Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Dysfunctional Human Ego

"The ego is not personal," writes Eckhart Tolle. It has both an individual and a collective identity. And, as dangerous and all pervasive as it is on the individual level, it is on the collective level where it is most insidious. It is collective because it affects us all, and it is insidious because it continually slips under the radar of our consciousness. Unconsciously we go about our day-to-day activity, identified with our internalized thinking, yet tuned out to the madness around us.

"Greed, selfishness, exploitation, cruelty, and violence are still all-pervasive on our planet," Tolle observes. "When you don't recognize them as individual and collective manifestations of an underlying dysfunction or mental illness, you fall into the error of personalizing them."

Watching film footage of the Nuremburg rallies and of the resultant death camps of the Holocaust can we not say that this was an example of a world gone literally mad? Yet what about the greed and corruption that nearly brought down the world financial system in 2008? Was that not also an acute attack of madness? What about the daily traffic jams that clog cities around the globe as our carbon emissions melt the polar icecaps? Yet who amongst us is not sucked into the workaday madness that surrounds us? Is our identification as employees, as townsmen, as citizens, as "haves" or "have-nots" not an extremely potent motivator of our perspectives and behaviour? Are we not all too easily enabled to block out and disregard the harms we are causing to the planet as a whole, simply by the seeming drama of our day-to-day existence?

"You construct a conceptual identity for an individual or group," Tolle points out, "and you say: "This is who he is. This is who they are." When you confuse the ego that you perceive in others with their identity, it is the work of your own ego that uses this misperception to strengthen itself through being right and therefore superior, and through reacting with condemnation indignation, and often anger against the perceived perceived enemy."

"All this is enormously satisfying to the (personal) ego," he notes. "It strengthens the sense of separation between yourself and the other whose "otherness" has become magnified to such an extent that you can no longer feel your common humanity, nor the rootedness in the one Life that you share with each being, your common divinity."

[Eckhart Tolle, "A New Earth," pp. 73-74]

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Will to Percieve a New World

Wisdom is to know that all we perceive and conceive is not necessarily wholly true, that to a large extent our perceptions and conceptions are a result of what we wish to see and think about. It is clear, then, as Aldous Huxley points out below, that what we concentrate our intelligence upon is critical to our well-being, for our thoughts and perceptions shape our world.
"Some thoughts are practically unthinkable," Huxley notes, "except in terms of an appropriate language and within the framework of an appropriate system of classification. Where these necessary instruments do not exist, the thoughts in question are not expressed and not even conceived. Nor is this all: the incentive to develop the instruments of certain kinds of thinking is not always present."

"For long periods of history and prehistory," he points out, "it would seem that men and women, though perfectly capable of doing so, did not wish to pay attention to problems which their descendants found absorbingly interesting. For example," he points out, "there is no reason to suppose that between the thirteenth century and the twentieth, the human mind underwent any kind of evolutionary change, comparable to the change, let us say, in the physical structure of the horse's foot during an incomparably longer span of geological time. What happened," he observes, "was that men turned their attention from certain aspects of reality to certain other aspects. The result, among other things, was the development of the natural sciences."

"Our perceptions and understandings are directed, in large measure, by our will," Huxley notes. "We are aware of and we think about the things which, for one reason or another, we want to see and understand. Where there's a will there is always an intellectual way. The capacities of the human mind are almost indefinitely great. Whatever we will to do, whether it be to come to the unitive knowledge of the Godhead, or to manufacture self-propelled flamethrowers - that we are able to do, provided always that the willing be sufficiently intense and sustained"
[Aldous Huxley, "The Perennial Philosophy," p. 17]
Given the atrocities of war, famine and increasing environmental crises we have witnessed in the past hundred-odd years, one can only question why our perceptions and conceptions of the world we have created remain so static. While our scientific understanding of our world has increased a thousandfold and more, our understanding of the inner man, our motivations and collective consciousness seem to have changed but little. What one asks, will it take for us to reorient our collective perceptions and conceptions? We cannot, after all, as Einstein so plainly understood, solve our current existential challenges with the same level of thinking that created them.

What, therefore, do we will? A greater understanding of ourselves and our place in the evolutionary process of the universe, or the proliferation of ever greater consumption and domination over nature? Do we wish to come to "the unitive knowledge of the Godhead" or produce ever more efficient weapons to maintain the status quo bequeathed us by the horrors of the twentieth century? One knows where Huxley, Einstein and other great thinkers would weigh in on these questions. It seems clear that they would evince a will to an ever greater understanding of man and his place in both a new world and a newfound evolving cosmos.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Allah: An Omnipresent God

"Those who adore God in the sun behold the sun, and those who adore Him in living things see a living thing, and those who adore Him in lifeless things see a lifeless thing, and those who adore Him as a Being unique and unparalleled see that which has no like. Do not attach yourself to a particular creed exclusively so that you disbelieve in all the rest; otherwise you will lose much good; nay, you will fail to recognize the real truth of the matter. God, the omnipresent and omnipotent, is not limited by any one creed. Wheresoever you turn, there is the face of Allah."
-- Ibn 'Arabi --
("Essential Sufism," pp. 228-229)
The beauty of Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam, and of which Ibn 'Arabi is an undisputed master, is its inclusiveness. Indeed, there are those Sufis who do not recognize Sufism as being, strictly speaking, a Muslim school. (In the attached video Sufi teacher, Irena Tweedie, for example, notes that Sufism predates Islam.)


There is, thus, a wide, almost-pantheistic inclusiveness within Sufism's rich multi-cultural tradition, an inclusiveness which no doubt arises from the all embracing notion of what Allah is. Ibn 'Arabi's observation, above ("Wheresoever you turn, there is the face of Allah.") is, in fact, itself a direct quote from the Koran.

Certainly the great Sufi teachers of the past have recognized the omnipresent, inneffable nature of the Divine, an omnipresence that is inherent irrespective of one's faith. As the great Sufi poet, Rumi observed:
Not Christian or Jew or Muslim, not Hindu,
Buddhist, sufi or zen. Not any religion

or cultural system. I am not from the East
or the West, not out of the ocean or up

from the ground, not natural or ethereal, not
composed of any elements at all. I do not exist,

am not an entity in this world or the next,
did not descend from Adam and Eve or any

origin story. My place is placeless, a trace
of the traceless. Neither body or soul.

I belong to the beloved, have seen the two
worlds as one, and that one call to and know,

first last, outer, inner, only that
breath breathing human being.

                        <<<->>>

There is a way between voice and presence
where information flows.

In disciplined silence it opens.
With wandering talk it closes.

[Coleman Barks, "The Essential Rumi," p. 32.]

Monday, October 10, 2011

Emerson and Kipling: On Conformity and Self-Reliance

"What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness. It is the harder because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion: it is easy in solitude to live after your own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of the solitude."

-- Ralph Waldo Emerson --
("Self-Reliance")
 "A man must consider what a blind-man's bluff is this game of conformity," Emerson wrote in his great essay on Self-Reliance. And if this was so in Emerson's nineteenth century New England, circumscribed as it was by local conditions and custom, by distance and distinctiveness, how much greater the challenge today when we live in a mass society assailed on all sides by messages of conformity?

Today, unlike in Emerson's age, we are met each day with a barrage of advertising on just how we should live, on just what we should consume, and just what we should aspire to. Today, perhaps more so than in any time past, we rely not on ourselves but on others to define just who and what we are. But is this not its own form of madness? Is this not an injurious game of bluff and folly as Emerson observed?

"For non-conformity," he pointed out, "the world whips you with its displeasure." Yet, is it not the person who refuses to conform - a Ghandhi, a Churchill, a Mandela, an MLK Jr. - who ultimately shapes both our ideals and our destinies? In the end, are we not all forced to be self-reliant or perish under the weight of our circumstances, seemingly misunderstood by all?

Perhaps this message is best captured by another Victorian,  Rudyard Kipling, in his immortal poem on self-reliance:
IF
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream---and not make dreams your master;
If you can think---and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:.
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build'em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings---nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And---which is more---you'll be a Man, my son!
 "A foolish consistency is the hobgobblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines," Emerson observed. "With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words," he urged, "and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict everything you said to-day."

"Is it so bad then," he asks, "to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood."

Friday, October 7, 2011

Viktor Frankl: Finding Meaning in Life

"When a man finds that it is his destiny to suffer, he will have to accept his suffering as his task; his single and unique task. He will have to acknowledge the fact that even in suffering he is unique and alone in the universe. No one can relieve him of his suffering or suffer in his place. His unique opportunity lies in the way in which he bears his burden."
-- Viktor Frankl --
("Man's Search for Meaning")

 To the unenlightened being, the Buddha observed, life is suffering. The existential question this raises, then, is how do we find meaning in a life full of suffering?

While the Buddha found that suffering can be overcome through the spiritual awakening of enlightenment, Dr. Viktor Frankl, a psychotherapist who survived Auschwitz, found conversely that it is in embracing and overcoming suffering that one may find purpose in life.

In Frankl's view, desperation arises only when there is suffering absent meaning. So long as there is meaning in suffering - so long as man can offer something back to the world, even if it consists merely in overcoming the circumstances from which suffering arises - there need be no despair. Despair, he notes in the video interview below, arises only from suffering without meaning.

"As long as an individual cannot find any meaning in his suffering, he or she will certainly be prone to despair and, under certain conditions, suicide," Frankl points out. "But at the moment they can see a meaning in their suffering they can mould ther predicament into an accomplishment on a human level, They can turn their tragedies into a personal triumph."


"But if these people, like so many segments of present day society's population, cannot find any meaning whatoever in their suffering, (so long as they) cannot see anything meaningful," Frankl notes, "more often than not . . . they cannot find anything to live for."

"What we have to accept is the incapacity of our humanity," says Frankl, "our incapacity to understand our ultimate meaning in intellectual terms."









Sunday, October 2, 2011

Do Not Judge "Others"

"Abbot Joseph asked Abbot Pastor: Tell me how I can become a monk? The elder replied: If you want to have rest here in this life and also in the next, in every conflict with another say: Who am I? And judge no one."
 -- Thomas Merton --
("The Wisdom of the Desert")

"Judge not, lest ye be judged," we are advised (Matthew 7:1). In the spiritual life, to judge is to separate ourselves from everyone and everything, to invite the perception of duality and separation into our lives. Once we sit in judgment on another, we become our own judge. And not just our own judge, but also our own jury, jailer and hangman. Thus the wisdom of the desert father to "judge no one," lest we judge ourselves into a spiritual corner from which we cannot escape.

If we ask just who we are, irrespective of the situation we find ourselves in, we are forced to confront the question of whether we are again identified with the narrow self of the individual ego, or whether we are identified with the broader depth of our authentic Being. If we are inspired, we shall see that there really is no clear differentiation between our self and others, that we are all part of "the Kingdom of God" which is within us, and that there is no "other" to judge. Thus ask, "Who am I? And do not judge others."


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Erich Fromm: On America's Consumer Society

The more things change, the more they stay the same. The truism of this adage is abundantly clear when one views this 1958 interview that Mike Wallace conducted with the great psychoanalyst and social critic, Erich Fromm. Particularly in his criticism of materialism as an ends rather than a means to happiness and meaning, Fromm's observations on American society - an America before civil rights, before the 1960s, before the Internet, an America under the threat of nuclear war - presage contemporary criticisms of our consumer society.

"Because in our enthusiasm to dominate nature and produce more material goods, we have transformed means into ends," Fromm notes. "We wanted to produce more in the 19th century and the 20th century in order to give man the possibility of a more dignified life. But actually what has happened is that production and consumption have ceased to be means and have become ends. And we are production crazy and consumption crazy."

"(Man's) work is to a large extent meaningless because he is not related to it," Fromm points out. "He is increasingly part of a big social machinery governed by a big bureaucracy, and I think (that) unconsciously he hates his work very often because he feels trapped (and) imprisoned by it. He feels that he is spending most of his energy for something that has no meaning in itself."

"Men, today, being concerned with production and consumption as ends in themselves have very little energy (or) time to devote themselves to true religious experience."








Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tolle and Ram Dass: Mastery of Life

"The best-laid schemes o' mice an 'men
Gang aft agley,
An'lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!

Still thou art blest, compar'd
wi' me
The present only toucheth thee:
But, Och! I backward cast my e'e.
On prospects drear!
An' forward, tho' I canna see,
I guess an' fear!"
-- Robert Burns --
("To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with a Plough")
"Mastery of life is not a question of control," observes spiritual teacher, Eckhart Tolle, "but of finding a balance between human and Being."

Our humanity would have us incessantly casting our inner eye backwards and forwards in order to control and tame life, so that our fears and worries are averted and all remorse and bitterness over the past is overcome. Yet, in continual recurrence to this netherworld of past and future ( "I backward cast my e'e. On prospects drear! An' forward, tho' I canna see, I guess an' fear!") we rob ourselves and others of the larger dimension of our Being. It is for this reason, perhaps, that Robert Burns seems wistful, even envious, of the mouse whose nest he has overturned with the plough. The mouse who lives in the Eternal Present knows a dimension of Being unknown to the ploughman who is merely stuck, held prisoner in his unconscious humanity, somewhere between his past and future.

"To do whatever is required of you in any situation without it becoming a role that you identify with is an essential lesson in the art of living that each of us is here to learn," Tolle points out. "You become most powerful in whatever you do if the action is performed for its own sake rather than as a means to protect, enhance, or conform to your role identity."
[Tolle, "A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose," pp. 104, 106-107.] 

As Ram Dass observed in his commentary on the Bhagavad Gita: "Whatever karma it is that brought you to this point, it's now your dharma to work with it." To be present to that dharma is to move beyond time-limited humanity and towards eternal Being. It is to be as present as the mouse and not to be enslaved, like the ploughman, to the woeful past and and a fearful future.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Eckhart Tolle: Freedom from the Ego

Eckhart Tolle
". . . (T)hinking without awareness is the main dilemma of human existence."
-- Eckhart Tolle --
Being free of the smaller self, free of ego, is the transformational goal of all the world's great wisdom traditions. In self-forgetting we awaken to the divinity within each of us, indeed, to the divinity that infuses, pervades and supports all we see. We become whole and realize that we are part of the Whole, rather than isolated individuals.

How is such a transformation of the psyche to be achieved, however? Best-selling author, Eckhart Tolle, a spiritual teacher of no small repute, emphasizes that the key to overcoming the limitations of the ego lies in our present moment awareness.

"All that is required to become free of the ego," he notes, "is to be aware of it, since awareness and ego are incompatible. Awareness is the power that is concealed within the present moment. This is why we may also call it Presence. The ultimate purpose of human existence, which is to say, your purpose, is to bring that power into this world. And this is also why becoming free of the ego cannot be made into a goal to be attained at some point in the future. Only Presence can free you of the ego, and you can only be present Now, not yesterday or tomorrow. Only Presence can undo the past in you and thus transform your state of consciousness."

With Oprah, co-hosts of "A New Earth"
web seminar. (Available here.)
"Spiritual realization," he continues, "is to see clearly what I perceive, experience, think, or feel is ultimately not who I am, that I cannot find myself in all those things that continuously pass away. The Buddha," he points out, "was probably the first human being to see this clearly, and so anata (no self) became one of the central points of his teaching. And when Jesus said, "Deny thyself," what he meant was: Negate (and thus undo) the illusion of self. If the self - ego - were truly who I am, it would be absurd to deny it."

[Tolle, "A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose," pp. 78-79.]



Thursday, September 22, 2011

Mooji: On the Conquest of Thought

"If we think for a moment that there is such a thing as thought, consciousness itself will appear as thought. That itself will appear as the world, and jivas, and as the Supreme. There will be misery arising out of it. Therefore, beloved, conquer thought easily by the certitude that there is no such thing as thought and all is Consciousness, and like this attain bliss."

"Conquest of thought alone is the great success. Conquest of thought alone is the great achievement. Conquest of thought alone is the great yoga. Conquest of thought alone is the great knowledge. Conquest of thought alone is the great purification. Conquest of thought alone is the great liberation. Conquest of thought alone is the removal of sorrow. Conquest of thought alone is the greatest happiness. But conquest of thought is, itself, the renunciation of thought, (and) the renunciation of thought is Consciousness."


-- Ribhu Gita --

Anthony Paul ("Mooji") Moo-Young
Basing his short lecture (below) on a reading from the Ribbhu Gita, spiritual teacher, Mooji, points out that the basic problem of human existence, the individual ego, arises from the individual's identification with the body-mind complex rather than the pure Being innate in each of us. Mahamaya, the great illusion that we are the body-mind and nothing more, arises when we wholly identify with our egoic thinking, and are thus blinded to the pure consciousness and Being within us.
"Egoic thought can only molest you when you are the body-mind identity," Mooji notes. "Mahamaya, the great illusion, can only overwhelm you when you carry the modification 'I am the body-mind', 'I am just a person.' No person can defeat that Mahamaya. It is only because the Parabrahman is inside you, the Supreme Being is inside you, that you can transcend maya.""

"(It is) only by limiting yourself to being the body-mind only," Mooji points out, that illusions and (more) illusions can enter. But because the Supreme Being is your Being, because you are identical with that, and that alone can transcend the effects of maya, that is the evidence that you are the Supreme Being. Because human beings have transcended maya."
"Nothing is either good or bad," wrote Shakespeare, "But our thinking makes it so."


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Marcus Aurelius: Ten Meditations


Marcus Aurelius, Emperor of Rome from 161-180 C.E. is more renowned for his Meditations than for his political and military victories. The last of "The Five Good Emperors," he is considered one of the greatest of the Stoic philosophers. 

Meditations, written while Aurelius was on campaign between 170 and 180, is still revered as a literary monument to a philosophy of service and duty. Comprising eight books, Meditations describes a philosophy dedicated to finding and preserving equanimity even in the midst of conflict.
  1. "How is my soul's helmsman going about his task? For in that lies everything."

  2. "A little flesh, a little breath, and a Reason to rule all - that is myself."  

  3. "Your mind will be like its habitual thoughts, for the soul becomes dyed by the colour of its thoughts."

  4. "(T)he sole thing of which any man be deprived is the present; since this is all he owns, and nobody can lose what is not his."

  5. "Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one."

  6. "(T)he passing moment is all that a man can ever live or lose."

  7. "Put from you the belief that 'I have been wronged', and with it will go the feeling. Reject your sense of injury, and the injury itself disappears."

  8. "Have I done an unselfish thing? Well then, I have my reward Keep this thought ever present and persevere."

  9. "Are you distracted by outward cares? Then allow yourself a space of quiet, wherein you can add to your knowledge of the Good and learn to curb your restlessness."

  10. "To pursue the unattainable is insanity, yet the thoughtless can never refrain from doing so."

Excerpted from  Maxwell Staniforth's translation of the Meditations" (London: Penguin), 1964.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Thomas Merton: On Action and Acceptance

In his study of Eastern religious and wisdom traditions, a study cut short by his untimely death, the Trappist monk, Thomas Merton, delved deeply into the heart of those traditions, finding the common ground that each shares with his own Christian faith  Not surprisingly, in his reflections on Hinduism (taken from his pithy book, "Thoughts On the East") he identifies the relentless pursuit of one's own self-will as the primary obstacle to spiritual growth and lasting happiness.

"The hazard of the spiritual quest is of course that its genuineness cannot be left to our own isolated subjective judgment alone," Merton points out. "We do not simply create our own lives on our own terms. Any attempt to do so is ultimately an affirmation of our individual self as ultimate and supreme. This is a self-idolatry which is diametrically opposed to Krishna consciousness or to any other authentic form of religious or metaphysical consciousness."

"The Gita," he notes, "sees that the basic problem of man is his endemic refusal to live by a will other than his own. For in striving to live entirely by his own individual will, instead of becoming free, man is enslaved by forces even more exterior and more delusory than his own transient fancies. He projects himself out of the present into the future. He tries to make for himself a future that accords with his own fantasy, and thereby escape from a present reality which he does not fully accept. And yet, when he moves into the future he wanted to create for himself, it becomes a present that is once again repugnant to him. And yet this is what he had "made" for himself - it is his karma."

"In accepting the present in all its reality as something to be dealt with precisely as it is," Merton writes, "man comes to grips at once with his karma and with a providential will which, ultimately, is more his own than what he currently experiences on a superficial level, as "his own will.""

"It is in surrendering a false and illusory liberty on the superficial level that man unites himself with the inner ground of reality and freedom in itself which is the will of God, of Krishna, of Providence, of Tao."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

An anonymous writer made the following observations about the challenges and hazards we create in refusing to accept life on life terms, and about the spiritual benefits that come to us when we do:
"(A)cceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation - some fact of my life - unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. Nothing absolutely nothing happens in God's world by mistake. . . . (U)nless I accept life completely on life's terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and my attitudes."

"Shakespeare said, "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women mere players." He forgot to mention that I was the chief critic. I was always able to see the flaw in every person, every situation. And I was always glad to point it out, be ause I knew you wanted perfection, just as I did. . . . (A)cceptance (has) taught me that there is a bit of good in the worst of us and a bit of bad in the best of us; that we are all children of God and we each have a right to be here. When I complain about me or about your, I am complaining about God's handiwork. I am saying that I know better than God."

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Carl Jung: On Man's Existence

"The decisive question for a man is this: Is he related to something Infinite or not?"
-- Carl G. Jung --

"I tried to find the best truth and the clearest light I could attain to. And, since I have reached my highest point and cannot transcend anymore, I am guarding my light and my treasure. It is most precious not only to me but, above all, to the darkness of the Creator who needs man to illuminate his creation. If God had foreseen his world it would be a mere senseless machine and man's existence a useless freak.  My intellect can envisage the latter possibility, but the whole of my being says "no" to it."

(Carl G. Jung, correspondence dated September 14, 1960)

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Says the mystic poet, Rumi:
"Consider the difference
in our actions and God's actions.

We often ask, "Why did you do that?"
or "Why did I act like that?"

We do act, and yet everything we do
is God's creative action.

We look back and analyze the events
of our lives, but there is another way
of seeing, a backward-and-forward-at-once
vision, that is not rationally understandable.

Only God can understand it.
"

[Coleman Barks, "The Essential Rumi," page 28.]

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Tao of Wholeness

Of all the wisdom metaphors in the Tao Te Ching, perhaps none captures the essence of non-duality like that of the "unhewn log." The log that is unhewn is an inseparable entity of nature. Combined with the analogy of our being to the whole of life as the stream is to the ocean - an image used in wisdom traditions the world over - the "unhewn log" makes the following one of the most poetic and insightful passages in the Taoist masterpiece.

The Way is eternally nameless.

Though the unhewn log is small,
No one in the world dares subjugate it.
If feudal lords and kings could maintain it,
The myriad creatures would submit of themselves.

As soon as one begins to divide things up,
   there are names:
Once there are names,
   one should also know when to stop;
Knowing when to stop,
   one thereby avoids peril.

In metaphorical terms,
      The relationship of all under heaven in the way
            is like that of the valley streams
                 to the river and the sea.



Sunday, September 4, 2011

Yoga and the Concentration of the Mind

Yoga is the method of uniting, or "yoking," the innate Godhead within one's being with the ultimate Ground of Being that pervades and upholds the universe. In the second of his Yoga aphorisms (or sutras), the great sage, Patanjali, notes that, "Yoga is the control of the thought-waves of the mind." This, of course, implies that it is only the uncontrolled thought-waves of the mind that separate us from the realization of the Godhead within us. Indeed, Swami Satchidananda, in his commentary on Patanjali's yoga sutras, points out that "for the keen student this one sutra would be enough because the rest of them only explain this one."

In his writings, Swami Vivikenanda (one of the first persons to bring the teachings of India to the West), asks:
"How has all the knowledge of the world been gained but by the concentration of the powers of the mind? The world," he observes, "is ready to give up its secrets if we only know how to knock, how to give it the necessary blow. The strength and the force of the blow come through concentration. There is no limit to the power of the human mind," he points out, "(t)he more concentrated it is, the more power is brought to bear on one point." (I. 130-131.)
"The flow of this continuous control of the mind becomes steady," Vivikenanda notes, "when practiced day after day, and the mind obtains the faculty of constant concentration." (I. 273.)

"Concentration is the essence of all knowledge," he points out, "nothing can be done without it. Ninety per cent of thought force is wasted by the ordinary human being, and therefore he is constantly committing blunders; the trained man or mind never makes a mistake." (VI. 123-124.)

In relation to this Swami Satchitananda cites the Sanskrit saying: Mana eva manushyanam karanam bandha mokshayoho. "As the mind, so the man; bondage or liberation are in your mind."

"If you feel bound," notes Satchidananda, "you feel bound. If you are liberated, you feel liberated. Things outside neither bind nor liberate you," he points out, "only your attitude towards them does that." (Satchidananda, "The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali," p. 5.)

As an 'attitude' is only a conditioned, habitual way of thinking, the practice of yoga is unlearning such conditioned habits of thought, and thereby concentrating the mind into a focused instrument with which to probe the inner depths of one's being. For it is only in doing so that we can become capable of perceiving the All-in-All.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Rev. Theodore Nottingham: Deep Prayer

"For most people ordinary life is characterized by the sense that God is absent," notes scholar and author, Rev. Theodore Nottingham. "But if God were not present at every moment we would not be here either."

"Creation is not a one-time event," Nottingham points out in a poignant presentation on "Deep Prayer" (below), it is God's ongoing gift on every level of our being, from the tiniest quark in the universe of the subatomic world to the highest stages of consciousness."

"Theresa of Avalon wrote in the 16th century," he points out, "that 'All difficulties in prayer can be traced to one cause: praying as if God were absent.'"

"The external senses perceive the immediacy of material reality," Nottingham observes, "(while) the spiritual senses perceive the immediacy of Divine reality in various forms by means of a gradual process in which the Word of God is assimilated, interiorized, and understood."

Says the 13th century Persian mystic, Jalaluddin Rumi:
"You and your intelligence
are like the beauty and precision
of an astrolabe.

Together, you calculate how near
existence is to the sun!

Your intelligence is marvelously intimate.
It's not in front of you or behind,
or to the left or the right.

Now try, my friend, to describe how near
is the creator to your intellect!

Intellectual searching will not find
the way to that king!

The movement of your finger
is not separate from your finger.

                      . . . . .
                     
This visible universe has many weathers
and variations.
                       But uncle, O uncle,
the universe of the creation-word,
the divine command to Be, that universe
of qualities is beyond any pointing to.

More intelligent than intellect,
and more spiritual than spirit.

No being is unconnected
to that reality, and that connection
cannot be said. There, there's
no separation and no return.

                    . . . . .
"In the evolution of humanity's spiritual awareness," notes Nottingham, "we find that prayer becomes something very different. The great sages of all traditions reveal in their own lives that prayer is ultimately a uniting of human consciousness with a vaster life that they call divine. We can therefore trace the evolution of prayer from petition (or) asking, to intercession (praying for others), to contemplation - silence transforming prayer."

"We are then," he observes, "lifted out of the mundane consciousness which we mistakenly take for reality and experience the freedom and insight, and capacity to love, that transcends our ordinary way of being. The transforming power of prayer deals with a more attuned awareness, an exulted consciousness of the present moment, and a liberation from the psychological baggage that blocks our true identity. Consciousness is energy," he points out and with a little discernment of our inner lives, we can easily notice the difference in quality of our various states."



(Poem excerpts from Coleman Barks' "The Essential Rumi," pp. 151-152.)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Theodore Nottingham: On the Kindgdom of Heaven

“The kingdom of heaven is like a grain
of mustard seed that a man took and
sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all
seeds,but when it has grown it is larger
than all the garden plants and becomes
a tree, so that the birds of the air come
and make nests in its branches.”

(Matthew 13:31-32)
The Kingdom of Heaven is not above, but is both within us and spread out upon the face of the earth. In a powerfully insightful sermon on the parables of Jesus, author and pastor, Rev. Theodore Nottingham, illustrates how a mustard seed of spiritual insight nourished by spiritual practice can blossom into a true flowering of the higher consciousness that is innate within each of us. It is this "Kingdom of Heaven" within us (Luke 17:21) that Nottingham rightly asserts is at the heart of all of Christ's teachings.

"I suggest to you," says Nottingham, "that the Kingdom of Heaven is nothing less than God's living presence known to you when you can enter that state of awareness, that state of consciousness, when you are not asleep to it. And so all of (Jesus') teachings are processes to get us there."

It will not be said, 'Look, here!'
or 'Look, there!' Rather, the
Father's kingdom is spread out
upon the earth, and people
don't see it."
(Thomas, 113.)
"There is a method to this madness of spiritituality," Nottingham asserts. "Just that little bit of (spiritual) remembrance (and) application is so powerful that its ripple effect can change others and affect others, who (then) affect others, and (thus) have a powerful impact on your world today. . . . It is the power of God in action through you."

"He is," Nottingham points out, "giving us the clues (and) telling us in timeless imagery how to make these gifts of God manifest in your life, how to enter the Kingdom of Heaven and become one with that love which then pours out to the world, how to forget 'self' and let something more profound come forth."

"When that yearning to help another takes you beyond your 'self' and causes you to do good in the world," says Nottingham, "the Kingdom of God is at hand because you have taken that seed seriously, you have cared for it and you have let it come through in such a way that transformation occurs. Then you unite with something greater than yourself (and) you become a conduit for the love of God in this world."



Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Tao: Beyond Preconceptions and Thought Structures

"In order to recognize the reality of (the) experience of Greater Being, " writes modern mystic philosopher, Karlfried Graf Von Durckheim, "we need nothing more that the 'sacred sobriety' of common sense. This, in fact, is that transcendental realism which is neither clouded nor inhibited by preconceived concepts and rational thought structures."

Steeped in Eastern spiritual traditions, yet grounded in his own Christian faith, Durckheim (a one-time consular diplomat in Japan) was well aware that preconceptions and strictly rational thought structures more often than not obscure the 'realities' they try to illuminate.

In the Tao Te Ching, we read:
When the superior man hears the Way.
      he is scarcely able to put it into practice.
When the middling man hears the Way,
      he appears now to preserve it, now to lose it.
When the inferior man hears the Way,
      he laughs at it loudly.
If he did not laugh,
      it would not be fit to be the Way.

For this reason,
There is a set of epigrmas that says:
      "The bright Way seems dim.
      The forward Way seems backward.
      The level Way seems bumpy.
      Superior integrity seems like a valley.
      The greatest whiteness seems grimy.
      Ample integrity seems insufficient.
      Robust integrity seems apathetic.
      Plain truth seems sullied.

      The great square has no corners.
      The great vessel is never completed.
      The great note sounds muted.
      The great image has no form.

      The Way is concealed and has no name."
 This "sense of reality" that is uninhibited by preconceptions and rational thought structures "permits the unique, unclassifiable quality of the experience to be as it is," notes Durckheim. "(It) accepts and savours it, and because of its very incomprehensibility, is intuitively convinced of its truth."

"We need practice in order to acquire the possibility of recognizing the quality of this reality," Durckheim points out. "By remaining alert and constantly prepared, we can learn to hear and feel the call of Divine Being in everything that happens to us. For this," he observes, "we need to work diligently in order to become vessels capable of receiving all that is poured into them."

[Karlfreid Graf Von Durckheim, "The Way of Transformation," p. 31.]

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Tao of Beauty

My favourite film, American Beauty, is one in which the paradoxes of our so-called conventional society are shown in their true light. The orthodox beauty of the world is critically examined and the beautiful people leading successful lives are exposed as their underlying ugly, fearful selves. Even the conventional beauty of the cultivated roses from which the film takes its name are exposed as ugly in comparison to a wind-blown grocery bag (in the poignant scene attached below).

Nothing is as it seems on the surface, we are told, and so-called "beauty" turns out to be a thin veneer. Underlying beauty is a corroding ugliness, and it is in the unorthodox and the supposedly ugly where real beauty and true value may be found. Life artists and sages know this.

In the Tao Te Ching we read:

"The whole world recognizes the beautiful as the beautiful,
yet this is only the ugly; the whole world recognizes the
good as the good, yet this is only the bad.
     Thus Something and Nothing produce each other;
     The difficult and the easy complement each other;
     The high and the low incline towards each other;
     Before and after follow each other.
Therefore the sage keeps to the deed that consists in taking
no action and practices the teaching that uses no words.
     The myriad creatures rise from it yet it claims no authority;
     It gives them life yet claims no possession;
     It accomplishes its task yet lays claim to no merit.
It is because it lays claim to no merit
     That its merit never deserts it. 

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Monday, August 22, 2011

Come Back Again . . .

. . . a stone, a leaf, an unfound door; of a stone, a leaf, a door.
And of all the forgotten faces.

Naked and alone we came into exile. In her dark womb we did not
know our mother's face; from the prison of her flesh have we come
into the unspeakable and incommunicable prison of this earth.

Which of us has known his brother? Which of us has looked into his
father's heart? Which of us has not remained forever prison-pent?
Which of us is not forever a stranger and alone?

O waste of loss, in the hot mazes, lost, among bright stars on this
most weary unbright cinder, lost! Remembering speechlessly we seek
the great forgotten language, the lost lane-end into heaven, a
stone, a leaf, an unfound door. Where? When?

O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again.

-- Thomas Wolfe --
("Look Homeward, Angel")

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Within the Kingdom of God & the Kingdom of God Within

"In the Kingdom of Heaven all is in all, all is one, and all is ours."
-- Meister Eckhart --
"The world inhabited by ordinary, nice, unregenerate people," observes Aldous Huxley, "is mainly dull (so dull that they have to distract their minds from being aware of it by all sorts of artificial "amusements"), some times briefly and intensely pleasurable, occasionally or quite often disagreeable and even agonizing." However, Huxley notes, "(F)or those who have deserved the world by making themselves fit to see God within it as well as within their own souls, it wears a very different aspect."
[Aldous Huxley, "The Perennial Philosophy," p. 75.]

In one of the most significant passages in the New Testament, Jesus, who had been perpetually persecuted for his views by the Pharisees, and thus spoke of the Kingdom of Heaven exclusively in parables, speaks unambiguously to his persecutors. When asked by the Pharisees where the Kingdom of Heaven might be found, he replies directly, "The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you." (Luke 17: 20-21.) Then, in the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas, when asked by his disciples when the Kingdom of God would come, he replies: "It will not come by watching for it. It will not be said, 'Look, here!' or 'Look, there!' Rather, the Father's kingdom is spread out upon the earth, and people don't see it." (Gospel of Thomas, Verse 113.)

Thus, it may be seen, as Huxley observed (above), that our being and our environment take on very different aspects depending upon whether we have a mundane or supermundane understanding of their nature. Alluding to these two very different ways of seeing the world, Jesus (again, from the Gospel of Thomas, at Verse 77) tells his disciples: "I am the light that is over all things. I am all: from me all came forth, and to me all attained. Split a piece of wood; I am there. Lift up the stone, and you will find me there."

"It is in the Indian and Far Eastern formulations of the Perennial Philosophy," notes Huxley, "that this subject is most systematically treated.What is prescribed is a process of conscious discrimination between the personal self and the Self that is identical with Brahman, between the individual ego and the Buddha-womb or Universal Mind."

"The result of this discrimination," Huxley points out, "is a more or less sudden and complete "revulsion" of consciousness, and the realization of a state of "no-mind," which may be described as the freeedom from perceptual and individual attachment to the ego-principle. This state of "no-mind" exists, as it were, on a knife-edge between the carelessness of the average sensual man and the strained overeagerness of the zealot for salvation. To achieve it one must walk delicately and, to maintain it, must learn to combine the most intense alertness with a tranquil and self-denying passivity, the most indomitable determination with a perfect submission to the leadings of the spirit."
"When no-mind is sought after by a mind," says Huang Po, "that is making it a particular object of thought. There is only testimony of silence; it goes beyond thinking."
 "In other words," says Huxley, "we, as separate individuals, must not try to think it, but rather permit ourselves to be thought by it."
[Aldous Huxley, "The Perennial Philosophy," pp. 72-73.]

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Lama Surya Das: On Dealing with Anger

Anybody can become angry - that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way - that is not within everybody's power and is not easy.
-- Aristotle --

There are three basic causes of human suffering, according to Buddhist teachings: ignorance, desire, and anger. Of these, it would seem, anger is perhaps the most-readily identifiable as well as potentially the most damaging to one's self, to others and to the environment.

For most people, a certain degree of anger bubbles just under the surface of their persona, thus recognizing and learning to manage one's innate anger in a mindful manner is a readily achievable aim for each of us. Moreover, efforts in that direction forwards all of us on our common spiritual path.
"The true battlefield is the heart of man, as Dostoevsky said, not wars," Lama Surya Das points out in the attached two-part video. "Wars are not fought over borders. It's not weapons that kill people, it's people that kill people."

"So why," he asks rhetorically, "is this occurring? It is occurring from the greed, and meanness, and cupidity, and fear, and insecurity, and intolerance of people. And we see that all throughout history and all around the world today. So we live in a violent era, a volatile world, and we all see violence and hot wars - shooting wars - in (scores of countries) today. But also we have domestic violence in our homes, and in families, and children being beaten, and all kinds of violence being acted out."

"Also," he notes, there is "aggression, basic aggression that we act out almost every moment, which is aggressively trying to change things from as they are. We are always fighting with reality as it is. This is what Buddhists call 'the basic aggression' - insisting or wanting things to be different from as they are."
"I think it is important to remember that there is nothing in the Dharma that tells us never to be angry," writes Das in "Awakening the Buddha Within," his best selling-book on Buddhist practice. "Anger is a human emotion and it doesn't automatically disappear. Also it has its own logic, its own intelligence and function. If you bottle up and swallow your anger too often, you are going to make yourself ill."

"Meeting the challenge of ill will is not about denying, repressing, or suppressing anger. It's about staying up to date with anger and other emotions by experiencing and releasing their energy moment by moment rather than storing them up. It's about not carrying grudges, or blaming yourself, or turning your anger inward and becoming depressed and despondent. Ideally we should be able to be sensitive enough and aware enough not only to feel life fully but also to let it go."

[Lama Surya Das, "Awakening the Buddha Within," p. 138.]







Sunday, August 14, 2011

"Be Transformed By the Renewal of Your Mind"

". . . (D)o not be conformed to the world, rather be transformed by the renewal of your mind."
-- Romans 12:2 --
That there is an inherent conflict between the spiritual quest and the 'norms' of society is a reality that is as old, one assumes, as society itself. As Taoism was in many ways a rejection of Confucian conformity, Buddhism was a rejection of the ritualism of the Vedas, and Christianity was a rejection of a then-stagnant Judaism, so, too, in recent times the multifarious spiritual quest is in many ways a rejection of today's rampant consumerism. Be it the newfound Western interest in Zen, Yoga, Sufism or the Kaballah, or Eastern interest in Christianity, there is a sense it seems that in a post-modern world more and more people are looking for something deeper than scientific materialism and the strictly consumer society that it breeds.

Rather than seeking conformity in post-modern societies that are seen as being increasingly dysfunctional in the face of the existential challenges we face - be it global warming, increasingly severe famines, widespread poverty, massive species extinction, deforestation and desertification, etc. - many individuals now recognize that first and foremost there must be a "renewal of the mind" (individually and collectively) if we are to face and overcome these imminent threats to our very survival. However, there remains a profound inertia towards conformity that challenges even the most ardent spiritual seeker who wishes to remain "in the world" rather than sequestered from it.

The attached video of then radical spiritual philosopher Alan Watts (a video presumably made in the late 1950s or early 1960s before the 'beat' movement morphed into the wider counter-cultural revolution of the late 60s) critiques both the then (and now) status quo, and at once highlights the profound challenge that conformity poses to those spiritual aspirants who would reject conformity in favor of radical transformation.

"In the Christian scriptures," Watts notes, " it says that everyone is equal in the sight of God. That is a mystical utterance. That means that from the standpoint of God, all people are divine and are playing their true function. And that is something that is true on a certain plane of consciousness. But come down a step and try to apply the mystical insight in the practical affairs of every day life, and what do you get? You get a parody of mysticism, You get the idea not that everyone is equal in the sight of God, but that all people are equally inferior."

It takes a bold and independent spiritual seeker - a modern-day Thoreau, perhaps - to remain engaged in society and yet committed to his or her transformation. More importantly, it takes true commitment and independence to carrying the message, as Watts did in the 50s and 60s, that transformation is possible both for individuals and for society as a whole.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Bodhisattva: His Brothers' Keeper

"When Abba Macarius was in Egypt, he found a man with a mule stealing his belongings. Then, as though he were a stranger, he helped the robber to load the animal, and peacefully sent him off, saying: "We have brought nothing into this world, and we cannot take anything with us. The Lord has given, and as he wished, so it has happened. Blessed  be the Lord in all things.""

-- Gregory Mayers --
("Listen to the Desert," p. 32)
This story, which on its face deals solely with non-attachment, has its counterpart in many other wisdom traditions. However, whether it is Abba Macarius, above, Mullah Nasruddin in the Sufi tradition, the Bal Shem Tov in Chassidic teachings, an unnamed bodhisattva (below), or Jesus teaching that if a person forces you to go a mile with him, you should go two (Matthew 5:41), there are similar subtle teachings in all traditions that go far beyond mere non-attachment, which could (after all) be seen as just another form of appeasement.

In his book, "Essential Teachings," the Dalai Lama cites "the Twelfth Practice" of the bodhisattva, which states:
"If in the grip of violent desire or cruel necessity, an unfortunate person steals our possessions or incites someone else to steal them, to be full of compassion, to dedicate to this person our body, possessions, and past, present, and future merit, is a practice of the bodhisattva."
 The guru who is said to have composed this practice, according to the Dalai Lama's account, was said to have run into markedly similar circumstances to those faced by Abba Macarius (above).

"While on route from Sakya Monastery," the Dalai Lama writes, "robbers stole the guru's baggage from him. After having robbed him and fearing that he would call for help, the bandits wanted to (kill him and) flee. He begged them to not do anything to him, and said: "I will not call for help, but if you leave now, you will have 'stolen' my things which will be for you a fault, and so that you will not have to endure the consequences of this act, I will dedicate them to you, (and) give them to you. So, in this way, you will have obtained them completely legitimately."

The outcome, according to the Dalai Lama was that "(t)he wrongdoers were so astonished at this that their minds were transformed and they became (the guru's) disciples."
[Dalai Lama, "Essential Teachings," p. 59.]

Thus, in this telling, the emphasis is not only on non-attachment and non-violence, but also on compassion and non-judgment. In this instance, indeed, the bodhisattva became his brothers' keeper, unsurprisingly, as the bodhisattva's vow is to take continual rebirth until all beings - including those who would harm him or her - become enlightened.

From this perspective, sense is made out of Jesus' admonishments to go the second mile, to turn the other cheek, and to settle quickly with your adversaries, lest you be jailed. All such actions are based not on what is best for one's own interests and salvation, but what is best for one's fellow sufferers. That, in all traditions, is the true nature of compassion.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Philokalia: A Discourse on Abba Philimon

"It is said that Abba Philimon, the anchorite, lived for a long time enclosed in a certain cave not far from the Lavra of the Romans. There he engaged in the life of ascetic struggle, always asking himself the question which, it is reported, the great Arsenios used to put to himself: 'Philemon, why did you come here?'"

"He used to plait ropes and make baskets, giving them to the steward of the Lavra in exchange for a small ration of bread. He ate only bread and salt, and even that not every day. In this way he took no thought for the flesh (cf. Rom. 13:14) but, initiated into ineffable mysteries through the pursuit of contemplation, he was enveloped by divine light and established in a state of joyfulness."

"When he went to church on Saturdays and Sundays he walked alone in deep thought allowing no one to approach him lest his concentration should be interrupted. In church he stood in a corner, keeping his face turned to the ground and shedding streams of tears. For, like the holy fathers, and especially like his great model Arsenios, he was always full of contrition and kept the thought of death continually in his mind."

"When a heresy arose in Alexandria and the surrounding area, Philimon left his cave and went to the Lavra near that of Nikanor. There he was welcomed by the blessed Paulinos, who gave him his own retreat and allowed absolutely no one to approach him, and he himself disturbed him only when he had to give him bread."

"On the feast of the holy resurrection of Christ, Philimon and Paulinos were talking when the subject of the eremetical state came up. Philimon knew that Paulinos, too, aspired to this state; and with this in mind he implanted in him teachings taken from Scripture and the fathers that emphasized, as Moses had done, how impossible it is to conform to God without complete stillness; how stillness gives birth to ascetic effort, ascetic effort to tears, tears to awe, awe to humility, humility to foresight, foresight to love; and how love restores the soul to health and makes it dispassionate, so that one then knows that one is not far from God."

-- A Discourse on Abba Philimon --
(Palmer et al., "The Philokalia," Vol. Two, pp. 244-345.)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Mother Theresa: On Suffering

"There is much suffering in the world - very much. Material suffering is suffering from hunger, suffering from homelessness, from all kinds of disease, but I still think that the greatest suffering is being lonely, feeling unloved, just having no one. I have come to more and more realize that it is being unwanted that is the worst disease that any human being can ever experience."

"In these times of development, the whole world runs and is hurried. But there are some who fall down on the way and have no strength to go ahead. These are the ones we must care about."


"Let us be very sincere in our dealings with each other and have the courage to accept each other as we are. Do not be surprised at or become preoccupied with each other's failure; rather see and find the good in each other, for each one of us is created in the image of God. Jesus said it beautifully: "I am the vine, you are the branches." The life giving sap that flows from the vine through each of the branches is the same."

-- Mother Theresa --
("In the Heart of the World")