Thursday, July 28, 2011

Contemplative Practice and Disciplining the Mind

"You tell me nothing new; you are not the only one that is troubled with wandering thoughts. Our mind is extremely roving; but, as the will is mistress of all our faculties, she must recall them, and carry them to GOD as their last end."

"When the mind, for want of being sufficiently reduced by recollection at our first engaging in devotion, has contracted certain bad habits of wandering and dissipation, they are difficult to overcome, and commonly draw us, even against our wills, to the things of the earth."

"I believe one remedy for this is to confess our faults, and to humble ourselves before GOD. I do not advise you to use multiplicity of words in prayer: many words and long discourses being often the occasions of wandering. Hold yourself in prayer before GOD, like a dumb or paralytic beggar at a rich man's gate. Let it be your business to keep your mind in the presence of the LORD. If it sometimes wander and withdraw itself from Him, do not much disquiet yourself for that: trouble and disquiet serve rather to distract the mind than to re-collect it: the will must bring it back in tranquility. If you persevere in this manner, GOD will have pity on you."

"One way to re-collect the mind easily in the time of prayer, and preserve it more in tranquility, is not to let it wander too far at other times: you should keep it strictly in the presence of GOD; and being accustomed to think of Him often, you will find it easy to keep your mind calm in the time of prayer, or at least to recall it from its wanderings."
-- Brother Lawrence --
("The Practice of the Presence of God," VIII Letter)
That the undisciplined mind is restless, and goes where it will, is recognized in all religions. Indeed, disciplining the mind may be the central purpose of religion, as through disciplining the mind we attain to a higher and deeper consciousness in which we attain to the divine. "The mind is indeed restless, Arjuna," says Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, "it is indeed hard to train. But by constant practice and by freedom from passions the mind in truth can be trained. When the mind is not in harmony, this divine communion is hard to attain; but the man whose mind is in harmony attains it, if he knows and strives for it."

"(E)very mind, no matter its present nature, can ultimately be disciplined and transformed" observes Swami Prabhavananda in his commentary on Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, "(and) can be, in Patanjali's phrase 'one-pointed' and fit to attain to the state of perfect yoga." However, as he later notes, disciplining the mind requires both practice and effort.
"(T)he thought-waves cannot all be controlled at once," Prabhavananda observes. "First we have to overcome the "painful" thought-waves by raising waves which are "not painful." To our thoughts of anger, desire and delusion we must oppose thoughts of love, generosity and truth. Only much later, when the "painful" thought-waves have been completely stilled, can we proceed to the second stage of discipline; the stilling of the "not painful" waves which we have deliberately created."

"The idea that we should ultimately have to overcome even those thought-waves which are "good," "pure" and "truthful" may at first seem shocking to a student who has been trained in the Western approach to morality," notes Prabhavananda, "but a little reflection will show him that this must be so."

"The external world, even in its most beautiful appearances and noblest manifestations, is still superficial and transient," he notes. "It is not the basic Reality. We must look through it not at it to see the Atman."

"Certainly," he concedes, "it is better to love than to hate, better to share than to hoard, better to tell the truth than to lie. But the thought-waves which motivate the practice of these virtues are nonetheless disturbances in the mind. We all know instances of admirable, earnest men who become so deeply involved in the cares of a great reform movement or social relief project that they cannot think of anything beyond the practical problems of their daily work. Their minds are not calm." 
"The mind of the truly illumined man is calm," Prabhavananda concludes, "not because he is selfishly indifferent to the needs of others, but because he knows the peace of the Atman within all things, even within the appearance of misery, disease, strife and want."
 [Prabhavananda and Isherwood, " How to Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali," pp. 23-24.]

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Heroism in Religion and Philosophy

"Although a man has not studied a single system of philosophy, although he does not believe in any God, and never has believed although he has not prayed even once in his life, if the simple power of good actions has brought him to that state where he is ready to give up his life and all else for others, he has arrived at the same point to which the religious man will come through his prayers and the philosopher through his knowledge; and so you may find the philosopher, the worker, and the devotee, all meet at one point, that one point being self-abnegation. However much their systems of philosophy and religion may differ, all mankind stands in reverence and awe before the man who is ready to sacrifice himself for others."

-- Swami Vivikenanda --
("Teachings of Swami Vivikenanda," pp. 174-175.)
We live in times which call for heroic action - inwardly and outwardly heroic - and yet we live in times where religions seem to be in ever deeper conflict, and in which philosophy and science are held by many religionists to be irrelevant to their worldviews. What will it take, one wonders, for an ever smaller world to pull together? What will it take for whole masses of individuals to put the interests of others before their own narrow self-interests? Is self-abnegation  widely possible in a world that faces crisis?
"I think we are actually at a point in time that is very unique," observes spiritual teacher, Adyashanti. "Here we are, and it is very possible that in your and my lifespan we will actually experience the fulfillment of literally not being able to sustain certain things. We will run out of energy, we will run out of environment. We have weapons of  destruction that are so extreme that we can wipe ourselves out. It is very possible in the lifetime that we are living in, that we could actually come (to) see a conclusion, that non-sustainability will actually happen and we will have to deal with that. And I think we have been evolving towards that for a very, very, very long time. And, here we are."

"It is no wonder," Adyashanti observes, "that there is fanaticism breaking out in all sorts of religions and fundamentalists in all points-of-view, whether it is religions or philosophical (viewpoints). People are just dividing themselves. There are people that want to save the world, and people that want to destroy each other. They are all there. And it will be very interesting to see what happens. Because there is often at the 'point-of-no-return' - at the point of the most dramatic tensions in life and extremes -  (that) is the very place that dramatic change and transformation can happen."

"I don't think that it's anywhere guaranteed that the change and transformation will happen," he notes. "We don't know. But it is going to go one way or another, and it's not going to be very long from right now before it goes one way or another."

"We are running out of options other than to wake up," he warns. "It is starting to become, possibly, a biological necessity of survival. And when it gets to that point, it really starts to get people's attention."

"We may destroy ourselves if we cannot actually wake up to the fact, to the living experience, that we are really the same," he points out. "It is not good enough to have the philosophy that we are really the same, because that philosophy breaks down when push comes to shove."
When the fruits of different religions and philosophies break down, is that the point at which we realize that they, and we, are essentially the same?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Rumi: The Sufi's Tavern of Love

"In the tavern are many wines," writes poet, Coleman Barks, "the wine of delight in color and form and taste, the wine of the intellect's agility, the fine port of stories, and the cabarnet of soul singing. Being human means entering this place where entrancing varieties of desire are served. The grapeskin of ego breaks and a pouring begins."

"Fermentation is one of the oldest symbols for human transformation," he points out. "When grapes combine their juice and are closed up together for a time in a dark place, the results are spectacular. This is what lets two drunks meet so that they don't know who is who. Pronouns no longer apply in the tavern's mind-world of excited confusion and half-articulated wantings."

"But after a time in the tavern," Barks warns, "a point comes, a memory of elsewhere, a longing for the source, and the drunks must set off from the tavern and begin the return. The Qu'ran says, "We are all returning." The tavern is a kind of glorious hell that human beings enjoy and suffer and then push off from in their search for truth. The tavern is a dangerous region where sometimes disguises are necessary, but never hide your heart, Rumi urges. Keep open there. A breaking apart, a crying out in the street, begins in the tavern, and the human soul turns to find its way home."

[Coleman Barks, "The Essential Rumi" p. 1.]

* * * * * * * * * * * * * 


I'm drunk and you're insane, who's going to lead us home?
How many times did they say,
"Drink just a little, only two or three at most?"

In this city no one I see is conscious;
one is worse off than the next, frenzied and insane.

Dear one, come to the tavern of ruin
and experience the pleasures of the soul.
What happiness can there be apart
from this intimate conversation
with the Beloved, the Soul of souls?

In every corner there are drunkards, arm in arm,
while the Server pours the wine
from a royal decanter to every particle of being.

You belong to the tavern: your income is wine,
and wine is all you ever buy.
Don't give even a second away
to the concerns of the merely sober.

O lute player, are you more drunk, or am I?
In the presence of one as drunk as you, my magic is a myth.

When I went outside the house,
some drunk approached me,
and in his eyes I saw
hundreds of hidden gardens and sanctuaries.

Like a ship without an anchor,
he rocked this way and that.

Hundreds of intellectuals and wise men
could die from a taste of this yearning.

I asked, "Where are you from?"
He laughed and said, "O soul,
half of me is from Turkestan and half from Farghana.

Half of me is water and mud, half heart and half soul;
half of me is the ocean's shore, half is all pearl.

"Be my friend," I pleaded. "I'm one of your family."
"I know the difference between family and outsiders."

I've neither a heart nor a turban,
and here in this house of hangovers
my breast is filled with unspoken words.
Shall I try to explain or not.

Have I lived among the lame for so long
that I've begun to limp myself?
And yet no slap of pain could disturb
a drunkenness like this.

Listen, can you hear a wail
arising from the pillar of grief?
Shams al-Haqq of Tabriz, where are you now,
after all the mischief you've stirred in our hearts?

(Translation by K. Helminski, A, Godlas, and               L. Saedin)

[Kabir Helminski, "The Rumi Collection," pp. 32-24]

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Thomas Merton: Contemplation and the Contemplative Life

The aspiration for enlightenment - "direct awareness," as Trappist monk, Thomas Merton describes it, below - is, if anything, far stronger today, than it was in the early 1960s when Merton wrote his classic work of comparative contemplative traditions,"Mystics and Zen Masters." Merton's observations about the difficulty of attaining what Christianity would generally describe as "mystic union," and Zen Buddhists would describe as ""satori," points out the helpfulness of grounding one's practice on, if not in, one or another of the many varied religious or contemplative traditions. It also requires, Merton posits, a deep understanding of the world's anguish, a state that has manifestly increased in the past fifty years.

"(D)irect awareness," writes  Merton, "is a gift, but it also presupposes the knowledge and practice of certain traditional disciples. Thus, we can say that contemplation is both a "gift" (a "grace") and an "art." Unfortunately, we must also admit that it can almost be said to be a "lost art." And for this lost art there is certainly in the world today a definite nostalgia, not unmixed with vague hopes for the recovery of this awareness. But the nostalgia and the desire do not of themselves suffice to make the nostalgic one a contemplative."

"Needless to say, the contemplative" Merton points out, "is not simply a person who, by vocation, is juridically isolated and cloistered. The mere fact of breaking off communication with the world and of losing interest in it certainly does not make one ipso facto a "contemplative." On the contrary, it would seem that today a certain openness to the world and a genuine participation in its anguish would normally help to safeguard the sincerity of a commitment to contemplation."

[Thomas Merton, "Mystics and Zen Masters," pp. 203-204.]

* * * * * * * * * * * * 
In the attached video, highlighting Merton's writings, this most contemplative of writers has the following to say about contemplation, its source, and its importance to man's psyche:
"Contemplation is the highest expression of man's intellectual and spiritual life. It is that life itself, fully awake, fully active, fully aware that it is alive. It is spiritual wonder. It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of being. It is gratitude for life, for awareness, and for being. It is the vivid realization that life and being in us proceed from an invisible, transcendent, and infinitely abundant source. Contemplation is, above all, awareness of the reality of that source. It knows the source, obscurely, inexplicably, but with a certitude that goes beyond both reason and beyond simple faith.  For contemplation is a kind of spiritual vision to which both reason and faith aspire by their very nature, because without it they must always remain incomplete."

"Yet contemplation is not vision, because it sees without seeing, and knows without knowing. It is a more profound depth of faith, a knowledge too deep to be grasped in images and words, or even in clear concepts. It can be suggested by words, by symbols, but in the very moment of trying to indicate what it knows, the contemplative mind takes back what it has said and denies what it has affirmed. For in contemplation we know by unknowing, or, better, we know beyond all knowing or unknowing."

Friday, July 22, 2011

Fr. Richard Rohr: "The Cosmic Christ"

"There is no such thing as 'merely natural,'" says Fr. Richard Rohr, a decidedly modern Franciscan friar featured in the attached video interview. "That is the meaning of the incarnation - that the physical world is, yes, the hiding place of God, but also the revelation place of God. It is only hidden for those who don't know how to see. There is nothing natural for those who have learned how to see. Everything is supernatural."

"Whenever," he says, "we are moving toward connection, communion - one author calls it 'cosmic allurement,' that everything in creation admires itself in the mirrors that are all around it - whenever you allow that 'allurement' to happen and you build bonds and bridges instead of boundaries, you are furthering the second coming of Christ. You are building up the body of Christ. Whenever you separate, hate, fear, deny, enclose yourself in a little self-pitying corner, you are actually backtracking on the glory of God. You are not revealing the mystery, you are in fact denying it."

"Here's where science is helping us so much today," says Fr. Rohr,"that the intuitions that religion always had are now being confirmed. If there is one God, there's one truth, and there's one reality. Religion and science have to end up saying the same thing, and that's happening now."

"The Cosmic Christ, which is the light that fills all things since the beginning of time," Fr. Rohr points out, "invites us into bigger worlds by love, by something bigger, more beautiful, more attractive, more seductive. And that's the function of beauty, that's the function of truth, and that's the function of all goodness."

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Universe, Relativity and the Present Moment: Ancient and Modern Perspectives

"Always think of the universe as one living organism, with a single substance and a single soul; and observe how all things are submitted to the single perceptivity of this one whole, all are moved by its single impulse, and all play their part in the causation of every event that happens. Remark the intimacy of the skein, the complexity of the web."
-- Marcus Aurelius --
("Meditations," IV:41)
Written nearly two thousand years ago, these comments on the non-dualistic nature of the universe by Marcus Aurelius - a Roman Emperor more famous for his book of "Meditations," than all his victories on the battlefield - seem remarkably modern.  Consider the following quote by Albert Einstein:
“A human being is part of a whole, called by us the Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
Do not the comments of the Roman Empire's great "philosopher-king' and the father of the "New Physics" talk of the same reality, reminding us that we are separated from a holistic, non-dual universe only by our consciousness?

Einstein once wryly described relativity as being the same process by which holding one's hand on a hot stove for a few moments seems like hours, while hours spent talking to a  beautiful woman seems like minutes. For his part, Marcus Aurelius noted the following:
"Were you to live three thousand years, or even thirty thousand, remember that the sole life which a man can lose is that which he is living at the moment; and furthermore, that he can have no other life except the one he loses. This means that the longest life and shortest amount to the same thing. For the passing minute is every man's equal possession, but what has once gone is not ours. Our loss therefore, is limited to that one fleeting instant, since no one can lose what is already past, nor yet what is still to come - for how can he be deprived of what he does not possess? So two things should be borne in mind. First, that all the cycles of creation from the beginning of time exhibit the same recurring pattern, so that it can make no difference whether you watch the identical spectacle for a hundred years, or for two hundred, or forever. Secondly, that when the longest and shortest-lived of us come to die, their loss is precisely equal. For the sole thing of which any man can be deprived is the present; since this is all he owns, and nobody can lose what is not his."

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Sufis: Lovers of God (with Irina Tweedie)

"There is only one omnipotent, all-pervading God, perfect Spirit. There is no other being in the universe except That. All other beings and all other things of the universe are part of Him. It is He who is the only Great Master, the secret Guiding Power inherent in every soul. He is the only Friend, the only real Beloved of every soul, its origin and its destination. There is only one great brotherhood of all man, regardless of race, sex, religion, caste or class. There is only one Truth, which is the knowledge of the essence of our very being, that is who we are, from where we are, and where we are going. There is only one path to perfection. Losing oneself in God in order to reach our goal, our ultimate destination, the union with the Supreme Spirit."

-- Five Tenets of Sufi Belief --
"Sufis are lovers," says Naqshbandi Sufi teacher, Irina Tweedie, in the video below. "Great prophets, great saints, great leaders of religion - like Christ, like Buddha, like Krishna, like Rama - they didn't found a religion, they were lovers. They were lovers of God. They just lived the vision, and some of them died for it. And that's all. Religion was made after them. The followers after them made a religion. This is very important. They themselves didn't make a religion. They were inspired human beings. They were lovers.

"And why," she asks, "were they lovers?" Because, she asserts emphatically, "God is love!"

"Love is the very essence of God," she notes, "and we are made in his image. A human being is love itself, absolutely. From the very tip of your hair, to the very toes of your feet. Only deluded by this magnificent kaleidoscope of illusion here, by the beauty of this world, we forgot it. And then, of course, the ego - the little self - steps in. And, the ego is the only evil in the world, there is no other.  Because the ego is difference. 'I am different from you.'"

"Self-realization can be achieved on any path," Ms. Tweedie observes. "There were very great Christian saints, very great Hindu saints, enormously great Buddhist saints. And let's hope one day we will be saints, but without being boring. Just happy saints, full of love. All Sufi gatherings are full of fun, full of love."

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

Monday, July 18, 2011

The "Journey From God"

"We all come from God, 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 this 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 there are those who never quite forget, who keep a distant memory buried deep within them. As a result this world never quite seems like home; there is often a sense of not quite belonging, not fitting in. Mystics are strangers in this world, just because they remember their real home."
-- LLewellyn Vaughan-Lee --
("Love Is a Fire: The Sufi's Mystical Journey Home")
 In his Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood, Wordsworth enters the sublime, echoing the teachings of the Sufi, with his intimations of the transmigration of the soul and his explicit recognition of  a universal "home" in the Godhead.

William Wordsworth
… 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, from his poem, "Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood.")
* * * * * * * * * * * * * 

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

Not Christian or Jew or Muslim, not Hindu,
Buddhist, sufi or zen. Not any religion
or cultural system. I am not from the East
or the West, not out of the ocean or up

From the Ground, nor natural or ethereal, not
composed of elements at all. I do not exist,
am not an enemy in this world or the next,
did not descend from Adam or Eve or any

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

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

first, last, outer, inner, only that
breath, breathing human being.
    << >>                                            
There is a way between voice and presence
where information flows.

In disciplined silence it opens.
With wandering talk it closes.
[Coleman Barks, "The Essential Rumi," p. 34.]

Saturday, July 16, 2011

What Will Be When Ages Cease?

What will be when the moon
no longer pulls the tides,
when the sun rises in the north,
when ages cease?

What will be when man is no more,
when the land is sere,
when the air is foul, the sea inert,
when ages cease?

What will be when knowledge is lost,
when information loses all form,
when history ends,
when ages cease?

What will be when consciousness itself wanes,
when the night sky is stripped bare
by the motion of time's inexorable passage,
when ages cease?

What will be when suns cease birthing,
when galaxies dissipate,
when the universe goes dim,
when ages cease?

What will be when everything goes absolutely cold,
when light itself is snuffed out,
when even change becomes unchanging,
when ages cease?

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Evolutionary Clock Is Running Down

"If the structures of the human mind remain unchanged, we will always end up recreating fundamentally the same world, the same evils, the same dysfunction."

In an interview shortly before his death in 1961, the great psychologist, Carl Jung, made the prescient observation that "we are the origin of all coming evil." Fifty years later, with the Earth's atmosphere warming and amidst widespread hunger, poverty, continuous wars and a massive species extinction event caused by our impact on the planet's ecosystem, we are coming face-to-face with that evil. Can we survive the multiple crises we have brought down upon ourselves? Perhaps. But, perhaps not.

"Crises are often the catalyst for change," observes spiritual teacher, Adyashanti. In the attached video, the enlightened neo-Buddhist points out that the evolutionary clock is running down for mankind as a species, and that there is a spiritual imperative for us to evolve in consciousness before time runs out.

"There is tremendous pressure on humanity - on humanity's consciousness - right now, he observes. "We all feel it. . . . There is tremendous pressure to evolve, to awaken, because somehow intuitively everybody knows that if there is not some rather dramatic shift in consciousness this opportunity will be missed."

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Neti, Neti: Language from Beyond the Self

"The quicker you are in attaching verbal or mental labels to things, people, or situations, the more shallow and lifeless your becomes, and the more deadened you become to reality, the miracle of life that continuously unfolds within and around you. In this way, cleverness may be gained, but wisdom is lost, and so are joy, love, creativity, and aliveness. They are concealed in the still gap between perception and the interpretation. Of course we have to use words and thoughts. They have their own beauty - but do we need to be imprisoned by them."

The great existential battle is to rise above self-consciousness, and to rid our being of the constant, conditioned inner narrative of the ego. It is this undammed "stream of consciousness" that carries us through an entire lifetime unaware that our real being lies beyond words.

 "Neti, neti, neti," goes the Sanskrit chant. "Not this, not this, not this." How, after all, can words possibly describe the ineffable? Spiritual teachers have always taught that the Ultimate is beyond description, and that the incessant voice of the ego is what separates us from the divine. Even when we voice the words in our mind that describe the Ultimate, our words pass like a net through barren waters - catching nothing. "Not this, not this, not this," we realize.
"Knowledge born of the intellect am I not. By nature Truth eternal am I. I am perpetual immutability. Neither formless nor with form, described by the Vedas as "Not this, not this," free from separation and unity, the true Self reigns supreme."
-- Avadhut Gita I:49-50 --
"When the ocean is searching for you," Rumi says, "don't walk to the language-river. Listen to the ocean, and bring your talky business to an end."

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

In disciplined silence it opens.
With wandering talk it closes."
-- "The Essential Rumi" --
(Translations by Coleman Barks)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Religion, Ecumenical Faith and Science: Eastern and Western Perspectives

"Religion must be studied on a broader basis than formerly. All narrow, limited fighting ideas of religion must go. All sect ideas and tribal or national ideas of religion must be given up. That each tribe or nation should have its own particular God, and think that every other is wrong, is a superstition that should belong to the past. All such ideas should be abandoned."
-- Swami Vivikenanda -- 
Written early in the last century, Swami Vivikenanda's advocacy of a universal tolerance for all religions is based on a recognition that, in essence, all religions contain the same impartial truths,  truths that are not inherently conflictive with other faiths or, indeed, with science.
"Religion," Vivkenanda points out, "is the manifestation of Divinity already in man. . . . (and) the proof of one religion depends on the truth of all the rest."

"For instance," he reasons, "if I have six fingers, and no one else has, you may well say that is abnormal. The same reasoning may be applied to the argument that only one religion is true and all others false. One religion only, like one set of six fingers in the world, would be unnatural. We see, therefore, that if one religion is true, all others must be true. There are differences in non-essentials, but in essentials they are all one."
[Vivikenanda, "Teachings of Swami Vivikenanda," (Advaita Ashrama), p. 237.]
In the revised Catechism of the Catholic Church, released in 1994, we see a similar, yet guarded, recognition of the ecumenical nature of religion expressed by what has historically been one of the most exclusionary of faiths. After acknowledging the special bonds with both Judaism and Islam, the revised Catechism acknowledges the following:
"The Church's bond with non-Christian religions is in the first place the common origin and end of the human race:
All nations form but one community. This is so because all stem from the one stock which God created to people the entire earth, and also because all share a common destiny, namely God. . . .
The Catholic Church recognizes in other religions that search, among shadows and images, for the God who is unknown yet near since he gives life and breath and all things and wants all men to be saved."
["Catechism of the Catholic Church'" paras. 839-842.]
And what about the relationship between religion and science? "Is religion," Vivikenanda asks, "to justify itself by the discoveries of reason, through which every other concrete science justifies itself? Are the same methods of investigation which we apply to sciences and knowledge outside, to be applied to the science of Religion?"

"In my opinion," Vivikenanda observes, "this must be so, and I am also of (the) opinion that the sooner it is done the better. If a religion is destroyed by such investigations, it was then all the time useless, unworthy superstition; and the sooner it goes the better. I am thoroughly convinced that its destruction would be the best thing that could happen. All that is dross will be taken off, no doubt, but the essential parts of religion will emerge triumphant out of the investigation. Not only will it be made scientific, as scientific, at least, as any of the conclusions of physics or chemistry, but will have greater strength, because physics or chemistry has no internal mandate to vouch for its truth, which religion has."
[Vivikenanda, "Teachings of Swami Vivikenanda," (Advaita Ashrama), pp. 237-238.]

For his part, roughly 100 years after Vivkenanda's time, Pope Benedict XVI has moved radically towards a resolution and reconciliation of religion and science. In addressing a Vatican conference into the origin of life in the universe (held on October 31, 2008), he made the following comments:
"(Q)uestions concerning the relationship between science’s reading of the world and the reading offered by Christian Revelation naturally arise. My predecessors Pope Pius XII and Pope John Paul II noted that there is no opposition between faith’s understanding of creation and the evidence of the empirical sciences. Philosophy in its early stages had proposed images to explain the origin of the cosmos on the basis of one or more elements of the material world. This genesis was not seen as a creation, but rather a mutation or transformation; it involved a somewhat horizontal interpretation of the origin of the world. A decisive advance in understanding the origin of the cosmos was the consideration of being qua being and the concern of metaphysics with the most basic question of the first or transcendent origin of participated being. In order to develop and evolve, the world must first be, and thus have come from nothing into being. It must be created, in other words, by the first Being who is such by essence."

"To state that the foundation of the cosmos and its developments is the provident wisdom of the Creator is not to say that creation has only to do with the beginning of the history of the world and of life. It implies, rather, that the Creator founds these developments and supports them, underpins them and sustains them continuously. Thomas Aquinas taught that the notion of creation must transcend the horizontal origin of the unfolding of events, which is history, and consequently all our purely naturalistic ways of thinking and speaking about the evolution of the world. Thomas observed that creation is neither a movement nor a mutation. It is instead the foundational and continuing relationship that links the creature to the Creator, for he is the cause of every being and all becoming (cf. Summa Theologiae, I, q.45, a. 3)."

"To 'evolve' literally means 'to unroll a scroll,' that is, to read a book. The imagery of nature as a book has its roots in Christianity and has been held dear by many scientists. Galileo saw nature as a book whose author is God in the same way that Scripture has God as its author. It is a book whose history, whose evolution, whose “writing” and meaning, we “read” according to the different approaches of the sciences, while all the time presupposing the foundational presence of the author who has wished to reveal himself therein. This image also helps us to understand that the world, far from originating out of chaos, resembles an ordered book; it is a cosmos. Notwithstanding elements of the irrational, chaotic and the destructive in the long processes of change in the cosmos, matter as such is “legible”. It has an inbuilt “mathematics”. The human mind therefore can engage not only in a “cosmography” studying measurable phenomena but also in a “cosmology” discerning the visible inner logic of the cosmos. We may not at first be able to see the harmony both of the whole and of the relations of the individual parts, or their relationship to the whole. Yet, there always remains a broad range of intelligible events, and the process is rational in that it reveals an order of evident correspondences and undeniable finalities: in the inorganic world, between microstructure and macrostructure; in the organic and animal world, between structure and function; and in the spiritual world, between knowledge of the truth and the aspiration to freedom. Experimental and philosophical inquiry gradually discovers these orders; it perceives them working to maintain themselves in being, defending themselves against imbalances, and overcoming obstacles. And thanks to the natural sciences we have greatly increased our understanding of the uniqueness of humanity’s place in the cosmos."
To reconcile one's religion with all "other" religions is the great task for every individual, while reconciling religion with science is the great task of all religionists and scientists alike.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Blocking Out God: The Obstacles to Yoga

"The obstacles to yoga - such as acts of violence and untruth - may be directly created or indirectly caused or approved, they may be motivated by greed, anger or self-interest, they may be small moderate or great, but they never cease to result in pain and ignorance. One should overcome distracting thoughts by remembering this."
-- Patanjali, Yoga Aphorisim II:34 --
"Yoga," the word for religion in the East, is derived from the same Sanskrit word as the English word "yoke." It means to "tie" or "unite" - in this sense to unite or tie the inner Godhead with the Ultimate (which is God, Allah or Brahma) in consciousness - just as the yoke ties the oxen to a cart.

In "How to Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali," Swami Prabhavananda (along with Christopher Isherwood) observes that, "Everything we do, say, or think, or even indirectly cause or passively sanction, will inevitably produce consequences - good, bad, or composite - and these consequences will react in some measure upon ourselves. Our most secret ill-wishes towards others, our remotest permission of evil done to others, can only end by hurting us, by increasing our own ignorance and pain. This is an absolute law of Nature. If we could remember it, we should learn to control our tongues and our thoughts."
[Isherwood and Prabhavananda, "How to Know God," pp. 146-147.]

Thus, it is through our thoughts, actions and words, whether active or passive, which either connect us with the Godhead or sever our ties altogether. This is the nature of our karma - the law of cause and effect.  "As a man thinketh in his heart, so he is." (Proverbs 23:7)

"Every sin must be atoned for," writes Eric Butterworth, "(and) all karmic debt must be paid. "However," he notes, "the choice is ours whether we work it out in the cycle of retribution, through prolonged suffering "in the furnace of affliction," or whether our payment of debt is through the discipline of rising above the consciousness from which the act was committed into the freedom of spiritual understanding where we go forth and "sin no more."

"This," Butterworth notes, "is what Jesus called "forgiveness." It was the key to His tremendous ability to be instrumental in changing the lives of people. It is the key to healing and overcoming for us."

But, "(a)ll this notwithstanding," he observes, "we cannot overlook the underlying truth of the law of karma, the law of compensation. For it is basic in your life and mine. As we think, speak and act towards others, so will others think speak, and act toward us. As we give we receive. What we do to others comes back to us in some way at some time." (Emphasis added.)
[Eric Butterworth, "Discover the Power Within You," p.137.]

Thus, our inherent unity (or "yoking") with the Ultimate, the Ground of Being, Brahma, Allah or God, may either be severed by our wrong thoughts, speech and actions, or it may be renewed through the right thoughts, right words and right acts which raise our consciousness above the mundane to the divine. This is the reason behind the admonishment to "judge not, lest ye be judged," and the meaning of Jesus' observation that "my yoke is easy, and my burden light." His yoga, or religion, is "easy" in that all that is required is a shift in the focus of our consciousness, and the "burden" of such yoking is what the Buddhists call "the clear light of being," the Christians call "the mystic union," the Hindus call "moksha" and the rest of us simply call "enlightenment."

We are only separated from such clear light of consciousness by our thoughts, words and actions, but these are our karmic debts that must - and will - be repaid, in one form or another. Our task is to discharge such karmic debts, and thus unblock our pathway to such higher consciousness, by practicing right thoughts, right speech and right action.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

On Desire and Desirelessness

"Desire is a subject upon which . . . true views can only be arrived at by an almost complete reversal of the ordinary, unreflecting opinion.
-- Bertrand Russell --
A seemingly unquenchable desire is the baseline state of the ego. Physical desire thwarted by circumstance or other people breeds anger. Sexual desire unfulfilled breeds lust. Existential desire unexamined breeds further ignorance as to our human condition. And these three states - anger, lust and ignorance - are, of course, the 'Three Poisons' which the Buddha identified as the ties that keeps the unawakened being bound to the wheel of samsara (continual rebirths) in a state of dukkha, or suffering.

Who amongst us has not been convinced at one time or another that obtaining that new car, house, job, new lover etc., would fulfill us? And who, two, three or six months later, has not been just as seemingly unhappy and unfulfilled after obtaining our heart's desire? And who amongst us has not struggled with the existential struggle over the inevitability of our own death? All these struggles, blind alleys, and frustrations are a result of our unexamined desires.

If, as is possible, we "master" desire, writes William Irvine, "we will experience what . . . has been the goal of most of those who have thought carefully about desire - a feeling of tranquility . . . marked by a sense that we are lucky to be living whatever life we happen to be living - that despite our circumstances, no key ingredient of happiness is missing."

"With this sense," Irvine observes, " comes a diminished level of anxiety: we no longer need to obsess over new things - a new car, a bigger house, a firmer abdomen - that we mistakenly believe will bring lasting happiness if only we can obtain them. Most importantly, if we master desire, to the extent it is possible to do so, we will no longer despise the life we are forced to live and will no longer daydream about living the life someone else is living; instead we will embrace our own life and live it to the fullest."
[William B. Irvine,"On Desire: Why We Want What We Want,"pp. 6-7.]

To master desire, however, requires a radical acceptance of what is, an attitude of unconditional love without conditions or even objects, an attitude I have described elsewhere as an acceptive consciousness which is as different from our ordinary, egoic self-consciousness, as such self-consciousness is from ordinary, unreflective animal consciousness.

One of the best aspirations for such a state of total acceptance and unconditional love is from an anonymous writer who observed:
"(A)cceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place thing or situation - some fact of my life - unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment."

"Nothing, absolutely noting," he notes, "happens in God's world by mistake. . . . (U)nless I accept life completely on life's terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes."
Paradoxically, to no want to gain, become or hold onto anything is itself a desire, if such is an aspiration for the future. If it is not an aspiration, but one's state of desireless being here and now, it is not. "We either makes ourselves happy or we make ourselves miserable," said Carlos Castenada's spiritual teacher, "the amount of effort is the same."

Friday, July 8, 2011

Gurdjieff and Heightened Consciousness

"It is only when we realize that life is taking us nowhere that it begins to have meaning."
-- P. D. Ouspensky --
In the attached video, the Rev. Theodore (Ted) Nottingham examines the "Fourth Way" teachings of G. I. Gurdjieff, an enigmatic yet enlightened teacher who burst onto the spiritual scene in the first half of the twentieth-century. Gurdjieff's teachings express the truths found in ancient religious and wisdom teachings relating to self-awareness in people's daily lives, and are as current and relevant today (if not more so) as they were when Gurdjieff and his many students (including P.D. Ouspensky) formed various wisdom schools to pass on his esoteric teachings.

"The idea that we are not awake but live in a partial dream state from which we can awaken opens on to radically new horizons," Nottingham observes. "The illusions we foster concerning ourselves melt in the light of increased consciousness, and we awaken to new dimensions of reality that set us free. We are then able to relate to the world around us without our usual defenses, and masks, and confusion, which constitute so much of human interaction. We also become capable of a new kind of compassion."

"Ultimately," he notes, "this third state of consciousness which is our birthright (i.e., heightened consciousness beyond sleep and ordinary wakefulness) frees us from the unnecessary agonies of a little ego always struggling for self-importance and gratification, and awakens us to new insight and understanding. The world becomes a different place and we become far more than our imaginary 'selves' ever dreamt of. The potential for happiness, fulfillment and genuine usefulness to humanity are now tangible realities."

"This use of attention," he points out, "is similar to the 'Watch of the Heart' of early Eastern Christian spirituality and the remembrance of God of the Sufi mystics. To be aware of a higher reality while dealing with ordinary reality requires an effort of awareness, detachment and concentration that is the result of long practice."

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Eric Butterworth: 'Discover the Power Within You'

If I were asked what my religious bearing was years ago, I would have declared myself an atheist. After all I had grown up in the West, and though my mother was a Christian Scientist, it was a decidedly scientific household. Not having much religious instruction myself, I had formulated a typical quasi-anthropomorphic view of a God "out there." And while I was told that God was "omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent" such words had little or no meaning to me, and I rejected (as I suppose many others have) the notion of some Old Testament-like patriarch who was invisible, and presumably, external to the universe. I had no knowledge that, as Jesus succinctly put it, "the kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:21). In actual fact, then, I was agnostic, i.e., one who does not know or have first-hand experience of the divine.

If I were asked today what my religious bearing is, I would say that I am a Transcendental Realist, having experienced glimpses of a higher state of consciousness where the universe is atemporal and a unitive whole beyond the ordinary egoic state of self-consciousness.

In writing of such inner, religious experiences (phenomena discussed at length in William James' great work, "The Varieties of Religious Experience") Carl Jung observed: "The only right and legitimate way to such an experience is that it happens to you in reality, and it can only happen to you when you walk on a path which leads you to higher understanding. You might be led to that goal," Jung notes, "by an act of grace or through a personal and honest contact with friends, or through a higher education of the mind beyond mere rationalism."

As a decided scientific rationalist at the time of my first such glimpses, I was fortunate in coming to understand the nature of these experiences to have not only two older friends who were experienced and self-realized spiritual seekers to direct me on a voyage of self-discovery, but also to have a psychoanalyst who could attest to the veracity of such experiences and could contextualize them into what I already knew of consciousness from a scientific perspective. Were it not for their assistance, it would have been all too easy to dismiss these incidents as madness - divine madness, perhaps, but madness nonetheless.

As a voracious reader, I had dismissively read a modest amount about Christianity and portions of the Bible, just enough to try and debunk what committed religionists were talking about. Thus, I was fortunate, indeed, in having one of my more experienced friends lend me a book that discussed the religion of Jesus, rather than the religion about Jesus, as he tried to show me the significance of what I had experienced. And although today I am not a Christian (or, more accurately, although I am not exclusively Christian), I still find this book to be an invaluable aid in understanding myself and my fellow man.

Written in the 1960s by Eric Butterworth, a Unity minister, "Discover the Power Within You: A Guide to the Unexplored Depths Within" is a precursor to the many spiritual/self-help books that are available today, but one that puts Christianity into a perspective that is still relevant to a person with a deep appreciation of all that science has revealed and continues to reveal today.

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

Eric Butterworth
"Life is growth and unfoldment, and is lived from the inside out," Butterworth observes. "How few people really know this! The average person lives his life from the outside in. He frustrates his potential when he lets his level of consciousness be determined by what people say, what conditions appear to be, what he reads in the newspapers. He becomes little more than a barometer that registers the conditions of his world. Then he is caught up in the dilemma of whether to conform to the world around him or to spend his life resisting it."

"Jesus," he points out, "came declaring, "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free" (John 8:32). It really doesn't matter what happens around you or to you. These things are in the world, and you can overcome the world. All that really matters is what happens in you or your thoughts about conditions and people. And you can control your thoughts, for you are the master of your mind - or you can be."

"There is a belief," Butterworth observes, "deeply rooted in the collective consciousness of the human race that "you can't teach an old dog new tricks" - you can't change human nature. Reject this for the great lie that it is," he urges.

"When you catch Jesus' concept of the Divinity of Man," Butterworth notes, "you see that you not only can change human nature, but this is whole object of the Christian teaching. "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up" (John 3:14). And you are that son of man and you can transcend your basement experiences and come to live in the upper rooms of life."

"Jesus' message of the Kingdom is the message of wholeness," he points out. "We are forever seeing only part of life and concluding that the part is the whole. This is a great problem in formulating religious views. Shelly says that religion is the perception of the relation in which man stands to the universe. But that perception is an individual experience. Someone communicates his perception to another and we are on the way toward the creation of dogma. In time whole bodies of people accept a "perception" that is given to them secondhand. They might even insist that there is no individual perception, or think of such an awareness, or firsthand experience, as a "work of the devil.""

"The word 'religion' means to 'bind together'," Butterworth notes. "It is a relationship, an awareness of man's unity with the great creative force of God."

"The church has a vital place in the life of man," Butterworth concludes, "but not as a supermarket in which to pick up take-out orders of faith and prayer. The church," he declares, "must be a school in which the individual learns the Truth of his unity with God, of his own divine sonship, and of the Kingdom of Heaven within him. Like any place of learning the church must seek to make itself progressively unnecessary, to help people to become self-reliant. In other words, if the church is doing its job sincerely, it will be forever trying to put itself out of business."
[Eric Butterworth, "Discover the Power Within You," pp. 226-227]

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Carl Jung and Gerald Heard: Instinct, Evolution and the Enlargement of Consciousness

"Nothing estranges man more from the ground plan of his instincts than his learning capacity, which turns out to be a genuine drive towards progressive transformations of human modes of behavior. It, more than anything else, is responsible for the altered conditions of our existence and the need for new adaptations which civilization brings. It is also the source of numerous psychic disturbances and difficulties occasioned by man's progressive alienation from his instinctual foundation, i.e., by his uprootedness and identification with his conscious knowledge of himself, by his concern with consciousness at the expense of the unconscious."

"The result is that modern man can know himself only in so far as he can become conscious of himself - a capacity largely dependent on environmental conditions, the drive for knowledge and control of which necessitated or suggested certain modifications of his original instinctive tendencies. His consciousness therefore orients itself chiefly by observing and investigating him, and it is to its peculiarities that he must adapt his psychic and technical resource."

"This task is so exacting, and its fulfillment so advantageous, that he forgets himself in the process, losing sight of his instinctual nature and putting his own conceptions of himself in place of his real being. In this way he slips imperceptibly into a purely conceptual world where the products of his conscious activity progressively replace reality."

-- Carl Jung --
("The Undiscovered Self")
Gerald Heard
In his magnus opus, first published in 1939, "Pain, Sex and Time," philosopher Gerald Heard traces the evolution of man's consciousness, and the attempts he has made to evolve or dilate consciousness beyond the ordinary and limited  self-consciousness of the human ego, to a higher acceptive consciousness that is, Heard asserts, mankind's evolutionary imperative.

Yet, as this next evolutionary step will necessarily be psychological rather than physical, Heard points out that a conscious effort is needed to evolve consciousness beyond the current self-conscious state typical of the species in this epoch. Historically, he notes, pointing to past efforts to raise consciousness, this has been the exclusive domain of esoteric teachings and mystery schools. In reading his account of the historical attempts that were made to evolve consciously, one wonders, how Heard (who passed away in 1971) would interpret the widespread interest in conscious evolution that has been exhibited at the dawn of the twenty-first century.

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

In reading Heard, one is struck by the similarities of views he shared with Jung. But while Jung asserts that "modern man can know himself only in so far as he can become conscious of himself," Heard notes that a much greater effort is required to achieve a far greater result.

"If we are to advance through the evolution of consciousness beyond self-consciousness," he observes, "to reunite consciousness now divided into the self-conscious and the sub-conscious, and so bring about a new and single quality of awareness and being, there is required of us a peculiar and rare quality of attention. It must be intense but without effort and strain. It must be that over-plus of evolutionary energy which we call curiosity, and the German tongue calls Neugier, the new appetite, raised to what Plato called illuminating wonder."

"Indeed," he notes, "because we are now so deeply prejudiced in favour of the assumption that it is only possible for one real experience to be presented to us, and that can only be the world of common sense, the necessary state of mind required for enlargement of consciousness must be one which is even without expectation."

"We are waiting," he points out, "for an experience of which we have no conception from the past, and that being so, any clear expectation must distort or even completely inhibit a radically new awareness."

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Thomas Merton: On Zen Insight

In his book, "Mystics and Zen Masters," Trappist Monk, Thomas Merton had the following observations to share about the "insight" grounding Zen Buddhism:
"The Zen insight . . . consists in a direct grasp of "mind" or one's "original face." And this direct grasp implies rejection of all conceptual media or methods, so that one arrives at mind by "having no mind" (wu h'sin): in fact, by "being" mind instead of "having" it. Zen enlightenment is an insight into being in all its existential reality and actualization. It is a fully alert and superconscious act of being which transcends time and space. . . . The Zen insight is the awareness of full spiritual reality, and therefore the realization of the emptiness of all limited or particularized realities."

"One might ask," he continues, "if our habitual failure to distinguish between "empirical ego" and the "person" has not led us to oversimplify and falsify our whole interpretation of Buddhism. There are in Zen certain suggestions of a higher more spiritual personalism than one might at first sight expect. Zen insight is at once a liberation from the limitations of the individual ego, and a discovery of one's "original nature" and "true face" in "mind" which is no longer restricted to the empirical self but is in all and above all. Zen insight is not our awareness, but Being's awareness of itself in us."

"This is not," Merton notes, " a pantheistic submersion or a loss of self in "nature" or "the One." It is not a withdrawal into one's spiritual essence and a denial of matter and of the world. On the contrary, it is a recognition that the whole world is aware of itself in me and that "I" am no longer my individual and limited self, still less a disembodied soul, but that my "identity" is to be sought not in that separation from all that is, but in oneness (indeed, convergence"?) with all that is."
[Thomas Merton, "Mystics and Zen Masters," pp. 17-18]
In the short, yet insightful introduction to Zen Buddhism, below, it is observed that "the search for self-realization is powered by our anxieties and our fears which feed our ego, causing frustration with our daily life: selfishness, jealousy, anger and hate which unconsciously serve to protect us, and in doing so set us in opposition to everyone and everything. To awaken to this realization is the practice of Zen."

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Our Thinking Makes It So

"Nothing is either good or bad, but our thinking makes it so."

-- Hamlet, Act II, Scene 2 -- 
"Thinking acts like a veil," observes the late spiritual teacher, William Samuel. "Look at a flower. We see it now. We behold its form now. We are aware of the flower, right here, right now; but suppose we think about something else while looking at the flower. Think about that big bill that is past due and worry a little. What seems to happen to the awareness of the flower? We are not as aware of it as before, are we? We are looking at it with eyes that hardly see. It seems fuzzy, hardly noticed, but the same rose is there; the same beauty, the same form the same grace and magnificent delicacy is right before us to be beheld and enjoyed, but we hardly see it. We are too busy worrying about the bill. We are too busy thinking."

"The bill is not now," Samuel points out. "All that is now is the awareness of the rose. The rose in all its loveliness is now. The bill is nothing more than a memory that is not in this now-awareness unless we choose to put it there."

"We see that thinking is like a film spread over the eyes; like a mist that covers the whole face of the land, like a veil; like looking at the flower - and everything - through a mirror darkly."

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

That it is our thinking that colours our life, that it is our thinking which makes things appear to be "good or bad" is a universal truth, much older than Shakespeare. It is one of the central truths of the ancient Ashtavakra Gita, and it is the central message of modern spiritual teacher, Eckhart Tolle. "Thinking without awareness, is the main dilemma of human existence" Tolle observed in his best-selling book, "A New Earth."
If one thinks of oneself as free, one is free, and if one thinks of oneself as bound, one is bound. Here this saying is true, "Thinking makes it so."
In the video, below, Tolle talks about our collective addiction to the excessive thinking that robs us of all peace and beauty.