Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Path Through a Pathless Land

"I maintain that Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect. That is my point of view, and I adhere to that absolutely and unconditionally. Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized; nor should any organization be formed to lead or to coerce people along any particular path. If you first understand that, then you will see how impossible it is to organize a belief. A belief is purely an individual matter, and you cannot and must not organize it. If you do, it becomes dead, crystallized; it becomes a creed, a sect, a religion, to be imposed on others. This is what everyone throughout the world is attempting to do. Truth is narrowed down and made a plaything for those who are weak, for those who are only momentarily discontented. Truth cannot be brought down, rather the individual must make the effort to ascend to it. You cannot bring the mountain-top to the valley. If you would attain to the mountain-top you must pass through the valley, climb the steeps, unafraid of the dangerous precipices."
-- Jiddu Krishnamurti --
August 2, 1929      

In the following clip, spiritual pundit/philosopher, Ken Wilber, explains the truth of ages: that opting to walk a truly spiritual path - the path through a "pathless land" - towards higher consciousness and experiential knowledge of the Absolute is necessarily a lonely endeavour.

"If you want to find spirituality," wrote philosopher, Paul Brunton, "you must find it while living in the world, yet not being of it. In other words being inwardly detached and renounced, but outwardly living and enjoying as other people do, not held in your heart by material things, not mentally imprisoned by them, but able to renounce them at a moment's notice. If you can do this, you are free; you are no longer a slave."
[Paul Brunton, "Discover Yourself," p. 68.]

Monday, May 30, 2011

Freeman Dyson: On Matter, Mind and God

Anyone who has looked into the "new physics" - relativity and quantum theory - cannot but help be impressed or awed by the apparent fuzziness between matter, energy, mind and consciousness. It has been said that within every physicist lurks a would-be metaphysicist. Indeed, Sir Isaac Newton, himself, likely spent more time on metaphysics and alchemy then he ever spent on the development of calculus and writing his masterwork, "The Principia." How much more closely might he have come to understanding the workings of the universe as a whole, inner and outer, if he had been exposed to the realities of the cosmos and the microcosmos that relativity and the quantum theory have demonstrated? Would he have then found the God he sought?

With the benefits of the "new physics," the highly respected theoretical physicist and mathematician, Freeman Dyson, observed the following:
"When we examine matter in the finest details in the experiments of particle physics, we see it behaving as an active agent rather than as an inert substance. Its actions are in the strict sense unpredictable. It makes what appears to be arbitrary choices between alternative possibilities. Between matter as we observe it in the laboratory and mind as we observe it in our own consciousness, there seems to be only a difference in degree not kind. If God exists and is accessible to us, then his mind and our may likewise differ from each other only in degree and not kind. We stand, in a manner of speaking, midway between the unpredictability of matter and the unpredictability of God."
[Freeman Dyson, "Infinite In All Directions," p. 8.]
 "Our minds," Dyson speculates, "may receive inputs equally from matter and from God."

"God," he reluctantly explains in one interview, in his view, "is simply a mind that has gone beyond the scale of our understanding."

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Dalai Lama: On the Nature of the Mind

"Human beings by nature want happiness and do not want suffering. With that feeling everyone tries to achieve happiness and tries to get rid of suffering, and everyone has the basic right to do this. In this way, all here are the same, whether rich or poor, educated or uneducated, Easterner or Westerner, believer or non-believer, and within believers whether Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and so on. Basically, from the viewpoint of real human value we are all the same."
[H.H., the XIV Dalai Lama, from "Kindness, Clarity,and Insight."]
H.H., the XIV Dalai Lama
All religious traditions and faiths are part of mind, notes the Dalai Lama in the video, below, and their methods and practices are, therefore, all based on developing the mind - be they theistic, like Islam, Judaism or Christianity, or non-theistic, like Jainism, Buddhism or certain lineages of ancient Indian wisdom traditions like the Sankhya.

"According to the laws of causality," he notes, "things which we want and things we don't want are all ultimately part of motivation and the mind. So in order to have a happy life (and) a joyful life we have to take care of the mind."

However, within mind or consciousness, he observes, there are thousands of types of mind. Therefore, he notes, to take care of the destructive types of mind which cause anger, suffering and conflict, one must cultivate different, contradictory types of mind based on compassion.

Yet, as a start we must distinguish between what states of mind are destructive and which are constructive. And, to do so, each individual must investigate for him or herself the ultimate nature of mind. Beyond a certain point of consciousness, the Dalai Lama observes, the coarser, destructive states of mind cannot exist, hence the importance of developing the mind, bringing it progressively closer to the ultimate state of mind which, he posits, will be realized upon death.

In the Tantric texts, he explains, a basic continuum of mind is described along with the scientific methods one can apply to the differing states of mind, and the states of mind one can achieve by application of the methods - a methodology which leads ultimately to a clear, purified state of consciousness and being.
. . . . . . . . . . . . .

The Dalai Lama's lecture on "The Nature of the Mind" was recorded at the University of California, Santa Barbara in April, 2009. (Note, the first part of the lecture is merely introductory, so you may want to scroll forward to the 14:00 minute mark, where the lecture proper begins.)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Aldous Huxley: Annihilation of the Ego

What is the ultimate benefit of a contemplative practice? Is it not to come to a unitive state of consciousness and being, in which we realize that we, too, have broken the strong attachment chains of the ego and have become a conscious part of the divine, non-dualistic Ground of Being? Certainly, this is what the sages past and present seem to assure us.

John of Ruysbroeck
 The Flemish mystic, John of Ruysbroeck (1293-1381), observed:
"(In the Reality unitively known by the mystic), we can speak no more of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, nor of any creature, but only one Being, which is the very substance of the Divine Persons. There were we all one before our creation, for this is our super-essence. There the godhead is in simple essence without activity.
[Huxley, "The Perennial Philosophy," p. 31.]
Similarly,  in a description that is markedly similar to the Eastern process of negation, found in both Buddhist and Vedantist teachings, the renowned German mystic, Meister Eckhart, remarked:
"Thou must love God as not-God, not-Spirit, not-person, not image, but as He is, a sheer, pure absolute One, sundered from all two-ness, and in whom we must eternally sink from nothingness to nothingness."
[Ibid., p. 32.]
Sri Nisargadatta
"Our usual attitude is of 'I am this," the modern Indian sage, Sri Nisargadatta, observed. "Separate consistently and perserveringly the 'I am' from 'this' or 'that', and try to feel what it means to be, just to be, without being 'this' or 'that'. All our habits go against it and the task of fighting them is long and hard sometimes, but clear understanding helps a lot. The clearer you understand that on the level of the mind you can be described in negative terms only, the quicker you will come to the end of you search and realize your limitless being."
[Nisargadatta, "I Am That." pp. 59-60.]

Aldous Huxley
 "(T)here is a hierarchy of the real," Aldous Huxley observes. "The manifold world of our everyday experience is real with a relative reality that is, on its own level, unquestionable; but this relative reality has its being within and because of the absolute Reality, which, on account of the incommensurable otherness of its eternal nature, we can never hope to describe, even though it is possible for us directly to apprehend it."

"In the phrase used by Scotus Erigena," he notes, "God is not a what; He is a That. In other words, the Ground can be denoted as being there, but not defined as having qualities. This means that discursive knowledge about the Ground is not merely, like all inferential knowledge, a thing at one remove, or even at several removes, from the reality of immediate acquaintance; it is and, because of the very nature of our language and our standard pattern of thought, it must be paradoxical knowledge. Direct knowledge of the Ground cannot be had except by union, and union can be achieved only by the annihilation of the self-regarding ego, which is the barrier separating the 'thou' from the 'That'."
[Huxley, supra., pp. 33-35]

I am neither 'this' nor all attachments and forms; neither name, self-image, feelings or thoughts; nor the ego. "I am That" - the divine Ground of Being.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Thomas Merton: Searching the Soul

Thomas Merton (1915-1968)
Thomas Merton was a man of solitude, as the attached videos demonstrate. He was also a man in an ever deeper search of the soul.

A prolific writer throughout his adult life, his autobiography, "The Seven Storey Mountain" is perhaps his most famous work. In the transition from Part One to Part Two, from civilian life as a student at Columbia University to a Trappist novice at the Abbey of Gesthemani in rural Kentucky, Merton shares his deepening search for solitude and an understanding of his inner being.
"If my nature had been more stubborn in clinging to the pleasures that disgusted me," he observes, "if I had refused to admit that I was beaten by this futile search for satisfaction where it could not be found, and if my moral and nervous constitution had not caved under the weight of my own emptiness, who can tell what would eventually have happened to me?  Who could tell where I would have ended?"

"I had come very far, to find myself in this blind alley: but the very anguish and helplessness of my position was something to which I rapidly succumbed. And," he concludes, "it was my defeat that was to be the occasion of my rescue."
Opening Part Two of his autobiography, which details his renunciation of outer life to the cloistered quietude of his beloved Gesthemani, Merton directly addresses the nature of man, and his ultimate affinity for a deeper understanding of his own being.
"There is a paradox that lies in the very heart of human existence," he writes. "It must be apprehended before any lasting happiness is possible in the soul of a man. The paradox is this: man's nature by itself, can do little or nothing to settle his most important problem.. If we follow nothing but our natures, our own philosophies, our own level of ethics, we will end up in hell."

"This would be a depressing thought," he observes, "if it were not purely abstract. Because in the concrete order of things God gave man a nture that was ordered to supernatural life. He created man with a soul that was made not to bring itself to perfection in its own order, but to be perfected by Him in an order infinitely beyond the reach of human powers. We were never destined to lead purely natural lives, and therefore we were never destined in God's plan for a purely natural beatitude. Our nature which is a free gift from God, was given to us to be perfected by another free gift that is not due it."

"This free gift is "sanctifying grace." It perfects our nature with the gift of a life, of an intellection, a love, a mode of existence infinitely above its own level. If a man were to arrive even at the abstract pinnacle of natural perfection, God's work would not even be half done: it would be only about to begin, for the real work is the work of grace and the infused gifts of the Holy Ghost."
Merton was headed for the Abbey of Gerthemani, where he would pass 26 years in a quest for an ever increasing quietist solitude, before leaving Gesthemani temporarily (or perhaps permanently), for Asia to pursue his study of Buddhist and Indian contemplative methods. He would die at age 53, electrocuted as a result of a poorly wired household fan in a Bangkok hotel room on the 27th anniversary of his entry into Gesthemani in 1941, leaving behind a treasure trove of some 70 books on the contemplative life.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Carl Jung: Consciouness and the Psyche

Carl G. Jung
In his essential guide to mankind's psyche, "The Undiscovered Self," the pioneering Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung expounds on the preeminence of the individual psyche and consciousness, and discusses the challenges that the psyche and consciousness present to both science and religion.

"The structure and physiology of the brain furnish no explanation of the psychic process," Jung observes. "The psyche has a peculiar nature which cannot be reduced to anything else. Like physiology, it represents a relatively self-contained field of experience to which we must attribute a quite special importance because it hold within itself one of the two indispensable conditions for existence, namely, the phenomenon of consciousness. Without consciousness there would, practically speaking, be no world, for the world exists as such only in so far as it is consciously reflected and consciously expressed by a psyche. Consciousness is a precondition of being. Thus the psyche is endowed with the dignity of a cosmic principle, which philosophically and in fact gives it a position coequal with the principle of physical being."

"The carrier of this consciousness," Jung notes, "is the individual, who does not produce the psyche on his own volition but is, on the contrary, preformed by it and nourished by the gradual awakening of consciousness during childhood. If the psyche must be granted an overriding empirical importance," he notes, "so also must the individual, who is the only immediate manifestation of the psyche."

The psyche, Jung observes, is devalued by science because of its own subjective characteristics, which is not amenable to statistic analysis, and by organized religion which discounts the validity of the psyche if the individual does not ascribe to its particular dogmas.

"One other remarkable fact (about the psyche) deserves mentioning," Jung notes. "This is the common psychiatric experience that the devaluation of the psyche and other resistances to psychological enlightenment are based in large measure on fear - panic fear of the discoveries that might be made in the realm of the unconscious."

Of course, such fear (along with rampant desires that are impossible of fulfillment) is the substratum of the human ego, which, as such, separates the individual not only from religion, but ultimately severs the ties of the individual to human society, ties that Jung sees as being of paramount importance, unless one is sheltered from such isolation by real religious insight based on experience rather than mere belief.

"Often the fear is so great," Jung observes, "that one dares not admit it even to oneself." "Here," he notes, "is a question that every religious person should consider very seriously, (as) he might get an illuminating answer."
[Jung, "The Undiscovered Self," pp. 59-61]

Friday, May 20, 2011

Aldous Huxley and "The Perennial Philosophy"

One of the foremost voices of spiritual awakening in the modern West was the writer, Aldous Huxley, While the dystopic, science-fiction novel, "A Brave New World," is perhaps his most famous work, "The Perennial Philosophy," his collection and commentary on mystic and esotreic religious writings from all the world's great wisdom traditions, may be his most lasting.

In an introduction to a translation of the Bhagavad Gita by his friends Christopher Isherwood and Swami Prabhavananda, Huxley penned the following concise explanation of what the perennial philosophy behind the world's greatest wisdom traditions and philosophies is, observing:
"At the core of the Perennial Philosophy we find four fundamental doctrines.

First: the phenomenal world of matter and individualized consciousness - the world of things and animals and men and even gods - is the manifestation of a Divine Ground within which all partial realities have their beginning, and apart from which they would be non-existent.

Second: human beings are capable not merely of knowing
about the Divine Ground by inference; they can also realize its existence by a direct intuition, superior to discursive reasoning. This immediate knowledge unites the knower with that which is known.

Third: man possesses a double nature, a phenomenal ego and an eternal Self, which is the inner man, the spirit, the spark of divinity within the soul. It is possible for a man, if he so desires, to identify himself with the spirit and therefore with the Divine Ground, which is of the same or like nature with the spirit.

Fourth: man's life on earth has only one end and purpose: to identify himself with his eternal Self and so come to unitive knowledge of the Divine Ground."
In "The Perennial Philosophy" itself, Huxley illustrates what he means by such "unitive knowledge" by quoting and then discussing the following observations of the Zen master, Huang Po (d. 850 C.E.), who wrote about and taught the direct transmission of enlightenment.
"When followers of Zen fail to go beyond the world of their senses and thoughts, all their doings and movements are of no significance. But when the senses and thoughts are annihilated all the passages to Universal Mind are blocked, and no entrance then becomes possible. The original Mind is to be recognized along with the working of the senses and thoughts - only it does not belong to them, nor yet is it independent of them. Do not build up your views upon your senses and thoughts, do not base your understanding upon your senses and thoughts, do not try to grasp Reality by rejecting your senses and thoughts. When you are neither attached to, nor detached from, them, then you enjoy your perfect unobstructed freedom, then you have your seat of enlightenment.
["The Perennial Philosophy," pp. 58-59]
"Every individual being," Huxley observes, "from the atom up to the most highly organized of living bodies and the most exalted of finite minds may be thought of . . . as a point where a ray of the primordial Godhead meets one of the differentiated, creaturely emanations of that same Godhead's creative energy."

"The creature, as creature," he writes, "may be very far from God, in the sense that it lacks the intelligence to discover the nature of the divine Ground of its being. But the creature in its eternal essence - as the meeting place of creatureliness and primordial Godhead - is one of the infinite number of points where divine Reality is wholly and eternally present. Because of this, rational beings can come to the unitive knowledge of the divine Ground, (while) non-rational and inanimate beings may reveal to rational beings the fulness of God's presence within their material forms."

Huxley, like his friend Isherwood, was a student of the Advaita Vedanta, and was clearly a pantheist, viewing everything as an emanation of the "primarily Godhead." In this respect, his views are similar to any number of spiritual giants, modern and ancient. One of these giants was undoubtedly the Sufi poet, Rumi.

Huxley was a mystic and philosopher who wrote  philosophic prose, while Rumi was a philosopher and mystic, who wrote some of the world's most beautiful mystic poetry. Writing of the many forms that the Godhead takes, he observed:
                                                          We began
as a mineral. We emerged into plant life
and into the animal state, and then into being human,
and always we have forgotten our former states,
except in early spring when we slightly recall
being green again.

                            That's how a young person turns
toward a teacher. That's how a baby leans
towards the breast, without knowing the secret
of its desire, yet turning instinctively.

Humankind is being led along an evolving course,
through this migration of intelligences,
and though we seem to be sleeping,
there is an inner wakefulness
that directs the dream,

and that will eventually startle us back
to the truth of who we are.
[Coleman Barks, "The Essential Rumi," p. 113]
Huxley, Huang Po and Rumi would all undoubtedly tell us that we are far more than we realize, that we are part of a larger whole, that we are but seemingly individual manifestations of that which is the divine.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Thomas Merton: On Suffering

The human ego is a deep well, drawing us - if we are unaware of its power over us - down into a self-reinforcing vortex that is evermore sensitive and painful. It is the source of human suffering, a point made by mystics, contemplatives and enlightened sages from all the world's great wisdom and religious  traditions.

An existential crisis that everyone must face on his or her own in the quiet of the night or the bustle of the day, it is most painful for those who have the most, hence the suffering (and the potential for spiritual awakening) that we - the most privileged generations the world has ever produced - must encounter and overcome as we try to find lasting meaning in our lives.

Thomas Merton
"Indeed," the Trappist monk, Thomas Merton, observed, "the truth that many people never understand, until it is too late, is that the more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer, because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you, in proportion to your fear of being hurt. The one who does most to avoid suffering is, in the end, the one who suffers most and his suffering comes to him from things so little and so trivial that one can say that it is no longer objective at all. It is his own existence, his own being, that is at once the subject and the source of his pain, and his very existence and consciousness is his greatest torture. This is another of the great perversions by which the devil uses our philosophies to turn our whole nature inside out, and eviscerate all our capacities for good, turning them against ourselves."
[Thomas Merton, "The Seven Story Mountain," pp. 82-83.]

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Wisdom of a Fool

"To be wise, you must become a fool," is an adage that runs as a substratum through many of the world's great wisdom traditions. In the Islamic tradition, we read the many stories of the seemingly foolish Sufi master, Mullah Nasruddin, and (perhaps) gain great knowledge and insight through his simplicity.

"The Nasruddin stories, known throughout the Middle East, constitute one of the strangest achievements in the history of metaphysics. Superficially, most of the Nasruddin stories may be used as jokes. They are told and retold endlessly in the teahouses and caravanserais, in the homes and on the radio waves, of Asia. But it is inherent in the Nasruddin story that it may be understood at any of many depths. There is the joke, the moral - and the little extra which brings the consciousness of the potential mystic a little further on the way to realization." [Source: www.sysindia.com]

For example:
One day an illiterate man came to Mullah Nasruddin with a letter he had received. "Mullah Nasruddin, please read this letter to me," he asked. Mullah Nasruddin looked at the letter, but could not make out a single word. So he told the ma, "I am sorry, but I cannot read this." The man cried: "For shame, Mullah Nasruddin ! You must be ashamed before the turban you wear (i.e. the sign of education)" Mullah Nasruddin removed the turban from his own head and placed it on the head of the illiterate man, saying: "There, now you wear the turban. If it gives some knowledge, read the letter yourself!"
Or, again:
Mullah Narsuddin was riding his donkey, as always, facing backwards. "Hey, Mullah!," a man called out, "That is the wrong way!" "Enough of this, already!," Narsuddin called back. "The donkey says it wants to go that way. I said I want to go this way. I am letting it go its way, and I am headed in the direction I want to go. Why pick a fight? Why do you object?"
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
"Anyone who thinks himself intelligent because of his scholarly or scientific learning," wrote St. Symeon the New Theologian (one of the most revered of Orthodox Christian saints), "will never be granted insight into divine mysteries unless he first humbles himself and becomes a fool, discarding both his presumption and the knowledge that he has acquired. But if he does this and with unhesitating faith allows himself to be led by those wise in divine matters, he will enter with them into the city of the living God. Guided and illumined by the divine Spirit, he will see and learn what others cannot ever see or learn. He will then be taught by God."
[The Philokalia, Vol. Four, pp. 46-47.]

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sheik Ziaudin: On 'Self-Justification'

"Self-justification is worse than the original offence."
-- Sheik Ziaudin --
[Idries Shah, "The Way of the Sufi," p. 139]

Sheikh Ziaudin Jahib Suhrawardi (1097-1168) was a Sufi saint and philosopher who lived during the 12th-century C.E. He was a 'murid' or disciple of the classical Sufi philosopher, Mohamed El-Ghazali (1058-1111) and a follower of the ancient Sufi teacher and poet, Junaid. Sheik Ziaudin was a founder of the Suhrawardi Order (one of Sufic Islam's four great schools), the methods and teachings of which have greatly influenced countries like India, Persia (now Iran) and those in North Africa, as well as  the mystical activity of the people of these countries.

As a follower of El-Ghazali, Sheik Ziaudin was well aware that the path of the spiritual seeker is an inner path, and that, "(a) student must reduce to the minimum the fixing of his attention upon customary things like his people and his environment, for his attention-capacity is limited." (Idries Shah, "The Way of the Sufi," p. 53).

Just to the extent that an individual feels compelled to justify his actions, he or she focuses attention upon what other people might be thinking of them. And then, of course, he or she has lost the capacity to pay attention to the small 'self' or 'ego' that separates the seeker from the Absolute. In fact, in being compelled to justify one's action, internally or externally, one has already lost his or her independent capacity and is wholly attached to and identified with the ego.

"Ghazali," Idries Shah observed, "insists upon the connection and also the difference between the social or diversionary contact of people, and the higher contact (of the Divine)." In self-justification one focuses solely upon one's social contact with other people, and while some harm may have come to them by one's wrong actions or words, greater harm comes to the individual who attempts to justify his or her actions.

First, others are unlikely to wholly believe and accept the justification. But second, and more importantly, one remains identified with one's self-conscious ego, and the actions or words directed by the ego, just so long as one is compelled to justify such actions and words because of what others may think. Self-consciously justifying one's actions, words and very existence can take an entire lifetime, while dropping the imperative egoic need to justify oneself takes no time whatsoever and brings one back to an eternal higher consciousness and awareness.

"A human being," according to Ghazali (and as reported by Shah, ibid.), "is not a human being while his tendencies include self-indulgence, covetousness, temper and attacking other people." And, he or he is even a lesser being while trying to justify such tendencies.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Rumi and the Soul of Persia

"Iran’s officially recognized “spiritual leader” today may be Ayatollah Khamenei," notes the Christian Science Monitor, "but for hundreds of years before the current establishment of mullahs and ayatollahs, Iranians of all creeds have looked to another spiritual leader: Jalal ad-Din Rumi."

Small wonder, as Rumi, the 13th-century Perisan Sufi master, voiced the wonder of an Islamic Enlightenment when Europe was still mired in its own Dark Ages. Today, worldwide (and not just in Iran) we are all reaching - knowingly or unknowingly - for the visions that Rumi expressed so contemporaneously over 700 years ago.

Attached below is a reading by Coleman Barks, Rumi's best-selling translator, which expresses the Sufi master’s impressive and ever-timely wisdom, a wisdom that speaks to evolution and the evolutionary imperative in surprisingly modern terms centuries before Darwinism and the rise of “modern science.”

. . . . . . . . . . . . .


This we have now
is not imagination.

This is not
grief or joy.

Not a judging state,
or an elation,
or sadness.

Those come
and go.

This is the presence
that doesn’t.

It’s dawn, Husam,
here in the splendor of coral,
inside the Friend, the simple truth
of what Hallaj said.

What else could human beings want?

When grapes turn to wine,
they’re wanting

That we are now
Created the body, cell by cell,
Like bees building a honeycomb.

The human body and the universe
grew from this, not this
from the universe and the human body.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Ramana Maharshi: Self-Inquiry, Ego and One's True Self

Sri Ramana Maharshi
"What we find in the life and teachings of Sri Ramana," wrote the great psychologist, Carl Jung, "is the purest of India, with its breath of (a) world liberated and liberating humanity. It is a chant of millenniums. In India, he is the whitest spot in a white space."

A modern-day sage, Sri Ramana Maharshi lived and taught a path of radical self-inquiry in order to realize one's true nature and self. "Whatever the means adopted, " he observed, "you must at last return to the Self."

"So," he asked, "why not abide as the Self here and now? What is not permanent is not worth striving for. You are the Self. You are already perfect."

"Meditation," he observed, "is your true nature. You call it meditation now because there are thoughts distracting you. When these thoughts are dispelled you will remain alone in the state free from thoughts, and that is your real nature."

"The path of self-inquiry frees one from the unceasing fear and turmoil resulting from taking the ego to be real," he remarked. "By becoming free of the ego illusion one experiences true freedom and supreme peace. It is this path that takes one from the apparent duality of the individual and the world to the bliss of one's real nature. Through this awakening to self-awareness, even by imperfect glimpses, one begins to sense a reality not confined to the ego's world. And this current of awareness is ultimately revealed as the Self - pure consciousness.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

Mount Arunachala
Referring to the Bhagavad Gita, Ramana Maharshi observed, "(O)ne must realize that he is not the doer, but that he is only a tool of some Higher Power. Let that Higher Power do what is inevitable and let me act only according to its dictates. The actions are not mine; therefore, their results cannot be mine, either. If one thinks and acts so, where is the trouble?"

"Be fixed in the Self and act according to nature without the thought of doership" he notes, "(t)hen the results of action will not affect you. That is manliness and heroism."

Thus," he concludes, "'inherence in the Self  'is the sum and substance of the Gita's teaching."
[Talks with Ramana Maharshi, Inner Dimensions, pp. 48-49.]

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Andrew Cohen: "Enlightenment Is a Secret"

Andrew Cohen, Editor-in-chief,
http://www.enlightennext.org/EnlightenNext magazine.
Perhaps the first post-modern spiritual teacher, leading-edge "guru," Andrew Cohen, teaches a brand of radical non-duality he calls "Evolutionary Enlightenment." In doing so, he transcends his roots in the Advaita Vedanta lineage of Ramana Maharshi, and charts a path for our active participation in humanity's evolution and the evolution of the 'kosmos.'

Cohen's vision includes the following five "top-down" tenets for living an awakened life, here and now:

  • Clarity of Intention: One must be 100% committed to the one intention of waking up to the spiritual reality of what and who we are.
  •  The Truth of Impersonality: In a cosmos of 100 billion galaxies and 100s of billions of stars in such galaxies, it is sheer narcissism to focus our consciousness on what we are feeling and thinking from moment to moment; yet that is what the vast majority of us unwittingly do.
  •  Face Everything and Avoid Nothing: To attain enlightenment it is necessary to face, and face down, the fears and desires of the Ego and attain to one's Authentic Self.
  • The Law of Volitionality: We do not do or say anything (or omit doing or saying anything) without a voluntarily intention to do so. All of our actions are of our own volition and, thus, we can no longer foster a 'victim mentality.'
  • For the Sake of the Whole: In a post-modern world, enlightenment for one's own sake is irrelevant; it is only when we attain "autonomy in communion" with others that enlightenment is an effective and true evolutionary tool.

"Realization of the Absolute," writes Cohen, "is the most demanding and all consuming form of meditation that a human being can pursue. . . . Any trace of self-interest of any kind in any form instantly corrupts (the) most perfect purity and automatically, although usually imperceptibility, taints its reflection." ("Enlightenment Is a Secret," p. ix.) Thus, he stresses, one has to get out of the way to let the Absolute manifest:
"There is a secret that is infinitely greater than anything you have ever known. It is real and it exists and if you make room for it - it will overwhelm you.

You have got to get out of the way. You have to abandon everything you've been taught and everything you've been led to believe - all those limiting, confining, imprisoning, denying ideas and concepts that you have picked up along your way. You have to make room for that which is unbelievable. You have to get out of the way. "Oh my God!" you'll say, "I didn't know it could be like this."

If you want to be Free you have to open yourself to the unthinkable possibility. You have to allow yourself to consider that which is immeasurable. You have to rise up. You have to open your mind, open your heart, and renounce the past completely."

[Cohen, "Enlightenment Is a Secret," pp. 12-13.]
In the following video, Cohen describes "Evolutionary Enlightenment" and how it builds upon and surpasses traditional Eastern teachings of personal liberation. In some sense, his teachings of radical transpersonal enlightenment make him, perhaps, the first post-modern Bhoddisatva.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Idries Shah: The Way of the Sufi Gardener

Agriculture, a practice that underlies and accounts for all of civilization, is a relatively recent acquirement in mankind's evolutionary journey, having only been acquired less than 10,000 years ago. Yet, how central it is to the stories we tell about ourselves. A person of high accomplishment is said to be 'cultivated,' while the raucous rebel who does what he or she pleases is said to be 'wild.' And where else but the 'Garden of Eden' are we famously said to be from?

In Sufi teachings - Sufism being the esoteric or mystical branch of Islam - the garden is often used as a symbol of the state of our collective and individual spiritual being, just as wine (the product of the most highly cultivated and intoxicating first fruit of the garden) is used as a symbol for true religious, spiritual and ecstatic experience.

Thus, in his masterful book of insight into the life and thoughts of the Sufi masters and the different Sufic schools or orders, "The Way of the Sufi," the late Idries Shah (himself a Sufi master) tells the following cryptic, multi-layered and not-so-fanciful story - as all Sufi stories are - of a master-gardener and his efforts to sow many gardens and teach others would-be gardeners the secret of his craft.
. . . . . . . . . . . .
"Once upon a time when the science and art of gardening was not yet well established among men, there was a master-gardener. In addition to knowing all the qualities of plants, their nutritious, medicinal and aesthetic values, he had been granted a knowledge of the Herb of Longevity, and he lived for many hundreds of years.

In successive generations, he visited gardens and cultivated places throughout the world. In one place he planted a wonderful garden and instructed the people in its upkeep and even in the theory of gardening. But becoming accustomed to seeing some of the plants come up and flower every year, they soon forgot that others had to have their seeds collected, that some were propagated from cuttings, that some needed extra watering, and so on. The result was that the garden eventually became wild, and people started to regard that as the best garden there could be.

After giving these people many chances to learn, the gardener expelled them and recruited another whole band of workers. He warned them if they did not keep the garden in order, and study his methods, they would suffer for it. They, in turn, forgot - and since they were lazy tended only those fruits and flowers which were easily reared, and allowed the others to die. Some of the first trainees came back to them from time to time, saying: 'You should do this and do that,' but they drove them away, shouting: 'You are the ones who are departing from truth in this matter.'

But the master-gardener persisted. He made other gardens, wherever he could, and yet none was ever perfect except the one he tended with his chief assistants. As it became known that there were many gardens and even many methods of gardening, people from one garden would visit those of another, to approve, to criticize or to argue. Books were written, assemblies of gardeners were held, gardeners arranged themselves in grades according to what they thought to be the right order of precedence.

As is the way of men, the difficulty of the gardeners remains that they are too easily attracted by the superficial. They say: 'I like this flower,' and they want everyone else to like it as well. It may, in spite of its attraction or abundance, be a weed which is choking other plants which could provide medicines or food which the people and the garden need for their sustenance and permanency.

Among these gardeners are those who prefer plants of one single colour. These they may describe as 'good'. There are others who will only tend the plants, while refusing to care about the paths or the gates or even the fences.

When, at length, the ancient gardener died, he left as his endowment the whole knowledge of gardening, distributing it among the people who would understand in accordance with their capacities. So the science as well as the art of gardening remained as a scattered heritage in many gardens and also in some records of them.

People who are brought up in one garden or another generally have been so powerfully instructed as to the merits or demerits of how the inhabitants see things that they are almost incapable - though they make the effort - of realizing that they have to return to the concept of 'garden'. At the best, they generally only accept, reject, suspend judgment or look for what they imagine are the common factors.

From time to time true gardeners do arise. Such is the abundance of semi-gardens that when they hear of real ones people say: 'Oh, yes. You are talking about a garden such as we already have, or we imagine.' What they have and what they imagine are both defective.

The real experts, who cannot reason with the quasi-gardeners, associate for the most part among themselves, putting into this or that garden something from the total stock which will enable it to maintain its vitality to some extent.

They are often forced to masquerade, because the people who want to learn from them seldom know about the fact of gardening as an art or science underlying everything that they have heard before. So they ask questions like: 'How can I get a more beautiful flower on these onions?'

The real gardeners may work with them because true gardens can sometimes be brought into being, for the benefit of all mankind. They do not last long, but it is only through them that the knowledge can be truly learnt and people can come to see what a real garden is.

["The Way of the Sufi," pages 117-119.]
. . . . . . . . . . . . .

Shah's story of the master-gardener leaves many questions hanging, as it is supposed to do. Who was the master-gardener? Who was the first group he trained, and who was the second? What is the "Herb of Longevity"? Who were the master-gardener's "chief assistants," where are the "real experts" and where do they associate? Etc., Etc., Etc.

Some of these questions can be answered, but not all of them, perhaps. While, for other questions, there are multiple answers, and those answers will vary by degree according to the reader. And even those answers will be temporary, changing with conditions as a real garden does.

"Sufism," like gardening, perhaps, Shah notes, "must be studied with a certain attitude, under certain conditions, in a certain manner." Or, as the great Sufi teacher, Ibn Arabi said: "The Sufi must act and speak in a manner which takes into consideration the understanding, limitations and dominant concealed prejudices of his audience."
["The Way of the Sufi," page 33.]

I leave to the reader, then, how to interpret Shah's story; but I leave it with the observation that the story must be understood, perhaps, within Shah's larger works, of which "The Way of the Sufi" is but an integral part.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Nottingham and Krishnamurti: The Fractured Human Psyche

One of the most insightful and informed ministers active today is the Reverend Theodore (Ted) Nottingham of Indianapolis' Northwood Christian Church. In a video that directly addresses the human condition, Rev. Nottingham examines the duality and multiplicity of the human psyche in view of the world's great wisdom traditions.

"If you've had a bad dream," Nottingham explains, "if a thought goes through your head in the shower, your state changes. We are very fragile in that way. We are fractured. We are multiple. We are legion."

"The whole purpose of true teachings," he notes, "is to reunite us so that we can bring together the core of our true self, rise up out of that brokenness and enter the nobility of truly being creatures of free will, creatures in the image of their Creator. One of the blinders for us," he explains, "is that we have a strange psychological way of not seeing these contradictions."

"This is the condition of the human being," Nottingham observes. "This is everybody. It is a condition that many teachers have called 'asleep,' because we are so unaware, (because) our attention is so diverted and fragmented and there is nobody home to be present to our reality."

"There has to be a step back," he notes. "The mystics call it 'detachment,' a position of conscious presence that is not dragged around by what is going on, that does not have the rug pulled out from under it at any moment, and that is dependable both for God and for ourselves."

The ability to detach from outward phenomena is possible, Nottingham notes, but it "has to be created," through practice in mindfulness. "We don't come with that," he warns, "and life conspires to keep us from that place of centering. All the spiritual disciplines return to this. Meditation, prayer, all of these methods and habits and ways of life offered to us by the teachings lead us into a centeredness within, in a place of inner quiet, an inner sanctuary that is sealed off from the outside."

"In the world," Nottingham notes, "we are in exile. Spiritual beings lost in a world of materialism, disconnected from our source, no longer dependent as we should be on that which is greater than we are, thinking that we are independent, (we are) cut off."
. . . . . . . . . . . . .

Jiddu Krishnamurti
Another great spiritual teacher, Jiddu Krishnamurti, made the same observations and voiced the same warnings regarding the many split off 'selves' that can exist within the human psyche.
"We are many and not one," Krishamurti observes. "The one does not come into being till the many cease. The clamorous many are at war with each other day and night, and this war is the pain of life. We destroy one, but another rises in its place; and this seemingly endless process is our life. We try to impose the one on the many but the one soon becomes the many."
"Our problem," he observes, " is not how to hear the one voice but to understand the composition, the make-up, of the many which we are are." Yet, this is exceedingly difficult, he notes (as so many other teachers have), because the parts - each with its myriad of desires - cannot undertand the whole. Thus, like Nottingham, he concludes that it is in understanding desire itself, and detaching from one's desires, that one comes to wholeness.
 "The voice of the many is the voice of the one," Krishnamurti writes, "and the one voice assumes authority; but it is still the chattering of a voice. We are voices of the many, and we try to catch the still voice of the one. The one is the many if the many are silent to hear the voice of the one. . . .
"To be aware of the whole, the conflict of the many, there must be an understanding of desire," he notes. "There is only one activity of desire; though there are varying and conflicting demands and pursuits, they are all the outcome of desire."
"Desire may not be sublimated or suppressed," Krishnamurti cryptically observes, "it must be understood without him who understands. If the entity who understands is there," he warns, "then it is still the entity of desire."

Complete detachment from desire through the experiential realization of one's wholeness, or centeredness, without any fractures, seems to be what is required. To see one's desire with one's very being, devoid of the raucous narrations of the many smaller 'selves' we each possess, is the way that leads us out of the mind trap we have created. For, "(t)o understand without the experiencer is to be free of the one and the many," Krishnamurti notes.
"In the awareness of this whole process," he writes, "there is a silence which is not of the experiencer. In this silence only does understanding come into being."
[Krishnamurti: Commentaries on Living: First Series," pp. 37-38.]


"The mystics," Nottingham notes, "tell us that you must be emptied, so that you may be filled . Meaning that it is possible, by eliminating the many false 'selves' of the psyche, for us to become "transparent to the divine," as the great 20th-century Christian mystic Karlfried Graf von Durckneim put it.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Dalai Lama: Compassion as Life's Purpose

What is it that gives life meaning? How do we find our purpose in life or, even life's purpose? These existential questions, even if they ultimately remain unvoiced, are questions that we face virtually every day of our waking lives.
"For nearly everyone it is important to think that his or her life has a purpose," notes the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy. "But these purposes may be various: the purpose of one person's life may be to achieve one kind of goal, that of another person may be to achieve a very different kind of goal. There need be no one thing that forms the purpose of every life. . . . Similarly, for many people it will be enough if at each moment there is a purpose to what they are doing, without every moment being devoted to the same purpose, and without the overall pattern itself having a purpose. The view that we are put here for a purpose, rather like being in the army, is characteristic of many religious frames of mind. It leads to bad faith when apparent certainty about what the purpose is blinds people to other possibilities and opportunities."
With this in mind, it is edifying to note that the Dalai Lama, a religious leader admired and followed by millions of Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike, explicitly disclaims the need for the individual to look any further than to his or her own existence in order to find meaning in life. Below the highest metaphysical levels, he notes, it is sufficient merely to acknowledge one's own existence and then to develop an unbiased compassion for others, including all sentient beings.

"(That) our existence 'is,' no one would argue," says the Dalai Lama, in the following brief video clip. "Also the feeling (and) experience, (there is) no need to explain or prove. But then," he asks, "what is the purpose of this life? What is the purpose of this existence?"

"At deeper levels, I don't know," he admits. "Up to the metaphysical level, (however), in a general way it is not necessary to do too much," he points out. "The immediate purpose of our life is existence."

"Affection, or compassionate attitude, warmheartedness," the Dalai Lama notes, "is very, very important for one's own well-being, one's own happiness.

"So don't consider the practice of compassion (as) something of a religious matter, or (the) practice of compassion as something that is good for others, (and) not necessarily to one's self," he emphatically notes. "That is a total mistake."

The "seed compassion" one is born with, says the Dalai Lama, "can develop, (and) can further develop (into) unbiased compassion. (A compassion) not based on (and) not depend(ent) on others' attitudes, but rather (on) others' 'being' itself. "That kind of compassion," he notes, "can reach your enemies, or (all) sentient beings."

H.H XIV Dalai Lama
"That compassion," he observes, "is infinite compassion, unbiased compassion, (and) real compassion."

"If (you) become (a) compassionate person," he notes, "then your life becomes meaningful because you yourself (are) happy, calm, (and) peaceful. Your friends, (which) also includ(es) animals, (will) also . . .  get peace. So that (on) the last day of your life you feel happy. . . . Otherwise at that moment, even your belongings, your money, nothing can be used, no matter how . . . good."

"So, in order to make (a) meaningful life, he concludes, "ultimately warmheartedness is the key factor."

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Tolle and Adyashanti: What is Enlightenment?

The man or woman seeking meaning in their life is bound at some time to hear of enlightenment. But what is enlightenment, really? And where are we to find it? At the feet of a guru? Perhaps? At the top of a mountain? Maybe. In a corner bar, a bottle of pills, a love affair or a new car?  Highly, highly unlikely.

Andrew Cohen, Editor-in-chief,
of EnlightenNext magazine.
The enlightened spiritual teacher, Andrew Cohen, wrote an entire book called "Enlightenment is a Secret." In it, he remarked:
"Enlightenment is a secret that very few people know about and even fewer understand. Why is it a secret? Because Enlightenment does not exist in time. That why it's a secret and that's why it will always be a secret. Enlightenment is a vision that cannot be held or grasped in any way. Beyond this world it's a mystery that is exploding. A fire that is burning. It's a fire that a person is either going to jump into or run away from. This fire burns beyond the mind. No-time is the place where this secret abides. Realize that and you realize the Self you are when there's no mind and no time. Realize that and cling to that alone as your own Self.
The  great Sufi poet and teacher, Rumi, asked us to judge the moth by the worthiness of the candle it immolates itself in. "Enlightenment is not far away," Cohen insists. "It does not need to take time."

Below, two modern enlightened teachers, best-selling author of "The Power of Now," Eckhart Tolle and the neo-Buddhist teacher and author, Adyashanti, tackle the question of just what enlightenment is.

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Eckhart Tolle
Enlightenment, or the egoless state, "cannot be achieved in the future, or in time," Eckhart Tolle notes. "It is only by looking through it now, that the egoless state is here, now."

"A state that you want to achieve is a mental concept that is endowed with self," he observes. "And, as such, you can never reach it because it is an abstract concept of 'who I want to be,' not realizing you are it already."

"So the egoless state does not lie in the future. It has nothing to do with the future," he says. "You cannot make it into a goal. You cannot make - whether you call it the egoless state, or whether you call it enlightenment - you cannot make it into a goal. 'Goal' implies future," he observes, and "the very entry point into the egoless state or enlightenment is the present moment."

"If you make (enlightenment) into a goal you want to achieve," says Tolle, "you miss the entry point, because you are looking to the future."

"That is the dilemna of all spiritual seekers," he observes. "Because they listen to a spiritual talk or read a spiritual book and say, 'There is such a thing as the egoless state, or the enlightened state, and perhaps I can achieve it too.' And immediately they make it into a goal (and) project it away. It becomes mind, a mental image of 'who' I want to 'be' (in the) future. And (they do) not realize that their very search to actualize that image prevents them from being it, now. Because the entry point is here, (in) this moment only. The ego can only be transcended through accessing the power of the present moment." There is, he says, "no other way."

"Enlightenment is only in the power of the present moment," Tolle notes, "nowhere else. It is only humans who give up the search who realize it is already here. So you have to, one way or another - either because you are totally frustrated with the spiritual search, or because you suddenly see the truth of it -  give up the  search, as if (enlightenment) is in the future."

"Enlightenment," says Adyashanti, "is simply not perceiving through ego. It's not seeing life or any thing - self, others, your tennis shoes, your cat, your dog, your livelihood, anything - it's just not seeing the world, not seeing everything through the distortion called the egoic state of consciousness. "

"That is why," he observes, "(enlightenment) is likened to the natural state. Natural, meaning its not an alternative distorting lens, it's just perception without a lens, without a distortion. Ultimately, that is what enlightenment is. It is perception without distortion."

Cautioning his audience that enlightenment is not an unending blissful experience of what Zen Buddhists call satori, Adyashanti observes that, "in the end enlightenment has very little to do with enlightenment experiences. It is simply not perceiving through the lens of ego."

'There is no doubt, he says, "that it is pretty good not perceiving through the lens of ego, it's happiness, it's peace, it's the end of your search. Not that you find anything, except sanity. Not that you attain anything, except seeing things as they actually are. And that's what nirvana is, seeing things as they actually are."

"Enlightenment," says Adyashanti, "is the unaltered state of consciousness. Consciousness needs no alteration to see that everything is one. Since everything is one, you don't need an unaltered state of consciousness to perceive that everything is one. You need an altered state of consciousness to see that everything is not one."