In 2015 I had put up a post called The Qabalah Conundrum which contained a quote from a book by Amir D. Aczel, and in that post I was pointing at Hypnosis as being the key behind mysticism, and had linked it to alchemy and was spitting out hot iron balls at the time, but was essentially saying that all magical and mundane ritual is self-hypnosis. The key ritual I had referred to in that post was the Qabalistic Cross, due to it involving envisioning a white light and bringing it down to the head, and then throughout the body, and this comes after sending the four elements to the four quarters to “banish them”, (and after a process of enlarging oneself to be as if standing amid cosmic space). As I’ve been writing about the four elements a lot in regards to Buddhism, I wanted to write about this visualization meditation, to highlight a similar visualisation in the Zen tradition called the Soft Butter Method as made popular by Zen Master Hakuin. I will briefly touch on both of these due to their commonality.
In Arthur Waley’s Zen Buddhism And Its Relation To Art it is said that Zen is Self-Hypnosis. Hypnosis and Mysticism go hand-and-hand. I have read online about people who do rituals such as the LBRP, and don’t seem to understand that their immersion is required, that they are generating effect, and that to have effect they need to engage in the moment via the ritual by doing it wholly. (An easy way to think of this is to envision being a child, and picking up a toy. If it was a loved toy, the larger world would drop away, and voices and immersion would come, as if hypnotised by the toy into an altered state, whereby a variety of hallucinations were experienced. If you are walking and see a stick, and as you pick it up, envision it as a bayonet, you could ‘hypnotise’ yourself where the environment hadn’t changed, but the way it’s experienced is changed, as one is engaged in play as a stealth soldier.)
This intensity of immersion can be traced through to the roots of Qabalistic meditations. In The Mystery of the Aleph; Mathematics, The Kabbalah, and the Search for Infinity, Aczel writes of Rabbi Akiva’s teaching methods (Akiva, who wrote the Maaseh Merkava in the formation of the original Kabbalah): “The rabbi used biblical passages and chants he composed himself as vehicles for achieving meditative states of mind. One of these devices was an infinitely bright light the students visualised, symbolizing the chaluk, or robe which covered God when he appeared to Moses on Mount Sinai. In their meditations, the students strove to achieve the intensity of Moses as he witnessed the robed figure of God.”
So What is the Soft Butter Method? By this “soft butter”, it is meaning ghee. Ghee is the most highly refined form of butter, and in ancient India it was seen as a cure for all illnesses. Generally, in Buddhism, Ghee came to represent buddha nature (emptiness) and enlightenment. This can be seen in the koan collection titled Entangling Vines, wherein a Case has a closing line which goes, “Mazu felt as though he had just imbibed ghee” (in place of the common phrase of “suddenly [person] had a great awakening”). The specific koan is about Mazu practicing seated meditation when a Zen Master (Huairang) recognized Mazu as a true vessel of the dharma (having attained non-duality), and had asked him why he’s sitting and doing the act of Zazen (sitting meditation). Mazu replied that he does so as he wishes to become a buddha, so Huairang picks up a stone and rubs it against a tile, and when Mazu asks what he is doing, the master replies that he is polishing a tile to make a mirror. (This referring to meditating and cultivating ‘buddha nature’ or self-nature, non-dual mind). Symbolically, the tile is the “mind-ground”, and making it into a mirror, is cultivating the wisdom of self-reflection as explained in previous posts. (The Mind is the mirror, and is a symbolic representation of the mind-ground, which is Alayavijnana, which is emptiness).
We all can reach a point of stagnation, or discord. Zen Master Hakuin describes his “Zen Sickness” and tells a tale of how he came into the practice of the soft butter method visualisation. This visualisation process is similar to what is done in the Qabalistic Cross, where light is envisioned from the top of the head and going through the whole body. I’ll be providing some excerpts below of the meditation, but please visit this Buddhism Now page which contains the full meditation by Hakuin.
Hakuin writes that when one is exhausted in body and mind because the four constituent elements of the body are in a state of disharmony, one should gird up their spirit and perform this visualization: “Imagine that a lump of soft butter, pure in colour and fragrance and the size and shape of a duck egg, is suddenly placed on the top of your head. As it begins to slowly melt, it imparts an exquisite sensation, moistening and saturating your head within and without. It continues to ooze down, moistening your shoulders, elbows, and chest; permeating lungs, diaphragm, liver, stomach, and bowels; moving down the spine through the hips, pelvis, and buttocks.
“At that point, all the congestions that have accumulated within the five organs and six viscera, all the aches and pains in the abdomen and other affected parts, will follow the heart as it sinks downward into the lower body. As it does, you will distinctly hear a sound like that of water trickling from a higher to a lower place. It will move lower down through the lower body, suffusing the legs with beneficial warmth, until it reaches the soles of the feet, where it stops.”
The meditator should then repeat this visualization, adding further immersion such as scents and smells, and the warmth of the liquid, bringing the mind and body into harmony. It says: “If you continue to practise the contemplation with diligence, there is no illness that cannot be cured, no virtue that cannot be acquired, no level of sagehood that cannot be reached, no religious practice that cannot be mastered. Whether such results appear swiftly or slowly depends only upon how scrupulously you apply yourself.”
People who do the LBRP and QBL Cross find that it is a ritual that grows with beauty as one’s understanding of their actions, and their understanding of the ritual itself increases. I’ll break down the QBL Cross in a post dedicated entirely to it, though these light visualization meditations can be found in many traditions, and alleviate the mind and mental sufferings.
In Hakuin’s writing of the Soft Butter Method, he announces that he had been ill since youth, and that he had “turned to the gods for help. Prayed to the deities of both heaven and earth, begging them for their subtle, imperceptible assistance. I was marvellously blessed. They extended me their support and protection. I came upon this wonderful method of soft-butter contemplation. My joy knew no bounds. I immediately set about practising it with total and single-minded determination. Before even a month was out, my troubles had almost totally vanished. Since that time, I’ve never been the least bit bothered by any complaint, physical or mental.”
If you’re looking for a daily ritual, you should consider adding the LBRP+QBL Cross, or the Soft Butter Method for their ease of performance, and their self-transformative powers, which requires putting in the work and setting aside duality-based ego-mind to immerse in a playful samadhi where the effects of the ritual becomes apparent.