This article was written as the first article, and as the Preface to a series of articles, that were written as chapters for a book project, which I provisionally called ‘Mandala of Love: Consciousness, Ethics and Society’. The plan to write and publish a book, soon evolved into the idea of publishing on this ‘Mandala of Love’ website. Essentially, the subject of the book was the four-fold nature of mind; the four-fold nature of the Divine; the four-fold nature of a comprehensive ethical sensibility; and the four-fold nature of creativity – themes that have fascinated me since my twenties. At that time I was living and working in Triratna Buddhist Order communities, and as a result of the very broad and rich cultural and religious education that I was receiving, I fell in love with the work of the visionary English poet William Blake. Blake had his own very profound understanding of the four-fold nature of the Divine – one which in some ways mirrors that found in the Buddhist tradition and in other spiritual traditions down through history.
In my twenties, when I was a passionate full-time student of Buddhism and living and working in a Buddhist community, I was surprised, one day in my meditation, by a strong visionary experience of the energetic presence of Jesus – Blake’s Jesus. I experienced him as a purifying light descending from heaven. This ecstatic and visionary meditative state was evoked not by any devotional form of words from Buddhist tradition, but by a single recitation of William Blake’s words: “Jesus, the Imagination, the forgiver of Sins” that just burst out of me in a spirit of devotion and petitionary prayer. As a Buddhist, I also recognised this pure-white descending light as the energy of Vajrasattva [more on him here], and the cross-cultural ambiguity of this religious experience was one of several around that time that taught me about the universality of the ultimate spiritual reality. It was revealed to me that the ultimate nature of the divine is beyond any culture or religion, and that every genuine religious or spiritual cultural form may be seen as attempting to approach, and surrender to, the same transcendental reality – though clearly some religious cultures are more effective in that approach than others.
One of Blake’s better known poems is ‘Jerusalem’, which is copied below. Blake wrote it as a preface to one of his longer poetic works. Because I resonate so strongly with so many of the themes of Blake’s poetry, and perhaps because I aspire to follow in his footsteps in some modest way, I would like to use it as a preface to these reflections.
And did those feet in ancient time,
Walk upon England’s mountains green.
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On England’s pleasant pastures seen!
And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?
Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire;
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!
I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England’s green & pleasant Land.
by William Blake (1757 − 1827) – part of a preface to his epic poem: Milton (written and illustrated between 1804 and 1810)
William Blake was a dissenting voice in a world that was in the throes of early capitalism – industrialisation, colonialism, scientific materialism, the privatisation of the commons, and the horrors of the Atlantic Slave Trade. He despaired of Christianity’s failure to provide a voice for spiritual truth and social justice in that world. His poems are a call to a humanitarian vision rooted in a spiritual view of man. The ‘Jerusalem’ of this particular poem is a symbolic city – the symbol of a just and sustainable society in Blake’s imaginal world.
Blake’s Mental Fight – Ethical, Psychological and Cultural
The Mental Fight is an intellectual and cultural one – and a psychological and spiritual one – the themes of this book. On one level the Mental Fight is the ‘meme war’ that, it seems, we are all called to engage with in the modern world – a ‘post-truth’ world where the hard fought political victories of previous centuries are being eroded by a culture of corporate lobbying, political advertising, public relations, global media organisations, and the dishonest use of social media. The true purpose of psychological understanding is human connection the healing of the soul, but throughout the world it is used as a tool of propaganda and manipulation.
On a deeper level the Mental Fight is the act of spiritual choice. It is the personal will in the service of the great Divine Self, which is our own true nature; the mysterious cosmic unity in which we ultimately find our rest. The choice to act, through self-inquiry and meditation and other spiritual practices, to achieve our own alignment with what is ultimately good and true, is the ultimate self-assertion against the forces of evil. History has shown us very clearly that the failure of good men and women to engage in the inner process that Blake characterised as the Mental Fight, inevitably leads us to war.
Ethical Imagination and Spiritual Renewal
So in this stirring poem, ‘Jerusalem’ represents a renewed spiritual culture, and Blake is calling the people of England to a new ethical imagination based on a respect for the real human needs of humanity – rather than the rationalisations and dishonest sophistry of the ruling elite, both religious and secular.
A much misunderstood poem, Blake would have been horrified to know that it was first published widely and set to music, in 1916, to rouse militaristic and nationalist sentiment in the middle of the insanity of the Great War. Sir Hubert Parry, who composed the music, was one of many artists who personally could feel only horror and despair at the carnage of that war, and was ambivalent about the task he had taken on. Listening to the stirring musical score that Parry created, one cannot help but feel that Parry understood the compassionate vision being expressed in Blake’s words.
Blake originally printed the poem himself on a beautiful coloured background using an innovative printing method of his own design.
Beneath the poem he inscribed the following quotation from the Bible:
“Would to God that all the Lord’s people were Prophets”
© William Roy Parker 2017