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Luminous Darkness. By Deborah Eden Tull. A Book Review

The book is due to be available in US shops from around 27 September 2022.

Two common metaphors co-exist in the spiritual and psychological world.  Application of these two metaphors have become familiar to many of us. We have taken both for granted with light representing the positive and the dark representing the negative.

In her book, Deborah Eden Tull, endeavours to encourage readers to step out of this dualistic metaphor and direct spiritual practice towards the darkness. This reminds practitioners to explore the dark and embrace the unknown.

The desire to hold onto historical impressions and conclusions about the dangers of the dark inhibits the opportunity to penetrate the unknown. It is not easy to take steps into the unknown giving the opportunity to bring light into areas of life frequently ignored, neglected or rejected.

The seeker of Truth has the opportunity discovery insights hidden away due to the attraction towards the light and ignoring of the dark. Spiritual and mystical traditions, including the Buddhist tradition, have given priority to light as the means to dispel the darkness.

The Buddha woke up under the Tree of EnLIGHTenment. Deborah Tull advocates Endarkenment, as a language acknowledging the importance of light and dark. After his experience, under the tree, the Buddha referred to the light, which lit up his whole being and life itself – an ultimate language rather than dualistic.

Her book urges us to address any dark areas of a reader’s life.  I would give examples such as hidden corners of the mind, fears, resistance and unwillingness to encounter adventure through stepping into the unknown. Her approach dissolves the edges of light and dark, so our view does not fall into such a dualism.

The book has a special pertinence given the darkness over the Earth – uncertainty, dictatorships (in democracy/non-democracy), climate upheavals, wars, energy crisis and more. The illumination of the darkness and learning to live with insecurity confirms expressions of embracing the unknown.

Her book addresses the physical manifestations of light and dark, as well as the symbolic invitation of darkness including learning to make friendship with the night hours. Deborah Tull’s reminds readers the path of waking up includes understanding that “meditation reveals the human realm is not the only realm.”

Meditation encourages us to open the heart and mind to listen to ourselves, to wise teachings but also to the voices of the animals and the natural world.

The book adopts a frequent four-fold format often found in the current generation of spiritual books with its benefits and limits.
1. The teachings.
2. Frequent use of ‘we’ language in the paragraphs.
3. Author includes regular personal stories.
4. Short section at the end of each chapter for practice/inquiry.

The text provides an overall readability for beginners and those with depth of practice but, in my view, needs more of the sharp, cutting edge of a critique to shake up the consciousness of the reader. Luminous Darkness does offer several cuts to the bone comments.

Here are examples. To her credit, she writes (Page 21) in her chapter on Refining Darkness.

“I believe there are profound implications in our historical and collective rejection of darkness. The continual reference of darkness is negative and sinister. And the assumed divide between light and dark has created a severe tear in the fabric of human relationship.

It has caused a dualistic fracture in how we see everything good, bad, right wrong, higher, lower worthy unworthy.

“These dualistic associations have contributed to systematic racism, plus sexism, misogyny, sexism, domination over nature, and the demonization of mental illness and physical disability. “

“Hierarchy creates an unsustainable order of the human mind.”

These are powerful statements to inspire any thoughtful and caring person to reflect on.

What is the resolution of corrupt systems and hierarchy? What will change patriarchal Buddhism? It is easy to see the failings of our institutions, but we need guidelines and application of the alternatives. One extreme is hierarchy/patriarchy. The other extreme makes gross mythological generalisations that we are all equal. Buddha-Dharma explores the middle way.

In her introduction, the author said the “teachings and enlightenment saved my life.” In a heading on page 5, she wrote enlightenment is neither and end nor goal. I assume she means enlightenment at expense of endarkenment. If there is no goal, then there is no path nor practice or only an endless path and practice.

Features in the Dark

The author reminds readers of the practical aspects of the dark, such as making natural processes possible by physical darkness. Process includes the embryo resting in the dark of the womb for nine months, the caterpillar in a silky cocoon and the seeds in the garden requiring the absence of light for germination.

The mind can produce monsters, demons and painful fantasies out of the dark. Exposure to the unresolved corners of the mind in this underworld can make a major impact. Projections, trauma and forebodings influence our views, perceptions, feeling and emotions, including impacting on our health. A person may not know what to do when facing such painful presentations. This means requires the support of another or others. Rightly so, she endorses exploring the dark and embracing the dark.

Tull refers to her childhood, her relationship with her father (her ‘first spiritual teacher’), her Jewish upbringing, her Dharma practice, dealing with Lyme Disease and daily life.

As a monk, she experienced the hierarchical power structure in the monastery (page 113). She said she “allowed the hierarchical power structure to undermine her kindred relationship with my own female body.” …I had not yet seen the limitations of this structure… Only when I brought more awareness to hierarchy, did my personal practice begin to mature.”

She points out that power is exerting one’s will and force onto the world (page 157). The Buddha expressed deep concern about the abuse of power. He referred to the five powers of mind – trust, mindfulness, unification of mind, energy and wisdom.

Ego constructs of superiority and inferiority support hierarchy, which brings about anger or submission.

The author writes of her wish to integrate her whole self (Page 141) and writes elsewhere whole mind perceives wholeness (Page 152). The integrated self and the whole self are Jungian concepts, with a measure of truth but one can go deeper into the dark than that. She does go deeper from time to time. The book touches the depth of the dark rather than limiting it to self-interest.

In a luminous darkness, the world of I, me and mine lose all substance – neither fragmented nor whole, neither great self nor small self.

The light confirms the dark. The dark confirms the light.

The book needs to pass onto many Buddhist/mindfulness/meditation teachers and psychologists. There is a need to increase awareness of external factors for suffering due to aggressive social behaviour and the darkness in our problematic institutions rather than limit suffering and its resolution to the self.

A strongly recommended book.

Luminous Darkness
An Engaged Buddhist Approach
To Embrace the Unknown
Deborah Eden Tull
Shambhala Publications, USA,
2022
229 Pages.
$18.95

Deborah Eden Tull, a US citizen, is a Dharma teacher, public speaker and sustainability educator. She teaches Zen meditation.



Beyond Distraction. by Shaila Catherine. A Book Review

Dharma teachings/practices have a great strength to them. These strengths include the capacity to focus on direct experience, develop or transform these experiences giving nourishment clarity and insight to our daily life. Continue reading 



A Zoom Talk on Thursday 7 April 2022 at 19.00 – 20.30 Thai time. (14.00 – 15.30 CET) on the new book of Ajahn Buddhadasa of Thailand.

Ajahn Buddhadasa  has a new book out Seeing with the Eye of Dhamma.

Click on Photo.

If you love the Buddha-Dharma and know the value of meditation/reflection, then do secure a copy of the Seeing with the Eye of Dhamma. This new book covers the comprehensive teachings of Ajahn Buddhadasa of Wat Suanmoke (Monastery of the Garden of Liberation) outside Chai Ya in southern Thailand.

Translated by Dhammavidu and Santikaro, you can hear the Ajahn’s voice in the text as book consists of a translation of a selection of his public talks. The book addresses the core teachings of the Buddha in a language for the 21st century – a radical, insightful teaching with a depth respecting the human potential for profound realisations.

Zoom Talk Info. No registration required

Link to the information: https://web.facebook.com/suanmokkh.bkk
I will speak about some of the important features of the book along with anecdotes of my time with the Ajahn during my years as a Buddhist monk in Thailand.
Do lend an ear.
19.00 – 20.30 Thai time (14.00 -15.30 CET). Thursday 7 April 2022
JOIN ZOOM MEETING
https://bit.ly/3JDZsdW
Meeting ID: 487 652 6053
Passcode: 12345

The Buddha inspired a Buddhist tradition of more than 2000 years. The tradition includes responses to the Dhamma from illustrious teachers, including Buddhaghosa, Nagarjuna and Dogan. Ajahn Buddhadasa (1907 – 1993) stands in the same company as these masters.

Probably the most outspoken Thai teacher of the 20th century, Ajahn Buddhadasa called upon a radical change in priorities to make Buddhism fit for the 20th and 21st century. He addressed governments, religious leaders, educators, secular culture and spiritual seekers offering a diverse range of teachings.

He endorsed meditation, reflection, inquiry, research and public discussion to develop ethics and wisdom in daily life. His teachings regularly irritated conservative and liberal wings of the Buddha-Dharma with his determination to forge a middle way requiring boldness, realisations and vision. He does not fit into any kind of box.

Seeing with the Eye of Dhamma (Pali spelling. Sanskrit spelling: Dharma) embraces the expanse of his teachings, rich with insights, suitable for daily life. Readers will find in the pages a body of teachings to open the mind to the depth of the human experience. The book offers teachings/reflections on cultivation of the mind, inquiry into the self/ego, superstitious beliefs and the importance of the observation of life.

You will find explanations of the core Buddha’s teachings on mental suffering, conditionality, dependent arising, emptiness of self, the elements, mental concoctions, emptiness, the goal and Nirvana. As with the Buddha, the Ajahn steers away from identification with the religious features of Buddhism and its secular features, such as reliance on mindfulness. He has a truly expansive view of liberating insights.

There is a wealth of Buddhist academic books, Buddhist self-help books and books on specific Buddhist themes. Readers will benefit through contact with a wide range of important points, reflecting on them and applying into daily life. Grounded in direct experience, his teachings contain countless jewels in this straightforward text backed up with the deep teachings of the Buddha.

Ajahn Buddhadasa spent more than 60 years in the forest in southern Thailand engaged in meditations, reflections, study of the words of the Buddha, living close to the elements and teaching. He revealed an exceptional range of realisations throughout his life.

Translated by Dhammavidu and Santikaro, the text captures in English the teachings of Buddhadasa often given in a clearing under the trees to monks, nuns and householders.

Note to Readers: Ajahn means Teacher. Buddhadasa means Servant of the Buddha. Dhamma is the Pali (language of the Buddha) for the Sanskrit word Dharma – meaning teachings/practices and the nature of things.

A profound book provides a mid-opening reading experience. Seeing with the Eye of Dhamma falls into this category.

Seeing with the Eye of Dhamma
Ajahn Buddhadasa
translated by Bhikkhu Dhammavidu and Santikaro
Published 2022 by Shambala Inc, USA.
310 pages.
$22.95

Christopher Titmuss, a senior Dharma teacher in the West, offers retreats, facilitates pilgrimages and gives Zoom teachings worldwide. His teachings focus on insight meditation (vipassana), the expansive heart and enquiry into emptiness and liberation. Poet, blogger and social critic, he is the author of numerous books including Light on Enlightenment, The Political Buddha and Poems from the Edge of Time. Christopher is a former Buddhist monk in Thailand and India. His primary teachers were Ajahn Buddhadasa at Wat Suanmoke and Ajahn Dhammadharo at Wat Chai Na, Nakornsridhammaraj, Thailand. He lives in Totnes, Devon, England.

 



AWAKE WHERE YOU ARE. The Art of Embodied Awareness. By Martin Aylward. A Book Review.

I found AWAKE WHERE YOU ARE a refreshing book to read. Readable, practical, insightful with a wise priority – to develop and realise an embodied freedom.

The book captures the style of teaching of Martin through consistent reference to the immediacy of experience while pointing to a freedom beyond the limits of the immediate experience. AWAKE WHERE YOU ARE communicates a depth of wisdom. Continue reading 



Julian David, much respected Jungian Analyst, a visionary and a Totnes treasure. His new book: A SHORT HISTORY OF GOD

I received below this email message today announcing a new book by Julian David, a remarkable Jungian analyst, visionary and essayist. Continue reading 




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