Love, Law, and Ice Cold Water: Can Austere Practices Help You Find Your Place In The Universe?
What's love got to do with it?
If you’re reading the title of this, you might notice that among love, law, and ice cold water, one of these things is not like the other. You may be thinking that, maybe, one of these elements just doesn't fit, but I would challenge you to think twice. You will see by then end that ice cold water can actually help you understand love and law in a very deep and practical way. You may even be motivated to try some austere practices as a means to better understand your place in the universe.
As is appropriate at times like this, we start with a quote from a dead guy. The British poet Robert Browning lived in the late 1800s and stated with simple elegance that all is love yet all is law. With his unique lyrical grace, Browning described the universe and how it works while also representing the mood of times.
You see, it was an era of great optimism and hope fueled by advancements in all sorts of scientific, technological, and philosophical discoveries. The Western world was absorbing new ideas, mostly because of exposure to Eastern thought available largely due, for better or worse, to the British presence in India and China. While we can rightly condemn imperialism and violent conquest, one of the positive second order effects of international discourse was the absorption of new ideas.
Simultaneously, the world was witnessing engineering and production marvels provided increased living standards for everyone. Goods were getting cheaper, travel was more accessible, and there a general sense of optimism where people believed applying the scientific method could produce previously inconceivable well-being.
Quantum mechanics seemed to be proving what Eastern philosophy had held for thousands of years; that the Universe was void of any separate or permanent reality, that everything and everyone derives from the same omnipresent source and that matter (represented elegantly by Einstein’s 1905 mass-energy equivalence formula) was just energy in motion, vibrating at various rates, and yielding an infinite variety of forms.
Therefore, both science and spirituality held a metaphysical view of the universe that was pregnant with possibilities and people were seeing how ideas were the impetus for transforming universal energy into tangible goods. They posited that the process of creation was universal and followed a scientific formula. That being, first in mind and then in form.
All things begin in mind. Thoughts literally become things by imparting vibrations into the universe as a loving, creative, unified energy that manifests into multiplicity. Since the universe is based on consistent, reproducible scientific law there is a reliable order for creating anything and everything. And it all begins with thought vibrations. According to this metaphysical theory the path to creating new conditions begins with choosing a new thought and this way of thinking became known as the New Thought movement.
All The Love Is Already Given
Thought vibrations become amplified when given voice and speaking one’s intentions actually creates physical effects in the manifest world. Therefore, speaking your word is a creative act.
Westerners resonated with the ‘power of the word’ as found in the Christian Bible where it reads “in the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the Word was God” as well as God saying “let there be light” in order to create the heavens and earth.
New Thought metaphysicians deduced that if the universe was ordered according to certain, reproducible principles, as the scientific method had proven, then “the word” that generated vibrations to produce heaven and earth on the macro scale was equally applicable to individuals creating the life of their choosing at the micro level.
From this, teaching creative visualization to image your ideal life or desired outcomes, as well as the repetition of affirmations became a source of faith, believing that universal forces were mobilizing based upon these thought vibrations operating from consistent physical laws.
Applications in psychology, as well as personal success applications, most notably Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich, focused on the subconscious mind overcome personal limitations and create an ideal life. New Thought metaphysics has been the basis for many self-help or self-improvement strategies, as well as self-image psychology like Dr. Maxwell Maltz’ Psycho-Cybernetics.
Despite these repackaged, and largely commercial, applications for activating universal law through the power of thought vibration, even New Thought writers acknowledged these principles were timeless and derived from ancient sources, from almost every culture, that had discovered them long ago.
Law In Distant Shores
It just so happens that Japan has a unique tradition of ancient wisdom that describes these principles of love and law, and how of using the power of the word—meaning thought vibrations-- can create tangible benefits in the material world.
It’s called Shingon Buddhism and was introduced around the year 807 after a Japanese monk named Kukai returned from a year of study in China, learning a unique esoteric approach that emphasizes the repetition of words and phrases to unify the individual self with the totality of existence. In fact, Shingon literally means “true word” and is the Chinese and Japanese transcription of the Sanskrit word “mantra”.
To illustrate the structure of existence, the Shingon School uses two mandala offering transcendental maps of reality. These mandala are iconographic depictions of universal truth, yet explained from different perspectives. Western New Thought teachers also described the universe from two aspects as well, namely what it is and what it does. The New thought description simplified this, as Browning did, with the simple phrase all is love operating through law.
Love By Any Other Name
The two Shingon mandala also reveal these same principles. The Taizokai is also known as the matrix or womb mandala and is associated with compassion as the eternal giving-ness of the universe represented by the lotus flower. The other mandala is called the Kongokai or diamond hard, indestructible, wisdom of truth acting with the force of the mythical Vajra weapon, wielded with skill to bring order.
While the Taizokai shows that the love of the universal is ever-present and available to all, equally and at all times, the wisdom of the Kongokai requires discernment and, yes, even discrimination to create tangible good out of the unformed cosmic potential.
While Shingon texts do not use the same phrases, and I admit to intellectually stretching a bit to build this bridge with modern New Thought, the principles represented by the Taizokai and Kongokai mandala reveal that all is love, yet all is law.
Yet there is a deeper connection. Both New Thought and Shingon are said to be activated through the power of the word creating thought vibrations that reverberate to take effect in the deepest reaches of the cosmos. It requires faith that the universe handles the details once the law is set in motion. The principles are to be realized experientially because, ultimately, limited human faculties are incapable of grasping ultimate truth.
They also both rely upon mindfulness practices to get beyond the egocentric mind. The repetition of mantra in Shingon and affirmations in New Thought are working at the subconscious level where the higher faculties of mind are unhindered by the internal skeptic.
Further, sitting in meditation is an essential practice for not only quieting the mind of discursive chatter but also as a vehicle for installing positive visions of desired outcomes, and empowered states of being, for the practitioner.
The Ajikan meditation is a cornerstone practice for realizing Shingon teachings. It involves contemplating a depiction of a moon disc containing a lotus flower beneath the Sanskrit character for the “a” syllable. Perhaps you can see that the Taizokai and Kongokai mandala are represented within this symbol.
The moon disc represents the great void of all existence. Put another way, the moon disc symbolizes cosmic consciousness within which all reality exists.
The lotus flower represents the omnipresence of substance, the eternal giving-ness of the universe from which all material good flows.
The “a” syllable, written here in the Siddham script of ancient Sanskrit language, is known as the seed of all sound vibrations. The “a” syllable is the primordial sound that precedes all action in the universe whether by thought or verbalization. It represents intelligent action that creates definite effects out of the infinite field of potential.
In this way the vibrational movement of intelligence within the matrix of reality molds universal substance into phenomena. That may sound complicated yet, stated differently, it just describes cause and effect and the principle is the same on the individual level as well as the universal.
Those familiar with the Christian Bible may also see some similarities with the book of Genesis, chapter 1, verse 2 that states, in the beginning, the earth was void and without form until the spirit of God moved upon the waters.
When looking clearly at the principles involved, both New Thought and Shingon are describing the same creative process using different allegories.
Universal Laws Are...Well...Universal
The law of intelligence in action acts upon the universal "love" presence to create effects that we, as human beings, can experience.
Some of this is easy to see. We use a hammer to drive a nail. Cause and effect. Other processes are partially hidden.
New Thought teachers point to the sowing of a seed into the soil to grow a plant. There we can witness the seed going into the ground and a plant results, yet the activity taking place within the soil is beyond our control. We don’t command the seed and soil to interact, we merely trust that provide the right conditions of water, sunlight, and air nature will take its course.
The fertile ground of our own minds, in both New Thought and Shingon, is where we as human beings can use love and law to cultivate our own enlightenment.
Therefore, the task of the practitioner is to embody this truth by contemplating how these elements work, how substance and vibration, compassion and discernment, love and law operate within ourselves and the universe.
Ajikan meditation helps weave the thread of truth into the practitioner in a profound way and can be viewed as a precursor to all ‘creative visualization’ techniques espoused by success coaches and performance psychologists in modern practice everywhere from cognitive therapy, to business, to Olympic athletes.
The question then becomes how well can you hold the vision?
There are a variety of ways to practice creative visualization, just as there are a number of variations to the ajikan meditation. We can, possibly, explore those in another episode.
One distinctive aspect of Shingon Buddhism is the practice of austerities as a means of testing one’s focus and the ability to hold the object of contemplation despite distractions.
And that, my friends, is how I found myself chanting under the ice cold rush of a waterfall in the mountains of West Tokyo.
Takigyo is the Japanese term for waterfall meditation or waterfall purification. It is not unique to Shingon Buddhism, in fact, the start of Takigyo is associated with Shugendo, a uniquely Japanese amalgamation of spiritual practices and beliefs, focused on testing one’s discipline through asceticism which developed more than 100 years before the monk Kukai introduced Shingon to Japan.
The Japanese have always had a pension for assimilating traditions and Buddhism in Japan had to incorporate native beliefs in order to gain popular acceptance. Therefore, it is common to find Shingon ceremonies incorporating elements of Daoism, Shinto, and other folk practices. Takigyo is but one example.
Love What Is
Aside from proving one’s mettle, there are a number of health benefits available from the practice of Takigyo. The first comes from the body’s natural reaction to the ice cold water hitting your skin: you will take deep breaths to overcome the initial shock.
When done in conjunction with the chanting of a mantra, as Shingon practitioners do, the deep breathing will continue throughout the session bringing increased oxygenation of the cells.
Deep breathing as well as blood moving to where it’s needed most in response to the cold water will stimulate overall circulation. This will increase metabolism and aid in the body’s processing of food and other inputs.
Deep breathing also helps clean the waste byproducts of metabolism out of the body’s tissues through the lymphatic system. This clears the way for blood and nutrition to reach the organs and glands responsible for producing hormones which require perfect balance for optimum physiology and behavior.
The practice of Takigyo within the Shingon tradition promotes a healthy body, a calm mind, and spiritual realization. All necessary qualities to living a life you love.
With all these benefits there is a reason that Takigyo remains popular throughout Japan and some corporations actually require their new recruits to experience this practice as a rite of passage and team building exercise.
Even though I’m someone who always insisted on hot showers, after my initial Takigyo experience I find myself continually going back. I’ve done Takigyo on my own now several times and even add a cold minute at the end of my daily showers.
You may want to try it as well and see if ice cold water can help you realize how to use love and law in order to find your place in the universe.
Until next time, stay sharp, stay aware, and be well.
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