Turning into Crystal — or Diamond?

W. T. S. Thackara

Recently a friend related to me details of a dream where she and another person — whom she regarded as a kind of modern-day magus — were performing magical ceremonials which turned the inside of their bodies into crystal. Later on, she heard of an old "shamanistic" practice of converting vital organs into a crystalline state, and she wondered if there was a connection.

The relationship between dreams, crystals, and magic may not appear so strange when we consider that history is replete with seers hovering over crystal balls — peering not only into the past and future, but into the bright and dark souls of men. In psychological studies, moreover, Carl Jung noted the frequent appearance of crystals in dreams. To him, the crystal represents the Self — the nuclear center of the person — because of its "just-so-ness."

Reacting somewhat against the murkiness of the "shamanist" interpretation, I felt that there might be another way to look at my friend's dream. Two streams of thought were sparked by it. The first was cautionary, for it reminded me of the danger of allowing thoughts and actions to crystallize: that process where one progressively loses the vitality of inquiry and gets immobilized in the past. The second had quite a different character. It occurred to me that the Buddha is often called, and is said to possess, the "Diamond Heart." My friend's eyes lit up, and I tried to recount a wonderful interpretation I'd heard of this classic simile.

The diamond — the brightest, hardest, and most durable substance in the mineral kingdom — has for thousands of years been regarded as one of the most eloquent symbols for those who have mastered the lessons offered by human experience. Those who are buddha, "awakened" — inwardly luminous and outwardly reflecting the great travail and sorrow of mankind — are known individually as vajrasattva, "he whose essential being is diamond." Adamant in refusing to yield to the downward pull of his lower nature, a buddha is yet durable in his compassionate response to the needs, sufferings, and failings of humanity: durable — and enduring — because he has allied his will and purpose with the essence of unchanging and unchangeable cosmic law.

But how, we might ask, does one turn his "heart" into diamond? In other words, what is it that makes a buddha a buddha? The same process in principle, it has been answered, that makes a diamond a diamond.

The peregrinations of elemental carbon through the molecular kingdoms provides a dramatic archetype of the alchemical transmutation of the human soul. Vital to the maintenance of life in plant and animal, the oxidation of carbon and its compounds supplies most of the physical energy required by these kingdoms. If we observe these atomic journeys closely, we can begin to see a cyclic pattern that is part of the larger cyclings which permeate and characterize all nature. This particular carbon cycle consists of plants drawing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, converting it through photosynthesis into carbohydrates. Animals, consuming and reconverting the carbohydrates, return the carbon compounds to the earth's biosphere, principally through exhalation, where it is once again reabsorbed by the plants.

Turning to a specific illustration, we can imagine ages ago a host of carbon atoms wending their way through the karmic paths of nature, until tenanted in the flora of a dense forest. The plants eventually die and fall into boggy water which, lacking sufficient oxygen, cannot liberate all of the carbon. The partially decomposed material transforms into peat; then, with the advance and retreat of seas, layer after layer of sediment is laid over the deposit. Under growing pressure and heat, the peat dries and hardens, becoming lignite, a low-grade coal. With still more pressure, more heat and more time, the impurities convert again and the lignite changes into a high quality coal, anthracite. Then comes the dramatic transformation. Subjected to some of the greatest physical forces that earth can bring to bear, the remaining impurities are sloughed off, and with a few more changes in its internal structure, the carbon triumphs over the opposition: a diamond is created.

Throughout each transformation the carbon remains one in essence, differing only in outer form and quality; from soft opacity, it is wrought by the pressure of the ages into the brilliant translucency of the hardest substance known in physical nature.

So is it with the human soul. Through its long cyclic evolution, housing itself in form after form, each human "atom" gravitates by its own self-devised efforts into the retort of daily experience where it will meet the challenges of downward and upward pressures. As with the carbon host, there may come a time in a person's his life cycle where he will find himself consciously poised between these contrary forces — each originating in and attracted by the higher and the lower aspects of his nature. Aspiring upward, he automatically feels the pull downward; and the resulting tension and pressure in this unsought battle generates the "fire" so highly revered by the alchemists and fire philosophers of all ages. Seen under its companion aspect, this is the "alkahest" of Paracelsus: the universal solvent which "burns" away the accumulated dross of egotism, gradually transmuting the reimbodying element into its pure, lucid state.

Ultimately the individual will meet perhaps the greatest challenge in human experience: the pressure not to become buddha. This supreme event is movingly depicted in Sir Edwin Arnold's poetic masterpiece on the life of the Buddha, The Light of Asia. In the sixth chapter, Siddhartha, after years — and no doubt lifetimes — of struggle, finally sat himself under the Bodhi tree in quest of the Great Awakening:

Then fell the night even as our Master sate
Under that Tree. But he who is the Prince
Of Darkness, Mara — knowing this was Buddh
Who should deliver men, and now the hour
When he should find the Truth and save the worlds —
Gave unto all his evil powers command.
Wherefore there trooped from every deepest pit
The fiends who war with Wisdom and the Light, . . .

Mara, the lower nature of man personified, and his legions — led by the ten "mighty Sins" of egoism, doubt, blind faith, lust, hate, greed for life, ambition, pride, self-righteousness, and delusion, sought to shake Siddhartha from his resolve. He of course resisted their poisonous suggestions. Yet here at the threshold of nirvana, Mara posed the final challenge: for who among men "who love their sins . . . and drink of error from a thousand springs," would listen? Who would believe in, let alone follow, the lamp of truth? This the Buddha pondered in great travail. Turning his vision upon the world of men, he beheld in a few the gleam of aspiration. "Oh, Supreme, Let thy great Law be uttered!" With this, the Buddha renounced his nirvana to return and teach the Way. For choosing this path known as the "Great Renunciation" — he earned the title of Diamond Heart.

In this alchemy of transmutation we find a simple formula for evolutionary growth, confirmed and validated by nature herself: the "kingdom of heaven" — or wisdom — is taken by force of will. It is an encouraging thought: by overcoming that which would oppose us in becoming better human beings in our everyday, moment-to-moment lives, we can wrest from that opposition the very measure of force which propelled it. And by converting this to the service of humanity, we can, in the course of cycles, create the diamond of compassion in our own hearts.

(From Sunrise magazine, August/September 1973; copyright © 1973 Theosophical University Press)

No great thing is brought to perfection suddenly, when not so much as a fig is. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen. Would you possess the fruit of the human mind in one hour, and without trouble? I tell you, expect no such thing. —  Epictetus

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