"Fearlessness is the first requirement of spirituality. Cowards can never be moral." -- Mahatma Gandhi

Monday, June 27, 2011

Religious Experience, Cosmic Consciousness, the Universe and Evolutionary Enlightenment

"(O)ur normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the flimsiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different. We may go through life without suspecting their existence; but apply the requisite stimulus, and at a touch they are there in all their completeness. . . . No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded."
-- William James --
In the "Varieties of Religious Experience," William James, one of the fathers of American psychology, recounts a number of enlightenment experiences, including that undergone by Richard M. Bucke, author of "Cosmic Consciousness,' a work that had a profound and continuing effect not only on James, but on generations of spiritual seekers after its publication in 1901.
"I had spent the evening in a great city, with two friends reading and discussing poetry and philosophy," Bucke recalls. "We parted at midnight. I had a long drive in a hansom to my lodging. My mind, deeply under the influence of the ideas, images and emotions called up by the reading and talk, was calm and peaceful. I was in a state of quiet, almost passive enjoyment, not actually thinking, but letting ideas, images and emotions flow, as it were, through my mind."

"All at once, without warning of any kind," he remembers, "I found myself wrapped in a flame-coloured cloud. For an instant I thought of fire, an immense conflagaration somewhere close by in that great city; the next, I knew that the flame was within myself. Directly afterward there came upon me a sense of exultation, of immense joyousness accompanied or immediately followed by an intellectual illumination impossible to describe."

"Among other things," Bucke notes, "I did not merely come to believe, but I saw that the universe is not composed of dead matter, but is, on the contrary, a living Presence; I became conscious in myself of eternal life. It was not a conviction that I would have eternal life, but a consciousness that I possessed eternal life then; I saw that all men are immortal; that the cosmic order is such that without any peradventure all things work together for the good of each and all; that the foundation principle of the world, of all the worlds, is what we call love, and that the happiness of each and all is in the long run absolutely certain."

"The vision lasted a few seconds and was gone," Bucke recalls, "but the memory of it and the sense of the reality of what it taught has remained during the quarter of a century which has since elapsed. I knew that what the vision showed was true. I had attained to a point of view from which I saw that it must be true. That view, that conviction, I must say that consciousness, has never, even during periods of the deepest depression, been lost."
[Wm. James, "The Varieties of Religious Experience," p. 399.]
"Mystical states in general," James observes, "assert a pretty distinct theoretic drift. . . . One of these directions is optimism, and the other is monism."

"We pass," he notes, "into mystical states from out of ordinary consciousness as from a less into a more, as from a smallness into a vastness, and at the same time as from an unrest to a rest. We feel them as reconciling unifying states."
[Ibid., page 416.]

Both James and Bucke talk of the aliveness of the universe and their experience of oneness with it, a point echoed in the "evolutionary enlightenment" teachings of modern spiritual teacher, Andrew Cohen.

At the point of enlightenment, Cohen points out in the attached video, "that is when the evolving Self can begin to authentically discern the difference between what it means to be a world-centrically aware and awake individual versus one who is cosmically awake and aware, in a way that is not merely cognitive. Then, you begin to experience emotionally, psychologically and existentially, and at every other level of yourself, what you are actually dealing with, what you are faced with, which is the future of this whole (evolutionary) process."

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Axial Age Syncretism: Ancient Greece Encounters Buddhism

Growing up in the West, my worldview was that Buddhism was an Eastern and foreign religion. I did not know much about Buddhism, which is as much a philosophy and psychology as it is a religion per se, nor did I know too much about early history, European or Asian. I suspect many readers are in the same boat.

The Greek influence is clearly evident
in this statue of the Buddha circa the
1st-2nd century CE.
(Tokyo National Museum)
Since then, however, I have learned much more about the so-called "axial age," which saw the birth of philosophy in Ancient Greece, the rise of Judaic monotheism, the emergence of the Buddha in India, Zoroaster in Persia, and Lao-Tze in China (among others). Several historical facts about this pivotal era in the story of civilization had eluded me. First, that the Greek Empire stretched much further into Asia than I had realized. (I had always pictured the frontiers as lying on the border of the Persian Empire, some distance to the west of modern Iran). Second, that Buddhism was not a Far Eastern phenomenon at that time, but rather it had spread across the Indian subcontinent (where it competed with, and was an offshoot of, the Sanata Dharma of ancient Vedic India). Third, that Buddhism(or Buddhist philosophy and influence) had rapidly spread west along the ancient Silk Road. And, fourth, that Indo-Grecian nations were set up along the Silk Road and survived for many centuries following the death of Alexander, facilitating the East-West flow of ideas, technologies and philosophy.

Indeed, I did not know that Alexander had conquered and established colonial cities in what is now modern Afghanistan. Nor did I know that he had pressed further into Kashmir and the Punjab, before being repulsed by strong kingdoms along the Ganges and retreating back into Asia Minor where he fell ill and died in Babylon in 323 B.C.E. Nor, at the time, had I heard of King Ashoka (304-232 B.C.E.), the great unifier of the Indian sub-continent, who subsequently adopted Buddhism and sent Buddhist emissaries far and wide, or that those emissaries had traveled as far as Egypt and Athens, itself. It was, it seems, a much smaller "world" in ancient times than it appeared to be, a factor that was not fully conveyed in the Eurocentric account of history I had been taught.

In the attached videos, the folks at OpenSourceBuddism.org, give an insightful account of the spread of Buddhism, and do a masterful job in describing the extent and effect that Buddhist teachings had on ancient Greek philosophy, as well as describing the Greco-Buddhist syncretism that purportedly played a large role in establishing the Northern School of Mahayana Buddhism (which would later spread to Tibet, China and Japan, even as Buddhism more or less died out in its native India, with the exception of Sri Lanka).

Thursday, June 23, 2011

William Samuel: An Unheralded Voice of Enlightenment

For every enlightened teacher - for each Krishnamurti, Ram Dass or Eckhart Tolle, say - there seem to be hundreds, perhaps thousands of enlightened men and women who carry the exact same message of personal liberation and spiritual awakening, albeit using different terminologies and emerging from different backgrounds and traditions. Yet due, perhaps in no small measure, to the advent of the Internet and the Information Age, these voices of spiritual freedom are emerging at a time when they are most needed. The late William Samuels is one such voice.

"There are no words we can read that will convince us of the allness of this now-consciousness," Samuel writes, "there is no one to whom we may listen or talk who can do more than persuade us intellectually. We know - and we know, we know - only when we find it and feel it in our heart."

"Reader," he assures us, "this will happen for you much sooner than you expect. Your "awakening" is inevitable, irresistible and certain, because the fact is - as you shall see and have been told many times - you are not sleeping to be awakened now. Despite the appearances on the world's stage, you are already all you could ever hope to become."

"The nearly unanimous pronouncements of classical theology and education to the contrary," he points out, " you are not a prodigal acting the profligate and wandering in the pigsties of a far country. The Identity you are this instant is Hamony's Now-Awareness being aware. Our heritage, effortless and divine, is to acknowledge this fact."

"Right now," he urges, "bring yourself from an overconcern with things within Awareness to Awareness itself. Here you will find that all bodies, all images, and everything Awareness includes, are aspects of your own Identity! Here you will find that you are happiness, completeness and joy itself."
[Wm. Samuel, "A Guide to Awareness and Tranquility," pp. 21-22.]

In the attached videos (taken from a lecture delivered in White, Georgia in 1993), Samuels discusses this concept of Now-Awareness in terms of ancient masters - including Lao-Tze, Jesus and the Essenes - and the current blossoming of science, information and consciousness.

(The story of William Samuel's own enlightenment experience while under shell-fire in the Korean war, "A Soldier's Story" is also a profound, must-read for the spiritually minded.)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Know Thyself!: The Hidden Dimension of Consciousness

"Know Thyself!" is the great admonishment behind all the world's great religious and wisdom traditions, for it seems that virtually all such traditions acknowledge that there is the small "self" or "ego" which we take to be "who" we are, and a hidden, transcendental "higher Self" which, though obscured by the ego's narrative, is the very essence of our being.

"Most people," observes the great psychologist, Carl Jung, "confuse "self-knowledge" with knowledge of their conscious ego personalities. Anyone who has ego-consciousness at all takes it for granted that he knows himself. But the ego knows only its own contents, not the unconscious and its contents."

"People," he points out, "measure their self-knowledge by what the average person in their social environment knows of himself, but not by the real psychic facts which are for the most part hidden from them. In this respect the psyche behaves like the body with its physiological and anatomical structure, of which the average person knows very little too. Although he lives in it and with it, most of it is totally unknown to the layman, and special scientific knowledge is needed to acquaint consciousness with what is known of the body, not to speak of all this is not known, which also exists."

"What is commonly called "self-knowledge"," he notes, "is therefore a very limited knowledge, most of it dependent on social factors of what goes on in the human psyche. Hence one is always coming up against the prejudice that such and such a thing does not happen "with us" or "in our family" or among our friends and acquaintances, and on the other hand, one meets with illusory assumptions about the alleged presence of qualities whcih merely serve to cover up the true facts of the case."

"In this broad band of unconsciousness, which is immune to conscious criticism and control," he warns, "we stand defenseless, open to all kinds of influences and psychic infections. As with all dangers, we can guard against the risk of psychic infection only when we know what it is that is attacking us, and how, where and when the attack will come. Since self-knowledge is a matter of getting to know the individual facts, theories help very little in this respect. For the more a theory lays claim to universal validity the less capable it is of doing justice to the individual facts."
[Jung, "The Undiscovered Self," pp. 14-16.]

In "How To Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali" (written with Christopher Isherwood), Swami Prabhavanada notes that "(t)he external world even in its most beautiful appearances and noblest manifestations, is still superficial and transient. It is not the basic Reality. We must look through it, not at it, in order to see the Atman" (or true nature of our being). In short, we need to be "in the world" but not "of the world," as great sages and philosophers have told us since time immemorial.

"The mind of the truly illumined man is calm," Prabhavananda observes, "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."
[Isherwood and Prabhavananda, "How to Know God," p. 24.]

But how to know this non-conflictive and acceptive consciousness of our inner being? Through introspection, self-examination and meditation is the answer found in virtually all traditions.

"(M)editation," Prabhavananda observes, "is evolution in reverse. Meditation is a process of devolution. Beginning at the surface of life," he explains, "the meditative mind goes inward, seeking always the cause being the appearance, and then the cause behind the cause, until the innermost Reality is reached."
[Isherwood and Prabhavananda, "How to Know God," p. 41.]

Thus, to "Know Thyself!" one must move beyond the small "self" of the ego to the transcendental "Self" of one's own inner being.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Theodore Nottingham: The Knowledge of the Essenes

Bless the LORD, O my soul. O LORD my God, thou art very great; thou art clothed with honour and majesty.  Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment: who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain: Who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters: who maketh the clouds his chariot: who walketh upon the wings of the wind: Who maketh his angels spirits; his ministers a flaming fire: Who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed for ever. . . .
-- Psalm 104 --

For those seeking to understand the unity of the world's great wisdom traditions - the unity of religions and teachings that seem to be more and more related, the more we come to know of the ancient world - the attached video on the Essenes (creators of the Dead Sea Scrolls), by the Rev. Theodore Nottingham, a polymath scholar of the world's ancient and modern spiritual teachings, is a must-see.

"The Essenses were an advanced and highly evolved race of people," Nottingham observes. "Much of their time was devoted to the study of ancient texts, various branches of the healing arts, (and) there were also those who travelled far and wide through the various centers they maintained."

In very modern terms, Nottingham explains how, "(l)ike many of the ancient gnostic groups, the Essenes believed that humankind was made up of three aspects: the body, mind and emotions."

"The ultimate goal of the individual," he explains, "was the evolution, not only within him or herself, but also in regards to the planet and universe as a whole. The body was the  outer means through which this was expressed, while the mind was seen as the inner manifestation, and creator of thoughts and emotions, which the body then responded to and acted upon. Thought was therefore considered to be the highest, most powerful force in the universe, as it was seen as the instigator of both feeling and action.

"The Essenes," Nottingham points out, "therefore trained themselves to harness this power in a positive way, knowing that each thought effected  the lives of everyone on the planet through the vibrations they sent into the collective unconscious."

(The Rev. Theodore Nottingham is a theologian, television producer and author of many books exploring the esoteric teachings of Christianity and other wisdom traditions. He is currently the pastor of Northwood Christian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Burying the Spiritual Instincts of the Unconscious

"Nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so . . . "
 -- William Shakespeare --
("Hamlet," Act 2, Scene II)
Conscious thought, that great ability of humanity, can be - as Hamlet tells Rosencrantz and Guildenstern - "a prison." Lost in our cloying thoughts and judgments, we make a virtual prison out of this world's reality wholly through our thinking. A point recognized in all the world's great wisdom teachings and philosophies.

A more-or-less contemporary accounting of this universal truth was provided by Carl Jung in "The Undiscovered Self," his enlightening look at our conscious and unconscious thinking processes. In it, Jung discusses how the intellect endangers us by wholly obscuring the spiritual instinct that is buried within our very being.
"Nothing," Jung observes, "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."

"Separation from his instinctual nature," Jung continues, "inevitably plunges civilized man into the conflict between conscious and unconscious, spirit and nature, knowledge and faith, a split that becomes pathological the moment his consciousness is no longer able to neglect or suppress his instinctual side."

"There is," he notes, "an unconscious psychic reality which demonstrably influences consciousness and its content. All this is known, but no practical conclusions have been drawn from it. . . . We do not think of distrusting our motives or of asking ourselves how the inner man feels about the things we do in the outside world. But actually it is frivolous, superficial and unreasonable of us, as well as psychically unhygienic, to overlook the reaction and standpoint of the unconscious."
 "We are the origin of all coming evil," warns Jung, in the attached video. And, it is our "thinking without awareness" (as Eckhart Tolle expresses it), our reliance on conscious thought to the utter neglect of our unconscious and its spiritual instincts, which both imprisons and threatens us through a crisis in consciousness. "Nothing is either good or bad," as Hamlet notes, "but our thinking makes it so."

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Ram Dass, the Bhagavad Gita and Conscious Evolution

Humankind is unique in that we are not only conscious beings - all sentient being are conscious - but in that we are self-conscious, and moreover (since bonobos, chimps and perhaps some non-primates also appear to be self-conscious), we are both aware of our self-consciousness and are able to reflect upon it.

As spiritual teacher, Andrew Cohen once observed, even his little dog has Buddha-nature, but it is kind of irrelevant because he isn't aware that he has Buddha-nature. It is thus, I would put out there, our apparently unique ability to observe and manipulate our consciousness that distinguishes us from other species, and which holds our greatest potential for further evolution - if we don't make the planet uninhabitable in the meantime.

Conscious evolution therefore seems to be the name of the game in terms of spiritual growth. Yet most of the time the vast majority of people - spiritual seekers and the spiritually obtuse alike - are lost in a kind of reverie in which they operate wholly on a type of self-conscious autopilot. Lost in thought, someone cuts us off in traffic and we react with the horn or finger; a person appears to criticize us and we immediately become defensive; a fetching member of the opposite sex looks at us and stirrings of arousal are felt, someone else looks at our spouse and we are filled with anger and jealousy; we think about money and are filled with fear, envy or greed. On and on we go, and there is really no train of consecutive and rational thought, rather there is just a stream of largely unconscious perceptions and the reflexive feelings and conceptions they provoke.

In "Paths to God," an excellent book about the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita, Harvard psychologist turned iconic spiritual teacher, Ram Dass describes the implications and possibilities that arise as we begin to become aware of how this process of consciousness arises within us.
"Gradually," he writes, "it begins to dawn on us that we are merely part of a process. Think about that: You and I are nothing more than process. I am a process of  continuing mind-moments, each one separate from the others. There is no permanent "me" being incarnated and reincarnated - there's merely the law of cause-and-effect, cause-and-effect, cause-and-effect, running on and on and on. It's all just the passing parade of the laws of prakriti, of the laws of nature, of the laws of an unfolding illusion of manifestation."

"The more you open to that kind of perspective," Dass observes, "the more dispassoinate you become in watching your own incarnation unfold. You see that every melodrama, even the wonderful melodrama of "I'm trying to get enlightened," just creates more karma - and you can't afford that anymore. Finally, there is no stance you can hold on to and still go through the door - so you let go of everything."
Who, however, is really ready to let go of their inner reverie? Who really accepts that he or she is not in control of their thoughts and inner landscape, even when confronted with the reailities of the nature of ego-consciousness? Who is actually ready to let life unfold as it will and to be totally and wholly acceptive and O.K. with how it turns out?  Yet, it is in doing so, that we find true liberation and spiritual freedom.

The Gita, Ram Dass asserts, "turns our perspective (on life) upside down," and subtly (or not so subtly, perhaps) it begins to change the focus of our consciousness.
"Instead of always preoccupying ourselves with trying to get what we think we want or need," he observes, "we'll start to quiet, we'll start to listen. We'll wait for that inner prompting. We'll try to hear, rather than decide, what it is we should do next. And as we listen, we'll hear our dharma more and more clearly, and so we'll begin tuning more and more of our acts to the place of deeper wisdom."

"As that happens," he points out, "all our fascination with our roles and our plans and our desires and our melodramas will begin to fall away. More and more, we will open ourselves to just being the instruments of the dharma. And then we'll discover that we've lost our lives - and found them."
[Ram Dass, "Paths to God: Living the Bhagavad Gita," pp. 53-54.]
All great teachings - and perhaps most explicitly the Gita - show that by letting go of our ego-consciousness, by losing the self-conscious life that we take to be "normal," we awaken to another mode of living which is operative at a far deeper and higher level of consciousness. Indeed, most self-realized individuals would probably call this "God-consciousness," or some variant thereof. Thus, in Saint Francis of Assisi's famous prayer we read: "It is by forgetting self that we find. It is by dying (to the ego-consciousness) that we awaken to Eternal Life."

This path is not for everyone, however. Indeed, very few at any time will actually follow this path - or any other - to the inevitability of ego-death. As Krishna, himself, says in the Bhagavad Gita: "Among thousands of men perhaps one strives for perfection; and among thousands of those who strive, perhaps one knows me in truth." Yet, even if the odds are one-in-several-millions why not give it a shot? Each time we recur to the quiet within and listen, we take something away from the collective ego and add more spiritual life to the collective consciousness. And that is inevitably good karma!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Consciousness: The Intersection of Science, Metaphysics and Religion

"We have inherited from our forefathers the keen longing for unified, all-embracing knowledge."
-- Erwin Schrodinger --
In the true spirit of 'philosophy' - that is, the love of knowledge - the polymath English philosopher, Herbert Spencer, once famously observed: "There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance - that principle is contempt prior to investigation." And perhaps nowhere in our modern culture are the bars thicker than between the seemingly exclusive fields of science and religion.

One of the foremost contemporary critics of religion, neuroscientist and author ("Letter to a Christian Nation"), Sam Harris, continually makes the case for an epistemological 'Chinese wall' between science and religion, physics and metaphysics, faith and reason, etc. Yet, in a recent article on the Huffington Post, he not unwittingly (perhaps) highlights the particular area - consciousness studies - in which the seemingly antithetical disciplines of physics and metaphysics seem to intersect.

"There is something degraded and degrading about many of our habits of attention," Harris observes. Speaking only for himself, he observes that he spends much of his waking life "in a neurotic trance." Yet, speaking of his experiences in meditation, he suggests that there is an "alternative" to his state of consciousness and being. "It is possible," he concedes, "to stand free of the juggernaut of self, if only for a moment."

Such a concession, wittingly or unwittingly made, points to the reality of religious experience as opposed to religious faith. In each of our inner realities, there is the potential for a greater, unitive state of consciousness, a point made by pioneering psychologist, William James in his classic work, "The Varieties of Religious Experience."
"(I)f we look on man's whole mental life as it exists," James notes, "on the life of men that lies in them apart from their learning and science, and they inwardly and privately follow, we have to confess that the part of it of which rationalism can give an account is relatively superficial."

"If you have intuitions at all," he points out, "they come from a deeper level of your nature than the loquacious level which rationalism inhabits. Your whole subconscious life, your impulses, your faiths, your needs, your divinations, have prepared the premises, of which your consciousness now feels the weight of the result; and something in you absolutely knows that that result must be truer than any logic-chopping rational talk, however clever, that may contradict it."
[Wm. James, "The Varieties of Religious Experience," p. 73.]
This knowing - the same standing "free of the juggernaut of self" that Harris speaks of - lies at the heart of all the world's great religions and wisdom traditions. The miracles, origin mythologies, rites and rituals of organized religion - most of them thousands of years old - are all superfluous to this essential truism: we are far more than the individual self/ego. Religious practice - most particularly, meditation - serves only as an aid for us to experience the wider, selfless state of pure consciousness which exist within us all.

In railing against 'religion' most of the new breed of evangelical atheists (like Harris, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, et al.) lose sight of the 'tree' of higher consciousness amid the 'forest' of religious superfluities. If we are to move toward the "unitive, all-embracing knowledge" which Schrodinger sets out as our birthright, it will require open-minded investigation into what consciousness is, and how it manifests individually and collectively. For this, it seems, there may be no better starting place than the experiential insights based on millennia of inner investigation practiced by religionists.

"A little philosophy inclineth man's mind to atheism," Sir Francis Bacon observed, "but depth in philosophy bringeth men's minds about to religion." Or, as Einstein remarked: "Science without religion is lame, (while) religion without science is blind."

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Tolerance, Love and the Essence of All Religions

In his study of the Sanatan Dharma - the wide and multi-branched body of teachings known as Hinduism in the West - Radhanath Swami (born Richard Slavin) "discovered the basic truths of all religions in a way that the oneness of God and religion is comprehensively understood." "The essence of Hinduism," Radhanath writes on The Huffington Post, "is the same essence of all true religions: Bhakti or pure love for God and genuine compassion for all beings."

"Why," he asks, "should we fight over which religion is better? It is pointless. True love for God devoid of selfishness or egoism is the best religion. Wherever true love, broad mindedness, integrity and compassion are present, there one will find real religion through whichever path it is realized."

"God reveals different visions of Himself according to the needs of time and place," Radhanath observes. "Throughout history, declaring one vision all in all has been a convenient pretext for aggression, as it is relatively simple to manipulate uneducated or insecure people with propaganda. It is unfortunate to see that God, whom all faiths exalt as great, is so often depicted as small, petty and partial to one group."

"My childhood conviction that the inherent beauty of God must lie at the essence of all true spiritual paths has only grown over the years," Radhanath notes. " Of course," he observes, "the accounts of tragedy in the name of God have endured as well."

"Whenever I hear such unfortunate news," he writes, "I can't help but think that perhaps a prudent addition to the premise of God's greatness would be that God is greater than our comprehension of Him -- greater even than the religions we dedicate in His honor. God is independent and not restricted by our expectations or demands. This is the premise of the Bhakti tradition and the starting point of the journey to reawakening our love of God: God is so much bigger than we imagine."

In the attached video lecture on "the essence of all religions," Radhanath notes that intolerance and indoctrination may be found amongst the adherents of all religions, but that at the heart of all such wisdom traditions there is a message of selflessness and unity.

"The supreme dharma or religion, is to love God," he observes. "That love must be to the degree it is unmotivated by any selfish egoism, and uninterrupted by any circumstances that may come upon us." Such a religion, he says, "actually satisfies the heart."

"We are all looking for happiness," Radhanath points out, "and that happiness is within us. To connect to that, and to be an instrument to share that with others, is true religion."

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Double-Mindedness: Disciplining the Ego

"A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways"
-- James 1:8 --
Double, triple or multiple-mindedness is the ordinary state of the vast, vast majority of people. Yet, only a relatively few people - although perhaps that number is growing - even question the state of their consciousness and being in the first place.

In his great book, "How To Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali," (written with Christopher Isherwood), the Vedantist monk, Swami Prabhavananda observes that if you were to look into the mind of most men or women it would look something like this: "Ink-bottle. That time I saw Roosevelt. In love with the night mysterious. Reds veto Pact. Jimmy's trying to get my job. Mary says I'm fat. big toe hurts. Soup good. . . . etc., etc."

If an individual were to vocalize this barrage of thinking which is the ordinary state of our human, egoic consciousness, we would call him or her mad. Yet this is the ordinary way that most people think. Caught up in the inner dialogue of the ego, they may be compelled to say or do virtually anything; although fear, or perhaps their conscience, usually prevents them from doing so. They are, quite literally, "double-minded" and, hence, "unstable in all their ways," because they are more or less unaware that beneath the raucous thought stream of the ego there is only the clear being of higher consciousness and awareness.

"The truth," says Prabhavananda, "is that we are all inclined to flatter ourselves - despite our daily experience to the contrary - that we spend our time thinking logical, consecutive thoughts. In fact, most of us do no such thing. Consecutive thought about any one problem occupies a very small portion of our waking hours. More usually we are in a state of reverie - a mental fog of disconnected sense-impressions, irrelevant memories, nonsensical scraps of sentences from books and newspapers, little darting fears and resentments, physical sensations of discomfort, excitement or ease."
[Isherwood and Prabhavananda, "How To Know God," pp. 58-59.]

The practice of yoga, like all esoteric religious or spiritual paths, is directed towards stilling the thought-waves of the egoic mind, and, by doing so, realizing the essence of one's being that lies beneath the ego's thought stream. "Who," asked Jesus, "ever added one cubit to his stature by taking thought?" (Matthew 6:27).

Prabhavananda and Isherwood, like other commentators on Patanjali's yoga aphorisms, use the metaphor of a lake to describe the effect of our egoic thinking. The lake is our mind, and when waves of thought muddy that lake, we can no longer see to the lake bottom which is the true essence of our Being. The job of the spiritual aspirant, then, is to still the thought waves in the mind so that he or she can realize their essence. For, at heart, we are all inseparable from the Ground of Being that permeates and sustains the universe, and we are only separate from that Ground of Being to the extent that we allow the reverie of thought to stir the waters.

When we discipline the mind through meditation, prayer and the frequent recurrence to the contemplation of our Being (or the Ground of Being) we become stable. When we don't, we again become "unstable in all our ways."

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Kabir Helminski: Rumi and the Alchemy of Love

Writing in a recent Huffington Post blog, Sufi teacher and author, Kabir Helminski, a noted translator of the inimitable 13th century Persian poet, Jallaludin Rumi, extols the transformative teachings on love provided by this "Shakespeare of mystics." "For Rumi," Helminski notes, "the Divine purpose behind all of creation is to reveal the true dimensions of Divine Love."

Helminski writes how "(a) well-known saying in Islamic tradition which (Rumi) often referred to is: "(The Divine says) I was a Hidden Treasure and I loved to be known, so I created the worlds visible and invisible so My treasure of generosity and loving-kindness would be known."

Rumi's take on Sufism, the mystic heart of Islam, says Helminski (in a related video from the Garrison Institute, below) unveils "a dimension of existence which is the ultimate unity and which has it's own qualities . . . (which) include nurturance, love, infinite intelligence, (and) magnanimous generosity."

"(Q)ualities like these," says Helminski, "are the nature of reality itself. And, when we take our attention from being exclusively focused on the multiplicity - in other words, on the facts of everyday life - and we reorient ourselves towards a perception of this divine reality which is not separate from or other than the multiplicity, but which encompasses the multiplicity, with that shift of attention, with that heart perception, we open to that reality and ultimately are transformed by it."

Quoting Rumi by heart, Helminski observes:
"Deep in the bowels of the Earth
dense, opaque stone - granite -
receiving the emanations of an invisible radiant spiritual sun,
dense stone is being transformed into jewels.
Granite is being transformed into rubies."
"The process of contemplation," says Helminski, "that continual conscious relationship with the Divine Reality transforms our 'stoniness' into 'rubiness.' If a stone says 'I am' it is in a sense an enemy of the light, it blocks the light; but if a ruby says 'I am' it is a transmitter of the light through its transparency. So Rumi says:  "If the ruby loves the sun, it is loving itself. And, if it loves itself, it is loving the sun, because the ruby became a ruby through this relationship to that invisible, spiritual sun.""

Sufis, it should be noted, were the inspiration for the misguided attempts by later Christian alchemists to turn base metals into gold. For Rumi, Attar and the long lineage of other Sufi poets and teachers, the essence of Sufism - of life itself - is the alchemy of love.

The Language and Context of a New Pespective

Do we have a choice in the worldview we adopt, or is it culturally determined? If it is the former, what choices should we be making? If it is the latter, what can we do to influence our cultural environment, so that collectively we can deal with the many existential challenges we face?

Looking back at history, philosopher and spiritual seeker, Aldous Huxley observed that the motivations and conceptions which humanity has turned its faculties to have been largely a matter of choice - and that choice, in turn, has dictated the language and direction of further inquiry.

"Certain thoughts," he wrote, "are practically unthinkable except in terms of an appropriate language and within the framework of an appropriate system of classification. Where these necessary instruments do not exist, the thoughts in question are not expressed and not even conceived. Nor is this all: the incentive to develop the instruments of certain kinds of thinking is not always present."

For millennia on the India sub-continent, on the Himalayan plateaus, and in South-East Asia, China and Japan, the great thinkers turned inward studying the subtle levels of consciousness and charting paths to the attainment of enlightenment. Meanwhile, in Europe (and then in the 'New World') the direction of enquiry turned outward to the 'material' world, and so birthed the study of the natural sciences.

Thus, Huxley pointed out, "(o)ur perceptions and understandings are directed in large measure, by our will. We are aware of and we think about, the things which, for one reason or another, we want to see and understand. When there's a will there is always an intellectual way. The capacities of the human mind are almost indefinitely great. Whatever we will to do, whether it be to come ot the unitive knowledge of the Godhead, or to manufacture self-propelled flame-throwers - that we are able to do, provided always that the willing be sufficiently intense and sustained."

Huxley made these observations in his classic work, "The Perennial Philosophy," which was first published in 1945, immediately in the wake of the devastations wrought by world war. Since the passage of what now seems to be an almost historic gulf, has mankind substantially changed the language and direction of his enquiry? Certainly, the West has become more acquainted with Eastern modes of thought as our own religious and wisdom traditions have begun falling away. Yet, for all the evident interest in exploring the inner path to consciousness and enlightenment, it seems that the principal impetus in the direction of our language and thinking - East and West - is towards the further development (and many would say exploitation) of our outer world and "reality."
[Aldous Huxley, "The Perennial Philosophy," p. 17.]

"A hundred years ago," wrote Thomas Merton (one of the great contemplatives in the next generation of spiritual seekers), "America began to discover the Orient and its philosophical tradition. The discovery was valid, it reached toward the inner truth of Oriental thought. " However, he observed, "(t)he intuitions of Emerson and Thoreau were rich in promises that were not afterward fulfilled by successors. America did not have the patience to continue what was so happily begun. The door that had opened for an instant, closed again for a century."

In his 1961 book, "Mystics and Zen Masters," Merton speculated as to whether an impulse to turn once more to the teachings of the East was once again arising.
"Now," he writes, "that the door seems to be opening again (and sometimes one wonders if it is the door of the same house), we have another chance. It is imperative for us to find out what is inside this fabulous edifice. From where we stand," he observes, "we can descry the residents dressed in our kind of clothing and engaged in our kind of frantic gesturing. They are tearing the place apart and rebuilding it in the likeness of our own utilitarian dwellings, department stores, and factories."

"Not that there is anything wrong with industrial production, with its higher standard of living," he points out. "Yet," he cautions, "we know, or should know, by this time, that our material riches unfortunately imply a spiritual, cultural, and moral poverty that are perhaps far greater than we see."
[Thomas Merton, "Mystics and Zen Masters," pp. 69-70.]
Merton's warning, written at the beginning of the 1960's when there seemed to be a brief flaring of the potential for a new western culture - albeit, one that quickly gave way to the materialism and consumerism of the last several generations - seem all the more apt today. Cultural awareness of our existential problems - an unchecked population explosion, global warming, mass environmental degradation and species extinction, to name but a few - should prompt our looking for a new cultural paradigm that is inwardly focused, rather than being focused more and more wholly on materialism and consumerism.

But, with a somewhat jaded eye, can we say that an apparently renewed interest in spirituality and Eastern insights that may help us address some of these imposing problems we face will be any less impervious to a flickering out than it was with the great Transcendentalists, or with Huxley, Merton or the radicals and gurus of the 1960s? One can hope that it will not be so, for it seems imperative (as Huxley noted) that we develop a new language and framework that will allow us to address our problems.

With an ever more widespread awareness of the perils that we collectively face, the possibilities of such a new language and framework for seeing both ourselves, our world and our place in the grander scheme of things seems more likely and more important now than it has ever been. "Where there's a will there is always an intellectual way," as Huxley observed.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Rumi on 'Breathing'

Beyond the four Cardinal Directions . . .
beyond North, South, East and West . . .
beyond time and space. . . 

beyond the in-breath . . . and the out-breath . . . 
beyond religion, science and metaphysics . . .
beyond the poet . . . and the muse . . . there is only Rumi . . .  and Shams el-Tabrizi . . . 

the Lover and the Beloved . . . .

On Yoga, Religion and the Ground of Being

The word for religion in the East is "yoga." It refers not just to the outward form of hatha yoga that we are all familiar with from the proliferation of yoga studios here in the West - which is just one of the "six limbs" of yoga - but, more fundamentally, it refers to the inner, esoteric path of religion. Derived from the same Sanskrit word as the English "yoke," it means to "tie" or "unite." In this instance, to unite one's being (the atman) with the Ground of Being (Brahman, or God).

Similarly, the word "religion" has an inner, esoteric aspect as well as an outer, exoteric one; albeit, when we talk of religion in the West, we refer almost exclusively to this latter meaning, denoting the various creeds, rites, rituals and observances that characterize the Semitic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In practice, and common usage, the word "religion" has lost the "inner" aspect of its meaning.

The word "religion" - like "yoga" - also means to "tie" or "unite" (or, more accurately, to "retie" or reunite"). It is derived from the Latin root ligare, which means to tie, just as a 'ligature' is a stitch that ties up a wound, or 'ligament' is the tissue that ties the muscle to a bone. Thus, the inner meaning of "religion" is also to "retie" or "reunite" one's inner being (the soul, or spirit) with the Ground of Being (God). Unfortunately, the concept of "religion" no longer seems to refer to this inner, esoteric process of reunification, and is almost exclusively used to denote outer, exoteric forms.

In the West, at least, as Aldous Huxley points out in his classic work "The Perennial Philosophy," this loss of meaning demeans religious practice and obscures the inner path to spiritual awakening.
"Nobody," writes Huxley, "has yet invented a Spiritual Calculus in terms of which we may talk coherently about the Divine Ground and of the world conceived of its manifestation. For the present, therefore, we must be patient with the linguistic eccentricities of those who are compelled to describe one order of experience in therms of a symbol-system, who relevance is to the facts of another and quite different order."
[Huxley, "The Perennial Philosophy," Perennial Classics: 2004, p. 35.]
One of the most respected modern theologians, Paul Tillich, in his memorable sermon "The Depths of Existence," notes that a true spiritual seeker may be prejudiced by what he knows of "God" and may, in fact, have to forget all that he knows about that term in order to find the Ground of Being within him or herself.
"The wisdom of all ages and of all continents speaks about the road to our depth," Tillich notes.  "It has been described in innumerably different ways. But all those who have been concerned - mystics and priests, poets and philosophers, simple people and educated - with that road through confession, lonely self-scrutiny, internal or external catastrophes, prayer, contemplation, have witnessed to the same experience. They have found they are not what what they  believed themselves to be, even after a deeper level had appeared to them below the vanishing surface. That deeper level itself became surface, when a still deeper level was discovered, this happening again and again, as long as their lives, as long as they kept on the road to their depth." 
"The name of this infinite and inexhaustible depth and ground of all being," he continues, "is God. That depth is what the word God means. . . . For if you know that God means depth, you know much about him. You cannot then call yourself an atheist or an unbeliever. For you cannot think or say: Life has no depth! Life itself is shallow. If you could say this in complete seriousness, you would be an atheist; but otherwise you are not. He who knows about depth knows about God."
[Paul Tillich, "Shaking The Foundations," Scribners, New York: 1948, pp. 56-57.]
 This misunderstanding of what the words "religion" and "yoga" originally referred to is illustrated by the misunderstanding I initially had about one of the most famous passages in the New Testament. (Although I am not Christian, per se, the only fully enlightened man I have ever met, once urged me to study all religions until I could see "the sameness" in them all.)

In Matthew 11:28-30, we read:
"Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest upon your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light."
 Originally, this passage invoked in me an image of Jesus shouldering the cross, much like Atlas struggling with the whole world upon his shoulders. I assumed that the burden Jesus was talking about was in actuality, a literal burden. When I re-examined this passage, however, having learned that the "yoke" he talks about is his esoteric, inner religious teachings (i.e., his "yoga"), I got a wholly new meaning.

Here he first says he is "meek" meaning he is free of the small, egoic "self" which is the common burden of duality that virtually all men and women labour under. Then he notes that he is "lowly in heart," also signifying he is free of the ego and exists wholly within the Ground of Being alone.

Next, he notes that his "yoke" is easy, meaning that the process of his religion (his yoga) is simple and consists of the prayer and meditation that will free one from the bondage of the egoic "self" and its duality. Then, he describes what the fruit of his esoteric religious practice is - i.e. what the essence of his teaching consists of - and that is "light." And, of course, light - the clear light of Being - is what all inner religious practices refer to, in one form or another, as the source of our Being.

Indeed, perhaps one of the most famous passage from the Holy Quran, is the "Light Sura" Chapter 24, Verse 35 which reads:
"Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The Parable of His Light is as if there were a Niche and within it a Lamp: the Lamp enclosed in Glass: the glass as it were a brilliant star: Lit from a blessed Tree, an Olive, neither of the east nor of the west, whose oil is well-nigh luminous, though fire scarce touched it: Light upon Light! Allah doth guide whom He will to His Light: Allah doth set forth Parables for men: and Allah doth know all things."
Thus, when one begins to look to the inner, esoteric core of all Eastern and Western religions - to the yoking of one's depth of being with the the ultimate depth which is the Ground of Being - one begins to find the lightness of being free from the ego and the small sense of "self." This realization, it seems, is at the heart of all yogas and all religions.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Dr. Richard Moss: From Doctor to Healer

In the West, the medical profession seems to always have been a fertile breeding ground for spiritual teachers. From pioneering psychiatrist, Richard M. Bucke (author of "Cosmic Consciousness") to modern-day teachers Deepak Chopra and David R. Hawkins (author of "Power vs. Force") a career in the healing arts seems to be inspired by, or inspires, an awakening to higher consciousness and spirituality.

In the attached video Dr. Richard Moss, another M.D. turned spiritual teacher, describes his spiritual awakening and the methodology (outlined in his book, "The Mandala of Being") which he uses in counseling others how to be alive and spiritually awake in the present moment.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Ego: The Enemy Within

As ever, the bloggers on The Huffington Post - alongside their usual fare of political and social commentary - continue to bring the reader informed and varied insights into humanity's spiritual struggles. This week, featured blogger Bernard Starr (professor emeritus at the City University of New York) examines the path to self-realization and spiritual awakening, while examining the ego-traps that lie in wait along that path.
"While wisdom and realization may be fundamental to your being." Starr notes, "they are obfuscated by a lifelong process starting at birth that leads us away from the realized state and inner guru. From the outset, personal experiences and conditioning manifest a personal ego that we firmly believe is our sole identity. That conclusion commits us to a lifelong process of seeking self-realization by strengthening, expanding and defending the little me/self/ego in a desperate struggle for survival. And most of our psychological theories and traditional societal teachings keep us on that dead-end path, since they too cannot see any foundation for existence other than the ego level of consciousness."
And therein lies the first ego-trap. The man or woman who bucks the system and seeks enlightenment is going against the stream of the unawakened vast majority of the population that seeks merely to grab and hold the seeming security and luxuries that society holds out on offer. Doubts as to the validity of the spiritual path and the goal of enlightenment are bound to arise.

More subtle, and much more difficult, however, is the problem of an ego that grasps onto the individual's drive for enlightenment as a means to retain its dominance over the individual. "You are seeking enlightenment?," the ego seems to ask. "Well, just watch how spiritual I can be!"

Starr, identifying this process as the  "near enemy" (a term popularized by Buddhist teacher, Jack Kornfield), warns that "the ego will not willingly loosen its ferocious grip on existence."

"Since the ego has been your sole co-pilot in life for seeking a secure sense of self," he notes, "you will not abandon it for the smoke and mirrors of another foundation that you sense but are not sure is real."

"The ensuing internal struggle to free yourself from the grip of the ego will submerge you in many self-deceptions in which you will firmly believe you are progressing toward the spiritual mountain top," he cautions. "But many of your practices and behavior(s) on close examination will reveal the ego in disguise and control."

Utilizing the concept of 'love' as an example - a concept which along with 'compassion' is universal to the world's great wisdom traditions - Starr illustrates the process of how the "near enemy" of the ego subverts even these most lofty of emotions and ideals.

"While love is at the core of all religions and spiritual traditions," Starr notes, "its near enemy version abounds. "I love you" are three little words that are easy to say but much more difficult to genuinely mean or live. Hidden behind affirmations of love can be self-serving egoism, attachment and dependency."

"Love that is truly spiritual is unconditional and selfless," he observes. "But in practice, how often does it mean "I will love you only if you return love"? All too frequently we hear about "love" that quickly morphed into hate and even violence when it was not reciprocated."

Traditionally, the role of a spiritual teacher, formal mentor or guru was to help the spiritual aspirant to identify and avoid such ego-traps. Yet such roles may be inimical to the modern seeker, with modern sensibilities. Thus, it is not absolutely critical to find (if one can) and follow an enlightened guru or teacher, one can travel by one's self what is in any event a lonely inner road - for "the kingdom of God is within you" - but, nevertheless, it is helpful.

"(Y)ou can be your own guru," Starr notes, (b)ut beware of the near enemies. Few can avoid entrapment. If you think you can," he warns, "that may be another near enemy."

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Cosmos and Consciousness: A Spiritual Awakening

In discussing Emerson's views on 'religion' in his classic work, "The Varieties of Religious Experience," the great psychologist, William James observed: "The universe has a divine soul of order, which soul is moral, being also the soul within the soul of man. But whether this soul of the universe be a mere quality like the eye's brilliancy or the skin's softness, or whether it be a self-conscious life like the eye's seeing or the skin's feeling, is a decision that never unmistakably appears in Emerson's pages. It quivers on the boundary of these things, sometimes leaning one way, sometimes the other, to suit the literary rather than the philosophic need. Whatever it is, though, it is active. As much as if it were a God, we can trust it to protect all ideal interests and keep the world's balance straight."
[Wm. James, "The Varieties of Religious Experience," p. 33.]

James' famous work can undoubtedly be traced to the influence which the American Transcendentalists had on his view of man, the world, the universe and God. Further on in his introduction into the subject, he observes: "At bottom, the whole concern of both morality and religion is with the manner of our acceptance of the universe. Do we accept it only in part and grudgingly, or heartily and altogether?"

"If we accept the whole," he asks, "shall we do so as if stunned into submission?"

James goes on to examine at great length the "religious experience" of a wide variety of individuals who had been "stunned into submission" by their realization of a greater spiritual reality than they had previously known to exist. For my part, however, I can find no such experience greater - although there are many others that vary solely in the details and circumstances - than that described by Edgar Mitchell, founder of The Institute of Noetic Sciences ("IONS"), and more famously, an astronaut on Apollo 14 who had the rarely privileged experience of walking on the moon.

In a recent article in the IONS newsletter, Mitchell describes the nature and import of the profound spiritual awakening he underwent on viewing the Earth as a distant orb in the vastness of space.
"The first thing that came to mind as I looked at Earth," Mitchell recalls, "was its incredible beauty. Even the spectacular photographs do not do it justice. It was a majestic sight, a splendid blue and white jewel suspended against a velvet black sky. How peacefully, how harmoniously, how marvelously it seemed to fit into the evolutionary pattern by which the universe is maintained. In a peak experience, the presence of divinity became almost palpable, and I knew that life in the universe was not just an accident based on random processes. This knowledge came to me directly – noetically. It was not a matter of discursive reasoning or logical abstraction. It was an experiential cognition. It was knowledge gained through private subjective awareness, but it was – and still is – every bit as real as the objective data upon which, say, the navigational program or the communications system was based. Clearly, the universe had meaning and direction. It was not perceptible by the sensory organs, but it was there nevertheless – an unseen dimension behind the visible creation that gives it an intelligent design and that gives life purpose."

"Next," he recalls, "I thought of our planet’s life-supporting character. That little globe of water, clouds, and land no bigger than my thumb was home, the haven our spacecraft would seek at the end of our voyage. Buckminster Fuller’s description of the planet as “Spaceship Earth” seemed eminently fitting."

"Then my thoughts turned to daily life on the planet," he remembers. "With that, my sense of wonderment gradually turned into something close to anguish because I realized that at the very moment when I was so privileged to view the planet from 240,000 miles in space, people of Earth were fighting wars; committing murder and other crimes; lying, cheating, and struggling for power and status; abusing the environment by polluting the water and air; wasting natural resources and ravaging the land; acting out of lust and greed; and hurting others through intolerance, bigotry, prejudice, and all the things that add up to man’s inhumanity to man. It seemed as though man were totally unconscious of his individual role in – and individual responsibility for – the future of life on the planet."

"It was also painfully apparent," he recalls, "that the millions of people suffering in conditions of poverty, ill health, misery, fear, and near slavery were in that condition from economic exploitation, political domination, religious and ethnic persecution, and a hundred other demons that spring from the human ego. Science, for all its technological feats, had not – more likely could not – deal with these problems stemming from man’s self-centeredness."
"The magnitude of the overall problem seemed staggering," he recalls. "Our condition seemed to be one of deepening crises on an unprecedented scale, crises that were mounting faster than we could solve them. There appeared to be the immediate possibility that warfare might destroy vast segments of civilization with one searing burst of atomic fury. Only a little further off appeared the possibility of intolerable levels of polluted air and of undrinkable water. A more remote but no less real likelihood was the death of large portions of the population from starvation, abetted by improper resources management by an exploding population."

"How had the world," he wondered, "come to such a critical situation – and why? Even more important, what could be done to correct it? How could we restore the necessary harmonious relationship between the environment and ourselves? How could a nuclear Armageddon be avoided? How could life be made livable? How could our potential for a peaceful, creative, fulfilling society be realized? How could the highest development of our objective rationality, epitomized by science, be wedded to the highest development of our subjective intuition, epitomized by religion?"

"These thoughts and questions stayed with me through the mission, splashdown, and parades," he recounts. "They stayed long afterward to the point of haunting me with an overwhelming awareness of how limited a view man has of his own life and the planet’s. Sometimes at night I would lie awake for hours struggling with this enigma, trying to understand it and see it in a sensible perspective. How could human beings, the most intelligent creature on earth, be so utterly stupid and shortsighted as to put themselves in a position of possible global extinction? How had insight become divorced from instinct? Was it possible to find a workable solution?"
"Only when man sees his fundamental unity with the processes of nature and the functioning of the universe," Mitchell observes, "will the old ways of thinking and behaving disappear. Only when man moves from his ego-centered self-image to a new image of universal human will the perennial problems that plague us be susceptible of resolution."

"Humanity must rise from man to mankind," he notes,"from the personal to the transpersonal, from self-consciousness to cosmic consciousness."

"Humanity’s multiple problems," he concludes, "resolve themselves into one fundamental problem: how to change consciousness. How," he asks, "can we raise our awareness to a higher level – a level that will restore the unity of human, the planet, and the universe?"

This, to me, is the existential question of our time. Mitchell's experience, and the view of our place in the cosmos which it stamped upon him, suggests the answer.

"Now," he unequivocally notes, "is the time for us to begin building a single whole of humanity. Now is the time to develop our nonrational abilities into a “subjective technology,” which will begin the wedding of science and religion, reason and intuition, the physical and the spiritual. This union of head and heart, insight and instinct, will ensure that as science comes to comprehend the nonmaterial aspect of reality as well as it knows the material – that is, as science approaches omniscience – our knowledge will become wisdom, our love of power will become the power of love, and the universal human of cosmic consciousness can then emerge."

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Describing the Ineffable: What is God?

"We live in succession, in division, in parts, in particles. Meanwhile within man is the soul of the whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty to which every part and particle is equally related, the eternal ONE. And this deep power in which we exist and whose beatitude is all accessible to us, is not only self-sufficing and perfect in every hour but the act of seeing and the thing seen, the seer and the spectacle, the subject and the object are one. We see the world piece by piece, as the sun, the moon, the animal, the tree; but the whole, of which these are the shining parts, is the soul."
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson --
("The Over-Soul")       
How we ceaselessly struggle, and inevitably fail, to describe in words the ineffable! Rumi tells the story of how the small fish came to the big fish inquiring about something called "the ocean." "How," the big fish thinks to itself, "can you describe the ocean to someone who is already in the ocean?"

In the attached videos, masters from the world's great wisdom traditions try and describe the Whole. In essence each of these great practitioners try to describe the same unitive reality they experience, and which others have blindly fought over since time immemorial.

"The fight in the world is not between good and evil," observes Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev. "Even today the wars in the world (are) not between good and evil, it is always between one man's belief and another man's belief. The moment you believe something that is not a living experience for you, you are already in conflict with somebody else who believes something else."

"God is beyond even our idea of the beyond," observes Sufi author, Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee. "We all come from God," he has written elsewhere, "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."
[Vaughan-Lee, "Love is a Fire," p. 21.]

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Sacred Earth: The Vision of Thomas Berry

"Not till we are lost, in other words, not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations."
-- Henry David Thoreau --
The Earth is a sacred space within the cosmos . . . and we are violating its sanctity, losing touch with its sacredness - irrevoccably  and permanently -  day by day, month by month, year after relentless year.

Thomas Berry, C.P. (November 9, 1914 – June 1, 2009) was a Catholic priest of the Passionist order, cultural historian and ecotheologian (although cosmologist and geologian — or “Earth scholar” — were his preferred descriptors). Among advocates of deep ecology and "ecospirituality" he is famous for proposing that a deep understanding of the history and functioning of the evolving universe is a necessary inspiration and guide for our own effective functioning as individuals and as a species. He is considered a leader of progressive eco-theology and a wider, expansive collective consciousness within the Catholic Church, in the tradition of the Jesuit paleontologist, Teilhard de Chardin.
[Source: Wikipedia]

The video below, an excerpt from Berry's writings ("The Dream of the Earth"), illustrates the depth of Berry's vision of the Earth as a sacred space in peril.

Monday, June 6, 2011

A Second 'Axial Age'

Are we entering a second "axial age" similar in breadth, yet different in content than the first "axial age" (a term coined by German philosopher, Karl Jaspers, to depict the fruition of Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, Confucian, Zoroastrian, Judean and Greek religious and wisdom traditions between approximately 900 BCE and 200 B.C.E.)?

Certainly, with the existential problems we collectively face, and our technologically advanced potential for communicating ideas in a truly global culture, the ground is ripe for an emerging consensus of spiritual insight based upon the latent similarities in all the world's great wisdom traditions. And, perhaps, what we are seeing in the radicalization of fundamentalists across existing religious traditions is indicative of a reaction against a newly emerging "axial age" that embraces the core non-dual teachings of all the world's great wisdom traditions and the emerging consensus about global bio-genesis, global interdependency, and the key role that consciousness plays in shaping our world.

In an insightful Huffington Post article, author Duanne Elgin makes the case that we may, in fact, be on the cusp of just such a second axial age. Noting that the first axial age was very much a reaction to the emergence of city states and the use of new iron age weaponry in savage, widespread warfare, Elgin suggests that the time is now ripe (culturally and technologically) for a new spiritual paradigm to emerge.
"In a world of growing individualism and differentiation," Elgin notes, "the religious emphasis on compassion served as a vital bridge between people. Now, a second major axis with a very different orientation is opening in the world. Religions of separation are becoming religions of communion as we realize there is no place to go where we are separate from the ever-generative womb of the living universe. The second axial age begins with a recognition emerging from the combined wisdom of both science and spirituality; namely, that we are already home -- that the living universe already exists within us as much as we live within it."

"The universe is a communion and a community," says Elgin, quoting theologian Thomas Berry, and, "(w)e ourselves are that communion become conscious of itself."

"Compassion remains a vital element of spirituality," Elgin notes, "but it is now being held increasingly within a context of communion rather than separation."
"As people around the world move into spiritual communion and empathic connection with the living universe," Elgin suggests, "we see the role of religion differently: Less often do people look for a bridge to the divine. Increasingly, people seek guidance and community in the journey of awakening within the living universe. People want to know there are others on the journey of soul-making and seek guideposts along the way to support the awakening of their experience of unity and intimacy within the universe. Less and less are people seeking only religions of belief. Carried along in this great cultural project of awakening, we are increasingly seeking religions of direct experience -- religions of communion with a living universe."
"The 'Great Work" of our time," says Thomas Berry (in the attached video), "is
moving the human community from its present situation as a destructive presence on the planet, to a benign or mutually enhancing presence. It's that simple."

"When our aliveness consciously connects with the aliveness of the universe," Elgin observes, "a current of aliveness flows through us. At that moment -- when life meets life -- a direct connection between the living universe and ourselves is realized and we have an awakening experience. We no longer see ourselves in the universe, we experience that we are the universe."
"We do not need to manufacture or imagine awakening experiences," Elgin suggests. "Instead, we only need to experience directly what is already true about the fundamental nature of ourselves as beings who live within a living universe. When the conscious knowing of ourselves becomes transparent to the reality of our participation in an ever-emerging universe, we recognize there was no separation to begin with -- we all emerge in communion at every moment within the unity of a continuously regenerating universe."
That recognition is already becoming apparent - irrespective of the religious tradition from which it emerges - as a quick search of the Internet will reveal to those who make the inquiry.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Inspiration from a Trio of Hungarian Exiles

In a hidden and inspiring gem of a lecture on TED.com (itself, one of the most inspiring sites on the Internet), Ben Dunlap, president of Wofford College, a small Methodist institution in South Carolina, relates how a trio of Hungarian-American luminaries (including renowned composer Béla Bartók) helped shape his worldview.

Primarily this must-see lecture tells the story of textile magnate, Sandor Teszler, a Hungarian-American Holocaust survivor who rebuilt his fortune in America after the Second World War, and who humbly but determinedly integrated South Carolina's textile mills in the 1950s. Yet Dunlap extends the spiritual lesson that he was taught by Teszler ("that humans beings are fundamentally good") to include the lessons he learned from Bartók and Francis Robicsek, a polymath Hungarian-American heart surgeon and art collector who cracked the secret of the Mayan's hieroglyphic code.

There is "an irrepressible and insatiable appetite to know," Dunlap observes, reflecting on the wisdom he received from this trio of Hungarian exiles who took up residence in the American South.  "Live each day as if it were your last," he exhorts his audience, quoting Mahatma Gandhi. "Learn as though you will live forever."