For my sewa practice I am the Gompa Keeper at Jamyang Buddhist Centre and I encounter some very interesting interactions on a very regular basis. This week I was speaking to the new Buddhist Chaplain for Hull who, whilst avidly reading-up on his subject, came across some material written by a prison chaplain which puzzled him a great deal. Let me recount: Apparently, somewhere in the USA and within a prison there, the Chaplain had his own consultancy room. As usual, on his way to his room through the prison grounds, he came to the place where several crows always gathered. They always took flight when anyone approached their roost, but on this particular day, the crows stayed en-masse; not budging one inch. Just still and watching. Their extraordinary gaze and stillness engaged the Chaplain and slowed him.
When the Chaplain reached the entry door, he realised there had been a very recent commotion. The Governor appeared and was relieved to see the Chaplain as, indeed, a serious incident of unrest had just occurred outside the Chaplain’s consultancy room and the Governor feared that the Chaplain may have been caught in the violence due to the proximity. The Chaplain told the Governor that his ancestor crows had warned him to delay and had, therefore, saved him from catastrophe.
So, back to my conversation about this vignette from the book being read: The Chaplain I was talking with was quite taken aback because he could not comprehend how this statement appeared in a rational discourse about prison chaplaincy. How could this guy have received communication from crows and how on earth could they be associated with being his ancestors? Just how could a human have a bird ancestor: were the crows deceased relatives or grandparents? How shockingly ‘off the wall’. Everything else he was reading made good sense, but this was a definite departure from sanity! It was incredible that there could be such a baffling interlude.
So let’s have a look it and see what’s to be found.
If you step towards thinking beyond the intellect and try to access some open territory; (in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali it is clear that one can practice an out of the body projection: this is just an example), it is feasible to realise that consciousness/mind is not a domain specific to humans; i.e., the mind is not human at all. It is ‘the mind’/ consciousness/ sentience..it just ‘is’. And on saying that, these are just semantic allocations and separations to describe that invisible portion of ourselves which could also be referred to as ‘spirit’ or anything else which fits a consensus of acknowledgement so that we may know, on common ground, what we are talking about. It is possible, that just because my physical manifestation in this life is a sentient entity referred to as homo sapiens, female, Caucasian, has in fact very little, if nothing, to do with my ‘mind’ in its true essence, bearing in mind that ‘mind’ is only a word anyway! And, according to Stanislav Grof:
The phenomena observed in modern consciousness research cannot be explained by a model limited to postnatal biography and to the Freudian individual unconscious. The dimensions of the human psyche are infinitely larger than academic psychology would like us to believe. *
So! Going back to the “portent crows”: It would be facile, even ignorant, to say that the event was just imagination, or even to refer to the crows as merely a type of archetypical totem imagery. Take a stretch of the ‘imagination’; say perhaps the Chaplain has a crow mind which connects to the minds of the said birds; that his ancestors actually were crows. The Chaplain is kin to crows although his sentience is manifest in human form: now take the obverse of this and see it reflected. Or say there is no division here to consciousness; that the crow birds are not crow birds at all, and the human is not human at all. It is all the same, but we are too limited to perceive it. The names we give to things make us believe in a totally false reality. Yes, the birds are real and we are real, but not in the way we think they/we are. We are so much more than our biological manifestation. We are so much more than our biographies. And so is everything else.
What’s that line from Game Of Thrones: “You know Nothing Jon Snow”!
Title from Kula:Shaker k20 album Quote from Stanislav Grof essay in THINKING BEYOND THE BRAIN Ed. David Lorimer Floris Books 2001