Wu and Agape – Zen and Thelema

Off the back of a meditation on Charity wherein I had mentioned that despite having done a post on Agape already, I had more to discuss or elaborate upon. Today we will examine “Wu” of the Zen tradition, and dig deeper into Thelema and why the 93 Current represents not just Thelema, but also the oft overlooked Agape (love) component, as in Thelema’s credo: “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law, love is the law, love under will”. Allow me to emphasize two matters here: 1. that Eliphas Levi said in his Key of the Mysteries, as translated by Aleister Crowley, that it is before charity that “faith prostrates itself, and conquered science bows. There is here evidently something greater than humanity; charity proves by its works that it is not a dream.” 2. The Greek word Agape would be translated into Latin as caritas, which is the etymological root for the word ‘charity.’ From Corinthians: Caritas patiens est, benigna est. Caritas non aemulatur, non agit perperam, non inflatur; non est ambitiosa, non quaerit quae sua sunt, non irritatur, non cogitat malum; non gaudet super iniquitate, congaudet autem veritati… or in English: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.”

The Thelemic concept of True, or Pure Will is sadly too slippery for many who study Thelema or dabble in the occult and who happen upon the phrase and imagine it to be exalted circumstance or situation. “My true will is to be an actor, or a singer,” they claim, and believe that through “Magick” they shall manifest that end and thus attain a transcendence from the world by manifesting an ethereal dream upon earth. While artistic expression may be a part of one’s path, true will is about Samadhi and enlightened action (which is constant). Central to Buddhism there is the Law (translated as the “Dharma”) and if one is enlightened, they are considered to be One with the Dharma. In Zen, or Chan Buddhism, a Chinese Buddhist creation of sudden enlightenment which blended the native Confucianism, folk traditions and philosophy, so seeing the light behind the shapes of letters, it contained concepts such as being One with the Dao (or Way / Path), etc. Daoism has “Wu Wei” which is considered the heart of the Dao, and roughly translates as non-doing or ‘doing nothing’, implying no action being taken, and/or “effortless action”. It is to act without contrivances and unnaturalness… Or as Crowley put it, “For pure will, unassuaged of purpose, delivered from the lust of result, is every way perfect.”

“Wu” means not-have, or emptiness, yet is more than that and represents the Cosmic Space element (a rough equivalent to Spirit), “Sunyata” (void), and is often represented by the symbol of Vairocana Buddha (whose name means “he who is like the Sun”). Vairocana is usually mapped as being in the center of the four classical elements. Enlightenment would be when one turns the light of awareness around, from seeking externally to seeing internally and realizing that one’s true nature is “No-nature”, known also as one’s Buddha-Nature. (This achieved is “Kensho” which translates as “seeing one’s true nature.”) Everyone is a Buddha, though they must take responsibility and come through direct understanding themselves, and then function IN seeing themselves. Zen has four statements to summarize the school’s teaching, which are that it is: 1. A special transmission outside the scriptures, 2. Not founded upon words and letters. 3. By pointing directly to [one’s] mind, 4. It lets one see into [one’s own true] nature and [thus] attain Buddhahood. (Buddha etymologically comes from बुद्ध and means “awake”, “enlightened”, etc.) When in “occult samadhi” according to the Zen teachings, one eats when hungry and sleeps when tired, and respond to situations freely and spontaneously – this is enlightenment, not something whimsical and unattainable. “Yea! deem not of change: ye shall be as ye are, & not other.”

There is a division of action, where one manoeuvres through life and situation in accordance with the Way, or in accordance to the Dharma/Law, as opposed to acting Adharmic (which is to act in and/or cause division, contrivances, confusion, discord, suffering, etc.). Compare to Magick, which Crowley states we are always doing and it is conditional where one can be performing it well, or poorly, and he redefined magick as the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with Will. Zen is about suddenly realizing the root of suffering, and to achieve liberation right here, right now and to then take actions from playful samadhi. A translator of Zen texts, Charles Luk once said that in the earliest traditions of Chan Buddhism there were no fixed methods or formulas for teaching meditation, and that all instructions were heuristic methods to point to the true nature of the mind. He used as an example the Flower Sermon and the act of raising the flower, and said of Zen that it was referred to as the “Mind Dharma”. This is represented by the characters 心数 where 数 means number or count. If you look up “心数” in the Dictionary of Chinese Buddhist Terms: With Sanskrit and English by William Edward Soothill, and Lewis Hodous you will see beside it a note that: “The esoterics make Vairocana the Mind or Will.” (Let it also be known that the character 心 represents both heart, and the mind and implies Intuitive functioning). “Making Vairocana the Will” is to do “pure” or “true” Will. I will do a number of posts on enlightenment in Zen, the association of Vairocana Buddha and the use of its symbology, but for this discussion I wish to move us back to putting the light upon Wu and its relation to Agape.

Steve Odin’s The Social Self in Zen and American Pragmatism introduced me to the writing of Muto Kazuo who compared the Nothingness, Emptiness and Wu of Buddhism with the Christian concept of Agape. Muto uses as one example, how the New Testament says to “love your enemies as yourself,” but in order to “love your enemies as yourself” this paradoxically would mean that you must abandon the self. This indicates the operation of Nothingness that empties the self and transcends the self. Crowley, for example in the Book of Lies has a chapter on Samadhi titled The Stag Beetle, which contains the line: “In love the individuality is slain; who loves not love?” and to “love death therefore,” and to “die daily” (to which he leaves a note that by this he means to practice Samadhi every day.) Or we can look to the Book of the Law’s teaching of non-duality wherein Nuit says: “For I am divided for love’s sake, for the chance of union. This is the creation of the world, that the pain of division is as nothing, and the joy of dissolution all.”

Negative terms such as “self-sacrifice”, “self-negation”, “self-abandonment”, “self-emptying”, and “self-transcendence” describe Agape. Muto wrote: “Love must be the making empty and the negation of the self-centered ego. In other words, love must be to surrender body and mind to the function of nothingness (mu), which makes love be self-effacing. Love of one’s neighbour is the realization of the love of God as ‘Love-qua-Nothingness’ by turning the self toward others.” The work continues and is worth a read, though in brief summation designates a radical conversion from egocentric existence to that of an existence-for-others based on divine “self-emptying”.

Mahayana Buddhism has a Three-Body theory of Buddhahood (enlightenment) which are the Dharmakaya (truth body), Sambhogakaya (body of divine enjoyment; the bliss body) and the Nirmanakaya (body of transformation; physical manifestation). Vairocana represents the Dharmakaya, which according to Encyclopedia Britanica is a “body or collection of all the Buddha’s good qualities or dharmas, such as his wisdom, his compassion, his fortitude, his patience.” Vairocana represents each of us without the egoic-self, or having been stripped bare of the conditioned form. The Sambhogakaya, the bliss body, is when one has transformed the controlling five passions/poisons/desires, so that one can act without “binding” karma – to enjoy the pleasures of life in the Middle Way, without being hindered or without hindering others. When one has attained the Truth Body (selfless nature), the bliss body is employed in spreading the compassion and wisdom of Buddha (which is now one’s selfless-self) and is an impulse body to guide one’s actions in accordance with the Dharma.

Though Agape in Thelema, Wu in Zen, does not mean forced or contrived acts of charity or good doing. Zen Master Linji warned: “If you seek the buddha through karma-creating activities, Buddha becomes the great portent of birth-and-death.” (Suffering, samsara is implied by “birth-and-death” whereas Buddha is the transcendence of suffering, having realized its root. (At least in good health — though the decomposition of the elements is inevitable in life, which is why “dukkha” is the first of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism, something that often is abused by outsiders as seeing Buddhism as a depressing system, not seeing the meaning of this, nor the functionality of the teaching.

I will take pause here as I feel the next post examining Vairocana and enlightenment in Zen with comparisons to Thelema will be more appropriate for a self-contained post, which will likely follow this one. To wrap up this discussion, let’s enjoy a poem from Zen Master Bankei (1622-1693):
“If you think the mind
That attains enlightenment
Is mine
Your thoughts will wrestle, one with the other
These days I’m not bothering about
Getting enlightenment all the time
And the result is
I wake up in the morning feeling fine!
Praying for salvation in the world to come
Praying for your own selfish ends
Is only piling on more and more
Self-centeredness and arrogance.”

Good Friday and thoughts on Charity

⊙ in ♓︎

I am writing this on the evening of Good Friday following some recent meditations on Charity, and having read some literature relevant for today’s date. This coming Sunday, my wife and I will be gathering for Easter over a ham dinner with relatives, including some members of my family which I had fallen out of contact with for nearly a decade now. Good Friday, Pig, and Communion of sorts are the themes of today’s post with a little light shed onto Charity.

Eliphas Levi in the Science of Spirits explained eloquently the symbolism of Communion. He had said that in Christ’s revealing the law of unity which is the law of love, armed with the power to overcome the selfishness of the flesh, which is division and death, had instituted a sign called Communion. He said of communion, that it was nothing other than charity represented by a common table, and as Christ had given up his flesh to pain and death in order to bequeath his faithful the fraternal bread to which he attached his preserving thought, he said to them: “Eat all of you, this is my flesh!” as he said of the wine of fraternity: “Drink, all of you, this is my blood, for I will pour it out in its entirety to assure you of the reality of this sign forever.” I wrote in my post ‘Meditating on Agape and Thelema’ of the Eucharist, the communion known as an “Agape Feast” which is a topic I will be touching upon soon, given that I had since read something interesting and relevant from the Zen tradition. I wish to do a follow-up post on the matter in the near future but must put a pin in that for now, so check back in the coming week for that discussion.

Back to Levi’s Science of Spirits, which includes a tale which I wish to paraphrase and present here today. It is a parable about charity, and it is illustrated by the ascetic Saint Spyridon (who had lived approximately c. 270-348.) It is said that it was a Good Friday following the Lent period (abstaining from meat for 40 days), and Spyridon’s food of the holy quarantine were exhausted, and as he was to spend this day and the next without consuming any food at all, he had nothing at home but a piece of pig’s flesh hanging from the smoke of the fireplace which he had reserved for an Easter feast. An unexpected knock happened upon his door, and he opened it to find a traveller exhausted with fatigue. The bishop received him with alacrity and surrounded him with paternal care; but he soon discovered that his guest was about to faint from starvation. It was too late to go elsewhere and the city was quite far away. Without hesitation, Spyridon cut a piece of salted meat, cooked it and presented it to the traveller who rejected it with astonishment and fear: “I am a Christian, Father” he said, “so how can you offer me flesh to eat today! Do you think I am capable of insulting the death of Christ, our master by my intemperance?”

“I am a Christian like you, my son,” Spyridon replied gently, “and what is more, I am a bishop, that is to say, a pastor and a doctor. It is as a doctor that I offer you this food, the only food I can offer you. You are exhausted, and tomorrow it may be too late to save your life, so eat this food which I bless, and live.” — “Never,” replied the traveller, “for you advise me what you would not do yourself.” — “What I would not do for myself perhaps,” said the old man, “but what I would certainly do for you, as you are going to do for me, who is begging you. Here, would you like me to put some of this meat in my mouth to encourage you to use it without scruples?” And so St. Spyridon took and ate some of the pork, to urge his guest to do the same; for charity, according to him, was a more imperative law than that of abstinence or fasting.

The traveller to deny sustenance, life, and charity would be a foolish person worthy of having a wheel broken over their head. For nothing is wiser, more harmonious, more moderate, more amiable than the spirit of charity. Charitas patiens est, benigna est. Charitas non aemulatur, non agit perperam, non inflatur; non est ambitiosa, non quaerit quae sua sunt, non irritatur, non cogitat malum; non gaudet super iniquitate, congaudet autem veritati.

Some fun: A foolish person was sometimes figuratively called a fish (ἰχθύς). This is fitting for today’s meditation as the sun is in Pisces (the fish). Moreso, ἰχθύς – ikhthús, is an alternate form of ΙΧΘΥΣ which is an acronym representing Ἰησοῦς Χριστός Θεοῦ Υἱός Σωτήρ. This acronym allows the letters to be traced within an eight spoked wheel (a symbol common to Sun worship – the Buddihst eightfold path, and a symbol of Christianity). The ichthys (fish) being a symbol of Jesus, known commonly as the Jesus fish.

Anyways… Aleister Crowley translated Eliphas Levi’s Key of the Mysteries in which we find the following: “Before charity, faith prostrates itself, and conquered science bows. There is here evidently something greater than humanity; charity proves by its works that it is not a dream.” – “Charity! word divine, sole word which makes God understood, word which contains a universal revelation!” It was on Good Friday that Jesus willingly suffered and died by crucifixion on the cross. The Key of the Mysteries also states: “It is by charity, finally, that the folly of the cross has become the wisdom of the nations, because every noble heart has understood that it is greater to believe with those who love and who devote themselves, than to doubt with the egoists and with the slaves of pleasure.”

I’ll wind down the post with that quote. It is an appropriate note to end on, and it will prepare us for our future discussion, as the next post will return our gaze upon the concept of Agape and will highlight how this is fitting for enlightenment within the Zen tradition, and how it parallels to Aleister Crowley’s Thelema.

Pisces is the last of the Signs, so represents the last stage of winter, or of night, and according to Crowley it may very well be called the Gateway of Resurrection. So as the sun sets as I write these words, I see no better way than to end this post than to say: Have a Good night.