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

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Rumi, Sufism and the Light of Islam

"Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth,
The parable of His Light is as if there were a niche,
And within it a Lamp: The Lamp enclosed in Glass;
The glass as it were a brilliant star;
Lit from a blessed Tree,
An Olive, neither of the East nor of the West,
Whose oil is well-nigh luminous, though fire scarce touched it;
Light upon Light!"
["The Holy Koran" Surah 24:35 ('The Light')]
* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Jalalludin Rumi (1207-1273)
As a 'heretic' from, yet a student of, all the world's great wisdom and religious traditions, I have long been interested in Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam. Indeed, my first spiritual teacher advised me to "study all religions until you can see the 'sameness' in them all. Another, told me that if I was serious about my spiritual quest I should read Patanjali and "The Incredible Rumi" - Coleman Barks' translation of the poetry of the renowned 13th-century Sufi poet Jalalludin Rumi. I have found both to be essential.

"Throughout Islamic history, th(e) realm of ihsan [worshiping God as if we could see the Divine] was most emphatically pursued by the mystics of Islam, the Sufis," writes Omad Safi on the Huffington Post. "Historically," he notes, "this mystical realm of Islam formed a powerful companion to the legal dimension of Islam (sharia). Indeed, many of the mystics of Islam were also masters of legal and theological realms. The cultivation of inward beauty and outward righteous action were linked in many of important Islamic institutions. In comparing Islam with Judaism, the mystical dimension of Islam was much more prominently widespread than Kabbalah. And unlike the Christian tradition, the mysticism of Islam was not cloistered in monasteries. Sufis were -- and remain -- social and political agents who went about seeking the Divine in the very midst of humanity."

Indeed, the great Rumi's father, Bahuaddin Valad, was a renowned Islamic jurist known as the "sultan of scholars," and a teacher at a school specially built for him in Konya, in what is now Anatolia, Turkey. Rumi, himself, succeeded his father as the head teacher at this school upon his father's death.

The question of why Sufism is little known or publicized in the West, and why it seems to be frowned on, or at least viewed skeptically, within manistream Islam has always perplexed me. Anyone, who reads Rumi, it seemed to me, could not help but be transfixed by the high spiritual plane from which the master poet writes (Rumi is known as Mevlana, or "master," in Arabic). And, yet, Rumi's teachings along with Sufism are discounted and largely absent (at least in the West) in most discussions of Islam.

In his Huffington Post article, Safi attributes the downplaying of Sufic teaching in Islam to three sources: (a) its early embrace by European Orientalists in the 19th century, who were enthralled with the Sufi poets like Rumi and Omar Kayyham; (b) the rejection of the 'mystical branch' of Islam by conservative/modernist Moslems in the past and current century who are concerned with carving out a separate functioning Islamic sphere which would hark back to the expansive, Koranic times of Muhammad; and, (c) the embrace of Rumi and other Sufi poets and teachers by so-called "New Agers" who are "spiritual, but not religious."

"So what we have had for the last few decades ," Safi observes, "is a situation of Orientalists and Salafi Muslims seeking to construct a "real Islam" that is untainted by Sufi dimensions, and many new agers seek(ing) to extract a mysticism that stands above and disconnected from wider, broader and deeper aspects of Islam."

These are not the only paradigms, however. Just as many Christians, Jews and others are looking at the more esoteric teachings of their respective religions to provide greater meaning to their largely material lives, so too many Muslims are looking to Sufic teachings to embue their lives and religious practice with greater meaning. (A largely unmentioned fact in the hotly contested "mosque at Ground Zero debate" is that it is a planned Sufi Center headed by Sufi scholar Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf that is in question, not a more 'conservative' mosque that has raised the hackles of prejudice in NYC.)

An example of how many modern Muslims are looking to the ancient teachings of Sufism is demonstrated in a wonderful talk on TED.com by Imam Rauf. In it, Rauf combines the teachings of the Qur’an, the stories of Rumi, and the examples of Muhammad and Jesus, to demonstrate that only one obstacle stands between each of us and absolute compassion -- ourselves," or the human ego.



"Judge a moth by the greatness of its candle," Rumi urges.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Musings . . . . Poetic and Otherwise

       No matter what your body's appearance is on the outer level, beyond that outer form it is an intensively alive energy field.
       If you are not familiar with "inner body" awareness, close you eyes for a moment and find out if there is life inside your hands, your chest, your forehead.
       Body awareness not only anchors you in the present moment; it is the key that opens the doorway out of the prison that is the ego.

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

Each breath we take
is an exhalation of G_d.
And, from behind each face
and set of eyes,
G_d looks out unnoticed
on this world of our creation.

The rising and falling tide,
the blowing and listing wind,
the verdant or withered grass,
the songs of birds,
and the felt breath of angels,
are each an exhalation of G_d,
and an expansion of G_d's Being.

Everything rushes away from everything,
yet the expansiveness of G_d fills all.

There is no falling from Grace or Favour,
only the oblivion of unseeing
and the acceptance of a mundane world,
where life is taken for granted
and all else feared.

Surely the miraculous is frightening
and we pine for explanations.
Yet, this inexplicable Whole
falls short even of description,
let alone an explanation.

It is only when each exhalation
becomes an inspiration
that we might know.
Until then, we can only know in part
and intuit predictions.

Let them not be based on our fears.

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

What a small place the world is,
       yet how large it seems
       as foreground to the stars!
Who amongst the ancients
       could fathom such immensities
       amid which we exist?
If the rishis had known,
       or could foretell, this
       star-vault's near infinitude,
       would they have not told us,
       and, this, explicitly?

Why would the Buddha speak
       of a mere ten-thousand worlds?
Thus, even the Tathagata could not sense,
       in neither time nor space,
       the Ocean's width once crossed.

How, then, will you or I
       plumb the depths of these star-fields
       from our too small perspective.
Is it not far better to forego
       contemplation of the heavens altogether
       then to hurry from our outward introspection
       with neither moment's wonder
       nor sense of humbled awe?

"I need more Grace
       than I thought," Rumi said.
Perhaps, however, we need more Grace
       than even Rumi could foresee.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Esoteric Spirituality: The "Inner Teaching" of Christianity

In his masterwork, “The Varieties of Religious Experience,” the pioneering American psychologist, William James made a fundamental distinction between what he termed ‘outer religion,’ the dogmas, doctrines, steeples, altars and incense of religious worship, and the ‘inner religion’ of spiritual experience and psychological transformation, a distinguishment which seems fundamental to the seeker of spiritual awakening or enlightenment in this modern Information Age.

In another spiritual masterpiece, “Discover the Power Within You,” the great Unity Church minister and theologian, Eric Butterworth sets out to find the religion of Jesus, rather than the religion about Jesus, noting that there has always been a paradox in the way humanity has reacted to the spiritual truths they have found on the spiritual quest, elevating the teacher while ignoring the teachings of universal spiritual truths:

The history of man on the eternal quest,” he writes, “has been a strange odyssey. In his search for the ‘holy grail' man has looked everywhere and in vain, but he has failed to look within himself. Occasionally, a prophet came, telling of the world within. But instead of following him into the deeper experience, men invariably made a god of the prophet – worshiped and built monuments to him. They then trapped themselves in a religious practice that had no within.”

How many times has this happened?,” Butterworth asks rhetorically. “How many religions are there in the world ?”

In a trio of videos from the prodigious author, broadcaster and ordained minister, the Reverend Theodore (Ted) Nottingham goes "within" and examines the "esoteric teachings" of Christianity, the "inner teachings" of Jesus, and the process of "theosis," or "God-realization," the experiential process which lies at the heart of the Christian's spiritual quest, but which is little known or used in the West today.

In this subjective selection from Nottingham's wide body of work, it is hoped that the spiritual aspirant's eyes may be opened to the inner potential not only of Christianity, but of all the world's great wisdom traditions, and that any "scales of prejudice" may be removed to make his or her "inner" sight all the clearer.

As Jesus made clear in his ministry, it is not the outer form that is of consequence; quite the opposite. To the Pharisees who were persecuting him for what they saw as his outer practice, he plainly said, "The Kingdom of God is within you." (Luke 17:21).


"Esotericism and Christianity"





"The Inner Teaching"





"Theosis: The Path of God-Realization"




Author and translator of a dozen books, Ted Nottingham is an ordained minister and currently the pastor of Northwood Christian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana. As a student and teacher of practical spiritual development for over thirty years, his books reflect aspects of the spiritual journey for readers of all traditions.

His Youtube videos and PodOmatic podcasts are available here and here.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Dalai Lama on Spirituality, Science and Human Suffering

His Holiness, XIV Dalai Lama
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama's masterful book, "The Universe in a Single Atom," is subtitled, "The Convergence of Science and Spirituality." In it, he explores the marked similarities between Buddhism - particularly the 'Abbidharma,' or Buddhist philosophy and psychology, with the most modern aspects of science and, particularly, physics. Yet, the Dalai Lama insists that this look at two (at times) eerily similar disciplines is not meant as an attempt to "unite" science and spirituality, but rather as a comparison of views.

Specifically, he insists that science and spirituality both have a definite role to play in benefiting humankind. Looking at the complimentary roles that science and spirituality can play in human lives, he makes the following markedly open-minded and non-dogmatic introductory observations:
"As my comprehension of science has grown, it has gradually become evident to me that, insofar as understanding the physical world is concerned, there are many areas of traditional Buddhist thought where our explanations and theories are rudimentary when compared with those of modern science But at the same time, even in the most highly scientific countries, it is clear that human beings continue to experience suffering, especially at the emotional and psychological level. The great benefit of science is that it can contribute tremendously to the alleviation of suffering at the physical level, but it is only through the cultivation of the qualities of the human heart and the transformation of our attitudes that we can begin to address and overcome our mental suffering."
His remarks about the complimentary relationship of science and religion is not as surprising as it may seem to many who are habitually conditioned to the traditional theological notion that science and religion or spirituality have opposing interests. After all, Buddhism, strictly speaking is more an atheistic blend of philosophy and psychology than a 'religion' per se.

It is strictly speaking atheistic (or, a-theistc, as opposed to theistic) as the Buddha refused to answer questions he considered 'unaddressable,' such as the question of first causes, creation of the universe or the existence of a God or gods. His emphasis was clearly on assisting others to attain the higher states of consciousness which would alleviate samsara and dhukka, or the cycle of 'rebirth' and 'suffering.' He compared asking such 'unaddressable' questions to a patient in great pain refusing to have an arrow removed from his chest before the physician tells him all the details of the archer who shot the arrow.

This attitude has largely helped Buddhism to stay out of the controversies that have ensnared Christianity throughout its history; but, perhaps, such controversy is to be expected for a religion that is clearly founded upon a belief in the miraculous. The Buddha's position was that we all can, and will eventually, attain liberation and nirvana; and, thus our focus should be on forwarding our own spiritual liberation and reducing suffering in all other sentient beings. And, he encouraged others to investigate for themselves his trachings on the states of higher consciousness he spoke of, rather than accepting his words on faith in him.

Thus in his introductory remarks, the Dalai Lama can assert with good conscience that "from the perspective of human well-being, science and spirituality are not unrelated." He observes that "we need both, since the alleviation of suffering must take place both at the physical and psychological levels."

Fortunately, in this highly scientific and technological age other religious leaders are abandoning the position that science and spirituality, indeed religion, are necessarily incompatible, Beginning with Vatican II, and gaining renewed momentum since 2008, the Catholic Church has made major efforts theologically and practically to bridge the rift between science and faith that ironically raged into a huge controversy at the beginning of the European "Enlightenment" with the ex-communication of Galileo, a ban and anethema only recently lifted by the Church.

"In the beginning there was the Word, and the Word
was with God, and the Word was God. The same was
in the beginning with God."
John 1:1-2                    
In 2008, addressing the Vatican-hosted Pontifical Academy of Sciences' conference on " Scientific Insight into the Evolution of the Universe and of Life," Pope Benedict XVI remarked, in part:
"In this context, questions concerning the relationship between science’s reading of the world and the reading offered by Christian Revelation naturally arise. My predecessors Pope Pius XII and Pope John Paul II noted that there is no opposition between faith’s understanding of creation and the evidence of the empirical sciences. Philosophy in its early stages had proposed images to explain the origin of the cosmos on the basis of one or more elements of the material world. This genesis was not seen as a creation, but rather a mutation or transformation; it involved a somewhat horizontal interpretation of the origin of the world. A decisive advance in understanding the origin of the cosmos was the consideration of being qua being and the concern of metaphysics with the most basic question of the first or transcendent origin of participated being. In order to develop and evolve, the world must first be, and thus have come from nothing into being. It must be created, in other words, by the first Being who is such by essence.
To state that the foundation of the cosmos and its developments is the provident wisdom of the Creator is not to say that creation has only to do with the beginning of the history of the world and of life. It implies, rather, that the Creator founds these developments and supports them, underpins them and sustains them continuously. Thomas Aquinas taught that the notion of creation must transcend the horizontal origin of the unfolding of events, which is history, and consequently all our purely naturalistic ways of thinking and speaking about the evolution of the world. Thomas observed that creation is neither a movement nor a mutation. It is instead the foundational and continuing relationship that links the creature to the Creator, for he is the cause of every being and all becoming."
Moreover, in the relatively recently released Catholic Cathecism (the first updated summary of the "universal beliefs" of catholics worldwide in over 300 years), which was commissioned by Pope John Paul II and whose principal author was Cardinal Rathzinger, the current Pope Benedict XVI, it states (at paragraphs 283 to 284):
Pope Benedict the XVI, who, as Cardinal
Rathzinger, was the principal author of
the revised Catholic Cathechism.
"The question about the origins of the world and of man has been the object of many scientific studies which have splendidly enriched our knowledge of the age and dimensions of the cosmos, the development of life-forms and the appearance of man. These discoveries invite us to even greater admiration for the greatness of the Creator, prompting us to give him thanks for all his works and for the understanding and wisdom he gives to scholars and researchers. With Solomon they can say: "It is he who gave me unerring knowledge of what exists, to know the structure of the world and the activity of the elements. . . for wisdom, the fashioner of all things, taught me."

"The great interest accorded to these studies is strongly stimulated by a question of another order, which goes beyond the proper domain of the natural sciences. It is not only a question of knowing when and how the universe arose physically, or when man appeared, but rather of discovering the meaning of such an origin: is the universe governed by chance, blind fate, anonymous necessity, or by a transcendent, intelligent and good Being called "God"? And if the world does come from God's wisdom and goodness, why is there evil? Where does it come from? Who is responsible for it? Is there any liberation from it?"
Thus, for the Catholic Church, as well as for Tibetan Buddhists, as represented by the Dalai Lama, the principle question is not what the details of the creation event were - the Vatican's chief astronomer recently said that the 'Big Bang' Theory is currently the most likely explanation - but how "liberation" from  the 'evils' of human suffering may be achieved.

It is encouraging that, particularly in this age, two of the world's great wisdom traditions indicate that there is no inherent conflict between 'religion' or spirituality and science, that both have a role to play in enriching lives and reducing suffering in the here and now.

As the Dalai Lama notes in his Introduction to "The Universe In a Single Atom:"
" . . . I believe that spirituality and science are different but complimentary investigative approaches with the same greater goal of seeking the truth. In this there is much they each may learn from the other, and together they may contribute to expanding the horizon of human knowledge and wisdom. Moreover, through a dialogue between the two disciplines, I hope both science and spirituality may develop to be of better service to the needs and well-being of society."

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Finding Rumi on the Spiritual Path

For the "spiritual not religious" soul who wakes up as if from a daze and finds him or herself suddenly thrust along a spiritual path, perhaps there is no more reassuring and inspiring a book than the translation of Jalalludin Rumi's mystic Sufi poetry by Coleman Barks and John Moyne, "The Essential Rumi."

Rumi, the renowned 13th century Persian poet, speaks to the emptied vessel of the spiritual aspirant, acknowledging the spaciousness of a mind uncluttered by the troubles of the day, saying:
Jalalludin Rumi (1207-1273)
"I honor those who try
to rid themselves of any lying,
who empty the self
and find only clear being there."



Rumi was the son of Bahauddin Valad, a noted Islamic jurist and teacher, who was caught up in the delirium of mysticism which would ensnare his son and carry his son's poetic voice down through more than eight centuries of history to this day.

Rumi was only 24 years old when he lost his father, and he was to wait another 13 years, quite alone in a spiritual sense, with only his father's writings to guide him, until he met Shams of Tabriz, the "Sun" around whom Rumi's "Earth" would thereafter orbit. In the interim it was Bahauddin's notebooks, the Maarif, which would nurture Rumi's poetic soul until his muse in the form of Shams, the itinerant Sufi wanderer, would appear.

Bahauddin, like his son was a lover of both the sensual and the divine, and his writing (as translated by Barks and Moyne in the "The Drowned Book") melds the two. Often Rumi's poetry seems to pick up where Bahuaddin's writing has left off.

Bahauddin writes:
"Someone asked me what is the knowing I speak of and how does the love I mention feel? I said if you don't know, what can I say? And if you do know, what can I say?
        The taste of knowing love has no explanation, and no account of it will ever give anyone that taste."

Rumi responds:
"There are guides that can show you the way.
Use them. But they will not satisfy your longing.

Keep wanting that connection
with all your pulsing energy.

The throbbing vein
will take you further
than any thinking.

Mohammed said, "Don't theorize
about essence!" All speculations

are just more layers of coverings.
Human beings love covering!

They think the designs on the curtains
are what's being concealed."



Bahauddin writes:
"How can I explain the other worlds to those who say there's nothing beyond what we touch and see?"

"Materialists quickly reach their limit like a man so stuffed with food he finds everything tasteless. The feeling that there is no further delight comes from ingratitude and a refusal to admit your failures.
"


Rumi responds:

"For hundreds of thousand of years
I have been dust grains

floating and flying in the will of the air,
often forgetting, ever being
in that state, but in sleep
I migrate back. I spring loose
from the four-branched, time-and-space
cross this waiting room.


I walk into a huge pasture,
I nurse the milk of millennia.
Everyone does this in different ways.
Knowing that conscious decisions
and personal memory
are much too small a place to live
every human being streams at night
into the loving nowhere . . ."
 * * * * * * * * * * * * *
If one wakes up and indeed finds one's self on a spiritual journey, then there could be no better guide than Rumi for whom his father provided the inspiration and Shams the sunlight that would make Rumi's poetry a beacon of the divine for countless generations . . . and countless generations yet to come!

Monday, March 21, 2011

A 'Required Reading Syllabus' for the "Spiritual Not Religious"

For the growing body of scientifically-oriented Westerners for whom traditional religious institutions rapidly lost relevance over the past 100 years - a growing body of individuals with an eclectic array of spiritual beliefs and practices, who could be roughly categorized as "spiritual but not religious" - a trio of books published before the paradigm-shattering 1960s may be classified as 'required reading' on the spiritual syllabus.

In order of publication, Richard M. Bucke's "Cosmic Consciousness," William James' "The Varieties of Spiritual experience," and Aldous Huxley's "The Perennial Philosophy," carried the message from the world's varied wisdom traditions to a receptive modern audience that authentic spiritual or mystical awakening was possible and that the achievement of 'higher consciousness' in their lifetime was possible.

A fourth volume that traces the evolution of ever higher stages of animal and human consciousness is philosophical polymath and then-popular BBC broadcaster, Gerald Heard's, "Pain, Sex and Time." First published in 1939 and long out-of-print, "Pain, Sex and Time" was republished in 2004 due to a rising popular demand led by the reigning 'dean' of "comparative religious studies," Huston Smith, who credits reading Heard's account of spirituality and evolution with 'converting' him, literally overnight, "from the scientific worldview (which takes the visible world to be the only world there is) to the vaster world of the mystics."

Photo of spiritual pioneers (left to right);
Christopher Isherwood, Gerald Heard,
Richard Neutra, Linus Pauling,
Julius Huxley , and Aldous Huxley
(Smith notes he is in good company in this, as it was Heard who converted Huxley "from the cynical nihilism of his Brave New World to the Perennial Philosophy.")

Sub-titled, "A New Outlook on Evolution and the Future of Man," Heard's treatise lays a solid historical and theoretical evolutionary framework for  modern spiritual teachings, such as Andrew Cohen's teachings on "Evolutionary Enlightenment," which capture the synergy and synergistic potential that comes from the synthesis of ancient wisdom traditions and enlightenment teachings with leading edge scientific and psychological understandings.

As well, "Pain Sex and Time" provides as solid base of information for traditional "religionists" who seek to understand, and put into context, the rapid changes that bastions of religious conservatism, like the Vatican and Papacy, are undergoing in response to the deepening understandings of modern science. (In the last decade, the Catholic Church has rehabilitated the once-excommunictated Galileo, acknolwedged the Big Bang Theory as the most likely candidate for the Creation event, and Pope Benedict has plainly stated there is no conflict betwen the views of the Catholic Church, as set out in its new Cathecism, and the progress of modern scientific understanding.)

Heard had this to say on what may be called our "evolutionary imperative," humanity's need to push the limits of their psychical, as well as physical, knowledge of what our 'reality' is:
"It would seem that we have reached a stage in our evolution when under the terms and restrictions of our present apprehension we have gone as far as we can. Confining ourselves, as we have since Galileo, to measurement of such movements as our present consciousness can perceive, we have disregarded as unreal such vague intimations and inhibitions as are experienced by backward people who have not attended exclusively to outer phenomena but have been still aware of their inner nature. Hence we find ourselves with a sanctionless morality and a senseless universe."

"Now that we realize that we have restricted our possibilities of observation and that further ranges of reality undoubtedly lead beyond our present senses' apprehension, it is clear what is required of us is that we seek an extension of apprehension, a broadening of consciousness which will bring new data, new experiences into our range of knowledge. It seems increasingly clear that the great adventure in physical knowledge which began with Galileo was also one of those [evolutionary] specializations which, if not balanced by an equal advance in power of comprehensive apprehension, must lead to an increasing restriction of interest, awareness, and understanding. . . ."

"This specialization must be corrected by recovering once again a generalized apprehension which does not reject any experience - be it colour or the sense of self - whereby the organism lives. For the organism [i.e., humankind] which begins to dismiss actual experiences because these disturb the simplicity of its explanations is headed for the ever narrowing awareness which ends in presenting itself with a world in which it cannot live - a world without sanction but without meaning."
Gerald Heard (1892-1971)
This analysis, written on the eve of World War II - the great blood-letting that would culminate in the atom bomb, and the pre-eminent domination of scientific rationalism and consumerist materialism for at least another 60 years thereafter - was supremely prescient.

With the Western post-war "baby boom" that was born into and which fuelled this rationalist/consumerist cultural predominance now entering retirement and old-age, largely without having attained any lasting insight into their 'psychical reality,' or having achieved the lasting societal changes and higher levels of individual and cultural consciousness which was the object of their youthful protests, the temper of our times seems to be swinging back towards a search for transcendental awareness and inner meaning.

It is the search of this generation for inner meaning, with its unprecedented comfort and familiarity with science and scientific technology, combined with an inherent distrust of cultural and religious institutions which might be seen as opposing the 'march' of scientific progress and understanding, that fuels the growth in the ranks of the "spiritual but not religious."

"Store not your treasures upon the earth,
where moth and rust consume, and where
thieves break through and steal . . ."
(Matthew 6:19)


Yet, it is the search of this aging, spiritually "Lost Generation" for renewed meaning - beyond the increasingly irrelevant "stuff" that they have managed to accumulate - that makes the spiritual inquiries of the past several previous generations - as represented by Bucke, William James, Aldous Huxley, and the largely overlooked Heard - all the more important and compelling today. Small wonder, then, that Heard's works are being re-published and re-examined today.

Friday, March 18, 2011

"If You Think You Understand Spirituality . . ."

Spirituality is a lot like quantum mechanics. The experience of higher consciousness - those moments when we lose our sense of individuality, of "ego" or "self" - may be described in the same way quantum mechanics was described by renowned quantum theorist, Richard Feynman: it's sort of "spooky." Equally, it confounds one's ability to describe it, or to "know" perfectly just what it is we are "observing" or "experiencing."

Perhaps this is why the "Infinite," the "Absolute," or "God" have so often been described as "the ineffable," literally beyond verbal description. Or, perhaps no matter how deeply we look - whatever experience of ever-purer consciousness we reach - there is yet another 'deeper' level that may be achievable. Certainly, this is what the eminent 20th-century theologian, Paul Tillich meant when he talked of the "depth of our existence."
"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, "Shaking The Foundations," Scribners, New York: 1948, pp. 56-57.)
Paul Tillich (1886-1965)
Similarly, it is how Richard Feynman describes his work in science. Probing ever further into "what the world is," always expecting (or perhaps knowing 'intuitively') that there is a still further depth of knowledge to be revealed in an ever-unravelling understanding of both the macrocosmic and the microcosmic nature of our 'reality.'




Both Tillich and Feynman - physicist and metaphysicist - challenge us to look at the depth of our knowledge, the depth of our experience and, yes, the depth of our consciousness. And both urge us to do so without prejudice as to what we might find

Thich Nhat Hahn (b. 1926)
Of course, this is what the Buddha also said 2500 years ago, when he urged us not to believe him, but to see for ourselves, to be witnesses to our own experience of the depth of our consciousness, and to do so without dogmatism or preformed beliefs.

As the much-admired Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, so eloquently explains, we are all called to explore the depth of our worldview, and in so doing, to look into the depth of our existence. Hahn notes:
"We each have a view of the universe. That view may be called relativity or uncertainty or probability or string theory; there may be many kinds of view. It's okay to propose views, but if you want to make progress on the path of inquiry, you should be able to be ready to throw away your view. It's like climbing a ladder, coming to the fifth rung, and thinking you're on the highest rung. That idea prevents you from climbing to the sixth rung, and the seventh rung. So in order to come to the sixth and the seventh, you have to release the fifth. That is the process of learning proposed by the Buddha. Buddhism fully practiced is free from dogmatism. If you worship something as a dogma, as absolute truth, you are not a good practitioner. You must be totally free; even from the teachings of the Buddha. The teachings of the Buddha are offered as instruments, not as absolute truth. (Emphasis added.) Thich Nhat Hanh, "Beyond the Self: Teachings on the Middle Way," Parralax Press, Berkeley CA: 2010, pp. 14-15.)
The point is that spirituality like science is in essence a non-ending quest. As Richard Feynman famously said, "If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don't understand quantum mechanics." Similarly, perhaps it can be said that: "If you think you understand spiritually and the depth of consciousness, you don't understand spiritually and the depth of consciousness."

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Nature of the Ego: "Lions All Around Us"

In one of the best lectures I have had the pleasure of attending, Dr. Bruce Perry (a devlopmental neurobiologist) spoke of humankind's evolutionary context as hunter gatherers in an environment where stressor events were intense but far between. Someone would shout, "Lion!." and the 'wary' lived to pass their genes on to the next generation. The 'slow' were an evolutionary dead-end . . . i.e., lunch.

His point, however, was that our bodies and brains have not evolved significantly since then (except, perhaps, for the weeding out of the slow and tasty). As a result, we go through our modern life with a huge volume of stimuli that we "need" to pay attention to - co-workers, cell phones, traffic, bill statements etc., and our psyches are screaming, "Lion! . . , Lion! . . . Lion!," on a more or less continual basis. As it turns out, we are not really built for the way that we now live.

Modern humankind therefore tends to be in an almost continual "fight or flight" modality, with little time in the "rest and digest" mode where we formerly spent the vast majority of our time, evolutionally speaking. (Indeed, studies of modern hunter-gatherers show they spend very little time foraging and a great deal of time sleeping.) The result of all this? It appears to be a mind in a perpetual state of alert motion, ever searching for (or manufacturing) "something" that requires our further attention and further thought. This "mind" is, of course, the human "ego" (or small "self") that we mistake for our only identity, and an 'individuality' that is separate and apart from everything and everyone in the outer world.

And, of course, "the ego" is always restless, looking for lurking "dangers" and for opportunities to gratify its instincts. (As such, it is small wonder that virtually all the "news" we consume is bad news, and "sex" still "sells," no matter who is doing the peddling or what is being peddled.)

In a now classic translation and commentary of Patangali's 'Yoga Aphorisms,' Christopher Isherwood and Swami Prabhavananda (of the Ramakrishna Order, now the Vedanta Society) discuss the operation of the unawakened mind of modern man, noting:
"The truth is that we are all inclined to flatter ourselves - despite our daily experience to the contrary - that we spend our time thinking logical, consecutive thoughts. In fact, if at any given moment, we could take twenty human minds and inspect their workings, we should probably find one, or at most two which were functioning rationally. Most of us do no such thing. Consecutive thought about any one problem occupies a small portion of our waking hours. More usually, we are in a state of reverie - a mental fog of disconnected sense impressions, irrelevant memories, nonsensical scraps of sentences from books and newspapers, little darting fears and resentments, physical sensations of discomfort or ease. The remaining eighteen or nineteen minds would look something like this: "Ink-bottle. That time I saw Roosevelt. In love with the night mysterious. Reds veto Pact. Jimmy's trying to get my job. Mary says I'm fat. Big toe hurts. Soup good. . . ." etc., etc. Because we do nothing to control this reverie, it is largely conditioned by external circumstances."
This was written in 1953, long before the true beginning of the Information Age, with its multiple demands - human and electronic - for our attention playing through our psyches, turning the gentler "reverie" that Isherwood and Prabhavananda describe into a mental landscape of, "Lions, lions . . . everywhere, and never a moment of peace."

There seem to be two conclusions, and one synthesis of conclusions, that one can draw from this. Either the human mindscape (and thus the "reality" we create for ourselves) is getting much worse; or, because of an increasing (and, not uncoincidentally, interconnected)  awareness of the inner mental disharmony our global culture creates, things are getting much better.

The synthesis, paradoxically, is that things appear to be getting both much better and much worse simultaneously. And, as Eckhart Tolle observes in an audio interview (below) which he gave on the afternoon of 9/11/2001, "Even the Sun Will Die," things have to get worse in order for them to get better.



Tolle and other spiritual teaches, both now and in ages past, all say that there is a tipping point, a 'critical mass' of consciousness, so to speak. Hopefully, as they predict, we are nearing a point where the collective consciousness of individuals who are "awake" and not in a state of "reverie" will trigger a global awakening. Certainly, with the interconnectedness that virtually all of humankind now has at least some access to, when (not if) this occurs, it will be very rapid and, one suspects, astonishing spiritual awakening.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Werner Heisenberg on "The Spirit of Modern Physics"

See also: "Einstein on Spirituality and Religion."
In his Introduction to Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Werner Heisenberg's "Physics and Philosophy: The Revolution in Modern Science, David Lindley observes that, "despite its thorough familiarity, most physicists, if pressed, will admit to finding something strange, something mysterious, something not quite graspable about quantum mechanics."

Just how an "observer" and an "observation" somehow trigger a quantum 'event' and so form the basic substrate of our physical 'reality' appears to be intrically connected with matters of consciousness and perception, making leading edge science not only stranger than we believe, but perhaps even stranger than we can believe - a point made by Richard Dawkins, one of today's leading voices of 'evangelical atheism.' As renowned physicist Richard Feynman wryly observed, "Anyone who thinks they understand quantum mechanics, does not understand quantum mechanics."

Werner Heisenberg was one of the 'fathers' of quantum theory. He first developed and postulated the "Uncertainty Principle" that often bears his name and that demonstrates one can only know either the position or the frequency of a particle at any one time with precision, but not both - a notion that is completely antithetical to classic Newtonian mechanics.

Heisenberg frames the fundamental 'strangeness' and 'unfathomability' of the most basic operations of physics and, thus, our 'reality' in 'spiritual,' almost 'mystical' terms. In 1958, writing in the dark shadow of the development of the hydrogen bomb, Heisenberg recounts how quantum theory was first developed and elaborated, observing that:
". . . (E)very tool carries with it the spirit by which it has been created. Since every nation and every political group has to be interested in the new weapons, irrespective of the location and the cultural traditions of the group, the spirit of modern physics will penetrate into the minds of many people and will connect itself in different ways with the older traditions. What will be the outcome of this impact of a special branch of modern science on different powerful old traditions? In those parts of the world in which modern science has been developed the primary interest has been directed for a long time toward practical activity, industry and engineering combined with a rational analysis of the outer and inner conditions for such activity. Such people will find it rather easy to cope with the new ideas since they have had time for a slow and gradual adjustment to the modern scientific methods of thinking. In other parts of the world these ideas would be confronted with the religious and philosophic foundations of the native culture. Since it is true that the results of modern physics do touch such fundamental concepts as reality, space and time, the confrontation may lead to entirely new developments that cannot yet be foreseen. One characteristic feature of this meeting between modern science and the older methods of thinking will be its complete internationality. In this exchange of thoughts one side will be the same everywhere and therefore the results of this exchange will be spread over all areas in which the discussion takes place.
Werner Heisenberg (1901-1976)
Of course, with the advent of the Information Age, and a potential for the sharing of information, ideas and insights which Heisenberg could only possibly dream of, this exchange of thoughts between West and East is the norm, rather than the rare exception to the old adage, "East is East, and West is West, but never the 'twains shall meet."

One cannot help but think that it is this "exchange" between a Western scientific vision that can be 'explained but not really known,' with a millenia-old tradition of Eastern wisdom teachings which can be 'known but not really explained,' that is driving a seemingly global thirst for spirituality insights and wisdom teachings both old and new, both Eastern and Western.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Spiritual Experience versus Religious Belief

"Spiritual . . . But Not Religious" on tumblr
When I say that I am "spiritual but not religious," it is not to say that I have conflict with any outwardly religious tradition or particular teachings, nor do I point (as many do) to the 'religious' wars that seem to be a sustained motif of violent conflict through out all ages - yet, I suspect, if peoples did not fight over religion, war would just be 'justified' in different terms. Rather, it is simply that I am intensely interested in the "inner" spiritual (or religious) "experience," but not in the "outer" content and forms of religions, except to the extent they are used to produce higher spiritual experiences and/or higher states of consciousness.

In a recent issue of Psychology Today, writer Massimo Pigliucci asks "what, exactly, does it mean to be "spiritual but not religious," or for that matter, just plain "spiritual?" Unfortunately, of the three possible alternatives Pigliucci examines, none of them differentiate between 'inner' religious or spiritual experience and 'outer' religious observance, ritual or identification.

Pigliucci postulates that the descriptor "spiritual but not religious'" popularly utilized in any number of research studies, opinion polls and social media sites could mean either: (a) that the person so described believes in "spirits' a rather pinched and narrow view, even Pigliucci suspects (b) one who devotes part of her time and energy to cultivate her "spirit," as opposed to just being concerned with "material" things, or, finally (c) someone who takes care of cultivating and reflecting on his ethics, of behaving justly and compassionately toward his fellow human beings, and of nurturing his aesthetic sense through arts and letters.

I feel that none of these give a whole picture or descriptios of what it means to be "spiritual but not religious." I flatter myself that I am a very 'spiritual', and rather narrowly limited 'religious person.' I seek an inner religious/spiritual experience that will improve my ability to realize higher states of consciousnsess and awareness. Pigliucci's first possibility, even he rejects; while his third category, cultivating ethics and acting compassionately - which may, perhaps, be a byproduct of spiritual or religious practice - can be equally descriptive of the true religionist, agnostic or atheist alike.

For more on 'Higher Consciousness'
check out: ". . . tran.ZEN.dance. . ."
I am "spiritual but not religious" because one's adherence to 'outer religions,' while they provide much good to virtually all of their adherents (saving, perhaps, those who become ravingly "fundamentalist" in their beliefs and actions), does not necessarily indicate one is seeking an 'inner' religious or spiritual experience. If I found that adherence to one particular faith, denomination or creed would provide me with a shortcut to the attainment of the highest 'inner religious' or 'spiritual experience' I would likely join it. Yet, I have seen no evidence that this is the case for anyone. Rather, all wisdom traditions and religions throughout the world and throughout all times seem to have triggered such inner awakenings in at least some of their adherents.

Not surprisingly, as on the big questions of consciousness the perspective of Psychology Today temds to fall into the paradgmatic materialist/empiricist camp, giving little credence to intuitive and subjective studies, a more balanced viewpoint may be found in a Beliefnet.com excerpt of Robert Fuller's new work, "Spiritual but Not Religious."

"The increasing prestige of the mind sciences, the insights of modern biblical scholarship, and greater awareness of cultural relativism," Fuller writes, have "all made it more difficult for educated Americans to sustain unqualified loyalty to religious institutions." Fuller's thesis is that many Americans (and by extension most Westerners), have begun "to associate genuine faith with the 'private' realm of personal experience rather than with the 'public' realm of institutions, creeds, and rituals." As this trend grew, he notes, even "(t)he word spiritual gradually came to be associated with a private realm of thought and experience while the word religious came to be connected with the public realm of membership in religious institutions, participation in formal rituals, and adherence to official denominational doctrines."
William James (1842-1910)

Sadly, 'outer' religious rituals and forms need not be antithetical to deep 'inner' religious or spiritual experience, a point made by William James in "The Varieties of Religious Experience." 'Inner' and 'outer' religious experience are not antithetical to one another, it is just that the latter is not prdictive other, and one suspects that the correlation is very, very low. at least in traditional Western religious movements. One suspects there may be a higher correlation in the Eastern wisdom traditions, which would partially explain their rising popularity amongst Westerners apt to describe themselves as "Spiritual but not religious."

Yet, as Fuller eloquently concludes in his excerpted article, 'inner' spiritual (and dare I say, 'inner religious') experience is a nearly universal, if almost wholly unrecognized, phenomena. He rightly observes that "(w)e encounter spiritual issues every time we wonder where the universe comes from, why we are here, or what happens when we die. We also become spiritual when we become moved by values such as beauty, love, or creativity that seem to reveal a meaning or power beyond our visible world."

Fuller notes that "(a)n idea or practice is "spiritual" when it reveals our personal desire to establish a felt-relationship with the deepest meanings or powers governing life." He or she who pursues that desire with single minded devotion and great effort is likely to experience that "felt-relationship,"which the religious and wisdom traditions of all ages and all countries identify with a higher consciousness which is the essential trait of higher religious or spiritual experience. And it really does not matter what you call it; the point is that you experience it.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Albert Einstein: Spiritual, But Not Religious?

Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
I have long suspected that arguably the greatest scientist of all time, Albert Einstein, may have been just like many people today: "spiritual but not religious." A friend of mine recently forwarded me an archived article from Time magazine that seems to confirm this view.

Eintein's disapproving objection to the indeterminism of quantum mechanics - the "other theory," which along with Einstein's "theory of relativity," shattered  all notions of 'classical physics' and forever changed our understanding of the universe - may be the most famous of his many memorable sayings: "God does not play dice with the universe!"

By his own admission, Einstein was not an atheist. (Indeed, I've heard it said that all physicists are probably closet mystics, drawn to metaphysical speculation as a moth is drawn to the candle's flame, about which I will have more to say, below.) In Time's excerpted article from "Einstein," by Walter Isaacson, (Simon & Schuster: 2007) Isaacson writes:
"(T)hroughout his life, Einstein was consistent in rejecting the charge that he was an atheist. "There are people who say there is no God," he told a friend. "But what makes me really angry is that they quote me for support of such views." And unlike Sigmund Freud or Bertrand Russell or George Bernard Shaw, Einstein never felt the urge to denigrate those who believed in God; instead, he tended to denigrate atheists. "What separates me from most so-called atheists is a feeling of utter humility toward the unattainable secrets of the harmony of the cosmos," he explained.
In fact, Einstein tended to be more critical of debunkers, who seemed to lack humility or a sense of awe, than of the faithful. "The fanatical atheists," he wrote in a letter, "are like slaves who are still feeling the weight of their chains which they have thrown off after hard struggle. They are creatures who--in their grudge against traditional religion as the 'opium of the masses'-- cannot hear the music of the spheres."
"The music of the sphere's." Do any of the spiritual masters, past or present, express either the spiritual nature of the universe, or what may be God, any more poetically? . . . as poetically, perhaps; but, more poetically? Certainly, not.

'Finger of God' Nebula: NASA
In fact, Einstein insisted that an 'inner religious' or 'spiritual' curiosity is necessary for the true scientist, and all scientific inquiry. "Science can be created only by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration toward truth and understanding," he once remarked. "This source of feeling, however, springs from the sphere of religion." Isaacson notes that these remarks on the religious well-springs of scientifc curiosity garnered "front-page news coverage," and prompted another of Einstein's most famous, pithy sayings: "(S)cience without religion is lame, religion without science is blind."

But what were the sources of Einstein's "inner-religiousity" or "spirituality?" Isaacson notes that his parents were almost militantly, non-observant Jews, and that he received a Catholic early education. Nonetheless, he seems to have practiced his own form of Orthodox Judaism until at age twelve he abandoned all outward religious affectations.

I suspect that like many of the leading scientists of the early twentieth century (Wolfgang Pauli, Werner Heisenberg and Robert Oppenheimer, spring to mind), Einstein may have been influenced, more than is readily discernible, by the then-recently transplanted Eastern wisdom teachings such as Bhuddism and the Advaita Vedanta. As Isaacson again notes, based on Einstein's own thoughts and words, Einstein was a profoundly "religious man." Like Heisenberg, who outlined the "uncertainty principle" in quantum theory that Einstein would spend a career unsuccessfully trying to refute, Einstein also penned a credo entitled, "What I Believe." In it, he notes:

"The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead, a snuffed-out candle. To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is something that our minds cannot grasp, whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly: this is religiousness. In this sense, and in this sense only, I am a devoutly religious man."
A "snuffed-out candle" is the root of the Pali word that the Buddha used to describe enlightenment: nirvana. A candle is also used extensively in Sufi imagery as a metaphor for the Divine. ("Judge the moth by it's candle," Rumi wrote.) And, of course, in the 'Sermon on the Mount,' Jesus urged people not to hide the "light" of their candle under a "bushel" basket, so as to deprive one's neighbour of candlelight in the large, communal houses many lived in at the time.

This is purely speculative, of course. But a man of Einstein's unslakeable curiosity and deeply held spiritual (rather than outerwardly religious) inclinations would surely have looked into the beliefs held by so many others, if not just the beliefs held by Heisenberg and Einstein's close colleague, the Nobel-laureate physicist, Pauli.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Why Intellect Alone Cannot Attain Higher Consciousness

David R. Hawkins, M.D., Ph.D.
One of the most unheralded and "under-the-radar" enlightenment teachers is David R. Hawkins. Hawkins experienced what by any measures was an authentic enlightenment experience as a young man, as recounted in his first book, "Power vs. Force: An Anatomy of Consciousness." Moreover, as a medical doctor who enjoyed a long and successful career as a psychoanalyst while staying mum about his spiritual awakening, Hawkins brings a critical and scientific perspective to bear on the discussion of higher states of consciousness and spirituality.

The author of a four general, yet in-depth, books about the nature of higher states of consciousness and "enlightenment," together with several more scientific treatises on the same subject matter (including,  "Ortheomolecular Psychiatry," authored with multiple Nobel-laureate chemist and peace activist, Linus Pauling), Hawkins explains the long silence on his own enlightenment in the following manner:
"In this case, nothing was said about it for more than thirty years during which time there progressively arose the capacity to dissimilate as normalcy and function in the world. There was no one to whom such a condition would be comprehensible. Only twice were there meetings with known sages who comprehended the condition. The first was Muktananda, and later, Ramesh Balkesar. There was another such meeting on the streets of New York City that was mutually anonymous but total and complete."
The path of enlightenment is, as has been said, a lonely path. "The harvest truly is plentiful, but the labourers are few." (Matt. 9:37)

Like Swami Muktananda, Ramesh Balkesar and the long-line of sages that preceded them (Vedantists and non-Vedantists, alike), Hawkins points to the inherent dualism and illusion of the small "self" or "ego" as the impediment to the attainment of our true nature, what he calls the "I" that underlies our supposed 'reality.' And, in order to shed the dualism of the ego and achieve a consciousness of God, he (like all other enlightened seers) stresses that it is imperative - and possible - to sever the ego's attachhments:
". . . (A)ttachments can be to either content or context, as well as to intended or hoped-for results. to undo a difficult positionality, it may be necessary to disassemble it and then surrender its elements. the payoff that is holding an attachment in place may be that it provides a feeling of security or pleasure; the pride of 'being right'; comfort or satisfaction; loyalty to some group, family, or tradition; avoidance of the fear of the unknown, etc.
 When belief systems are examined, they turn out to be based on presumptions that are prevalent in society, such as right versus wrong or good versus bad. For instance, "I have to have chocolate ice cream" (content) "and then I'll be happy" (context) is based on another positionality, that the source of happiness is outside oneself and has to be 'gotten' (in overall context). All these propositions indicate a series of dependencies (e.g., the Buddha's Law of Dependent Contingencies or Dependent Origination), and when they are surrendered, the source of happiness is found to be in the joy of existence itself, in this very moment and, beyond that in the source of one's existence - God.

Attachments are to illusions. They can be surrendered out of one's love for God, which inspires the willingness to let go of that which is comfortably familiar."

        ("I: Reality and Subjectivity," Veritas Publishing, West Sedona, AZ: 2003, pp. 352-353)
Hawkin's detailed analysis of the enlightened state, and the path to enlightenment, is not for the casual aspirant or dilettante - flouting the "presumptions that are prevalent in society" is not for the casual spiritual seeker, but rather for those who are, indeed, fully committed to their own liberation and to reaching the 'other shore' of the vast expanse of ordinary consciousness. Yet Hawkin's works are an insightful, reassuring, psychologically sound and invaluable trove of insights for the dedicated, modern aspirant on that oft-times lonely path.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Is It Good, or Bad?

"Nothing," Shakespeare observed, "is good or bad, but our thinking makes it so." This truism, from Act II, Scene II of "Hamlet" is one of Shakespeare's most famous lines. It is an original line, but the essence of its meaning is expressed over and over in stories that can be tracked back into the mists of time.

The ancient Ashtavakra Gita - "Gita" meaning "song" in Sanskrit - notes that, "If one thinks of oneself as free, one is free, and if one thinks of oneself as bound, one is bound. Here this saying is true, "Thinking makes it so."

In a very real way, it is our thinking and our perception (quantum scientists would say our conscious observation) that 'crystallizes' our world and our 'reality.' If we judge that reality to be "good," it is "good." If we judge it as "bad," it is "bad." This point is the essential teaching of a traditional Taoist parable:
An old farmer had worked his crops for many years with the help of his wife and his only son. His only possession of any worth was the horse he used to work the fields he rented. And then one day, One day his horse ran away.

The farmer's wife and son were distraught. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. "This is terrible," they said. "Such bad luck," they murmured sympathetically.
"Is it good, or is it bad?" the farmer asked. 

Several days later the farmer's horse returned, leading a whole herd of wild horses into the farmer's corral. The farmer's wife and son were ecstatic.
"How wonderful," the farmer's neighbors exclaimed. "you are the richest man in the village!"
"Is this good, or is it bad?" the farmer mused. "We'll see."

The neighbors went away perplexed at the farmer's reaction to such good fortune.


The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The farmer's wife was unconsolable, sobbing and rubbing ashes over her head and face. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on the farmer's misfortune. "This is awful," they exclaimed. "Such a great misfortune."


"Is this good, or is this bad?" the farmer mused." "I just don't know," he said, resignedly. "We'll see."

The neighbors left the farmer, commenting amongst themselves at just how callous the farmer was regarding this grave injury to his only son.

The day after, military officials came to the village and drafted all the young men of the village to fight in a battle few would return from. Seeing that the son's leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out after all

"We'll see" said the farmer.
The farmer was, indeed, dispassionate in the truest sense of the word. He neither suffered from seeming bad news, nor rejoiced for the seeming good. He accepted without judgment life as it presented itself, free of attachment to the course of events.

In a similar story from the Zen Buddhist tradition, the same unattached dispassion is exemplified.
A beautiful girl in the village was pregnant. Her angry parents demanded to know who was the father. At first resistant to confess, the anxious and embarrassed girl finally pointed to Hakuin, the Zen master whom everyone previously revered for living such a pure life.

When the outraged parents confronted Hakuin with their daughter's accusation, he simply replied "Is that so?"

When the child was born, the parents brought it to the Hakuin, who now was viewed as a pariah by the whole village. They demanded that he take care of the child since it was his responsibility.

"Is that so?" Hakuin said calmly as he accepted the child.


For many months he took very good care of the child, until the daughter could no longer withstand the lie she had told. She confessed that the real father was a young man in the village whom she had tried to protect.

The parents immediately went to Hakuin to see if he would return the baby. With profuse apologies they explained what had happened.

"Is that so?" Hakuin said as he handed them the child.

The point is nothing is 'good' or 'bad,' per se. It is our self-centered judgment that imbues everything with its seeming 'goodness' or 'badness.' In doing so, we create our own suffering. "Judge not, lest ye be judged," Jesus cautioned us. He did not mention that we are, the judge, jury and executioner, when we do so.
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