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

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Zen . . . No-Zen . . . Zen

"Zen is consciousness unstructured by particular form or particular system," writes Thomas Merton, "a trans-cultural, trans-religious, transformed consciousness. It is therefore in a sense "void." But it can shine through this or that system, religious or irreligious, just as light can shine through glass that is blue, or green, or red, or yellow. If Zen has any preference it is for glass that is plain, has no color, and is "just glass.""

[Thomas Merton, "Thoughts On The East," p. 34.]

Only Breath

Not Christian or Jew or Muslim, not Hindu,
Buddhist, sufi, or zen. Not any religion

or cultural system. I am not from the East
or the West, not out of the ocean or up

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

am not an entity in this world or in the next,
did not descend from Adam and Eve or any

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

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

first, last, outer, inner, only that
breath breathing human being.

-- Jallaludin Rumi --

[Coleman Banks, "The Essential Rumi," p. 32]

"Zen insight," Merton points out, "is at once a liberation from the limitations of the individual's ego, and a discovery of one's "original nature" and "true face" in "mind" which is no longer restricted to the empirical self but is in all and above all."

"Zen insight" he notes, "is not our awareness, but Being's awareness of itself in us."

[Thomas Merton, "Thoughts On The East," p. 32.]

Monday, August 29, 2011

Interdependence: An Eastern Perspective

"For a table to exist," writes renowned Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, "we need wood, a carpenter, time, skillfulness and many other causes. And each of these causes needs other causes in order to be. The wood needs the forest, the sunshine, the rain and so on. The carpenter needs his parents, breakfast fresh air, and so on. And each of these things, in turn, has to be brought about by other conditions. If we continue to look in this way, we will see that nothing has been left out; everything in the cosmos has come together to bring us this table."

In explaining the Buddhist concept of dependent origination, Thich Nhat Hanh points out that there is no separation in reality, despite what our egos would tell us, and that in fact everything is in a state of perpetual interbeing.

"Looking deeply at the sunshine, the leaves of the tree and the clouds, we can see the table," he points out. "The one can be seen in the all, and the all can be seen in the one."

In the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu writes:

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
         to the Way
            is like that of valley streams
               to the river and the sea.

"One cause is never enough to bring about an effect," Thich Nhat Hanh observes. "A cause must, at the same time, be an effect, and every effect must also be the cause of something else."

"Cause and effect interare," he notes. "They give rise to each other."

"Our difficulties," he points out, "arise when we forget this teaching and become attached to ideas and things, believing that they are independent and permanent. When we embrace the interdependent nature of all things, forsaking all extremes, we will be on the path of a more peaceful and joy-filled existence."

Sunday, August 28, 2011

On the Threshold of a Great Transformation

"(C)onsciousness is not a late emergent product of a material evolution, but the exact opposite: the source of all material evolution," observes biologist Dr. Elisabet Sahtouris. "Spirituality and science were separated only for historic reasons. It is time now to reunite them in a single worldview that can encompass the best of our spiritual traditions and the best of our scientific traditions."

"When you do that," she points out, "you come to a view of a living universe, rather than this strange concept amongst human cultures that Western science came to, that we are in a non-living universe . . . that is running down by entropy, and in which by some miracle life emerged from non-life, consciousness from non-consciousness, intelligence from non-intelligence. Those have been the stickiest problems for Western science."

"The really exciting thing about being alive today," Dr. Sahtouris notes, " is that we are all here for a great transformation. It is clear that we are unsustainable, we have to change things, and we are figuring out how. In a sense the old system is getting more entrenched, more violent, more powerful. It's trying to deep itself alive. While we know that we need a new system."

Utilizing the metaphor of a caterpillar dissolving into a chrysallis within its cocoon before it metamorphizes as a butterfly, Dr. Sahtouris points out that we can not save today's societal paradigms as they are unsustainable, but that rather we must evolve new ways of living. This, she notes, is of course no mean feat, and its inevitability is by no means assured.

"If we put our energy into building all the alternative ways of doing things, we can learn from nature how to go about this process of evolution that is called for today. We can build alternatives to the old models of education, of law, of health care. All this we are doing. And we know we can function as a global family because we have communication systems that are global."

"Above all," Dr. Sahtoris points out, we need a very powerful vision. (We need) to know where we want to go, because the old system is very clear about what it wants. And we really do create our realities out of our beliefs. If we don't believe in a positive world in which all humans are liberated to express their creativity, we cannot build it. We must hold the vision very clearly and then go about doing whatever each of us loves doing most, knowing that others will do the other parts. None of us has to do the whole thing, (and) together we can make it happen."

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Need for Spiritual Awakening

Rather than calling it the Self, the Atman, or any other descriptive noun, physicist-turned-philosopher Peter Russell talks of "the aware-ing" that allows one to observe the process of the ego from the perspective of an omnipresent higher state of consciousness and being that is always available, although it is most often obscured by the thoughts of the smaller self.

Steeped in Transcendental Meditation, Advaita Vedanta, Buddhist meditation and various other wisdom teachings (including "A Course in Miracles"), Russell is the author of a number of books that explore the interrelationship of science and spirituality, an interface he (like many others) sees as increasingly important given the collective crises humanity faces and the widespread spiritual awakening that seems to be arising in response to such crises.
"I see this as a huge, unprecedented moment in human history," Russell observes. "We have scientific developments like never before, but we also live in a state of real vulnerability on the planet. Environmentally, we could really screw things up. And, at the same time, there is this search for spirituality. "

"It is becoming widespread across the planet," he notes, "that the old way, the material way that is actually leading to so many problems, leading to environmental issues, isn't actually working. It doesn't work for the planet - we are destroying the planet - but it is (also) not working for us as individuals."

"We just keep on going on down the same road and never ever getting anywhere much," he points out. "So," he notes, "I see that there is a widespread search for spiritual awakening that is happening across society."
"This is the time in history where we need that spiritual awakening," Russell notes. "Because it is the fact that we haven't got it - that we are coming out of this materialist, self-centered consciousness - that is leading us to destruction."

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Liberation from the Self

The average person, though he or she likely does not know or believe it, is driven by the small "self" of the human ego. The sense of a separate "I" which is nothing more than an undisciplined but continuous stream of thought is, in effect, his or her identity, and he or she acts based upon such thoughts. Yet on all continents and in all ages non-dualistic wisdom traditions have pointed out the fallacy of this belief. We are much, much more than we think; albeit, what we think, we are.

"What man," asked Jesus, "ever added one cubit to his stature by taking thought?" "Know thyself," Socrates urged. "Nothing is either good or bad, but our thinking makes it so," observed Shakespeare.
"There is no ego apart from the thoughts," explains Eckhart Tolle in the attached video. "The thoughts, (and) the identification with thoughts, is ego. But the thoughts that go through your mind, of course, are linked to the collective mind of the culture you live in (and) humanity as a whole. So they are not your thoughts as such, but you pick them up from the collective - most of them. And, so, you identify with thinking, and the identification with thinking becomes ego. Which means, simply, that you believe in every thought that arises, and you derive your sense of who you are from what your mind is telling you who you are."
Yet the wisdom of all the worlds great religious and/or spiritual traditions (along with that of transpersonal and many other Western psychoanalytic schools) tells us that there is a far greater depth to our being than the merely egoic self.

The great twentieth century Protestant theologian, Paul Tillich put it this way:
"The wisdom of all ages and of all continents speaks about the road to our depth. 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 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, "The Shaking of the Foundations," Scribners, 1948, pp. 56-57.]
To mistake the small "self" or ego with who we are, thereby obscuring the depths of our being (and thereby the Ground of Being, itself) is, however all too common. Albert Einstein, called it "an optical delusion of consciousness," observing: "A human being is part of the whole called by us the universe, a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest. A kind of optical delusion of consciousness."

"The true value of a human being," the great scientist noted, "is determined by the measure and the sense in which they have obtained liberation from the self. We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if humanity is to survive," he warned.

The first step in obtaining "liberation from the self," is thus, (as Tolle notes) becoming aware of our own egoic thinking in order to disidentify with it, to become the observer of the thought rather than the enactor of the ego's thinking.

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

Monday, August 15, 2011

Science, Religion and the Perennial Philosophy

"We need religion, yes assuredly, but we need it free from superstition."
-- Paul Brunton --
("The Notebooks of Paul Brunton," Vol. 1, p. 209.)
While the target of all science is the discernment of truth, observes integral philosopher, Ken Wilber, the goal of all religions is meaning. In a post-modern world, Wilber notes, what is needed is a synthesis of religion and science so that we can ascribe meaning to the vast truths that science has uncovered. Yet, he notes, now, perhaps more than ever, religion is seen to be the antithesis of science, and vice versa.
"The reconciliation of science and religion is not merely a passing academic curiosity," Wilber points out. "These two enormous forces - truth and meaning - are at war in today's world. Modern science and pre-modern religion aggressively inhabit the same globe, each vying, in its own way, for world domination. And something, sooner or later, has to give."
"Science," Wilber notes, "tells us what a thing is, not whether it is good or bad, or what is should be or could be or ought to be. Thus this enormous global scientific infrastructure is, in itself, a valueless skeleton, however functionally efficient it might be." "Within the scientific skeleton of truth," he observes, "religious meaning attempts to flourish often by denying the scientific framework itself - rather like sawing off the branch on which you cheerily perch." "The disgust is mutual," he points out, "because modern science gleefully denies virtually all the basic tenets of religion in general."
[Ken Wilber, "The Marriage of Sense and Soul," pp. 3-4)

In the early 1940's, Einstein famously made the observation that "(s)cience without religion is lame, (while) religion without science is blind." What then is necessary for a reconciliation of these two eternal strains of humanity's intellectual and spiritual quest? Wilber suggests that the key to the problem lies in the contradictory claims of the world's great religious traditions. "(I)f we cannot find a common core of the world's great religions, then we will never find an integration of science and religion."

Fortunately, however, there have been innumerable attempts - some more successful than others - to reconcile the core teachings of all the great wisdom teachings, the most successful of which may be the following four-part description of the "perennial philosophy" put forward by the philosopher, Aldous Huxley:
"First: the phenomenal world of matter and individualized consciousness - the world of things and animals and men and even gods - is the manifestation of a Divine Ground within which all partial realities have their beginning, and apart from which they would be non-existent.

Second: human beings are capable not merely of knowing about the Divine Ground by inference; they can also realize its existence by a direct intuition, superior to discursive reasoning. This immediate knowledge unites the knower with that which is known.

Third: man possesses a double nature, a phenomenal ego and an eternal Self, which is the inner man, the spirit, the spark of divinity within the soul. It is possible for a man, if he so desires, to identify himself with the spirit and therefore with the Divine Ground, which is of the same or like nature with the spirit.

Fourth: man's life on earth has only one end and purpose: to identify himself with his eternal Self and so come to unitive knowledge of the Divine Ground." 
[Prabhavananda and Isherwood, "The Song of God," Intro., p. 13.]
Taking consciousness itself as being the key to religious experience, a position vigorously advocated by William James over a hundred years ago, and examining those contemplatives and mystics who have achieved  higher states of consciousness  through "direct intuition" could, many advocate, be the key to a reconciliation of science and religion. A failure to do so, it is well argued, will result in a continuing "retinal blindspot" in the Western scientific vision, and will thus preclude any true synthesis of science's truths with religion's meaning.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Einstein to Alan Watts and Beyond: Who Are We?

"You cannot teach an ego to be anything but egotistic, even though egos have the subtlest ways of pretending to be reformed. The basic thing is therefore to dispel, by experiments and experience, the illusion of oneself as a separate ego. The consequences (however) may not be behavior along the lines of conventional morality."
The illusory way of seeing the world from the perspective of the individual "self" of the human ego is a problem recognized by deep-thinking scientists and philosophers alike. Whether Einstein's view on the illusory nature of the ego informed or was informed by his paradigm-rattling theory of relativity, one cannot but help think that it may have helped him in framing his famous thought-experiment of "the twins paradox." (In this paradox, one identical twin remains on earth while another travels the stars in a space ship that is going at nearly the speed of light. When the second twin arrives back on Earth, to their amazement the Earth-bound twin will have aged appreciably more than the space-faring twin due to the effects of relativity.)

Irrespective of what came first, his "twins paradox" or his views on the illusory nature of the human ego, it is clear that the latter informed both Einstein's work as a humanitarian and as a pacifist. In one of his many quasi-scientific/quasi-philosophic observations, he famously remarked:
"A human being is part of the whole called by us the universe, a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest. A kind of optical delusion of consciousness."

"This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty."

"The true value of a human being is determined by the measure and the sense in which they have obtained liberation from the self. We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if humanity is to survive."
The polymath philosopher, Alan Watts, a dozen-or-so years after Einstein's comments (which were made in 1954, at the height of the Cold War), came to much the same conclusion. After presciently warning against the arms race, overpopulation and environmental degradation - issues that have only become more acute in the intervening decades - Watts observed:

". . . (T)he problem of man and technics is almost always stated in the wrong way. It is said that humanity has evolved one-sidedly, growing in technical power without any comparable growth in moral integrity, or, as some would prefer to say, without comparable progress in education and rational thinking."

"Yet," he observed, "the problem is more basic. The root of the matter is the way in which we feel and conceive ourselves as human beings, our sensation of being alive, of individual existence and identity. We suffer from a hallucination, from a false and distorted sensation of our own existence as living organisms. Most of us have the sensation that "I myself" is a separate center of feeling and action, living inside and bounded by the physical body - a center which "confronts" an "external" world of people and things, making contact through the senses with a universe both alien and strange. Everyday figures of speech reflect this illusion. "I came into this world." "You must face reality." "The conquest of nature.""

"This feeling of being lonely and very temporary visitors in the universe," he notes, "is in flat contradiction to everything known about man (and all other living organisms) in the sciences. We do not "come into" this world, we come out of it, like leaves from a tree. As the ocean "waves," the universe "peoples." Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe. This fact is rarely if ever experienced by most individuals. Even those who know it to be true in theory do not sense or feel it, but continue to be aware of themselves as isolated "egos" in bags of skin."
This stark delusionary "reality," Watts points out, results in two distinct, but interrelated problems; problems that have only grown more acute as man's technology and his increasing sense of isolation from the whole have spiked in recent years. Together, these factors lead (a) to an ever increasing exploitation of our environment and (b) to the inability of individuals, let alone nations, to act with a common sense of purpose, even in the face of the glaring existential threats that we have created.
"The first result of this illusion," Watts notes, is that our attitude to the world "outside" us is largely hostile. We are forever "conquering" nature, space, mountains, deserts, bacteria, and insects instead of learning to cooperate with them in a harmonious order. . . . The hostile attitude of conquering nature ignores the basic interdependence of all things and events - that the world beyond the skin is actually an extension of our own bodies - and will end in destroying the very environment from which we emerge and upon which our whole life depends."

"The second result of feeling that we are separate minds in an alien and mostly stupid universe is that we have no common sense, no way of making sense of the world upon which we are agreed in common. It's just my opinion against yours, and therefore the most aggressive and violent (and thus insensitive) propagandist makes the decisions. A muddle of conflicting opinions united by force of propaganda is the worst possible source of control for a powerful technology." 

"We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if humanity is to survive," Einstein warned. Such a new way of thinking must, as Watts points out, originate from a much deeper place in our consciousness (both personal and collective), from a state of consciousness and being where we do not conceive of ourselves and others as merely separate "egos" encased in "bags of skin."

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Self and Selfishness: A Sufi Perspective

"Sufism is concerned with the ways of following a spiritual path and with what gets us off track," write Fadiman and Frager in 'Essential Sufism.' "There is in an element in us," they note, "the nafs, that tends to lead us astray. This Arabic term is sometimes translated as 'ego' or 'self.' Other meanings of nafs include 'essence' and 'breath.'"

"In Sufism," they point out, "the term nafs is generally used in the sense of 'that which incites to wrongdoing.' This includes our egotism and selfishness, our greed and unending desire for more things, our conceit and arrogance. Perhaps the best translation for this part of us is the 'lower self.'

* * * * * * * * * * * * *
There was a poor fisherman who was a Sufi teacher.  Every day he would go fishing, and each evening he would distribute his catch amongst the poor of his village, trading a fish or two for vegetables and some basic essentials, and keeping a fish head or two with which he would make a fish-head soup for himself. Each evening, after finishing his soup he would sit in front of his hut, mending his fishing nets and sharing discourses with his students.
One evening, one of his students, a merchant, told the old fisherman that he would soon be traveling to Cordoba on business. The old man was delighted, and he charged his student with seeking an audience with his own teacher, the great Sufi metaphysician Ibn 'Arabi. "Tell him that my own spiritual growth is slow," the sheikh instructed his student, "and ask him what, if there is anything, I can do to improve my practice."

Arriving in Cordoba, the merchant sought an audience with Ibn 'Arabi, as instructed. He was overwhelmed by the grandeur of the great sheik's palace, the majestic marble columns and the fine silk draperies. When summoned to speak with the great sheikh, the merchant humbled himself and relayed his teacher's concerns. Ibn 'Arabi considered the merchant's request for a moment, and then said simply: "Tell him that he is still far too worldly."

Weeks later, the merchant returned to his village, still incensed at the temerity of Ibn 'Arabi, who amidst all his luxuries could say that his own humble teacher was too worldly. When he relayed Ibn 'Arabi's instructions to the fisherman, he expressed how upset he was by the hypocrisy of the renowned teacher. The fisherman told his student: "Do not be confused by material wealth and seeming abundance. We each may have as much wealth as our soul can handle. Ibn 'Arabi's great wealth was not merely material wealth, but great spiritual wealth as well."

"Besides," the fisherman added, "my teacher was right. I still love my fish heads too much!"
* * * * * * * * * * * * *

"The lower self is not so much a thing as a process created by the interaction of the soul and the body." note Fadiman and Frager. "Body and soul are pure and blameless in themselves. However, when our soul becomes embodied, we tend to forget our soul-nature; we become attached to this world and develop such qualities as greed, lust, and pride."

"On the spiritual path and in life in general," they note, "we all struggle to do those things we clearly know are best for ourselves and others. We often struggle even harder to avoid those actions we know are wrong or harmful."

"Why the struggle?" they ask. "If we were of a single mind, there would be no struggle. But our minds are split. Even when we are convinced of what is right, our lower self tries to get us to do the opposite. Even when we see clearly, our lower self leads us to forget."

[Fadiman and Frager, "Essential Sufism," pp. 65-66.]

Monday, August 8, 2011

A Morning and Evening Meditation

"Where, then, can men find the power to guide and guard his steps? In one thing, and one alone: Philosophy. To be a philosopher is to keep unsullied and unscathed the divine spirit within him, so that it may transcend all pleasure and all pain."

-- Marcus Aurelius --
Sages have always touted the benefits of one's morning meditation, presumably because upon rising we have a clean slate, a tabula rosa unaffected by the trials and difficulties that are bound to arise if one is not spiritually centered.

The great stoic philosopher and Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, was well aware of the necessity of morning meditation. In his Meditations, which were largely written, it seems, for his own benefit, he recommended the following meditation before one sets out to meet life's vicissitudes:
"Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness - all of them due to the offenders' ignorance of what is good or evil. But for my part I have long perceived the nature of good and its nobility, the nature of evil and its meanness and also the nature of the culprit himself, who is my brother (not in the physical sense, but as a fellow-creature similarly endowed with reason and a share of the divine); therefore none of these things can injure me, for nobody can implicate me in what is degrading. Neither can I be angry with my brother or fall foul of him; for he and I were born to work together, like a man's two hands, feet, or eyelids, or like the upper and lower rows of his teeth. To obstruct each other is against nature's law - and what is irritation or aversion but a form of obstruction"
[Marcus Aurelius, "Meditations," Book II, Verse I.]
Paramahamsa Yogananda
Similarly, sages have also touted the benefit of closing one's day with a period of reflection and meditation. One of India's great modern sages, Paramahamsa Yogananda recommended the following evening meditation for the close of one's day:
"Each worldly person, moralist, spiritual aspirant and yogi - like a devotee - should every night before retiring ask his intuition whether his spiritual faculties or his physical inclination of temptation won the day's battles between good and bad habit; between temperance and greed; between self-control and lust; between honest desire for necessary money and inordinate craving for gold; between forgiveness and anger; between joy and grief; between moroseness and pleasantness; between kindness and cruelty; between selfishness and unselfishness; between understanding and jealousy; between bravery and cowardice; between confidence and fear; between faith and doubt; between humbleness and pride; between desire to commune with God in meditation and the restless urge for worldly activities; between spiritual and material desires; between divine ecstasy and sensory perceptions; between soul consciousness and egoity."
[Paramahamsa Yogananda, "God Talks with Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita." p. 48.]
Aurelius' morning meditation prepares us for the inevitable battle which we have with the smaller "self" of our egoic mind, while Yogananda's evening contemplation examines how we fared in the day's battle.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Spiritual Practice, Non-Attachment and Enlightenment

"Practice is the repeated effort to follow the disciplines which give permanent control of the thought-waves of the mind."

"Practice becomes firmly grounded when it has been cultivated for a long time, uninterruptedly, with earnest devotion."

"Non-attachment is self-mastery; it is freedom from desire for what is seen or heard."

-- Patanjali's Yoga Sutras: 13-15 --
"The waves of the mind can be made to flow in two opposite directions - either toward the objective world ("the will to desire") or toward true self-knowledge ("the will to liberation"). Therefore both practice and non-attachment are necessary. Indeed, it is useless and potentially even dangerous to attempt one without the other. If we attempt to practice spiritual disciplines without attempting to control the thought-waves of desire, our minds will become violently agitated and perhaps permanently unbalanced."

"If we attempt nothing more than a rigid negative control of the waves of desire, without raising waves of love, compassion and devotion to oppose them then the result may be even more tragic. This is why certain puritans suddenly and mysteriously commit suicide. They make a cold, stern effort to be "good" - that is, not to think "bad thoughts" - and when they fail, as human beings sometimes must, they cannot face this humiliation, which is really nothing but hurt pride, and the emptiness inside themselves. In the Taoist scriptures we read: "Heaven arms with compassion those whom it would not see destroyed."
. . .
"Perseverance is very important in this connection. No temporary failure, however disgraceful or humiliating, should ever be used as an excuse for giving up the struggle. . . . No failure is ever really a failure unless we stop trying altogether - indeed, it may be a blessing in disguise, a much needed lesson."
[Isherwood and Prabhavananda, "How to Know God," pp. 28-29.]

In the attached video, spiritual teacher Paramahamsa Nithyananda discusses the importance of practice in Patanjali's yoga sutras (above), highlighting the dangers that may arise when the spiritual aspirant employs spiritual techniques in practice without a true understanding of how and why such techniques are used.

In terms of practice being "cultivated for a long time, uninterruptedly," Nithyananda stresses that this is not in sole reference to linear time, but is rather a recognition that, like the Buddha, the aspirant must realize and determine that 'practice' is a life-long commitment that must be continuously cultivated. The dedication of the spiritual aspirant must, therefore, be to the practice of 'being enlightened' rather than to that of 'seeking enlightenment.' In the end, even the desire to 'become' enlightened - like all other desires - must be dropped, says Nithyananda.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Who Am I?

"Abba Poeman said to Abba Joseph: Tell me how can I become a monk. And he replied: If you want to find rest here or hereafter, say in every occasion, who am I? and do not judge anyone."
-- Greggory Mayers --
("Listen to the Desert," p. 9.)
One of the most insightful observations in the Bible is found in the Book of James, where it is plainly stated (at James 1:8) that, "A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways."  

In one pithy sentence, this profound observation diagnoses the basic human dilemma - the duality of the ego and 'who' we actually are - as well as the symptoms of our dilemma, i.e., the instability of our egoically-inspired thoughts, words and actions. A person identified with the ego is, of course, apt to think, say or do just about anything in any circumstance. Thus, Abba Joseph's sage advice is to ask oneself repeatedly, and in whatever circumstances one may find him or herself in, the question, "Who am I?" Are our thoughts, words and actions driven by the all-too-human separate "self" of the ego, or do they emanate from the authentic "Self," i.e., in strictly Christian terms, from "the Kingdom of God within" us? (See Luke 17:21.)

Almost as an afterthought, Abba Joseph also adds the advice: "and do not judge anyone," for he must have known that each of us is liable to find him or herself at any time within the throes and under the dictates of of our smaller "self." This is the heart of Jesus' admonishment: "Judge not, lest ye be judged." And, of course, it is the ego, itself, that renders the harshest judgment, and is metaphorically willing to serve as prosecutor, judge, jailer and executioner. Our greatest challenge is, thus, quite literally, to get over our "selves."

"Only he who has renounced the impassioned thoughts of his inner self, which is the intellect" observed St. Hesychios, "is a true monk. It is easy to be a monk in one's outer self if one wants to be," notes the father of' centering prayer, "but no struggle is required to be a monk in one's inner self."

[Palmer, et. al, "The Philokalia," Vol. 1, pp. 174-175.]

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Small "Self" of the Ego: A Universal Problem

The universal problem set before each individual is to overcome the smaller 'self,' or ego, so as to come to a realization of the world we live in, and those beings we live with, as a unitary whole. It is this problem that Albert Einstein famously addressed when he observed: "A human being is a part of the whole, called by us, "Universe," a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest -- a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness."

"This delusion," he observed,"is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty."

"Nobody is able to achieve this completely, " the great scientist pointed out, "but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security."

The Nobel prize-winning poet, Rabindranath Tagore, in his classic work, "Gitanjali," expressed the common difficulty presented by the ego in the following way:

"I walk out alone
on the way to my tryst,
but who is this me in the dark?
I step aside to avoid his presence,
but I escape him not.
He makes the dust rise
from the earth with his swagger.
He adds his loud voice
to every word I utter.
He is my own little self, my Lord,
he knows no shame.
But I am ashamed
to come to Thy door in his company."

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"When faced with a radical crisis," writes Eckhart Tolle, "when the old way of interacting with each other and with the realm of nature doesn't work anymore, when survival is threatened by seemingly insurmountable problems, an individual life-form - or a species - will either die or become extinct or rise above the limitations of its condition through an evolutionary leap."

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Conscious Evolution: Learning From Our Mistakes

"Out of suffering may come the transmutations of value, even the transfiguration of character. But these developments are possible only if the man co-operates. If he does not, then the suffering is in vain, fruitless."

-- Paul Brunton --
Just as the survival of the fittest is the mechanism of physical evolution, so the survival of suffering is the mechanism of psychical evolution, or the evolution of consciousness. Where our thoughts, words and actions take us further into the bondage of the small 'self' or ego, we produce karma and we suffer. Where our thoughts, words and actions are in accord with our higher 'Self,' we burn off karma and evolve painstakingly into a new state of consciousness and being. But the quest for such higher consciousness is neither assured nor necessarily seamless. The failure to seek out and overcome the root causes of suffering is, quite literally, a failure to evolve on a psychical level.
"A single mistake in the rejection of an opportunity or in the choice of direction at a crossroad may lead to a quarter-lifetime's suffering," observes philosopher, Paul Brunton. "The student may quite easily discover by analysis the smaller lessons embodied in that suffering and yet may quite overlook the larger lessons, for he may fail to ascribe major blame to the early rejection or choice. He may still not realize how it all stems out of that primary root, how each error in conduct that naturally happens after it becomes a channel for a further one, and that in turn for still another, so that the descent is eventually inevitable and its attendant sorrows become cumulative. Thus all traces back to the initial foundational error, which is the most important one because it is the choice of wrong direction, because such a wrong choice means that the more he travels through life, the more mistaken all his later conduct becomes."
[Paul Brunton, "The Notebooks of Paul Brunton," Vol 1. p. 158.]
It is possible - and may ultimately be inevitable - that we can learn from our mistakes, and thus renew our transformation into beings of consciousness and light, rather than remaining "in the dark" from the perspective of evolutionary enlightenment. But this requires willingness, insight, and inevitably a certain grace, so that we can fearlessly face our ego and the consequences of egoic wrong actions. Such accurate self-survey may be frightening and painful, but so were the life and death actions that led to the survival of the fittest on the physical level, actions that were necessary for physical evolution. For the evolution of consciousness itself, we must face and face down the only barrier there is to our further growth, the actions and attitudes of the smaller 'self.'

"When we are brought face to face with the consequences of our wrongdoing, we would like to avoid the suffering or at least to diminish it," Brunton observes, yet "(i)t is impossible to say with any precision how far this can be done for it depends partly on Grace, but it also depends partly on ourselves."
"We can help to modify and sometimes even to eliminate those bad consequences if we set going certain counteracting influences," notes Brunton. "First, we must take to heart deeply the lessons of our wrong-doing. We should blame no one and nothing outside of ourselves, our own moral weaknesses and our own mental infirmities, and we should give ourselves no chance for self-deception. We should feel all the pangs of remorse and constant thoughts of repentance."

"Second," he points out, "we must forgive others their sins against us if we would be forgiven ourselves. That is to say, we must have no bad feelings against whatsoever and whomsoever."

"Third," says Brunton, "we must think constantly and act accordingly along the line which points in an opposite direction to our wrong-doing."

"Fourth," he notes, "we must pledge ourselves by a sacred vow to try never again to commit such wrong-doing. If we really mean that pledge, we will often bring it before the mind and memory and thus renew it and keep it fresh and alive. Both the thinking in the previous point and the pledging in this point must be as intense as possible."

Fifth," Brunton observes, "if need be and if we wish to do so, we may pray to the Overself for the help of its Grace and pardon in this matter; but we should not resort to such a prayer as a matter of course. It should be done only at the instigation of a profound inner prompting and under the pressure of a hard outer situation."
[Paul Brunton, "The Notebooks of Paul Brunton," Vol 1. p. 159.]
"If you live inwardly in love and harmony with yourself and with all others, if you persistently reject all contrary ideas and negative appearances, then this love and this harmony must manifest themselves outwardly in your environment," Brunton concludes. Inward love and harmony expressed into the environment is, thus, the process of conscious evolution.

Monday, August 1, 2011

A Poem by Mother Theresa: Do It Anyway

Do It Anyway

People are often unreasonable,
illogical and self-centered;
forgive them anyway.

If you are kind,
people may accuse you of selfish ulterior motives;
be kind anyway.

If you are successful,
you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
succeed anyway.

If you are honest and frank,
people may cheat you;
be honest and frank anyway.

What you spend years building,
someone could destroy overnight;
build anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness,
they may be jealous;
be happy anyway.

The good you do today,
people will forget tomorrow;
do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have,
and it may never be enough;
give the world the best you've got anyway.

You see, in the final analysis,
it is between you and God;
it never was between you and them anyway.

-- Mother Theresa --

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