11/15/16

A Meditation on Death in Photographs and Texts


Death 
a meditation  
in photographs and texts




Interlude 
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This project, A Meditation on Death is a continuation--or extension of my project Broad Brook Photographs 9-10 & 9-11 2016.   The two, though conceived separately, belong together--they are essentially two arcs of the same one circle.  There is, however, a space between them, a barzakh that must be acknowledged.  This Interlude is intended to provide a bridge which unites the two projects.

The words that constitute this Interlude are the sacred teachings from two of the most renown modern saints of India.  Swami Muktananda was the disciple of Bhagawan Nityananda, an avadhut, one who was born in a state of conscious union with God.  Muktananda wrote and spoke constantly about his beloved Guru.  For example he wrote:  "The Guru is not a particular body.  He is the [inner] Self of all.  Nityananda did not speak many words to me, but he spoke much within me and [even after his death] he has not ceased speaking." 

Muktananda, through the grace of his Guru, sustained an "interior dialogue" with Nityananda, and in this way he received many teachings which he then published in his essays and books and the many lectures he presented throughout the world.  

After Muktananda's death, his writings about Nityananda were collected and published as a book entitled Bhagawan Nityananda of Ganeshpuri.  The words below, in quotation marks, are the teachings Muktananda received from his Guru, many of which were "spoken" in the silence of Muktananda's Heart, the inner Self, that "place"--barzakh--which unites us all.  ~  Muktananda wrote:


  The Guru pervades everything--every sentient and insentient thing.
Once I went with my Guru for a walk along the bank of a river.
Near the road was a huge rock.  He said, "Do you see this 
rock?  See the miracle?  See the doing of the universal 
Consciousness?  Here it has become a rock, here
it has become a human being, and here it has
become a tree.  But although it has become
all this it does not lack Consciousness
in its fullness."  . . .  This is truly
the essence of Vedantic 
vision, of unity in 
diversity.

*

"Open your eye of knowledge  and see what you should do.
You have sought initiation in the outlook of equality, but
your actions reek of partisanship, of inequality. 
This is a mockery of devotion and knowledge.
Do not behave like this.  It is Rama who
appears in different guises.  
Continually repeat, 
'O Rama! 
Rama!'

*

"This world is Rama's playhouse.  There cannot be a king without 
subjects.  There cannot be riches without poverty.  There cannot
be day without night. The universe is based on duality. Duality
will vanish only when the universe vanishes. O renunciant
why do you abandon the name of Rama?  Keep 
repeating the divine name of Rama. Rama's  
will alone works.   Much of your life 
has already been spent fruitlessly.  
Not much time is left before 
you die.   Why do you 
 perceive differences 
in Rama? All is
Rama; all is 
Rama" 

*


Introduction
The fifteen symmetrical photographs presented in this project were constructed with images selected from my previous project, Broad Brook Photographs 9-10 & 9-11 2016.

In my introductory comments to that project I wrote of a dark presence, or "shadow" that had been cast upon my experience of photographing two days in the beautiful mountain stream named Broad Brook.  As I photographed on my birthday, Saturday, 9-10-16, and the day after, Sunday 9-11, the National Day of Remembrance, I spontaneously flashed on memories of images I had seen of the Towers smoking and collapsing, and of people falling from Tower windows . . . alone through space.

For the most part, it seems to me the Brood Brook photographs are not about the horrors of the 9-11 attack; quite the contrary.  Still, the presence of death was unquestionably there in my experience while photographing in that sacred, primordial place.  Later, when I was engaged in editing and contemplating which images to be included in the Broad Brook project, I did sense the presence of death in some of the photographs.

Since 2001, the yearly interface between the day of my birth, and that day when 2,996 people died so tragically, has become for me a poignant time of contemplation on the question: Am I prepared for death?  This year it happened that I was photographing in Broad Brook on those two auspicious days.  The 38 photographs included in the Broad Brook project, and the 15 Symmetrical Broad Brook photographs presented here, constitute for me an unexpected and deeply meaningful Imaginal contemplation on the mysteries of death.


Epiphany 
Death is a constant presence in all our lives whether we acknowledge it or not; certainly it has been an integral part of my creative process in photography over the past sixty years.  Indeed the presence of death was there for me at the time I decided to become a photographer.  When I was nearly 10 years old I experienced a spontaneous vision, an epiphany that directed me to a life devoted to photographic picture-making. The epiphany occurred while my dad was in the hospital, just a few weeks before he died.  On a very hot night in August, 1955 I experienced my dad's death in a feverish dream-like state.  The dream experience occurred possibly at the same time--and certainly in direct sympathy with--what my dad was experiencing in the hospital when he passed on.  I have written about this experience, and my epiphany, in more detail; visit my Personal Stories #3 & #4.

I have always felt--or known intuitively--that photography came to me as a gift of grace.  The epiphany came just at the time when I would need something very special to fill the void in my life after my dad's death.  Indeed, photography became for me--at the age of 10 years--my constant companion, and it has been with me throughout my entire life.  Photography--and the grace it has manifested in my life--has been an integral part of an ongoing, transforming process that has supported and changed me in multiple and untold ways.  Grace has filled my life with lucid creativity, radiant images, and palpable, heart-opening revelatory meanings.

Death has emerged as a presence in many of my photography projects over the years--sometimes in obvious ways, as in this project, and sometimes in very understated or veiled ways.  However there are four earlier projects in which Death is a central thematic focus.  I invite you to visit the hyperlinked online projects listed below; each explores the theme of death in its own unique way.

The Persephone Series  1975-76
Color Diptychs  1990-92
Death, Art & Writing, an illustrated essay  2003
The Departing Landscape  2007-2012


Barzakh & Bardo
The Arabic word barzakh means separation.   In Islamic eschatology, the word is generally viewed as the space between the physical and the spiritual worlds in which the soul is suspended after death and before resurrection on Judgement Day.  The Tibetan word bardo is understood in a very similar way.  In fact my project listed above, Color Diptychs 1990-1992, is a visual exploration of the idea of the bardo--I was interested in the new meanings that could be generated in the space between the two photographs of a diptych.  The project was inspired by my reading of a very wonderful book entitled The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.  Shortly after I completed the Color Diptychs project my mother died.  It seemed to me I must have intuited the forthcoming death of my mother and was unconsciously preparing for her death by reading the book and working on the Color Diptychs project.  I have written about my experience of my mother's death; visit my Personal Stories #20.


What Am I Doing Here?   What Should I Be Doing?
For the past thirty years (since 1987) my wife Gloria and I have been studying and practicing Siddha Yoga Meditation.  Photography has become an integral part of my yogic practices; indeed it has become a form of meditation and a means of connecting with grace.  I have written extensively about this in my project Photography and Yoga.  One of the traditional yogic practices is to prepare for one's death now, in advance of its arrival.  It is important to meditate on death, and to contemplate the yogic teachings and ancient scriptural texts in relation to death.  Of course this practice extends to many of the other spiritual traditions as well.
  
In his book The Garden of Truth : The Vision and Promise of Sufism, Islam's Mystical Tradition, the great Islamic scholar Seyyed Hossein Nasr writes about how we human beings have forgotten "who we really are."  He states: "All we have to do is wake up and realize our primordial nature, which is always there, although buried deeply within many layers of the dross of forgetfulness. . .   Since we all die, it is better to seek to wake up now, under conditions that involve our free will and intelligence rather than in a situation in which we are helpless."

Nasr goes on to address the issue of the heart and the ego.  He says, while we still can, we should "walk through the door that opens to the inner chamber of our heart . . . to the Divine Presence.  That opportunity will not always be there, for our next breath may be our last."  Discovering who we really are requires a process of "piercing the walls of our ego to penetrate into our heart."  To achieve this we must [in the Tradition of the Prophet] "die before we die," me must purify the ego, and this is not possible, says Nasr, "without a spiritual master who already knows what it means to be fully human . . . "  The sufic journey to Oneness requires achieving an "intimacy with the Divine, and through the transparency of our outer self, allowing God within us 'to know' Himself."

In the United States, our culture as a whole is in denial of death; many people fear it, the mention or thought of it makes most people anxious.  Death is a mystery of course, however it is not, according to the yogic teachings, something other than God; it's no more a mystery than a stone, a mountain stream, a human being; it's no more a mystery than our Point of Origin.  Death is one of the few things in this life of which we all can be most certain, therefore it is important to ask oneself: What am I doing here? and Am I prepared for Death?


Oh, those losses to space, Marina, the plummeting stars!
We do not eke it out, wherever we rush to accrue
To which star!  In the sum, all has been ever forereckoned.
Nor does he who falls diminish the sanctified number.
Every resigning plunge, hurled to the origin, heals.

                                                 Rilke : first stanza from his Elegy to Marina Tsvetaeyeva
                                                                           published in Letters : Summer 1926


The Broad Brook Symmetrical Photographs
In our dual world this Earthly existence is suspended between God and Non-Existence, or Nothingness; our lives unfold in the space between birth and death; we fall into darkness, then rise as "beings of light" which illuminate the heavens.  The four-fold symmetrical photographs in this project embrace and conjoin polar corresponding opposites into a grace-filled mandala-like visual unity, an image that functions as a Symbol.

Symbols are doorways to the Divine unitary reality, the inner Self.  Symbols are radiantly alive with grace which can open the heart of a sincere contemplator.  Symbols brings us face-to-face with "who we really are."


Between the Images and the Texts
The texts in this project focus on death and several other related themes including the spiritual quest, the barzakh, the symbol, and the interiorization of the symbol.  The project concludes with an Afterword.

Of course the photographs and the texts constitute their own different forms of mediation on death. Equally important, however, are the silent resonances which manifest in the space between the images and the words.  This intermediary realm of meaning shimmers with radiant life-transforming spiritual energy, or grace.  It is a subtle form of knowledge--which is beyond language and beyond sensible and intellectual grasp.  It can be experienced as presence, but it is beyond comprehension by the mind.

This "silent dialogue" between images and text is in a continual state of unfolding; it is always changing and re-creating itself. One may enter this Interworld, this "dialogue" that unfolds in the silence of the heart, in the silence of the Self, by stilling the mind, and "listening" with concentrated attention.  The grace embodied in the symbolic photographs, and the grace embodied in the words of the texts, can open the heart of one who desires to enter into this "dialogue." In the depths of the heart one can absorb and be absorbed by the eternal wisdom of the Self.   ~  Welcome to the project, this visual and textual Meditation on Death.

Please Note: I encourage you to click on the photographs--at least once, and if possible twice--as you view them; this will enlarge the image for a closer, more intimate and detailed viewing.  You will find that the enlarged image will be much sharper, and richer in tonality and luminosity.  After viewing the image you can return to the project page via the <-- "return arrow" in the upper left hand corner of your screen.  


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The 
Broad Brook 
Symmetrical Photographs




Image #1     Death, A Meditation    Broad Brook Symmetrical Photograph  








Image #2     Death, A Meditation    Broad Brook Symmetrical Photograph  








Image #3     Death, A Meditation    Broad Brook Symmetrical Photograph  








Image #4     Death, A Meditation    Broad Brook Symmetrical Photograph  








Image #5    Broad Brook Falls Angel     Death, A Meditation    Symmetrical Photograph  








Image #6    Broad Brook Angel     Death, A Meditation    Broad Brook Symmetrical Photograph  








Image #7     Death, A Meditation    Broad Brook Symmetrical Photograph  








Image #8  Shimmering Flowering Waters    Death, A Meditation    Broad Brook Symmetrical Photograph 








Image #9     Death, A Meditation    Broad Brook Symmetrical Photograph 








Image #10     Death, A Meditation    Broad Brook Symmetrical Photograph 








Image #11     Death, A Meditation    Broad Brook Symmetrical Photograph 








Image #12     Death, A Meditation    Broad Brook Symmetrical Photograph 








Image #13   Broad Brook Angel    Death, A Meditation    Symmetrical Photograph 








Image #14     Death, A Meditation    Broad Brook Symmetrical Photograph 








Image #15     "The Eye of the Heart"     Death, A Meditation    Broad Brook Symmetrical Photograph 





The
Texts
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1.  Symbols & Transformation "Die before You Die"  
The following text excerpts are from historical Sufi manuscripts  
cited by Laleh Bakhtiar, in Sufi Expressions of the Mystic Quest:

Through symbols, one moves closer to transformation, the goal of the Sufic Quest.  One of the most profound expressions of transformation is found in the Quranic verse: "He is the First, and the Last, the Manifest and the Hidden, and He knows infinitely all things."  (57:3)  

The First is the origin of all things.  It is the birth, the beginning, the centre and the point.  The First is the knowledge of man in his primordial state; this is symbolized in Adam.  The Adam of one's being relates to the world of nature and one's physical mould . . .   

It is at the centre, from which the the First began, that the Last is found.  The Last is death and reintegration with the Divine.  The Last is the One to whom all return, and it is here that the Sufi fulfills the Tradition of the Prophet "Die before you die" in order to be reborn in the Hidden, the Self.  
The path to the Hidden begins at the centre, manifested in man by the inner intellect which is veiled by the ego.  It is only by rending this veil that the mystic will be able to find the Self, known only through discernment, invocation and contemplative meditation.

The Last is a temporal externalization: it is death and reintegration with the Divine.  It is symbolized by the Prophet, whose nocturnal journey to God the Sufi emulates.  The Prophet's bodily assent to heaven occurred because of the Divine Grace which permeated his being. . .  




2.  Resurrection  The Transformative Power of the Symbolic Photograph  
In the process of working on this project it occurred to me that the transformative nature of the four-fold symmetrical photograph constitutes something of a "resurrection" for those images in the Broad Brook project which resonate with the presence of Death.  Each of the Broad Brook symmetrical photographs in this project are for me overflowing with radiant grace, beauty and numinosity. Each celebrates all of life's mystery, including Death.  Each is a visual transformation oftentimes so complete that the source image gains a wholly new form, a wholly new visual life.  In this regard the image becomes for me the visual embodiment of a new "mode of being," the being of unity, the Unity of Being; in other words it functions for me as a symbol.  As a symbol, the four-fold symmetrical photograph "raises" its source image to a new and "higher" plane of reality, a new and vital form of meaning which belongs to the realm of the barzakh, the Intermediary World, the Interworld which Henry Corbin wrote so often and so passionately about.

The true, living symbol is born in the barzakh, and it is the means, the "doorway" through which the spiritual traveler enters into "the world of no place, no time;" the place of "eternal love;" the "dwelling place" of the Divine Self--the goal of the Sufi Quest.

The creation of symbols is but one arc of the great circle of the creative process.  The other essential arc is the contemplation-interiorization-integration of the symbols.   Symbolic images alive with the transformative creative divine energy of grace have the power to heal and to purify--an integral step in the spiritual-Alchemical quest.  Symbols can silence the mind and open the heart.  As one's mind becomes more and more silenced, one gains access to the center of the heart.  In the heart dwells the Hidden Treasure; it is waiting to be unveiled and embraced.  When we enter the heart we gain access to the eternal Truth of who we truly are.





3.  The "Hidden Treasure" 
Symbols initiate us into the numinous realm of Unitary Reality, a mode of being that's beyond the sensible, beyond the intelligible, and therefore beyond what's sayable.  Photographs that function as symbols transcend mere description of the outer world of appearances, the world of duality, the ego's world of preoccupation with personal identity.  Symbols unveil the inner, Unseen, transpersonal Self, the divine Hidden Treasure.

Symbols call us to a new and higher level of consciousness through a face-to-face interaction with the Unknown.  Symbols open a doorway to what Henry Corbin called the Interworld, what the Sufis call the barzakh.  Symbols are messengers of a majestic realm of beauty, the "Water of Life," the Hidden Treasure, that which lives at the center of our being, inside the Heart.

The great Sufi poet-saint, Rumi, told this story:  

Like fish we say to the Ocean of Life: "Why did you send up waves and throw us onto the driness of clay?"  The Ocean replies:  "I was a Hidden Treasure, so I wanted to be known :  I was a treasure, concealed behind the curtain of the Unseen, hidden in the retreat of No-place.  I wanted my beauty and Majesty to be known through the veils of existence.  I wanted everyone to see what sort of Water of Life and Alchemy of Happiness I am."  William Chittick, from his book The Sufi Path of Love : The Spiritual Teachings of Rumi




4.  Synchronicity and the Symbolic Photograph 
Henry Corbin writes: The symbol is not an artificially constructed sign: it flowers in the soul spontaneously to announce something that cannot be expressed otherwise.  It is the unique expression of the thing symbolized, as of a reality that thus becomes transparent to the soul, but which itself transcends all expression.   from Henry Corbin's book Avicenna and the Visionary Recital

In my own experience as a photographer, symbols are images which give visual form to a unique and numinous experience that Carl Jung termed synchronicity.  Synchronicity is a psycho-physical event, a mode of perception in which an inner-world psychic archetypal image is momentarily perceived as if mirrored in and conjoined with its corresponding, physical outer-world counterpart.  This extraordinary, revelatory, perceptual experience, and its visual Imaginal expression--the symbol--is a uniquely personal unveiling of transcendent Self Knowledge This "knowledge" constitutes a kind of knowing beyond that which can be intellectually understood.  It is a pure form of "knowing" which is revealed only in what Corbin calls the Interworld, a realm of being which exists between the spiritual world and the physical worlds.  It is a kind of meaning that belongs to the world of "no time" and "no place."

Note:In the mid 1970's, when I was a graduate student at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque,  I wrote an MFA dissertation paper--which centered on C.G. Jung's study of medieval alchemy and his theory of synchronicity--to explain my experience of the creative process in photography.  At the heart of the paper was the making of symbolic photographs, and then, of equal importance, the contemplation of the images after their creation.  This link: The Symbolic Photograph provides an abbreviated summarization of ideas put forth in the dissertation.  Though I think differently today about some of the things I wrote in that paper 44 years ago, nonetheless, the essential ideas hold true for me to this day.   




5.  The Two Arcs of the Circle of Existence  
Life is built on change and transformation, and death is an essential part of life and its transformative spiritual-alchemical creative process.  The Sufis speak of life as a spiritual Quest, a "journey to perfection" that takes the form of two arcs--one of descent and the other, ascent.  Together, the two complete the Circle of Existence.  

The Sufis say we begin as "nonexistence," a mode of being in which the soul is in total union with God, our Divine Origin.  Then, once we hear God's command, Be! we descend, level by level, down into the world of duality where we enter a womb--which the Sufis say is the point of creation furthest from our Divine Origin.  With human birth we begin the arc of ascent from the dual world back to our Origin . . .  "for all things return to God, just as all things have come from God."

The Sufic spiritual-alchemical method is one of Concentration, Meditation, and Contemplation centered upon the Divine.  The Sufis say that the traveler must seek a certain stillness, for one cannot hear the voice of God until one becomes silent, still.  

There are, say the Sufis, two options regarding death.  Clearly, death is compulsory; all humans must die.  But the Sufis say that a voluntary return can be chosen by human beings "since humans alone are made upon God's form and have been given the divine freedom to shape their own destinies."  The Prophets provide the model and some instruction on how humans can cultivate their souls in order to return to God in this very life-time.  However, to accomplish this extraordinary journey of Return the traveler must 1) have an experienced guide or teacher, 2) he or she must be completely committed to the task which requires tremendous sacrifice and self-effort; and 3) their must be grace. 

To return voluntarily to our Divine Origin, the traveler is required to "Die" before he or she dies.  This "death" before death is a complex and difficult purification process which transforms or annihilates the traveler's mind or ego.  In Sufism this "death of the ego" is famously known as fana.  

Resurrection : Becoming Fully Human
Through the journey of self-purification--through concentrated devotion to God, and through a teacher's guidance and grace--the Sufi traveler reaches a stage where the heart opens, and he or she becomes fully receptive to the transformative power of grace, the "divine light" that William Chittick writes of, here, in alchemical metaphorical terms:

"They began as stones, they were shattered by the brilliance of the divine light, and now they have been resurrected as precious jewels--beautiful, luminous, and fixed in the divine attributes."

The Sufic and Yogic sages say we remain less than human until we achieve the full realization of the divinity the dwells within ourselves and in all of life.  (See William Chittick's Sufism, and Laleh Bakhtiar's Sufi Expressions of the Mystic Quest.)  




6.  Angels, the Barzakh, and the Reality of Imagination
The text excerpts to follow are from William Chittick's book The Sufi Path of Knowledge : Ibn al-'Arabi's Metaphysics of Imagination.  The focus of the material cited here is on the barzakh and Imaginal Reality, however we will begin with a brief discussion of Ibn 'Arabi's ideas about angels, which will help prepare us for the material on the barzakh.

"When it is said that the angels are luminous, subtle, spiritual, unseen, and high, a relationship is envisaged with all those things that are dark, dense, corporal, visible and low.  It is not forgotten that angels are in fact dark and dense in relationship to the infinite Light of God. . . .  The angels are pure unitive awareness . . .  In this context, it needs to be remembered, 'pure' means the most intense in existence; it does not signify absolute, since Absolute Light is God, while absolute darkness is sheer nothingness.  The intermediate degrees are known as barzakhs."

"A barzakh is something that stands between and separates two other things, yet combines the attributes of both.  Strictly speaking, every existent thing is a barzakh . . .  Existence itself is a barzakh between Being and nothingness.  In the hierarchy of worlds which makes up the cosmos, the term barzakh refers to an intermediate world standing between the luminous or spiritual world and the dark or corporeal world. . . Instead of saying that things are either spiritual or corporeal, we can now say that they may also be barzakhi, that is to say, neither spiritual nor corporal but somewhere in between."

"The term barzakh is often used to refer to the whole intermediate realm between the spiritual and the corporeal.  In this sense the term is synonymous with the World of Imagination or Images.  From this perspective, there are basically three kinds of existent things: spiritual, imaginal or barzakhi, and corporeal.  The imaginal world is more real than the corporeal world, since it is situated closer to the World of Light, though it is less real than the spiritual and luminous realm of the angels."

"Ibn 'Arabi often employs expressions like 'corporealization of the spirits' and 'spiritualization of the corporeal bodies' to explain what sorts of events take place in the imaginal realm.  It is here, he says, that the friends of God have visions of past prophets or that, after death, all the works of a person will be given back to him in a from appropriate to the intention and reality behind the work, not in the form of the work itself."

"Since the World of Spirits manifests directly the unity of the divine, angels have no 'parts' while the world of corporeal things appears to us as indefinite multiplicity."

" . . .  all existent things share in a similar ambiguity, since they are neither Being nor nothingness, but somewhere in between. . . . Hence existence as a whole can be called 'imagination.'

"The cosmos is God's imagination, not our imagination.  He imagines everything other than Himself, but by so doing, He gives all things a certain mode of real and seemingly independent existence.  This nondelimited imagination of God is also God's self-manifestation or self-disclosure . . . "

"According to the Koran (57:3), God is the Outward or Manifest and the Inward or Non-manifest.  It can be said that God is Non-manifest in the sense that His Essence in Itself remains forever unknown to the creatures, while He is Manifest inasmuch as the cosmos reveals something of His names and attributes. . . . The universe as a whole manifest all the names of God. . .  The cosmos considered as a single whole is the locus of manifestation for all the divine names, or what comes down to the same thing, for the name Allah, which is the name that brings together all the other names.  Hence, says Ibn al-'Arabi, God created the cosmos in His own image, or, to use a better translation of the Arabic term sura, in His own 'form.'  So also, as the Prophet reported, 'God created Adam upon His own form.'  Hence the universe is a great man, while man is a 'small universe.'"




7.  The Angel of Death  &  The Birth of the Angel 
According to Henry Corbin, every creature and every soul has its Eternal, Celestial Twin, its Personal Companion, its Guardian Angel.  In his book Avicenna and the Visionary Recital Corbin writes:  "It is true to say that the Angel who manifests itself to the soul of the gnostic at the moment of death is the personal angel of that gnostic, his Perfect Nature, his Self coming to meet him at the '"frontier of the Orient."  

Tom Cheetham writes about the angel in his book After Prophecy:  "In Manichean legend, when after death, on the Bridge to the other world, the soul meets its Angel in the figure of a beautiful woman, she says, "I am thyself."  . . .  The Angel Holy Spirit is, as we know, in each case unique.  Corbin's mystic [Ibn 'Arabi] "knows that he is the eye with which God contemplates Himself; that he himself, in his being, is the witness by which God witnesses Himself, the revelation by which the Hidden Treasure reveals Itself to Itself."  

"The person of the Angel is infinite and iconic--that is, the succession of transcendences never stops . . . The true self opens upwards, and forever.  ~  The power of the creative imagination, the gift of Gabriel, the Angel Holy Spirit, enables each of us, if we consent, to give birth to the Angel, whose grace allows us to see all the world as an icon.  For we give birth not only to God, but the world itself, transfigured in the light of a personal vision."  Tom Cheetham,  from his book After Prophecy




8.  "The Fall Upwards" A Personal Visionary Story 
I would like to share with you another Personal Visionary Story; it was first published as Part III of my photography project entitled The Angels.  The story is entitled "The Fall Upwards" and it tells of a series of psycho-physical events I experienced which involve the Imaginal world and "the birth of the Angel."  The experiences took place in 2014, in Vermont, where I made the photographs for the Broad Brook project. 





9.  The Mandala 

Many of the symmetrical photographs in this project function for me as mandalas as well as symbols.  The four-fold, mirroring, unitary visual structure of the mandala, and their embodiment of grace, quiets my mind, and opens me to an interior world of silent meaning that is otherwise not accessible to me with my ordinary dual modes of sensory perception.  When I contemplate mandala images they center and unify my state of being.  As the contemplator journeys to the center of the mandala image--its visual Point of Origin--simultaneously he or she enters the center, the Heart of one's being--the dwelling place of the Divine Self.  

Laleh Bakhtiar writes in her book Sufi Expressions of the Mystic Quest:  

"The mandala, as a reflection of the cosmos and cosmic process within all things, works through numbers and geometry, beginning with Unity, moving through Its theophany and back to Unity.  It recapitulates at one and the same time, the permanence of Paradise as an idea and its impermanence as a temporal reality.  To the Sufi mystic, it evokes the surrender to Self and the reintegration of the many into the One." 

"The goal of Sufism is to gather all multiplicity into unity, with the totality of one's being, in direct contemplation of spiritual realities; to come to know the qualitative unity which transcends the existence it unifies, at the same time as one integrates all aspects of self into a centre."

"The goal of the Quest is for the self to step aside and let the Absolute know Itself through Itself."  ~  "The ultimate meaning of the Unity of Being is "to see things as they really are : to realize that all is reflected in the mirror of one's own being."




10.  Initiation &  Interiorization of the Symbol 
Tom Cheetham writes in All the World an Icon that the spontaneous eruption of a symbol is a "call to consciousness,"  it announces and initiates a powerful creative process of Self-Transformation and Self-Knowledge.  He says, however, it is only through the "interiorization" of the image that we can enter the symbol's Intermediate World, its barzakh . . . "the world beyond words, an archetypal world of immense energy with the power to liberate and destroy."

Regarding the individual uniqueness and initiatory power of the symbol, Cheethan writes: "it mirrors the potential individuality of the soul.  It is a call to the enactment of our individuality.  Becoming your self is a task. . . . The event of the symbol is an initiation." 

Cheetham's idea of interiorization of the symbol has taken many forms for me.  It of course pertains directly to the contemplation of a single image; however, in my own personal experience as an artist it has also taken on other expansive, active imaginative forms.  For example, my 2011 multi-chaptered project "An Imaginary Book" was initiated by the spontaneous, visionary eruption of a symbol.  The project was a meditation on three realted questions: "What is Sacred Art?" ~ "What is the sacred in sacred art?" ~ "Can sacred art be created within a contemporary art practice (such as my own)?"

"An Imaginary Book" was just the beginning of an ongoing series of projects that explored the idea of the sacred within my own creative process.  A Meditation on Death is but the most recent of a growing number of Sacred Art photography projects that has followed "An Imaginary Book."  To see the complete listing of my online sacred art projects, visit The Sacred Art Photography Projects.

The Eternal Individual & the Departure of the world
Corbin and Cheetham say the symbol initiates a battle with the angel.  The incarnated human soul engages (wrestles with) its corresponding archetypal divine figure--its Celestial Twin--in an effort to unite with it.  This "coupling," writes Cheetham, "produces the eternal individual. . .  the soul come home."  In Sufic terms, when the ego is at last annihilated--purified, voluntarily put to "death"--the soul within the body becomes liberated, free to Return to its home, its "Point of Origin," its divine Self.

The grace of the symbol, and the interiorizaton of the symbol, is essential to the Quest.  It requires of the "traveler" great self-effort and grace.  To interiorize a symbol is not only to absorb and integrate the grace-filled image into oneself; it is also to "grace the symbol," and to allow oneself to be absorbed by the symbol.

Swami Muktananda writes of death in terms of departure.  When the ego is purified or dissolved or put to "death" by spiritual practice, we are then free to return to being who we truly are: the Immortal Self.  In other words, when we "lose" our self, we "find" our Self.  Also, when the ego is dissolved,  the outer world departs as well.  Swami Muktananda writes:

[My beautiful Guru] Nityananda had to depart.  Then Muktananda will have to depart also.  The entire world will have to depart. . .  But before departing there is one thing you must do--and that is to attain the Self.  You are the Self.  The Self is yours.  

Meditate on the Self because the Self is Immortal. . .  You can read a great deal, you can teach a great deal, and you can write and hear a great deal, but that belongs to the outer plane.  Only he is in contact with the inner plane who is absorbed in the Self.  

Lose yourself.  To seek yourself is to lose yourself.  To lose yourself is to find yourself.  There is no Shiva [no God] without you.  Without Shiva [God] there is no you.  This is the abode of the Self.  Remember, the body is perishable, no matter whose body it is.  Eternity is only in the Self.  Truth is only in the Self . . . Only the Self is worth attaining, worth seeing, worth befriending . . . worth earning.  What you attain in the end is what you think about all the time.  So think, "I am the Self, I am Consciousness, I am beautiful,  I am the Truth."   Swami Muktananda, from  the book Bhagawan Nityananda of Ganeshpuri 

Note: my photography project The Departing Landscape  2007-12 is about the death, or the departure of the world--the earthly plane of existence.  When in 2010 I initiated my photography blog, I was in the process of completing that project, thus I named the blog after that project. I was very concerned about the health of our beautiful planet in 2010; it was suffering desperately from all kinds of man-made pollutions.  It is now six years later, and the situation has only gotten worse because of increased fossil fuel production and consumption, increased use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, etc., and lack of political will to curb the problems.  Indeed, the 2016 president-elect is a Climate Change Denyer. ~ At the top of my website's Welcome Page you will see a Visual Poem from the Departing Landscape project, which is an allegory for the departure of the natural world as we once thought we knew it.




11.  Summary   Death, Grace & Arrival 
Seeing with grace--seeing through the medium of photography with "the eye of the heart"--manifests symbols radiantly alive with grace.  It is grace which creates living symbols, and it is grace, which makes visible the Treasure "hidden" behind the "veils" of the outer, Earthly plane.  Symbols, one could say, are "angelic" messengers of grace; they are not only containers of grace, they radiate-- project--grace outward from its center point toward their contemplators.  Symbols are empowered to awaken and transform anyone who is willing to give him or her self to the image, to enter deeply into the image, and to take the image deeply into him or her self.  To interiorize a symbol is--in a manner of speaking--to die into the image; it is a form of fana in which one losses one's self--one's ego--in the concentrated process of merging, becoming absorbed in the symbol.

The experience of merging into a living symbol opens the heart.  An open heart gives the contemplator access to the Unitary Reality, the Divine Self within.  The inner experience of the Eternal Self constitutes the goal of the traveler's Quest, the Return of the individual soul to its Point of Origin.  Rumi wrote in a poem: "Don't cry for my leaving; I'm not leaving, I'm arriving at eternal love . . . the world of no place, no time."




Falling  Rising
Arrival 
______________________

The World of
No Place  No Time 

A Poem
 by
Rumi


When I die,
when my coffin
is being taken out,
you must never think
I am missing this world.

Don't shed any tears,
don't lament or
feel sorry.
I'm not falling
into a monster's abyss.

When you see
my corpse is being carried,
don't cry for my leaving.
I'm not leaving,
I'm arriving at eternal love.

When you leave me
in the grave,
don't say goodbye.
Remember a grave is
only a curtain
for the paradise behind.

You'll only see me
descending into a grave.
Now watch me rise;
how can there be an end
when the sun sets or
the moon goes down.

It looks like the end,
it seems like a sunset,
but in reality it is a dawn.
When the grave locks you up
that is when your soul is freed.

Have you ever seen
a seed fallen to earth
not rise with a new life?
Why should you doubt the rise
of a seed named human?

Have you ever seen
a bucket lowered into a well
coming back empty?
Why lament for a soul
when it can come back,
like Joseph from the well.

When for the last time
you close your mouth,
your words and soul
will belong to the world of
no place, no time.

Trans: Nader Khalili





____________________      Afterword   ____________________



Does Death Really Exist?


Swami Muktananda (1908 - 1982 click here ) wrote about his meditation experience of death in his autobiography Play of Consciousness.  It is a truly revelatory account of one of the greatest mysteries of being wholly human.

At the command of his Guru, Bhagawan Nityananda, Muktananda founded the Siddha Yoga Path and he traveled and lectured to people around the entire globe.  He wrote profusely.  One of the most important of his books, for me, is entitled Does Death Really Exist? It is a little book, and yet it contains the entire universe.  The following collection of excerpts form this book will serve as the conclusion to my Meditation on Death.  Muktananda writes:

If there is any truth in this world, if there is any greatness, then it lies within a human being.  When God reveals Himself, He does so within the human heart.  

Only a human being has the capacity to know himself.  That is what is special about human birth.  If a person does not use this birth to know himself, to understand his own inner Consciousness, then his life is wasted.  A person's duty is to find out who he is.

The individual soul thinks "I am this body; I am a man; I am a doctor . . . He does not realize that he is neither a man or a woman, neither the doer nor the experiencer of anything.  He does not understand that his true Self, his innermost Consciousness, is completely free from all bodies. . .

The Blue Pearl . . . is the body of the Self.  All consciousness is contained in it.  When the Blue Pearl departs from the body, consciousness departs from the bloodstream, the nerves, and the lungs, leaving everything limp and lifeless.  "Death" is simply the name we give to the departure of the Blue Pearl from the body.

No matter who a person is, death pursues him.  Whether he is a Mahmoud [a wicked person]  or a saint, death does not spare him.  It does not come early and it does not come late.  The moment of departure is set at the time of birth, and it does not change by even a minute. . .  If one prays to the inner divinity very intensely, one comes to know when one will die.  Usually a yogi finds out about his death three months before it occurs.

We take birth according to our actions.  The circumstances of our present birth were determined by our actions in past lives.  There are people who do not believe in rebirth, but whether or not they believe in it, they still have to suffer their actions.  

How can a person free himself from this wheel of death and rebirth?  He can do so only by going within and, through meditation, discovering his own inner Self.  As we meditate we become established  in the seat of the inner Self, and then we are liberated from death.  In meditation we discard our individual ego and merge with the Self.  

The ego is the veil which hides the Self and keeps us bound to the body.  The ego is nothing but our sense of limited individuality, our identification with the body and the mind, with our sex, our family, our country, our position. 

Ultimately, as one meditates and meditates, one becomes established in the transcendental state.  But before that happens, one experiences one's own death while still alive.  

The truth is that it is our own ego which is death for us.  When we have gone beyond the ego, death no longer exists. 

Our ego brings us again and again to our death.  In order to conquer death . . . we have to realize our identity with the Universal Consciousness.  We have to merge with that Consciousness, just as a river merges with the ocean.  When a being has attained this state of oneness, he has gone beyond death.  

One's condition at the time of death is the result of one's actions.  Therefore, one must meditate.  Meditation on the Self is the greatest of all good actions. . .  If one wants to die peacefully, one must begin helping oneself long before one's time to die has come. . . A wise person contemplates this and lives his life with the awareness that death will come one day.  A great being said: "There are two things you must remember all the time.  One is God, and the other is your own death."

In this world, everything that comes also goes.  But the Self does not die.  The inner Self is ageless and unchanging.  Death cannot reach it.  Therefore, live with this awareness:  "The Supreme Truth lies within me; the flame of Supreme Truth is shimmering and shining inside me."  That light is the Self.

Through the fire of this knowledge, may death die for you.  I wish this for you all.

Your own,

Swami Muktananda   




__________________________________________________



This project was published and announced on my
 Welcome Page on November 15, 2016 



Related Online Projects and other links:

Broad Brook Photographs 9-10 & 9-11 2016
Personal Visionary Stories
Symbol
Grace-Photograph-Symbol-Universe 
Studies : Sufism  2016
Siddha Yoga Path
The Angels  2014
Photography & Yoga 2015
The Complete List of Sacred Art Photography Projects



Welcome Page to my Departing Landscape website which includes the complete listing of my online hyperlinked photography projects, my resume, contact information, and more.





























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