A Quick Translation

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A number of people have asked me for an English translation of a paragraph in an interview I gave to a Greek martial arts website. Apparently, it has raised some questions.

I don’t have the time to rewrite the section at length, but a quick machine-translation and some editing lets me post the following:

4. The esoteric path. Tell me a bit about your career in the internal arts.

(He doesn’t answer for some time.)  I gather that you are inquiring not only about the internal martial arts, but that you are interested in my experience with the esoteric path in general. However, you are touching on very sensitive issues and I do not think that most people are ready to accept the answers.

The Egyptians boiled the bark of the willow tree and used the resulting broth to combat headaches and rheumatism. The use of white willow bark for medical purposes has a history longer than 3500 years. Hippocrates wrote about willow bark and its ability to soothe aches and reduce fever. Willow bark has been used in China since 500 BC and Native Americans used white willow for headaches, fever, and rheumatism. In 1828, European scientists identified a compound called salicilin, which is the active ingredient in willow bark. And, in 1829, salicilin was stabilized as salicylic acid and was used effectively for pain and fever. Synthetic salicylic acid was developed by the German company Bayer in 1852. Pharmacists later modified salicylic acid to form acetylsalicylic acid, which we all know today by its common tradename aspirin. (Acetylation was introduced to reduce stomach irritation.)

Why mention this example? We all use aspirin, and the source of this drug is a plant that all of humanity has had knowledge of since the Bronze Age. Perhaps esotericism falls into the same category and perhaps we are entering an age where we can create acetylsalycilic acid by discovering the active ingredient in willow bark. Maybe the key ingredients of esotericism are physically reflected in the practices of the internal arts, and we are looking in the wrong places for answers.

The problem with esotericism is that it sometimes becomes as dogmatic as organized religion, and this is an oxymoron. What we call esotericism should be the very opposite of dogmatism, but because many people delve into esotericism only to strengthen their own self-importance, a kind of spiritual consumerism in other words, they become obsessed with doctrine as if they were dogma-junkies. They scuffle with each other over doctrine as if they were hooligans on opposing football teams, and this is just stupid. This was the reason that Ghandi set a strict criterion for anyone wanting to practice an esoteric path: in order to be a renunciant, you must first have something to renounce; he did this to make sure that the trainee did not pursue an internal path just to boost his ego, or had another hidden agenda.

I’ll give an example from the so-called internal martial arts, so that we don’t stray off topic: everyone talks about the dantien, our center. Those of us who have practiced the creation of such a center, have felt it move independent of our conscious volition, feeling, expressing its own views, as if it were a separate entity. The Chinese describe this phenomenon with an entire library of literature discussing the creation of the “mental body” and “the psychic child” in the dantien. Furthermore, it has been scientifically documented since 1981, that training in such practices allows the practitioner to circumvent the existing biophysical model. But to clearly evaluate the theories, we have to look at missing pieces of the puzzle that have now appeared on the horizon.

We didn’t know, for instance, that an enteric nervous system existed. Research into this nervous system was started in 1921 by the British physician JN Langley, but when he died, it was quickly forgotten. The American doctor Michael D. Gershon resumed work on Lagley’s investigations in 1996. When he first announced his theories in 1996, he was mocked, but by 1999, he had managed to publish his book “The Second Brain” and had reversed world opinion on the subject, contributing to the advancement of science in the process.

The enteric nervous system (ENS), therefore, the existence of which was not accepted 15 years ago, has 100 million neurons, one thousandth of those present in the brain, but more than exist in the spine. The ENS has been designated as the “second brain” because it works independently from the central nervous system, with which it is linked through the vagus nerve. In other words, and we have to emphasize this point, clinical science accepts the fact that the enteric nervous system thinks for itself – it is a “second brain” within our belly.

In essence, then, when someone trains towards the creation of a “dantien”, what he is doing is inscribing his conscious personality on the portfolio of his enteric nervous system. The fact that the process is traditionally activated through breathing techniques is particularly anatomically interesting, given the connection of the ENS with the conscious brain through the vagus nerve (The vagus is also called the pneumogastric nerve since it innervates both the lungs and the stomach, as well as connecting the central nervous system to the ENS).

Until now, trainees in the internal arts shared their experiences during the process amongst themselves with comments like “Hey, I felt xyz happening, and it is amazing”, referring to the effects they were feeling in their bellies during and after training. However, given the presence of a biological computer at the very focal point of this training (the existence of which was unknown until now), it is possible thaat the entire “dantien creation” process is completely biological and natural, as opposed to being a mystical experience. In short, there may be no “supernatural” elements involved in the process whatsoever. It may be that nothing more is happening to us other than the fact that we are inscribing part of our conscious mind onto a biological computer, allowing us to extend our natural capabilities in the process. That is to say, throughout history, people have been misinterpreting the process as a mystical experience, not realizing that it was salicin that gave the willow bark its supposedly magical healing properties in the first place. Or, conversely, science may come along to verify and uphold the doctrine of a specific internal tradition; why not? We know now that consciousness (observation) contributes to the creation of matter – it is a cornerstone of physics. Who is to say what the mind can do? Frankly, we do not know – but we’re most certainly at that stage in the process where the bark of willow trees will become acetylsalicylic acid within a few short years, one way or another.

 I hope the message is clear, even though the English of the text is somewhat below par.

5 Comments

5 Responses

  1. Yiannis Sampalis  •  October 22, 2010 @2:10 am

    The new book… where is the new book? :-)

  2. Yiannis Sampalis  •  October 22, 2010 @2:17 am

    The brain in your gut.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bkeBjP_9ZR4

    TEDTalks.

    Very interesting!

  3. Kostas Dervenis  •  October 22, 2010 @8:46 am

    Ah! In the eternal battle between the Noble Kostas and the Evil Lulu, rather than pay them the 300 USD they asked for embedding the fonts in a pdf, I figured I would splurge and bought myself a new iMAC loaded with Adobe software. It was more expensive but at least I was not throwing money away.

    So now I have no excuse.

  4. Yiannis Sampalis  •  October 23, 2010 @4:00 am

    Now, wasn’t that a great excuse to get the iMac!! :-)

  5. George  •  October 31, 2010 @6:03 pm

    “it is possible thaat the entire “dantien creation” process is completely biological and natural, as opposed to being a mystical experience.”

    It is well known that the Pythagoreans were both mystics and mathematicians. Indeed when Platon wrote above the entrance of his school “let none who do not understand mathematics enter here” he was emphasising the necessity mathematics to the mystical path. The idea that the mystical becomes concrete is an essential law of progression towards the infinite, but the equally essential in the definition of the infinite is the idea that there will always be mystical experiences. As an example, for the ancient Pythagoreans, the square root of two, which arises from the right-angled triangle of unit base and height, and other similar numbers, were refered to as the “unspeakable numbers”. Due to their infinite nature, and inability to be expressed as fractions, they were held to be only understandable on a mystical level. Today we call them the irrationals, and our mathematical language has expanded to make them concrete. In other words we can express them finitely by expanding our language. However this is the essential paradox of the infinite. The moment we express it finitely, i.e. in words, we are no longer capturing it’s true essence. Thus the real infinite remains at the mystical level. Indeed in contemporary mathematics, we have “undefinable numbers”, the modern day equivalent of the “unspeakable numbers” of the past. Again one enters the realm of the mystical. Such a process will proceed indefinitely, for that is what the concept of the infinite means. One can expand ones vocabulary to make finite what was previously unexpressable and mystical, but then there is still more that is unexpressable and mystical on the horizon. It is essentially the process of counting. There is always a bigger number. What is more there are numbers whose existence is undecidable. In the contemporary setting this was proved formally by Kurt Godel, but it was known to the ancients. Indeed it is the presence of undecidable statements, which are a necessary consequence of the infinite, that gives rise to the logic of dialectics. This is the famous logic of yin and yang in the East. It is a logic precisely for dealing with infinity and the contradictions that such a concept involve. It is the logic of evolution recognised by both Marx and Lao Tsu. Indeed the process of going from describing root two as an “unspeakable number” to describing it as an “irrational number” is entirely dialectical, involving the resolution of an undecidable statement. Thus mathematics is an esoteric path, one in which the mystical is always present. As we follow this path, our concrete world expands, but the infinite neve diminishes.

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