Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Is Hasidism nondual?

Those like myself who don't have any contact with Hasidic Judaism have only a superficial idea of what it is. We may have seen movies which take place in that community, but the movies seem to emphasize the idiosyncratic aspects of the sect: the insular culture, the quaint dress, etc. We don't often get an in-depth view of the teachings.

So, I was rather surprised to read in THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS the following summary of the theology:

", , , God's essence dwells in the here and now, and the encounter with God consists of the conscious realization of his veiled immediate pressence. . . .[E]very  particular entity draws its vitality and existence from the essence of God that dwells at its core."
         --- from "The Dance Goes On,"May 24, 2018, p. 32,  by Moshe Halbertal, summarizing from HASIDISM: A NEW HISTORY, by David Biale, et all.

I expect some experts may define Hasidism differently and I also expect that some might say that nonduality comes from a certain Indian tradition and those who are not in that lineage can't be said to be nondual. It's all about labels, isn't it, though? I consider a line of thinking nondual if it leads to the understanding that nothing is separate, that that which animates all things is also their essence and not separate from them. The implication of that, of course, is also that no manifestation is ultimately separate from any other since all are of the same essence. 

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Rupert Spira: Notes on his teachings

I spent a day at a Rupert Spira event last weekend. He is not a teacher I would have been initially attracted to because, although I didn't know it then, I was looking for spiritual "experiences" -- more and more deeper, better, satisfying experiences. I don't think this is a bad thing -- it's just the way the separate self looks at the falling into emptiness that is our truest nature. But when that emptiness becomes known, it is really a lack of "experience" in the sense of "something happening to me since the "me" is absent. That said, a teacher who aims straight for that, who continually undercuts the ego, would have seemed abstract and inaccessible to me in the beginning.

But what I'm looking for now is more of an explanation of what is realized. That is, in many cases there haven't been, to me, ways of explaining what is known that make complete sense intellectually. Rupert has a very precise way of using language, and so as I listen to him, things fall into place.

What I thought I would do, then, is transcribe the notes I took at his day-long satsang and then, in future posts, talk about why these particular statements were important to me. I want to stress that these notes are not any kind of objective account of what transpired at the meeting, nor are they an objective account of Rupert's teachings in general. To get that, you should go to the source. What I'm offering here is just things he said that resonated for me. Perhaps some of them will resonate for the reader as well.

Here, then, are my notes. In future posts, I'll discuss the statements one at a time. (These statements are approximate -- sometimes he spoke too fast for me to get the words exactly, but when I couldn't, I tried to paraphrase accurately.)

1. Space pervades the body and that's why I feel the body is myself.

2. The name that Knowing gives itself is “I.”

3. Self (capital S) is prior to experience. Small “s” self is the mixture of Self and limited self (personality, qualities, etc). So we need to separate out “Self” from the rest to see it clearly. Then experience loses the capacity to veil or muddy our Being.

4. Ask yourself “On whose behalf am I feeling fear [or whatever the feeling]?

5. We fear our own annihilation but also long for it [and this is basis of fear].

6. The drama of life doesn't cease; it just loses its capacity to veil our True Nature.

7. Maya remains. Ignorance goes.

8. Awareness assumes the form of each of our minds for the sake of manifesting experience.

9. We are the activity of consciousness through which consciousness knows itself in the world.

10. I'm not experiencing 10,000 things; it's always just an indivisible whole.

11. Each of us is a localization of infinite consciousness.

12. Some minds are transparent to their source.

13. Responses to the world are informed by reference to Awareness. If not aware, Awareness is distorted and opaque and doesn't come out with clarity but is influenced by belief in separation.

14. The investigation of the body is not a prerequisite to knowing the Self.

15. After recognition of the true nature of Self is the time to wash the body clean of residue of belief in the separate self.

16. Soul is the deepest aspect of the separate self.

17. Love is the recognition of our shared Being (infinite consciousness).

18. The only thing the separate self really wants is to be divested of its sense of separation.

19. Grace is the movement back to the naturally expanded state. Individually, this is experienced as the desire for happiness.

20. Suffering is the price consciousness pays for manifestation.

21. If you know there is no otherness, this will express as qualities of Love, e.g., peace, justice, compassion.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Embodying the Christian message

I heard something so deeply meaningful on the radio this morning that I haven't yet fully digested it.  But I want to share it while it is still fresh and perhaps gain some insight by doing so.

The man being interviewed was Jean Vanier who founded an organization called L'Arche Communities. (You can find it here: https://onbeing.org/series/. I greatly recommend these podcasts.) In L'Arche Communities, which now are numerous and all over the world, mentally "disabled" and "normal" people live together without being labeled the way I just did. The whole point is love and  movement beyond the separation that is born of ideas about who is better or worse.

I'm not saying it the way Vanier did. This man is full of compassion -- it's in his every word and in his tone of voice. And what he said gave me just a glimpse of what has always puzzled me about Christianity: what is this dying on the cross thing about?

Weakness, vulnerability, and the willingness to suffer are what it's about, according to Vanier. It's the opportunity to let in another's suffering and know it as our own that allows us to become truly human.

I am reminded of something that happened to me long ago: I encountered a beggar on the street. Whereas I usually moved away in fear, this time I felt for some reason I wanted to give him money. I actually went to have coffee while I pondered this! I didn't want to give out of pity or out of an idea of what I "should" do. In the end, I decided that if I felt moved, I should give him something, just a small coin. Maybe I would find out why I wanted to do this in the doing of it.

When I dropped the quarter in his can, the man said "thank you." But it didn't feel like the "thank you" came from "over there" -- our of his mouth. It was as though the bottom fell out my mind, as though I'd fallen down an infinite well of consciousness where there wasn't any "here" and "there." Over the years, as I've experienced this in other contexts, I've come to understand it as the mind opening to the reality that we are not separate, except to the extent that our minds build a "thought barrier" to the "other." In that moment, it was as though the "thank you" came from me, but a much larger "me" than the one I usually knew myself as.

Still, even as I came the experience itself became less mysterious over the years, I always wondered why it happened specifically with this one person, a street person whom I didn't even know. I wrote to my spiritual teacher at the time about it. He responded, "YOU are a beggar." I recall not really liking that response very much. Now I'm wondering if he didn't see more deeply than I was able to follow.  It seems to have been a moment when I myself became the "poorest of the poor." I was not giving out of pity but because something in me -- not my ego or my rational mind but something deeper and purer -- responded with the universal love that comes out of the humanity we all share. This is what I heard in Jean Vanier this morning.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Taking the teacher's words lightly

Last night I went to hear my beloved teacher, Adyashanti, talk. I hadn't seen him in person for almost two years, and still, as always, I felt such a deep appreciation for his being, so much joy in his presence.

A couple things caught my attention. He talked about the "immensity."  I actually find the word "boundless" more accurate, both in my own experience, and in terms of definition. "Immensity" implies size while "boundless" acknowledges that what we are describing is beyond measurement. For me, it's more like falling into a bottomless well -- you just go down and down and there is no bottom.

Nonetheless, words are meant to evoke, not only to denote, and in that respect "immensity" probably does the better job than "boundless." The body can feel that largeness, and I, for one, was moved deeply into that space last night as he spoke of it, as it seemed the whole room was.

Adya also talked about his experience of enlightenment as of first moving out of the body into the immensity (I'm paraphrasing, I hope correctly), and then, it time, the awake energy needing to move back into the body, to become "embodied." This has been Adya's teaching since early on, and for many years I tried to match my experience with his description.

Now I see it a little differently: We already ARE that enlightened presence. It lives us, in fact, whether we are conscious of it or not. So it makes more sense to describe what happens as the awakened energy recognizing itself as (not "in" but "as") the body, as form, as well the formless. It has never been any other way: we've just failed to notice.

The point is not to take what is said by any teacher, or anyone else, too seriously or literally. It is all just a way of trying to describe the indescribable. And when the pointers work, it's wonderful.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

A new model for a nondual community

Things have been changing -- inside, I mean. For a couple of years I was part of a small group which went very deep. We spoke from the depth of Being and we gazed into each other's souls. I had always wanted this, came to wonder if it were possible, and then I found it. And now the group members have moved on, and I find that is all right. Whatever I needed from it, I got my fill, and I too feel ready for what comes next.

I no longer feel the need to seek out people with whom I can have a "deep" experience -- no longer believe that I can only have satisfying spiritual connections in this way. I am open to whomever shows up. A meeting that is not "deep" today may be deep with the same person tomorrow. Each encounter is unique.

So, I'm thinking about a nondual spiritual community in which people of all degrees of experience in nonduality can come together.  At the same time, I haven't found a community I'm completely comfortable with. I've always been reluctant to be part of an organization where there is a "teacher" on the one hand, and "students" on the other; or, in the more traditional parlance, a "guru" on the one hand, and "disciples" on the other. I've also felt something was wrong about asking for money for the Teachings.

But I haven't been able to articulate very well why these things bother me -- until now:

Everyone is ALREADY the complete embodiment of Truth, although they may not be conscious of it yet. And how does one become conscious of it? Of course, it's different for different people, and often it's some combination of meditation, a teacher, reading, retreats, etc. But all of this amounts to SEEKING that which one already is, however much one may ignore that fact. And having a teacher sitting in front of the room, whom one has paid to teach what one already knows, reinforces the idea that some know Truth and others need to learn it. This can become a habit. And each time there is a realization, the mind goes, "Oh, see, this is working. I'm getting more and more enlightened!" And so each success reinforces the methods one is using and the search.

I'm not saying there is no place for this, nor for the projection onto the teacher than usually accompanies this search. But I think it usually continues too long. And the reason for that is that the "seekers" have no other way to experience their deeper being than the methods of seeking they are  familiar with.

But what if there were another way? What if people who are waking up could have a chance to speak from that which is awake in them -- not as teachers, but as fellow travelers on the journey? What if we could all be students and teachers to each other -- even while recognizing that some may be farther along on the path than others? What if, that is, we could exercise the "awakeness muscle" well and often? We could then know through experience, and not just as an idea, that we embody that which we have been seeking.

The model for this community is explained on a separate page oo this blog. See above.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Where does the idea that we have to eliminate ego come from?

Recently, I read an in-depth interview with the Zen teacher, Norman Fischer, in an old issue of THE SUN (August 2018). Most of what he said felt deeply wise to me. But what caught my eye was the title of the article: "Our Grand Delusion: Norman Fischer on the Tyranny of the Self." 

I realize that, in the case of most publications, the person who writes the article doesn't necessarily write the headline, and that is probably the case here, because the title didn't seem to represent the content very well. This disparity, however, only helps makes my point: for those involved in Eastern spirituality, the "ego" or "self" is seen as the bad guy. Norman Fischer may not see it that way, but whoever wrote the title assumed it to be true.

Recently I came across an on-line article that discusses this issue in depth:
tenayaasan.com/myths-pitfalls-egoless-nature-reflections-19-years-spiritual-master/  (May 14, 2017).
As the title implies, the author discusses the problems with trying to get rid of the ego. Can we ever really do this? Or is it more realistic, and likely to produce a better outcome, to face the ego and all that it contains -- all that we think of as the "me"? 
Clearly, the author thinks the latter approach is better, and I agree.  But I do wonder about the author's idea -- a generally held one -- that we are taught that ego is bad. I'm not sure it's that simple. Surely, there is an element of that not only in Eastern spirituality but also in the teachings of Western religion and culture: "Remember: be good and share with your sister."  But  I wonder if there is not already an innate conflict that grows out of being born human. Maybe there is an innate knowledge, or at least suspicion, that we are not really separate, that separation is an illusion. The ego comes to represent that illusion because it is seen as the emblem of the separate self.
Indeed, the job of the ego is to protect the separate self. But the resolution to the dilemma is not to get rid of ego (if that is even possible) but to realize that the self is not really separate. The ego can go ahead and do its job on one level, but on the deeper, truer level, there is no separate self. 


Sunday, December 23, 2018

Lessons of THE HOURS

Adapting a beautifully evocative, deep, and wise novel to film isn't easy. Those who succeed usually figure out somehow to stay true to the original concept while at the same time using the visual possibilities of cinema to advantage and telescoping scenes, bringing out their essence while respecting a film viewer's attention span. It isn't easy.

Last night I saw THE HOURS for the second time. The first time I saw it, when it came out in the early 2000s, I felt something deeply but wasn't sure what it was. This time, it was clearer.

Perhaps on first viewing the meaning eluded me because I was stuck in my own ideas about what Ultimate Truth is: that there would be a realization that we are outside of time, of "The Hours." But here were the creators of this film – the screenwriter and director along with Michael Cunningham, the book's author, trying to say something new to me. This time, I listened:

Everyone has a life's trajectory – and we experience life to the fullest when we let go and live it, whatever it may be. It may be we are destined to live a "happy" life. Or it may be we are destined to die young, or to abandon our children. We are not in control. And when we come to know that, we are free. We also come to know compassion, both for ourselves and others, because we understand that it's not a matter of choice.

It happened that I saw another film the night before that tangentially speaks to the same truth: CRAZY WISDOM, a biography of Chogyam Trungpa, the Tibetan Buddhist teacher who died early from complications of alcoholism. He and Suzuki Roshi, of the SF Zen Center, were friends, and, in a biography of Suzuki I once read, the Roshi reportedly said that he was concerned that Trungpa, who was decades younger, would predecease him, cutting short all the work he was doing to establish Buddhism in American. Trungpa was said to reply that alcohol abuse was his karma and he wasn't going to interfere with it.

I'm sure lots of people who have overcome alcoholism and other kinds of addiction would disagree, but Trungpa's way of living, without resistance to whatever was happening to him in the present, gave him a power that most of us lack. He didn't waste energy asking the question, “How shall I live?” He just lived, without concern for consequences.

Of course, some will say that Trungpa was foolish, and that he hurt people by his actions. Others might say that an enlightened being might live like that, but ordinary people would cause chaos if they tried. But a third possibility is that we are not, in any case, in control of our destiny; we only think we are. We create a narrative that gives our ego the comfort of an illusory unified self when really it is all just happening; then, when life goes in a direction our narrative doesn't call for, we suffer.

In any case, this viewing of the film of THE HOURS was transformative for me. Being one with the life I am living, not needing it to be something I imagine to be more complete – that is the secret of happiness.