The Nepsis Foundation: Mysticism- with self as the immediate field of research and universal mirror of the whole -refracted conversely, though with increasing clarity– until self disappears in its own ineffable origin. Possible?
Perception: Culture, genes- nature and the tremendum!
At some young moment it was the hope of this project to identify core human values that best describe a true ‘integration of knowledge’, a reconciliation between worlds; heaven and earth, spirit and matter–to mirror the Liturgy of the Hours and the Gospel–to be an Oracle of Salvation- “The Diamond Sutra,” “The Heart Sutra,” “The I Ching”… ‘on the road’ of an erring pilgrim. In the same process, this presentation distills a litany of experiences and their provenance that result from this priestly effort to ‘save the world.’
A major characteristic of this study has been that I personally experience as far as possible that which I study. Therefore, I should explain briefly what that has involved. The character of this background and my understanding of these topics and traditions is strongly influenced by experience lived within the folds of their wisdom. This includes six years of formal art studies and more than thirty years of making art; five years of monastic studies, two of which were lived in Benedictine and Trappist monasteries; five years of Roman Catholic seminary training which allowed the M.A. project, including the first trip to India for Buddhist studies as well as Shamanistic study and initiation; subsequently, there were ten years of continued interest in Buddhism starting with the first trip to India in 1980 to study with a high Nyingmapa lama in Derha Dun, Utter Pradesh (U. P.), followed by two subsequent trips to India and Nepal, one to study the art form of the mandala with high Gelugpa lamas at the headquarters of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, another high Nyingmapa lama, His Holiness Mindriling Rimpoche and others best left unnamed. This Buddhist research concluded with six week hiking trek in Nepal to the remote Manirimdu festival in 1992, which included Lama dancing and the construction of an elaborate sand mandala within their ritual pattern. As well, there were exploratory visits to Hesychasic monasteries and the related practice over twenty years of frequent and long pilgrimages as a technique of conversion and alteration of consciousness–including the ‘prayer of the heart.’
I chose Buddhism for this study, among several reasons, because it represents a certain distillation in the yogic traditions of India that contain many of the world’s important schools of metaphysical training. Buddhism reforms these dominant Vedic systems of India out of which also grew the later Hinduism. I chose the Hesychasm to represent the Western phenomenon of Christianity since the Hesychasm best incorporates art and yogic practice in one completely Christian and still extant system. I studied Animistic Shamanism because I believed it to be a universal matrix of perceptive capacities out of which grows most, if not all mystical experience. In the Spring of 1990, this study included a three month stay at Zuni, New Mexico, one of the best preserved Native American cultures in the Northern Hemisphere with important Shamanistic elements still operative. Zuni was the climax of many such visits to Shamanistic or partially Shamanistic cultures and an ongoing interest in Shamanism. Another long stay, this time on the Navajo reservation for about six months to one year, more or less, concluded my Native American studies… Certain Chinese martial arts refer in brief to the spiritual schools of the Far East, since Tai Chi and her sister arts are heavily influenced by both Buddhism and Taoism in the resolution of duality–stillness/action, empty/full… By exploring these vast territories under the guidance of some of the best minds and practitioners in each pertinent discipline, I hope to provide a more universal ground for the discussion of my topic.
Or, as a character from the Nepsis fictions, Fr. Adam, might say:
…perhaps, I am what the Navahos call a ‘two-heart’ or ‘split-heart,’ … Such a split-heart being is called a ‘Skin Walker’ in some quarters and is considered among the Din’e to be evil. I’m too well intended for that. Too civilized! All my training in family and school is all for the common good. But this ‘other’ path is none-the-less my Gift as well, for it might be that every object really does have a shadow that demands attention. This is my Way that God has provided and I must be true to it! I’ve explored the essential forms available for self-expression in academia, monastery, culture and ON THE ROAD! Through that is revealed a glimpse of our true identity in fields of color and perception– and what it is we must do. One advantage to this dual approach to everything is that it provides the reader or observer the opportunity to create their own third element of resolution. Their own gospel, so to speak.
Or, as he has informed a few agents and publishers of aesthetic and esoteric content:
‘After 30 years of study and practice in Religion and Aesthetics (PhD, Berkeley, 1995) I’ve written a book that reads like an adventure novel, but acts also as an oracle–ala the Tarot Cards, or I Ching, or Delphi. This book, THE NEPSIS FOUNDATION (or THE XIBALBA BIBLE, pronounced Sheebalba) is the public end of a process that has produced the PhD above, two Masters, Ordination as a Roman Catholic priest, and admission to private libraries and rare collections among other esoteric vales. There is to be a full, interactive CDROM version of the ORACLE OF XIBALBA of which the hard copy, THE NEPSIS FOUNDATION, is an abridged microcosm at 300,000 words. There is an earlier, shorter version about 80,000 words that made a formal transition from a strictly novel format to suggest the form of an oracle. This title is Indian Witches (or, How Dionysius Saved His Mother From Hell).
Or, from two letters written to apologize and ‘to explain myself’ to a group of kind, but mystified Friends:
December 7, 2006
Dear Fr. Joe (Robillard– (et al),
The book I include with this note is a montage of poems, A POEM OF VOICES, that describe the Nepsis contents. It’s meant to be a little humorous in reaction to writers who are always looking to find a ‘voice.’ I felt justified to meld these poems like this because for more than 30 years, I wrote a series of evocative, lyric poems in ‘one voice.’ Though, the sub-title of the work is “A Poem of Voices” in ref to its many influences that filter through one perception a cohesive complex of topics. Now my poetry is very different in that it abandons the obvious beauty of consistent rhythms and meter, or even a more abstract counter point of open space against intense particulars, in favor of a jarring confrontation of ideas and images, words and phrases that abandon grammar— though not completely and recast the use of punctuation and page layout to communicate as directed by a muse– the vision of which was that the NEPSIS FOUNDATION was an initiation! This poetic presentation is the last of the approaches I used to understand a particular complex of issues that help describe my understanding of perception: The paintings are probably the most useful vehicle to present the clarity, intimacy and vaulting splendor of our encounter with the ‘other’ world and the Abstract Expressionist intention to ‘out the unconscious.’ There are also as you know, the studies in which I depend almost entirely upon the expertise of others, especially Panikkar. Then there are the novels, which I’m told are readable though too academic to be page-turners for a popular audience. I’m told the sex scenes are ‘fantastic.’ Certainly, there is nothing in that regard graphically worse than other accepted Catholic authors like Andrew Greeley and Flannery O’Conner. These works evolve to abandon even the pretense of a novel for more archetypal cycles of short fiction mixed with poetry and essays that ‘GO SOMEWHERE, Bill’– But pretend still, with some justification, to exercise an oracular capacity. Finally, there is the liturgy for which the above has labored to create real metaphors, in fact all together, to create a single symbol for a liturgy of contemporary religious initiation.
At least it’s an evocative metaphysical, academic and aesthetic exercise.
The “Poem of Voices” is that last work in the Nepsis opus that I intended to publish in hard copy. I’m writing currently what I hope is a helpful foreword to the Berkeley presentation that I might title, “Beyond the Consolation of Sorcerers.” There is a list of reasons for choosing that little bit of shamanistic practice against which to counterpoint the more conventional, grander considerations in the history of mysticism… The draconian complexity of this tortuously slow progress is justified only by the beauteous wonder one must admit still before the—
I intended in this letter following, a prose explanation of some issues to two friends in England, the following (anti-) poem came out. For your re-creation:
Now comes our moment of truth: …the riparian bank– amidst a viscous alchemy, nestles sweet white blossoms between pebbles and grains of sandy loam interrupted by black roots–vigorous claims made upon another’s resource; we struggle against mechanics. Challenge intention. Our progeny: golem energy brooks little, cares little, a cell gone wild. Charities feed the slogging maw on its Sainte Terre path as much as its own …
Sweet blossoms waft. Soft fragrance. Kind breezes soothe. Still. Mother/Virgin. The kindness of strangers… who can resist?
And this is where you come in. In my poem. I complained to someone important that I had no congregation. You overheard and you kindly volunteered. Our first challenge was a gem. Well, it was about gems. Symbols. Silly really. A fascination. But with such pebbles and grains the bridge gets built. An impossible plan. Necessary.
Identity. What to do with technical skill? What’s to be with methodology? Clearly fact: Our stream clouds. Mud withholds its healing. Bark and birch hide their wonder. Give up and die rather than.
But now we are on the vast plains. Cold and heat moistly. Envelope my soul. Whipped a tornado. Out Church and Congress. ( …FEMA failed the new maid’s city). Last year, not this year. Out the government. Wash an inner eye while hurricane-force winds whip the sea. The Glory of IT.
Surprised where the psyche may be? Do you know? Who are you?
I meant to write to you and explain everything. But the ‘poem’ above came out. You were very tolerant with my intrusive and impossible request. Our sojourn near the mudflat, with the stoats and other gentry, energized me enough to make a decision. Though abrupt–I’m sorry–it’s brought me to where I need be and so you’ve been true friends and righteous congregants. (–The gold cross and chain might be behind the trunk where the Bactrian coin has gone…) I’m still unpacking from the To-Jerusalem trip. But now I have a lovely grey brick house and a whirlpool– on the ‘high plains.’ …where I intend to stay to mix my potents and
cast my staff.
P.S. You ask if I have had an interest in trying to resolve the macro/micro dichotomy: In a sense this has been for me an issue of central importance from early-on. In my first adult paintings, the issue was presented as large fields of color and space incised by jet- trail lines and geometric embellishments–the absolute and the particular. Much later, in the midst of a long pilgrimage, I had the sense at once of grandeur in the vaulting splendor of the psyche of the universe, counter-pointed by a most poignant sense of intimate tenderness at the same moment. It was too much for my tiny spirit to attend for very long…
While there is great interest in such issues of quantum truths and mechanical truths, as you mention, the origin of both matter and energy remains a Mystery. As much as I’ve tried to bridge the gap, Matter and Spirit remain separate categories. So, I have to stand with your Buddhists in this– Catholics, and others as well, at least intellectually. There is a ‘leap of faith’ that makes an interesting proposal at this juncture: Nature is deified by an ineffable ‘inner radiance.’ Nature is completed in the Holy. This brings us to the third of those Buddhist categories, ‘What problem?’ Pratityasamutpada: Primordial Law, Nairatmyavada: Identity, Avyakrtavastuni: No Answer. (See NF BOOK OF TRACTS, Book Three re these problems.)
And this brings us further to your quest for a larger understanding of Peace. I will not presume to expand your understanding. For one reason, your understanding of these things is very large. Two, I don’t know the parameters of your understanding. But I will take a stab in the dark with this: “You can’t get there from here.” I mean that trying to solve problems might help. Those who are suffering appreciate the help. But it can’t be said that ‘helping’ does not cause problems as well as solve them. (There are several semesters of Ethics here alone…and echoes of Arjuna) Allow me to assume those semesters and continue. Do nothing, then? One is a cad to use such an excuse to be selfish. The good of the whole is as important as the good of the one. But action can be egotistical and counter productive–one cannot see the future. The only other element that I see as potentially helpful is what academics like to call ‘intuition.’
So, I’ve made a point of developing the arts and crafts of intuition and allowing that to determine what to do. I didn’t think that I should wait to be ‘perfect in practice’ to follow this course described in the Nepsis papers. (I’m a little more sympathetic with the Nyingmapa than the Gelugpa in this.) So, what you say is true about the post-modern, deconstructionist, but also very traditional, qualities of this project. The only ‘answer’ is the process itself since the result of the process cannot be spoken or even thought. Advanced theories of physics may notice transcendent qualities of reality. But one cannot say that those qualities are the Transcendent. One may indeed understand someday the physics of the Big Bang, but that can never be qualified in such a way as to describe, other than metaphorically, its Origin.
P.S. …there is another facet of the gem that we’ve been discussing–i.e. Mysticism: This issue of the macrocosm/microcosm is of great importance: Its when the various ‘bits of tid’ caught in the web of nepsis.com had reached a point of coalescence in 2005 (in Huachuca, AZ) that it occurred to me that it had become an oracle of sorts, a duct for communications between worlds. I felt this was justified by the fact that after throwing the various elements of this project around for so long, its composition became a whole thing, i.e. it be came an entity itself, complete in itself and therefore as art this golem-like microcosm reflected the macrocosm that spawned it. If this truly is the case, I don’t know. But I am sufficiently satisfied that it is the case that claiming it to be an oracle is enough of a metaphor for speaking about that which might never be truly named and always skirts out of one’s reach at every approach, yet is always there at the heart of the meaning of reality—self justifying and radiant. For what its worth…
From an earlier Nepsis Foreword– (Remember, as with sacred scriptures, only a few extraordinary passages can be taken literally…)
As a successful, Hollywood, movie producer remarked, “…your book has some brilliant things in it but… it rambles, it roams, it circles, it meanders, and it really goes nowhere…” However, a world class scholar remarked about this work: “It is just this labyrinthine fantasy, this tortuously circuitous, often obscure expression and re-expression of an inner experience, turning again and again in on itself, that is the success of the pilgrimage, art and stories.” ‘It is exactly as real symbols of the inner processes of this erring way that the art has its meaning.’
I say that there is material of interest here for both a critical as well as popular sensibility:
Part of the genesis for this project is an artist’s resentment of the domination by rationalist/intellectual forces in the western Christian spiritual formation and in western culture generally. But, the real motivating force behind this project is much more positive. This motivation is to explore through the use of my own artistic intuitions, intellections, psychic, subtle and physiological sensitivities what is the fullest human response to reality, to the spiritual, the Holy; how we perceive “what is” and how we awaken to absolute reality. By doing that, I hope to aid in the resistance to an overly cerebral, material culture’s drunken stumbling towards nuclear or technological self- destruction, and its viciously aggressive, political and economic systems.
Some of these explorations stray into formats of popular fiction as well as the more elite realms of art and critical theory to discover among other issues, how both popular and critical compassion is defeated by other less altruistic forces.
…Of concern is the wholesale destruction of the world’s natural resources and the sacred, wild places so important to human life both physically and spiritually. Witness the destruction of the rainforests worldwide at the rate of 5000 acres per day. What will be left of our world in 100 years, or even 50 years, if such technological power is not restricted? The prognosis is diabolic.
…If religion has failed to convert the hearts of humankind as a species, science has succeeded in placing at the disposal of unconverted hearts power sufficient to destroy or corrupt our very gift of being. Nuclear holocaust might end up as preferable to biologically engineered warfare or capitalist/socialist exploitation.
The intention of this project is to address these issues and to aid in their resolution. I believe that these are the proper territories of care for the catholic priesthood since the holy fire of divine concern for all creation, for the sacredness of being itself, most profoundly describes this priesthood. A worldview without a sense of the sacred is really an excuse for the world’s exploitation. Slavery was once thus justified. (A slave is somehow less than a person, therefore its value is only in its utility. Nature is devoid of sacred character, i.e. the spiritual (godly) quality of personhood, therefore use it as you will.) The animistic or emanence of the divine in nature must once again be considered.
Another way to explain this project is by explaining its title. NEPSIS, sobriety or spiritual clarity, is a New Testament Greek term compared once by Orthodox scholar and Bishop, Timothy Kallistos Ware, to the five Gospel virgins replete of oil for their lamps and the five without. (Matt. 25:1-3) Allegorically the first five were spiritually prepared for the coming of the Lord. The others who were not so prepared were left out in the cold when the party started. The first group represents an important condition: For these, there had been a process of preparation for direct spiritual experience. This preparation or way, this yoga, associated with becoming spiritually awakened is significant in religious studies because it is a bridge for conversation about spiritual experience with other religions, especially Buddhism, and indicates a likeness of experience. The process of preparations indicates a decision for spiritual experience and a spiritual wisdom or way that can be understood or practiced, to catalyze spiritual experience and salvation. In addition, Bishop Timothy Kallistos Ware made such a comparison at a workshop given in June 1976 at Immaculate Heart Hermitage in Big Sur. This occasion introduced me to the word nepsis, which caught and catalyzed my imagination. For me now, it refers to this whole experience of spiritual awakening and practice still applicable at this millennial turn.
In NEPSIS, the practice and study of these ways of spiritual awakening form a dialogue about spiritual conversion, initiation, and practice between Christianity, Buddhism, Shamanism and my own experience of essential categories. To clarify later development, I will state here that any autobiographical material has been included to discuss/enhance the discussion of these topics that is at once intensely personal and intensely universal. I have used the always-available field of “self” for the research.
There is a quest in this book, which involves personal spiritual growth. That’s safe enough. But there is a problem as well inextricably linked to the quest. The only way that I can express the problem and its potential for resolution is in analogous relationship to a problem in my own life. That is severe and frequent migraines and other, perhaps related, dysfunctions. These had recently reached a severity that was…
…I suggest that this psychosomatic problem of migraines is more than the result of neurosis or genetic defect, but is a response in empathy to the world’s evolution and victim of the current radical imbalance of the earth. There is potential resolution to both these personal and universal levels of tension.
That resolution results from the shamanic/priestly/artistic gift in the world. This inherent “gift”, I have come to believe, is a dimension of being. When this capacity is needed to balance, to heal, to save, it is, or can be, raised up….
…The body and soul of a shaman is sensitive and responsive to these conditions (of the world) and its responsibility is to participate creatively in the creative gesture of the Spirit(s’) salvific intentions.
The development of the problem might be better understood from a mythic or archetypal perspective: Greek philosophy, i.e., rational critique/logic/scientific method, and Christian institutions, backed by the converted Roman Empire, defeated the Greek Gods. (Not only the Greek Gods…) And Greek philosophy, in the form of technology and materialistic rationalism, has nearly defeated Christianity, i.e., as in materialistic Marxism or technological Capitalism. This is especially the case, as media generated appetites breed mass states of consciousness unable to access the in-depth justifications of ancient worldviews such as pre-reformation Christianity and the rest. But from a mythic perspective, the Gods are having their revenge. The fiery python at Delphi might yet have her oblation—in atomic proportions. The Gods will not be ignored. This may seem preposterous to a modern mind. But if we define the Gods psychologically as intelligent projections of human and universal psychic structures, or even elemental powers, then we may be able to understand the violent results of our drastically out of balance Western way of being–the East, as well, is in increasing disarray culturally and spiritually. We might yet, however discover in the chaos, salvific dimensions sufficient to…. To what? Solve the problem? Transcend problem and solution? Get lost entirely?
The intuition of this project is that the quiet personal quest mentioned earlier will lead to a spiritual awakening that also will address what I sense as an essential issue of our time. That is, the real sacredness of the world is ignored in favor of technological commerce. The human soul is besieged and festering from being ignored or abused–by civis and religious alike. The very dragons of being turn and kick in angry discord at such play of the diabolic. The soul of creation is denied. Thus, we are torn apart and religion is defeated. Science as well…
…The point is to strike the sacred fire of the Divine and to startle us awake with our own divine presence. I intend that the shock of such ignition will appease the gods and set at rest the dragons set to devour us with our own unbalanced wit.
The means that initiated this intention were pilgrimage, studies and service. The studies involve an exploration of Shamanism, Buddhism, especially Tantric Buddhism, and the Byzantine Christian Hesychasm. Though I have had strong opinions about the differences and similarities of various religious tracts, finally I must leave that discussion in order to effect the salvific and shamanistic act of this project. I seek the way to ignite the Sacred Fire, the Love of God, Nirvanic Bliss, the Heart Sutra, and to sing the silent hymn of the Holy that heals, nourishes, creates, and completes.
All of this will leave us, hopefully, watchful and active in the solemn game of God’s delight.
Notes regarding the education of mystics and sorcerers:
It’s the web that matters. I.e., it’s the online web of connections that I had just finished creating before we were forced to retreat into a largely PDF format; this because the links would not hold, especially for images and especially when the link was required to traverse various software platforms. It was a Black Widow’s web, which is appropriate, but you’ll have to read the story to discover why. It continues, but this presentation retreats now into a report with illustrative materials. I ‘knew’ that this presentation about Aesthetic and Religious Initiation was complete when the web coalesced and I knew it would hold.
Initiation and Practice are the primordial (Shamanistic) pedagogy that extends its influence still. So that is the general organizational lay out for what I report here. Words and Image: I knew in Second Grade that I could make pictures and learn to write—well enough for the larger purpose. Upon graduation from college, I felt confident because I’d learned to make poems, prints, to paint and to sculpt. The web was well begun. I can thank my kind parents for that. They insisted we be educated in the Western way. But they birthed and raised me out in the country where I met the Spirit(s) of Nature and Being. The reader might imagine how that is received in a ‘down to business’ world. (Though we’ve made a temporary peace that we might all be saved, that we might all not be destroyed entirely…)
I began yesterday the process of turning everything back into Word then PDF. UGH! But I think it will be a cleaner, easier-to-access presentation. More likely to survive. And in some appendix, I will include the current site because a very important thing in all this is the web itself. In the site web of links created over the past 10 years or more (even the broken links that still display an address in the URL window) is reflected the real process. When this web and the experience it describes coalesced, I knew the aesthetic and religious ‘initiation’ was over in me. So, Nepsis now becomes a report on the process… with illustrations. The Nepsis online site displays the last part the process– a snarled Black Widow’s web, but her web is the strongest. (Which might be a clue to some of the decisions I’ve made about issues of import–the ‘Cult of Impropriety’ in early Chinese history not the least reference among several, in this regard.) There will still be a basic web of strong HTML links between the PDF folders. But the Byzantine quality of suggestive complexity will be hiding in the appendix with the old site’s web.
A WAVE RECEDES and leaves behind a denouement of issues scattered across the beach:
So, my last year at college, I painted a series of professional grade artworks (#’s -1 through -5), made a series of like-successful prints, etc. (#-18a) and completed three well executed sculptures, since lost. After I graduated, I went to South America—3 big poems, 1972- 74:
First year of independent Art 1973-74: Amorphic whole ambience counter-pointes hard edge particulars in method and themes. See #’s 8—77 ff.
Poems are innocent due to small audience and no hope of money: Do it simply for the joy of it–The art making experience. The same happens eventually with the visual art.
Impact of Icons: #78  — and monasticism with its theories of personality and culture, the delightful practice of asceticism. Seriously modifies worldview that had held ‘til then.
Then 5 years of critical theology, pastoral studies, scripture studies (Serious and scientific.) Pure mysticism..
Attempt at prose: The Short Fiction, Novels, Oracle…
IMPACT OF SHAMANISM completely altered the theory of life that had held previously. Art as shamanistic agent, #130 , #134 , Spirit Familiars. See Sec II of NEPSIS FOUNDATON Table of Contents
Impact of Mandalas and Buddhism: See DISSERTATION Appendix 4 re Tibetan Mandalas; Nepsis Foundation Section III … All the art, essays, stories are bits of the larger mandalic configuration of the NEPSIS FOUNDATION to the end that…
Resolution and Siwa Sculpture: Who is the Son of God? Mediterranian mythos, Jesus embraces, Egyptian beginning Mesopotamia beginning, Mayan end:
Can’t know some things unless directly transferred. See Travels with Georgia in Resolution to begin…
I hold with the Nyingmapa that as one begins to practice, one begins to study; as one begins to study, one begins to practice along the path of the mystic. Though, most often a teacher(s) is required to guide one’s initiation…
ALSO VISIT THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, BERKELEY/ECAI SITE’S