The world is scary
and I'm scared.
That's the Truth.
The world is in chaos
and I refuse to pretend
that I know what to do.
Do you hear me?
and I don't know.
Yet when I tell
wanders into my heart
and I feel a peace
that the world
or take away.
Do you hear me?
is what we can
all do together:
Tell the truth.
The light of the sun, the moon, the stars and planets has a Source. That Source is the radiance of the stamen in the lotus of your heart. You irradiate the universe. You are joy. You are creativity. You are love.
But due to the dazzling confusion of creation's panoply, we think that the Source is outside and above us. The grace of Mother Divine, through the vibrating energy of her bija mantras, can dispel the clouds of this confusion, so that we realign with the light of the Heart.
And the most auspicious time for this realignment, through the practice of meditation, is Navaratti, the Nine Days of Mother Divine. Navarati begins on September 21 this year, which is just the time of the Autumn equinox.
We in the West are just re-discovering the Goddess, who was essential to ancient Judaism and Christianity. The feminine aspect of the divine was associated with Hochma (Wisdom) in Hebrew, Sophia in Greek. We mostly think of her as a vague intuited feeling. But her work is very specific: she is the animating power, the Shakti, behind the mantras that liberate the naras, the nerve-currents in our bodies, from the stress that causes ignorance, so that an open-hearted conscious body can bathe in the all-pervading grace of the Atman. Peace.
I have no idea what's going on in the world. But I do know how to go to sleep. I learned from my cat, who always naps on my shirt, so she can slumber in the kindness and protection of her master's scent!
When you fall asleep tonight, just assume that your head is lain at the feet of your Beloved, and rest in the miracle of this breath. Know that each inhalation is the Master's gift, and each exhalation is your flower of gratitude, offered back.
Drift off into the ocean of Grace. And when you wake up, you will radiate peace. Good night.
I notice with ironic surprise that those of us who obsess over our spirituality - perfecting our yoga postures, getting the right meditation technique, practicing meticulous purity of diet - are often more anxious than people who just do daily work and play without any pretense of gaining enlightenment.
In fact, the romance of sadhana, especially among those of us with a compulsion to hang out in ashrams, or frequent weekend retreats with "spiritual teachers," can be the mask for a neurosis: the avoidance of the ordinary.
What if the path of awakening lies, not through ashrams, non-duality workshops, health food stores and yoga studios, but through the small-time sacraments of the commonplace? What if the most profound mystical practices are these:
* Give up the search.
* Be grateful for this breath.
* Just rest your mind in the heart.
In fact, this is the surest instruction of the wise, found in the ancient yoga text, Vijnana Bhairava, and the original Christian treatise on meditation, The Philokalia. Precisely the same teaching, whether in Sanskrit or Greek: "Rest your mind in the heart."
Even for the mystical thrill-seeker, the ordinary is the highest path, because giving up the search is the ultimate rush. The very instant we give up the search, the universe blossoms around us like the motionless explosion of a golden rose.
Ever returning on the journey of this breath, nowhere to go but here, no higher plane than the present moment, sink deeply into who you are, and feel your body begin to dance.
When I come home to the place where I am broken, then I can be whole.
If I am willing to confess the weakness of my will, I open like a wound to strength. If I have the courage to say, "My deepest ability is vulnerability," the Gift comes, like a whisper of wind from deep within. Yet I cannot will this mystery, for my will is a broken wing.
How could the weak will, will its own strength? All I can will is confession. Confession is my native land, my homecoming. This is metanoia.
Only in confession am I free. Only then may the Other approach me, touch me, heal me. Here is wholeness: that my heart only finds healing in a Friend.
I was created to be broken. I was broken for communion. I yearn, yet not to be One, but Near...
Jesus took bread in his hands, broke it, and gave it to the disciples saying, "Take, eat, this is my body." So we break bread as a sacrament. Yet we pay so much attention to the bread, we forget the power of the breaking. It's the brokenness that heals.
What the clod of soil cries to the plow, the grape sings to the barefoot crusher; what the pomegranate whispers under the knife, the breaking heart implores the lover; the prayer of the loaf to the hand of the Master.
Knead me, bake me, tear me in two. I was not made for me, but for you.
""Beauty will save the world." ~Dostoyevsky
"Objective" science seems to be skewed toward a utilitarian view of nature: nature as machine without a subject, without a taste for beauty. Are we so sure that beauty is a by-product, and not the motive, the beginning and end, of evolution?
A biosphere could have evolved without blossoms. Are flowers inevitable? The job of cradling seeds and distributing pollen might have gotten accomplished in a more mechanical and economic fashion. Whatever the work of fragrance is, from rose to musk, we might sense it as a thread of vibration, a ray of gray light, without a scent. Yet we, and perhaps the bees also, sense the garden as sweetness, with shade upon shade of subtle textures, flavors, aftertastes. Why do birds sing? Another form of communication might have been evolved, an electrical buzz too quiet for humans to hear, and more mathematically accurate for the birds.
I suggest that beauty is a driving force, and you reply that natural selection needs no motivation, for nature's mechanisms run on a simple will to survive. But is that not a motive? And what is so great about survival for its own sake? Without the possibility of savoring, mere survival is just work, a losing struggle against entropy. Without appreciation of the Beautiful, we give up hope, and don't live at all.
Read "Man's Search For Meaning," by psychiatrist Victor Frank, who not only survived the concentration camp at Auschwitz, but concluded from his study that the people who survived there did so, not because they had a hardier physical constitution, but because they nurtured a transcendent purpose, and cherished some beauty to live for.
We don't know how deeply mute creatures like bees and hummingbirds appreciate fragrance, color, song, or if they do at all, for they are mute. All we know is that men and women have evolved a capacity for wonder, and for singing about it. Is this capacity for wonder a random by-product of natural selection, or is it the reason we are here?
I don't know. But I do know that naked men with bare hands cannot do nature's tasks nearly as well as animal and vegetable species do, whether running, or swimming, or flying, or hunting, or cross-pollinating. We had to invent tools simply because we were inept without them. Comparing a man to a panther or an ant, it is obvious that the man is inferior at particular tasks, whether large or small. But at the general task of being astonished, and singing about it, humans do better than others, and were probably created for nothing else.
The words of Rabbi Heschel, "To be spiritual is to be amazed," I would paraphrase by making an even simpler claim: "To be human is to be amazed: this is our chief work."
Photo by Laurent Berthier
Your heart is a small blue teardrop containing a glimmer of the sun.
Yet in its glow you keep the sorrow and weariness of hurricanes.
You smother forest fires.
You hug the weary whose houses have been crushed to match sticks,
whose windows are gashes bleeding sand,
whose only light is the memory of the gale,
pulverizing glass at midnight.
But your dewdrop heart makes room for more.
You hold the devastation of Cuba and tiny Caribbean islands,
the poorest of the poor in the quaked gaping streets
of southern Mexico.
You are a nest woven of their jagged cries.
In the tiny blue egg of your spacious inhalation you keep
the sub-Saharan multitudes who thirst for their own voices.
You gather the drowned bodies of villagers from the torrents
of Nepal and Bangladesh.
The breath of you luminous silence is a eulogy
for floods and famines that the news won't tell.
You are the eye of chaos.
Yet earth's affliction is just one of your tears.
An unselved garden of grief, your lungs entangle
the weeping of other worlds.
The hollow of your bones are rivers of planetary tribulation,
flowing into the ocean of cosmic sorrow.
In the pit of your stomach where singing begins,
you store up the groan, the agony of galaxies.
Now here is the secret: you are wider than pain.
You embrace catastrophe
as a flame outshines the blackest wick.
Every heartbeat expands your capacity to feel
the unutterable fever of creation.
You press to your nipple the desolate throng.
With a single exhalation your vigilance solidifies
the hunger of multitudes,
offering it back into the ache of the un-created.
Are you the cup bearer's witness?
Does your silence spill over the bruised rim of affliction?
Can the bold womb of your laboring darkness bear
an inconceivable peace?
Might your stillness not encircle birth and death?
When you break open, the center of your body is the heart of Christ.
In the palm of your hand is the infinite diamond wound of Buddha.
Your breath is the sky.
And the mothering pang of all human sorrow is a bindhu,
the merest drop, evaporating into blue and boundless joy.
Blue and boundless joy.
Listen to this meditation here: LINK.
Photo by Samantha Wallace, who took it while flying Om.
I once thought silence was empty and stillness was quiet. But by the grace of the Beloved's breath, I know now that silence is a billowing storm of joy, stillness a rosary of seven bursting pomegranates.
Being with the Teacher is not like taking lecture notes at a university. It is more like drawing dangerously close to an elk in the forest, inhaling its musk, hearing its teeth munch fiddlehead ferns. A Guru exudes wildness.
When he touches your chest with his gaze, the void explodes into a blossom filled with inebriating nectar. The universe turns inside out, scattering golden pollen from the stamen of a dandelion among the stars.
It happens in the body, not the mind. For the lethal sweetness of grace annihilates thought. And when there are no concepts, what is the difference between soul and flesh, seer and seen, a moonbeam and a broken heart? Phenomena appear separate, but they are only held apart by a veil of abstractions.
Most words are withered husks. But not the words of the Master. When you liberate those words from their meaning, you taste the juice in their sound.
This is why, throughout the ages, bewildered lovers gave up books of philosophy, and escaped from the classroom into the woods. They gained enlightenment by smelling jasmine, stroking the black down on a raven's throat, or hearing a frog plop into a pond.
Friend, if you pay attention, the tiniest creature will teach you everything!
A breath is so much richer than a thought, so much more interesting in texture and luminous with vitality. A thought is an abstraction, a mere sign of something else. But a breath is itself, the very energy of Presence.
Our civilization has vastly over-rated the power of thought, but under-rated the power of breath. We replace one thought with another and call it "thinking," or "reasoning," but what does it lead to? The next thought. There is no end to the trap of thinking. But superimposing these thoughts onto our energy-state and our body does not penetrate our anxiety or heal us.
If we are anxiously thinking of some problem right now, we can be sure that a week from now we will replace this problem with another one and think about that with the same level of anxiety, because our thoughts do not change our energy. And next week, we won't remember what we were worried about this week. We'll just replace it with another catastrophic thought.
Yet all the while, our breath is silently pulsing beneath our thoughts, an untapped resavoir of transformation.
A breath is much richer, much deep, much more real than a thought. Why not let this breath be your prayer? Let this breath penetrate the anxiety you feel and transform it. Let this breath irradiate the world with healing greening power. This breath needs no name. Let it be your silent blessing, and your inward guide.
A silent breath will lead you to the bottomless well of stillness.
Jesus doesn't want to "save" you; he wants you to become what he is.
Crucify the opposites nailed to your mind: past and future, heaven and hell, matter and spirit, ignorance, enlightenment.
Your flesh is the rose, your soul is the fragrance; resurrection is the pollen at the heart of the flower.
Feel your heavenly body entangled in this earthly one; the mother bird has woven a strand of pearls into your nest of twigs: her eggs are blue because they contain the sky.
Why does your emptiness glow with compassion? Why is your darkest night the womb of morning?
Because death is the Kingdom of Presence: as soon you think that the Garden is elsewhere, you have fallen into exile.
Don't take two thousand years to remember this moment; turn your pilgrimage into a labyrinthine fire dance.
You were a guest at this wedding before you were born; therefor unveil the smile of wonder, recline at the bountiful table of your own breast.
Sip the wine of silence, crushed from love and aged in your chest.
The Groom gave his invitation standing on a mountain; over and over he said, Don't worry!* But no one heard him; they weren't drunk enough.
Strip off every garment and stand in your body of fire; you were created to whirl and sing: all else is hesitation.
* In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus repeats five times, 'mei phobei,' or a similar construction, meaning 'don't worry.' The King James translate it as, 'take no thought.'
Icon: St. Gregory Orthodox Church, Washington DC; Jesus at the Wedding Feast in Cana, turning water to wine for his Mother.
You don't need priests or politicians, you make peace on earth simply by being awake.
The kingdom is not a nation of laws and borders, a heavenly city descending from the sky, or a utopia designed by economists and college professors.
The kingdom is not invoked by shouting magic slogans in the streets, just as food is not created by banging pots.
Justice spills into the world from a blossom inside you, overflowing after the shower of grace, tasting blue, like the sky.
The kingdom comes a thousand times a day, when you nourish a thirsty stranger with your smile, when your mind is suddenly empty and your heart is filled with nectar.
Friend, don't wait for a prince. You are the royalty. Your palace is the present moment.
The throne is in your chest. Silence from a golden cup anoints you with astonishment.
The pulse of your blood commands the galaxies to shine. Your nakedness is the sun.
The gesture of your merest breath absolves all creatures from a colossal and primordial Sin that never happened.
The sap produces the flower, and the flower produces the sap. Advaita is not other than Bhakti. Non-duality and devotion give birth to one another.
Even Adi-Shankara, the fountain of Advaita, wrote ecstatic hymns to the Goddess, to Shiva, and the Guru.
A spiritual teacher who speaks of non-dualism creates duality just by speaking about it. His word is other than the ineffable continuum it points to. But a Lover who surrenders to the Beloved dissolves the two into one.
You are a stream of wonder where creatures of distinction sparkle and dissolve in the consciousness that has no eye. Have more faith in bewilderment. Stop separating one from two. The flower of non-duality is the dance of Radha and Krishna, Jesus and the Magdalene. The garden is your heart.
Therefor, if you want to practice Advaita, forget Advaita. Just love.
Then you will perceive your Self in a dandelion, a bony mongrel, a broken bicycle, a homeless stranger. You will feel the Beloved's breath in every pain, every desire, in all uncertainty and weariness.
Honor and kiss the Beloved in each human feeling, even loneliness, without trying to "transform" it into a different energy.
When you cease to resist your mortal humanity, this very non-resistance is immortal bliss.
(Mary Magdalene Removing her Jewelry by Alonso del Arco, 17th C)
Jesus said to her, “Noli me tangere: Don't touch me. For I have not yet ascended to My Father."
O Magdalene, I never said such words. I said, "Touch me, touch me!" For as you live through my breath on your lips, so I am embodied through your caress.
Touch me in the smallest petal of a wild rose. Touch me in the rain-soaked sunbeam. Touch me in the loam and dahlia bulb, the icy water of a mountain stream.
Touch me through the feline curve of the midnight moon, the rippling pelt of the wild stallion, the fur of mist on fallow meadow.
Touch me in the blue flame of the homeless mother's gaze, ever searching for her child. Touch me in pain unbearable without the nearness of hands. Touch me in the speechless zero of a dying soldier's mouth.
The Word of the Lord is a radiant throb of silence at the heart of sensation. All scripture is written in your palm and pain. Working fingers are as holy as fingers that pray. Therefor touch me in the doubled kneading of risen dough.
Beyond stars and night touch me. Reach into the darkness that was here before I spoke the world: then cling to what yearns back.
My flesh is everywhere now, my inhalation sheathed in your form like the kernel in a chaff of wheat. Because we have met in this garden, holy men no longer say, "God is in heaven."
The time has come for you to repose more deeply in the chambers of your body. Let the marrow of your bones be yeast, fermenting the death-pale illusion that you were ever not ripe.
There is a bridal bower in your chest, where sun and moon lie down to conceive a human thistle, fragrant yet clustered with thorns. The scent brings forgetting, the thorns bring remembrance of grief: these are your wings.
On your ankles you wear the ringing galaxies, the earth your crown, weightless as the moment of death. Let every dust on your naked sole, each atom in the crysalis of your skin, become a doorway to the wedding.
Invite the living and the dead, the rich and poor, those who believe and those who doubt. This feast is not a secret.
'Searching for the Magdalene' LINK
The integral silence of pure awareness is oceanic, containing waves of sorrow and waves of joy, both of which are waves of ananda.
The Void is not devoid of passion. What physicists call "fluctuations in the vacuum" fill empty space. Transcendental feelings permeate unbounded silence.
The great Jewish theologian Joshua Abraham Heschel called this paradox The Divine Pathos: Godhead empathizes with human suffering. Spirituality is not the transcendence of feeling. Indeed, human feeling is but the reflection of transcendent passion.
The Godhead is not passivity. Christian mystic Jan Ruysbroeck wrote about "the wildness of God," and "the wilderness in the Godhead." Entering transcendental consciousness is an ever unfolding relationship of Lover and Beloved in the very silence of the Self. Thus the 4th Century Christian father St. Gregory of Nyssa coined the term "epictisis": eternal becoming in the groundless depths of God.
To enter the wild inward life of the Divine is to enter the Garden of Vrindavan, and to participate in the passion of Radha for Krishna, full of longing, ecstasy, and the pain of separation. Yet this longing, even this divine feeling of separation, is the play of God and Goddess in the absolute Unity of Brahman. The flowering of non-duality is the lovers' "lila."
In Buddhism, the divine emotions are called the Four Immeasurables: omnipresent compassion (Metta), joy in the happiness of others (Mudita), sadness in the sorrow of others (Karuna), and dispassion (Upeksha). It is dispassion that holds space for passion. The spacious heart of dispassion remains clear as the sky, even while embracing the clouds of human experience.
Our graceful task is not to reject human feeling, but to infuse it with the radiance of the Infinite. If I use "awareness" as a shield to protect myself from the wounded, angry, jagged, uncertain shadows of my soul, it is not awareness at all, but flight.
To "witness" does not mean detaching the observer from the observed. Rather, I embrace the whole continuum of my mind, with all its thoughts, as one dynamic emptiness. There is no "I" who witnesses thoughts. Rather, there is just this trackless ocean of vibrant stillness, thoughts arising and dissolving as waves of silence.
Thoughts are not other than the stillness of the witness. Thoughts are not other than emptiness. But this stillness, this emptiness, is playful and dynamic. Enjoy thoughts as the ecstatic play of the formless.
Detachment is just another version of duality: "witness" vs. "thoughts." And such detachment is a subtle form of violence, division.
The condition of witnessing is simply to refrain from grasping or rejecting. Do not grasp one thought out of the stream as more significant. Do not reject another thought as less. Whether pure or impure, whether positive or negative, all thoughts are one continuum, the playful wave-nature of the void.
We may think that we are rational, but the truth is, thought happens for no reason.
Therefor we don't have to turn thought-waves into thought-particles: that is, into points of view that are separate from the continuum of emptiness. Rippling bubbling thought is the texture of stillness, the soundless echo of a gong never struck.
Just as the ocean can be whole in the midst of its waves, I can be still in the dance of thoughts, because there actually is no "I." There is only boundless awakened space where the dance happens. This space is self-luminous and delightful whether thoughts happen or not, because, as long as it is not grasped, a thought is just a tremor of that emptiness.
"The sun and the moon can be seen in that place.
When looking at that,
bring your mind down to silence.
I will tell you the truth:
the one who has drunk from this liquid
wanders around like someone insane."
Kabir is not speaking of outer sun and moon in the sky, but Shiva-Shakti in vast blue awareness, the solar and lunar energies that spiral your spine, bursting as one light through your pineal gland, igniting the burning bush of your cerebrum.
The liquid Kabir speaks of is the neuro-peptide Soma juice fermented in your dendrites as your meditating physiology bathes in transcendental consciousness. Illuminated body is the Self, and Self is not other than the body. Only the intellect makes them two. But the intellect is a dull sword compared to the diamond penis of Shiva, who wanders around naked and crazy, somehow performing the ordinary tasks of the clerk in an Ace Hardware store.
So you must do the commonplace work of your life, and don’t let on that you are the creator of worlds, the destroyer of worlds, who embodies the megaton brilliance of eight galaxies. Without any calculation, numbers silently fall into place, and all your debts are paid. The archangels in your brain conduct the business, while you dance as a Witness in the silence between thoughts.
If you understand this, it must be after midnight. While others toss in black and white dreams, you and I make love in living color, wide awake.
Painting by Mahmoud Farshchian
Word and Silence are not opposites. Together they co-nourish creation.
The womb of the Untold ululates in fluctuations of the vacuum. She is the mother of physics, Genesis 1, a feathery hen of breath ruffling darkness into waves of fire, oceanic night-singer of infinite possibility. She was here before God said, "Let there be light," and is still here, beneath all that we can say, the resonant field of eternal Silence, where Words of creation are conceived.We used to savor the Logos on our own tongues. We could talk the elements into doing anything, inspire the wind, instruct the waters, still the storm, ignite a garden with song, move colossal stones with a whisper. Our language vibrated with mantras, Godspells, healing shamanic gutterals. Even our Hum was an unstruck gong in the heart.
We named each other. And respecting the power of names, we were creators.
But we lost the science of magical speech when we dissipated Word-energy through gossip, vulgarity, and derision. We allowed talking heads and technocrats, politicians and the media, to infect our language with the virus of babble. Now, instead of empowering us, language exhausts us. Our minds are full of chatter we hardly understand, because it is not our true name...
How shall we speak Truth again? How shall we recover the Godspell? How shall we awaken from ancient sleep the inner Bard? And how root down in Divine Silence, to tap our Words of Creation?
"En archai æn ho Logos: In the beginning was the Word." ~John 1:1
"Adau Bhagavan shabdha rasahih: In the beginning, the Lord created the universe through a stream of Sound." ~Rig Veda
"Speech has power. Words do not fade. What starts as a sound, ends in a deed." ~Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
"Don't ever diminish the power of words. Words move hearts and hearts move limbs." ~Hamza Yusuf
"Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds." ~Eli Wiesel
"Words are also actions." ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
"But our words from loose using have lost their edge." ~Ernest Hemingway
"The limits of my language are the limits of my world." ~Ludwig Wittgenstein
"Better than a thousand hollow words, is one word that brings peace." ~Gautama Buddha
Picture: Tibetan mantra wheel. In the ancient traditions, mandalas that mapped the cosmos were made of letters and their sounds.
"Imperfection is beauty." ~Marilyn Monroe
"O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam!"
~Exultet, Easter Vigil
Here I fall, a sloppy fractal ceaselessly spilling from on high, into the dark blessed chaos of humanity. On this pathless way, the sign of progress is that I'm not as perfect as I was yesterday.
I make sacraments of my mistakes, and let God breathe through my broken places. I let my wounds stay open: that is the best healing, eyes of the Buddha where Jesus had gashes.
After ten thousand lifetimes, this seeker's heart knows what the robin knows at sunrise. I don't look for diamonds: even my jagged edges are made from infinitesimal love-sparks.
"I vow to be healed by the next person I meet. I will bathe in the radiance of humanity" : this is the rule of my lineage, a long tradition of failed monks.
I insist that the blind Guatemalan woman selling rutabagas in the open-air market be my guru. Here is my secret strength: long ago I threw away my measuring cup, and dove into the sea of wonder.
Why be caught in names? We all seek the same caress. There are thousands of reports, but only one breath, many hungers but a single wanting.
The king of the universe seeks my friendship: it's as simple as that. The one who created me broke my wings, so that I could dance on earth. How can I thank Her?
Love follows sadness, Autumn follows summer; I keep scattering myself like golden leaves to learn this.
A mother taught me to breathe, and with each breath I return to where I was before conception.
Saints, angels and Bodhisattvas hover over me in a white cloud, all thirsty, all longing to get into the tavern of my heart. But you get in first, friend; they're not here for serious drinking like us.
I have nothing to teach, and nothing to give you. That is why you must sit with me on a park bench overlooking the city. Rest your head on my shoulder; listen to the oaks trembling around us in the fading sunlight.
We are unbalanced equations, we are bright quarks spinning out of the void, discovering our loveliness in uncertainty.
We are awkward braids of honeyed wine, splashing into a dark chalice. We don't even know the name of the host who pours us out as an offering.
Photo: taken by my daughter, Abby, in the Pea Patch Community Garden, Seattle, and used as the cover of my book, 'Wounded Bud.'
All phenomena dissolve like mist. Therefor all deeds are forgiven. Every stranger is your only child. Relax and do what you like because compassion is your nature. Now pour another cup of whatever kindled this friendship. The candle is so small, and the desert is vast. Don't ask why we met here in this oasis of the heart. As long as we can smile for no reason, we know that we are destined for happiness.
Photo: On a wilderness hike at the sacred Mt. Tahoma, I met this little friend sitting just under the surface of the water in a clear mountain stream.
In the Vedic tradition, Bliss is the very essence of Being: part of the three-fold nature of the supreme absolute, "Sat-Chit-Ananda," Being, Consciousness, Bliss.
But in English, the word "bliss" is associated with a superficial state of temporary pleasure, a drunken stupor, or a high that won't last. We need to penetrate the real meaning of this important term, for there is nothing superficial about it.
Bliss is not an energy, a divine light, a life-force, or an outcome of spiritual practice. Bliss is absolutely nothing.
Bliss cannot be quantified. It is not given or received. Bliss cannot be communicated to you by a guru or a lover. Bliss is neither a transaction nor the result of purification. Neither vegan diet, nor yoga, nor celibacy, nor years of meditation lead to bliss. Bliss is giving up on all this.
Many wisdom teachers, from Gautama Buddha to Saint Francis, from Sri Ramakrishna to Eckhart Tolle, tell of breakthroughs that were not the result of any spiritual practice, but awakenings in the heart of depression, confusion, or illness. Liberation simply happened in a moment of divine hopelessness.
Blessed are the hopeless, who give up the bondage of believing. Bliss is only possible beyond belief, because only without belief is the mind innocent, free from the boundaries of the quest for anything.
Bliss is not some-thing. Something has boundaries. Bliss is the marvelous explosion that occurs when the mind becomes no-thing, and boundaries dissolve. The Buddhist term "Sunyata," doesn't quite capture the dynamic nature of this no-thing-ness, because "Emptiness" describes a static state, a still deep forest pool of annihilation. But when the boundaries of awareness dissolve in Bliss, there is not only emptiness, but a never-ending expansion. The sphere that has no circumference, whose center is everywhere, is a perpetual explosion of grace and wonder. The wild astonishment of dissolving never stops.
But the dissolution of mental concepts must be complete. The boundaries that dissolve include even the positive affirmations and beliefs in the most benevolent God. Hence the great Christian mystic Meister Eckhart prayed, "O God, quit me of God!"
In a private meeting with my Guruji, I asked him, "Who are you, really? Are you the world teacher? The Avatar? Are you like Krishna, or Buddha, or Jesus come again?" He looked at me with eyes containing the uncontainable emptiness where galaxies arise and dissolve. Then he gently said, "No, no. I am nobody." He was absolutely serious. That's when I knew he was my guru, though it took me years to realize what he meant.
When we desire to repeat a blissful experience, that desire is bondage, and a subtle form of pain. In the moment of our bliss, there was relief from the pain of seeking it. Relaxing for an instant, the mind was free to expand into its own essence: the blissful subject we mistake for an object. But after that instant of Self-referral, ignorance returned and we created a concept of "bliss" as an object out there, something to be sought.
Bliss is never the repetition of experience.
There is no causal relationship whatsoever between any object and the joy we seemingly derive from it. All joy comes from within, from the Self. Yet we seek to repeat the moment of bliss by seeking it in another object. The Yogis have a shockingly effective image for this delusion: It is like a mongrel chewing on a sharp dry bone, desperately seeking the taste of fresh blood. Eventually the mongrel tastes blood, but it does not come from the sharp dry bone. It comes from the mongrel's own mouth.
However beautiful the object of perception, it is like the dry bone. The glamor that seems to vibrate from the object is, in fact, the projection of my own desire for it, and this projection is the cause of my suffering.
Bliss happens the moment I stop gnawing. Yet a moment later, I associate that very bliss with the object I've just stopped gnawing. My mind falsely reasons, "I was gnawing on this object. Then I experienced bliss. Therefor the bliss must derive from the object." I fail to notice that the bliss only arose through exhaustion of craving.
Bliss has no substance and no flavor, not even sweetness. Perhaps I lick an ice cream cone to taste my favorite flavor, which I've been craving all afternoon. I close my eyes and say, "Mmmmm," returning to the original sound of creation, the great Pranava mantra. Yet it is not the ice cream that gives this moment of bliss: it is the simple fact that for a moment I gave up the quest and stopped seeking.
The same irony occurs in spiritual techniques. They do not create bliss: they simply focus the mind in a limitation that is more sattvic, more purifying than other attachments. It is like removing a thorn with a smaller sharper thorn. When my mind becomes fatigued even with the most subtle sattvic form, I give up my practice for a moment and just let go. That is when my mind transcends. The subtle form of the mantra, or the breath, can lead you away from the gross. But when you arrive at the subtlest of the subtle, you stand on a bridge to the infinite. It is time to leap into the formless, into no-thing.
Then there is the explosion of bliss, brought on by no practice but the abandonment of practice. The bliss is always already here, as the prior nature of pure non-seeking awareness. You dip into it when you gave up the subtlest effort to seek it.
Hearing this, one now wants to make "letting go" one's new practice. One wants to make a technique of "surrender." But this is just another trap. Surrender is not a technique. Surrender cannot be practiced. It simply happens, like a ripe pear falling from a branch. The very attempt to "practice surrender" creates more boundaries.
The great Nisargadatta Maharaj said, "There can be no causal connection between practice and wisdom. But the obstacles to wisdom are deeply affected by practice." Gurudev Swami Brahmananda Saraswati, who was Maharishi's master, said, "Spiritual practices can dispel the clouds of ignorance, but cannot throw any light on the Self, because the Self is the light."
So let's stick with the practice we already have, but take it more lightly! Know that our spiritual practice is a kind of good-natured joke. The more lightly we take it, the more frequently moments of bliss can flash out of non-doing and non-seeking.
If we keep our practice soft, and remember it is just a trick to short-circuit the mind, there will come an end to this game. There will come a falling away of the do-er. The quest will dissolve forever in the silent ocean of the golden void, which is pure Grace.
Jai Guru Dev
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God."
"I have come that they may have life, and more abundantly." ~John 10:10
Jesus seems to speak in contradictions. He wants us to be empty and poor? Then he wants us to have fullness, "and more abundantly." Is he a madman?
There is no contradiction. Jesus does not teach economics. He does not speak of external wealth and poverty, but of those inward qualities of the heart that transform the world by transforming consciousness.
In Luke 17:21, Jesus teaches that the Kingdom will not be found out there in a political utopia, nor in a mythical realm above: "But the kingdom of God is within you." Here in Matthew 5:30, he points the way to that Kingdom, through becoming "poor in spirit."
The Greek word for "spirit" is "pneuma," which means "breath." To be poor in spirit means quieting and surrendering the breath. Jesus teaches deep meditation, where breath become slow, fine, clear, and subtle, until the individual breath returns to the universal breath of the Creator. Humbled and impoverished within, I can be grateful for the gift of this very breath. Then I transcend the restless mind of anger and desire, entering the poverty of boundless silence, the wealth of emptiness.
Why not become hollow, following the path of Jesus' own "kinosis," or "self-emptying" (Philippians 2)? The Buddha called it "sunyata." Yet this is not the hollow of lack, but the vacuum from which creation arises. The source of the world is the hollow of our own awareness, prior to thought. Yet at the same time, it is the fullness of sat-chit-ananda, the Kingdom of God.
Through a breath of emptiness, I inherit the greatest wealth, pressed out and overflowing. Wealth is not having many things, but feeling infinite gratitude for the gift of Presence. Jesus does not teach theology or politics, but the art of living in this moment, this body, this breath.
The right attempted to teach the "gospel of prosperity." The left attempted to teach "the social gospel." But Jesus' words point neither left nor right: they point within. Justice is not imposed, but awakened. The world is transformed from inside out.
It is time to listen to Meister Eckhart, John of the Cross, Theresa of Avila, Mechtilde of Magdeberg, Teilhard de Chardin. Time to apply the salve of the mystics to the wound of Western civilization.
I hold the one who suffers in the fire of my breaking heart. Don't ask me to pray with words. The pure light within me flows from the Christ, who flows purely from God, who purely flows from the darkness of the womb of compassion. I hold you in me as a Mother holds her only child. This is how I pray.
"Striving for excellence" has really done a number on us.
Literally, it has forced us to become numbers: the records we break, the heights we attain, our SAT scores. Striving for excellence turns us into statistics.
The problem is, we can only strive for what we already know. You studied for those tests. They only measured the degree to which you were hypnotized by the knowledge of the past. They could not measure your Presence.
Who does your "excellence" excel? You can only excel the person next to you, the mark defined by another, the score you attained yesterday. Comparison kills creation.
In the Hebrew creation story, God is One and creation is incomparable. All sparkles with Tova, "goodness." God looks upon the whole luminosity of the world and sees that "ha or ki Tov: the light is Good." Tova is not relative. Goodness is absolute. It does not get better or worse.
God does not tell humanity to strive for something better, but simply to create and "bear fruit." The human mind, not God, is responsible for the suffering of discontent, polluting the world through comparison, abandoning the luscious tree of life, preferring "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil."
True excellence can never be defined. It is unknown. If you want to excel, stop scoring. Stop comparing. Abandon all marks and grades. Don't move up another step, another initiation on the spiritual ladder. And for God's sake, don't become an "Ascended Master."
Sink into the Unknown. Fall into the incomparable majesty of who you are at this moment. This is all that is. This is creation's source.
Everything is happening right now. Nothing is happening yesterday, and nothing is happening tomorrow. Faced with this ineluctable truth, you can't do anything but stand mute, spread your arms, and embrace what IS. The only authentic action, the only action performed in good faith, is the action that flows from this embrace, this wonder, this moment.
On this birthday of Ganesh, the divine power who removes all obstacles through the union of Wisdom and Innocence, symbolized by the head of an Elephant on the form of a Child, we discover all the mysteries of God in this moment, this body, this breath, we discover all wisdom through the innocence of Now.Jesus also said, "Be as wise as serpents and as gentle as doves." The serpent of Sophia-Wisdom breathes up the spine. The dove of the Spirit is our sigh of surrender. They embrace at the stillpoint of an infinitesimal bindhu in the muladhara, a lingum in the void. That is where the dance of creation begins in silence, the silence of your deepest meditation. Om Gam Ganapatayeh Namah.
Whether we are black or white, rich or poor, Pagan or Christian, Muslim or Jew, our ancestors are one Spirit, a "cloud of witnesses." They dwell in the realm of forgiveness.
It is better not to think of them as "dead" or "past." The grandmothers and grandfathers are ever-present tremors of consciousness, whose blessing is not attracted by our separateness, but our friendship. We gather around a single fire in the wilderness, and they are the stars.
If we cannot love our enemies, as Jesus taught, at least we can honor their ancestors, as we honor our own. Many blessings will come of this.
Collage by Rashani Rea on a line from our book, 'Shimmering Birthless: A Confluence of Verse and Image.'
Thoughts are waves in the ocean of silence. Silence is always transparent and clear, no matter how many sparkling thoughts arise and subside. Every wave of thought is made of silence, crystal stillness at play.
Suffering begins in the mind. It begins when I cling to a thought-wave and try to hold it as a belief. The wave freezes into a solid particle, takes on mass, becomes a point of view. Then thought gets heavy.
When I believe, my mind is very grave. And the gravity of a weighty thought sinks me. But when I am free from beliefs, I can allow myriad viewpoints to dance and ripple in the sea.
Now love is possible. Love is freedom from gravity. I love you as You, no matter what you believe. This is real non-violence. Non-violence begins with awareness that does not cling to points of view. It only took me seven hundred lifetimes to abandon beliefs and dance like a sunbeam on the waters of silence.
I don't care if you don't believe me. I love you. And I'm sure that God is just this human heart, free from all opinions.
O trembling emptiness in waves of uncreated light, flowering prism of the void, I dare not sing you into form, lest this ecstasy die!
The peacock's tail spreads confusion like a rainbow through nameless tears. Gaze into this jewel and see your own kaleidoscopic face, O Trickster of Vrindivan, blue as the yearning sky!
Through me you have become the amethyst of your own desire, a mirror shattered into perfection. This is the lotus of 10,000 daggers that pierces the chest of the Alone.
O Shyama Sundara, the moon, hearing your cruel flute, strews her petals on the still forest pool, a requiem for the heart. We are each other's madness, each other's inhalation.
Perhaps we are two syllables of one name, the voluptuous shimmering wings of So'ham. I listen to the lustrous silence in the sound of this breath. If you let me call you Krishna, I will let you call me your own Self.
It seems that we are constantly reacting to the "news." This has drawn us into the realm of re-action, and away from the realm of true action, which only arises in Silence.
We are now spinning dangerously away from our own centers, into the chaos of each others reactive karma, tangling us in each others' pasts, old stories of fear, violence, and false identity with race, religion, region, and party.
The answer right now is not to re-act, but to step back into the silence at the source of creation. The coming solar eclipse is a moment of pause, release from the peripheral spin, T'shuvah and return to the stillpoint at the center, the axis of alignment.
In ancient yogic tradition, an eclipse was an opportunity to fast, meditate, and re-align with the Self. For during the eclipse, both centrifugal and centripetal forces pause, and there is quietness. Then we can easily merge with our Self.
Only when we merge with our Self can we love our Self, and only when we love our Self can we love our neighbors, even our enemies, as our Self.
Let the interior Sun align with the interior Moon in the glowing axis of your body, the Earth. Pineal, hypothalamus, amygdula.
Don't try to fix history, don't be drawn into old stories of the past, don't punch anybody in the face, fascist or antifa. Just rest your mind in the heart. Let the breath of a new creation cleanse, heal, and illuminate every cell of your flesh, every photon of your soul.
It is not our righteous "activism" that will heal America at this time, but the radiant dignity of our Being, that will emerge peaceful and powerful from its eclipse.
I will let the Buddha speak more eloquently than my babble, sharing the shortest, least known, yet most powerful of all his sutras, the 'Beda Karatta Sutra,' or 'Sutra on the Better Way.'
A seeker came to Buddha and asked, "Should I renounce the world and become a monk, to live in oneness, alone?"
Buddha smiled and said, "You can do that if you like. But there is a Better Way to be all one, which is practiced wherever you are, in whatever state of life, at any time."
"What is this Better Way?" asked the seeker.
Then the Buddha spoke these simple words:
"The past no longer exists.
The future has not been born.
But if you deeply observe,
the present moment
just as it is,
you will attain the peace
of the ancient masters."
"Layam vraja: dissolve now." ~Ashtavakra Gita
They say that dissolving the "I" is enlightenment, and this is an extraordinary event. But really, isn't it quite ordinary? Didn't it happen when you were a child, in every-day moments of wonder? Marveling at a lightning bug, marveling at the eyes of a new friend on the playground, marveling at a shooting star.
Doesn't it happen now, when you give yourself completely to your grief, and dissolve into a tear? When you give yourself to joy, and dissolve into a smile? Give yourself to the sound of Miles, a Monet water lily, a sonnet of Keats, and dissolve into silence. Give yourself to the Friend in your heart, through a touch of divine inhalation, and dissolve into thanksgiving.
At such an ordinary moment, is there anyone left? Doesn't enlightenment, the dissolution of the ego, happen ten thousand times a day?
What is all this talk about getting rid of "I"? The problem is not having an ego, the problem is clinging to it. When "I" am a fixed structure, with weight and mass in time, suffering happens. When "I" let Source create and dissolve me for each new moment of our amazing dance, beauty happens.
The enlightened are like little children. They have lots of ego. Their egos are like an ocean of bubbles, playfully expanding, then popping into nothing, every now. The arising of "I" is for expression, the dissolving is for wonder. This is the pulse, the breath of creation.
Sometimes I think even the moon and stars are whispering this. In fact, there is not a single thing in all the universe that is not made of infinitesimal love-sparks, ever dissolving into waves of ananda.
Painting by Claudia Olivos.
One of the subtler ways we make the ego a heavy permanent structure, is to imagine that we must carry the suffering of the world on our shoulders. This little mind takes great pride in that work. It is true, we cannot help but breathe in the suffering around us. Yet the healing is not to hold it, but to breathe it out, pouring world-sorrow into the boundless ocean of Divine Love. Slow down. Complete your next exhalation on behalf of humanity, all the way out into the Infinite. Offer everything, and rest.
For thousands of years, when you were thirsty for Grace, you thought of Krishna, you thought of Kwan Yin, you thought of Amitaba, you thought of Jesus. And for a brief moment, a cool breeze came through the burning desert of separation.But the Savior lingered only for the duration of his name, a passing thought. The Guest of your heart did not stay. The Avatar came into this world and departed, ascending to heaven.
O friend, is there not a more constant way, a nourishing wind, a gentle rain, that greens your soul from within?
Why not welcome the Guest who never leaves, the Christ who never departed? Repose in the gesture of your heartbeat, and receive eternal salvation from this breath.
The media says, Tensions continue to rise this morning. Really? Whose tensions? Theirs. It's what they do. As for me, I breathe in the cool misty air of the Salish Sea, filtered through the boughs of a centuries-old cedar growing just outside my window, and I rest in the ancient wonder of this moment. Sacred calm. Sabbath. Friend, serve the world by reposing in your heart.
Photo, my Cedar Friend, by my window
Just outside my bedroom window, there is a cedar tree. It sprang up long before my house was built, and it will stand long after my house has fallen. When my body had not been born, it rooted here. When I crumble to dust, it will grow deeper.
This sacred cedar reminds me to root in my groundless heart. Only from a groundless center can true action spring up. For the heart's silence is a depth of loss, surrender, and self-emptiness so abysmal that al judgment and comparison drown there. In this depth, I can only do what I Am. The present moment is inevitable. And there is no 'should.'
Therefor I bow this Sabbath morning, and place my forehead on these roots, listening for the flow of wisdom and guidance from the dark earth. This is all that is left of "going to church" for me. But I do it with my whole heart.
Photo: Another Sacred Cedar meditation at my window
What is 'non-duality'? So many speak of it, yet few taste the bitter sweet berry of God's name. A love-fermented river? A nectar stream? A sparkling continuum where subject and object, Shiva and Shakti, Lord and Paramour swirl and merge in the oceanic splendor of bewilderment?
Here is a secret: those who drink from the One never regain their sanity. They become Two, and rumba. They are inebriated beyond language. When they do resort to words, they cannot bear to discourse on the dry abstractions of Advaita, but can only sing the lyrics of Bhakti.
For they must speak on behalf of the pain and yearning of a universe in labor. They must speak for the hornet and the jack hammer, for both the quarry and the uncut diamond, the wound and the tooth alike.
The healer is drawn to the bruise like the black moth to a flame. The heart has two chambers. Our soul is not a flat-line but a pulse of light and shadow. The dance of non-duality is devotion.
Even the vulture has a sacred task, to polish our offered bones. Even Adi-Shankara, the fountain of Vedanta, could not contain the bursting wine in his heart. He was a pomegranate, after all, spilling seeds like you and me, mumbling hymns and prayers to the Goddess, to the Guru, to Shambo, Lord of Dissolving.
Video: Adi Shankara's masterpiece, Shiva Manas Puja, from 'Sacred Chants of Shiva' by Craig Pruess, excerpted translation below:
"O Lord, abode of compassion, O Pasupati, deign to accept my mental offerings of a gem-studded seat, a bath with cool water, divine garments inlaid with precious stones, sandal paste scented with musk, a garland made of jasmine, champaka flowers and bilva leaves, incense, and the waving of lights...
"O Sambhu, You are my very Self, my intellect is Goddess Parvati, your attendants are my vital airs, my body is Your temple, all enjoyments of sense-objects are Your worship, my sleep is samadhi, all my movements on my feet are circumambulations of You, whatever I speak is praise of You, and thus whatever action I perform is Your worship.
"When a devotee totally surrenders to God, then, giving up all sense of being a doer and an enjoyer, whatever that devotee does is God’s will.
"Whatever wrongs I may have committed with my hands, feet, speech, body, ears, eyes, or mind, in any action whether prescribed (by the scriptures) or not, deign to forgive all of them. O Ocean of compassion, O Mahadeva, O Sambhu. Hail to you." (Translated by S. N. Sastri)
The age of the Mediator is over. We have a standing invitation to enjoy immediate intimacy with the Radiance who created us.
I need no savior. I need no prophet or guru, no scripture, no sacrament or priest. In Saint Augustine's prescient words, "Deus intimeor intimo meo: God is more inward to me than I am to myself."
I need only a graceful shift of attention to the center of my heart. Here, in the heart's core, is a portal to infinite light. Why not start looking from this place instead of looking for this place?
A heart-shift is a taste of the wine Christ served at the wedding. One sip, one breath-full is enough, with no compulsion to hold it, to concentrate, to stay the flow. Instantaneous savors of grace, enjoyed throughout the day, bring more transformation than hours of rigorous formal discipline.
Here is the loveliest irony of all. I need not reject the Master I once thought I needed to cling to. When surrender happens in the heart, I am free for a more playful relationship with the Source. Liberated from the angst of seeking, I more joyfully taste the sacrament, delight in the scripture, dance in the garden of the guru's glance, walk with my savior on the pathless Way.
This is why Jesus told his disciples, "I no longer call you my servants; now I call you my friends."
Photo by Kristy Thompson
Never Send an 8 Year Old to Sunday School
I haven't really learned anything new since that radiant Spring afternoon when I was eight years old. After a beastly morning in Sunday school, I ripped off the stifling necktie and suit my parents made me wear to church, and put on musty jeans with a ragged tee-shirt, running barefoot into May weather. The sky was an immense robin's egg. Giant puffs of cloud tumbled slowly in the sunbeams, shimmering green on the grass, then gold in the wheat field all the way to the woods dotted white and pink with dogwood blossoms.
I gazed up into endless blue and, in the same instant, felt my feet rooted on the cool earth. I saw the essence of every religion from the dawn of history in that epiphany of earth and sky. And I knew it. I've studied them all for half a century since that moment, yet I've never found anything but a variation on that vision of ineluctable suchness in a schoolboy's heart.
"So this is what those old men in suits were trying to teach me in Sunday school!" I thought. "The sky is the Father. The Earth is the Mother. Standing between them, joining them like a lightning rod, I am their Son. This must be the Holy Trinity! But it only works when you run outside in your bare feet and put your body into it."
Here is how the universe taught me to breathe that day. At the crown of my head, where the baby has a soft spot, I visualize a bud unfolding into white petals, opening to the infinite sky. Blue sky is not a symbol or a day-dream, but the essential nature of consciousness: ever-expanding sapphire clarity of emptiness, where passing clouds of thought come and go lightly, without resistance. Breathing in from the crown of my head to my heart, every cell and every atom of my body fill up with that boundless blue. Christ became incarnate just to demonstrate this. I am here to experience the sky in each atom of flesh. Won't you join me in the universal body?
My spine is the stem of the flower. Having breathed the blue sky into my heart, I exhale. Awareness flows down the stem, out through the soles of my feet. I let all the chatter of yesterday, all the resistance of old thoughts, discharge their static into the ground. My root extends deep into the mothering darkness, to the center of the earth. When I need to release anxiety and fear, I can use this simple grounding breath. The key is not to make it esoteric, or technical. No one has to teach us how to breathe.
In Jewish mysticism, the Star of David depicts this breath: a down-pointing triangular flame from the sky meets the upturned triangle from the earth. They merge into a star at the heart. In the Yoga texts of India, this same symbol represents the heart center, hridaya, where Shiva and Shakti unite as Lover and Beloved. Mother Shakti rises up from the base of the spine, Lord Shiva descends from the crown. In early Christianity, the heart was the Bridal Chamber where Christos, the masculine energy of God, united with Sophia, the divine feminine. This is the mystery of Jesus and the Magdalene. It sounds quite esoteric in the Gnostic Gospels, but it's only the wild wisdom of a child running barefoot on the sunlit world.
The Garden is Now...
When my crown is open to the sky and my feet are rooted in the earth, I reclaim the innocence of Eden. I recover what St. Paul called the full stature of Christ, my birthright. No one can tell me this only happens in heaven, after we die! The Garden is Now. Creation is new each moment, and this human body is the Tree of Life. In the second century, St. Athanasius wrote, "God is humanity fully alive!"
When I practice this breath, I don't let the serpentine twists of the mind's doubt lure me to that other tree, the Tree of Thinking, clustered with opposites: good and evil, past and future, male and female. I rest in a silence free from the myriad polarities of the mind, at the center of the Garden of Now.
I breathe in blue radiance, crown to heart, then exhale into earth. I recognize who I AM, blossoming in stars, my roots clustered at the core of the planet.The Church Is Here...I AM grateful. Breathing unites earth and heaven. Just to breathe is worship. I AM grateful. This is a good place to build my church: right here, right now. The body is my temple, its alter my heart. Sink the foundations in dark soil, my bare feet. Open the ceiling to the sky, crown chakra. There is no priest but me, offering creation back to Creator, distilled in the fragrant incense of one breath. I AM grateful.