Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Letters From An Old Magician

The pristine awareness which belongs to
the state of pure and total presence,
Manifesting as the teacher in the form of the 

elements earth, water, fire, and wind,
Does not teach by means of words and letters.
The one who teaches its own nature
Cannot be conceived of in terms of self or other
And teaches the state of sameness and non-conceptuality.
All the beings of the three realms,
Realizing this, become equal to all the buddhas.
Sought after truth is found by not seeking it.


You hear different answers to the question of when human beings first inhabited the place where I reside.

If you collate these answers, you will come to believe that the first inhabitants arrived sometime during the late Ice Age -- somewhere between 13,000 to 11,000 years ago.

There is a cave about twenty minutes away from where I am writing this, where human artifacts have been reliably dated to 12,000 years ago. Of course, 12,000 years is less than a blink in geological terms, but still, during this period the weather has changed, the flora, and the terrain are different -- things have changed rather dramatically.

If you want to time travel, you have to learn how to navigate that ancient landscape.

Of course, when you think about navigation, the first thing you might think of are maps.

The area where I spend most of my time contains one of the largest concentrations of petroglyphs in the world. I am surrounded by them, and can see them on a daily basis if I wish. As as example, in one ninety square mile area near here, inventories have established over 100,000 examples. In another direction, there is an entire valley full of them -- so many, that nobody has bothered to count.

Nobody really knows the age of these petroglyphs, but the best estimates are 1,000 to 2,000 years old. It is probably safe to assume that there were older petroglyphs, but 12,000 years of wind and precipitation have erased all traces.

Still, this is a singular place, and I suppose anything is possible -- the oldest living organism on earth is just a couple of miles from here: King Clone, a creosote ring, dated at 11,700 years old. If it has survived, who knows what else has survived, maybe in some stubborn cave or reclusive canyon.

So, then...

The people for whom these petroglyphs had contemporary meaning are long gone. For the latest Native Americans, who came in their wake -- possibly around 500 to 300 years ago -- these rock drawings had a mythical quality, but even they did not completely understand their meaning. Either that, or the drawings took on different meanings.

While I was writing this, I took a break to visit the annual Pow Wow around here, and I ran into a Navajo, from Albuquerque. I asked her if she had ever been over to the Petroglyph National Monument, and she said, "For our people, that place is something like a graveyard, so we try not to ever go there."

She meant to say that such places are haunted.

Even A.L. Kroeber, in his extensive Handbook of the Indians of California (1925) admits defeat, devoting only the final three of the book's nearly 1,000 pages to the subject:
"Two questions are always asked about pictographs: What do they mean? and How old are they? Neither can be answered. The modern Indians are always familiar with them as landmarks, but can give as little information as the visitor, except to say that they have always been there. No connected story can be deciphered from any of the groups of symbols, and many are so obviously nonrepresentative as to leave even a speculative imagination baffled for a clew. Many of the pictures may have been made by shamans; but again there is no specific evidence pointing in this direction, and it is quite possible that medicine men were not connected with the making of any."
Thus, while people have been speculating about the petroglyphs for centuries, nobody really knows for certain what they mean or why they were created in such profusion. All we really have are isolated instances of seeming recognition, from which we can extrapolate a larger palette of possibility.

If you enjoy state-of-the-art speculation, you could do no better than to read Dr. Alan Garfinkel's "Paradigm Shifts, Rock Art Studies, and the 'Coso Sheep Cult' of Eastern California," (North American Archaeologist, Spring 2007).

Dr. Garfinkel explains that there are two competing models in the field. The first is to interpret petroglyphs as an "expression of individual shamanistic endeavor." The second is one he characterizes as the "hunting magic" hypothesis.

What we can infer, taking the latter approach, is that once upon a time, bighorn sheep were as numerous in the region as buffalo were on the plains. Just as we had what could arguably be called "buffalo culture" in one part of North America, so did we have what could arguably be called "sheep culture" in another.

What Dr. Garfinkel rather persuasively sets forth, is that all of these petroglyphs were drawn for the purpose of engaging in hunting magic, and he bases this on the positioning of the petroglyphs first, and the content second. He refers to a study, done forty years ago, that discloses the petroglyph sites are distributed along game migration trails. Nevertheless, he tells us:
"Any concept that purports to account for all, or even most rock art of a given style or motif, I would argue, is inherently suspect.  One would expect to find that different sets of environmental, cosmological, religious, artistic, and social factors influenced the creation of rock art at various times and places."
Which makes perfect sense. I do commend Dr. Garfinkel's paper to your attention, even if you could care less about petroglyphs, bighorn sheep, or any hypotheses arising therefrom. The paper is quite simply well written, and most enjoyable to read.

But, we have to keep something in mind...

Whether we take the shamanic expression approach, or, as Dr, Garfinkel does, choose to investigate the "spiritual and cognitive dimension" of prehistoric North Americans killing bighorn sheep, we are grafting our own ideas onto another time, a place rather different than it appears now, and a people with concerns that seem somehow different from our own.

I don't think that works very well. What did Patrul Rinpoche say? "Discrimination -- holding on to characteristics -- is delusional mind."

In the world of interdependence, phenomena like prehistoric petroglyphs are maps -- interdependence maps. As seen above, even the earth itself gives us interdependence maps. Interdependence is itself a kind of glue.

What else did Patrul Rinpoche say? "Feeling is the lasso that ties mind and object together."

I spent the day today out in the desert,  at a shaman's cave that University of California experts believe was first inhabited 11,000 years ago. They believe it was used by shamans continuously thereafter, up until around 1,000 years ago. There are some 900 to 1,000 petroglyphs in and around the cave, and some of them are quite interesting.

Take this one for example. When I saw the petroglyph above, I immediately thought what you are probably thinking. Looks like a dorje, right? When the University of California experts visited the site, they came away with an entirely different impression. They saw the pattern of a rattlesnake, so they claimed this was a rattlesnake shaman's place. If all we do is try to assign meaning to petroglyphs, then all we are going to receive is the mirror image of our discrimination... of our feeling.

Throw it away --- throw it all away. Just this once -- come time travel with me.

Men write on the earth, but so does the sky. The light and shadow are showing the way. The clouds have drawn a scorpion on the mountain at the right. That mountain is a father mountain. The mountain on the left is a mother mountain. In the center, is a red child mountain.

Crossing the expanse, we come upon sentinels -- small features that echo large features -- the signposts of the elements, replicating themselves.

So easy to see -- here was their temple, here was their altar. The tree that now grows in the center of the altar has been reborn as many times as I have.

Smaller sentinels align with the larger sentinels, and those sentinels align with the mountains. These alignments, in turn, form their own alignment with the sun and moon.

Following the route thus far, we receive a letter from an old magician, telling us that using one time to infer another is risky business. It is so much better to leave the present to itself, without having too many ideas.

When the figures in the sky begin to match the figures on the rock faces, the old magician's letter dissolves into itself and disappears.

Sounding the echo of beliefs is something that we all do.

Three or four years ago, I wrote a little book called High Desert, in which I offered the following comment. I am sharing this comment with you today because we are arriving at the actual topic of this post -- not petroglyphs, as you may have suspected -- but instead,  the topic of experiential investigation leading to some understanding of the nature of one's own mind.
"There comes a point -- usually after you think you leave your teacher -- when everything becomes a manifestation of your teacher's mind. I do not want to pick on this, I just want to tell you this happens, or remind you as the case may be."
So, here are two inscrutables to ponder. We have drawings scratched on rocks, which may or may not be what we consider overtly "spiritual" in character, and then we have the point when everything becomes a manifestation of your teacher's mind.

If, as Longchenpa has stated, pristine awareness manifests as the teacher in the form of the elements -- well, then -- what have we here?

"Numerous worlds may burn up

In the most inconceivable way, 

Yet space cannot be burned. 

So it is, also, with self-existing wisdom. 

                                   -The Gandharvyuha Sutra

May it be auspicious.

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3 reader comments:

Padma Kadag said...

Spent some years on the Klamath River with an Indian Doctor and "Seer" wife. A couple of things come to mind...No matter how many theories there are relating to origins of the North American tribes I always rely on their explanation and usually it refers to their having always been there...coming up from the ground or down the river when the world was still not baked. Also, the healing and the ceremonies are/were motivated by bodhicitta.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful quote by Longchenpa.

Sometimes this view is hard to remember, and then also there is the fact that when one acts according to it one is viewed as unorthodox and problematic. Merely placing photos of family on the same level as one's teacher on a table can cause some people to criticize and even get upset in some places (in India especially - one speaks from experience).

Then I remember our teacher saying, "the more realized you become, the more the people should see you as a normal human being." Essentially he was a secret hidden yogi, and he advised his students to be the same. Secret, quiet, and hidden, despite their awareness / achievements - appearing as the other average people on the street; totally average looking in every way.

Then there is this little story this post brings to mind:

"Ikkyu is one of the greatest masters, a very rare, revolutionary, nonconformist. Once he stayed in a temple. The night was very cold and there were three wooden Buddhas in the temple, so he burned one Buddha to warm himself. The priest became aware -- he was fast asleep, it was in the middle of the night and the night was very cold -- he became aware that something was going on, so he looked.

Buddha was burning! -- and this man Ikkyu was sitting, happy, warming his hands. The priest became mad; he said, "What are you doing? Are you a madman? -- and I thought you to be a Buddhist monk, that's why I allowed you to stay in the temple. And you have done the most sacrilegious act."
Ikkyu looked at the priest and said, "But the buddha within me was feeling very cold. So it was a question whether to sacrifice the living Buddha to the wooden one, or to sacrifice the wooden one to the living one. And I decided for life."

But the priest was so mad with anger, he couldn't listen to what Ikkyu was saying. He said, "You are a madman. You simply get out of here! You have burned Buddha."

So Ikkyu started to poke the burned Buddha -- ashes were there, the statue was almost completely finished. He started to poke with a stick. The priest asked, "What are you doing?"
He said, "I am trying to find the bones of Buddha."

So the priest laughed, he said, "You are either a fool or a madman. And you are absolutely mad! You cannot find bones there, because it is just a wooden Buddha."

Ikkyu laughed, he said, "Then bring the other two. The night is still very cold and the morning is still far away."

This Ikkyu was a very rare man. He was turned out immediately, out of the temple. In the morning he was sitting just on the side of the street outside the temple -- worshipping a milestone, putting flowers, doing his prayers. So the priest said, "You fool! In the night you misbehaved with Buddha. What have you done? You have committed a sin, and now what are you doing with this milestone? This is not a statue."

Ikkyu said, "When you want to pray, everything is a statue. At that time the buddha within was feeling very cold. At this time the buddha within is feeling very prayerful."

This man Ikkyu had thousands of disciples all over the country, and he used to wander from one place to another to help disciples."

our Teacher left over 2500 years ago but he still is with us when we look and notice

LL said...

In the Lanfair Valley, about 100-150 miles (give or take) east of you there is a low rocky hill with a deep Indian well at its base. The rocks around the well are covered with glyphs. I think you'd find the place interesting as I have. There is a magical quality there.

The last time I was there the well had water in it about 30 feet down. I have no idea how deep the well is. It's a rocky hole more or less straight down Based on the vegetation around it, no water has gushed from that spot in some time. There is nothing in the vegetation that would suggest such a well.

I don't know if you've been there. I can fetch the geocords from my GPS if you're interested. BLM must know of its existence but they haven't marked it or done anything in the way of protecting it. I suspect they feel that if they do, people might come and destroy it (and I agree).