To celebrate the Sun’s entry into Capricorn on Tuesday Dec 22 AEDT, here is an excerpt from my book Signs of the Zodiac: Clothing of the Self, exploring Capricorn as the sign of Spiritual Attainment
“Don’t work toward freedom but allow the work itself to be freedom” – Dogen
“What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but to lose his soul?” – Jesus
Ruled by Saturn, the planet variously known as the Lord of Karma, the Grim Reaper and old Father Time, Capricorns tend to get a bad press in popular astrology. Although universally acknowledged to be hard working, conscientious, and responsible, they also have a reputation for being hard, calculating and ruthless; judgmental, dutiful and guilt ridden; and overly serious, controlling and materialistic. In short, very unspiritual.
“Every man is guilty of the good he did not do” – Voltaire
This certainly seems to apply to Mao Tse Tung, Idi Amin, Richard Nixon, J. Edgar Hoover and Al Capone, but what about spiritual masters Ramana Maharshi, Paramahansa Yogananda, Swami Vivekananda, Mother Meera, and Gurdjieff, or evolved souls like Joan of Arc, Kahil Gibran, Albert Schweizer and Martin Luther King, or twentieth century sages Alan Watts and John Lilly, William James, Ken Keyes, Alexander Lowen, and Carlos Castaneda, not to mention Jesus, whose heartfelt cry “Father, why hast thou forsaken me?” is an all too common Capricorn question. The controversial Indian guru, Osho, also has five planets in Capricorn – Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars and Saturn.
Capricorn then, is pre-eminently the sign of spiritual attainment, which, like worldly achievement, requires dedication, discipline and plain hard work, qualities Capricorns have in abundance. Gurdjieff’s emphasis on ‘The Work’ is archetypical. When he says “I love him who loves work” he is giving voice to the enduring sentiment of patriarchal authority heard through the ages. Another typical quote on the same theme gives the pure Capricorn taste: “There is only self-initiation, which is acquired by constant effort. It is impossible to give to a man anything that could become his own without effort on his part.”
In typical Capricorn style he set up an organization – the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man at the Chateau du Prieure in Fontainebleu, France – to further the Work. An integral part of spiritual practice for his pupils was the performance of hard physical labour such as chopping stones, constructing buildings, landscaping gardens, tending farm animals, etc, with rigorous mindfulness. Such labour provided the context for automatic machine-like personality reactions to be activated and subsequently eliminated through the assiduous practice of self-remembering. It also served the function of weeding out dilettantes and poseurs whom Gurdjieff regarded as a waste of his time, though he was certainly not above fleecing such types of their money when he needed it to keep the Institute afloat.
Another essential part of his pupil’s demanding schedule was to learn his original dances which purported to be an expression of his philosophical system in movement. Rather than subjective expression of feelings and ideas, the purpose of the dance was to integrate the three centres – the intellectual centre that thinks and plans; the emotional centre that feels pain and pleasure; and the physical, instinctive centre that moves and creates. Intense concentration is required to master the movements, each limb being required to move independently of every other limb in conscious and perfect coordination. When achieved, the effect is hypnotic, with both dancer and spectator being inducted into a meditative trance.
“Meditation is not a way to enlightenment, nor is it a method of achieving anything at all. It is peace and blessedness itself.” – Dogen
Ramana Maharshi dedicated virtually all his time to his ‘work’. He spent most of his day radiating silent power whilst simultaneously answering questions from a corner of the small hall where he lived, slept and held court. He shared in the communal work and for many years rose at 3am to prepare food for ashram residents. Such a spartan work oriented lifestyle is not uncommonly chosen by Capricorn even when they have the money to live more comfortably, for to them, “work is less boring than pleasure” – Charles Beaudelaire.
Osho’s Capricornian side was reflected in the commitment and dedication he brought to his ‘work’ of giving daily discourses over a period of many years; in the formal structures of ceremony and ritual he put in place to ensure the efficacy of his work, such as the wearing of maroon robes in his commune and the White Robe Brotherhood held at 7:00 pm each evening in Osho Centres throughout the world; and most significantly in his insistence that his disciples are solely responsible for their own growth and awakening. He was not one to bestow shaktipat and do the work for them.
Capricorn too, is a sign noted for concern with high standards and quality control. Well, nothing but the best for Osho, from the beautifully produced books, to the chauffer driven Rolls Royce, to the impeccably tailored personal robes, to the air conditioned, marble floored ashram buildings, and more generally in the overall ‘up market’ presentation of ‘Club Meditation’. As he said of himself, “I’m a simple man. I simply like the best of everything.”
“Before enlightenment chopping wood, carrying water; after enlightenment chopping wood, carrying water” – Zen Aphorism
Zen Buddhism too, it seems to me has a strongly Capricornian flavour, ruthlessly applying the Zen stick to any tendencies to romanticized spiritual glamour. This flavour is captured in the classic aphorism quoted above, yet even more stripped back to the bare essentials is this one: “When hungry eat; when tired sleep”. So earthy and to the point, its radical simplicity allows absolutely no room for argument or punditry! The natural Zen progression from there is to simply keep quiet, all the better to hear ‘the sound of one hand clapping’. Western sage Alan Watts, applied the Zen stick to Zen itself in his influential work The Way of Zen, demystifying it for a western readership and stripping away the ascetic glamour sometimes attached to the practice of formal zazen meditation.
Author Henry Miller came to a similar Zen flavoured wisdom in old age. Here he strips away the glamour from the romanticized view of artistic creation so common in the West: “Man … discovers as he attains fulfillment or a state of grace, if you like, that there is something beyond the mere act of creating. He comes to realize that it is not necessary to paint or describe in words what he sees around him. He learns to let things be. He discovers that simply by looking the world in the face everything he comes in contact with is a bit of a masterpiece. Why improve on it? Why make a fuss about it? Enjoy what you see, that’s quite enough. The man who can do this is the accomplished artist. His creative merit lies in the ability to recognize and acknowledge that which has been created and which will elude forever his limited comprehension.”