Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Erich Fromm: On America's Consumer Society

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tolle and Ram Dass: Mastery of Life

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Eckhart Tolle: Freedom from the Ego

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Mooji: On the Conquest of Thought

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

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

-- Ribhu Gita --

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

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

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Marcus Aurelius: Ten Meditations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 16, 2011

Thomas Merton: On Action and Acceptance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Carl Jung: On Man's Existence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only God can understand it.

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

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

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Tao of Wholeness

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

The Way is eternally nameless.

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

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

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

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Yoga and the Concentration of the Mind

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 2, 2011

Rev. Theodore Nottingham: Deep Prayer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Intellectual searching will not find
the way to that king!

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

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

More intelligent than intellect,
and more spiritual than spirit.

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

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

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

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