Friday, April 29, 2011

Absent-Mindedness and the Four States of Consciousness

Statue of Patanjali, Haridwar, India
In the Vedanta, there are usually four classifications of consciousness: dreamless sleep, dream sleep, ordinary consciousness, and a fourth transcendental state (divided, perhaps, into varying subtle sub-states). In his yoga sutras, the ancient sage and grammarian, Patanjali, explores the three ordinary states of consciousness and how to attain, though progressively disciplining the thought waves of the mind, the fourth, transcendental state of consciousness.

In his book, "Relativity, Philosophy and Mind," the philosopher and polymath spiritual seeker, Paul Brunton, commented on these differing states of consciousness, noting:
Paul Brunton (1898-1982)
"A man never leaves Consciousness. The world comes into it as perception, that is as idea. Whether anything, object or state, comes into it or not, consciousness remains as his unchanging home. Whether asleep or awake, wrapped in himself or out in the world, his essential being remains what it is. His thoughts and sense-impressions, feelings and passions are produced by it or projected from it: they exist in dependence on it and die in it."

"(E)ven deep sleep unconsciousness is a form of this "consciousness" which transcends all the states we ordinarily know - waking, dream and deep sleep - yet includes them when they merge back into it. Such a "consciousness" is unthinkable, unimaginable, but it is the true objective awareness. It is also the I you are seeking so much. But to reach it, then you have to let go of the I which you know so well."
["The Notebooks of Paul Brunton," vol. 13, para 183-184]
In the video embedded below, Paramahansa Nithyananada comments on the classical yoga teachings of Patanjali, 2,000 year old teachings that deal extensively with the four states of consciousness in setting out the yoga techniques which are required to reach the fourth transcendental state. The problem for the vast majority of people, however, Nithyananda notes, is that even in our waking state we are prone to be absent-minded or "dreaming."

Paramahansa Nithyananda
"The whole of humanity is sleep walking, except the man who is awakened, the man who is enlightened," says Paramahansa Nethyananda in his explanation of Patanjali's yoga sutras. "Being absent-minded, not being alive in the state in which you are is what I call 'sleep.' . . . Otherwise (for) all problems you face, you have a solution."

"There is no problem which cannot be solved," he notes. "All problems can be completely solved with only one thing: You need to be available. . . . All problems are created when you are not available. When you are not available you mess up the whole thing."

"Because of absent-mindedness people miss many things," says Nithyananda, "their relationships, their life, their positions. Many things get missed. (Being) absent-mindedness during talking with others, or during your your activities, you will lose your worries. (Being) absent-mindedness during your inner planning, inner visualization, inner thinking, (we) understand is the worst one. You will miss some (important) links."

If you are "absent -mindedness in your outer world," he observes, "you lose only things of the outer world. . . . But forgetting to keep your (inner) thoughts, you lose the things that you really need in your life. You lose too many big things."

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Krishnamurti on Wealth and Enlightenment

All of the world's great religious or wisdom traditions address the impossibility of reaching higher states of consciousness and spiritual realization while attachments to the people and things that seem so important to our egoic self-consciousness remain.

Perhaps the most famous of these teachings are Jesus' encounter with "the rich young man" ( Matt. 19:16-22), and his saying that it is easier for camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God (Matt 19:23-24; Luke 18:24) - the kingdom of God which he specifically and plainly said was within us all (Luke 17:21).

Buddhist and Vedanta yoga traditions each stress the importance of non-attachment, while Judaism, Christianity and Islam each teach the importance of charity, a specific form of non-attachment. But it is perhaps the modern spiritual teacher, Jiddu Krishnamurti, who best explains why attachment to the things and people of the world are a hindrance to those who are on the path to spiritual enlightenment.

"For the rich as for the poor it is extremely difficult to find reality," Krishnamurti observed, further noting:
"The poor crave to be rich and powerful, and the rich are already caught in the net of their own action; and yet they believe and venture near. They speculate, not only upon the market, but upon the ultimate. They play with both, but are successful only with what is in their hearts. The beliefs and ceremonies, their hopes and fears have nothing to do with reality, for their hearts are empty. The greater the outward show, the greater the inward poverty."

"To renounce the world of wealth, comfort and position is a comparatively simple matter; but to put aside the craving to be, to become, demands great intelligence and understanding. The power that wealth gives is a hindrance to the understanding of reality, as is also the power of gift and capacity. This particular form of confidence is obviously an activity of the self; and though it is difficult to do so, this kind of assurance and power can be put aside. But what is much more subtle and more hidden is the power and the drive that lie in the craving to become."

"Self-expansion in any form, whether through wealth or through virtue, is a process of conflict, causing antagonism and confusion. A mind burdened with becoming can never be tranquil, for tranquility is not a result either of practice or of time. Tranquility is a state of understanding, and becoming denies this understanding. Becoming creates the sense of time, which is really the postpone of understanding. The "I shall be" is an illusion of self-importance."
Perhaps this is why it is "the poor in spirit" who are "blessed" for "theirs is the kingdom of heaven," according to Jesus in the 'Be-attitudes' which served as the introduction to his famous "Sermon on the Mount." For it is "the poor in spirit" who are non-attached to the things or people of the world, and are not interested in "becoming" anything; rather they are the ones who are simply 'beings,' and spiritual beings at that. Spiritual beings who truly dwell within their "be-ing"

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Emerson's Harvard Divinity School Address: Reflections on the Sublime

The dean of the American Transcendentalists, Ralph Waldo Emerson, was in many ways the forefather of the spiritual awakening that many people feel arising in our times. Heavily influenced by the first widespread introduction of Eastern wisdom teachings to the West, Emerson was a champion of the universality of religious teachings and a non-dualist, as the following excerpts from his renowned address to the Harvard Divinity School show.

The site of Ralph Waldo Emerson's
Harvard Divintiy School address.
His address, delivered in the inner sanctum of the Unitarian Church's highest seat of learning, the Harvard Divinity School address was in many ways an heroic stand that Emerson made for his then radical beliefs. Shortly thereafter, he resigned as a Unitarian minister, and although lecturing to receptive audiences worldwide, he was not invited to speak again at Harvard for another thirty years.

Some 175 years later, Emerson's observations on the nature of God and man remain as clear and relevant to our times as they were then. Indeed, they are perhaps more so today, given the current conflicts we see between and among fundamentalists of all faiths, and the spiritual awakening one nonetheless senses amongst both persons of all faiths, and of no one faith in particular. ("As we are, so we associate," Emerson observed. "The good, by affinity, seek the good; the vile, by affinity, the vile. Thus of their own volition, souls proceed into heaven, into hell.")

Ralph Waldo Emerson
In addressing his audience at the Divinity School, Emerson observed:
"The intuition of the moral sentiment is an insight of the perfection of the laws of the soul. These laws execute themselves. They are out of time, out of space, and not subject to circumstance. . . . If a man is at heart just, then in so far is he God; the safety of God, the immortality of God, the majesty of God do enter into that man with justice. If a man dissemble, deceive, he deceives himself, and goes out of acquaintance with his own being. . . . The man who renounces himself, comes to himself by so doing."

"These facts have always suggested to man the sublime creed, that the world is not the product of manifold power, but of one will, of one mind; and that one mind is everywhere, in each ray of the star, in each wavelet of the pool, active; and whatever opposes that will, is everywhere baulked and baffled, because things are made so, and not otherwise. "
In pointed and specific, yet beautiful and poetically transcendent language, Emerson observes that mankind's religious or spiritual sentiments are universal, arising in the East, yet giving truth to the 'Being' in each individual. Thus, he notes:
" . . . The perception of this law of laws always awakens in the mind a sentiment which we call the religious sentiment, and which makes our highest happiness. Wonderful is its power to charm and to command. It is a mountain air. It is the embalmer of the world. . . . It makes the sky and the hills sublime, and the silent song of the stars is it. By it, is the universe made safe and habitable, not by science or power. Thought may work cold and intransitive in things, and find no end or unity. But the dawn of the sentiment of virtue on the heart, gives and is the assurance that Law is sovereign over all natures, and the worlds, time, space, eternity, do seem to break out into joy."

" . . . This thought dwelled always deepest in the minds of men in the devout and contemplative East; not alone in Palestine, where it reached its purest expression, but in Egypt, in Persia, in India, in China. Europe has always owed to oriental genius, its divine impulses. What these holy bards said, all sane men found agreeable and true.

" . . . The divine bards are the friends of my virtue, of my intellect, of my strength. They admonish me, that the gleams which flash across my mind, are not mine, but God's; that they had the like and were not disobedient to the heavenly vision. So I love them. Noble provocations go out from them, inviting me also to emancipate myself; to resist evil to subdue the world; and to Be."

Monday, April 25, 2011

'One-ness,' Non-Duality and Perception

"There's many mystical states of consciousness," says neo-Buddhist spiritual teacher, Adyashanti, "but in terms of spiritual awakening they are relatively irrelevant."

"One-ness," says Adyashanti, a master of non-dualism, "is actually an unaltered state of consciousness. People think its some whacked out state of mystical consciousness." But it's not, he insists. "Everything else is a whacked out state of mystical consciousness. One-ness is just the way things are. Its just the restoration of clear, simple perception."

"Awakening to the truth is a deep realization of what you are as an  experience," Adyashanti writes in his essay, 'Realizing Your True Nature.'

"What is it that is feeling," he asks? "What is it that is thinking or sensing? This is not about coming up with the right name for it, so don't name it for a moment. It's about just noticing, just experiencing.  Feel it. Sense it. Welcome it. Spiritual awakening is realizing what  occupies the space called 'me.' When you listen innocently, you'll see that there really is something more here than a 'me.'"

"Your 'me' might call itself Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, Advaitan, atheist, agnostic, believer, or nonbeliever, but no matter what your me is identified with, when you become very open and relaxed, you can suddenly be aware that  something else is occupying your body-mind. Something else is looking out from your eyes, listening from your ears, and feeling your feelings." 

"That something," Adyashanti notes, "has no qualities. Realizing your true nature is  realizing what is present without qualities. We can call it the emptiness of consciousness, the Self, or the No-Self. To directly  experience this emptiness, 'the aliveness of it,' is spiritual awakening. It is to realize yourself as beautiful nothingness, or more accurately, no-thing-ness. If we say it's 'nothing,' we miss the point."

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Paul Brunton On a Transcendent God-Consciousness

Often we are asked, "How could a loving God allow such and such." Whether it is drought, floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, disease or hurricanes, there remains a tacit assumption (at least in the West) that there is an anthropomorphic God pulling the strings of the universe and/or predesignating the tide of human affairs, despite the much-vaunted teleological argument of "free will."

A more sophisticated - and, perhaps, more Eastern - viewpoint, is that a supreme consciousness interpenetrates our world from beyond space-time, and that it is in attuning to this higher, transcendental God-consciousness that the mystics, contemplatives, sges and mystics of all times and traditions have taken refuge from the egoic "self."

Paul Brunton (1898-1981)
In "Relativity, Philosophy and Mind," the philosopher and spiritual pundit, Paul Brunton, addresses these points, writing:

"If the worldly man agitatedly sees the event against the background of a moment, if the philosophic student calmly sees it against the background of a lifetime, the sage, while fully aware of both these points of view, offsets them altogether by adding a third one which does not depend on any dimension of time at all. From this third point of view, he sees both the event itself and the ego to whom it happens as illusory. Deep within his mind he holds unshakeably to the timeless character of true being, to the eternal life of the kingdom of heaven."

"In this mysterious state time cannot heal, for there are no wounds present to be healed. So soon as we can take the reality out of time, so soon we take the sting out of suffering. For the false self lives like a slave, bound to every passing sensation, whereas the true self lives in the timeless peace of the kingdom of heaven."

"As soon as we put ourselves into harmony with the true self, we put ourselves into harmony with the whole universe; we put ourselves beyond the reach of calamity. It may still happen, but it does not happen to nor is it felt by our real self. There is a sense of absolute security, a feeling that no harm can come to us. The philosophic student discovers the mission of time; it heals sorrow and, under karma or through evolution, cures evil. The sage solves the mystery of timelessness, which redeems man."
As Jesus told the Pharisees who were hounding him, "The kingdom of heaven cannot be found by observation. Lo it is not here. Lo it is not there. The kingdom of heaven is within you." (Luke 17:20-21.)

Thus, especially when calamity and disaster appear to surround us, we should "seek first the kingdom" within us, rather than asking why some external God could have stage-managed the seeming 'disaster' in our lives.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Andrew Cohen and Rupert Sheldrake: Is Evoution Sacred?

In a thought-provoking dialogue (below) between spiritual teacher Andrew Cohen and the innovative biologist Rupert Sheldrake, two voices from the leading-edge of our post-modern culture discuss whether evolution, itself, may perhaps be sacred.

Noted biologist and author,
Dr. Rupert Sheldrake.
"We can become aware of our connection to the cosmos and this vast evolutionary process," says Sheldrake," but the question is: 'Where is it going?' Does it just go ever and onwards and upwards forever until we get more and more enlightened and more and more cosmically aware? Or, does there come a point where there is some kind of a culmination of the whole cosmic evolutionary process?"

Noting that the Judeo-Christian tradition, which gave us "the vision of a progressive evolution in time," always had an explicit goal in the future, Sheldrake asks Cohen (a proponent of the teaching he calls "evolutionary enlightenment") what an 'end-state' to the evolutionary process would be.

In observing that it is a "big picture" answer that frankly verges on "the realm of fantasy," Cohen notes that the "direction or the 'teleos' of the evolutionary process is towards consciousness itself."

Spiritual teacher, Andrew Cohen,
Editor-in-Chief of EnlightenNext
Cohen posits that, "it would seem that the urge towards consciousness would be fulfilled, or would be ultimately completed, when all the matter in the cosmos had become enlightened - which means conscious. When all the matter in the cosmos had become fully enlightened," he observes, "we would say that the primary urge - if that's what it is - would be vanquished, that it would be fulfilled."

Noting that the process has "barely begun," Cohen  observes that we are at the very beginning of a process that is of such infinite proportions that it is nearly impossible to conceive. Nevertheless,  he calls this "urge to become conscious" our primary driving motivation.

For his part, Sheldrake - an innovative biologist who is noted for his theory of 'morphic fields' - observes that "there is already a large degree of consciousness throughout the  universe, and perhaps that extra awareness comes from us, rather than somehow by our own conscious development we are going to inject consciousness into the rest of the universe."

Their discussion is a fascinating leading-edge discussion of concepts that have long been an integral aspect of the ultimate teachings of both Mahayana Buddhism and the Advaita Vedanta, as two of the most innovative contemporary minds approach what may be thought of as "the biggest question" from two very different directions . . . and nonetheless come to agreement.

"When consciousness awakens to itself, Cohen concludes, "that's when everything comes alive." A point which is acceded whole-heartedly by Sheldrake.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

"Religion" vs. the "New Atheism"

Author, Sam Harris
("Letter to a Christian Nation")
Addressing the Enilghtenment 2.0 conference held in 2007, best selling author and religious critic, Sam Harris (author of "Letter to a Christian Nation"), observed:
"There is nothing about science that entails a criticism of religion, and there is nothing about science that entails a commitment to atheism. This, I think is to be misled by words. Words like religion and atheism. Science clearly does not entail that one identify one's self as an atheist, or even think of one's self as an atheist. But science does entail that one be skeptical of unsupported and unsupportable claims about miracles and about the divine origin of certain books. And when you dig into the details, this is all atheism is. Atheism is the failure to be convinced by other people's claims about miracles, and it is the conviction that they too should not be convinced."

"If there is something worth discussing in the experience of a Buddha or a Jesus . . . as I think there is, I think there is really a 'there' there . . . I think it is possible to have a rare and beautiful and transformative experience . .  and we can call that spirituality or mysticism . . . If there is something worthy of discussion there," says Harris, "it should be susceptible to rational inquiry, and we can hold mystics and contemplatives to the highest standards of empirical rigour and logical coherence. It's simply a myth to say that we can't."

But defining science as the best of our knowledge about the physical universe, Harris does not define what "religion" is to him, before veering off into a discussion of what roles religion and empirical science may have to play in morality and ethics . . . and then going completely off the rails.

Narrowly conflating religion with (i) miracles, (ii) divine origination of scripture, and (iii) ethics, Harris provocatively states that, "The truth is understanding a scriptural tradition is no more relevant to questions of ethics than it is to questions of astrology." And here he misses the point, as do so many leading voices of what Harris himself derides as "the New Atheism."

What Harris misses by leaving his definition of religion unexamined is that there is within religion a vast difference between inner religious experience and the outward dogmas and creeds that encompass Harris' unspoken narrow definition of what religion is.

Yet while, Harris acknowledges that there may be something worthy of discussion in the experiences of "a Buddha and a Jesus," he fails to do so. Buddhism, in particular, is strictly speaking already an 'atheistic religion,' in which its "founder," Gautama Buddha specifically urged his followers not to take his teachings on faith, but rather urged that they should try doing what he did and finding out the truths he talked of experientially, a far more scientific viewpoint (repeatability of 'experiments' and results being, along with the ability to falsify theoretical predictions, being the hallmarks of the scientific method), than perhaps Harris is aware of.

William James (1842-1910)
William James, an acknowledged founder of the modern study of psychology and the father of the 'pragmatic school' of American psychology, delivered perhaps his most famous addresses in the Gifford lectures, a series of talks he later published as "The Varieties of Religious Experience." In so doing, he clearly distinguished between inner religious experience of higher states of 'spiritual' consciousness and the outer religious forms of rites, rituals, creeds and dogmas. Yet this distinguishment is assiduously avoided by Harris, as it is by Christopher Hitchins, the biologist, Richard Dawkins, and other advocates of Harris' brand of "atheism."

There is a strong argument to be made that pro-science religious critics, like Harris, avoid talking about inner religious experience because it has everything to do with "consciousness," a subject area that science, particularly the mind sciences, are uncomfortable with and, thus, somewhat reluctant to approach.

However, with the increasing recognition of the work of leading scientists like the biologist Rupert Sheldrake, the neuroanatomists V.S. Ramachadran, David Chalmers and Dan Siegel, as well as that of synthesist physical/metaphysical theorists like Alan Wallace or the late David Bohm on consciousness, it can be hoped that the seemingly forever ongoing debate between science and religion may at some near point be conducted within mutually agreed upon terms.

After all, even the once most staid of religious institutions, the Catholic Church, has - if I can paraphrase a master metaphysicist - learned to "render unto Galileo what is Galileo's, and render unto God what is God's." It is high time, then, for religious critics to fully and honestly debate the questions of inner religious experience, instead of narrowly and dishonestly restricting their debate to matters solely of external religious beliefs, dogmas and ethics.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Carl Jung on the 'Soul'

Carl G. Jung (1875-1961)
Carl Jung was perhaps the most influential and greatest of all early psychologists, outshining even Freud, his one-time mentor. While his public writings have fueled many Jungian schools, until recently, his most intimate metaphysical musing were collected only in what is generally known as "The Red Book," the contents of which were until recently a closely guarded secret by Jung's surviving family.
"The Red Book, also known as Liber Novus (Latin for New Book), is a 205-page manuscript written and illustrated by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung between approximately 1914 and 1930, prepared for publication by The Philemon Foundation and published by W.W. Norton & Co. on October 7, 2009. Until 2001, his heirs denied scholars access to the book, which he began after a falling-out with Sigmund Freud in 1913. Jung originally titled the manuscript Liber Novus (literally meaning A New Book in Latin), but it was informally known and published as The Red Book. The book is written in calligraphic text and contains many illuminations." [Source: Wikipedia.]
The following poem and video (from the newly published "Red Book") give the reader a taste of the depth and conviction of Jung's religious experience and conviction. When asked if he believed in God, Jung demurred, saying there was no need for "belief" as he "knew."

"My soul... Where are you?..
Do you hear me?..
I Speak.. I call you.. Are you there?
I have Returned.
I am here again.
I have shaken the dust of all the lands from my feet,
and I have come to you.
I am with you..
After long years, of long wondering,
I have come to you, again.

Should I tell you, everything I have seen?
Experienced? or drank in?
or do you not want to hear,
about the noise of life and the world.

But one thing you must know,
the one thing I have learned,
is that one must live his life..
This life is the way,
the long sought after way,
to the unfathomable which we call divine.

There is no other way.
All other ways, are false paths.
So I found the right way,
to let it let me to you, to my soul.

I've returned, tempted and purified.
Do you still know me?
How long, the separation lasted.
Everything has come so different.

And how did I find you?
How strange my journey was.
What words should I use to tell you,
on what twisted path a good star has guided me to you.

Give me your hand,
My almost forgotten soul.
How long, the joy, at seeing you again.
You long disappointed soul.
Life has let me back to you.
Let us thank the life I have lived,
for all the happy, and all the sad hours,
For every joy, for every sadness.

My soul, my journey,
should continue with you..
I will wonder with you,
and ascend to my solitude.."

-- Carl G. Jung --

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Quantum Physics, Consciousness and the 'Ground of Being'

Dr. Amit Goswami, director of the
Centre for Quantum Activism
, board
member of the Institute of Noetic Sciences.

Anyone who has seen the thought-provoking film, "What the Bleep Do We Know!?" will instantly recognize Dr. Amit Goswami, who is featured throughout the film. Dr. Goswami "is a theoretical nuclear physicist and a member of The University of Oregon Institute for Theoretical Physics since 1968, teaching physics for 32 years," before recently retiring. (He is currently a director of the Centre for Quantum Activism, and sits on the advisory board to the Institute of Noetic Sciences.)

"After a period of distress and frustration in his private and professional life starting at the age 38, his research interests shifted to quantum cosmology, quantum measurement theory, and," perhaps most famously, "applications of quantum mechanics to the mind-body problem." [Source: Wikipedia]

In a three-part interview on the interrelationship of quantum physics and consciousness, Dr. Goswami notes that quantum physics is "giving us a new world view that shows clearly how consciousness can be, and is, the ground of our being."

"Quantum physics," says Dr. Goswami, "enables us to see directly that we can make sense of the world only if we base the world on consciousness. (The) world is made of consciousness; (the) world is consciousness; (and) consciousness is the ground of being." (Note the deliberate and repeated use of the term 'ground of being,' a term in use for millennia in the Vedanta tradition as a descriptor of Brahma, or, in Western conventional terms, God.)

"Quantum mathematics, which in our belief is the most fundamental mathematics, the most accurate mathematical description of nature, that we have discovered," continues Goswami, "says clearly that the movement of objects are describable only in terms of possibilities, not the actual events that happen in our experience."

"If we accept this," he says, "then the question immediately becomes who, (or) what chooses amongst these possibilities to bring the actual event (into) experience. So we directly, immediately, see that consciousness must be involved. The observer cannot be ignored.  The observer is part of the description of the world."

But since we cannot explain, and quantum mathematics does not include a description of the observer, Dr. Goswami concludes, "we get the idea that the subject must be more fundamental than the objects; (that) consciousness is more fundamental; (that) consciousness must be the ground of being of which objects are part, but not all of it."

Friday, April 15, 2011

To Abide in One's True Nature: Satchitananda

"Do not be conformed to the
world; rather, be transformed
by the renewal of your mind."

(Romans 12:2)
"What is the true nature of man?," asks Swami Prabhavananda, co-author (with Christopher Isherwood) of "How to Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali."

"Satchitananda brahman," he says, in the attached video. "Pure consciousness, life eternal, and abiding love, and infinite joy. That is your true nature, which is one with Brahma. And when . . . the mind is kept under complete control, your true nature is revealed to you."

There are two types of knowledge, Prabhavananda notes, "scientific or analytical knowledge" and "transcendental vision" or "yogic knowledge, realization and experience." This second type of knowledge, he notes, can only be attained when a man realizes and abides in his true nature as satchitananda brahman. "Then it is," says Prabhavanda, "that he has attained the purpose, the fulfillment of human birth (and) human life."

In "How to Know God," Prabhavanda and Isherwood explain that, "(k)nowledge or perception is a thought wave (vritti) in the mind," and that "(a)ll knowledge is therefore objective."
"When an event or object in the external world is recorded by the senses," they explain, "a thought-wave is raised in the mind. The ego-sense identifies itself with this wave. If the thought-wave is pleasant, the ego-sense feels, "I am happy;" if the wave is unpleasant, "I am unhappy."
"This false identification," they note, "is the cause of all our misery - for even the ego's temporary sensation of happiness brings anxiety, a desire to cling to the object of pleasure and this prepares future possibilities of becoming unhappy."

"The real Self, the Atman," they observe, "remains forever outside the power of thought waves, it is eternally pure, enlightened and free - the only true, unchanging happiness."

"It follows, therefore," they say, "that man can never know his real Self as long as the thought-waves and the ego-sense are being identified. "In order (for us) to become enlightened," they conclude, "we must bring the thought-waves under control so that this false identification may cease."
"Do not be conformed to the world; rather, be transformed by your mind," says Saint Paul: (Romans 12:2). "We have to  . . . unlearn the false identification of the thought-waves with the ego-sense," say Prabhavananda and Isherwood. "This process of unlearning involves a complete transformation of character, a "renewal of the mind," as St. Paul puts it."
["How to Know God," pages 18-19.]

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Ego's Fear of the Soul's Power

Nelson Mandela, on assuming the presidency of South Africa after enduring 27 years in prison, quoted the following passages from Marianne Williamson's book, "A Return to Love."
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?

You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we're liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
Marianne Williamson, one of the foremost teachers of "A Course in Miracles," recognizes that it is the ego which fears the power of the soul, and that our greatest achievement is letting go of the fears that constitute the ego's clutch on the soul, that it is fear which separates us from God which is within and all around us.

Our playing small does not serve the world!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Ram Dass on Suffering and Grace

The ego - our thinking patterns that create the 'reality' of separateness and individuality, what Einstein called an "optical delusion of consciousness" - will not die without a struggle. The question then becomes a matter of whether we choose to suffer through the pangs of dying to the self or ego voluntarily before dying, or whether we wait, avoiding and fending off the inevitable as best we can

While in both cases there is unavoidable suffering that must be either endured or overcome, with the former - i.e., in dying before dying - there is a powerful teaching that can provide us with wisdom to be used and shared by us in this life. And, we have all had intimations of the greater peace that lies beyond suffering, if only in the sometimes bliss of the dream state.
"He who learns must suffer," writes the Greek poet, Aeschylus. "And in our sleep, pain which we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God."
In a powerful video, attached below, spiritual teacher Ram Dass utilizes this wisdom from Aeschylus on suffering to take the viewer through the insights he and his step-mother received when he attended her on her death bed. But in doing so he omits the first sentence of the above passage and stresses the last clause of the well-known quote; that is, "the awful grace of God" that emerges as a respite from egoic suffering.

Ram Dass notes that after his step-mother had endured the pain, and come out the other side from her physical and existential suffering, her ego lifted and a new force of pure being emerged.
"I watched that ego finally surrender and this spirit come forth," he says. "And the being that I was then with was like being in the presence of just pure grace. And her death was absolutely just like ink going into water. It just dissolved. . . just a breathing out. And I saw this being who I never expected to see in our lives together emerge, and  I had to admit that it was the pain and suffering that beat that ego down for this other thing to come through. And I knew that I never could have done that to her. And it was the awful grace, the awful grace. . . ."
Out of this experience, Dass says, he has learned to see death as "the unfolding perfection of the universe," knowing that the person who dies to self, or dies to the ego, is entering upon what he calls "a new curriculum" offered up by the universe. And it is a "new curriculum" which is available, presumably, for the spiritual seeker who is brave enough to endure the suffering of his or her own volition and, in so doing, die to self. For wisdom teachings from all ages and continents have spoken of the dark night of the soul, and the suffering that must be endured in order for a new being free of the ego to emerge.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Ego and the Pain-Body: Liberating the Mind

In his ground-breaking work, "The Power of Now," Eckhart Tolle, an enlightened spiritual teacher, takes the reader through the mechanism by which our conditioned thinking patterns and their concomitant emotional states rule our lives.

The "ego" - our individualized and habitual way of problem-creating, thinking and problem-solving, or what the psychologist/philosopher William James identified as the "stream of consciousness" - is, Tolle teaches, always accompanied by what he calls "the pain-body." Thinking begets the pain-body, the pain-body begets yet more thinking, and so on, down the road of suffering.

Yet, like the Buddha some 2500+ years ago, Tolle also identifies a way out of suffering. End the addiction to, and the identification with, the human ego and the suffering of the pain-body will also abate. In his famous statement, "I think therefore I am," DesCartes was wholly wrong, Tolle says. "I think therfore I suffer," being much closer to the seeming truth.

"There is no ego apart from the thoughts," Tolle notes. "The thoughts, (and) 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."
"So you identify with thinking," Tolle observes, "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 (about) who you are."
And so our thoughts breed beliefs and motions, which in turn breed further reinforcing thoughts, beliefs and emotions, all in a psychological whirl which can quickly drive one 'mad' at any given point in time.

Stopping such thoughts is seemingly the only way in which we will break this vicious spiral. And, it is in the portal of what Tolle simply calls "Being" that we are afforded the silence that will break through into the raucous noise of the ego, bringing with it the clarity and sanity which fosters an emotional respite of peace, forbearance, compassion and well-being to a world of 'thought addicts' and 'emotional junkies.'

As the great 20th-century enlightened sage Ramana Maharshi taught:
"The mind is by nature restless. Begin liberating it from restlessness; give it peace; make it free from distractions; train it to look inward, and make all this a habit. This is done by ignoring the external world and removing the obstacles to peace of mind."

Thursday, April 7, 2011

"Self-Awareness Allows Us to Become Conscious"

Rev. Theodore (Ted) Nottingham
In a timely, yet timeless, message, aimed at those of us struggling with the reality of difficult times, Pastor Ted Nottingham of Indianapolis' Northwood Christian Church, a prolific author and inspired teacher, asks: "(H)ow can we apply in a practical way the great teachings of spiritual masters throughout the ages to the here and now, to this 21st-century malaise, this troubled living that so many of us are in and (can) seem to find no way out of?"

Reverend Nottingham, one of the most informed and transformative voices in America's religious life, draws on the vast teachings of the Orthodox Church and its great spiritual teachers, as well as other esoteric wisdom traditions, to inform his brand of enlightened Christianity, a brand of faith based on the vast untapped, and perhaps unknown, potential of the individual.

"Self-awareness," says Nottingham "allows us to become conscious of who we are in the midst of our external circumstances. Because just by that separation of attention of yourself and the external world, you begin to pull back some of that energy and attention caught up in the struggles of the outer life."

"Through self-awareness," he says, "you are calling yourself home, you are coming back into yourself in a place that is, in some ways, beyond time." The timelessness of the Eternal or Spiritual, being, of course, at the heart of all the world's great religious and wisdom traditions, and it is the essential teaching of Christ's message that Nottingham continually brings home to his audience

"God or Spirit," doesn't just drop into our existence," he notes. Indeed, he points out, "we have to reach up to it metaphorically through consciousnsess, through expanded awareness."

"Most of us," he rightly observes, "are tunnel visioned, funnel-visioned, hypnotized by the outside world, and therefore full of fears (and) full of helplessness, really, in this global meltdown."

"The kingdom of God cometh not with
observation: Neither shall they say,
Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold,
the kindgdom of God is within you."

-- Luke 17: 20-21 --

"My suggestion to you," he advises, "is to separate out, where you can find some peace within that is not completely flooded by the tsunami of the outside world. And from that first step into a place of peace, you can expand into (a) spiritual awareness which give us strength and courage that we knew not that we had; that gives us hope when there seems to be no hope around, (and) the courage to make it through another day."

"This teaching of detachment, he observes, "of recollection, of mindfulness, of remembering the deeper self, all place us in a new relationship to our circumstances."

"Let (these) be teachings for you now in this hard time," Nottingham urges. "Find that peace that you can't find any place else; find that strength that is your spiritual self and ability of your true identity; and, with God's help, may you find your way through these difficult times."

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Thomas Merton: "Shining Like the Sun"

"I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now that I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun."

-- Thomas Merton, O.C.S.O. --

The quotation, above, is but part of a description of an "epiphany" experienced by the famed Trappist Monk, Thomas Merton, as described in his book, "Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander."

Thomas Merton (1915 -1968)
While Merton wrote in excess of seventy books (and has been the subject of many score more since his death by accidental electrocution in 1968), it is Merton's 'epiphany' moment, and his famous "shining like the sun" passage, that stand out from, and helps define, his larger body of work - much like Krishnamurti's famous "the Truth is a pathless land" quote.

(His "waking from a dream of separateness" and comments on "illusion" in the first paragraph of the "shining like the sun" passage are not uncoincidentally also reminiscent of Einstein's comments about our suffering from a "cosmic illusion of consciousness," which creates the seeming separation of the ego.)

Merton, in his "Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander," writes:
In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. The whole illusion of a separate holy existence is a dream. Not that I question the reality of my vocation, or of my monastic life: but the conception of “separation from the world” that we have in the monastery too easily presents itself as a complete illusion: the illusion that by making vows we become a different species of being, pseudo-angels, “spiritual men,” men of interior life, what have you."
"Certainly these traditional values are very real, but their reality is not of an order outside everyday existence in a contingent world, nor does it entitle one to despise the secular: though “out of the world,” we are in the same world as everybody else, the world of the bomb, the world of race hatred, the world of technology, the world of mass media, big business, revolution, and all the rest. We take a different attitude to all these things, for we belong to God. Yet so does everybody else belong to God. We just happen to be conscious of it, and to make a profession out of this consciousness. But does that entitle us to consider ourselves different, or even better, than others? The whole idea is preposterous."
"This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud. And I suppose my happiness could have taken form in the words: “Thank God, thank God that I am like other men, that I am only a man among others.” To think that for sixteen or seventeen years I have been taking seriously this pure illusion that is implicit in so much of our monastic thinking."
"It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race, though it is a race dedicated to many absurdities and one which makes many terrible mistakes: yet, with all that, God Himself gloried in becoming a member of the human race. A member of the human race! To think that such a commonplace realization should suddenly seem like news that one holds the winning ticket in a cosmic sweepstake."
"I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now that I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun."
"This changes nothing in the sense and value of my solitude, for it is in fact the function of solitude to make one realize such things with a clarity that would be impossible to anyone completely immersed in the other cares, the other illusions, and all the automatisms of a tightly collective existence. My solitude, however, is not my own, for I see now how much it belongs to them — and that I have a responsibility for it in their regard, not just in my own. It is because I am one with them that I owe it to them to be alone, and when I am alone, they are not “they” but my own self. There are no strangers!"
"Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed. . . I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other. But this cannot be seen, only believed and “understood” by a peculiar gift."
(Emphasis added.)
Merton was a staunch advocate for, and enthusiast of, interfaith conversation and understanding. A 'giant' himself, he pioneered dialogues with many Eastern spiritual 'giants', including the Dalai Lama, D.T. Suzuki, the Japanese Zen master and writer who was so influential in introducing the Zen Buddhist tradition to the United States, and the Vietnamese monk and anti-war activist, Thich Nhat Hanh, whom Martin Luther King Jr. nominated for the Nobel Peace prize.

Fittingly, the recent unveiling of an historical plaque, and the designation of Fourth Avenue and Walnut Street in Louisville as "Thomas Merton Square," was accompanied by an inter-faith reading of Merton's famous "Shining Like the Sun" quote at the site of his personal epiphany.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Thomas Merton: On Contemplation and the Inner Path

Eckhart Tolle
Author of, "The Power of Now"
The enlightened modern spiritual teacher, Eckhart Tolle, made the observation that Rene DesCartes (the father of the 'empirical rationalism' that drives modern science) got it completely wrong in his most basic statement: "Cognito, ergo summa;"  or, "I think, therefore I am."

Objectively, DesCartes' famous dictum may be true; but subjectively, it is perhaps wholly wrong. As Tolle and so many rishis and sages of all ages and continents before him have pointed out, our "thinking without awareness" is the main dilemna of human existence. It is the root cause of all suffering.

Men and women get themselves confused with, caught up in, and identify themselves with, the restless inner dialogue of the human ego and then act upon it, usually to the detriment of others and always to the ultimate detriment of themselves.

Our usual mode of constant egoic thinking combined with an "outer" rather than "inner" religious worldview, and the sure-fire conviction that our exoteric religious beliefs are the only right and valid views, has been the chief source of man-made violence and death for millenia untold, and it continues to be so, as philosopher Ken Wilber has pointed out.

And yet, the "inner" or "esoteric" spiritual path that is present but largely ignored in most wisdom traditions is one of the few - and may be the only - way out of humanity's individual and collective suffering, as Wilber has concluded.

Thomas Merton (1915-1968)
As the renowned Trappist monk, Thomas Merton, observed in one of his letters that makes for the substance of the embedded video (below), the inner, contemplative path, rather than mere intellection and the application of reason, is the essence of all wisdom traditions.

To this effect, Merton notes:
"Oh, my Brother! The contemplative is not the man who has fiery visions of the cherubim-carrying God in his chariot, but simply he who has risked his mind in the desert beyond language and beyond ideas where God is encountered in the nakedness of pure trust; that is to say, in the surrender of our poverty and incompleteness, in order no longer to clench our minds in a cramp upon themselves, as if thinking made us exist."

In explaining what 'contemplation' and the 'contemplative life,' are,  Merton notes that contemplation is "a more profound depth of faith; a knowledge too deep to be grasped in images or words, or even in clear concepts." He observes:
"Contemplation is the highest expression of man's intellectual and spiritual  life. It is that life itself, fully awake, fully active, fully aware that it is alive. It is spiritual wonder. It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of being. It is gratitude for life, for awareness, and for being. It is a vivid realization of the fact that life and being in us proceed from an invisible, transcendent and infinitely abundant source. 
Contemplation is, above all, awareness of the reality of that source. It knows the source, obscurely, inexplicably, but with a certitude that goes beyond both reason and beyond simple faith. For contemplation is a kind of spiritual vision to which both reason and faith aspire by their very nature, because without it they must always remain incomplete."

Friday, April 1, 2011

"A New Heaven and a New Earth"

"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away . . ."
-- Revelations 21:1 --
The Book of Revelations is perhaps the most understood work in the entire New Testament. First, it is the revelation of a dream which the Apostle John reportedly had; and, second, it, like the rest of the New Testament, deals with thought rather than future events. And, perhaps, the well known verse of "a new heaven and a new earth," to me, aptly describes how our perceptions and 'world-view' are radically shifted when we let go of that near-universal affliction, the human "ego" - not "ego" as in pride, but "ego" denoting the sense of  individuality and "separateness" that Einstein referred to as "an optical delusion of consciousness."

Nearly every individual has "two selves" - the small, false "self" of the ego, and the real, expansive "Self" of our true being. It is when, through spiritual practice, 'self' gives way to 'Self' that "a new heaven and a new earth" manifest in our consciousness. We then become, or are becoming, a part of the Whole, a part of the 'Ground of Being,' a part of the "new earth." (It is no mere coincidence that the best-selling spiritual author, and enlightened teacher, Eckhart Tolle, titled one of his books, "A New Earth.")

The renowned 20th-century theologian, Paul Tillich, talks about our two "selves' and the 'reality' of  St. John's "new earth"' in the following passage from his book of sermons, "The Shaking of the Foundations," pp. 100-101:
"Where can we feel this new reality? We cannot find it, but it can find us. It tries to find us during our whole life. It is in the world; it carries the world; and it is the cause of the fact that our Self and our world are not yet thrown into utter self-destruction. Although it is hidden under anxiety and despair, under finitude and tragedy, it is in everything, in souls and bodies, because everything derives life from it. The new being means that the old being has not yet destroyed itself completely; that life is still possible; that our souls still gather force to go forward; and that the good and the true are not extinguished. It is present, and it will find us. Let us be found by it. It is stronger than the world, although it is quiet and meek and mild."
The "new earth" is a profound psychological metaphor for the change in our attitudes and conceptions - indeed, the change in our entire mode or way of thinking - as we shift from a narrow self-consciousness to an expansive and inclusive higher consciousness. The following video interview with Father Thomas Keating by integral theorist Ken Wilber amply illustrates this shift in perceptions and attitudes, as well as its implications for personal and collective well-being.