89 Chapters
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Medium 9780253000958

The Mystique of Money

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

Anyone who pays attention to the state of the planet realizes that all natural systems on which human life depends are deteriorating, and they are doing so largely because of human actions. By natural systems I mean the topsoil, forests, grasslands, wetlands, rivers, lakes, oceans, atmosphere, the host of other species, and the cycles that bind them together into a living whole. By human life I mean not merely the survival of our species, although in the long run that will surely be in question; rather I mean the quality of our existence, the prospects for adequate food, shelter, work, education, health care, conviviality, intellectual endeavor, and spiritual growth for our kind far into the future.

So the crucial question is, Why? Why are those of us in the richest countries acting in such a way, individually and collectively, as to undermine the conditions on which our own lives, the lives of other species, and the lives of future generations depend? And why are we so intent on coaxing or coercing the poorer countries to follow our example? There are many possible answers, of course. It may be that on average we humans are too short-sighted and dim-witted to take stock of our situation and change our behavior. It may be that evolution has ill-fitted us to restrain our appetites. It may be that selfish genes and tribal instincts prompt us to define our interests too narrowly, excluding regard for people whom we perceive as different from ourselves, not to mention other species and unborn generations. It may be that the otherworldly religion preached so fervently across our land has convinced many believers that Earth, indeed the whole universe, is merely a backdrop for the drama of human salvation, destined to evaporate once the rapture comes. It may be that we have been so stupefied by consumerism and around-the-clock entertainment that we have lost the ability to think clearly and take sensible actions. It may be that global corporations have achieved such a stranglehold over the mass media and the political system as to thwart all efforts at reforming our way of life. It may be that the logic of capitalism, based on perpetual growth, is incompatible with a finite planet. It may be that preachers, pundits, pitchmen, and politicians have deluded us into thinking that financial wealth represents real wealth.

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Nine: The Eighth Limb: Absorption (Samadhi)

Showkeir, Maren S. Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

One is rigorously awakened by
stirring the desire for enlightenment itself
.

Dogen Zenji

 

You can hear the smile in Heather’s voice as she talks about the day she took her father to his first yoga class. She is a senior manager at a wellness resort in the southwestern United States. At one time, her father had been an elite runner who placed in the Boston marathon. As a runner, her father had always been attentive to the warm-up, cool-down stretching that athletes do. Aging eventually slowed him down, and some of the activities that once had fueled his passion became unavailable to him. Heather’s sporadic attempts to get him interested in yoga had gone nowhere until he was in his eighties. While he was visiting from the East Coast, she finally persuaded him to come to the resort and take a yoga class with her.

“Our mission here [at the wellness resort] is intended to be holistic. What we do has a spiritual aspect that is centered on mindfulness and living your life in a fully present way. So many times I had tried to explain to my dad what mindfulness is, and why it is important to me, but he just wasn’t interested,” Heather says. “On the way to the yoga class, I was trying again to make him understand the shift that happens when you are truly present. But it didn’t seem to resonate or even interest him. He was looking out the window, saying, ‘Uh huh … Uh huh.’”

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Words Addressed to Our Condition Exactly

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

In the fall of 1971, seeing that I was floundering, a veteran teacher who had I floundered himself when he was twenty-five gave me a book by a writer he knew down in Kentucky. “You might find some guidance here,” he said, handing me The Long-Legged House.

It was a paperback edition, small enough to fit in a coat pocket, printed on cheap paper, unassuming, not the sort of book one would expect to confirm or change the course of a life. The cover illustration showed a cabin perched on a steep riverbank, with a view across the stream toward green ridges fading away into the distance; a curving flight of stone steps led to the uphill side of the cabin, which rested on the ground, while the downhill side rested on poles, evoking the long legs of the title.

The author’s name, Wendell Berry, was unknown to me, but his photograph on the back recalled men I’d known while growing up in rural Tennessee and Ohio. He wore a work shirt unbuttoned at the throat, with a T-shirt underneath and striped coveralls on top; beneath a billed cap, his face lay in shadow, the mouth slightly open and jaw set as if he were catching his breath in the midst of sawing or plowing. In the faint background of the photograph, instead of the usual desk littered with papers or shelves of books, there were blossoms, as of hollyhocks or fruit trees in flower. The biographical note identified him as a teacher and farmer, as well as the author of three collections of poetry, two novels, and the slender book of essays I held in my hand.

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Thirteen: Life Everlasting

Felicitas D. Goodman Indiana University Press ePub

In the first of the postures treated in Chapter 12, there was a clear indication that life’s story did not end after the vestments of the body were surrendered at the entrance to the Realm of the Dead in the lower world. After arriving there, Bernie received a new form, that of the bear, full of power and joy. This metamorphosis is rather restricted, however. There is another posture, which allows this theme to be played out much more fully. For reasons to be explained further on, we have come to call it the Feathered Serpent posture. It is one of the few postures the origin of which can actually be traced back reliably to our ancient hunter roots.

Plate 58

According to traditions still encountered among hunter-gatherers and some horticulturalists to this day, it was the task of shamans to descend into a cave, the womb of the earth. There they created likenesses of the animals surrounding them, and by no means only of those that provided food. They then lifted the soul essences from the drawings and took them up into the world of the sun, thereby helping the Earth Mother in the task of increase, of propagation.

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Ten: Changing Shape—The Shimmering Game

Felicitas D. Goodman Indiana University Press ePub

In a tale of Rabelaisian abandon related by Indian fishermen of the Northwest Coast,1 their culture hero, the Raven, changes himself into a fisherman in order to make merry with the latter’s wife. When the fisherman unexpectedly returns and begins beating the intruder into a pulp, the Raven is constrained to revert to his original shape. The incensed husband ties him up and throws him into the pit of the outhouse. But the Raven, being immortal, eventually frees himself of his bonds and lives to see another day and more adventures of a similar nature.

Traces of such “softness,” as one anthropologist calls it,2 of the boundaries between humans and animals, when matters were in a state of flux between the species, are all about. Egyptian and Celtic and Hindu gods have animal heads or shapes. Echoes of the same tradition abound in the myths of every society of the world. They are known among the Australian aborigines and on the other end of the spectrum among the nineteenth-century Germans who were the consultants of the Grimm Brothers. And they are, of course, equally familiar to the Indian societies of our continent. There is a story current among the same Indian fishermen of the Northwest Coast, according to which a hunter once heard laughter coming from a cave. When he sneaked up to the entrance and peeked in, there were the animals hilariously playing at turning into people. In fact, the Haida Indians of the region recount that in those early times animals used to have both human and animal forms. As the Navajo singers put it, “In those times all the animals were like people. The four-footed beasts, the flying birds, the coiling snakes, and the crawling insects behaved the way that earth-surface people who occupy the world today behave” (Zolbrod 1984:98).

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Wayland

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

Two blacktop roads, broken by frost and mended with tar, running from nowhere to nowhere, cross at right angles in the rumpled farm country of northeastern Ohio. The neighborhood where they intersect is called Wayland—not a village, not even a hamlet, only a cluster of barns and silos and frame houses and a white steepled Methodist church. Just north of Wayland, the army fenced in thirty square miles of ground for their bomb factory, and just to the south the Corps of Engineers built their reservoir. I grew up behind those government fences in the shadows of bunkers, and on farms that have since vanished beneath those imprisoned waters. Family visits to church began carrying me to Wayland when I was five, romance was carrying me there still at seventeen, and in the years between I was drawn there often by duty or desire. Thus it happened that within shouting distance of the Wayland crossroads I met seven of the great mysteries.

Even as a boy, oblivious much of the time to all save my own sensations, I knew by the tingle in my spine when I had bumped into something utterly new. I groped for words to describe what I had felt, as I grope still. Since we give labels to all that puzzles us, as we name every blank space on the map, I could say that what I stumbled into in Wayland were the mysteries of death, life, beasts, food, mind, sex, and God. But these seven words are only tokens, worn coins that I shove onto the page, hoping to bribe you, coins I finger as reminders of those awful encounters.

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A Maya Whistle

Felicitas D. Goodman Indiana University Press ePub

In tomb 23 on the Rio Azul in Guatemala, archeologists came across a figurine representing a young man (pl. 65). He is sitting cross-legged and has his arms folded over his chest. The posture is also seen in a warrior from a classical Maya site at Jaina, on the western coast of the peninsula of Yucatán. Two features, however, distinguish the Rio Azul figurine from the Jaina one. The man from the Rio Azul has his tongue between his lips, and the figurine is a whistle.

When we did the posture for the first time in Cuyamungue in the summer of 1986, one participant was advised to heal a split in her body, another one was to guard something, and Isi was told, rather severely, “If you don’t have any questions now, come back when you do.” Although there were also other kinds of visions, of a hammock, of finely decorated pots, “as if from Mimbres,” of potsherds scattered about, we still decided mainly because of Isi’s report that the posture was intended for divining. However, when we did the posture once more in Columbus in November 1986 with a rather large group, Belinda was informed emphatically that divination was not what the Spirits had in mind: “No—that won’t happen here.”

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In the Land of Centaurs and Mermaids

Felicitas D. Goodman Indiana University Press ePub

In scanning a book recently about archeological finds in Europe,10 I noticed the picture of a figurine dug up in Thessaly (present-day Greece), about eight thousand years old (pl. 68). It represents a nude, rather full-breasted woman, sitting with both her legs turned toward the right side, her hands resting on her knees. Examining the figure shown a bit more closely, I realized that what at first glance seemed merely an oddly shaped face was really a mask, possibly that of a bird. That was exciting, for wearing a mask among hunter-gardeners or horticulturalists, as we know from their modern counterparts, is always a sign of a religious occasion, involving a trance experience as a matter of course. But what was even more intriguing was that in this case, the mask was combined with a totally unfamiliar posture. Ordinarily, the postures that come to light from such early horizons in Europe are those that are encountered in many other areas of the world as well, of birthing, of the Bear Spirit, of metamorphosis, and so forth. But here was one that was completely unknown in the later record. We had planned a workshop anyway for experienced participants only, to be held in a camp in rural Ohio, so this was an opportunity to try and see what the lady from Neolithic Thessaly had to teach us.

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Chapter 2. Human Evolution and the Origins and Evolution of Religious Behavior

Felicitas D. Goodman Indiana University Press ePub

In 1866, the Société de Linguistique of Paris banned all discussion of the origin and evolution of human language and speech. The argument was that nothing could be known about the topic, and thus its treatment was sheer conjecture and idle speculation. No such interdict was ever issued with respect to religion, although the disquisitions on its origins have equally been plagued with “sheer conjecture and idle speculation.” Take the French author Ch. R. de Brosses. He suggested in 1760 that humans first invented fetishism, that is, the worship of inanimate objects and of animals. Egypt, he thought, showed traces of such practices, which had also been reported by casual visitors to the West African coast. Fetishism gave rise to polytheism, and that in turn to monotheism. Subsequent speculation ran along similar totally unsupported and fanciful lines. Gradually, however, ethnography, archeology, prehistory, primatology, and even neurophysiology have greatly added to our knowledge about the cognitive evolution of humans, emboldening even the linguists to take a second look, more than a hundred years after the above quoted Paris decision.1 As we shall see, some of the suggestions that emerged from their renewed consideration of the topic supported the idea that there might possibly be some parallels in the emergence of language and religion. To understand this train of thought, let us take a brief look at the course of human evolution as reconstructed by modern science.

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Two: The First Limb: Universal Morality

Showkeir, Maren S. Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

We are here to awake from
our illusion of separateness
.

Thich Nhat Hanh

 

Most religions or philosophies speak to some aspect of the morality contained in the words of the Sutra referencing the yamas. Robert Johnson’s classic treatise on Patanjali’s Sutras explains that “The commandments [yamas] form the broad general training of humanity. Each rests on a universal spiritual law.” Patanjali says that the commandments are not limited to any “race, place, time, or occasion.” They are to be integrated into daily living.

Often called the moral restraints, the precepts in the yamas are universal, and are framed as the “do nots” in life’s list of moral do’s and don’ts. The precepts contained within this First Limb are:

Ahimsa—non-violence

Satya—non-lying

Asteya—non-stealing

Brahmacharya—non-squandering of vital energies

Aparigraha—non-greed, non-hoarding

Put into positive wording, ahimsa asks that you eschew all forms of violence and treat all living things with respect and compassion. Satya is a commitment to truthfulness and transparency. Asteya means we take only that which is freely given. Brahmacharya is about controlling our senses and energies so we can cultivate our inner life, and aparigraha is about living simply by taking or using nothing more than what we truly need.

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Medium 9781609949198

1 The Path of Light

Foundation, Anasazi Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

A few days into my journey, still kicking against nature,
I swung at what turned out to be poison oak.

I cursed my carelessness and
my anticipated discomfort and pain.

Truly all creation is against me, I murmured.

Later that day, I tripped in a bone-dry creek bed,
smashing my knee against a rock.
I remember grimacing in pain toward an empty sky.

As I lay there, I recalled words my father had spoken to me
while on a hunt: “WE who lose our footing have lost our
way,” he had said. “Our walking is in darkness.”

What did he mean by walking in darkness? I wondered, as
I picked myself up and limped on my way. And what did
darkness have to do with stumbling in daylight?

Despite my anger toward my father, in that moment I had to
accept that I had seen my father, and the great ones among
our people, sure-footed and rooted upon the earth as any
tree or plant, yet as light as a seed upon the wind.

This memory awakened my life to light
and for a moment brightened a son’s hurting heart.

Young friend, each morning offers lessons in light.
For the morning light teaches the most basic of truths:

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Conclusion: The Twilight of the Spirits

Felicitas D. Goodman Indiana University Press ePub

There is no doubt that the societies that used postures in religious ritual highly valued this knowledge. Shamans must have cherished them; that was probably why in a first-century Eskimo grave, three finely incised statuettes were found as grave offerings, carved out of walrus ivory, and clearly created by the same artist (pl. 69). They are (from left to right) shown in the Singing Shaman, the Calling of the Spirits, and the Bear Spirit postures respectively. In each instance the hands are placed somewhat lower than we are used to seeing them. Perhaps it was the intention of the artist to indicate that this was the shaman in death. Not only are the postures recreated over and over again in native art, they are also considered attributes of the Spirits, part of their power, as we see in the drawing of the Matsigenka shaman (pl. 60). Going from left to right, the “pure and invisible Ones” are shown in the posture of the Feathered Serpent, of the Singing Shaman, and of the Bear Spirit. And they passed into later traditions as conventionalized characteristics of the gods, as in the Aztec examples (Chap. 10).

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Under the Influence

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

My father drank. He drank as a gut-punched boxer gasps for breath, as a starving dog gobbles food—compulsively, secretly, in pain and trembling. I use the past tense not because he ever quit drinking but because he quit living. That is how the story ends for my father, age sixty-four, heart bursting, body cooling and forsaken on the linoleum of my brother’s trailer. The story continues for my brother, my sister, my mother, and me, and will continue so long as memory holds.

In the perennial present of memory, I slip into the garage or barn to see my father tipping back the flat green bottles of wine, the brown cylinders of whiskey, the cans of beer disguised in paper bags. His Adam’s apple bobs, the liquid gurgles, he wipes the sandy-haired back of a hand over his lips, and then, his bloodshot gaze bumping into me, he stashes the bottle or can inside his jacket, under the workbench, between two bales of hay, and we both pretend the moment has not occurred.

“What’s up, buddy?” he says, thick-tongued and edgy.

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Three: The Old Ones Remember

Felicitas D. Goodman Indiana University Press ePub

Without eager company, even magic gardens can be lonely places. So after returning from the anthropology meeting, I bundled up my notes on the mysterious postures and turned to a different topic. It was still part of the same field of study, the religious trance, but this time it concerned the experience of demonic possession.

My interest in this subject had been triggered by news stories about a German university student by the name of Anneliese Michel, who supposedly died as a result of being exorcized. From the American magazine item that had called my attention to the case, I had learned that the girl insisted that she was possessed by demons, but that her psychiatrists maintained that she was psychotic, most likely an epileptic.1 From the start, I had the impression that this might well be another one of those cases where a religious experience was confused with epilepsy, just as was often done in descriptions of shamans. The German courts decided that the two priests who carried out the exorcism had contributed to her death, and convicted both them and her parents of negligent homicide, resulting in suspended jail sentences.

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7 The Path of “WE”

Foundation, Anasazi Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

I would like to tell you more about my people.

Our story may help you to see the world anew
and to discover the majesty that lives in the hills.

My people have been upon the earth
as long as time itself, or at least so it is told.

According to legend, the Creator made Mother Earth
and dressed her with light, wind, water, stone,
plants, and animals. Then he placed my people
among his creation.

It is said that all creation lived in harmony. In all that they
did, light, wind, water, stone, plants, animals, and my
people supported one another. They had become, in the
language of my people, “WE”—that is, “as one.”

This pleased the Creator.

But this harmony did not last. Some say that a dark cloud
enveloped the earth and turned my people from the path
of light. Other say they were bound by a great cord, keeping
their feet from the sure path of stone. However it happened,
the hearts of my people began to walk backward against
creation. Darkness reigned, and the harmony was broken.

Witnessing the strife among the workmanship
of his hands, the Creator shed tears as the rain upon the
mountains. Unless creation could again be made as one,
the children of Mother Earth would be lost.

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