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

Thursday, October 27, 2011

You Are a Miracle

"Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The soul that arises with us, our life's Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar. . . ."
Billions of years ago, before the sun ignited, before the earth was formed, all the elements that have come together to manifest as your body, that have allowed your consciousness to come forth, were spread out across thousands of light years of space. From this perspective, you are a miracle.

Billions of years from now, the sun will run out of fuel and implode. Earth's atmosphere will be blown off the planet like the flame off a candle. Meanwhile, other stars are forming. Other suns are igniting. Other intelligences are no doubt birthing into consciousness. But as far as we know, we are alone.

The short-sighted and personal perspective that we bring into our lives everyday is what limits us. Moreover, it threatens us. We live in a time of man-made climate change, overpopulation, massive species extinctions, and seemingly constant war, poverty and famine. The very air we breathe is compromised and the oceans are full of plastic but stripped of fish. On multiple fronts we are destroying the ecosystem that has allowed mankind and civilization - as it is - to arise.

Millions of years from now, our survivors (if there are any) will look back at this time in Earth's history and will ask how we could have done this to ourselves and to the Earth. How could we have played Nero as the Earth itself burned?

You are a miracle. Are you the miracle that we need at this moment?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Max Planck: Quantum Theory and Consciousness

"All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particle of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter."

-- Max Planck --
(Theoretical physicist and founder of the Quantum Theory)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Carl Sagan: "Let Us Find a Worthy Goal"

"The trap door beneath our feet swings open. We find ourselves in bottomless free fall. If it takes a little myth and ritual to get us through a night that seems endless, who among us cannot sympathize and understand?"

"We long to be here for a purpose even though - despite much self-deception - none is evident. The significance of our lives and our fragile planet is determined only by our own wisdom and courage. We are the custodians of life's meaning. We long for a parent to care for us, to forgive us our errors, to save us from our childish mistakes. But knowledge is better than ignorance. Better by far to embrace the hard truth than a reassuring faith."

"Modern science has been a voyage into the unknown with a lesson in humility waiting at every stop. Our commonsense intuitions can be mistaken, our preferences do not count. We do not live in a privileged reference frame. If we crave some cosmic purpose, then let us find a worthy goal."

-- Carl Sagan --

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Spiritual . . . And Religious

"If religion becomes a cause of dislike, hatred and division, it were better to be without it, and to withdraw from such a religion would be a truly religious act. For it is clear that the purpose of a remedy is to cure; but if the remedy should only aggravate the complaint it had better be left alone."

-- 'Abdu'l-Baha --
In a recent editorial blog on The Huffington Post (here), writer and educator, Laura Weingberg, makes an insightful argument for being 'spiritual and religious' rather than merely 'spiritual but not religious.' The crux of Ms. Weinberg's argument is that worship of an all inclusive God demands that we act in this world in a principled manner. Her critique of the SBNR folks (like myself), however, is that there is not necessarily an imperative for us to behave in a manner that fulfills our obligations to God.

"Spirituality can lead to a relationship with God," Ms. Weingberg notes, "but religiosity demands the fulfillment of obligations to God. Why is that desirable? Because committing to God changes who we are; we can no longer be what we are automatically, or even what we aspire to; we are obliged to push ourselves beyond that and to find our true selves, the "soul who is pleasing unto God.""

Ms. Weinberg's view can be critiqued on the grounds that what can be described as 'religious' may yet fall far short of seeking "our true selves." This transcendental search, one assumes, is the hallmark of being 'spiritual and religious' rather than merely and nominally 'religious." But is the search to find that which is transcendental and transformational in life not also the hallmark of being 'spiritual' but not necessarily 'religious'? Personally, I think it is. The quest for spiritual meaning, I believe, is the essential quest - even if it remains unrecognized and unacknowledged - of all persons.

Ms. Weinberg, a Baha'i (and thus a member of one of the world's most inclusive faiths), provides a compelling and all-encompassing vision of 'what' (not 'who') God is:
"I believe in a God who is the creator of the universe and all that it contains," she observes, "who established and operates through natural laws, and loves all that He has created. This great, unknowable Creator has not, in the Baha'i view, left humanity to struggle along without assistance or guidance. God is not watching us "from a distance" as we bumble around, laying waste to His perfect work. He is close to us, with us, actively intervening in human history, guiding us to our destined future."

"Religion offers not only a close personal relationship with God," she notes, "but a sense of common purpose with Him, the hope that somehow our efforts to promote human well-being are in line with His plan."

"There is," she points out, "a path out of the mess we are in; we need to refer to His guidance to walk it."
I can agree wholeheartedly with all of the above, except that last line. One looks out at the multitude of religious faiths, philosophies and wisdom traditions and it seems plain to me that there are a plethora of paths out of the mess we are unarguably in. Does being "spiritual and religious" imply that we can utilize the insights and directions from only one path? If it does - and I suspect that most solely 'religious' people believe that it does - then you can still count me amongst the "spiritual but not religious crowd."

Personally, I will take what guidance I can from any and all of the world's great religious and spiritual traditions. Whether that wisdom comes from the Buddha, the Baha'u'llah or Bambi's mother is irrelevant to me, so long as it leads me out of my narrow self and into a unitive relationship with the God of my understanding, a God that it is wholly consistent with that described by Ms. Weinberg.

As Ms. Weingberg quotes 'Abdu'l-Baha : "(T)he purpose of a remedy is to cure." Thank God there seem to be a variety of cures out there. For one prescription may be more effective than another for a particular sufferer. And some may, indeed, require a combination of dosages.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Viktor Frankl: On a Meaningful Life

"Time that has passed is certainly irrevocable, but what has happened within that time is unassailable and inviolable. Passing time is therefore not only a thief, but a trustee. Any philosophy which keeps in mind the transitoriness of existence need not be at all pessimistic."

"To express this figuratively we might say: The pessimist resembles a man who observes with fear and sadness that his wall calendar, from which he daily tears a sheet, grows thinner with each passing day. On the other hand, the person who takes life in the sense suggested above is like a man who removes each successive leaf from his calendar and files it neatly and carefully away with its predecessors. He can then reflect back with pride and joy on all the richness set down in these notes, on all the life he has already lived to the full."

"What will it matter to him if he notices that he is growing old? What reasons has he to envy a young person? For the possibilities that young person has, the future that is in store for him? "No thank you," he will think. "Instead of possibilities, I have realities in my past - not only the reality of work done and of love loved, but of suffering suffered. These are the things of which I am most proud - though these are things that cannot inspire envy.""

"All that is good and beautiful in the past is safely preserved in the past. On the other hand, so long as life remains, all guilt and all evil is still redeemable."

-- Viktor Frankl --
("The Doctor and the Soul, pp. 33-34.)

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Sunday, October 9, 2011

Eckhart Tolle: On Excessive Thinking

"When you don't cover up the world with words and labels," notes Eckhart Tolle, "a sense of the miraculous returns to your life that was lost a long time ago when humanity, instead of using thought, became possessed by thought. A depth returns to your life. Things regain their newness, their freshness. And the greatest miracle is the experiencing of your essential self as prior to any words, thoughts, mental labels and images. For this to happen, you need to disentangle your sense of I, of Beingness, from all the things it has become mixed up with, that is to say identified with."

". . . (T)hinking is only a tiny aspect of the consciousness that we are," Tolle observes, and "thinking without awareness is the main dilemma of human existence."

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Thich Nhat Hanh: Nirvana as the Cessation of Wrong Views, Wrong Perceptions and Suffering

Nirvana, says Thich Nhat Hanh, is "the cessation of all suffering." It comes about, he notes, by the extinction of our wrong perceptions, wrong views, and wrong understanding.

"Meditation, the practice of looking deeply," he points out, "has the purpose of removing wrong perceptions from us. If we are able to remove our wrong perceptions," he notes, "we will be able to be free from the afflictions and the sufferings that always arise from wrong perceptions."

"You have wrong perceptions of yourself and of the other," he explains, "and the other has wrong perceptions of themselves and of you, and that is the cause of fear, violence and hatred. That is why trying to remove wrong perceptions," he points out, "is the only way to peace. And that is why nirvana is, first of all, the removal of wrong perceptions."

When you remove the wrong perceptions you remove the suffering," says Hanh. "To meditate deeply, you (will) find out that even ideas like being and non-being, birth and death, coming and going, are wrong ideas."

"If you can touch reality in depth," Hanh points out, "you realize that 'suchness' means that ultimate reality is free from birth, from dying, from coming, from going, from being, and from non-being. That is why," he concludes, "nirvana is first of all the removal of all notions and ideas that serve as the base of misunderstanding and suffering."

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Ever Passing Present Moment

"When you recognize that the present moment is always already the case and therefore inevitable, you can bring an uncompromising inner "yes" to it and so not only create no further unhappiness, but with inner resistance gone, find yourself empowered by Life itself."

-- Eckhart Tolle --
("A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose") 

The empowering nature of the present moment - the "Power of Now" as Tolle calls it - is by no means a "New Age" revelation. Philosophers and spiritual teachers in all ages and traditions have recognized the unique and sacred nature of the present. The Roman Emperor and Stoic philospher, Marcus Aurelius. declared that the present moment is all that a man has "to live and lose." In the Christian tradition, Jesus always addressed the power of our divine nature in the present moment. For him, Heaven was not something far off; rather, he stressed that the "Kingdom of God is within you," (Luke 17:21).

Indeed, in his "Sermon on the Mount" (below) he directly questioned why we always seem to be living for and worrying about some future moment rather than living the fullness of the present moment.
"Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on," he urged. "Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?"   
"Which of you by taking thought," he asked, "can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these."

"Wherefore," he continued to query, "if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you."
(Matthew 6:25-329
The present moment is, as Tolle observes, "already the case," and just to the extent that we spend it worrying about some future time do we miss it. Most of Jesus audience were probably oblivious to the flowers growing in the fields around him, or the birds circling overhead. Rather, intent on hearing his words they missed the message until it these marvels were pointed out to them.

With so many distractions, diversions and deadlines today, how many of us miss the present moment? Or worse, how many of us are so resistant to what is happening around us that we have a wholly fallacious notion of what is already transpiring in our lives? Indeed, as Aurelius noted, all we have to live and lose is this ever passing present moment. And it is always in danger of slipping by unnoticed, unheralded, and therefore, unreverenced. But sadly, we will only ever find true awe in this moment.