Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
This is the dry season where I live, and the fires have started. Right now, the Mexican state of Morelos has an estimated 50 blazes, large and small, on its numerous hilltops and forested areas. Yesterday, I walked up close to one, to witness the drama of the process, and last evening watched the flames from another one on a cliff-top about a half-mile from my porch. This morning, the smoke is still rising there in thick plumes, even if the village itself seems safe for now.
Last year, the blazes became so numerous around us that people with breathing problems had to move out, and others with homes on the fringe of the community were considering evacuating. All construction and farm work stopped as the younger (and not so young) men went up in the hills to clear underbrush and beat out the flames. Eventually, two helicopters were required to water-bomb the fires to eliminate them.
Fire is both primal and complex, in its character and its effects. Here, provided the springtime winds don’t fan it to dangerously vigorous levels (as I saw happening yesterday), it clears out underbrush and provides a layer of ash that fertilises the soil. I thought last year’s scars would persist, but with the summer rains, new vegetation obliterated them in weeks. So, the fire is renewing as well as destructive. Its savage aesthetics are hypnotic, as well as saddening. This one set me reflecting on the topic of joy and suffering.
When Crowley received The Book of the Law, he was upset, almost outraged, at the verse (II, 9), “Remember all ye that existence is pure joy; that all sorrows are but as the shadows; they pass & are done; but there is that which remains.” As an avowed Buddhist (albeit one who had just been dabbling in Sufism), he believed in sorrow as a secure baseline in spiritual studies. Dukkha, sorrow felt in all aspects of life, is a core notion in Buddhism, especially Theravada Buddhism, which was almost the only flavour available to an Englishman in Crowley’s day.
My reaction to the fire at this moment today is regret, as I look at a blackened hillside and bushes that might have become trees turned into charred remnants. In Qabalistic terms (see the recent post, Aeons and Souls), this is the Ruach in action, with its sense of being a separate self, confronting the vital world of the Nephesh, and feeling a loss. On a subtler level, there’s also the impermanence (Anicca) of the beauty of the smoke and the flames, which form exciting or fascinating patterns that are soon gone. There’s also the uncertainty factor: will this get out of control if the wind blows up?
Beyond this, there is a much less easily defined sense of the continuum. The Universe keeps on manifesting things – it has never been in a pure, steady state. Our own planet continues to produce new species of life, as it has done for billions of years. People keep on producing new permutations of old ideas and designs, or broadening our understanding of psychology, of human rights, or the interface between consciousness and the central nervous system.
It isn’t the newness that’s necessarily the source of the joy the Book mentions, though that can well be the case. But underlying and interpenetrating all that’s happening, including the passing shadows, is an irreducible level or plenum or void from which all things arise. This is the Neshamic level of appreciation. It seems the same as the animal appreciation of Nephesh, but it includes both that and Ruach, while being beyond them.
The point here, it seems, is not that the Buddhist perspective is wrong, but that our Book is urging us on to the next stage. Ruach-based perspectives are yielding, little by little, to broader ones. Thus, the regret that produces the perception of Dukkha, while still occurring (the ‘shadows’ still come and pass), is no longer going to be so important. The shift, the tilt, is towards an appreciation of Nuit, the All, away from the deep-rooted sense of individual self as the lynchpin of reality. There is that which remains.
Something like this was always the fruit of the attainment of Buddhism – or of profound Christian Grace. But, like the wildfire up on the cliff, creeping slowly in the morning sun, it is slowly spreading through a broad swathe of human comprehension. We can’t ignore that the experience is not a comfortable one, as a glance around the wider world will show us. But it’s happening.
Love is the law, love under will.