You are on page 1of 8

Review of Smoley's Dice Game of Shiva

17/02/2014 01:50

Review of Smoley's Dice Game of Shiva


Richard Smoley is something of a rarity in consciousness studies and perennial wisdom writings, in that not only does he have a clear grasp of the great principles of inner transformation, as well as their rich philosophical heritage, he is also a polished writer. He is something of a cross between Richard Tarnas and John Michael Greer, having the grasp of history of the former, and the easy facility with esoteric ideas of the latter.

Smoley was editor of Gnosis magazine (along with Jay Kinney). I was a regular reader of this magazine (that put out around fifty editions between the mid-1980s and 1999). After the magazine ceased publication, one could more clearly appreciate how unusual it had been a journal that took esoteric teachings seriously (principally of the Western traditions, although occasionally it would wander into Eastern matters), a type of Nature journal of the esoteric. Most magazines, journals or books concerned with esoteric traditions or the great work of inner transformation are either depressingly bland, lack intellectual rigor, or are geared toward commercialism. Gnosis offered substance, treating a matter seriously that for the most part has been the concern of unknown academic historians or wandwielding occult practitioners who think Plato is an American pizza company.
http://www.ptmistlberger.com/shiva-and-consciousness.php Page 1 sur 8

Review of Smoley's Dice Game of Shiva

17/02/2014 01:50

Since Gnosis ceased operating, Smoley seems to have been much more prolific than his former Gnosis partner Kinney, having written around half a dozen books, with The Dice Game of Shiva (2009) being one of his most recent. The title of the book refers to a Hindu myth, one which speaks to the essential nature of Consciousness, and in particular the contrast between Self and not-self (i.e., everything that arises in the field of Consciousness). Although Smoleys previous writings have been chiefly focussed on the great Western wisdom traditions, in this book he turns his attention more toward Eastern wisdom, and does an outstanding job of delving into the intricacies of Hindu and Buddhist thought. No one will have to do any intellectual slumming reading this book, and all but the most attention deficit will not fall asleep either. (Well, perhaps not the fact is, any serious consideration of ultimate matters can at any moment put to sleep even the most eager reader, if the natural and often fierce subconscious resistance to hearing the truth happens to arise in that moment.) This latter is something of an accomplishment Hindu philosophy in particular can reach tedious degrees of hair-splitting, with dozens of terms to define specific states of mind. (English is not a spiritually technical language as one small example, our word meditation is notoriously vague and inaccurate for describing the wide spectrum of ideas connected to the actual practice of meditation itself.) Because of the richness of Hindu and Buddhist spiritual philosophy, it is easy for writings on such matters to suffer from dryness. This has been something of a problem with books on Tibetan Buddhism, for example, authored by Tibetan lamas and Rinpoches. Despite conveying some of the most sophisticated and sublime understandings, many of such books are tinder-dry and abstract, and difficult to stay with for all but the most committed Buddhist. Blandness is often a problem in the matter of spiritual teachings; I have known more than one person induced into slumber and sweet dreams while listening to an Eckhart Tolle or Thich Nhat Hanh lecture. (And I have known actual cases of people attempting to use Tolle or Thich
http://www.ptmistlberger.com/shiva-and-consciousness.php Page 2 sur 8

Review of Smoley's Dice Game of Shiva

17/02/2014 01:50

Nhat Hanh audiotapes to attempt to cure insomnia.) To Smoleys credit he treats some of the most difficult philosophical matters in such a way that keeps the reader engaged. He has a finely honed knack for when to end a train of thought, essentially encouraging his reader to take a deep breath, and then lead them gracefully into another line of thought. And like Richard Tarnas, he has the ability to be repetitive without being annoying, and to use occasional repetitiveness in such a way that the reader will more than likely appreciate it (as I certainly did). As to the substance of the book: Dice Game deals with the great matters that have long occupied some of the wisest thinkers of humanity: the nature of Consciousness and God, cause and effect, dualism and non-dualism, and the ultimate purpose and/or meaning of Creation and our existence as sentient beings. A key concept that Smoley centers much of the books argument on is that dealt with in detail in (particularly) the Samkhya school of classical Indian philosophy, concerning of the relationship between purusha and prakriti. These are specialized Sanskrit terms; the former meaning pure Consciousness, the transcendent Self or pure witnessing principle; the latter being essentially the term for everything else that is, all that arises in the field of Consciousness, i.e., all that is not the pure Witnessing awareness of the Self. This latter notionthe matter of prakriti is subtle, and is a concept easily misunderstood (which can be found out by reading any general academic book on Indian philosophy, where the word is often translated as nature and basically left at that). Smoley does a fine job clarifying this important concept. As he points out, prakriti may indeed represent all that is not the witnessing Consciousness, but it has the mysterious ability to seem to be conscious itself. By that is meant, we have the extraordinary ability to identify with the images and thoughts that arise in our mind all that is not the pure witnessing Consciousness, the real I and come to believe that we are these thoughts. That is, we have the ability to identify with the contents of Consciousness. And indeed this is what we are doing most the time throughout the course of a typical day. And not only during the day at night, when we fall asleep
http://www.ptmistlberger.com/shiva-and-consciousness.php Page 3 sur 8

Review of Smoley's Dice Game of Shiva

17/02/2014 01:50

and dream, we come to believe that the dream is real, precisely because we are identifying with the contents of the dream. It is the contrast between purusha (the ultimate Witness or Seer, which has no form or attributes) and prakriti that lies at the heart of the dice game of Shiva. Shiva represents purusha, and Parvati (his mate) represents prakriti. The idea is that Parvati always wins the dice game, because Shiva has no attributes, no form anything that can be ascribed to Consciousness (let alone the world) immediately becomes part of the world that is, part of prakriti, part of form. As Smoley puts it, Parvati always wins. Her victory strips Shiva down to his pure, naked essence, which is seeing alone. For all the possible throws of the dice that is, for all the possible directions manifestation can take Shiva will always lose. Its a clever myth and a useful one for any who are sincerely interested in the matter of ultimate reality, truth, and profound awakening. Much of the spiritual world is populated with seekers who are content to pull up short concerning the matter of Self-realization, or to get side-tracked in the endless spiritual shopping malls of makyo (the Zen term for mental distractions in meditation, dazzling or otherwise). Smoley quotes a Buddhist story of a meditator who excitedly tells his teacher that during his deep meditation he just had a vision of the Buddha himself. The master replies, Just keep meditating and it will go away. Most seekers, however, seem not to really want that vision of the Buddha to go away anymore than they want their favourite addictions, games, toys, dramas, and other endless habits to go away. And this is why so much of the field of so-called transformational work is full of the promised salvation of the world dressed up in esoteric costumes. For so many, the search for truth to realize purusha, if you will ends becoming ensnared in the dazzling field of prakriti. That is, the spiritual search itself becomes objectified, turned into what the radical Tibetan master Chogyam Trungpa called spiritual materialism. In his equally fine book Inner Christianity (2002), Smoley also dealt at length with
http://www.ptmistlberger.com/shiva-and-consciousness.php Page 4 sur 8

Review of Smoley's Dice Game of Shiva

17/02/2014 01:50

the issue of the ultimate Witnessing Self, the true I, so clearly this is a matter he has great interest in and is remaining consistent about. I mention this because, having myself taught spiritual principles for many years and having associated with thousands of seekers and hundreds of teachers and practitioners of all stripes over three decades, Ive seen repeatedly how challenging it can be (for others and myself) to stay with the central idea of the formless Witness, the I that is still, silent, vast, empty, unconditioned and without attributes (even the ones just mentioned!) to even stay with it intellectually, let alone experientially. The notion of such an ultimate principle has long been around in the West (and of course the East), but not so clearly recognized, often buried under (or within) complex and bizarrely abstruse esoteric systems (try reading a Renaissance treatise on alchemy). In the latter part of the 20th century the idea of pure stillness, the Inner Eye that never blinks or sleeps, was made more popular by the Zen tradition in particular, and then in the latter decade of the 20th century by the Advaita teachings. But the idea of realizing this Timeless Eye (or Timeless I) as ones true nature seems to have always remained the province of only a small minority of those drawn to a spiritual path. However as Smoley writes in one of the key passages in the book: The Self is not its experience; it can stand back and watch that experience, so it must be something different. This is one of the fundamental lessons of most esoteric teachings, and many of their texts are hard to understand unless you grasp this point. He is right, and so much so that it has been my observation that not only is the point difficult for many to grasp, it is arguably even more difficult for many to even be interested in grasping. This is because of the enormously seductive power of our attachment to experiences. We are, for the most part, having a life-long romance with our experiences, and the vast majority of people are enjoying the drama far too much to be seriously interested in turning away from it. All of which leads us, naturally, into the mystery of what motivates one to seek
http://www.ptmistlberger.com/shiva-and-consciousness.php Page 5 sur 8

Review of Smoley's Dice Game of Shiva

17/02/2014 01:50

ultimate truth or in perhaps less fanciful terms, simply the Self in the first place. And this is where we enter into the matter of causality, the principle by which things come about (or at least, appear to come about). Smoley makes an extensive and closely reasoned discussion of this in the book, and it is here where you will probably have to pay the closest attention when reading (especially in the important chapter Constant Conjunction, where he goes into some depth discussing Hume, Kant, Popper, and Schopenhauer, relating them neatly to Hindu and even Kabbalistic thought). Discussions involving cause and effect are some of the most notoriously tricky, if not the trickiest, of all philosophical matters. As the Gurdjieff Work teacher William Patrick Patterson once mused, I studied all the great Western philosophers, and they all seemed to be saying brilliant things until I came across the next philosopher who was equally brilliant, but was disagreeing with the last guy.' Patterson spoke in that vein because he was pointing toward the essential need to go beyond abstract philosophy, into actual experiential work on self. Having once been in the Gurdjieff Work myself, I sympathize with his viewpoint. However as Smoley points out, there are in fact bona fide spiritual schools in India, such as the Samkhya mentioned above, that deny that any sort of work on self (even such as meditation) is needed; that in fact, nothing but clear rational insight into the heart of the matter is required. The modern mystical text A Course in Miracles expresses this as You need do nothing that is, we have only to look profoundly within and recognize that we are already that, the transcendental Self, and have never for a moment been anything else. In other words, we have been dreaming. (I was once amused to see some Advaita books side by side a work about Ramana Maharshi titled Who am I?, paired with Nisargadattas I am That and two other works titled You are That and This is That. Perhaps the last in that series should have been And That, thankfully, is That). That said, A Course in Miracles does not actually recommend doing nothing; in fact,
http://www.ptmistlberger.com/shiva-and-consciousness.php Page 6 sur 8

Review of Smoley's Dice Game of Shiva

17/02/2014 01:50

it offers a workbook with 365 lessons to be done for a year. Similarly, Smoley is a supporter of meditation. As he writes, The principle means of freeing the mind is meditation. Ultimately, Smoley is not a writer for the armchair mystic (although at times this may seem so). His interest in such teachers as Gurdjieff (whom he has written about before, especially in a fine chapter from his earlier work, Hidden Wisdom), shows his ultimate concern with a practical approach to the spiritual path. In Dice Game, he writes, For me personally, it was the practice of Gurdjieffian sitting (meditation) over the course of several years that led me to insights that, as this book testifies, are very similar to those of the Samkhya. In addition to the chapters on cause and effect, and the nature of pure Consciousness in relation to the world, there are chapters on the issues of divine justice and faith, including considerations of reincarnation, life after death, and related philosophical matters that many scholars are afraid to touch. A concluding chapter, The Conscious Civilization, is, I think, the strongest in the book (always good to go out with a bang). Smoley makes some clear and forceful observations here that marks him apart from the standard esoteric academic. I particularly noted his trenchant comment on Christianity: ...Christianity will have to acknowledge that God is wholly self as well as wholly other, and that external forms of faith including faith in Jesus Christ are useful only as preliminary steps to this realization. That is a powerful statement, because it suggests that Christianity must abandon strict dualism in order to truly mature as a faith (which would seem to apply to Judaism and Islam as well). Given the strife and warfare that have ravaged the Western world (in particular) over the past two millennia, with no apparent end in sight, it would also seem to contain the seeds of the profoundest common sense. In looking ahead, Smoley writes, For the religion of the third millennium, the task is to acknowledge that the barrier between God and Self is not sharp or rigid: that which says I in us is the very point at which we connect with the larger reality of the divine. The Dice Game of Shiva is not a long book barely 200 pages but it is highly compressed (with a beautifully designed cover to boot). Rarely a paragraph goes by
http://www.ptmistlberger.com/shiva-and-consciousness.php Page 7 sur 8

Review of Smoley's Dice Game of Shiva

17/02/2014 01:50

that doesnt give the reader reason to stop and think. A great deal of material is covered in the book, but in particular it goes a long way to bridging Eastern and Western philosophical and spiritual perspectives on the ultimate matters of existence. Smoleys chief concern, as it has been throughout all his writings, is with the awakening of the human being, and what he has written here is a strong contribution to that great and timeless cause.

http://www.ptmistlberger.com/shiva-and-consciousness.php

Page 8 sur 8