Saturday, March 29, 2014

Eternal versus Everlasting

A magazine I subscribe to has a children's page and a couple of sentences read like this:  "Imagine you found a river that flowed with waters of eternal life. Anything you put by the river would last forever." 

Like many who were raised Protestant, I learned the following Biblical passage as a child:  "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." (John 3:16)  That's the King James version.  In more modern translations, "everlasting" is replaced by "eternal."

Conflating "everlasting" and "eternal" can cause confusion.  "Everlasting" is within time -- it's just time stretched out as far as it will go.  But "eternal" is beyond time -- outside the boundaries of time.

When we are talking about life, this has important ramifications.  The phrase "everlasting life" indicates that we don't die.  And of course, this is a common understanding of what being "saved by Jesus" implies. You go to heaven and keep on living forever.  But "eternal" is something else.  "Eternal" is a whole other dimension of consciousness, not a "place" where things last forever but where there is no time.

And so my issue with these lines in the magazine I was reading was that it could cause children to misunderstand what spiritual awakening actually is -- to imagine that it means one is going to live forever when really the Biblical text points to something else.

And then, suddenly I remembered something I had realized:  This form doesn't die. How can that be?  More and more, as I sink into this possibility, which I realized without understanding, I get the sense that the forms that we usually think of as ourselves aren't really us, that the real "me" is what creates the forms and that actually doesn't die. And so, if this is so, any dichotomy between "eternal" and "everlasting" perhaps also doesn't exist at all! 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Different Kinds of Love?

I've heard it said that there are different kinds of love:  romantic love, love of family members, love of friends, and love of all of humanity.  But is there, at bottom, a difference between these types of love?

It is true that they feel different. And people who are "spiritual" especially like to differentiate the last kind from the other, seemingly more limiting, types.  All-encompassing love, Buddha's love -- that is what we all want to experience, is it not?

But in my experience, the only difference between the more limited kinds of love and all-encompassing love (which includes love of self), is that the object drops away.  It's the same energy of life, but we don't need to focus on someone or something anymore:  we don't need anything outside ourselves to feel whole but rather we realize that we are ourselves the embodiment of love, that we are created as love, and that everything else is as well.  Love isn't so much something that we do as something that we realize we are and always have been.  And since everyone and everything else is also experienced that way, we can't help loving all else as we love ourselves.

Elizabeth Gilbert in EAT, PRAY, LOVE describes hugging trees in India when she had her awakening.  I had exactly the same experience:  anything and everything was embraced by my passion, but for some reason trees were especially lovable!  Maybe awakening makes tree-huggers out of us all!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Elizabeth Gilbert's awakening: why did no one notice?

I'd heard a lot about EAT, PRAY, LOVE when I started to read it, but, since it was a best seller, I figured it couldn't be very deep and stayed away.  Am I a literary snob, or what?  Anyway, I was wrong. 

On pages 98-100 (paperback edition) Gilbert has an awakening. I couldn't help wondering why, in all I'd heard about this book, I never heard this. I mean, I haven't yet gone with her to Bali, where she finds true love, so I don't know what happens in the end, but an awakening seems pretty important -- certainly more important than romantic love. 

So I've been wondering why this seems to be the most under-reported awakening ever, despite the fact that the book itself is one of the most read books ever.  And what I've concluded is that if you haven't known what she describes, you don't know that it changes everything -- and I do mean everything.

A few years after my 1980 awakening, I wrote a paper about it and what led up to it.  Fortunately, I had my journal entry of that day for help. When I now read over what I wrote in 1986, I still think I captured it as well as a wordless non-event can be captured in language. But I noticed again and again that when I shared this paper with people who hadn't been awakened, they would read right over the critical part and think the story was about something else!  The first time this happened, I was dumbfounded, but now I'm used to it and even use the paper as a kind of test to see where people are spiritually.  (I gave it to my second teacher, Adyashanti, when I first met him, and he passed the test with flying colors!)

So what I'm saying here is that we all rely on our own experience to interpret what we read, and especially to find meaning.  Gilbert, basing her discussion on yogic philosophy, calls the awakened state (not really a state, but she refers to it that way) a "fourth level" of consciousness," beyond waking, dreaming, and dreamless sleep.  My first teacher called it a fifth dimension.  Either way, it's not only beyond the realm of our ordinary experience, but more, beyond the way we ordinarily experience life because, in that moment, subject and object are annihilated. And so, when we come back to talk about it, we are talking in metaphors, because language assumes subject-object relationships. Still, Gilbert does a good job of describing it -- better than I did -- and it's too bad more people didn't notice.

It's said that they took most of the enlightenment section out of the film so that they could show more of Julia Roberts at the beach.  Imagine my surprise.