The Wise Cultivation of Enlightenment

If you are lucky enough to have had a taste of enlightenment, you will know that it is a radically different state of being compared to our ordinary state of consciousness. You will also know how difficult it is to recreate. As the adult is to the child, so is the sage to the adult. Just as a toddler can have no clear conception of what adult cognition is like, so will an adult struggle to understand what enlightened cognition is. Even if you do have a special insight it, the fact is that to stabilize it requires a lifetime of careful work and significant psycho-spiritual development.

The quest for enlightenment, like the quest for the holy grail, can lead you down some perilous paths and a plethora of dead ends, some heaped with the bones and skulls of those that went before. If you are serious about spiritual enlightenment therefore, you had better work out a Wise Way, a way that is viable and reliable.

There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to spiritual transformation. There are many factors at play in each individual’s specific personal and cultural context which open certain avenues and close others. We must all make do with what we’ve got and where we are. Not all of us were born into an aristocratic family in medieval Japan, for example. But we should all aspire to a wise cultivation of enlightenment using all the resources and possibilities at our disposal. If you lived next to Westminster Cathedral, for example, it would surely be churlish, if not foolish, not to attend services there.

So anyway, this is what I have come up with as a Wise Way. It works for me, and hopefully it works for others too.

This Way can be visualized as four concentric circles. At the centre is a mantra. Then comes Zen, then Christianity, then Shamanism. The mantra covers a surprising amount of ground and actually relates to all the essential elements in Shamanism, Christianity and Zen. I won’t try to unpack it here, as it is endlessly generative and “combinatorially explosive”, and I’ve already teased out some of the main associations and implications in my book and in many of the blogs on this website. Here it is again:

Remember God

Parashiva Shiva Shakti

Amun Ra Atum Ka Ba Gaia Jah

Mystic Shaman Warrior Monk Philosopher King Friend

Peace Love Goodness Beauty Truth Consciousness Bliss

This is the core practice, based on the principle of Sati, or remembering. Beyond this is the Zen practice of “direct pointing to Reality outside the scriptures”, based on mindfulness and presence. Beyond this is the comprehensive and inexhaustible legacy of the Christian tradition, rooted of course in the person of Christ and his memorial in the Gospels and the Mass. Finally, supporting and powerfully amplifying these three core elements is the sacred use of psychedelics.

I think it is also important to include a fifth circle, which provides a useful source of theoretical grounding for the practice. And for this I am indebted to John Vervaeke and others involved in the development of 3rd generation 4E cognitive science, which is a wonderful complement to Roberto Assagioli’s Psychosynthesis model and other more recent transpersonal psychologies. The best place to start if you want to learn about cognitive science and get a handle on what he would call “the machinery of enlightenment” is Vervaeke’s YouTube series of lectures, Awakening from the Meaning Crisis, where he lays out a fascinating naturalistic, scientific account of wisdom, virtue and enlightenment.

The essential point of Shamanic Christian Zen as a spiritual path is that it is as comprehensive and holistic as possible, while at the same time managing to maintain a clear inner coherence and identity. I have suggested a schematic model of the various elements at play as concentric circles: the mantra at the centre, then Zen, Christianity, psychedelics and cognitive science. A clearer and more comprehensive schema, however, is provided by the seven archetypes included in the mantra, which function as “divine doubles” (see Vervaeke on Corbin).

Using the archetypes, we can draw the concentric circles in the following way: Mysticism at the core, followed by Shamanism/Psychedelics, Martial Arts/Dance, Religion, Philosophy/Psychology/Cognitive Science, and some as yet undefined Mastery, Spiritual Friendship and Communitas.

Or to keep things simple:






Nb. Most of you will probably want to skip the “Religion” layer, especially if it’s the Christian religion, because of our powerful and pervasive Western anti-religious secular cultural training, which is absolutely fine by me. (You can always put it back later! ;))