Clues to 'Ascent' and 'Escape'
- / -
Annex 4 of Navigating
Alternative Conceptual Realities: clues to the dynamics of enacting new paradigms
through movement (2002)
Metaphoric Entrapment (Annex
Clues to Movement
and Attitude Control (Annex
Combining Clues to
Movement and Attitude Control (Annex
Clues to 'Ascent'
and 'Escape' (Annex 4)
-- Clues to 'ascent' from
-- Clues to 'escape' from
-- Clues to 'ascent' and 'escape' from
Combining Clues to 'Ascent' and 'Escape' (Annex
A presentation of any range of virtues may imply that they can
best be understood in a sequence through to those of greater subtlety or challenge.
This sequence may be associated with maturation. If presented as a table, a
particular cell may be seen as an ultimate goal. In what follows this understanding
is considered as a pale reflection of one that becomes possible when any such
set of virtues are seen as complementary prerequisites for any navigation into
a new reality. In effect a three dimensional array, of which one dimension is
'up', is collapsed into a two dimensional array.
Bruce MacLennan, in a discussion of the process of human ascent [more]
according to Dante, notes that in Plato's Symposium, the ascent to Beauty
has three stages: (a) experiencing beauty in things; (b) experiencing beauty
in souls; (c) experiencing the idea of Beauty itself. There is therefore a shift
of focus, from (a) 'outside us' (extra nos), to (b) 'within
us' (intra nos), to (c) 'above us' (supra nos):
extraversion, introversion and supraversion. St. Augustine (354-430) adopted
this basic scheme, but divided it into seven substages. However, Dante was following
St. Bonaventura (1221-1274), who split each of Plato's stages in two, giving
the six stages of ascent, which correspond to Dante's six guides (Virgil, Cato,
Statius, Matilda, Beatrice, St. Bernard).
Other notions of 'ascent' or 'escape' are to be found in
other spiritual traditions. As noted earlier, whilst the widely promulgated
guidelines to virtues and vices may well be vital to what might be understood
as attitude control and coordination, they can usefully be understood as prerequisites
to any process of shifting attitude into subtler perceptions -- described metaphorically,
and therefore inadequately, through such terms as 'ascent' or 'escape'.
The distinction between attitude control and ascent for an individual may be
compared with the complex set of techniques for successfully launching any vehicle
so that it acquires the necessary 'escape velocity' to attain an orbit
around the Earth, so escaping from the gravity well of the material world.
Launching a vehicle into space provides a rich store of metaphors to help avoid
some of the dangers of getting lost in the spiritual terminology that endeavours
to describe the journey of the soul to enlightenment (see Entering
Alternative Realities -- Astronautics vs Noonautics: isomorphism between launching
aerospace vehicles and launching vehicles of awareness). Whilst meaningful
and relevant as an inspiration to many, such terminology also obscures for others
the vital transformations in the understanding of the immediately obvious relationships
of self to other, or of knower to known, during any such process of 'ascent'.
It might even be said that spiritual traditions endeavour to lock people into
their particular 'product' or 'brand' in the exclusive manner
favoured by manufacturers of certain technologies.
Such special orientation of understanding by spiritual traditions in describing
progress to 'holiness' detracts from recognition of the progessively
more integrated understanding described by psychotherapists through terms such
as the individuation process. In the first case the 'holiness' is
framed in terms of a special understanding of spirituality, whereas in the second
it derives from a more comprehensively integrated understanding of the reality
of the world (as a 'whole') and of a subtler relation of the perceiver
to it. The two are presumably not experientially distinct but religions have
endeavoured to establish a monopoly on their understanding -- marginalizing
insights that are not articulated through their particular terminologies. Schools
of psychotherapy are similarly challenged.
Clues to 'ascent' from Christianity
Bernard of Clairvaux (On Loving God) detailed four degrees: Man loves
himself for his own sake; Man loves God but for his own advantage; Man loves
God for God's sake; and Man loves himself for the sake of God. (These may provide
one interpretation of the groups A to D in Table 3). Bruce MacLennan in distinguishing
the Sources for the Dantean Ascent [more],
especially from the classical Christian perspective, compares the perspective
of St Augustine's On the Dimension of the Soul and St. Bonaventura's
The Mind's Road to God to give the progression:
- Empiricism, sense: The whole sensible world is seen as a mirror reflecting
God. Delight in the apprehension of things.
- Theory, imagination: By abstraction, one understands the eternal, necessary
truths of the physical world. Bonaventura says, "number is the outstanding
exemplar in the mind of the Maker, and in things it is the outstanding trace
leading to wisdom."
- Cognition, reason: We enter into ourselves and see the divine image stamped
on our own natural faculties, which include memory, discursive reason and
choice (deliberation, judgement and desire). We are led toward the divine
by the powers of the rational soul.
- Ethics, intellect: This is an affective rather than a rational process,
which requires the three theological virtues - faith, hope and charity - which
respectively purify, illuminate and perfect the soul. We are led toward the
divine by the power of the soul reformed by the virtues, the gifts of Grace,
which must descend into the heart before the spirit can ascend.
- Being, intelligence: Apprehends God in His Being, as a Divine Unity. "See
then purest Being itself," "One in the highest degree," "One, the universal
source of all multiplicity." "If you see this in the pure simplicity of your
mind, you will somehow be infused with the illumination of the eternal light."
Being is experienced as "an intelligible sphere whose center is everywhere
and whose circumference is nowhere."
- The Good, apex of the mind: Apprehends God in His Goodness, as a Divine
Plurality (the Trinity). Bonaventura tells us to "look with the mind's eye
on the purity of goodness, which is the pure actualization of the principle
of Charity, pouring forth free and due love, and both mingled together..." This
stage is paradoxical; one cannot expect to understand rationally the Trinity,
which is incomprehensible. "In this consideration [stage VI] is the perfection
of the mind's illumination, when, as if on the sixth day, it sees man made
in the image of God."
- Rest: Nothing remains but "the day of rest, on which, by the elevation of
the mind, its insight rests from all work which He had done."
Clues to 'escape' from Buddhism
Psychological emptiness is the state of the mind empty of attachment to all
dualistic thinking that Buddhism asserts is at the origin of all human suffering.
It is the discriminating mind that determines that things are impermanent and
of suffering nature. An enlightened buddhist is even said not to be attached
to any degree of 'ultimate truth' attained. To be permanently empty
is to attain Buddhist enlightenment (nibbana, nirvana). This condition
uses all dualistic thinking to its advantage without being attached to it --
compared traditionally to the manner in which the lotus plant derives its existence
from the water in which it embeds, without being wetted by it.
Following other Eastern religions, Buddhism values morality as
an instrument for transcending personal existence, which is seen as the major
hindrance in attaining liberation. Moral perfection (sila), i.e. right
speech, action and livelihood, aims at annihilating one's false attachments
to the world of illusion. It has no ultimate importance but is only an instrument
used for developing a detached status toward personal attachments and interests
in life. Therefore, bad habits such as envy, anger, gossip and pride must be
abandoned, but not primarily because other people may be hurt by them, but because
they feed one's false ego and the thirst (trishna) for experiencing personal
Buddhism has nothing against the positive qualities of attachment
in this western sense (as highlighted earlier), but traditionally has used the
word attachment to refer instead to neurotic clinging and those attempts to
control one's inner and outer environment that inevitably backfire and lead
to suffering. And Buddhism certainly has recognized the dangers involved in
the pathological varieties of detachment. The proper, positive meaning of detachment
in Buddhism instead centers on an awareness of impermanence and an ability to
attach and detach (as appropriate in any movement).
The path of concentration is understood to advance through eight jhanas
or degrees of consciousness absorption according to the classicial Visuddhimagga
Through focus on various concepts, the meditator learns to overcome hindering
thoughts, perceptions, feelings, and eventually awareness itself. To attain the
, the meditator must begin by eliminating the unwholesome mental states
obstructing inner collectedness, generally grouped together as the five hindrances
(see above). The mind's absorption on its object is brought about by five opposing
mental states -- applied thought, sustained thought, rapture, happiness and one
pointedness -- called the jhana factors (jhanangani
) because they lift
the mind to the level of the first jhana and remain there as its defining components.
are presented in two groups of four, under the collective title
of the eight attainments (atthasamapattiyo
- Fine-material jhanas (rupajhana) determined by surmounting
factors (which must change although associated objects can remain constant):
- 1: Secluded from sense pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states
of mind (hindrances), accompanied by applied thought (vitakka),
sustained thought (vicara), rapture (piti), happiness (sukha)
and one-pointedness of mind (ekaggata)
- 2: With the subsiding of applied thought and sustained thought, having
internal confidence and unification of mind, and filled with rapture
and happiness born of concentration
- 3: Cultivation of indifference to the corruption of applied and sustained
thought, and the presence of rapture, to dwell in equanimity (upekkha),
mindfulness (sati), and discernment (sampajañña)
- 4: The state where equanimous feeling and one-pointedness subsist together
as far more peaceful and secure and therefore far more desirable. With
the abandoning of pleasure and pain (adukkhamasukha), which has
neither-pain-nor-pleasure and has purity of mindfulness due to equanimity
- Immaterial jhanas (arupajhana) determined by surmounting
objects (which must change although associated factors can remain constant):
- 5: Base of boundless space eliminating the kasina object of
the fourth jhana
- 6: Base of boundless consciousness surmounting the object of the base
of boundless space
- 7: Base of nothingness surmounting the object of base of boundless
- 8: Base of neither-perception-nor-non-perception surmounting the objects
the object of the base of nothingness; at this level the mind has reached
the highest possible development in the direction of pure serenity, the
most intense degree of concentration, becoming so refined that consciousness
can no longer be described in terms of existence or non-existence. (Yet
even this attainment, from the Buddhist point of view, is still a mundane
state which must finally give way to insight that alone leads to true
Having presented the Visuddhimagga as the best developed map to altered
mental states, Daniel Goleman (The Meditative Mind, 1988) then draws
parallels to other mystic traditions: Hindu Bhakti, Jewish meditation, Christian
meditation, Sufism, Transcendental Meditation, Patanjali's Ashtanga Yoga, Indian
Tantra and Kundalini Yoga, Tibetan Buddhism, Zen, Gurdjieff's Fourth Way, and
Krishnamurti's Choiceless Awareness.
Clues to 'ascent' and 'escape'
Drawing on Eastern traditions, Theosophists articulated the stages of initiation
expressed in the form of :
- recognition that the change of vehicle, body or body when an inner state
or condition changes, requires transition to another state, condition or place
-- a transition to 'another life' which may be expressed in terms
- recognition that the entity which initiates a movement or action -- spiritual,
mental, psychological, physical, or other -- is responsible thereafter in
the shape of consequences and effects that flow therefrom, and sooner or later
recoil upon the actor or prime mover
- recognition that everything exists in everything else and that there are
no absolute divisions anywhere, neither high nor low, neither within nor without,
neither right nor wrong, nor up nor down.
- recognition of the essential characteristic of any entity, of any spiritual
radical, namely the self-generation or self-becoming in manifestation, thus
affirming responsibility in and for oneself
- recognition of evolution or unfolding of latent potentials from within as
the key to self-conscious being and existence, namely the process of raising
of the inferior to the superior
- recognition of underlying individual invariance, or "immortality-vehicle",
and the unique path by which any individual is characterized
- "knowledge of the self".