Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Left Hand Path / Right Hand Path: A false choice

I think I surprised some people a while ago when at a lecture I said that if, and only if, I had to start all over again and was looking to join a magickal order I would probably choose the Temple of Set.

Similarly there are some people I know who lean LHP and cannot understand my interest in Christianity and Buddhism. How could I value Sorcery and Individuality and still associate with these Right Hand Paths?

Well, I can do this because the difference between RHP and LHP is a false one. It’s a game that people buy into to feel different than the other guy. The LHP initiate gets to bitch about RHP people trying to annihilate themselves into the “all” or kill their ego in union with god. The RHP initiate gets to vilify the “black lodges” that they imagine must be murdering dogs and blighting crops, than dancing around in perfidious celebration at the black mass. Of course neither scenario is true.

Before I go on, let me explain that I am talking about the left and right hand paths in a western context only. The eastern concept is different. In the west we are talking about differing goals: deification of the ego vs. annihilation of the ego. In the east however the goal is the same, it is method that separates the Right and Left hand paths. The right hand paths seek enlightenment through renunciation and purity, treating the passions of the mind like a poisonous plant that must be avoided and antidoted by virtuous actions. The left hand path seeks the same enlightenment through skilled indulgence in the passions, treating them like a poisonous plant that you have to alchemically transform into medicine and nectar. Monks and Tantrikas have wildly different paths, but the end result is the same.

Getting back to the western ideas, let’s take a look at them according to how they are represented by the opposite side. According to those on the left, the right hand path is about annihilation of the self into godhood or some nebulous “all”. According to those on the right, the left hand path is about glorifation of the ego – the persona that you have in this life. There are some quarters of the Right and Left hand path that pretty much fit these descriptions nicely actually. Hinayana Buddhists seeking nirvanic quiescence and some LaVey style Satanists (how often are they mentioned in the same sentence together…?) both fit more or less a description of these extremes. What neither side want to admit about the other though, is that these two extremes are hardly the only options.

The key word that breaks down the barrier is Transcendance. Transcending the Ego is not the same as destroying the Ego. Christ had an ego. Buddha had an ego. Padmasambhava had an ego. In fact, they had HUGE COSMIC WORLD SHAKING EGOS! There wouldn’t be such interesting stories about them if they had no egos. The difference is that their awareness had transcended their Egos.

I actually came up with my very own parable about this a couple years ago. It goes like this. Imagine that you are trapped inside a cage on a deserted island. Your first duty would be to escape the cage right? So with some effort you are able to pick the lock on the cage with your fingernails and free yourself from the cage. The cage doesn’t disappear; you just aren’t trapped inside it. As night falls, you realize that the cage is actually the best shelter on the island, so you climb back in. The next day you fortify it with materials that you can bring into the cage from the island and make it better as a shelter. It changes from a prison, to the best tool you have. That’s the deal with transcending the ego.

Now, on the left hand side of things, people that get really into it, like members of the Order of the Trapezoid and such, acknowledge that the deification of the self must involve escaping the mechanistic nature of the ego. They insist that they are remaining as isolate intelligences, but so do most of the right hand paths. While Mahayana Buddhism doesn’t acknowledge the ultimate and indivisible self, or atman, its still your stream of consciousness and kleshas that becomes a Buddha. Higher tantras and dzogchen go one step further acknowledging that “Samsara and Nirvana are the same”. In Christianity as well we have the concept of Theosis, or becoming divine. Not significantly different than the LHP concept in goal, just the methods are different. When the Christian places his own mind aside and submits to the will of god, they are really asking for their own “Thelema” which is inseparable from Gods will to be made known.

So, when someone asks whether you are Left Hand Path or Right Hand Path you can give the same answers the Newari do when asked if they are Buddhist or Hindu and just say “yes”.

1 comment:

Persephone said...


Thank you for the detailed explanation. I expect I'll get hit with this sort of question a lot, and I never know what to say. This is quite helpful.