Perhaps we were Life

Perhaps we were fish
adrift in the sea

Perhaps we were tadpoles
when life was yet free

Perhaps we were geckos
no places to be

And perhaps we were sauropods
with brains like a pea

Perhaps we were mammoths
with long woolly coats

Perhaps we were sabers
who cut many throats

Perhaps we were wolves
with puppies to dote

And perhaps we were lemurs
with soft tails like rope

Up through the eons
our paths may have crossed

And there are none who can tell the memories we may have lost

Yet apart from all that
we live life anew

Perhaps we were fish
but now
I’m here, with You

Univocal Reality

It becomes increasingly clear to me that complete repose of the faculties is needed to experience the truth: reality as it is, and not as we define it. In the moment we begin to define reality according to categories of human knowledge, we (at best) reduce the truth of our experience to a crude, blunt form, or (at worst) malign it into a complete fantasy of the intellect. Let us say, for example, that you experience a tree through the medium of your faculties. You may regard the tree according to a mythological interpretation or an impression of childhood; but even if you regard the tree according to precise taxonomy, your mental conception remains arbitrary and subjective. Again, even if you think to yourself “the tree is composed of atoms”, you can do nothing more than muse remotely about what an atom actually is. And yet we know by reason that atoms and trees exist independent of the various ways in which people conceive of them. Therefore, it must be worthwhile to ask a single, odd question: Can reality be known in a vital, authentic, objective sense, without the medium of thought? Let us pursue.

The active, human mind is weighted under the unfortunate compulsion to rationalize. This compulsion serves us well in many respects, but it truncates our vision with regard to the truth. It is far easier to conform the nature of reality to one’s notions (whether they be “scientific” or not) than to let it speak for itself in its unfathomable subtlety. The intellect would become frantic if it could not reduce the objects of its perception into conceptual forms; by doing so, it has ensured the survival of our species. But to experience the truth of reality, rather than the “idea” we conceive it to be, the intellect must be entirely recollected: made unable to replace pure experience with a mere definition. To this end, the imagination must be recollected as well, for it too must needs regard reality according to the finite knowledge of the mind in which it resides. The pure experience, achieved by those few with perseverance enough to learn the willful recollection of their faculties, has been described as “mystical”; but this term has accrued an unjust stigma.

In the west, mysticism is regarded with amusement at best, and oftentimes, wicked contempt. It is deemed “unscientific”. Nothing could be further from the truth. Precise in nature are the ascetic techniques by which mystics learn to recollect their faculties, and the results of recollection are replicable in all who undertake the disciplines with determination. To quote Dr. Michael N. Nagler, Professor Emeritus at University of California, Berkeley: “there is a path to this truth, and it has been taken by saints and sages who went before us. We do not invent it, or go it alone.” Though it is rational in practice, devotees undertake the contemplative path, at the outset, because of their belief in a vital, objective experience of reality. Without such faith, they could never persevere and attain the pure, vital experience, untainted by the biases and truncation of a conditioned perspective. Their faith is negative and positive at the same time: negative because they do not presume (before attainment) to comprehend the nature of the vital experience. Positive, because they believe in its existence. This is why contemplation has been described as a way of “unknowing”. The mystic must not substitute his own conception in place of the experience itself; and this is precisely why he must learn to recollect his faculties (namely the intellect and imagination). They mustn’t, as it were, “get in the way.” Without rational reduction or imaginative fantasy, the mystic is able to perceive reality “as it is”; and thanks to the profound agreement had between spiritual masters, we know this perception to be objective in nature. They all agree, the truth of reality cannot be comprehended by the intellect, cannot be delineated by categories of human knowledge. And yet, its nature is univocal from one man of realization to the next.

To Gautama Buddha, the true nature of reality was known as “Dharma”, the “law of life” (See The Dhammapada, vs. 38). He stated: “The disciples of Gautama are wide awake and vigilant, absorbed in the Dharma day and night…”(The Dhammapada, vs. 297). Gautama did not consider himself unique. Any man or woman who has become “absorbed in the Dharma” is a Buddha his/herself. Of the Buddha’s unseen nature, Gautama had this to say: “How can you describe him in human language- the Buddha, the awakened one, free from the net of desires and the pollution of passions, free from all conditioning…” (The Dhammapada, vs. 180). Consonantly, to St. Paul the apostle, the preeminence of reality was known as “Christ”, in whom “all things hold together” (See Colossians 1:17). And just as, by virtue of the Dharma, Gautama did not consider himself unique, neither, by virtue of Christ, did Paul consider himself to be so: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me…” (See Galatians 2:20). In the absence of an identity defined by human notions and concepts, St. Paul was aware only of this reality he called “Christ”. By virtue of realization, St. Paul had “become” Christ, and Gautama had “become” a Buddha. On the nature of Christ, Paul addressed the burgeoning Ecclesia as follows: “may you have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge…” (See Ephesians 3:18-19). The love of Christ “surpasses knowledge”, and yet we have within us the “strength to comprehend”. The Buddha’s nature “cannot be described in human language”, and yet it is possible to be “absorbed in the Dharma day and night”. Encouraging as they are, we have yet to demonstrate in what way these consonant realizations are correlated to the “unknowing” process of mystical contemplation. Thankfully, the threads are not difficult to weave together. 

A Buddha becomes “free from conditioning” when the fires of Dharma incinerate his biases and finite notions; yet to behold Dharma in the first place, the aspiring Buddha must recollect the faculties that give rise to such obstructions. He must “unknow” all that his intellect has persuaded him to cling to: personal identity, opinions, doctrines, likes and dislikes. Such is essential to recollection. Thanks to Galatians 2:20, it becomes clear that St. Paul had achieved this very caliber of Buddhahood, for he surrendered to Christ the most treasured possession of human ego: personal identity. Furthermore, the apostle considered himself to be free (by virtue of Christ within him) from the truncation of all human doctrines: “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some…” (1 Corinthians 9:19-22). Lastly, it will be worthwhile to consolidate my position by demonstrating that St. Paul had learned to “unknow” the duality of “likes and dislikes”: “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need…” (See Philippians 4:11-12). To attain such a state is, of course, the command of the Buddha: “Don’t get selfishly attached to anything, for trying to hold on to it will bring you pain. When you have neither like nor dislikes, you will be free…” (The Dhammapada, vs. 211). 

For the seeker who studies earnestly, it becomes increasingly evident that these two masters had the same methods, received within themselves the same results. Only one question remains to be answered: is Gautama’s preeminence of reality (vital experience) equivalent to that of St. Paul’s? Is Dharma equivalent to Christ? As we learn from St. Paul, the commodity of Christ is boundless love. It will therefore be proper to ask, can the same be said of those who are “absorbed in the Dharma”? Gautama’s answer is unequivocal: “day and night, the Buddha shines in radiance of love for all…” (See The Dhammapada, vs. 387).

My case has now been well founded, and founded on these principles: that true reality is both immanent and transcendent. Immanent, because it is ready for us to behold if only we will undertake to lift the veil, step from the cave to the light. Transcendent, because it cannot be attained to by the intellect or any other limited faculty. As the Mundaka Upanishad proclaims: “The Lord of Love is the source of love and may be known through love, but never through thought.” To prove reliable the claims here propounded, it has been shown that the greatest among men of realization, sundered by space and time, received a univocal bodhi of ultimate truth. That we may, in a word, impart the Spirit of Gautama and St. Paul, it will be fitting to again quote Vedanta: “To be united with the Lord of Love is to be freed from all conditioning. This is the state of Self-realization, far beyond the reach of words or thoughts…” (See the Tejobindu Upanishad).

 

Strength of the Soul

As all the great mystical traditions of the world have affirmed, ascetic discipline is the means by which internal equanimity is established: a contented state of being that abides without regard for external conditions or circumstances. However, it must be said that equanimity, in itself, is not the supreme object of the mystical ascetic as he subjects himself to renunciate discipline. Rather, as he approaches his goal with ever-increasing profundity, unconditional contentment becomes indicative of his progress. As we proceed it will be prudent to discuss the method by which the ascetic approaches his goal, and the nature of the goal itself.

According to its inherent nature, the human “will”, lacking ascetic discipline, becomes shackled to various pleasures, sensations, and (above all) the fantasy of personal possession. Henceforth, we shall refer to this phenomenon of self-will as the “ego”. So long as it is able to gratify its conditioned desire for pleasure and extract validity from those aspects of the external world it perceives itself to be in possession of (property, status, esteem, etc.), the ego can remain contented after a fashion. If once these external conditions are removed, however, the egoistic mind will become frantic. And no wonder, for it had made its peace and happiness contingent upon circumstances, sensations, and illusions. Apart from its ability to gratify conditioned need, the ego is without rest or sanity. Desiring liberation, the ascetic seeks to detach himself from this bondage of conditioning; but in doing so he must renounce his attachment to all pleasures of sense and every pride that life has to offer. What then shall we conclude? Does the ascetic, by virtue of his asceticism, take refuge in a void, an oblivion of all passion? By no means.

To quote Thomas Merton, the entire work of asceticism is undertaken in an effort to “direct all the strength of the soul to God”. This is no less true of the Hindu ascetic as he meditates on the all-pervasive reality, Brahman. This Brahman may be described as the supreme Soul, the divine support residing within each and every creature. Having severed all desire to squander vital energy (the strength of the soul) in pursuit of egoistic gratification, the ascetic is enabled to take delight in those things that refer to the Soul, pursuing instead the bliss of final liberation. In other words, he is consumed by the only passion that can be said to harbor permanent significance. Through his discipline, the ascetic disposes himself to receive the divine knowledge upon which equanimity is established; and the unseen nature of equanimity is described by no one better than Sri Krishna: “The Lord dwells in the hearts of all creatures and whirls them round upon the wheel of maya. Run to him for refuge with all your strength, and peace profound will be yours through his grace…” (The Bhagavad Gita 18:61-62, Easwaran translation).

As the ascetic, full of faith, matures into the realization of the changeless, eternal Lord within himself, he rests his spirit in that intimate knowledge alone. The Gita states persistently, such a one is alike in pleasure and pain, honor and dishonor, being completely fulfilled. Ascetic renunciation, far from obliterating one’s capacity for joy and passion, places completely at man’s disposal the profound strength of his unencumbered faculties. With the clear, spiritual vision born of his renunciate freedom, the ascetic devotee launches this strength at the glorious, cosmic quasar of divine bliss: the primordial singularity (God) that reaches out to penetrate the entirety of creation with unfathomable Love; but the spiritual maturity entertained herein is largely inconceivable. All the exalted spiritual masters who have graced the Earth with their footsteps have insisted that the path to freedom is a harrowing journey trodden only by a few. To attain the fullness of God, of Nirvana, of the everlasting Self, the most radical form of surrender is required. As Jesus proclaimed to his disciples, the one who desires liberation must seek the Kingdom first. It seems as if we are called to a task of nearly impossible magnitude. How will even the most ardent faith persevere with the cosmic invitation? We must look to the noble ones who have gone before us: to those who consummated the purpose of life and heralded the joy of their attainment to all with ears to hear and eyes to see. To them was given the inheritance, the immortal bliss, the resurrection and the life.

Bearing in Humility, Speaking in Love

Its perfectly ironic that I can be lulled into thinking myself more cognizant than those who appear doggedly fixed on their own, individual perspectives. Does not this idea of superiority indicate my perspective to be of the same dogged nature? In the frankest of moments, its clear to me that I am still immensely immature in regards to all states of sapient consciousness. Pride is evil. It paints the friend as an admirer, and the acquaintance as an unscrupulous pupil. A friend should be regarded as a friend; and an acquaintance should be likened to an unread book, full of mysteries and potential wonders. If the acquaintance is revealed to be insipid, listen to them anyway. Doing so will bolster patience and comprehension. Speak only when prudent. If the Spirit of God compels us in our speech, that which is said will be spoken with purpose, not idly as is the circumstance with vanity.

In this, we must trust our speech and bearing to be guided; for no amount of persistent reasoning will convince a man of subtle truths he knows nothing about and is not given to considering. In all things, I’ve often fancied my own will to be the helmsman, directing all courses and outcomes. Nothing could be further from the truth. When in the presence of others, two practices alone have yielded good fruits: bearing in humility, and speaking in love. To God must be left the planting of all seeds, for his understanding is complete, his sovereignty infallible. Trust will serve us well. Most everything is beyond our control, but God’s purpose is immanent in the world. It can be known, in part, by we who still the voice of derisive judgment: the orator of ignorance for all who might otherwise understand each other.