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V

veracity Intrinsic truth, the realization of what is such as it is, stated in intentional language drawn from direct experience, contrasted to truth attributed to an idea or belief for the purpose of utility, explanation, or argument.

Buddhist teachers expound at length on the doctrine of the "Two Truths," usually called conventional truth and absolute truth. The latter term is unfortunate, however, because the word "absolute" suggests rigidity and closure. It risks inviting a totalitarian attitude. H. V. Guenther suggests "symbolic or transcendental knowledge" for the second, higher kind of truth (Yuganaddha, p. 154ff.) Let's say that there is no absolute truth, but there is (may I suggest) ultimate or intrinsic truth. This distinction regarding the Two Truths affords an excellent approach to the subject of veracity.

In metahistorical discourse we examine beliefs to see if they are sane or insane, not if they are true or false. All through this site I have studiously avoided stating that any belief is true or false. "Jesus Christ was the only-begotten son of God." Is this statement of belief true or false? "We all receive an endowment of divine wisdom from Gaia, the living Earth." Is this statement true or false? One cannot say, and in any case, it doesn't matter. The question is wrongly stated. Better to ask, What is the veracity of this belief, this statement?

Metacritique presents three techniques for examining beliefs: defusing (by analysis of the rationale constructed around a belief), assessing (by examining the behavior produced by the belief), and dereasoning (by stripping away the reasons for adopting the belief). These techniques are explained at length, with examples in Metacritique, under John's Views.) But even with these rigorous techniques we do not arrive at veracity. We merely clear the way toward it.

As far as I know, veracity has been treated most lucidly and effectively by Ch'an and Zen masters and certain Buddhist sages of the Indian Mahayana and Tibetan traditions, especially Dzogchen. The genius of Asian mystical and metaphysical discourse is evident in the special use of language, called in Zen "direct pointing to Mind." Most examples of this type of communication are ineffable, however. Although the exchanges involve words, and may in fact appear as perfectly normal acts of communication, they are extremely difficult, if not impossible, to render in words. In Zen many exchanges occur between master and pupil, or between two masters, when veracity flashes like lightning, and then subsides. You have to be there, in the moment, in the action, to realize what is being expressed. The famous "Blue Cliff Record" contains dozens of such exchanges.

Despite the ineffability, some sense of veracity in Zen may be conveyed by this anecdote:

Two neophytes of Zen meditation were struggling with the desire to smoke, manifested by thoughts of smoking that perturb them while they are in zazen (sitting practice). After considerable frustration, they both went independently to their master to get advice on the problem. After the next zazen session, they met in the yard outside the meditation hall. One pupil lit up a cigarette and puffed with satisfaction, while the other stood by, obviously content not to smoke. After a moment they looked at each other with puzzlement.

"How come you're smoking and I'm not?" the non-smoker asked.

"Well, I'm not sure," the smoker replied. "I just did as the master said."

"So did I," said the other, puffing away. Again they looked at each other with mutual puzzlement. "Well, what did the master say to you?" the non-smoker asked.

" He told me not to smoke while meditating," the smoker replied. "What did he say to you?"

"He told me not to meditate while smoking," the other replied.

Commentary: In both cases, the language of the master was operative. It was intentionally framed to express something ineffable to the mind of each pupil. This anecdote shows how veracity can be stated in a down-to-earth manner, and the expression of ultimate truth comes into play through the most ordinary matters. Both pieces of advice were efficacious, but in different ways corresponding to the maturity of the pupils. The first pupil, less advanced, realized that he could smoke and meditate and not confuse the two. So he ceased to think about smoking while meditating. His mind was cleared. The second pupil, more advanced, was well on the way to the practice of Zen by constant meditation, every moment of the day, and the master had recognized this. When he was told not to mediate while smoking, he was actually nudged by the master to realize that he was not able not to meditate — i.e., he was very close to enlightenment, total and uninterrupted absorption in the emptiness of the mind-nature — and as long as he was going to meditate continually, he was free to forgo smoking. And anything else, for that matter!

For the second best version of veracity, we can look to Buddhist teachings on the two kinds of truth, a subject lavishly treated in sutras and commentaries. H. V. Guenther provides some reliable points in Yuganaddha: "[Conventional truth] is the outcome of observation and experiment, analysis and even speculation... [Whereas ultimate truth] is neither conceptual nor philosophical but quite real and direct, vital and dynamic."

See also Two Truths.

I would propose that there are formal and immediate expressions of veracity, ultimate truth. The above example of the smoking and non-smoking Zen students is immediate. Truth is communicated in terms of the immediate situation. In formal expressions, truth is stated in language of a formal, but non-abstract composition:

A monk enquired the meaning of Prajna.
The Master replied: "If you suppose that anything is not Prajna, let me hear what it is?"
Student: "How then may we perceive our own nature?"
Master: "That which perceives is your own nature. Without it there could be no perception."
(John Blofeld, The ZenTeaching of Hui Hai, p. 118-9)

One more example of veracity from the Ch-an tradition. (I forget the source, but it may be the "Tsung Ching Record" cited by Blofeld.)

On debating if we witness Eternity by just perceiving things such as they are, some Ch'an monks argued that the yellow flowers are prajna (transcendent insight) and the green bamboo shoots are upaya (skillful means for acting on that insight). The debate ran on for generations. Finally, one student asked a Ch'an master, "Is it true that the yellow flowers are prajna and the green bamboo shoots are upaya?" The Master replied: "The one who understands his own mind will be correct in saying they are, and correct in saying they are not, but the one who does not understand his own mind will be wrong no matter what he said." This is high veracity.

"That which perceived is your own nature" is veracity in the formal mode.

vision story The recounting of something seen and experienced in a visionary state. Term proposed for "myth" in order to aviod the usual connotations which encourage us to dismiss myth as fiction, invented, false.

I propose that "vision story" can also be helpful in getting past the perennial misleading notion that myth is purely symbolic or "allegorical" in form. Something seen in a visionary manner has to be related in poetic terms, but the vision can be true to life, true to nature, even true to facts. Hence, the vision story relates something that is real and true but which demands participation so that those who receive the story can re-generate its content.

A myth is a vision story, a story that recounts a vision seen and enables that vision to be recaptured and relived. The imaginative power inherent to myth is self-recreating, a resurgent code. To understand a vision story is to inherit it, to become an instrument for its continuing unfoldment. Joseph Campbell wrote that "traditional mythologies, whether of the primitive or the higher cultures, antecede and control experience; whereas [ ] Creative Mythology is an effect and expression of experience." (Creative Mythology, p. 65) I would argue, however, that all traditional mythologies, at origin, are also "an effect and expression of experience."

Myths originate from a living vision and they express that vision, making it available to others, inviting participation. But myths can becoms fossilized, and they can turn toxic. Fossil myths are like fossil fuels: they can mobilize decadent civilizations but they poison the atmosphere for life.

The question of how myths come "to antecede and control experience" is a deep one. It requires going into global historical patterns to understand how a living myth fossilizes into an ideological program. The outstanding example of this process is the myth of the dying and resurrecting gods of Paganism, which collapsed and fossilized into the totalitarian mythos of "the only-begotten Son of God, Jesus Christ." Several books in the selected reading for the site look directly at this issue. The vast variety and suppleness of the Pagan "vegetation gods" is demonstrated by Frazer in The Golden Bough. In Chapter V of Beyond Theology, Alan Watts tackles the tricky issue of how and why Christianity came to dominate the Pagan mythologies it looted for its ritual and catechism. In Where the Wasteland Ends, Theodore Roszak argues that the imposition of the Judeo-Christian myth of the historical redeemer was a death-blow to the imaginative, myth-making powers of the human species.

H. V. Guenther writes that the expressions of artists, poets and seers are:

a commentary on a vision rather than a futile attempt to establish a system of supposedly universal truths [ ] or some preconceived scheme demanding the exclusion of everything which the propounder of this scheme is unable to fathom. Aesthetic awareness is certainly subjective in the sense that it must be "felt," experienced by the apprehending subject, but it is not "merely subjective" in the widely held sense of the phrase as being a passing personal whim. Beyond its subjective accessibility as a vividly moving experience of the aesthetic fact is the matrix from which all conscious life arises. (Buddhist Philosophy in Theory and Practice, p. 160. Italics added.)

What Guenther rather drily called "the aesthetic fact" is Beauty with a capital B. All myths are beautiful, even when they relate terrible and ugly events, because they arise from direct encounters with supernal beauty, things seen in the the supernatural dimension of the natural world.

Khal Bhairav, shamanic "wrathful deity,"
regarded as a manifestation of Haegriva,
guardian of future myths.
(Ratsch et al,Shamanism and Tantra
in the Himalayas
, No. 38, detail)

visionary trance The altered state of mind and senses that spontaneously enables higher learning through correlation of inner insight and outer, sense-filled revelation. The word "vision" comes from the Indo-European root weid-, source of words such as "wit" and "wisdom." This is also the root of the Sanskrit words vidya, "spiritual knowledge," and Veda, sacred teaching.

A visionary trance is a form of heightened attention in which one learns extra-ordinary things about nature, the self, and the cosmos at large. Going into trance is relatively easy, so the trick seems to be, holding the trance. (Somewhere along the way Castaneda made a similar observation regarding the "assemblage point": it is easy enough to shift, but difficult to maintain in the shifted position.) Trance is of course a practice basic to shamanism in all its variants, world-wide. This is the "archaic technique of ecstasy" (Eliade) par excellence. It can be achieved, with difficulty and long exertion, by meditation, and more easily through ingestion of psychoactive plants. It can be sustained by mudra (sacred gesture) and dance, or by developing powers of concentration that do not waver under the impact of awesomely intense download. "Discipline is the art of feeling awe." (Castaneda to Michael Ventura, circa 1987).

In visionary trance the shaman effectuates a triple connection: mind-body-nature, or mind-body-cosmos, if you prefer. With egodeath, the filters that condition our perception are momentarily removed. Personal identity may be conceived as a kind of lock that fixes these filters in place. When they dissolve, a flood of signals pour in—"information" from the cosmos at large. To call it information is risky, and perhaps misleading, because the flood consists of a range of living impulses, animated signals. This information is alive, like the cries of eagles and the songs of whales. Tibetan Buddhism features many examples of "tutelary dieties" who present this information in teachings and are themselves embodiments of it. The discipline of visionary trance consists in paying close attention to what is taught.

Moments of visionary trance can occur spontaneously, arising by a power of their own. A classic example is the two illuminations of German mystic Jacob Boehme, described in Cosmic Consciousness by Richard Maurice Bucke:

    Sitting one day in his room his eyes full upon a burnished pewter dish, which reflected the sunshine with such marvellous splendor that he fell into an inward ecstasy, and it seemed to him as if he could now look into the principles and deepest foundation of all things. He believed that it was only a fantasy, and in order to banish it from his mind he went out upon the green. But here he remarked that he gazed into the very heart of things, the very herbs and grass, and that actual nature harmonized with what he had inwardly seen...

    Surrounded by the divine light and replenished by heavenly knowledge... he there sat down and, viewing the herbs and grass of the field in his inward light, he saw into their essences, uses and properties, which were discovered to him by their lineaments, figures, and signatures. (Bucke, Case 10, p. 180 pp.)

In the trance state, within and without converge and there is no longer a clear distinction between what is inside the body and what is outside, yet the body is there, distince and intact. The convergence also operates at the cognitive level, so that the senses behold what the mind knows: "actual nature harmonized with what he has inwardly seen."

The visionary experience is often clairaudient: Boehme "recognized (that which in former visions had appeared to him chaotic and multifarious) as a unity, like a harp of many strings, of which each string is a separate instrument, while the whole is only one harp. He now recognized the divine order of nature..." I think it would be fair to call this description an early version of "String Theory." What scientists today mean by "strings" composing the cosmic order are tonal clusters or resonances that can actually be heard in visionary trance. String Theory is theoretical, but Boehme's science was experiential.

Other examples of visionary trance are the samadhi of Swami Yogananda (Autobiography of a Yogi, 1945), the March 1974 Gnostic illumination of Philip K. Dick, and the clairaudient downloading of the Duino Elegies by Rainer Maria Rilke.

Gnostics brought the shamanic method of visionary trance to a special focus by concentrating on the supernatural content of sense-perception. In effect, they read the hidden code of Gaia's life-processes, "the signatures of nature," to borrow a phrase from Boehme. They were "planetary intelligence agents" who learned directly from the Earth Goddess, the Magna Mater, so that they could teach coevolution with Her. Traditionally, shamans stand between nature (or the Nagual, the Sacred Other) and human society, and act as intermediaries between the two realms, but Gnostics did more: they brought into society the knowledge and tools for culture-making which they received from the living cosmos in states of transegoic reception. For them the visionary trance was a technique of higher learning.

Gnostics were known for a specific technique, the upright trance. This was a standing meditation, rather than a seated one. (The difference is vast and largely accounts for the contrast between Buddhist technique, static and seated, and Gnostic practice, dynamic and standing. These postures yield quite different results.) In this method Gnostics stood upright, gazing into the light (not natural light, but the organic radiance that becomes visible to heightened perception), and they also kept steady so that they did not "go under" the flood of illumination. Doing so, they were able to download the signals carried in torrential waves of living luminosity, Castaneda's "great bands of emanations." The untrained psychonaut, by contrast, will invariably slip into fantasies or succumb to hallucinations which are distortions of the primary instructive signals.

Trained adepts such as the teachers in the Mysteries were called "immovable" because they did not allow their attention to be swayed by the distractions of hallucinating, although they were capable of observing hallucinations to determine what produces them. Gnostics took a sacred vow not to hallucinate, so that they could learn as much as possible from visionary experience. I propose the term sacramental for the practice of trained cognitive ecstasy, as distinguished from recreational use ("tripping") of psychoactive plants in which fantasy, distraction and hallucination predominate.