Zen master Bankei described the ego, this BIG I thing as being like “a valley stream in a waterfall” that doesn’t stop until one has fallen into the “vicious cycle” of ignorance where “there’s no way back.” According to Bankei, “Having fallen into ignorance, you go through all sorts of changes, degenerating further and further until you fall into hell with precious little chance of regaining your humanity.”
Seems the ego, this BIG I thing can get out-of-control ego, so just what is it?
The word “ego” comes from the Latin “I” and is defined in some places as “the self especially as contrasted with another self or the world.” It is defined elsewhere as “one of the three divisions of the psyche in psychoanalytic theory that serves as the organized conscious mediator between the person and reality especially by functioning both in the perception of and adaptation to reality.” The word “ego” has many other definitions including “the division of the psyche that is conscious and most immediately controls thought and behavior, and is most in touch with external reality,” a definition that appears to clarify Sigmund Freud’s abbreviated description of ego as “reason and common sense,” but is it really that?
Freud’s definition may be helpful in visualize the coup d'état that prompts the spiritual fall described by Bankei because common sense and reason easily slides down the slope towards the fulfillment of selfish desires disguised as needs.
Deepak Chopra, a lecturer and author on mind-body medicine says the ego works hard to establish our need to be in control, our need to be approved, and our need to judge. Therefore, he warns that people must work even harder in the cause of relinquishing our so-called needs.
The BIG I does indeed fall hard.
The High Cost of Learning
Nasrudin decided that he could benefit by learning something new. He went to see a master musician. ‘How much do you charge to teach lute-playing?’
‘Three silver pieces for the first month; after that, one silver piece a month.’
‘Excellent!’ said Nasrudin. ‘I shall begin with the second month.’
According to one Hindu spiritual leader, “a religion is an institution that requires a growing number of adherents for its expansion and future existence.” Hinduism is often described as the third largest of the world’s more than 4,200 religions. The terms Hindu and Hinduism were coined in the 19th century by English speaking people as a name for the ancient spiritual traditions of India, but these spiritual traditions are also known as Sanatana Dharma, which translates into something like"eternal virtue" or "universal energy" or "spiritual freedom."
Sanatana Dharma is “by its very essence a term that is devoid of sectarian leanings or ideological divisions,” says mantravidyaphalam in an article at the website. "Sanatana" is an ancient Sanskrit word denoting that which is Anadi or beginningless and Anantha or endless and ceaseless, eternal and everlasting. According to the website, the word Dharma is not translatable to any other language. “Dharma is from dhri, meaning to hold together, to sustain. Its approximate meaning is "Natural Law," or those principles of reality which are inherent in the very nature and design of the universe.”
Sanatana Dharma has no founder. Some scholars claim it is the oldest spiritual tradition in the world. According to one source, there is “complete freedom of belief” in Sanatana Dharma because, unlike most religions, no single creed or doctrine is needed to hold it together. Outside influences are welcomed and incorporated into it. “With no discrimination whatsoever, it leads a human being beyond the realms of man-made, institutionalized dictums. Instead of creating fear of God, it makes God manifest in the human heart, not in an anthropomorphic form, but as the absolute and universal One in whom all diversities reside in perfect harmony.”
Another source clarifies that Hinduism or Sanatana Dharma is “a diverse system of thought with beliefs spanning monotheism, polytheism, pantheism, monism, and atheism among others; and its concept of God is complex and depends upon each individual and the tradition and philosophy followed.”
Sanatana Dharma or Hinduism includes many beliefs, but among the most prominent are Dharma, which refers to ethics and duties, Karma, which refers to actions and reactions, Yogas, which refers to paths and practices, and of most interest here, the cycle of action, reaction, birth, death and rebirth; the continuum known as Saṃsara or Sangsara which in Sanskrit literally means "continuous flow;" an idea that’s clearly reflected in some varieties of classical Indian music. An article posted at the Ancient-Future website titled Indian Rhythmic Cycles, calls it a conception of the” ever-recurring cyclic rhythms of the universe.”
An idea is s a transcendent thing that moves in and out of consciousness, sub-consciousness and unconsciousness and is most meaningful in the open mind. Pablo Picasso described an idea as “a point of departure and no more.” He explained that as soon as you elaborate, the idea becomes transformed by thought. Thinking of an idea, then, is like water or sunlight on a seed and, in the creative process, the transformation that occurs, is the most essential step toward a work of art.
The imagination is stirred along the way and through it, the creative potential of an idea can be released as bursts of inspiration. For the visual artist, a burst of inspiration is energy.
The energy brings imagines to mind. Sometimes they are realistic. When they are not, they can be as “things never before wholly perceived in reality" as have been described elsewhere by others. Inspired by such "things," the visual artist attempts to express them in lines, shapes and colors that may be unusual. An idea is indeed "a point of departure."
The creative process begins when an idea comes to mind. A work of art is a collaboration of ideas, the mind, the imagination and the materials used to express it. In the end, most artists can’t recall all of the ideas that produced a particular work of art. However, most of them will agree that they were inspired and, at times, fascinated by them!
Wassily Kandinsky said the true work of art is something born of the artist, “a mysterious, enigmatic, and mystical creation that detaches itself from the artist and acquires an autonomous life." The work of art becomes "a personality, an independent subject, animated with a spiritual breath, the living subject of a real existence of being.”
Artists need this "spiritual breath" and when they get it, their imaginations are further aroused.
The music W.E.B. DuBois described as “the rhythmic cry of the slave” and “the sole American music…the most beautiful expression of human experience born this side the seas” can't be transformed into something else. Jazz sprang from it as the American way of refining the Blues experience. Anyone can learn to do it, but they must use the music's Blue language in the process.
Times change the intensity of an experience. The shades of blue needed to express it changes too. So long as there's a human experience, there will be Blues it seems. And when the experience reaches the point of inexplicability, it still must still be expressed somehow. It must be refined for comprehension and Jazz does it very well.
The Merriam Webster dictionary defines history as “a chronological record of significant events (as affecting a nation or institution) often including an explanation of their causes.” Historian, John Henrik Clarke described history in more graphic terms as the clock people use to tell time, the compass they use "to find themselves on the map of human geography." History, then, is a very important story that must be told and heard and passed from one generation to the next.
Clarke observed that the idea of African people being unfamiliar with literature and art until their contact with the Western world is a misconception. “Before the breaking up of the social structure of the West African states of Ghana, Melle (Mali) and Songhay, and the internal strife and chaos that made the slave trade possible,” he explains, “the forefathers of the Africans who eventually became slaves in the United States lived in a society where university life was fairly common and scholars were beheld with reverence." His research revealed that, "Africans were great storytellers long before their first appearance in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619." Their clock and compass, however, was lost or destroyed somewhere between Africa and the New World and so the great African storytellers were soon silenced.
In1955, James Baldwin said: "It is only in his music, which Americans are able to admire because a protective sentimentality limits their understanding of it, that the Negro in America has been able to tell his story.”
The Negro in America admires this music too and they have a “protective sentimentality” that limits their understanding of this music as well. Theirs also prevents them from completely embracing the essence of the story because, for them, slavery has become an endless void, the deepest blackness of “Black People:” a collective unconsciousness that finds expression only in the haunting blueness, sadness, and loneliness of very mysterious genres of expression.
An African proverb says, "A village without music, is a dead village." Many ancient African music and dance traditions have been passed from generation to generation and used to inspire the people. Indeed, musicians among the Senufo served their people as healers, and many Manding musicians were famous storytellers and historians, and Watusi and Dagomba drummers were often leaders of their people. Before contact with the Western world, large areas of Africa were inter-woven in a cultural tapestry that did more than connect the people to one another, it connected the material world to the spiritual world.
Most of the African people enslaved in the New World were prohibited from dancing and making music and from telling their stories, and an ancient cultural tapestry frayed and unraveling. As it did, the enslaved Africans were all but dead with little more to sustain them than hieroglyphics of a collective unconscious, the void, the blackness of their existence.
The story of “Black People” may therefore never be embraced and may barely ever be understood at best. Ordinary words don't do the void; the Blackness justice. Un-decipherable signs, sounds and symbols, the "self-creating, intertwining series of shadows…the shadow which lies athwart our national life,” that Baldwin described must suffice. Blackness is American as George Washington, but it is also that deeply mysterious thing that oppresses us all in "reverberating silence." A genre of spiritual expression, Blackness is an echo of the past beyond full comprehension.
Advanced Jazz Anatomy
Dr. Alain Locke, the man known as the “Father of the Harlem Renaissance,” claimed that “all classes of people under social pressure are permeated with a common experience; they are emotionally welded as others cannot be. With them, even ordinary living has epic depth and lyric intensity, and this, their material handicap, is their spiritual advantage."
Ira Gershwin, the famous Jewish American composer, made a similar and equally mysterious claim. “Deep unspeakable suffering,” he said, “may well be called a baptism, a regeneration, the initiation into a new state.”
The words of Dr. Locke and Gershwin express extraordinary ideas about social pressures and sufferings, essences of the Blues, but also about a higher sense of humanity.
“After emancipation,” Sidney Bechet said, “all those people who had been slaves, they needed the music more than ever now; it was like they were trying to find out in this music what they were supposed to do with this freedom: playing the music and listening to it - waiting for it to express what they need to learn once they had learned it wasn't just “White People” the music had to reach to, nor even to their own people, but straight out to life, and to what a man does with his life when it is finally his."
Rhythmic consciousness is the ability to recognize patterns in inanimate objects as well as in things that move, but more over, it is the ability to recognize the mysterious patterns of recurrence in such things as thoughts and dreams and the like.
Rhythmic consciousness hastens development and maturation of rhythmic confidence. It is the sense of certainty needed to understand that rhythm comforts the human spirit because rhythms express a perception of truth. That the circular progression of the universe requires a certain degree of harmonious movement by everything in the universe, is an essential perception of truth.
Maat or What Is Worthy Of You
Maat or Ma´at (usually pronounced Ma-aht) is best defined and understood as a concept, rather than as the goddess with a single feather above her head as Maat is often personified. The concept of Maat encompasses a number of qualities including truth, justice, harmony, balance, stability, order, reciprocity and propriety, etc. Maat was cultivated in Kemet (ancient Egypt) and was central to the people's understanding of the universe and their place in it.
The most recalled myths of Maat say she came into being withRa when rose out of Nun (chaos) after Ptah had dreamed with his heart. Maat was a daughter of Ra and the wife of Dihauti (Thoth or law)
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These myths were developed over the course of thousands of years as the people of Kemet observed the rising and setting of the sun, the movements of the heavenly bodies, the flooding of the Nile, the animals and plant life. They studied the differences and the similarities of everything and came to believe the universe was not just a material entity, but a spiritual entity as well. They believed their existence was natural and permanent, but the forces of chaos had to repelled. If not, chaos would reclaim the universe. The observance of Maat ensured that it did not. Pharaohs were the primary defenders of Maat, however each individual was responsible for keeping the principles of Maat in everyday life.
The deepest mystery of the Maat myths, however, deal with the prospects of a hereafter. According to these myths, each individual would be judged at death as is depicted and recorded in funerary texts known as The Book of Emerging Forth Into The Light, and as The Book of Coming Forth by Day, and also as The Book of The Dead wherein the heart or the conscience of deceased individuals are placed on a scale to be weighed against the feather of Maat after the 42 Declarations of Innocence also known as the Admonitions of Maat have been recited. If, due to a life of wrongdoing; a life lived contrary to Maat, the heart or conscience was found to be heavier than the feather of Maat, the soul of the individual was unworthy of eternal life.
Our beliefs about eternal life, our opinions about myth, our feelings about religions and philosophy are individual matters. These things are worthy of contemplation and so too are the qualities of Maat.
The Passage of Time
An article on the internet describes time as “a dimension in which events can be ordered from the past through the present into the future and also the measure of durations of events and the intervals between them.” The article goes on to say that the subject of time has long been a major subject of study in religion, philosophy, and science, but “defining it in a manner applicable to all fields without circularity has consistently eluded scholars.”
Defining time may elude these scholars because they perceive the passage of time as a straight path or tunnel from the past to the present and on into the future. They don't realize that, as part of a revolving dimension, the passage of time is naturally circuitous.
Hehaka Sapa, the Oglala Lakota Sioux Holy Man who was also known as Black Elk said, “The power of a thing or an act is in the meaning and the understanding.” So it is with the passage of time. He also said: ”Everything an Indian does is in a circle...the power of the world always works in circles, and everything tries to be round…The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves.”