Achalanatha symbolises the determination required to stay still when we are subject to hatred, greed and delusion within ourselves. To acknowledge these three poisons, as they are called, is part of the battle; if we pretend they have nothing to do with us we could project onto others and so compound delusion and hatred. (This is what happens when people gang up against minorities or ‘aliens.’)
The flames are the three poisons and the sword is to cut through delusion. By meditating and trying to live preceptually (do no harm, watch what you say and do etc.) we gradually purify the poisons ( as fire purifies). This is a lifetime’s work!
In Blake’s ‘system’ the Spectre is that part of our psyche which is equivalent to the discriminative mind of Buddhism. It can be thought of as thef egocentric self; elsewhere Blake talks of Selfhood. (The ‘ego’ in Eckhart Tolle’s books.) Foster Damon writes in his Blake Dictionary:
The Spectre is ruthless in getting its way, and cares nothing for the individual it obsesses; it will drive him into unhappiness, disaster and even suicide.
Eckhart Tolle calls it the ‘pain body’ when it suffers in extremis like this.
Many religious traditions talk of ‘renunciation’ and how neccesary it is to go beyond the egocentric self with its selfish desires. This is a huge topic and it is not possible to explore it here. (I’d recommend Ken Wilber’s work for an in depth exploration.) All I want to do here is make a connection between Buddhist thought and Blake – as this is the theme of my book. It is a necessary simplification as I am limiting my wordcount on this blog!
Here is Blake’s poem which shows the conceptual comparison.
Each man is in his Spectre’s power
Until the arrival of that hour
When his Humanity awake
And cast his Spectre into the Lake.
Note the important word, ‘awake’ – this is an injuction found in all spiritual works. How much Blake managed to awake from ‘spiritual slumber’ in his own life is not possible to ascertain. It is said he ‘died singing’ – perhaps this suggests that he did put his own visionary ‘system’ into practice?
When I posted this I was unaware that an Achalanatha Festival was to be celebrated at Throssel Buddhist Abbey, my local monastery. A fortuitous email enabled me to go on Sunday 5 Feb. Here is part of a scripture we sang:
If any human being is prone to entertaining despair, beset by hopelessness/That peron should meditate on the ever vigilant One, – and thus learn to stay rooted in the present moment./The Eternal present is the realm of Achalanatha Bodhisattva;/He severs entaglement with the past and the future, – leading beings to realize the joy of sitting still withiin body and mind.
People are sometimes surprised by the amount of ceremonial there is in Soto Zen. The point of all this ceremonial is to allow us to get in touch with the reality that the Buddha realised and taught to his followers. The singing engenders a kind of joy (not always) and points to the true self in each of us. When I first went to Throssel this part of Zen appealed to me as much as the meditation. The words of course blend with the movement in the ceremonial and the music (which is mostly based on Western plainchant) To sum up: the ceremonies are carried out in the mind of meditation, they also have a devotional element to them.