In Tibetan Buddhism, Mt Kailash is the most magical site on the earth, the abode of the father and mother of the world. The Hopis acknowledge it as the other end of the world backbone that sticks up as their Black Mesa. It is called Mt Kailash by the Europeans; Kang Rinpoche, or Snow Jewel by Tibetans; Mt Meru by Indians. It is the spiritual crown of the planet, atop the very northernmost sector of the Himalayas, in the most remote region of Tibet.
-Circling The Sacred Mountain
One year before the journey to Kailas, I had one of those dreams – you know the kind that reverberate through your life for years to come like a signpost on the inner journey.
In the dream, I was in a sanctuary and carefully unwrapping a sacred object on the altar. Inside was an octahedron shaped diamond that radiated blue white fire from its centre through each of its faces. Surrounding the diamond was a glorious sapphire blue aura that pulsed and danced with energy. Contemplating this I realised that it was my greatest treasure, and in that moment I heard an inner voice asking me to ‘put it in the fire’. I raised it up and watched with a mixture of grief and fascination as the centre of the diamond began to burn with an intense flame that eventually spread to the whole sphere. I awoke in tears but feeling strangely exhilarated.
Around the same time, I became aware of a deep calling to journey to Mt Kailash for the Wesak full moon in May 2000. In the esoteric teachings of Alice Bailey, the year 2000 is spoken of as the year of the Shamballic Impact where spiritual energy is released directly from the spiritual crown centre of the planet into humanity. This impact allows for the shattering of old structures of thinking (and the systems that are built on it) and the anchoring of new patterns. A spiritual infusion as it were. In Tibetan legend, Shambhala is a magic hidden country of highly evolved bodhisattvas (enlightened beings dedicated to serving humanity) who will one day liberate the planet into a new era of happiness.
Seekers from many different traditions associate the legend with the area around Kailash and have been making the sacred pilgrimage around this pyramid shaped mountain for more than a thousand years. To us it was a dharma journey – one where it is necessary to move through both an inner and outer landscape that are inextricably connected.
In researching the trip I came across the book ‘Circling the Sacred Mountain’ by Robert Thurman and Tad Wise published in 1999. It is an account of just such a journey made by nine individuals two years before. Thurman is a western scholar of Tibetan buddhism and a friend of The Dalai Lama. On the trip he and his fellow travellers studied ‘the Blade Wheel of Mind Reform’ – an ancient form of tantric practise that cuts at the very root of the self-concept. Central to the practise is a deity called Yamantaka or literally, ‘Death Exterminator’ who represents the apocalyptic revelation of liberating wisdom in the Vajrayana (Diamond thunderbolt vehicle) of esoteric buddhism.
Contemplating Yamantaka I had a similar feeling of grief and fascination as I had experienced in my dream so I decided to adopt him during our journey.
To understand Yamantaka and the Blade Wheel it is necessary to look at the subject of psychological or ego-death:[PLACEHOLDER]
At the centre of the earth, there stands a great mountain, Lord of Snows, majestic, rooted in the sea, Its summit wreathed in clouds, A measuring rod for all creation.
– Kalidasa ( 4th Century )
“Spiritual freedom and transformation of consciousness seem to depend on an ego death that involves letting go of a particular structure or sense of identity in order that a more encompassing, more complex sense of unity may emerge. Wilber posits the aim of evolution as the realisation of ultimate unity in Spirit, for which ego death is necessary.”
“The release factor in this case is indeed a type of death; it is real dying to an exclusive identity with a lower structure in order to awaken, via love-expansion or transcendence, to a higher-order life and unity. In this sense, such death-and-transcendence occurs at every stage of growth, matter to body to mind to bodymind to spirit. One accepts the death and release of the lower stage in order to find the life and unity of the next higher stage, and so on until either growth arrests and preservation alone sets in, or actual spirit is resurrected in the Great Death of final transcendence and ultimate unity.”
Shadows of The Sacred, by Frances Vaughan
The two main deaths, which are of course rebirths, could be viewed as the death of the personality and the death of the soul. The former occurs when the personal life of acquisition and activity begins to pall. Humans begin to take seriously the questions of ‘who am I? ‘ and ‘what is my purpose?’ An existential search continues through processes of disidentification with the body, emotions and mind to find the ‘soul’ within.
A point occurs where the transition occurs in identity from the personal self to the transpersonal. Instead of being a personality who has a soul or higher self, the identity shifts to the higher self, who expresses through a personality. It is often precipitated by a crisis of some kind where the choice is between action sourced in the love which is the true nature of soul or the fear and self assertion of the personality.
This is a fundamental shift but the next major death is even more radical. While the first requires the release of a restricted identity for a more expansive one, the second requires the release of identity altogether.
Identity is plural – for there to be a ‘self’ there must be ‘not self’ and so duality and then multiplicity is inherent in identity. The only way to experience the non-dual ground of being, or spirit, is for there to be no-one to experience it. This is the meaning behind the Tibetan teaching that there is no ‘soul’ – that the idea of a self, even a higher self is an illusion. A necessary illusion – as the old adage goes “you have to become someone before you can become no-one” but an illusion nevertheless.
It is this preoccupation with a self that Yamantaka destroys and thus liberates the ‘selfconcious soul’ into the life of spirit. This is the paradox – what seems to be death turns out to be the conqueror of death.
It is said that when the gods see Yamantaka, he is so fierce that they lose control of their bowels! He is the end of gods and humans, for both are identity bound. Not an easy liberator to invoke! And of course, this ‘god to end all gods’ is himself an illusion – more like a gateway between the soul and the source.
The Blade Wheel practise begins where most disidentification techniques leave off – the diamond soul. We realise our deep identity within the ‘jewel in the lotus’ when we are able to transcend and include lesser identifications – the causal body, the personal self, the mind, emotions and body. Instead of resting in that identity, the Blade Wheel challenges us to go even deeper.
“…The diamond is that sense of a unique, absolute and substantial inner core, and when it spins around looking for itself it becomes a drill.
The ‘self’ that is the witness and observer of the contents of consciousness, now turns its attention upon itself and begins to unravel the core ‘knot’ of identity. The process intensifies, until the whole subject-object illusion begins to dissolve.
Then suddenly you feel you’re as open as the sky. Suddenly you can’t find the looker who wants to look, and you can’t find what the looker hasn’t found, and you can’t find the not-finding. You suddenly melt and become like empty space as if the wind is flowing through you…and then your absoluteness melts itself, like fire sticks rubbing until they kindle themselves into flame, like a diamond cutting through itself, like nuclear fission or solar fusion.”
As I began to work with these non-dual practices on my journey, the images from my dream became crystal clear. The ‘self’ I had been developing so carefully perhaps for lifetimes was fully grown. The fire at the centre of the diamond was the beginning of a liberating fusion process that, like the sun, would eventually burn up all traces of a self.
My experiences in the Himalayas and around Kailash gave me a taste of that ‘death’. Before each ‘nondual’ flash my ‘I’ became extremely jittery and then, at the moment of release, exhilaration, then the void and later, upon re-entering ‘self-consciousness’, deep amusement. An amusement that reminded me of that quote by a sage whose name I don’t presently remember: “You are unhappy because 99% of everything you do is for your self — and there isn’t one!”[PLACEHOLDER]