Archives for category: Quotes

“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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The following two pieces are from a treatise by Catherine of Genoa a Christian mystic from the late 15th century. I added some of my own commentary in between.

“Chapter VIII: Of the Necessity of Purgatory and How terrible it is.

When I look at God, I see no gate to Paradise, and yet because God is all mercy he who wills enters there. God stands before us with open arms to receive us into His glory. But well I see the divine essence to be of such purity, greater far than can be imagined, that the soul in which there is even the least note of imperfection would rather cast itself into a thousand Hells than find itself thus stained in the presence of the Divine Majesty. Therefore the soul, understanding that Purgatory has been ordained to take away those stains, casts itself therein, and seems to itself to have found great mercy in that it can rid itself there of the impediment which is the stain of sin.”

The beginning of this paragraph is absolutely beautiful to me: there is no gate to Paradise; God welcomes all with open arms. Such a succinct image of divine love and acceptance! If only she had stopped there… but then it wouldn’t be much of a treatise on purgatory. The rest of the paragraph I understand as a clear description of human nature: comparing ourselves to an unattainable image of purity, we deem ourselves unworthy and choose to live in a purgatory of our own making so that we may one day be worthy. God is standing there, willing to take us in, just as we are, but we say “No! Not yet!”.

“No tongue can tell nor explain, no mind understand, the grievousness of Purgatory. But I, though I see that there is in Purgatory as much pain as in Hell, yet see the soul which has the least stain of imperfection accepting Purgatory, as I have said, as though it were a mercy, and holding its pains of no account as compared with the least stain which hinders a soul in its love. I seem to see that the pain which souls in Purgatory endure because of whatever in them displeases God, that is what they have willfully done against His so great goodness, is greater than any other pain they feel in Purgatory. And this is because, being in grace, they see the truth and the grievousness of the hindrance which stays them from drawing near to God.”

I think that in the second paragraph it’s possible that the author is projecting her own self-judgement onto God. She already said that God is willing to accept us just as we are, so where is this displeasure coming from if not from our own lack of acceptance? I would like to suggest that the only thing we need to purge ourselves from is this self-condemnation and the one thing we need to learn in this purgatory-on-earth is the ability to show ourselves the same acceptance and love that God is offering us at the gateless gate of heaven.

“The point which I would like to make first of all is this: Mysticism is a definite stage in the historical development of religion and makes its appearance under certain well-defined conditions. It is connected with, and inseparable from, a certain stage of the religious consciousness. It is also incompatible with certain other stages which leave no room for mysticism in the sense in which the term is commonly understood.

The first stage represents the world as being full of gods whom man encounters at every step and whose presence can be experienced without recourse to ecstatic meditation. In other words, there is no room for mysticism as long as the abyss between Man and God has not become a fact of the inner consciousness. That, however, is the case only while the childhood of mankind, its mythical epoch, lasts. …

The second period which knows no real mysticism is the creative epoch in which the emergence, the break-through of religion occurs.Religion’s supreme function is to destroy the dream-harmony of
Man, Universe and God, to isolate man from the other elements of the dream stage of his mythical and primitive consciousness. For in its classical form, religion signifies the creation of a vast abyss, conceived as absolute, between God, the infinite and transcendental Being, and Man, the finite creature. For this reason alone, the rise of institutional religion, which is also the classical stage in the history of religion, is more widely removed than any other period from mysticism and all it implies. Man becomes aware of a fundamental duality, of a vast gulf which can be crossed by’nothing but the voice; the voice of God, directing and law-giving in His revelation, and the voice of man in prayer. The great monotheistic religions live and unfold in the ever-present consciousness of this bipolarity, of the existence of an abyss which can never be bridged. To them the scene of religion is no longer Nature, but the moral and religious action of man and the community of men, whose interplay brings about history as, in a sense, the stage on which the drama of man’s relation to God unfolds.

And only now that religion has received, in history, its classical expression in a certain communal way of living and believing, only now do we witness the phenomenon called mysticism; its rise coin­cides with what may be called the romantic period of religion. Mysticism does not deny or overlook the abyss; on the contrary, it begins by realizing its existence, but from there it proceeds to a quest for the secret that will close it in, the hidden path that will span it. It strives to piece together the fragments broken by the religious cataclysm, to bring back the old unity which religion has destroyed, but on a new plane, where the world of mythology and that of revelation meet in the soul of man. Thus the soul becomes its scene and the sours path through the abysmal multiplicity of things to the experience of the Divine Reality, now conceived as the primordial unity of all things, becomes its main preoccupation. To a certain extent, therefore, mysticism signifies a revival of mythical thought, although the difference must not be overlooked between the unity which is there before there is duality, and the unity that has to be won back in a new upsurge of the religious consciousness.”

From Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, Gershom Scholem (1941).

From a Tricycle magazine interview in 2004:

Many teachers who were in that first generation of Western students feel that they do not embody the teachings to the same extent their Asian masters did. Can you say something about that? It’s one thing to teach the practice. It’s another thing to embody it deeply in our own lives. Our Asian teachers were the heirs of twenty-five hundred years of lived tradition and practice. We didn’t grow up with the dharma in our bones like they did. We bring a lot of personal history, self-doubt, self-judgment, and ambivalence to practice. We have to work through a lot on the way, unlearn a lot. Our Asian teachers encountered the dharma with a depth and a breadth that’s going to take us more than this first generation to catch up to.

Where does that leave us? I was talking with Joseph [Goldstein] the other day about Munindraji and about the real sense of loss we feel, for him as a person and as a teacher, and perhaps more importantly, as an inspiration for Western dharma. He got us started. He was the root teacher for a number of us, and it feels like a core piece in the mandala is missing now. We’re on our own. How are we going to manifest the dharma? It won’t be the same way he did, or Dipa Ma did. Munindra actually welcomed that difference. He had a kind of divine playfulness that refused to become codified or standardized. He and Dipa Ma never believed in a one-size-fits-all practice. They rarely taught retreats. They taught each student in an individualized way. They had a great trust in us, as well as in the dharma. They didn’t worry about it becoming corrupted or dumbed down.

As Buddhism becomes more and more integrated into Western culture and Western idioms, we’re moving away from the classical forms of the practice and its traditional goals, anyway. That’s both scary and exciting, a challenge and an opportunity.

Can you give me example of what you mean? Western teachers don’t talk as much about enlightenment now as they did thirty years ago when they first started teaching, nor do they emphasize it. True, there are risks in encouraging students to practice for enlightenment. Enlightenment can be objectified as a goal to be striven for and obtained. It can be embraced unconsciously as a narcissistic ideal. But at the same time, there’s a risk that we will lose the depth and potential transformative power of practice if we aspire to anything less than the end of suffering for ourselves and all beings. We’d be repeating what has happened again and again in Buddhist cultures: enlightenment gets deferred to a future birth because people stop believing they are capable of it now—“in this very life,” as Sayadaw U Pandita says.

If you ask most Buddhists in Southeast Asia, including monks, if they are practicing for enlightenment, most would look at you oddly. Or they’d say, “No, it’s not possible for me, at least not in this lifetime.” They don’t embrace enlightenment as a realistic aspiration for themselves. It’s Westerners who have gone to Asia and have taken up the aspiration for enlightenment in this lifetime and brought it back.

“…our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential formas of consciousness entirely different. We mau go through life without suspecting their existence; but apply the requisite stimulus, and at a touch they are there in all their completeness, definite type of mentality which probably somewhere have their field of application and adaptation. No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded. How to regard them is the question – for they are so discontinuous with ordinary consciousness. Yet they may determina atitudes though they cannot furnish formulas, and open a region though they fail to give a map. At any rate, they forbid a premature closing of our accounts with reality.”

— William James, The Varieties of Consciousness: Observations on Nitrous Oxide (c. 1880-1910?).

“A philosopher who is content merely to know about the ultimate Reality – theoretically and by hearsay – is compared by the Buddha to a herdsman of other men’s cows. Mohammed uses an even homelier barnyard metaphor. For him the philosopher who has not realized his metaphysics is just an ass bearing a load of books. Christian, Hindu and Taoist teachers wrote no less emphatically about the absurd pretensions of mere learning and analytical reasoning.
The Perennial Philosophy and its ethical corollaries constitute a Highest Common Factor, present in all the major religions of the world. To affirm tis truth has never been more imperatively necessary than at the present time.”

— Aldous Huxley, The Perennial Philosophy (c. 1944).

“Mind, not consciousness, is characterized by intentionality and, what’s more, there is, to use Franklin Merel-Wolff’s words, an authentic philosophy of consciousness without an object. It is this implicit distinction that was underlying the original stirrings of the transpersonal movement without humanistic psychology – a sense of the transintentional nature of Being, the underlying fabric, space, or ground from which all that is human plays.”

— Roanld S. Valle, The Emergence of Transpersonal Psychology in Existential-Phenomenological Perspectives in Psychology (1989).

“Among modern philosophers and writers, the existentialists in particular have identified and described the prison like and angst-producing aspects of worldly existence. … One senses that most of the existentialists never found a way to escape from the prison of existence: they only developed detailed and elaborate maps of its dimensions.”
— Ralph Metzner, The Unfolding Self

“To study the organization of experience, we establish and use a state of consciousness called mindfulness. Many books have been written on mindfulness; it is part of every transpersonal tradition we know about. It is a distinct state of consciousness, characterized by relaxed volition, a surrender to and acceptance of the happenings of the moment, a gentle, sustained focus of attention inward, a heightened sensitivity and the ability to observe and name the content of consciousness. It is self-reflective. It is doubtful that any other species, with the possible exception of whales, dolphins and the great apes, are even capable of it. Though we humans are capable, we don’t seem to be doing it all that much. When we do, we are able to gather information about ourselves with relative ease. In psychotherapy, nothing is more useful than mindfulness.”

— Ron Kurtz, Body Centered Psychotherapy: The Hakomi Method.

“At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will. This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us… It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely…I have no program for this seeing. It is only given. But the gate of heaven is everywhere.”

–Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

“A view that honors and appreciates the full range of human experience, then, must include three dimensions. First of all, there is samsara, the pre-human realm of conditioned existence, characterized by survival concerns and dualistic alienation. The dualism of the egoic mind sets up a strict divide between self and other, resulting in endless suffering and conflict. Then there is nirvana, trans-human liberation, characterized by a pure, open field of awareness that is not divided into subject and object. This awareness of nonduality is unconditioned, for it is not produced by any cause or condition. It does not arise and cease; it is always there, ready to reveal itself to the mind that knows how to tune into it. Nondual awareness is the doorway to liberation by revealing absolute truth: There is no separate self and no separate other, and thus dualistic alienation and conflict cease.

Thirdly, there is the human domain proper, which comes to full measure through bringing the complete openness of supra-personal awareness into personal responsiveness and vital engagement with the situations and people we encounter. On the human plane, our lives evolve and unfold through the relative play of duality — otherwise known as relationship. Indeed the central, defining feature of the human realm is relationship— the network of interactions with others that supports our life from the cradle to the grave.

Relationship only happens when there are two— who engage in a dance that continually moves back and forth between twoness and oneness. In this way, the human realm serves as a bridge linking samsara— the experience of separateness— and nirvana— non separateness. This is why being human is a living paradox, and also a field in which a vast range of feeling— from unbearable sorrow to unthinkable joy— is possible.

Because human existence is a bridge spanning two worlds— absolute and relative, freedom and limitation, indestructibility and vulnerability — it requires a capacity for double vision, where we recognize how opposite truths can both be true at the same time. In the light of absolute truth, the play of duality is illusory because self and other are not truly separate. Even though two waves appear to be separate and distinct, they are but transient pulses of one and the same ocean. This is transcendent truth. Yet from the relative perspective, each wave is distinct, with its own unique characteristics. This is immanent truth. It is the perspective of a surfer out on the waves who must attend and respond to the particular quality of each wave if he is to ride it skilfully and not endanger his life.”

From: Double Vision: Duality and Non-Duality in Human Experience, John Welwood (2003).

“So long as the self is unconscious, it corresponds to Freud’s superego and is a source of perpetual moral conflict. If, however, it is withdrawn from projection and is no longer identical with public opinion then one is truly one’s own yea and nay.”

— C. G. Jung, “Transformation Symbols in the Mass” c. 1942

It is now 70 years later and we’re still not there yet.