As I write this, I'm on an aircraft wrapping up yet another trip to China. Invariably, each one of these trips seems to produce a set of impressions that are polarized relative to my life in the United States. It is as though I have two different lives, creating a friction of sorts; and a current flows between them, which attracts an energy which couldn't be available in another way.
Among other things, I gain a greater and greater sense of living on a planet. A planet, furthermore, with a staggering amount of development and people on it. It's one thing to read about it in the news and see it on television, but when you are immersed in it firsthand, on both sides of the globe, it raises questions about the nature of our existence that go much deeper than current events — at least for me.
In working on the recent set of interpretations of Hieronymus Bosch, I wrote an introduction to a book I will be publishing in a few months that brings all of the material together. In it, I mentioned that Bosch represents the last great flowering of the esoteric symbolic art of the Middle Ages. That was exterminated, in a few short generations, by the Renaissance, which replaced (both in the arts and society at large) contemplation of the inner life with a form of outward literalism that has progressively damaged our ability to look inside ourselves and bring ourselves into relationship. It isn't, of course, that we ought not look outward, study the sciences, create cultures and societies, and so on; it is just that that is, for the most part, all we do, and even our religions have lost their inward look. They are now the products of marketing and television. Even the Buddhists, who pride themselves on their supposedly inwardness, publish glossy magazines with slick articles and merchandise expensive meditation accessories. They think they are different; I suppose I can't blame them. Everyone thinks they are different, but everyone is actually the same.
This loss of inwardness is tragic, because we cannot form a real life without inwardness. It astonishes me, from day to day, to move through life outside of esoteric circles and discover that almost no one is interested in any way in this question. I often bring ideas from my inner studies to people's immediate lives, without telling them where the ideas come from — and almost invariably, the people stop for a moment and realize that something different is happening, something they aren't familiar with and don't know anything about. For a moment or two, they are excited; they are touched by a sense of the mystery of life. The effect, however, is generally short-lived; the parts of people that can receive such material are tragically atrophied. Even those who have such parts don't have parts that function well; one in 100, if not less, understands that something significant has taken place and pays a bit of real attention to it.
On this last trip I sat with some well-meaning Chinese Buddhists who are very enthusiastic about their practice, but they seemed to be more interested in how perfectly they could fold their legs into the full lotus position and how many hours they could sit in it than in taking in any real exchange on how one prepares oneself to receive an inner energy. It became apparent to me, during the conversation, that their only experience with this aspect of practice was basically theoretical, and that they hadn't ever met a school or teachers who could bring them to an immediate experience of the question. This kind of difficulty is ubiquitous; everything is competitive, and people are in a hurry to get results; such a hurry, in fact, that they often take the first thing that comes along and call it a result, even though it's just a theoretical impression.
I've been around a few people that spent 30 or 40 years doing just this and then suddenly had a real inner experience that shattered their whole world and all their assumptions; I went through that process myself, so I know what it feels like. One always thinks that the outer is the inner until one really has an encounter with the inner; and it is only then that one can begin to understand what a higher energy is, or why Bosch painted the paintings he left us with.
May your soul be filled with light.