Monday, June 27, 2011

Vivikenanda: On Instinct, Reason and Inspiration

"Unity in variety is the plan of the universe. As a man you are separate from an animal, but as living beings man, woman, animal and plant are all one; and as existence you are one with the whole universe. That universal essence is God, the ultimate Unity in the universe. In him we are all one. At the same time, in manifestation these differences must always remain."
-- Swami Vivikenanda --
"We find in all beings three sorts of instruments of knowledge," Vivikenanda writes. "The first is instinct which you find most highly developed in animals; this is the lowest instrument of knowledge. What is the second instrument of knowledge? Reasoning. You find that most highly developed in man."

"Now in the first place," Vivikenanda observes, "instinct is an inadequate instrument; to animals the sphere of action is very limited, and within that limit instinct acts. When you come to man, you see it is largely developed into reason. The sphere of action also has bere become enlarged. Yet even reason is still insufficient. Reason can go only a little way and then it stops, it cannot go any farther; and if you try to push it the result is helpess confusion; reason becomes unreasonable."

"Logic becomes argument in a circle," he notes. "Take for instance the very basis of our perception - matter and force. What is matter? That which is acted upon by force. And force? That which acts upon matter. You see the complication, what the logicians call a seesaw, one idea depending on the other, and this again depending on that."

"You find a mighty barrier before reason, beyond which reasoning cannot go," he points out. "Yet it always feels impatient to get into the region of the Infinite beyond. This world, this universe which our senses feel or our mind thinks, is but one atom, so to say, of the Infinite, projected on to the plane of consciousness. Within that narrow limit defined by the network of consciousness works our reason, and not beyond. Therefore there must be some other instrument to take us beyond, and that instrument is called inspiration."

"So instinct, reason, and inspiration are the three main instruments of knowledge," says Vivikenanda. "Instinct belongs to animals, reason to man, and inspiration to God-men. But in all human beings are to be found in more or less developed conditions the germs of all these three instruments of knowledge. To have these mental instruments evolved, the germs must be there. And this must also be remembered, that one instrument is a development of another and therefore does not contradict it."

"It is reason that develops into inspiration," Vivikenanda concludes, "and therefore inspiration does not contradict reason, but fulfills it. Things which reason cannot get at are brought to light by inspiration, and they do not contradict reason. The old man does not contradict the child, but fufills the child."

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Science and Religion: Convergence, Synergy and the Clash of Cultures

For me, one of the most interesting synergies of the twenty-first century is the convergence of psychology, science and metaphysics or religion. Of course, this is nothing new, but is the inevitable process of millenial seeking after the 'truths' of what our 'realities' are. What is interesting is the extent to which the different approaches, Eastern and Western, introspective and extrospective, ancient and modern - science on one hand, metaphysics on the other, with psychology somewhere in the middle - are increasingly relevant to each other, and to ever broader swaths of an awakening humanity, irrespective of the often-time violent reactions to such abruptly morphing worldviews.

In 1962, Werner Heisenberg, one of the fathers of quantum theory, observed:
"(I)rrespective of the location and cultural tradition of (the) group, the spirit of modern physics will penetrate into the minds of many people and will connect itself in different ways with the older traditions. What will be the outcome of this impact of a spectial branch of modern science on different powerful old traditions? In those parts of the world in which modern science has been developed the primary interest has been directed for a long time toward practical activity industry and engineering combined with a rational analysis of the outer and inner conditions for such activity. Such people will find it rather easy to cope with the new ideas since they have had time for a slow and gradual adjustment to the modern scientific methods of thinking."

"In other parts of the world these ideas would be confronted with the religious and philosophical foundations of the native culture. Since it is true that the results of modern physics do touch such fundamental concepts as reality space and time, the confrontation may lead to entirely new developments which cannot yet be foreseen. One characteristic feature of this meeting between modern science and the older methods of thinking will be its complete internationality. In this exchange of thoughts the one side, the old tradition, will be different in the different parts of the world, but the other side will be the same everywhere and therefore the results of this exchange will be spread over all areas in which the discussion takes place."
[Heisenberg, "Physics and Philosophy: The Revolution in Modern Science," pp. 1-2.]

Heisenberg's views, written just as the collision of Eastern wisdom traditions with Western science first impacted the wider worldviews of the many varied cultures involved, were prescient indeed. Fifty years later, the results of the impact -both positive and negative - are still shaking out.

Amongst the leading thinkers involved in the synthesis of ancient wisdom traditions with modern science is the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism. In his intriguing book, "The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality," he writes:
"When I speak with open-minded scientists and philosophers of science, it is clear that they have a deeply nuanced understanding and a recognition of the limits of scientific knowledge. At the same time, there are many people, both scientists and nonscientists, who appear to believe that all aspects of reality must and will fall within the scope of science."

"The assumption is sometimes made that, as society progresses, science will continually reveal the falsehoods of our beliefs - particularly religious beliefs - so that an enlightened secular society can eventually emerge."

"In this view," he observes, "science is viewed as having disproved many of the claims of religion, such as the existence of God, grace, and the eternal soul. And within this conceptual framework, anything that is not proven or affirmed by science is somehow either false or insignificant. Such views are effectively philosophical assumptions that reflect their holders' metaphysical prejudices."

"Just as we must avoid dogmatism in science," he cautions, "we must ensure that spirituality is free from the same limitations."
 "Clearly," the Dalai Lama concludes, "this (metaphysical) paradigm does not and cannot exhaust all aspects of reality, in particular the nature of human existence."
"In addition to the objective world of matter, which science is masterful at exploring," he points out, "there exists the subjective world of feelings, emotions, thoughts and the values and spiritual aspirations based on them. If we treat this realm as though it had no constitutive role in our understanding of reality, we lose the richness of our own existence and our understanding cannot be comprehensive. Reality, including our own existence, is so much more complex than objective scientific materialism allows." (Emphasis added.)
[Dalai Lama, "The Universe in a Single Atom," pp. 38-39.]
Much of the religious fundamentalism we now see - particularly in the Muslim World, as well as in the United States - appears to me to be an unfortunate fallout from the clash of modern scientific and traditional religious worldviews. Both worldviews can be dogmatic, and dogmatism (whether religious, political, and yes, religious) can and does breed violence.

Such reactions, with their inherent violence, are perhaps predictable and understandable, yet one hopes that as this synthesis of worldviews continues -as it inevitably will - the dogmatism of religious violence will come to be seen as an anachronism as poisonous to humanity's growth and development as is blind 'scientism.' World peace, and humanity's future is dependent on peace.

As the committed pacifist and most pre-eminent scientist of the modern age, Albert Einstein, once famously observed: "Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind."

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Thomas Merton: First Lesson About Man


Man begins in zoology.
He is the saddest animal.
He drives a big red car called anxiety.
He dreams at night
Of riding all the elevators.
Lost in the halls,
He never finds the right door.

Man is the saddest animal.
A flake-eater in the morning,
A milk-drinker.
He fills his skin with coffee
And loses patience with the rest of his species.
He draws his sin on the wall,
On all the ads in all the subways.
He draws moustaches on all the women
Because he cannot find his joy,
Except in zoology.

Whenever he goes to the phone to call Joy,
He gets the wrong number.
Therefore he likes weapons.
He knows all guns by their right name.
He drives a big black Cadillac called death.
Now he is putting anxiety into space.
He flies his worries all around Venus,
But it does him no good.
In space where for a long time there is only emptiness,
He drives a big white globe called death.

Now dear children
Who have learned the first lesson about man,
Answer your test:
“Man is the saddest animal.
He begins in zoology,
And gets lost
In his own bad news.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Non-Attachment: From Meditation to Samadhi

Non-attachment to the perceptions of the world - non-attachment to our ideas of its people, places, things and situations - is an essential component of spiritual practice, irrespective of religious tradition. "In the end what matters most," reads a banner in my living room, "is how well did you live, how well did you love, how well did you learn to let go." Poignant words, for one day we all have to let go of everything, and all that will attest to our being here this time around, is how well we lived our lives and how well we loved the beings we encountered.

In his enlightening book, "How to Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali" (written with Christopher Isherwood), Swami Prabhavananda notes that "(i)f we try to concentrate (in meditation) while remaining attached to the things of this world, we shall fail altogether or our newly acquired powers of concentration will bring us into great danger, because we shall inevitably use them for selfish, unspiritual ends." (He points to the violent excesses of the twentieth-century as evidence of what happens when man concentrates on science "without unlearning his attachment to nationalistic power.")

But how, then, are we to learn such detachment from the ego and its desires for the objects and ambitions that the world presents? "We must begin," says Prabhavananda, "by cultivating attachment to the highest object we can conceive of, to God himself."

First, he suggests, concentrate upon a spiritual ideal - Christ, Krishna, the Buddha, or his own teacher, Ramakrishna - and as attachment to that ideal is generated, lesser attachments to the people, places and things of the world slip away. This, Prabhavananda says, effects non-attachment at the level "of gross phenomena."

Next, Prabhavananda suggests, as meditation and contemplation on our ideal progresses, we lose attachment to the ideal as we gain understanding to the spirit within him or her. At that stage, he observes, we move "from the level of gross phenomena to the subtle or spiritual level." At this point, "(w)e shall no longer admire a Christ or a Ramakrishna as human beings within time, but we shall worship them as eternal, spiritual beings. We shall know them in their divine aspect."

From there, says Prabhavananda, there is a third stage, or "third level of consciousness" that transcends even attachment to these subtle forms. "For behind Christ," he points out, "behind Ramakrishna, behind any conception of a personal God, there is Brahman, the Ground, the central Reality of which these figures are only partial, individual projections."

"When we become united with Brahman," Prabhavananda notes, "we are united with That which was manifested in Christ and hidden within our unregenerate selves, but which is eternally present in all of us. And this union is the state of nirvikalpa samadhi."

In describing just what nirvikalpa samadhi is, Prabhavananda leans on the following description by the great seventh-century Vedantist teacher, Shankara:
"There is a continuous consciousness of the unity of Atman and Brahman. There is no longer any identification of the Atman with its coverings. All sense of duality is obliterated. There is pure, unified consciousness. The man who is well established in this consciousness is said to be illumined."

"A man is said to be free even in this life when he is established in illumination. His bliss is unending. He almost forgets this world of appearances.

"Even though his mind is dissolved in Brahman, he is fully awake, free from the ignorance of waking life. He is fully conscious, but free from any craving. Such a man is said to be free even in this life."

"For him, the sorrows of this world are over. Though he possesses a finite body, he remains unitied with the Infinite. His heart knows no anxiety. Such a man is said to be free even in this life."
Thus, beyond the attachments of the ego to the things of the world, there lies available to us a higher consciousness in which may be found the "peace that surpasseth all understanding."  (Phillipians 4:7)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Exodus: The Journey from Ego to Transcendental Consciousness

"A traveler in ancient Greece had lost his way and, seeking to find it, asked directions of a man by the roadside who turned out to be Socrates. "How can I reach Mt. Olympus?" asked the traveler. To this Socrates is said to have replied, "Just make every step you take go in that direction."
[Eric Butterworth, "Discover the Power Within You," page 15.]
"Egypt and the Pharoah are very real," observed Chassidic rabbi, Tzi Freeman. "Either you are doing Exodus, or you are dong slavery." Exodus, or the journey to Mt. Olympus, are, of course, metaphors for the moment-by-moment quest for enlightenment and freedom from ego-consciousness. Enlightenment, moksha, personal liberation, salvation - however you wish to describe that rarefied spiritual state of higher consciousness - is an all-or-nothing deal.

As spiritual teacher Andrew Cohen has pointed out, enlightenment and ego-consciousness are two parallel tracks, they never intersect. One either experiences the quietude of the enlightened state of Being (what Cohen calls "the Authentic Self"), or one experiences the raucous inner narrative of the small, conditioned "self," or "ego."

"It is probably true," Butterworth observed, "that every man intuitively knows that there is a highway of right living and that he is never completely satisfied with himself or his world until he finds the road to his own "Mt. Olympus." And it may be that this distinction leads to the indefinable yearning and hunger and thirst that causes the excesses that plague mankind. He feels the inner urge but he usually moves in the wrong direction to fill it."

Indeed, as the Apostle Paul acknowledged in his letter to the Romans:
"I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing."
[Romans 7:15-19]
The great Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung, recognized this spiritual need and acknowledged how, if misdirected, it can lead the unsuspecting man or woman deeper into the bondage of the ego. In a letter to Bill Wilson, the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, he observed:
"I am strongly convinced that the evil principle prevailing in this world leads the unrecognized spiritual need into perdition, if it is not counteracted either by real religious insight or by the protective wall of human community. An ordinary man, not protected by an action from above and isolated in society, cannot resist the power of evil, which is called very aptly the Devil. But the use of such words arouses so many mistakes that one can only keep aloof from them as much as possible."
However, in his pithy, but all-important work, "The Undiscovered Self," in which he strongly critiques the development of the modern State, Jung convincingly makes the case that even society, as we have come to know it, is not in itself sufficient to meet mankind's hidden spiritual needs. In fact, it is just the opposite.
"Just as man, as a social being, cannot in the long run exist without a tie to the community," Jung observes, "so the individual will never find the real justification for his existence, and his own spiritual and moral autonomy, anywhere except in an extramundane principle capable of relativizing the overpowering influence of external factors."

"The individual who is not anchored in God," Jung points out, "can offer no resistance on his own resources to the physical and moral blandishments of the world."

"For this," Jung notes, "he needs the inner, transcendent experience which alone can protect him from the otherwise inevitable submersion in the mass. Merely intellectual or even moral insight into the stultification and moral irresponsibility of the mass man is a negative recognition only and amounts to not much more than a wavering on the road to the atomization of the individual. It lacks the driving force of religious conviction, since it is merely rational."
[Jung, "The Undiscovered Self," page 34.]
How then is the individual to achieve such an inner, transcendent experience? Clearly, as Jung suggests, it cannot be achieved through rational thought. What is needed first, perhaps, is the knowledge that such a transcendent experience is available to all, and then after that a conscious decision to make each of his or her steps go towards the Mt. Olympus of higher, non-egoic consciousness.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Doing One's Dharma and Finding One's Path

There are innumerable paths to enlightenment - or, perhaps more accurately, the number of paths to enlightenment is precisely equal to those beings who consciously seek that goal - for each of us approaches the goal of liberation from where we are, by working out our karma, by following our own personal dharma, by walking lightly on the Earth and leaving small footprints.

Unlike traditional Indian society with its castes and classes, and with its four stages of life (the student, the householder, the spiritual aspirant, and the renunciate), modern society - East and West - no longer holds tightly to such rigid distinctions, and everyone must come to understand and work out their particular avenue through life and towards personal liberation.

"In his study of the Bhagavad Gita ("Paths to God"), iconic spiritual teacher Ram Dass notes that "(t)here are very few clear, cultural prescriptions that are deeply ingrained in our society to tell us what to do. So we're faced with having to figure out for ourselves what our dharma might be."
"We have to rely on ourselves," he points out, "we have to listen and hear how our individual differences will determine our appropriate duty moment by moment. All of our circumstances feed into that: If you have a certain type of intellect, of if you have certain economic circumstances, it defines certain paths. If you have a husband or a wife, that defines certain possibilities, and it also defines certain limiting conditions."

"Some people," he observes, "might say, "I can only do a job that is absolutely dharmic, and I would rather starve to death than earn money impurely." Others say, "Look - I'll do the best I can, given my circumstances." There's no judgment in either case; each of us has to hear what each of us has do to."

"If you are a sadhu, if you are single and a renunciate, then maybe you can afford to be more of a purist," he points out, "(as) no one is dependent on you. On the other hand," he points out, "if you are a householder and have a family, then you have certain responsibilities, and you've got to do the best you can. If you are a householder, but you are being such a purist that you don't get enough money to feed your baby, in the long run you will have done more adharma than dharma. If you're in that situation and you find that you have to take a job that doesn't feel entirely dharmic to you, do the best you can to bring as much consciousness as possible into the scene. That's all you can do. You work with what you are given."
"You do that with respect to each aspect of your life," Dass notes. "Whatever your part is," he says," you just play it, but you play it as consciously as you can. That's the most basic form of the concept of doing your dharma: to find your little square on the grid, and then to live it out perfectly."

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Quality of Faith: Relgious Belief versus Religious Experience

There is a marked difference in the quality of faith dependent upon whether it is based on religious belief or if it is grounded in religious experience. The difference in this quality of faith is "the one great partition" that William James describes as dividing institutional from personal religion. ("The Varieties of Religious Experience," p. 28.)
"In the true mystic," writes Evelyn Underhill, "we see personal religion raised to its highest power. If we accept his experience as genuine it involves an intercourse with the spiritual world, an awareness of it, which transcends the normal experience, and appears to be independent of the general religious consciousness of the community to which he belongs."

"The mystic," she notes, "speaks with God as a person with a Person, and not as a member of a group. He lives by an immediate knowledge far more than by belief; by a knowledge achieved in those hours of direct, unmediated intercourse with the Transcendent when, as he says, he was "in union with God." The certitude then gained - a certitude which he cannot impart, and which is not usually diffused - governs all his reactions to the Universe. It even persists and upholds him in those terrible hours of darkness when all his sense of spiritual reality is taken away."
[Underhill, "The Essentials of Mysticism," pp. 25-26.]
Faith based on religious belief is thus, of necessity, only second-hand, while faith based on personal experience of a higher, religious consciousness is primary. The former is susceptible to wavering in tough times, while in the latter, or so it seems, there is "no variableness, nor shadow of turning."
"There is a state of mind, known to religious men, but to no others," James asserts, "in which the will to assert ourselves and hold our own has been displaced by a willingness to close our mouths and be as nothing in the floods and waterspouts of God. In this state of mind what we most dreaded has become the habitation of our safety, and the hour of our moral death has turned into our spiritual birthday. The time for tension in our soul is over, and that of happy relaxation, of calm deep breathing, of an eternal present, with no discordant future to be anxious about has arrived. Fear is not held in abeyance as it is by mere morality, it is positively expunged and washed away."

"This enchantment," James observes, "coming as a gift when it does come - a gift of our organism, the physiologists will tell us, a gift of God's grace, the theologians say - is either there or not there for us, and there are persons who can no more become possessed by it than they can fall in love with a given woman by mere word of command. Religious feeling is thus an absolute addition to the Subject's range of life. It gives him a new sphere of power. When the outward battle is lost, and the outer world disowns him, it redeems and vivifies an interior world which otherwise would be an empty waste."
[Wm. James, "The Varieties of Religious Experience," pp. 47-48.]
James goes on to describe the many different varieties of inner religious experience, each demonstrating that there is a higher state of religious consciousness above our ordinary, egoic self-consciousness; and he differentiates such experiences from intellectual or learned faith. Those who experience such inner relgious conversion are possessed thereafter with faith which is of a much different and enduring quality than a faith based solely on subjective, self-conscious belief.
"All the exponents of the Perennial Philosophy," philosopher and spiritual seeker, Aldous Huxley observes, "make, in one form or another, the affirmation that man is a kind of trinity composed of body, psyche and spirit. Selfness or personality is a product of the first two elements. The third element . . . is akin to, or even identical with, the divine Spirit that is the Ground of all being."

"Man's final end," he observes, "the purpose of his existence is to love, know and be united with the immanent and transcendent Godhead. And this identification of self with spiritual not-self can be achieved only by "dying to" selfness and living to spirit."
[Huxley, "The Perennial Philosophy," p. 38.]
While such religious experience - such "dying to self" and awakening to spirit - is available to all of us, it is only the rare individual who experiences the "immanent and transcendent Godhead" in reality. The rest of us, holding to a religious faith based only on our subjective and intellectual belief, may merely aspire to the experience of that higher consciousness which leads to the deepest, and most abiding faith possible.

"Sell all your cleverness," Rumi urges us, "and purchase bewilderment."

Thursday, June 16, 2011

An Explanation of Suffering

"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."
In an ecumenical message, below, which encompasses spiritual teachings from a wide range of sources - ranging from the Bhagavad Gita, to the teachings of the Bhudda and the 'Beatitudes' of Jesus - spiritual teacher, Pradhanath Swami addresses the existential question of 'why' there is suffering.

Like the teachers of all ages, Pradhanath points out that suffering may be a hidden blessing in that it helps us to overcome our egoism and compels us to search deeply within for the higher, transcendental consciousness which is at the heart of all the world's great wisdom traditions.

"In many ways," he notes, "the sufferings in this world are blessings because they help us to take very seriously - if we make the choice to really understand - what is deeper, what is higher than all these temporary pleasures and pains: honor and dishonor, happiness and distress, health and disease, success and failure, birth and death."

"The nature of the world around us," he explains, "is constituted on the basis of dualities. One brings pleasure, one brings pain. And, to the degree that we are attached to something that gives us pleasure, to that same degree we suffer when it is lost. And, ultimately, because everything is under the consumption of time, everything will be lost."

So going through these experiences," he observes, "thoughtful people contemplate: 'Is there something higher? Is there something deeper? Is there something more to life than this?' And," he points out, "all the great saintly teachers, and all the great saintly scriptures . . . are leading us in that direction."

"This world," he points out, "is just a temporary place, but this world can be a launching pad to help us to realize the inner treasures within our own heart. And it is usually the sufferings of this world," he notes, "that serve as an impetus for us to not just theoretically try to understand what is beyond, but to feel the urgent need to do something about it, to realize and experience the essence of the Self."

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Unitive, Inclusive View of God and Man

God, Allah, Ahura Mazda - the Ground of Being, whatever its name - knows no differences. It is only those who profess their singular and exclusive view of religion that separate themselves off from the eternal. Those who are consciously possessed of this Divine Ground within and without themselves make no such distinctions and place no restrictions on their vision of God, as they know it is distinction itself that separates them from Wholeness.

Thus, "the Shakespeare of Mystics," Rumi can say:
"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 oceans or up

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

am not an entity in this world or the next,
did not descend from Adam and Ever 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.
"The biographies of the saints," writes Aldous Huxley, "testify unequivocally to the fact that spiritual training leads to a transcendence of personality, not merely in the special circumstances of battle, but in all circumstances and in relation to all creatures, so that the saint "loves his enemies' or, if he is a Buddhist, does not even recognized the existence of enemies, but treats all sentient beings, sub-human as well as human, with the same compassion and disinterested good."

"Those who win through to the unitive knowledge of God set out upon their course from the most diverse starting points," Huxley notes. "One is a man, another a woman; one a born active, another a born comtemplative. No two of them inherit the same temperament and physical constitution, and their lives are passed in material, moral and intellectual environments that are profoundly dissimilar."

"Nevertheless," he observes, "as far as they are saints, insofar as they possess the unitive knowledge that makes them "perfect as their Father which is in heaven is perfect," they are all astonishingly alike. Their actions are uniformly selfless and they are constantly recollected, so that at every moment they know who they are and what is their true relation to the universe and its spiritual ground."

Saints, mystics and sages, it seems, regardless of their formal path (or lack of a path), have an acceptive, unitive and inclusive view of God and man, for they have realized in the very essence of their Being that they are inseparably a part of the Ground of Being that encompasses all. It is the unsaintly, non-mystical, unsagacious common man who makes distinctions based on his or her God. And, in doing so, he or she falls short of realizing the essence of their Being.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Bliss, Peace and the 'Kingdom of God' Within You

"The undisturbed state of being is bliss; the disturbed state is what appears as the world. In non-duality there is bliss; in duality - experience. What comes and goes is experience with the duality of pain and pleasure. Bliss is not to be known. One is always bliss, but never blissful. Bliss is not an attitude."
-- Sri Nisargadatta --
Sri Nisargadatta
One cannot "think" blissfully. As the enlightened teacher Sir Nisargadatta observed: "Bliss is not an attitude." It is not a way of thinking. Bliss is the natural state of our being, devoid of ego or the sense of a small "self" as the identity of 'who' and 'what' we are.

When finally confronted directly by the Pharisees who demanded to be shown "where" the "kingdom of God" might be found, Jesus (who always couched his public teachings in parables) replied:
"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]
The state of enlightenment, thus seems to be an inner state of consciousness and being and not a system, attitude or way of thinking. "Peace," Kahlil Gibran observed, "is an oasis in the heart that can never be reached by the caravan of thinking." It is thus, incumbent upon the true spiritual seeker to go deeply within him or herself if the blissful state of pure Being is to be found. It is, as Nisargadatta observes, beyond the duality of the world which is created by the small "self" of the ego, and its egoic mode of thinking.

Interestingly, however, when this state of inner Bliss is achieved, it seems to change one's realization of what the world and its outer forms are. Thus, in the Gospel of Thomas (which has been continually used by the Coptic, Syriac and Nestorian, but not the Catholic or Orthodox churches) Jesus' confrontation with the Pharisees is echoed. This time, however, in response to an enquiry from his disciples asking, when the "the kingdom" will come, Jesus answers:
"It will not come by waiting for it. It will not be a matter of saying 'here it is' or 'there it is.' Rather, the kingdom of the father is spread out upon the earth, and men do not see it."
["The Nag Hammadi Library," Gospel of Thomas, verses 113-114.]
Similarly, at the beginning of the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus is reported to have said to Thomas, referred to as Didymos Judas Thomas, in the Nag Hammadi texts (a.k.a., the "Dead Sea scrolls"):
"If those who lead you say to you, 'See, the kingdom is in the sky,' then the birds will precede you. If they say to you, 'It is in the sea,' then the fish will precede you. Rather the kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and you will realize that it is you who are the sons of the living father. But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty and it is you who are that poverty."
 It is only by coming to known one's true "Self," rather than the false, smaller "self" of the ego, that one realizes the bliss state of one's pure Being, and one realizes they are an inseparable component of the Ground of Being, or pure Bliss.

"There are no others to help," says Nisagardatta. "A rich man, when he hands over his entire fortune to his family, has not a coin left to give a beggar. So is the wise man (gnani) stripped of all his powers and possessions. Nothing, literally nothing, can be said about him. He cannot help anybody, for he is everybody. He is the poor and also his poverty, the thief and also his thievery. How can he be said to help, when he is not apart? Who thinks of himself as separate from the world, let him help the world."

"The only thing that can help," says Nisargadatta, " is to wake up from the dream."

"The beginningless begins forever," he notes. "In the same way, I give eternally, because I have nothing. To be nothing, to have nothing, to keep nothing for oneself is the greatest gift, the highest generosity."

"The self is all," Nisargadatta points out. "In practice it takes the shape of goodwill, unfailing and universal. You may call it love, all-pervading, all-redeeming. Such love is supremely active - (but) without the sense of doing." Such, it seems, is the state of Bliss.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Carl Jung: The Conflict Between Faith, Experience and Knowledge

Over fifty years ago, one of the twentieth-century's greatest thinkers, the Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung made the observation that both science and our modern religious views in the West lack the experiential force that would make them effective vehicles for shaping a sustainable and viable worldview. His comments now, as then, continue to cut to the heart of what is humanity's greatest existential question - how to find deep meaning in a seemingly superficial and surface life that is increasingly defined by a purely scientific worldview in conflict with fanatical and fundamentalist 'religiosity'.

Writing in his classic work, "The Undiscovered Self," Jung observes:
"The West has unfortunately not yet awakened to the fact that our appeal to idealism and reason and other desirable virtues, delivered with so much enthusiasm, is mere sound and fury. It is a puff of wind swept away in the storm of religious faith, however twisted this faith may appear to us."

"We are faced," he observes, "not with a situation that can be overcome by rational or moral arguments, but with an unleashing of emotional forces and ideas engendered by the spirit of the times, and these, as we know from experience, are not much influenced by rational reflection and still less by moral exhortation. It has been correctly realized in many quarters that the alexipharmic, the antidote, should in this case be an equally potent faith of a different and nonmaterialistic kind, and that the religious attitude grounded upon it would be the only effective defense against the danger of psychic infection."

"Unhappily," Jung notes, "the little word 'should,' which never fails to appear in this connection, points to a certain weakness, if not the absence, of this desideratum. Not only does the West lack a uniform faith that could block the progress of a fanatical ideology, but, as the father of Marxist philosophy, it makes use of exactly the same spiritual assumptions, the same arguments and aims."
In a durable commentary that is at least as applicable in the non-Christian East as it is in the West, Jung points out that churches (and one might add mosques, temples and synagogues) "stand for traditional and collective convictions which in the case of many of their adherents are no longer based on their own inner experience but on unreflecting belief which notoriously apt to disappear as soon as one begins thinking about it." Then, he notes, "(t)he content of belief . . . comes into collision with knowledge, and it often turns out that the irrationality of the former is no match for the ratiocinations of the latter."
"Belief," Jung notes, "is no adequate substitute for inner experience, and where this is absent even a strong faith which came miraculously as a gift of grace may depart equally miraculously."

"People call faith the true religious experience," he observes, "but they do not stop to think that actually it is a secondary phenomenon arising from the fact that something happened to us in the first place which instilled 'nous' into us - that is, trust and loyalty."

"This experience has a definite content that can be interpreted in terms of one or other of the denominational creeds," he points out. "But the more this is so, the more the possibilities of these conflicts with knowledge mount up, which in themselves are quite pointless."

"That is to say," he concludes, "the standpoints of the creeds is archaic; they are full of impressive mythological symbolism which, if taken literally, comes into insufferable conflict with knowledge."
[Carl Jung, "The Undiscovered Self." pp. 46-48.]
What is apparent from Jung's analysis, it seems, is the need that both individuals and societies have for a meaningful and experiential belief system which is compatible, and not antithetical, to the collective knowledge that the world has garnered - both through science and through real religious insight. Such an insight, to be meaningful, must take into account what science has disclosed about the outer, material world and what experiential religious practice has disclosed about the inner, spiritual world of the individual and collective consciousness and psyche.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Mystics, Awakening and the Divine: A Sufi View

 … Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting
The soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar.
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come,
From God who is our home.
 -- William Wordsworth --
("Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood.")

"Mystics are lovers going home," writes Sufi teacher and author, Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, "living the passion and commitment that are needed to surrender and be taken, to become empty of oneself and filled with the Beloved."

"Little can be told," he suggests, "of the innermost mysteries of the heart, of how our own soul opens to God. And for each of us this jouney, our heart's pilgrimage, is unique, because each of us is unique. We are each a unique creation by the Great Artist, and each of us makes our own offering in the fire of love."

"We all come from God," he continues, "but when we are born into this world we forget. We forget from where we have come and that we are children of light. We take on the clothing of the world, leaving behind the "clouds of glory" of our true Home. The Sufi calls this the "journey from God," a journey of forgetfulness in which we leave Paradise behind."

But," Vaughn-Lee observes, "there are those who never quite forget, who keep a distant memory buried deep within them. As a result this world never seems like home; there is often a sense of not quite belonging, not fitting in."

"Mystics," he notes, "are strangers in this world, just because they remember their real home."
["Love is a Firre: The Sufi's Mystical Journey Home," pp. 20-21.]

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

In the following six-part video lecture, Vaughan Lee examines spiritual awakening, who and what it is that awakens, and what they awaken to.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Emptiness and Dependent Origination: "Truth That Sets You Free"

"Emptiness," "insubstantiality" and "co-dependent origination" are fundamental concepts in Mahayana Buddhism, yet these concepts are also recognized realities in Daoist teachings, the teachings of many Indian philosophical and yoga schools, and - though not specifically referenced - most of the world's great wisdom traditions.

What we know of the origination and vast emptiness of the universe, as well as the mechanics and profound emptiness of the atom, makes these ancient philosophical realizations particularly relevant to all of us, although the Western worldview, to a large extent, still clings to its traditional materialist view of man, mind, the world and the cosmos.

In Chapter II of the Dao De Jing, we read:

"The thirty spokes converge at one hub,
But the utility of the cart is a function of the nothingness inside the hub.
We throw clay to shape a pot,
But the utility of the clay pot is a function of the nothingness inside it.
We bore out doors and windows to make a dwelling,
But the utility of the dwelling is a function of the nothingness inside it.
Thus, it might be something that provides the value,
But it is nothing that provides the utility."

[Ames and Hall, "Dao De Jin: A Philosophical Translation, page 91.]

"There is nothing," said Tzu-ch'i, "that is not a 'that' and nothing that is not a 'this.' One does not see from the standpoint of another knowing by oneself is knowing something. Therefore it is said: ''That' comes from 'this,' and 'this' is based on 'that.' This explains how 'that' and 'this' arise simultaneously."

"But when there is arising," he continued, "there is passing away; and when there is passing away, there is arising. When there is right, there is wrong; when there is wrong, there is right. By affirming we deny; by denying we affirm."

"Therefore," he notes, "sages do not go this way but perceive it in the context of nature. This is also based on an affirmation."

"A 'this' is also a 'that,' and a 'that' is also a 'this,' he concludes. "'That' is one judgment, and 'this' is also one judgment. Ultimately, are there in fact 'that' and 'this,' or are there no 'that' or 'this'? Nothing can be opposite to 'that and this' - we call this fact the pivot of the Way. When the pivot is centered in its hub, thereby responding infinitely, then affirmation is one infinity and negation is also one infinity."
[Clearey, "The Essential Tao," page 72.]

Vedantists, and other Indian philosophical and yoga schools, label this concept of "this and that,' or 'neither this nor that,' "sunyata" - a transcendental  state in which neither 'this' nor 'that' exists absolutely. In "The Spiritual Heritage of India," Vedantist scholar, Swami Prabhavananda, suggests that these concepts extend to all the world's great wisdom traditions, including Christianity, and that the transcendental reality in which this is experienced can be attained by all.
"The nirvana of Buddha," writes Prabhavananada, "is . . . not a state of annihilation but the attainment of the unchangeable reality, which can be positively described as the eternal peace. But what this peace really is, no words can define; all definition can be only symbol and can offer only a vague suggestion. Buddha employs negative terms for its description, such as freedom from misery and death, freedom from sensuality, from the ego, from delusion, from ignorance."

"This state of freedom is attainable by the 'noble kind of wisdom' - a phrase already quoted from the Buddhist scripture and signifying what the Vedanta calls transcendental knowledge. The wisdom meant is not a wisdom of the intellect, which implies a knower and an object, but rather a state, sunyata, in which no subject-object relation exists, and in which one transcends both intellect and mind - these two words representing, in Hindu psychology, separate entities."

"Christ refers directly to this transcendental wisdom when he says: 'And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.' It is identical with perfection, the same perfection that Christ has in mind when he says: 'Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.' It is, in brief, the direct, immediate knowledge of that which is timeless unconditional existence."

"The 'noble kind of wisdom' is attainable by 'the noble conduct of life' and 'the noble earnestness of meditation.'"
[Swami Prabhavananda, "The Spiritual Heritage of India," page 186.]

Sunday, June 5, 2011

In Memoriam: "To One Shortly to Die"

What words do you say to the dying? I had watched my friend decline and knew that this was, perhaps, the last time we would meet together, the last time I would be able to comfort, perhaps, the man who had brought and opened up a new vista of consciousness and being to my awareness.

How to reassure a man who really needed no assurance save what each of us might want when a companion on the spiritual path meets with us one last time on what we know will be our death bed?

Socrates, before the poison took hold, told his friends: "The hour of departure has arrived, and we go our ways — I to die and you to live. Which is the better, only God knows." What was I to say?

We had walked a long way together on paths that had too briefly merged, and together we had explored what other wayfarers had said. And as he was no fabulist, but a realist, I chose the following poem by Walt Whitman, a spiritual kinsman, to reassure him and to ease him on his way:

From all the rest I single out you, having a message for you,
You are to die - let others tell you what they please, I cannot prevaricate.
I am exact and merciless, but I love you - there is no escape for you.

Softly I lay my right hand upon you, you feel it,
I do not argue, bend my head close and half envelop it,
I sit quietly by, I remain faithful,
I am more than nurse, more than parent or neighbor,
I absolve you from all except yourself spiritual bodily, that is eternal, you yourself will surely escape,
The corpse you will leave will be but excrementitious.

The sun bursts through in unlooked-for directions,
Strong thoughts fill you and confidence, you smile,
You forget you are sick, as I forget you are sick,
You do not see the medicines, you do not mind the weeping friends,
I am with you, I exclude others from you, there is nothing to be commiserated,
I do not commiserate, I congratulate you.
"Apart from the physical pain," I asked him, "is there any fear or suffering?" (For I'd asked this of an enlightened man upon his death bed, and he had laughed heartily at the proposition.)

"No, just confusion," he replied.

"What confuses you?," I asked.

"Why," he asked me, looking up, "do I struggle to hold on?"

I told him that there was no longer any reason for him to hold on, that he had learned all that he had come here to learn, and that he had taught scores of others (including me) what he had learned.

"I'll have to consider that," he said. And then he asked me to help him lay back down.

I laid him down, and he slipped off his oxygen mask. I told him that I loved him, kissed his cheek and took my leave. I am told that shortly thereafter he slipped into a coma, where he lingered for a day or so before departing.

The next evening, as I sat with my father waiting for a chorale to be performed, my thoughts turned back to my friend, for he had been a musician. "How much he would like this," I thought. And just at that time, I'm told, he revived for a moment, surrounded by others who loved him, and to whom he'd taught peace.

He lingered for a moment in silence, closed his eyes, and then breathed his last. It was in a silent and smiling acceptance, I'm told, that he slipped into his final deathless sleep. He had evolved.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Enlightenment: The Tao of Now

"(A)wakening to our original enlightened nature," suggests Robert Holden in the Huffington Post, "involves interrupting the ordinary flow of linear, language-based, thinking so that we can rediscover "the mind within the mind"."

"Focusing on external circumstances or teachings is not what triggers the moment of enlightenment," writes Holden, an author with a decidedly Taoist bent, "(r)ather, it is focusing on the absence of internal commentary. Because it is impossible to "think" without words," he notes, "this practice of stopping the flow of running commentary on our lives involves cultivating a mindset of no-thought (wu-nien) in an attempt to experience each moment as it is without silently talking to ourselves about it."

Holden puts forward the following recollections of nature as doorways into "a wordless space of wonder at the profound transparency of nature," in which, "overwhelmed by awe in the face of creation, the boundaries between self and world dissolve in a mystical union transcending conscious thought."
  •  "A white pelican sails south across the darkening sky, heading deeper into the high desert marshlands."
  • "The first warning drops splash dust on the washboard road as a flock of ibis flap madly against the north wind."
  • "A yellow-headed blackbird throws its head back over its shoulder, singing ecstatically from its perch on a swaying cattail."
  • "The sun blinks through thinning clouds, throwing off a triple rainbow like a casual afterthought."
Each haiku-like observation of the pervasive, yet largely unobserved, face of the world around us, Holden suggests, "offers the perfect opportunity for a higher integration of one's original nature with the eternal Way (Tao) that gives rise to everything from within."

Thoreau's Walden Pond
In "On Man & Nature," the great Transcendentalist, Henry David Thoreau observed: "I want to live ever as to derive my satisfactions and inspirations from the commonest events, every-day phenomena, so that what my senses hourly perceive, my daily walk, the conversation of my neighbors, may inspire me, and I may dream of no heaven but that which lies about me."

"Between Heaven and Earth," says the Tao-Te-Ching, "there seems to be a bellows: It is empty, and yet it is inexhaustible; the more it works, the more comes out of it. No amount of words can fathom it; better look for it within you."
"Paradoxically," writes Holden, "awakening to the perennial truth leads experiencers to see absolute truth and conventional truth as one, not two. This is part of the experience of swallowing the whole of the river in one gulp, wherein all dualities are united within the individual. This grasp of the non-duality of reality and appearance is expressed in the analogy of the statue of a golden lion: its form is that of a lion but its substance is of gold. Because its nature is that of a golden lion, its lion-form cannot be separated from its gold-substance. This analogy hints at the experience of non-duality that lies at the heart of enlightenment, in which the boundaries between self and other, inner and outer, collapse."
"In eternity," observes Thoreau, "there is indeed something true and sublime. But all these times and places and occasions are here and now. God himself culminates in the present moment, and will never be more divine in the lapse of all the ages. And we are enabled to apprehend at all what is sublime and noble only by the perpetual instilling and drenching of the reality that surrounds us."

"Man follows the ways of the Earth," says the Tao-Te-Ching. "The Earth follows the ways of Heaven. Heaven follows the ways of the Tao. Tao follows its own ways."