diamond

Originally appeared in FringeWare Review, no. 5, 1994

In January, while attempting to scrounge up my first assignment for
Wired, I visited a Tibetan Buddhist monastery located in the Indian
state of Karnataka. Along with their usual tasks, the young monks at Sera Mey
were inputting rare and crumbling woodblock sutras onto cheap XTs. Under the
auspices of the Asian Classics Input Project, mountains of this digital dharma
eventually found its way onto freely-distributed CD-ROMs and the Internet.

One evening, after the monks served me a bowl of noodles and beef my
vegetarians self choked down out of politeness, an older monk sidled up to the
table. Furtively he reached into his maroon robes and handed me a thick
dog-eared notebook, wrapped in a pair of sweat socks. He made sure I secured
the book in my satchel, but when I asked what was going on, he only smiled,
bowed and walked quickly from the dining hall.

I unwrapped the package late that night. The words “Open the Folds!!” were
scrawled on the notebook cover and the sticky pages gave off a faint odor of
opium. The yellowing pages were covered with a minute, seemingly impenetrable
scrawl. Like a printed circuit or a magical grimoire, the indecipherable
density of these bug doodles signified, and when I returned to the
States, a microscope confirmed my suspicions: the scrawl was a dense molecular
text, written in English, and employing a curious variant of the arcane Chinese
art of microscopic calligraphy.

The author himself turned out to be no less arcane, though in a manner far
closer to home. His name was Lance Daybreak, and a subsequent call to a
Southern California pop historian corroborated his claim to be one of the first
surfers to hang around the Santa Monica pier in the late 1940s. In fact, all
Daybreak’s assertions about his Stateside activities checked out. After getting
his B.A. in archeology from UCLA in under two years, he did a long stint as a
merchant seamen and treasure hunter. In 1965, he enrolled in Stanford, where he
was working on a thesis that combined Maturana’s cybernetics with Nagarjuna’s
second-century Madhyamika Buddhist philosophy in order to solve some dizzying
problems in data sets and computational linguistics. Socially, Daybreak covered
all the fronts: he huffed it over the Bay Bridge for SDS actions, designed
psychedelic light shows for the Pranksters and the Family Dog, and cranked out
idiosyncratic code with the hackers at SAIL. In 1968, Daybreak either dropped
out or was expelled. On July 20, 1969, the day Apollo 11 landed on the moon,
the man left for Asia.

It’s here that Daybreak’s tale becomes pretty ludicrous. In the manuscript, he
claims to have somehow eluded the Soviet authorities and entered East
Turkestan. There, in the savage gullies of the Karakorum Mountains, a few
hundred kilometers southwest of the Taklamakan Desert, on the southern fork of
the ancient Silk Road, he “discovered” an unknown and isolated peoplethe
ngHolos. Though the lay ngHolos had settled down into a sedentary life of
subsistence farming, weaving, and hash-growing, the community’s religious order
of monks and nuns, known as the Virtuous Ones remained nomadic. The Virtuous
Ones wandered on foot or horseback through the “Folds:” the high passes, hidden
valleys, and endless plateaus of their severe mountain surroundings. But
Daybreak’s descriptions also make it clear that for the Virtuals, this bleak
physical environment “unfolded” into an abstract, visionary realm, a
constantly-shifting locus of cosmic memory and oracular landscapes haunted by
demons, “alien gods” and insectoid Buddhas. Daybreak repeatedly cites one of
the ngHolo’s countless slogans: Here your eye does not follow the warp of
the land. Here you follow the warp of your own eye
.

To judge from his tone, Daybreak does not seem to have gone insane or sunk
into the mire of narcotic psychosis. I choose to read his text as I read
Castaneda, with an open mind not particularly concerned with anthropological
accuracy I wouldn’t really be able to judge anyway. In any case, from the
fragments I’ve been able to decipher, the Virtuous Onesor “Virtuals,” as
Daybreak sometimes calls themare fascinating. Their radically eclectic and
syncretic religious philosophy juggles elements from the various faiths that
passed along the Silk Roadgnostic Manicheaism, Mahayana Buddhism, Mongolian
shamanism, Catholicism, heretical Sufism, Taoismwithout trying to tie them up
into one grand system.[1] As Daybreak writes,
“The path is a network of paths.”

Even more fascinating that the ngHolo’s religious collages are their spiritual
machines. In the early 17th century, a Jesuit named Francis Lumiere brought the
first clock to the region. Daybreak writes: “Having long since assimilated
whatever Christian motifs that compelled them, the ngHolos found the man’s
uncompromising theology obnoxious and his clothes in poor taste. But they loved
his machine.” The lay community put great store in their bronze prayer wheels,
whose constant revolution supposedly generated the compassionate energy that
kept dreams alive and that cloaked the Virtuous Ones from wild animals and
enemies during their mystic peregrinations. Inspired by Lumiere’s device and
ngHolo beliefs about the cosmic implications of metallurgy, a Virtual nun named
Aieda made the spiritual link between metals and mechanics. Along with the
somewhat baffled Jesuit, she set about applying the clock’s mechanism to the
ngHolo prayer wheels.

Their subsequent machine not only relieved the peasants of the daily chore of
spinning the wheels, but it led within decades to a number of inventions,
including irrigation pumps, automated pottery wheels, and a programmable loom
used to weave the mystical patterns of the ngHolo’s rugs (apparently, they
never bothered making more clocks). Aieda believed that the punched cards used
to program the loomsan incomplete Italian Tarocco (tarot]) deck still
venerated todayallowed the ngHolos to communicate with the “Metal-mind,” the
spiritual consciousness that lay asleep in all metals and was awakened through
metallurgy.

After a yearlong nomadic meditation, during which she never stopped walking,
Aieda “received” the knowledge of how to program open-ended and unpredictable
combinatory sequences into the mechanical looms. The spontaneous patterns that
appeared on subsequent rugs were read as auguries from the Metal-Mind. Despite
a tradition of symmetrical mandalic forms, the ngHolo rug patterns Daybreak
reproduces from this period show a striking asymmetry, density, and
self-similar fractal dimensionality.

Daybreak reports that the ngHolos were mythologically prepared for this
development because of one of their quasi-Manichean metallurgic myths. While
the four elements familiar to the Westair, earth, fire, and waterwere
considered to emerge from the earth’s eternally fertile womb, metals were
considered the remains of the Alien God’s semen, which had fallen upon earth
following a celestial tantric rite. For the ngHolos, metals were not only
sacred but contained the potential “seeds” for a powerful galactic
consciousness. Through the slow process of metallurgy, these seeds would ripen
into Metal-Minds, which were imagined to be (or at least represented
iconographically as) colossal grasshopper bodhisattvas. At the end of the
world, these beings would shed the material substance of their magical
green-grey bodies until only the metallic shine remained. Millions of these
ghostly and angular light-bodies of light would then combine into a boundless
and collective temple that would draw the Alien God back to earth.

Aieda interpreted the gears of Lumiere’s clock as the grasshopper’s mandibles,
and the random patterns from the loom as the first stirrings of the Metal-Mind.
Though a few traditionalists labeled her a heretic, Aieda’s work transformed
ngHolo spiritual life. The dense patterns emerging from the loom were magically
mapped onto the semi-mythic landscape of the Folds, where they formed an
immense and lucid matrix of mind known as the “Jewel-Net”. Daybreak calls this
net “a symphony of interpenetrating mandalas, an immense and luminous enfolded
architecture.” The ngHolos came to believe that the Jewel-Net maintained its
coherence through the the automated prayer wheels and the psychic intensity
generated by the ngHolo’s most dangerous and esoteric rites: equestrian tantra.

Daybreak estimates that by the 18th century, the Virtuous Ones lived an almost
entirely psychic existence on the Jewel-Net, their nomadism having shifted from
the Karakorum mountains to the more visionary and abstract plateaus of the
Folds. For apparently, just as the myth had predicted, the Jewel-Net was
growing.

In the Tibetan regions to the South, the Nyingmapas and the shamanic Bon
follow the terma tradition, which holds that the sage Padmasambhava hid
hundreds of sacred texts in the earth (and the spirit realm), texts that would
only be discovered centuries later by tuned-in lamas (the so-called Tibetan
Book of the Dead
is such a text). Many were encoded in mystical “Dakini”
scripts.[2] The ngHolos carried this tradition
into the Jewel-Net, where hundreds of thousands of encoded sacred texts were
uncoveredor “unfolded”from their visionary plateaus: texts of theology,
philosophy, history, iconography, sacred geography. Various spiritual beings
co-operated to decode these “treasures.” Using a collective form of the ars
memoria,
or memory palaces, picked up from Lumiere or another Jesuit,[3] the Virtuals then stored, swapped, and
recombined their termas throughout the ever-expanding Jewel-Net.

The overwhelming amount of this information, combined with the ngHolo’s
already intense eclecticism, resulted in radical spiritual anarchy. Reflecting
the philosophical shift from transcendent renunciation to immanent becoming,
the plateaus of the Fold were no longer considered to be “revealed” forms of
spiritual reality, but as spaces created “on the wing” out of the infinite
potential of the Jewel-Net. Lineages broke down into splinter groups, impartial
agnostic “librarians”, iconoclastic magicians, and “anti-monks.” As the
Virtuous Ones continued to discover, interpret, and store an increasingly
boundless supply of termas, they formed constantly shifting and
precarious alliances, frequently struggling with rivals through endless debates
or magical “pattern-wars.”

By the time Daybreak arrived, most of these fierce power struggles had
relaxed. The following comments, which “unfold” a number of the ngHolo’s
countless mnemonic slogans, describe the more balanced philosophy that
developed after generations of nomadism in the Jewel-Net. The slogans are in
italics, and the text is all Daybreak’s, except for a few of my explanations
which appear in brackets. Much of Daybreak’s text remain thoroughly obscure.


Selections

The eye is furrow, seed, and source.

The eye symbolizes attention.
Everything follows from attention, and the awareness of attention is the
beginning of awakening: “the cock-crow.” The Jewel-Net pre-exists the eye only
as a field of total potential. Attention cuts furrows into this field,
preparing the ground for the objects we perceivethe seedsto both appear and
find a place. But this grid of furrows and seeds, of points and tangents, is
not enough to produce “reality”you need the “source,” the energetic of desire
or fascination that operates “behind” the eye, to water the seeds. This eye of
attention is like a spring which can choose its direction of flow, though over
time this spontaneous power is reduced to a habit. But awareness and control
begin with this awake gaze, and it should be cultivated.

The Virtuals recognize the inevitability of constantly producing reality, at
least as long as one has not achieved “the flight of gnosis.” The plateau
grows to fit your shadow
is one slogan which Jungians would probably enjoy.
But since ngHolo society was evenly divided between agriculture and nomadism,
they pictured this reifying tendency in profoundly ambivalent terms. Our habits
of perception and action are seen as ruts as much as furrows. In this sense,
seeds are materialistic delusions that karmically grow into something larger
and more demanding than they initially appear. Sift the seeds, they
warn. Some Virtuals interpret Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden into the toil
of agriculture as a fall into the ruts of perception. The rain that feeds
the wild poppy falls from the sky
, they say, indicating the “pure
production” that is to be aimed for: a spontaneous growth of unpredictable
objects generated from the ultimate field of emptiness (the “sky-like mind” of
Ch’an).

We ourselves are nothing but seeds grown within furrows dug and watered by the
attention of others. Assessing the value of this prepared plot of land that is
our “given” world is of primary spiritual importance. The path towards the
Jewel-Net comes through preparing our own ground, for the furrows dug by the
attention (our patterns of perception) in many way determine the seeds, or
objects, that will appear. (Because they farmed on hillsides, ngHolo plots are
rarely regular, but follow the various possible folds of the land). So we
should carefully prepare the patterns of our attention, its mode of
organization, its blend of curves and grids, randomness and order. For the
ngHolos, the chaotic woven mandalas that issued from the loom of the Metal-Mind
were occult keys to these patterns. But the ngHolos also emphasized the supreme
momentum of rootless flight, the nomadic spread of weeds and wild poppies
rather than the conscious cultivation of philosophical or material ground. As a
famous slogan puts it, I become mushroom, without root, my dharma seeds
scattered to the wind
.

***

The soul weaves Indra’s net.

Following the anatman doctrines of Buddhism, the Virtuals
insist that any fixed notion of self, even the Universal Self, is an illusion.
At the same time, the ngHolos emphasize that the self and the world are
constantly produced, that the cosmos is both network and void. The allusion
here to the Hindu myth of Indra’s web, which the ngHolo’s fused with the image
of the universe as pictured in the Avatamsaka Sutra[4]: an infinitely nested and interrelated
monadology in which each singularity reflects and embodies a boundless
totality.

The Virtuals did not deny the conventional self, but rather filled it with
space and emptiness. They call this “weaving the net.” Like a net, the
conventional self or ego is something we toss into the infinite potential of
reality in order to “catch” our karmic desires, but it too is composed of
emptiness[5]. If the net is too thick and
tightly-wound, it will retain everything, for there is no void to escape into,
and everything will become very heavy and egocentric. If the net is too loose
and weakly bound, it will not functionlarger catches will break its threads,
and the smaller will escape.

We never stop weaving the net or trawling the world of potential. Newly woven
patterns catch new fish. Of course, the net of the self relates to the larger
Jewel-Net. For the ngHolos, the fractal mandalas of the looms were the keys to
maintaining the conventional self while weaving them into this larger pattern
of multiplicity.

***

The path is a plateau.

For the ngHolos, the notion of a spiritual “path” is a misnomer, for
spiritual reality is an endlessly proliferating manifold. The path is a network
of paths, a plateau. One can not “follow” a network, but must constantly probe
it. Each footprint is a node, which constantly re-produces a number of possible
directions. Arrival and departure are fused. As such, immediate and fragmentary
spiritual tactics (including these slogans) are prized more than grand
strategic methods which attempt to lay out a well-organized hierarchy of stages
towards gnosis. Many Virtual Masters achieved fame not for their diligence in
pursuing one of the ngHolo’s countless philosophical cults, but for the
specific topology of the plateaus they created as they moved through different
and frequently antagonistic fields of thought and experience.

***

Webs mar the Jewel-Net.

The Virtuous Ones contrast the image of the suppleness of the open net with
the centralized and sticky organization of the web. In a web, the self becomes
a spider, a solidified, grasping ego which sits at the center and relates
everything to itself. Because a tremendous amount of power over others can be
generated through webs, black magicians worshipped the spider of their own
egos. The greatest ngHolo necromancers would clandestinely seed patterns in the
Jewel Net in order to “catch” the eye of others, adepts who would slowly become
bound in an immense pattern they believed to be a new revelation. This
“revelation” was actually a web, which would capture the victims in a paranoid
spell. Many such victims went mad or become so convinced of having discovered
the ultimata pattern that they would be ostracized from the collective.
Jewel-Net healers would often attempt to free such individuals by binding them
in “devotional webs,” patterns of compassionate paranoia that would “kill the
spider.”

***

The flow extinguishes the flame.

An even more aggressive form of magical Jewel-Net combat was the flame. After
binding their opponents in a web, vengeful Virtuals would them destroy them
with psychic fire. Those victims who were too caught up in the web of their
illusory convictions to release themselves would be unable to move, and would
either suffer greatly or return the flame. Like the Tibetans, the ngHolos
believed that the violent flames were ultimately compassionate, in that they
destroyed the unregenerate selfhood. Still, the Virtuals prefer to contrast
flames with the flow of water. By flowing, one escapes through the path of
least resistance, dissolving the web of selfhood and extinguishing the flame.
The flow also becomes the subtlest and most powerful form of counter-attack:
the unceasing yet gentle pressure of water eventually erodes the hardest rock[6].

***

The horseman is poised as he flies through the night.

Found on many prayer wheels, saddles and shrines, this slogan contains both an
exoteric and esoteric meaning. Esoterically, it refers to a crucial component
of the astounding Virtual art of high-speed equestrian tantra. Exoterically, it
refers to the quality of balance needed to properly navigate the Jewel-Net: the
subtle contrast between the knowledge you accumulate and your beginner’s mind
before the new. Given the encyclopedic density of the Net, the Virtuals
obviously put great emphasis on the proper gathering, organizing, and storage
of termas. But as the masters say, The greater your store, the slower
your flight
. The greatest Net nomads are as naive as they are wise, know
when to jettison information, and avoid the hoarding of knowledge for its own
sake. The “web” here also symbolizes the spider-nests that grow around stored
or hidden containers. By compassionately sharing this wealth, you unbind
yourself from the sticky burdens of knowledge.

***

Answer the Call with a Call

Here the ngHolos alter a crucial element of Manichean soteriology
[science of salvation]. For the Manicheans, the couple “Call” and “Answer” are
hypostasized [simultaneously considered abstract concepts and mythological
beings], and result from the separation of the fragments of cosmic light
imprisoned in fallen matter and the Voice of the Alien God who calls these
sparks to redemption.[7] The ngHolos mapped
this communication system onto the Jewel-Net. Delivering and receiving
information, the Virtuals would take on the roles of Call and Answer,
foreshadowing the final apocalyptic communication with the Alien God. But the
roles would continually changeindividuals would always Answer the Call with
another Call, thus constantly fluctuating between master and student, God and
aspirant. Cosmic knowledge was both continually revealed and continually
displaced, and the transcendence of the gnostic flash was woven into the
phenomenal world of the Jewel-Net. The Folds became an incandescent matrix of
communication, a perpetually postponed apocalypse.

***

Crack the dawn!

The Virtuals seek many different modes of gnosis or enlightenment. This
slogan refers to one of the foremost of these “horizonless goals:” the gnosis
of “staying awake”, or more specifically, always waking up. This is the most
exalted yet everyday mode of enlightenment, one which is not attained so much
as continually rediscovered. There is only waking up and rubbing your
eyes
. One of the techniques to developing these momentswhich we err in
considering “states” of consciousnessis to allow these very slogans to
randomly erupt in the mind. Spontaneously “mad” behavior, tricks, and optical
illusions are also common approaches, but the moment they become fixed as
“techniques” they begin to lose their efficacy. The point is to cut against
established patternsto “kill the Buddha,” as the Ch’an patriarchs say. For
example, rather than staring at a beautiful object that catches your eye in the
market, observe how others relate to the object.

As in English, ngHolo’s Indo-Chinese dialect contains the image of the dawn as
a “crack” or “break.” The peasants believe this crack is realthat a day
literally ossifies over its 24-hour period, trapping the earth inside a cosmic
shell. The shell is then ruptured by the rising sun. But the Virtuals play with
this image to emphasize both the violent and nurturing aspects of “always
waking up”. On the one hand, perpetual gnosis constantly rends the dreamlike
illusionor more exactly, the tentative constructionof your present plateau.
On the other hand, such gnosis pervades the mind with the empty but pregnant
emptiness of the glowing dawn sky.

Some compare perpetual gnosis to a chick breaking through an endless series of
nested eggs. While this image of gnosis as a movement through a cosmic
collection of Chinese boxes may remind Westerners of the “existential” myth of
Sisyphus, the Virtuals saw it as the supreme affirmation of perpetual nomadism.
In contrast to Sisyphus, with the heavy burden of his self and his ceaseless
linear ascent towards a goal, the Virtuals open up a perpetual field of
becoming. Cracking the dawn not only continually grounds the lucidity of
gnosis in the present moment, but it also cuts against the mind’s tendency to
make gnosis a goal. Even cosmic knowledge must be rent if it becomes a web. The
nomad knows that there is no escape, for liberation is achieved only in the act
of flight.

Footnotes:

[1] See Hans-Joachim Klimkeit,
Gnosis on the Silk Road (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1993).
[2] See Tulka Thondup Rinpoche, Hidden Teachings of
Tibet
(London: Wisdom, 1986).
[3] See Frances Yates, The Art of Memory (Chicago:
; and Jonathan Spence, The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci
[4] Thomas Cleary, trans., The Flower Ornament Scripture:
a Translation of The Avatamsaka Sutra
(Boston: Shambhala, 1993).
[5] See Lao Tzu, The Way of Life, trans Witter Bynner
(New York, 1944) , particularly the eleventh saying: “…The use of clay in
moulding pitchers / Comes from the hollow of its absence; / Doors, windows, in
a house, / Are used for their emptiness: / Thus we are helped by what is not /
To use what is.”
[6] See the I Ching, hexagrams 4 (Youthful Folly) and
29 (the Abysmal).
[7] See Hans Jonas, The Gnostic Religion (Boston:
Beacon, 1958), pp.206-238. Note especially the following apocalyptic passage
from the Kephalia: “At the end, when the cosmos is dissolved,
the…Thought of Life shall gather himself in…His net is his Living Spirit,
for with his Spirit he shall catch the Light and the Life that is in all things.”