of Black Magic, Satanist, Devil Worshipping Sex Magicians!

Just kidding.

Seriously, though--no. I, like the Buddha, delight in seclusion. They seem to have too much of a club mentality for me (which is the same reason I don't participate in Buddhist groups). I don't think I've ever even met anyone else into Thelema. I might at some point attend one of their public lectures (they have a strong public education service), but not to make friends or anything silly like that.

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