Archives for the month of: April, 2013

“Have the men of our time still a feeling of the meaning of sin? Do they, and do we, still realize that sin does not mean an immoral act, that “sin” should never be used in the plural, and that not our sins, but rather our sin is the great, all-pervading problem of our life? Do we still know that it is arrogant and erroneous to divide men by calling some “sinners” and others “righteous”? For by way of such a division, we can usually discover that we ourselves do not quite belong to the “sinners”, since we have avoided heavy sins, have made some progress in the control of this or that sin, and have been even humble enough not to call ourselves “righteous”. Are we still able to realize that this kind of thinking and feeling about sin is far removed from what the great religious tradition, both within and outside the Bible, has meant when it speaks of sin?

I should like to suggest another word to you, not as a substitute for the word “sin”, but as a useful clue in the interpretation of the word “sin”, “separation” . Separation is an aspect of the experience of everyone. Perhaps the word “sin” has the same root as the word “asunder”. In any case, sin is separation. To be in the state of sin is to be in the state of separation. And separation is threefold: there is separation among individual lives, separation of a man from himself, and separation of all men from the Ground of Being. This three-fold separation constitutes the state of everything that exists; it is a universal fact; it is the fate of every life. And it is our human fate in a very special sense. For we as men know that we are separated. We not only suffer with all other creatures because of the self-destructive consequences of our separation, but also know why we suffer. We know that we are estranged from something to which we really belong, and with which we should be united. We know that the fate of separation is not merely a natural event like a flash of sudden lightning, but that it is an experience in which we actively participate, in which our whole personality is involved, and that, as fate, it is also guilt. Separation which is fate and guilt constitutes the meaning of the word “sin”. It is this which is the state of our entire existence, from its very beginning to its very end. Such separation is prepared in the mother’s womb, and before that time, in every preceding generation. It is manifest in the special actions of our conscious life. It reaches beyond our graves into all the succeeding generations. It is our existence itself. Existence is separation! Before sin is an act, it is a state.

We can say the same things about grace. For sin and grace are bound to each other. We do not even have a knowledge of sin unless we have already experienced the unity of life, which is grace. And conversely, we could not grasp the meaning of grace without having experienced the separation of life, which is sin. Grace is just as difficult to describe as sin. For some people, grace is the willingness of a divine king and father to forgive over and again the foolishness and weakness of his subjects and children. We must reject such a concept of grace; for it is a merely childish destruction of a human dignity. For others, grace is a magic power in the dark places of the soul, but a power without any significance for practical life, a quickly vanishing and useless idea. For others, grace is the benevolence that we may find beside the cruelty and destructiveness in life. But then, it does not matter whether we say “life goes on”, or whether we say “there is grace in life”; if grace means no more than this, the word should, and will, disappear. For other people, grace indicates the gifts that one has received from nature or society, and the power to do good things with the help of those gifts. But grace is more than gifts. In grace something is overcome; grace occurs in spite of something; grace occurs in spite of separation and estrangement. Grace is the reunion of life with life, the reconciliation of the self with itself. Grace is the acceptance of that which is rejected. Grace transforms fate into a meaningful destiny; it changes guilt into confidence and courage. There is something triumphant in the word grace : in spite of the abounding of sin grace abounds much more.

And now let us look down into ourselves to discover there the struggle between separation and reunion, between sin and grace, in our relation to others, in our relation to ourselves, and in our relation to the Ground and aim of our being. If our souls respond to the description that I intend to give, words like “sin” and “separation”, “grace” and “reunion”, may have a new meaning for us. But the words themselves are not important. It is the response of the deepest levels of our being that is important. If such a response were to occur among us this moment, we could say that we have known grace.”

Quoted from: You Are Accepted.

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Buddhist Geeks recently posted a great interview with Buddhist teacher Reggie Ray. In the interview Reggie describes the two veils that separate us from our awakened nature. The first veil is the veil of emotional defilements (negative emotions like anger, desire, jealousy, etc.). The second veil is characterized by ignorance, that is, not recognizing the true nature of reality. Here’s what Reggie had to say concerning the second veil:

But there’s a much deeper level that is really really critical. And this level is generally not addressed in modern Buddhism. And this deeper level is what’s called, it’s the obscuration to being able to see, if we want to put it this way. And what it is is, it’s these patterns that we acquire probably before we learn to speak as babies. They are emotional predispositions. They are emotional assumptions about what reality is that are entirely unconscious. And you know some of us feel that life is basically just a lot of hard work. Some of us feel incredibly lonely.  Some of us feel fundamentally resentful and angry, but these are all unconscious attitudes. And we actually think that’s the way reality is. And that gets between us and actually what we’re looking for.

Reggie goes beyond any description of ignorance I’ve encountered in my studies of Buddhism. It sounds to me like he’s recognizing the psychological element of spiritual practice and the need to work with psychological blocks on the way to awakening. In Hakomi we call those “emotional assumptions” core beliefs. Core beliefs are the way we make meaning of our experience. They are unconscious beliefs or assumptions about the world and about ourselves. Often core beliefs can be limiting (example: I am not good enough, or the world is not a safe place) and Hakomi aims to make those conscious and to help people find new ways of being in the world, to be free from those limiting beliefs.

Reggie describes how he works with this material as a spiritual teacher:

… this is what we need to work on together. We need to take a look at your life. We need to work together. I need to look at you and see where you get stuck. We need to work on this. Simply handing people practices and giving them [inaudible], it’s just not good enough. It’s not going to do it. Trungpa Rinpoche said, and my experience really bears it out, the relationship between the teacher and student, there’s only one other relationship in life that that’s intimate, and that is the one with a beloved partner if you happen to have that kind of relationship. It’s the only other one that even comes close.

This sounds a lot like the relationship and the work one might do with a therapist: take a look at your life, see where you get stuck, etc. This part of the interview really helped cement my belief that spiritual practice and psychotherapy are not separate but, in fact, are intimately intertwined with each other.

Listen to both parts of the interview on Buddhist Geeks.

There appears to be a common thread going through all three of the mystical traditions we’ve looked at. This is, which goes through Kabbalah, Chrisitian mysticism and Sufism is love. Each tradition places a slightly different accent on it but all of them include love and the heart as important aspects of the mystic’s life, the mystic’s relationship with the Divine and the mystic’s relationship with humanity.

In Lurianic Kabbalah the Divine’s desire to share was the initial impetus that led to the act of creation. The interplay between the desire to give and the desire to receive is one of the strongest themes in Kabbalah and is the focus of the process of tikkun. We undergo the process of tikkun in order to transform our desire to receive for the sake of the self alone to a desire to receive for the sake of sharing. This is a process of letting go in which the heart learns to relax the self-constriction and open up to receive the divine light.

In Christian Mysticism we see on one side the mystic’s love for the Divine which manifests as an urgency and eagerness to unite with the Divine. This love is expressed by many mystics and sometimes takes on erotic overtones as exemplified in the work of Hadewijch of Antwer. On the other side, the love of the Divine for the soul is described as a powerful force that purges the soul from its imperfections. This entire love affair is probably best described by the mystic works based on the Song of Songs, in itself a mystical text that describes the love between the Divine and the people of Israel.

Finally, for the Sufis love and longing are central to the spiritual path. The creation itself, according to the Sufis, is an act of longing: “I was a hidden treasure and I longed to be known” (Hadith Qudsi). The end of the path is the ecstatic union of lover and beloved in the seeker’s heart. This relationship between lover and beloved is also echoed in the relationship between seeker and teacher as we can see in Rumi’s love for his teacher Shams Tabrizi. Since nothing is separate from the Divine, the sufi’s love and devotion to the Divine translate to love and service for all beings. This allows the sufi tradition to be open and inclusive of people of various faiths.

Obviously these different variations of love are each grounded in specific time and culture but what all of them share is the importance of the open heart. From the open heart shine forth love, generosity, kindness, compassion, joy and more but what does a heart need in order to continue being open? I think that the answer offered by the mystics is faith (or trust) in the heart’s capacity to love, to be loved and, eventually, to be love. At the end of the mystical path lies the union between lover and beloved. In this union the seeker discovers that the Divine’s love for the seeker is in fact the seeker’s own love for himself, for the Divine and for all of creation.

Reading Murshid Sam‘s Karuna Yoga Gita I was initially struck by the symmetry between this presentation of the Sufi meditation of the heart and the Sufi creation myth. In the Sufi creation myth, the Oneness projected itself outward, creating manifestation so that it might have something to love. This relationship proceeded through several inversions moving from God is lover and manifestation the beloved to manifestation is the lover and God is the beloved. Throughout it all, though, lover and beloved are, in essence, one.

The Karuna Yoga Gita, which is an instruction manual for Sufi heart meditation goes through several stages. Initially the ego seeks the heart, concentrates on the heart, rests in the heart. This is manifestation seeking God. Next, in the stage of contemplation the seeker is intstructed to identify with the heart and seek the ego; this is the inversion of roles, now God is seeking manifestation. This inversion is the path to not-self which begins with the heart’s selflessness. As the heart expands into love, seeker and sought come closer.

In the stage of union the seeker is instructed to rest in the expansion and contraction of the breath, noticing at the same time the flow from not-self to self and back. This is the rythme of nature – divine flows into manifestation and then back into the divine; neither is more true than the other, neither can be whole without the other just like the in-breath cannot be without an out-breath. In the same way the seeker recognizes that self cannot be without not-self, neither not-self without self. In the realization of this natural process “breath joins man to God,” returning to the original state of Oneness.

My own (limited) experience with this practice has been very interesting. Resting the attention on the heart, I allow the feeling of love to flow. Remaining with the feeling of love, sometimes stoking the fire of love with images of the beloved, the attention slowly becomes absorbed in the heart. I notice how with my “normal” attention there is tension, clinging, trying to acheive something yet when the the attention comes from the heart there is only spaciousness infused with love. Allowing the absorption to solidify and expand farther I turn my attention to the pinpoint of longing at the center of the heart. Resting my attention there lightly and willing/allowing that point to expand until it contains all. In this spacious place, I am being and being is loving. Including the flow of the breath I notice the flow from infinite being who is all to nothing. As the breath grows shorter the all and the nothing become closer as the breath lengthens they part. Two sides of one coin but where is the coin?