Vacation

I’m on vacation the week of August 21-29.

More Yin4men next week!


—Bei Kuan-tu


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"The Doubt Essential to Faith by Lesley Hazleton (TED Talk)

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Lesley Hazleton: The Doubt Essential to Faith

Writing biography is a strange thing to do. It's a journey into the foreign territory of somebody else's life, a journey, an exploration that can take you places you never dreamed of going and still can't quite believe you've been, especially if, like me, you're an agnostic Jew and the life you've been exploring is that of Muhammad.

Five years ago, for instance, I found myself waking each morning in misty Seattle to what I knew was an impossible question: What actually happened one desert night, half the world and almost half of history away? What happened, that is, on the night in the year 610 when Muhammad received the first revelation of the Koran on a mountain just outside Mecca? This is the core mystical moment of Islam, and as such, of course, it defies empirical analysis. Yet the question wouldn't let go of me. I was fully aware that for someone as secular as I am, just asking it could be seen as pure chutzpah. (Laughter) And I plead guilty as charged, because all exploration, physical or intellectual, is inevitably in some sense an act of transgression, of crossing boundaries.

Still, some boundaries are larger than others. So a human encountering the divine, as Muslims believe Muhammad did, to the rationalist, this is a matter not of fact but of wishful fiction, and like all of us, I like to think of myself as rational.

Which might be why when I looked at the earliest accounts we have of that night, what struck me even more than what happened was what did not happen. Muhammad did not come floating off the mountain as though walking on air. He did not run down shouting, "Hallelujah!" and "Bless the Lord!" He did not radiate light and joy. There were no choirs of angels, no music of the spheres, no elation, no ecstasy, no golden aura surrounding him, no sense of an absolute, fore-ordained role as the messenger of God. That is, he did none of the things that might make it easy to cry foul, to put down the whole story as a pious fable. Quite the contrary. In his own reported words, he was convinced at first that what had happened couldn't have been real. At best, he thought, it had to have been a hallucination -- a trick of the eye or the ear, perhaps, or his own mind working against him. At worst, possession -- that he'd been seized by an evil jinn, a spirit out to deceive him, even to crush the life out of him. In fact, he was so sure that he could only be majnun, possessed by a jinn, that when he found himself still alive, his first impulse was to finish the job himself, to leap off the highest cliff and escape the terror of what he'd experienced by putting an end to all experience.

So the man who fled down the mountain that night trembled not with joy but with a stark, primordial fear. He was overwhelmed not with conviction, but by doubt. And that panicked disorientation, that sundering of everything familiar, that daunting awareness of something beyond human comprehension, can only be called a terrible awe.

This might be somewhat difficult to grasp now that we use the word "awesome" to describe a new app or a viral video. With the exception perhaps of a massive earthquake, we're protected from real awe. We close the doors and hunker down, convinced that we're in control, or, at least, hoping for control. We do our best to ignore the fact that we don't always have it, and that not everything can be explained. Yet whether you're a rationalist or a mystic, whether you think the words Muhammad heard that night came from inside himself or from outside, what's clear is that he did experience them, and that he did so with a force that would shatter his sense of himself and his world and transform this otherwise modest man into a radical advocate for social and economic justice. Fear was the only sane response, the only human response.

Too human for some, like conservative Muslim theologians who maintain that the account of his wanting to kill himself shouldn't even be mentioned, despite the fact that it's in the earliest Islamic biographies. They insist that he never doubted for even a single moment, let alone despaired. Demanding perfection, they refuse to tolerate human imperfection. Yet what, exactly, is imperfect about doubt? As I read those early accounts, I realized it was precisely Muhammad's doubt that brought him alive for me, that allowed me to begin to see him in full, to accord him the integrity of reality. And the more I thought about it, the more it made sense that he doubted, because doubt is essential to faith.

If this seems a startling idea at first, consider that doubt, as Graham Greene once put it, is the heart of the matter. Abolish all doubt, and what's left is not faith, but absolute, heartless conviction. You're certain that you possess the Truth -- inevitably offered with an implied uppercase T -- and this certainty quickly devolves into dogmatism and righteousness, by which I mean a demonstrative, overweening pride in being so very right, in short, the arrogance of fundamentalism. It has to be one of the multiple ironies of history that a favorite expletive of Muslim fundamentalists is the same one once used by the Christian fundamentalists known as Crusaders: "infidel," from the Latin for "faithless." Doubly ironic, in this case, because their absolutism is in fact the opposite of faith. In effect, they are the infidels. Like fundamentalists of all religious stripes, they have no questions, only answers. They found the perfect antidote to thought and the ideal refuge of the hard demands of real faith. They don't have to struggle for it like Jacob wrestling through the night with the angel, or like Jesus in his 40 days and nights in the wilderness, or like Muhammad, not only that night on the mountain, but throughout his years as a prophet, with the Koran constantly urging him not to despair, and condemning those who most loudly proclaim that they know everything there is to know and that they and they alone are right.

And yet we, the vast and still far too silent majority, have ceded the public arena to this extremist minority. We've allowed Judaism to be claimed by violently messianic West Bank settlers, Christianity by homophobic hypocrites and misogynistic bigots, Islam by suicide bombers. And we've allowed ourselves to be blinded to the fact that no matter whether they claim to be Christians, Jews or Muslims, militant extremists are none of the above. They're a cult all their own, blood brothers steeped in other people's blood.

This isn't faith. It's fanaticism, and we have to stop confusing the two. We have to recognize that real faith has no easy answers. It's difficult and stubborn. It involves an ongoing struggle, a continual questioning of what we think we know, a wrestling with issues and ideas. It goes hand in hand with doubt, in a never-ending conversation with it, and sometimes in conscious defiance of it.

And this conscious defiance is why I, as an agnostic, can still have faith. I have faith, for instance, that peace in the Middle East is possible despite the ever-accumulating mass of evidence to the contrary. I'm not convinced of this. I can hardly say I believe it. I can only have faith in it, commit myself, that is, to the idea of it, and I do this precisely because of the temptation to throw up my hands in resignation and retreat into silence.

Because despair is self-fulfilling. If we call something impossible, we act in such a way that we make it so. And I, for one, refuse to live that way. In fact, most of us do, whether we're atheist or theist or anywhere in between or beyond, for that matter, what drives us is that, despite our doubts and even because of our doubts, we reject the nihilism of despair. We insist on faith in the future and in each other. Call this naive if you like. Call it impossibly idealistic if you must. But one thing is sure: Call it human.

Could Muhammad have so radically changed his world without such faith, without the refusal to cede to the arrogance of closed-minded certainty? I think not. After keeping company with him as a writer for the past five years, I can't see that he'd be anything but utterly outraged at the militant fundamentalists who claim to speak and act in his name in the Middle East and elsewhere today. He'd be appalled at the repression of half the population because of their gender. He'd be torn apart by the bitter divisiveness of sectarianism. He'd call out terrorism for what it is, not only criminal but an obscene travesty of everything he believed in and struggled for. He'd say what the Koran says: Anyone who takes a life takes the life of all humanity. Anyone who saves a life, saves the life of all humanity. And he'd commit himself fully to the hard and thorny process of making peace.

Thank you.

WEBSITE:
Hazelton TED
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"A Revolution of Authority" by BR. DAVID STEINDL-RAST, OSB

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The editorial staff at What Is Enlightenment? magazine ask:
These days there is a wary climate regarding people who hold themselves out as spiritual authorities. There is a tendency to be very skeptical about the possibility that someone could be a genuine authority. Yet traditionally it’s been fairly common for people to seek out a spiritual teacher for guidance, and to commit themselves to that teacher. What are your thoughts on this?

Brother David replies: Some twenty years ago, there was a much greater openness to making anybody who came along and seemed to have some great credentials for teaching your guru. Nowadays many people have been burnt and they will look twice. That is skepticism, and it can easily become cynicism, which isn’t very healthy. But it also has its healthy aspect because people are less gullible and teachers have to prove themselves. On the other hand, our time is so frightening, there are so many things going on that frighten us, that many people want security at any price. They will let themselves be put down, be abused and become dependent on a teacher just in order to have a sense of security, to feel that they know everything. No questions asked, you just do what you’re told, this sort of thing. That is always a great danger in times of fear. And our time is a fear-inspiring time. I understand when you say that many people are more skeptical, but there are also many people who want just this kind of security at any price, and are willing to be put down and pay that price.

There is just one great spiritual teacher, and that is the Divine Spirit in your heart. What any spiritual teacher on the outside can do, at best, is to always lead you back to that teacher in your heart. But the key word here is “authority.” We have a very impoverished and actually strongly warped notion of authority nowadays, and we think that authority is the power to command. Well, that’s wrong. That’s a derived meaning of authority. Originally authority means: a firm basis for knowing and acting. If you want to know what to do in a given case you will go to a book that is an authoritative book, or you will go to a person who is an authority in his or her field, and so forth. So that’s the original meaning of authority. However, because people who provide a firm basis for knowing and acting for others are few and far between, you put them in a
position of authority, which means you give them power to command. But the more power somebody has, the greater the danger of corruption. This is where some spiritual teachers then go off the deep end. This is where the question of the proper use of authority comes in.

Jesus Christ brought a complete revolution of the understanding of authority. This is, I think, the Christian tradition’s most central insight and potentially its greatest contribution to spirituality in the world. It occurred in two ways. First, Jesus placed the authority of God, which was always seen as external, in the very hearts of his hearers. The core teaching of Jesus is not, “I am going to
tell you all,” or anything like that. No, he presupposes you know it all. “Don’t you know it? I’ll remind you of it. You know it all.” This is his typical voice. This question opens many of the parables, “Who of you doesn’t know this already?” It’s not sufficiently emphasized nowadays in Christian teaching, but the moment you are alerted to it you see it.

So, one of the really dramatic events that happened in history – and that’s why the world is still reeling with what happened in the life of Jesus – is that with Jesus, the Divine authority was squarely placed in the hearts of every human being. That was a tremendous revolution. The immanence of God and the Divine in the human heart was stressed. And it was probably necessary that this should happen in a setting in which duality was stronger than anywhere else: “Holy” in the Hebrew Bible means “the altogether other.” So God was the absolutely other. Then Jesus comes and maintains that, doesn’t deny it in any way, but also says that the absolutely other is closer to you than you are to yourself. So that was the first part of the revolution of authority, that the Divine authority is placed in the heart of the earth.

This gives us a pretty good test for seeing which spiritual teachers are authentic and which ones are not: Do they use their power to empower others?

The second aspect is best expressed in the image of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples and saying, essentially, “You call me Lord and Master. In other words, you call me an authority. You are right, that’s what I am. But in the world, those who have power lord it over others. With you it should be different. The greatest among you, the one who has the most power, should be the servant of all. And that is what I show you because I am washing your feet.” So that is the answer to the question, what is authority good for? Authority must be used, but there is only one legitimate use for it, and that is to empower those who are under authority. One of the most important things about Jesus is that he apparently had great authority but did not fall prey to its power. He even emphatically told his followers that that’s not what you do – you turn this upside down and become the servant of all. First divine authority was placed in the hearts of everyone. Then human authority was given a task, namely, not to put those down that are under authority, but to build them up and empower them.

This also gives us a pretty good test for looking at spiritual teachers, and seeing which ones are authentic and which ones are not. Do they use their power to empower others? There may be a phase where a person has to be carried like a child. There may be a phase of dependency that one may have to go through. But you have to look at the whole picture. With any teacher you will see, by looking at that teacher’s accomplished students, what it is leading to. When you see that this teacher makes them stand on their own feet, then that’s authentic. When you see that this teacher makes them more and more dependent, then that’s hands off, that’s dangerous.
Reprinted from What Is Enlightenment? (WIE) Spring/Summer 1996, Vol. 5, #1, pp. 26-27

WEBSITE:
Gratefulness

Brother David’s Journey
DAVID STEINDL-RAST was born July 12, 1926, in Vienna, Austria, where he studied art, anthropology, and psychology, receiving an MA from the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts and a PhD from the University of Vienna. In 1952 he followed his family who had emigrated to the United States. In 1953 he joined a newly founded Benedictine community in Elmira, NY, Mount Saviour Monastery, of which he is now a senior member. In 1958/59 Brother David was a Post-Doctoral Fellow at Cornell University, where he also became the first Roman Catholic to hold the Thorpe Lectureship, following Bishop J.D.R. Robinson and Paul Tillich.

After twelve years of monastic training and studies in philosophy and theology, Brother David was sent by his abbot to participate in Buddhist-Christian dialogue, for which he received Vatican approval in 1967. His Zen teachers were Hakkuun Yasutani Roshi, Soen Nakagawa Roshi, Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, and Eido Shimano Roshi. He co-founded the Center for Spiritual Studies in 1968 and received the 1975 Martin Buber Award for his achievements in building bridges between religious traditions.

Together with Thomas Merton, Brother David helped launch a renewal of religious life. From 1970 on, he became a leading figure in the House of Prayer movement, which affected some 200,000 members of religious orders in the United States and Canada. Since the 1970s Brother David has been a member of cultural historian
William Irwin Thompson‘s Lindisfarne Association.”

For decades, Brother David divided his time between periods of hermit’s life and extensive lecture tours on five continents. On a two-month lecture tour in Australia, for example, he gave 140 lectures and traveled 12,000 miles within Australia without backtracking. His wide spectrum of audiences has included starving students in Zaire and faculty at Harvard and Columbia Universities, Buddhist monks and Sufi retreatants, Papago Indians and German intellectuals, New Age communes and Naval Cadets at Annapolis, missionaries on Polynesian islands and gatherings at the United Nations, Green Berets and participants at international peace conferences. Brother David has brought spiritual depth into the lives of countless people whom he touches through his lectures, his workshops, and his writings.

He has contributed to a wide range of books and periodicals from the Encyclopedia Americana and The New Catholic Encyclopedia, to the New Age Journal and Parabola Magazine.
His books have been translated into many languages. Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer and A Listening Heart have been reprinted and anthologized for more than two decades. Brother David co-authored Belonging to the Universe (winner of the 1992 American Book Award), a dialogue on new paradigm thinking in science and theology with physicist, Fritjof Capra. His dialogue with Buddhists produced The Ground We Share: Buddhist and Christian Practice, co-authored with Robert Aitken Roshi. His most recent books are Words of Common Sense, Deeper than Words:  Living the Apostles’ Creed, 99 Blessings:  An Invitation to Life, and the upcoming The Way of Silence: Engaging the Sacred in Daily Life, and Faith beyond Belief: Spirituality for our Times.

Brother David contributed chapters or interviews to well over 30 books. An article by Brother David was included in The Best Spiritual Writing, 1998. His many audio and videotapes are widely distributed.

At present, Brother David serves a worldwide Network for Grateful Living, through
Gratefulness.org, an interactive website with several thousand participants daily from more than 240 countries and territories.

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"Why you think you're right — even if you're wrong" (TED TALK) by Julia Galef

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https://www.ted.com/talks/julia_galef_why_you_think_you_re_right_even_if_you_re_wrong?language=en

Perspective is everything, especially when it comes to examining your beliefs. Are you a soldier, prone to defending your viewpoint at all costs — or a scout, spurred by curiosity? Julia Galef examines the motivations behind these two mindsets and how they shape the way we interpret information, interweaved with a compelling history lesson from 19th-century France. When your steadfast opinions are tested, Galef asks: "What do you most yearn for? Do you yearn to defend your own beliefs or do you yearn to see the world as clearly as you possibly can?"

So I'd like you to imagine for a moment that you're a soldier in the heat of battle. Maybe you're a Roman foot soldier or a medieval archer or maybe you're a Zulu warrior. Regardless of your time and place, there are some things that are constant. Your adrenaline is elevated, and your actions are stemming from these deeply ingrained reflexes, reflexes rooted in a need to protect yourself and your side and to defeat the enemy.

So now, I'd like you to imagine playing a very different role, that of the scout. The scout's job is not to attack or defend. The scout's job is to understand. The scout is the one going out, mapping the terrain, identifying potential obstacles. And the scout may hope to learn that, say, there's a bridge in a convenient location across a river. But above all, the scout wants to know what's really there, as accurately as possible. And in a real, actual army, both the soldier and the scout are essential. But you can also think of each of these roles as a mindset -- a metaphor for how all of us process information and ideas in our daily lives. What I'm going to argue today is that having good judgment, making accurate predictions, making good decisions, is mostly about which mindset you're in.

To illustrate these mindsets in action, I'm going to take you back to 19th-century France, where this innocuous-looking piece of paper launched one of the biggest political scandals in history. It was discovered in 1894 by officers in the French general staff. It was torn up in a wastepaper basket, but when they pieced it back together, they discovered that someone in their ranks had been selling military secrets to Germany.

So they launched a big investigation, and their suspicions quickly converged on this man, Alfred Dreyfus. He had a sterling record, no past history of wrongdoing, no motive as far as they could tell. But Dreyfus was the only Jewish officer at that rank in the army, and unfortunately at this time, the French Army was highly anti-Semitic. They compared Dreyfus's handwriting to that on the memo and concluded that it was a match, even though outside professional handwriting experts were much less confident in the similarity, but never mind that. They went and searched Dreyfus's apartment, looking for any signs of espionage. They went through his files, and they didn't find anything. This just convinced them more that Dreyfus was not only guilty, but sneaky as well, because clearly he had hidden all of the evidence before they had managed to get to it.

Next, they went and looked through his personal history for any incriminating details. They talked to his teachers, they found that he had studied foreign languages in school, which clearly showed a desire to conspire with foreign governments later in life. His teachers also said that Dreyfus was known for having a good memory, which was highly suspicious, right? You know, because a spy has to remember a lot of things.

So the case went to trial, and Dreyfus was found guilty. Afterwards, they took him out into this public square and ritualistically tore his insignia from his uniform and broke his sword in two. This was called the Degradation of Dreyfus. And they sentenced him to life imprisonment on the aptly named Devil's Island, which is this barren rock off the coast of South America. So there he went, and there he spent his days alone, writing letters and letters to the French government begging them to reopen his case so they could discover his innocence. But for the most part, France considered the matter closed.

One thing that's really interesting to me about the Dreyfus Affair is this question of why the officers were so convinced that Dreyfus was guilty. I mean, you might even assume that they were setting him up, that they were intentionally framing him. But historians don't think that's what happened. As far as we can tell, the officers genuinely believed that the case against Dreyfus was strong. Which makes you wonder: What does it say about the human mind that we can find such paltry evidence to be compelling enough to convict a man?

Well, this is a case of what scientists call "motivated reasoning." It's this phenomenon in which our unconscious motivations, our desires and fears, shape the way we interpret information. Some information, some ideas, feel like our allies. We want them to win. We want to defend them. And other information or ideas are the enemy, and we want to shoot them down. So this is why I call motivated reasoning, "soldier mindset."

Probably most of you have never persecuted a French-Jewish officer for high treason, I assume, but maybe you've followed sports or politics, so you might have noticed that when the referee judges that your team committed a foul, for example, you're highly motivated to find reasons why he's wrong. But if he judges that the other team committed a foul -- awesome! That's a good call, let's not examine it too closely. Or, maybe you've read an article or a study that examined some controversial policy, like capital punishment. And, as researchers have demonstrated, if you support capital punishment and the study shows that it's not effective, then you're highly motivated to find all the reasons why the study was poorly designed. But if it shows that capital punishment works, it's a good study. And vice versa: if you don't support capital punishment, same thing.

Our judgment is strongly influenced, unconsciously, by which side we want to win. And this is ubiquitous. This shapes how we think about our health, our relationships, how we decide how to vote, what we consider fair or ethical. What's most scary to me about motivated reasoning or soldier mindset, is how unconscious it is. We can think we're being objective and fair-minded and still wind up ruining the life of an innocent man.

However, fortunately for Dreyfus, his story is not over. This is Colonel Picquart. He's another high-ranking officer in the French Army, and like most people, he assumed Dreyfus was guilty. Also like most people in the army, he was at least casually anti-Semitic. But at a certain point, Picquart began to suspect: "What if we're all wrong about Dreyfus?" What happened was, he had discovered evidence that the spying for Germany had continued, even after Dreyfus was in prison. And he had also discovered that another officer in the army had handwriting that perfectly matched the memo, much closer than Dreyfus's handwriting. So he brought these discoveries to his superiors, but to his dismay, they either didn't care or came up with elaborate rationalizations to explain his findings, like, "Well, all you've really shown, Picquart, is that there's another spy who learned how to mimic Dreyfus's handwriting, and he picked up the torch of spying after Dreyfus left. But Dreyfus is still guilty." Eventually, Picquart managed to get Dreyfus exonerated. But it took him 10 years, and for part of that time, he himself was in prison for the crime of disloyalty to the army.

A lot of people feel like Picquart can't really be the hero of this story because he was an anti-Semite and that's bad, which I agree with. But personally, for me, the fact that Picquart was anti-Semitic actually makes his actions more admirable, because he had the same prejudices, the same reasons to be biased as his fellow officers, but his motivation to find the truth and uphold it trumped all of that.

So to me, Picquart is a poster child for what I call "scout mindset." It's the drive not to make one idea win or another lose, but just to see what's really there as honestly and accurately as you can, even if it's not pretty or convenient or pleasant. This mindset is what I'm personally passionate about. And I've spent the last few years examining and trying to figure out what causes scout mindset. Why are some people, sometimes at least, able to cut through their own prejudices and biases and motivations and just try to see the facts and the evidence as objectively as they can?

And the answer is emotional. So, just as "soldier mindset" is rooted in emotions like defensiveness or tribalism, scout mindset is, too. It's just rooted in different emotions. For example, scouts are curious. They're more likely to say they feel pleasure when they learn new information or an itch to solve a puzzle. They're more likely to feel intrigued when they encounter something that contradicts their expectations. Scouts also have different values. They're more likely to say they think it's virtuous to test your own beliefs, and they're less likely to say that someone who changes his mind seems weak. And above all, scouts are grounded, which means their self-worth as a person isn't tied to how right or wrong they are about any particular topic. So they can believe that capital punishment works. If studies come out showing that it doesn't, they can say, "Huh. Looks like I might be wrong. Doesn't mean I'm bad or stupid."

This cluster of traits is what researchers have found -- and I've also found anecdotally -- predicts good judgment. And the key takeaway I want to leave you with about those traits is that they're primarily not about how smart you are or about how much you know. In fact, they don't correlate very much with IQ at all. They're about how you feel. There's a quote that I keep coming back to, by Saint-Exupéry. He's the author of "The Little Prince." He said, "If you want to build a ship, don't drum up your men to collect wood and give orders and distribute the work. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea."

In other words, I claim, if we really want to improve our judgment as individuals and as societies, what we need most is not more instruction in logic or rhetoric or probability or economics, even though those things are quite valuable. But what we most need to use those principles well is scout mindset. We need to change the way we feel. We need to learn how to feel proud instead of ashamed when we notice we might have been wrong about something. We need to learn how to feel intrigued instead of defensive when we encounter some information that contradicts our beliefs.

So the question I want to leave you with is: What do you most yearn for? Do you yearn to defend your own beliefs? Or do you yearn to see the world as clearly as you possibly can?

Thank you.

WEBSITE:
1952-53images
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"The Dao of Chinese Insight Calligraphy" by Bio Sattva

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Cool Koi Fish Yin Yang Tattoo Art by Rachel Martin


"The fundamental philosophical principle of yin and yang is reflected in every aspect of Chinese calligraphy. [...] The study of Chinese calligraphy is not only a study of Chinese writing. In many ways, it is also a study of Chinese philosophy and the Chinese worldview. Aesthetic principles and standards are rooted in cultural and philosophical tenets, and Confucianism and Daoism form the basis of Chinese culture. Of the two Daoism has the stronger influence on art. It is no exaggeration to say that Daoism, from its place at the core of Chinese culture, is the spirit of Chinese art. Many characteristics of Chinese calligraphy reflect Daoist principles." - Wendan Li, Chinese Writing & Calligraphy (University of Hawai‘i Press. 2009), p175

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"You can buy the ink, the rice paper, the brush, but if you don't cultivate the art of calligraphy, you can't do calligraphy." - Vietenamese Zen teacher and mindful calligrapher, Thich Nhat Hanh, The Art of Power (2007), p81

"The Zen way of calligraphy is to write in the most straightforward, simple way as if you were a beginner, not trying to make something skillful or beautiful, but simply writing with full attention as if you were discovering what you were writing for the first time; then your full nature will be in your writing. This is the way of practice moment after moment." - Richard Baker Roshi, Introduction,
Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind (1995), p14.
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A Zen Calligraphy piece by Japanese Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki painted using a plant from outside. It reads: "Beginner's Mind”.


When practising writing Insight Calligraphy, there are so many things for the beginner to consider and bring together as one flowing whole. As when learning to coordinate one's body in order to ride a bicycle, the intended outcome can seem like an impossible endeavour - that one is attempting to achieve some supernatural feat that one's teacher cannot explain. However, with persistence those moments of balance do come, and one feels the flow of the process more and more.

This is something which appears to be at the core of Chinese artistic disciplines, and it comes from ancient philosophies which encourage practitioners to go beyond concepts and instead seek harmony with nature. The author of the book
Chinese Writing and Calligraphy, Wendan Li, points to this when he says (p180):

"Without the Daoist principle of diversity in harmony, there would be no Chinese calligraphy. Chinese calligraphy is often likened to Chinese Zen in that it does not lend itself very well to words and can only be experienced and perceived through the senses.”

As with seated mindfulness meditation, Insight calligraphy has an apparent subtle yogic physical dimension to it. My calligraphy teacher here in Beijing, Paul Wang, said to me last week: "One must use one's whole body to write. If there is tension anywhere, then the expression will be limited, and so a whole-body focus needs to be maintained". Wendan Li supports this by saying (p184-5):

"Writing involves almost every part of the body, from the fingers and shoulders to the back muscles and the muscles involved in breathing. Similar to Taiji, calligraphy is based on a typical Chinese philosophy that emphasizes moderation and detachment. Through slow, moderate movements, the energy... passes through the writer’s back, shoulders, arms, wrists, palms, and fingers, onward to the brush tip and, finally, is projected onto the paper.[..]...the initiation of writing is usually accompanied by a decrease in heart rate and lowered blood pressure. When a high degree of concentration is reached, the heart rate significantly decelerates and blood pressure drops significantly. These responses are similar to those created by meditation with one major difference: Meditation seeks tranquillity in a state of rest, whereas calligraphy seeks tranquillity in motion. [...] Prolonged practice of calligraphy can play a significant role in keeping one fit and improving one’s health. This explains the well-known fact that, in traditional China, most calligraphers lived to an age well beyond the average life span.”

During my private class with Paul Wang yesterday, we discussed the role of the Daoist Classics; the DaoDeJing and JuangZi in writing Insight Calligraphy. In the DaoDeJing, LaoZi writes (Chapter 25):

"Imagine a nebulous thing here before Heaven and Earth, silent and elusive it stands alone, not wavering it travels everywhere unharmed, it could be the mother of us all,
not knowing its name, I call it the Tao, forced to name it, I name it Great,
great means ever-flowing, ever-flowing means far-reaching, far-reaching means returning,
the Tao is great, Heaven is great, Earth is great, the king is also great, the realm contains four greats, of these the king is one,
Man imitates Earth, Earth imitates Heaven, Heaven imitates the Tao, the Tao imitates itself.”

Writing Insight Calligraphy is the
Dao (or Tao in the old Wade-Giles Chinese romanization) expressing itself. To see this positively, we allow for an expression of our inherently positive being to manifest itself through skill, thus giving rise to a positive piece of art.

In the case of Insight Calligraphy, this artistic expression is in the form of characters written with black ink on paper. The apparent similarity between some Chinese cursive calligraphy strokes and the Daoist TaiJi (YinYang) symbol is not coincidental. As Wendan Li points out, there has always been a link between Daoism and calligraphy (p178):

"The way of calligraphy and the way of nature, although differ in scope, share similar principles. Calligraphy best illustrates Daoist philosophy when the brush embodies, expresses, and magnifies the power of the Dao. Thus, an adequate understanding of the concept of yin and yang and its manifestations in calligraphy, and how various techniques are implemented to create contrast and unity in writing, is essential to your grasp of the core of the art."

In China, art is often seen as an expression of the human heart - a positive creation that brings happiness to the lives of others. It is also worth noting here that the Chinese considered
heart and mind to be one thing -  Xīn ().
Xin1-2


The Chinese character for heart/mind carved into the wall of a Buddhist temple on KongTongShan, China, and into the rock at the Buddhist temple complex of PuTuoShan, China. The author visited both of these locations in 2006.



The beauty of this innate positive heart/mind is considered to be reflected in the natural world around us, and the calligrapher's practice is to render that beauty visible in a symbolic format. Li states (p179):

"The beauty of Chinese calligraphy is essentially the beauty of plastic movement, like the coordinated movements of a skillfully composed dance: impulse, momentum, momentary poise, and the interplay of active forces combine to form a balanced whole. The effect of rhythmic vitality rests on the writer’s artistic mind as well as training in basic techniques and composition skills [...] Generally speaking, Running and Cursive styles have stronger rhythm than the more traditional scripts. This is why many artists favor these two styles. When a piece is created with the vital forces of life and rhythm, the result is fresh in spirit and pleasing to the eye."
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An Insight Calligraphy piece by the author's teacher Paul Wang. It reads: "Kong You Bu Er"  (Form is not other than Emptiness).



The inherently positive human heart/mind is something the Chinese have generally considered true since ancient times. In Junior schools all over the country, Chinese children are once again learning to recite the
Three Character Classic (三字經) - a philosophical teaching attributed to the disciples of KongZi (Confucius). For many children, as was the case over the past two thousand years, this is the first book learnt upon beginning formal education. The book begins:

" 人之初 (rén zhī chū) People at birth
性本善 (xìng běn shàn) Are naturally good (kind-hearted).
性相近 (xìng xiāng jìn) Their natures are similar,
習相遠 (xí xiāng yuǎn) (But) their habits make them different (from each other).”

The practice of honing skill in order to render works of art is considered, by the Daoists, a Sagely path in itself. In order to truly and repetitively render the positive mind's perception, one must manifest a seamless connection between heart and hand. This is apparently the highest level of skill - no matter the practice, whether painting, dancing, sculpting, doing KungFu, or even cutting meat from an animal. In the
JuangZi, LaoZi's Daoist disciples relate the skill of a Butcher who practices Daoism thus (Chapter 3):

"whenever I come to a complicated place, I size up the difficulties, tell myself to watch out and be careful, keep my eyes on what I'm doing, work very slowly [...] At every touch of his hand, every heave of his shoulder, every move of his feet, every thrust of his knee - zip! zoop! He slithered the knife along with a zing, and all was in perfect rhythm, as though he were performing the dance of the Mulberry Grove or keeping time to the Ching-shou music. "Ah, this is marvelous!" said Lord Wen-hui. "Imagine skill reaching such heights!". Cook Ting laid down his knife and replied, "What I care about is the Way, which goes beyond skill. [...] I go at it by spirit and don't look with my eyes. Perception and understanding have come to a stop and spirit moves where it wants. I go along with the natural makeup, ... and follow things as they are"

Zhuangz000i
JuangZi - A student of Daoist Master LaoZi.


Bringing all this together - the desire to calmly express a positive heart/mind, and the pursuit of higher skill - the epitome of which is an appreciation of the Dao, or True Nature, it can be seen that Insight Calligraphy is a traditional and well-established kind of mindful practice. Even authors, such as Wendan Li, who do not primarily present and encourage calligraphy as a meditation practice, highlights the positive psychological benefits in the same way a mindfulness teacher would (p184):

 "During writing, the writer refrains from talking and concentrates on the task at hand. By so doing, he or she is able to project the characters in his or her mind accurately onto the paper through precise muscle and brush control. At the same time, the writing process also exerts a stabilizing influence on the writer’s mind, resulting in an even more transcendent sense of peace and clarity of thought. Thus calligraphy is commonly recognized as an effective way to remove anxiety and discover calmness and emotional grace." 
open mind open heart calligraphy enso with thay pic
A calligraphy piece by Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh
featuring a photograph of him.


As I practice Insight Calligraphy I can feel an unfolding - judgements, attachments, and intense emotions arising - all to be accepted and let go of in exactly the same way as during seated meditation. Here is a video of myself writing the character for 'Dao':
 
Getting the feeling for the character itself takes a long time, never mind the brush skill and mindful focus. This is the character I wrote in the above video placed next to the calligraphy teacher Paul Wang's (mine is on the left). There are plenty of places I made 'mistakes':
999T v P Dao1

I think mine lacks the confident dynamism and general structural integrity that Pauls has, not to mention some of the more detailed technical aspects of the strokes. Paul says that in order to capture the essence of the character as one looks at it, one must 'listen' to it before copying. He says it is the same kind of listening as the famous zen koan: "What is the sound of one hand clapping" - it brings one to a state of awareness that is beyond conceptual understanding - a 'don't know' mind that is receptive to wholeness; to the Dao.
TNH listen deeply circle
Another mindful calligraphy piece
by Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh.


WEBSITE:
Mindfful Discipline




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'What is Christian Mysticism?" by Jon Zuck

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What is Christian Mysticism?
10/20/2013
By Jon Zuck

"To many modern Christians, words like "meditation," "mystic," and "mysticism" bring to mind Eastern religions, not Christianity. Certainly Eastern religions are known for their mysticism; however, mysticism is not only a vital part of the Christian heritage as well, but it is actually the 
core of Christian spirituality. Mysticism simply means the spirituality of the direct experience of God. It is the adventure of "the wild things of God."

The direct experience of God is a kind of knowing, which goes beyond intellectual understanding. 
It is not a matter of "belief." It is marked by love and joy, but it is not "emotional experience." In many ways, it is better described by what it is not. To describe what it is, we must use metaphors,—the marriage of the soul to Christ, the death of the "old man" and birth of the "new man," being the "body of Christ."

Jesus proclaimed "
I and the Father are one," (Jn. 10.30) showing the world what the union of God and man can be. Christian mysticism is about nothing else but this transforming union.

Christ is the sole end of Christian mysticism. Whereas all Christians have Christ, call on Christ, and can (or should) know Christ, the goal for the Christian mystic is to become like Christ, to become as fully permeated with God as Christ is, thus becoming like him, fully human, and by the grace of God, also fully divine. In Christian teaching this doctrine is known by various names—theosis, divination, deification, and transforming union. 

A common misconception about mysticism is that it's about "mystical experiences," and there are many volumes on such experiences in religious literature. But true mysticism is not focussed on "experiences" (which come and go) but with the lasting experience of God, leading to the transformation of the believer into union with God.

a very, very, very short mystical apologetic.
To know God directly shows that mysticism is different from any passive or legalistic kind of Christianity. It means:

• That while we honor the Scriptures, we want to know God directly, not just through Scripture.
• While we respect our heritage of teachings about God, we want to know God directly, not through doctrines and teachings.
• While we gather in communal worship, we want to know God directly, not just through the Church.

Some readers may find this unsettling. Maybe you believe it doesn't apply to you, because you "know" that your church is purer and more correct than others. Even if that were true, is it a substitute for knowing God directly? Or, you might also feel that trusting the Bible alone gives you knowledge of God directly from the Source. But it was written by mystics, listening to God speaking his Word in their hearts. Is it possible for you to read it directly, without the conceptions of your language, time, culture, and personal history? Are you sure you wouldn't understand it very differently if you were reading it, say, in third-century Damascus?

The religion we call "Christianity" changes, but God is eternal. Mystical faith wants to know this unchanging God to whom Christianity leads us, the One behind the beliefs and the words, the One whom beliefs and words cannot describe. We want to follow Jesus' example more closely, and go beyond the religion 
about Jesus, and take the religion of Jesus: the knowledge of the Father and unconditional love he had, and urged us to have.

WHAT IS A MYSTIC?
I believe that everyone who wants to love unconditionally is a mystic. All children are born mystics, and if you were once a child, you were once a mystic. Christian mysticism is following the example of Christ as he followed the Father. And mysticism is not by any means restricted to Christianity: the Bible says, “everyone who loves is begotten of God, and knows God.” (1 Jn. 4.7) God speaks in various ways, in every time and every place to "whosoever will." Other pages on this site treat non-Christian mysticism.

Mystics range the gamut of walks of life, from intellectual priests such as Frs. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Matthew Fox, to laywomen like Bernadette Roberts and Katherine Nelson. The mystic way is old, but timeless—it is alive, and ever-new for each one who chooses it. It may be inviting you to begin this adventure of divine transformation and discovery." 


A VERY, VERY, VERY SHORT HISTORY OF MYSTICISM
The term mysticism derives from 
The Mystical Theology, a tiny treatise written by the greatest Christian writer of the sixth century, Dionysius the Areopagite, a.k.a. Pseudo-Dionysius or St. Denys [the Areopagite]. But Dionysius is in no way the "founder" of Christian mysticism. That honor belongs to none but Jesus the Christ himself. But there was mysticism long before Jesus was born. God "strolled in the Garden" with man (Heb.'adam). Jacob saw heaven opened. God spoke to Joseph through dreams. Moses communed with God on Sinai. David lost himself in dancing for the Lord.

But when Jesus declared "I and the Father are one," (Jn. 10.30) he proclaimed in himself the union of God and humankind, and he offers it to all who follow him (he gave the power to become sons of God to all who believe. (Jn. 1.12).

From there, the mystic heart is seen in the letters of the apostles: Paul reached the divinized state of losing his "self": 
I no longer live, but Christ lives in me! (Gal. 2.20) James wrote that every good and perfect gift comes from the Father of Lights, in whom there is no variation nor shadow of turning. (Jas. 1.17) Peter proclaimed that Christ even descended to hell to liberate imprisoned souls, (1 Pet. 3.19) and John understood the most sublime truth of God's essence: God is Love! (1 Jn. 4.8,16). This is only the beginning. Every century has been influenced by Christian mystics—from apostles and martyrs, Church Fathers and Desert Mothers, to monks and nuns of religious orders, to the lay mystics—men and women and boys and girls in every century, in every denomination, in every walk of life.


STARTING ON THE WAY
Few people seem to choose mysticism deliberately. It often takes a jolt of some kind from God to wake us up to the fact that there is something there, full of love, wanting to be known. It might come from a beautiful sunset, a shocking dream, a joyous birth, a shattering loss, or a brush with death. But from there, an awareness of an entirely new level of love, truth and goodness begins. But it is indeed possible to begin the mystic journey deliberately, determining to find the One who is the fountain of all being. The starting point of mysticism is encountering the Goodness of God. Not a conditional "goodness," but pure Goodness itself, with a capital G. This is Goodness without opposite or contrast, not the good in "good and evil." Goodness filling the Universe just as God himself does, so overwhelming in Good, that there is nothing possibly non-good there, no matter what appears to be otherwise. Unless we believe that God is Good, why would we even want to directly experience him? Although we may say we believe in his true Goodness, in the core of our beings, most of us do not.

We receive a thousand invitations to swim in this sea of wonder every day, with every sunrise and sunset, every laugh, every breath, every eyeblink. Yet few of us are able to see infinite Goodness surrounding us except in occasional glimpses. What happened?

We were all born natural mystics, eager to see pure Goodness in everything. Jesus said, unless you come as a child, you can not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Mt. 18.3) But early on, we are taught that receiving God's Goodness is dependent on our beliefs and actions, so a certain fear enters our hearts. Soon after that, we may try to accept contradictions, for instance, that God is infinite Love, but sends unbelievers to eternal torture in hell, (which is the most destructive and erroneous teaching in the typical Christian world-view.)

We cannot resolve the impossibility of the contradiction, so we back away slightly, believing God's goodness is merely conditional:... if I pray, if I believe, if I'm good, if whatever, then God will be good to me. The development of our belief system often stops there. Our teachers and preachers often say the same things to 40-year-olds as to 14-year-olds, so we carry these conditionings throughout life, and we lose the childlike heart. Many (very many!) adult Christians simply put their spiritual lives on hold out of frustration or a vague sense that something is amiss with the teachings they've received as "Christianity."

And even mystical Christians may find that although they are experiencing the wonder of God in their hearts, intellectually, the beliefs with which they grew up seem insufficient, creating a dichotomy between heart and head. How can we keep a child's faith in absolute Goodness, and integrate it with adult awareness, intelligence, and competence?

Learning and unlearning is necessary. There is a great heritage which mystics have passed on to us which can help the mind grasp what the heart is trying to tell it. For instance, mystics have believed from the beginning that 
God is in all things. Mystics believe that the nature of spiritual reality is even more real than that of this created world. Many Christian mystics have believed in universal salvation, and that "hell" is not endless. Most mystics have practiced some form of meditation to enter into awareness of God's divine Presence. And from Jesus, Paul, and John to the present, mystics know that the end goal of the Path is theosis, union with God.

stages on the journeyAnyone who undertakes this adventure of striving to know God directly, soon learns that it doesn't happen instantly; there are stages to the process. Eastern Orthodox Christians often envision it as Jacob's ladder, leading to upward to God. Western saints, such as Meister Eckhart, Teresa of Ávila, and 
John of the Cross use other analogies, such as going deeper within the "Interior Castle." Evelyn Underhill describes the stages as awakening, purification, illumination, surrender or the "Dark Night of the soul," and divine union. Matthew Fox describes it as a four-fold path.

The usefulness of these analogies is limited. Any attempt to describe the process of awakening to the indescribable is essentially drawing a map on water. One thing is certain, however. There will be 
letting go—of fears, desires, and even your self. And as more is released, more is received. (Or so it appears—really we just get rid of what is blocking us from seeing God's perfect goodness that was already there all along. The wonder of God's own Self.

Mystics over the centuries have advised 
spiritual practice for the releasing and receiving that is the essential rhythm of this life. In more familiar terms, meditation. If you're surprised because you've never heard your minsters urge you to meditate, you're not alone. Most Christian denominations, particularly the newer ones, have little history. But thestillness of meditation, or contemplation [from con (with) + temp(time) literally, "time with" God] has been the foundation of spiritual practice from the beginning centuries to the present. It's concentrated practice in releasing.

Let go. Let God. Let go. Let God. These are the two endless rhythms of the soul in the mystical life.

DANGERS?
You may have heard that mysticism is dangerous. It's occultic, it's not Christian, it "begins in mist and ends in schism," and so forth. All of those allegations are false, at least concerning an authentic mysticism as seeking the direct knowledge of God. Nevertheless, just as with everything else that can be experienced in this lifetime, there are some things to be aware of.

The greatest real danger is of attitude. 
Pride can lead to spiritual deception, mistaking intellectual change for spiritual progress. Fear can cause us to give up, and rationalize away the need for transformation.Holding on to experiences is probably the most subtle pitfall. On this adventure, you may encounter God in thrilling ways, with experiences of spiritual ecstasy. (Or you might not.) You might have experiences of miracles, of supernatural insight, of visions, of having healing power, and so forth. (Or you might not.) The experiences, when they come, if they come, are for you to be encouraged, to keep on letting go. Seeking to repeat a feeling or experience is a very, very, common distraction.

Another thing you might want to be aware of is 
loneliness. Since most Christian bodies have no teaching of mysticism past perhaps a few approved experiences (speaking in tongues, for example), it is going to be hard to find company for this journey, which is one of the reasons I created this website. Jesus called this way of living in the Kingdom of heaven "the narrow path," and said few find it. Furthermore, few even care!

He also said "foxes have holes, birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." This is also true. No church—no institution of any kind, really, is designed to be a home to those who want to truly want to follow the Son of Man this way, which means going beyond institutional experience. You will feel tired from time to time. You will have
periods of dryness, and may want to throw in the towel for a little while. Or even a long while. The work itself is your rest, your meeting-place with God, the Restorer of your being."


Borrowed from the blog of Jon Zuck: 
WEBSITE:
Spirituality and Faith
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"It's Not About Belief!" by Jon Zuck

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The mystical life is not a “belief system”

BELIEFS ARE NOT REALITY
It's essential to remember that all of these ideas are metaphors. Doctrines, words, concepts, thoughts and pictures all translate, emphasize, reflect, and otherwise point to reality. But no description of reality is the reality it describes. Words and pictures, ideas and doctrines, are not the things they point to. They are distorted indicators, utterly different in kind from what they point to. You can describe a tree in your backyard to me all day long, but until I touch it with my own hands, I can't feel its bark. If description can't communicate the tree-ness of a tree, how much less can words communicate God!

This is important! Challenging ideas are often vital for breaking up entrenched thought patterns and opening the mind. Yet no concept, no matter how inspirational, is that divine reality we seek, anymore than Magritte's pipe is something you can pick up and smoke.

We need to remember that God is the name we use for the Unspeakable. Simply put, the Source of everything is beyond all names. The “Trinity” is a conception of how the Infinite One relates to the phenomenal world of beings, matter, and time, which we call Creation. “The Fall from grace” is another. Other religions have their concepts as well—
lila, nirvana, maya. But to latch on to any one of these as “the Truth ” instead of a helpful pointer to truth, is to miss the point entirely! It's like several people pointing to that tree in the backyard and arguing whether the tree has three parts or fifteen parts—or arguing if the leaves are dark green, forest green, or olive.
God cannot be divided. God simply
is. The Universe simply is. What is simply is. All our thoughts and concepts divide Is-ness in our minds, and divide our minds from Is-ness.

Awakening is the transition from "religion" with its firm answers, perspectives, and experiences, to
realization, the awareness of what IS. Even more important is “Real-ization,” the embodiment of that awareness. The important things in mysticism are not concepts, thoughts, feelings, or even experiences, but the questions and questing for nothing else but this One we call God. Beliefs—in the sense of concepts which must be protected, are not part of Christian mystical life. In this sense, you must not “believe” in God. Instead, just rest in Being. And in being, and being with Being, you rest with God, the Ground of Being. Don't “believe” in the Trinity. Trust the holy and wholly indescribable Reality in whom you “live, move, and have your being”.

The Greek word
pisteo is almost always translated “belief” or “faith” in the New Testament. However, it also means trust and is better translated as such. Dare to move from belief to trust.

Slowly, joyfully, lovingly, destroy your concepts and mental images into the burning furnace of just being with the One. Just love what
is, seen and unseen. Don't name it. Don't label it. Don't even think about it. Just do what Jesus said: Come as a child.

“Whoever will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter into it.”
—Jesus, Mark 10:16

http://www.frimmin.com/faith/index.php
Spirituality and Faith
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“Unholy Strictures” by Karen Armstrong

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“Unholy Strictures”
by Karen Armstrong

It is wrong - and dangerous - to believe literal truth can be found in religious texts

Human beings, in nearly all cultures, have long engaged in a rather strange activity. They have taken a literary text, given it special status and attempted to live according to its precepts. These texts are usually of considerable antiquity yet they are expected to throw light on situations that their authors could not have imagined. In times of crisis, people turn to their scriptures with renewed zest and, with much creative ingenuity, compel them to speak to their current predicament. We are seeing a great deal of scriptural activity at the moment.

This is ironic, because the concept of scripture has become problematic in the modern period. The Scopes trial of 1925, when Christian fundamentalists in the United States tried to ban the teaching of evolution in the public schools, and the more recent affair of The Satanic Verses, both reveal deep-rooted anxiety about the nature of revelation and the integrity of sacred texts. People talk confidently about scripture, but it is not clear that even the most ardent religious practitioners really know what it is.

Protestant fundamentalists, for example, claim that they read the Bible in the same way as the early Christians, but their belief that it is literally true in every detail is a recent innovation, formulated for the first time in the late 19th century. Before the modern period, Jews, Christians and Muslims all relished highly allegorical interpretations of scripture. The word of God was infinite and could not be tied down to a single interpretation. Preoccupation with literal truth is a product of the scientific revolution, when reason achieved such spectacular results that mythology was no longer regarded as a valid path to knowledge.

We tend now to read our scriptures for accurate information, so that the Bible, for example, becomes a holy encyclopaedia, in which the faithful look up facts about God. Many assume that if the scriptures are not historically and scientifically correct, they cannot be true at all. But this was not how scripture was originally conceived. All the verses of the Qur'an, for example, are called "parables" (ayat); its images of paradise, hell and the last judgment are also ayat, pointers to transcendent realities that we can only glimpse through signs and symbols.

We distort our scriptures if we read them in an exclusively literal sense. There has recently been much discussion about the way Muslim terrorists interpret the Qur'an. Does the Qur'an really instruct Muslims to slay unbelievers wherever they find them? Does it promise the suicide bomber instant paradise and 70 virgins? If so, Islam is clearly chronically prone to terrorism. These debates have often been confused by an inadequate understanding of the way scripture works.

People do not robotically obey every single edict of their sacred texts. If they did, the world would be full of Christians who love their enemies and turn the other cheek when attacked. There are political reasons why a tiny minority of Muslims are turning to terrorism, which have nothing to do with Islam. But because of the way people read their scriptures these days, once a terrorist has decided to blow up a London bus, he can probably find scriptural texts that seem to endorse his action.

Part of the problem is that we are now reading our scriptures instead of listening to them. When, for example, Christian fundamentalists argue about the Bible, they hurl texts back and forth competitively, citing chapter and verse in a kind of spiritual tennis match. But this detailed familiarity with the Bible was impossible before the modern invention of printing made it feasible for everybody to own a copy and before widespread literacy - an essentially modern phenomenon - enabled them to read it for themselves.

Hitherto the scriptures had always been transmitted orally, in a ritual context that, like a great theatrical production, put them in a special frame of mind. Christians heard extracts of the Bible chanted during the mass; they could not pick and choose their favourite texts. In India, young Hindu men studied the Veda for years with their guru, adopting a self-effacing and non-violent lifestyle that was meant to influence their understanding of the texts. In Judaism, the process of studying Torah and Talmud with a rabbi was itself a transformative experience that was just as important as the content.


The last thing anyone should attempt is to read the Qur'an straight through from cover to cover, because it was designed to be recited aloud. Indeed, the word qur'an means "recitation". Much of the meaning is derived from sound patterns that link one passage with another, so that Muslims who hear extracts chanted aloud thousands of times in the course of a lifetime acquire a tacit understanding that one teaching is always qualified and supplemented by other texts, and cannot be seen in isolation. The words that they hear again and again are not "holy war", but "kindness", "courtesy", "peace", "justice", and “compassion".

Historians have noted that the shift from oral to written scripture often results in strident, misplaced certainty. Reading gives people the impression that they have an immediate grasp of their scripture; they are not compelled by a teacher to appreciate its complexity. Without the aesthetic and ethical disciplines of ritual, they can approach a text in a purely cerebral fashion, missing the emotive and therapeutic aspects of its stories and instructions.

Solitary reading also enables people to read their scriptures too selectively, focusing on isolated texts that they read out of context, and ignoring others that do not chime with their own predilections. Religious militants who read their scriptures in this way often distort the tradition they are trying to defend. Christian fundamentalists concentrate on the aggressive Book of Revelation and pay no attention to the Sermon on the Mount, while Muslim extremists rely on the more belligerent passages of the Qur'an and overlook its oft-repeated instructions to leave vengeance to God and make peace with the enemy.

We cannot turn the clock back. Most of us are accustomed to acquiring information instantly at the click of a mouse, and have neither the talent nor the patience for the disciplines that characterised pre-modern interpretation. But we can counter the dangerous tendency to selective reading of sacred texts. The Qur'an insists that its teaching must be understood "in full" (20:114), an important principle that religious teachers must impart to the disaffected young.

Muslim extremists have given the jihad (which they interpret reductively as "holy war") a centrality that it never had before and have thus redefined the meaning of Islam for many non-Muslims. But in this they are often unwittingly aided by the media, who also concentrate obsessively on the more aggressive verses of the Qur'an, without fully appreciating how these are qualified by the text as a whole. We must all - the religious and the sceptics alike - become aware that there is more to scripture than meets the cursory eye.


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· Karen Armstrong is the author of The Battle for God: A History of Fundamentalism
karmstronginfo@btopenworld.com


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"M. Scott Peck: Wrestling With God"

M. Scott Peck: Wrestling With God
The Road Less Traveled may well have been a life-changing work and one of the best-selling books of all time.

By Robert Epstein Ph.D., published on November 1, 2002 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

Scott Peck had a station-wagon with plates that read "THLOST" in his driveway. They speak of his lifelong journey as a self-described mystic. His last book is a memoir titled
Glimpses of the Devil. He said it was his last effort because of his affliction with Parkinson's disease. In 2002, Robert Epstein visited him at his home on Lake Waramaug, in Connecticut.

Most people struggle with issues of spirituality in one form or another. Sometimes they arrive at a place of peace, and sometimes they don't. Must we go through this struggle, or can you point us to a shortcut?

I do not think that everybody has to struggle. But to probably at least half of the people, it never seems to enter their minds that they might be engaged in a struggle or that there might be something to struggle with.

One of my shticks is about why we need to do hard scientific research on religion. A study shows that if you ask people whether they believe in God, probably 95 percent of Americans will say they do. And there is nothing particularly great about their mental
health. But if you ask them whether they have ever had any personal experience with God, only about 15 to 20 percent will say "yes." Those few have also been judged as more mentally healthy than the others. And the experience is not necessarily one we choose. Everyone is different, so your spirituality is not going to be my spirituality; your wrestling match is not my wrestling match. But right off the bat, the wrestling match has been a gift of God to you.

In the 1970s, when you wrote The Road Less Traveled, where were you at spiritually?

Although I was raised in a profoundly secular home, I had a belief, an awareness of God, from as far back as I can remember. In poetic form, there is a footnote in
The Road Less Traveled about my earliest memory: "In the autumn, when I was three, my mother woke me from dark sleep to see the northern lights dancing in the cold. In her warm night arms, I danced all the way to China before she carried me in. I still dance, and I do not know if I can ever forgive her for such love." That is quite a first memory. I credit my mother with that, rather than credit God.

In my senior year at Friends Seminary, a little Quaker school on the edge of Greenwich Village in New York City, I took an elective course in world religions. The book we used was very objective, and it contained quotes from the Upanishads and Zen Buddhism. It wasn't that these religions taught me mysticism, for I was already a mystic. But for the first time, I had a
religious identity. I had come home. And so I called myself a Zen Buddhist at the age of 18.

Around age 30 I found myself thirsting for a less abstract religion. I'd always been into Jewish mystical stories, Hasidic stories. Then I discovered Sufism. All Sufi stories are about
psychotherapy and teaching and learning. So I started being nurtured by the Muslim mystics; they were a little more down-to-earth.

I'd turned down a lucrative Harvard fellowship and stayed in the Army as a psychiatrist. Together with a senator's aide, we toured the new drug-abuse programs to get a feeling for how they were doing. One of the places we went was Fort Jackson in South Carolina. When we got there, everyone wanted to see this controversial new show coming to town called
Jesus Christ Superstar. That show was a real eye-opener. It was the first thing that put me in touch with Jesus' humanity and realness.
The other major thing was reading the Gospels at the age of 40. I lay in bed at night reading the
New Testament. And just as I had felt with Jesus Christ Superstar, I was blown away. Now I think a small part of the Gospels is made up. But I found this incredibly real person. Jesus was lonely and sorrowful and scared—an unbelievably real person. And it was at that point that I began to take becoming a Christian seriously. Some people who arrive at Christianity start with Jesus' divinity, and some with his humanity. With me, it was his humanity. And only later did I begin to get in touch with his divinity, which was initially difficult for me to swallow.

This whole time, you were a practicing psychiatrist. You were in a community of confident mainstream mental health and medical professionals, many of whom had research backgrounds. How were you reconciling your spirituality with what you did for a living, namely practicing psychiatry, where there is little or no religious orientation?

Well, when I began to practice psychiatry it was 1964, so I was 28. My spirituality had not developed, so I could not talk about it fluently the way I do today. But I already saw no great difference between the psyche and spirituality. To amass knowledge without becoming
wise is not my idea of progress in therapy. As soon as I became comfortable doing so, therapy became for me a quasi-spiritual endeavor. And, often with trepidation, I would carefully use certain religious concepts in therapy when appropriate.
For example, take people with phobias. Two things characterize them. One is that they see this world as a very dangerous place. The other is that they see themselves as isolated in this dangerous world. So it is up to them, by their wits alone, to keep themselves alive. You usually treat them by converting them to adopt a more benign view of the world as a less dangerous place, or by persuading them that there is something called grace protecting them so they don't have to worry about everything all the time.

You must have had some serious doubts.

Are you familiar with James Fowler? He's the expert on the stages of faith development. I simplify them a bit. Jim's theory has six stages; mine has four. The fundamental stage, one I call "chaotic antisocial," is a stage of absent spirituality. The second stage is "formal institutional," in which the fundamentalists fall. Stage three I call "skeptic individual," where religion is either thrown out or seriously doubted. And then there is stage four, which I call "mystical communal." To get from stage two to stage four—if you can in a lifetime—you must go through stage three. You have to go through a phase of doubting. One of the great sins of the Christian church is the discouragement of doubting. There's a limit to doubting. If you become really good at stage-three doubting, you begin to doubt your own doubts. And that's when you begin to move to stage four.

Most people achieve this without being in therapy.

Right. But therapy can—although not very well without the use of religious concepts—sometimes facilitate this transition.


People who are trained in psychology and psychiatry keep religion at arm's length. In The Road Less Traveled you wrote, "My plea would be that psychotherapists of all kinds should push themselves to become no less involved but rather more sophisticated in religious matters than they currently are." That philosophy contradicts the training that's provided in the field. Even mental health professionals with strong religious beliefs don't bring them into the therapeutic exchange. You're saying this is wrong?

Yes. I said it was wrong many years ago, and I say it's wrong today. In 1992, the American
Psychiatric Association, for political reasons, decided it needed to give me recognition because people were getting pissed off at [the APA] for not giving me any. So [the APA] gave me a plaque that read, "For his work as a teacher and clinician." I also gave a lecture. As did William Styron, the author of Sophie's Choice, who wrote a book about his own depression. The best-attended APA lectures were his and mine. [At my lecture] they started off with a room that seated 500. Then they removed a wall [to expand the room] and got 1,000 people in. Then 200 or 300 more came in, and then there were about 200 or 300 outside. At the end, there was a standing ovation.
I wrote to the president of the APA and said, "We've got to do more, and I am here to consult with you in any way you might like." And he said, "Yes, we have to do more." I never heard back from him. There are lots of reasons for this state of affairs historically, going back to Galileo, with the fight between science and religion. And psychiatry really does begin with
Freud, who was extremely secular and scientific-minded. He was terribly conflicted about religion, as many people are. Of course, most people are familiar with stage-two religion. And by God, we're going to keep psychiatry scientific. And then, for often crass motives, the APA has run with the medical model for insurance purposes. Thank God I've been out of practice for 15 years now. There are a lot of reasons for this split. But that doesn't mean it's right, or it's real.

There's some irony here. They flock to you because of your spirituality, and then spurn you for the same reasons. Another irony is that your books sell well in the Bible Belt. And yet, you are down on fundamentalism, and the fundamentalist Christians are very down on you.

They picketed me twice some years ago as me being the Antichrist. Not an antichrist, but the Antichrist. That's power.
Can you tell me more about the roots of your spirituality—about the intellectual and experiential side?

All my work can be traced back to my Harvard college thesis, "Anxiety, Modern Science and the Epistemological Problem." I outlined three basic ways to try and look at things. They can be looked at as if they were caused by something external, or they were caused by something internal, or they were caused by relationships between things. Unfortunately, none of these three ways can answer all the questions we have. That is, our questions about the cause for intellectual anxiety. Increasingly, modern science is about our realization that we just don't know. Much of my life since has consisted of working out that thesis. The answer to
understanding things is not one of those three, but all of them simultaneously. It's more than a paradox—it's a “triadox."

I am really an empiricist, a believer in the importance of experience. I've had all kinds of experiences with God in terms of revelation through a still, small voice or
dreams or coincidences. Hundreds of them. Once, a secular Jewish woman wrote a negative review of me in The New York Times, ending it with the comment that unfortunately, most of us don't have a direct phone line to God. I wrote her back and said, "You know, please don't think that my phone works very well. A lot of times I can't get ahold of God, and sometimes the phone rings and I forget to answer. So I suspect there are a lot of people who deliberately leave the phone off the hook because they have these same experiences and they just don't recognize them as the miracles that they are."
I can remember years ago sitting on my bed and suddenly thinking, "I am God." And my next thought was that I better not go down to New Milford, Connecticut, and start talking to people about this. On further contemplation, I realized that, to a significant degree, it was my responsibility to decide who God was. And that, in some ways, made me God's creator. It was at that point that I began to feel sorry for God. I mean, think of the burdens that God shoulders with unfailing gaiety. That was the real beginning of my personal relationship with Him or Her. When I realized that we are "co-creators," for better or worse.

In The Road Less Traveled, you present us with an outrageous challenge: "God wants us to become himself or herself or itself. We are growing toward Godhood. God is the goal of evolution."
That idea has been recognized for ages. Unification with God is the goal of contemplatives. St. Paul clearly expressed it when he said, "It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God."
You've influenced tens of millions of people. Are you satisfied with your impact?

Oh, I'm more than satisfied. I was really lucky. Had I written my books much earlier, they wouldn't have sold at all.

But I am not talking about book sales.

That is just a measurement of the impact. One of the things I regret is that some of my books other than
The Road Less Traveled have not been more successful. I think my best books are not my most popular, although they were the best reviewed. They are the more complicated and multileveled, and many people don't like complicated things.

How would you like to be remembered?

I've spent little energy thinking about it, and I guess I don't care much. I would like to be recognized. It amuses me that I've gotten all kinds of honors but never an honorary degree. But I think there are reasons for that. I'm a popularist. I have made a fair amount of money, and most academicians don't make a fair amount of money. They sneer at my scholarship—as well they might, because I am a poor scholar. My wife and I have long been involved with community building and set up a foundation [the Foundation for Community Encouragement], which spawned similar work around the world. Maybe I will be remembered for that.

I've said a lot of things that I think are new and true ideas that may someday be incorporated into psychiatry. In
The Road Less Traveled, I said most psychological disorders were considered to have their root in the unconscious, under all these little demons of anger and sex and lust, etc. But the reason they are in the unconscious is because the conscious mind puts them there, because it will not tolerate the pain of dealing with them. But then they become ghosts that haunt us and ultimately cause more pain. As far as I am concerned, virtually all psychological diseases have their origin in our conscious minds. And that is not what we are taught.

Do you have any significant regrets?

A significant regret is that I was not as good a father as I would have ideally liked to be. I was not, I think, a bad father. I did fine until my children were two, two and a half. But from two and a half to eleven or so, they bored me. You need to flow with children, and it is hard to flow when your mind is filled with working on an article about religious ecstasy. I also regret very much, every day now, the lack of sympathy that I had for my
parents in their old age. There was a lot I could have given them if I had only been empathetic. Of course, I had not been through their aches and pains.

You had, many years ago, a problem with infidelity that you later overcame.

I didn't overcome it, I lost my libido.

You still smoke and drink. There's the occasional cynic who says, "This man is a hypocrite because he is saying this, but he is doing that." How would you reply?

Cynicism is a terrible disease. I don't think I ever suggested that it's good to smoke, or that people should drink or have affairs. I am not going to justify it. I've never said anywhere that they are supposed to imitate me. I've gone to great lengths not to be a guru. I think the notion of guruhood is utterly pathological, and I couldn't live that way. I am just a person. It isn't my choosing, but my fault. In a number of ways, I don't understand who I am. I have an unpublished first draft of a novel about somebody very special who was born that way—born the son of a sultan, and consequently, he ruled the region. And he, the sultan's son, kept asking throughout the book, "Why me? Who am I?"
You can tell [the cynics] that if by some chance I am a saint, I'm one who smokes and drinks. I'm somebody who often, like so many people, preaches what he needs to learn.

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"Wide-Angle Perspective" by Charlie Badenhop

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"Wide-Angle Perspective"
By
Charlie Badenhop


Your physiology plays a major role in determining your emotional state and how you perceive the world. I have written about this on many occasions. Usually when I write about physiology I emphasize the importance of your breathing and posture, and today I would like to take this concept a bit further by writing about how you and your world change when you slow down and allow yourself to have an open focus, wide angle perspective. When you change the way you attend to life you change your experience of yourself and the world you live in.

Invariably, when you experience stress you feel incapable of cultivating the life experience you deeply desire, and that is much of what stress is all about - feeling incapable or out of control. When you feel stressed you perceive yourself and the world around you in a tight focus. The tighter your focus, the more you miss out on the many opportunities for change that are all around you. When you are stressed it is like looking at the world through a telephoto lens. A lens that only allows for a narrow field of view and a magnified image of your perceived problem. The tighter your focus the larger your problem appears to be, the more alone you feel, and the less you breathe. The tighter your focus the more the present moment and your potential future gets overwhelmed by your past!

When you change your perspective to open-focus wide-angle, you come to realize that you have only been constructing
one of many possible realities. Change the way you focus and attend to the world and you will change your reality and your sense of what is possible. Learning and the living of one’s life, is a creative act of self-discovery in which you extract meaning from everything you encounter. You are constantly engaged in the artful and “artificial” synthesis of diverse and paradoxical fragments of “information” into a new integrated whole.

When you are experiencing stress you lose your sense of context (circumstances and setting), proportion (the relationship of one “thing” to another), and scale (the relative size of one “thing” compared to another). The more exaggerated or out of whack these three components of your experience are, the more you will experience anxiety, fear, and stress.

So what to do?

You can change the way you pay attention, which in turn will change what you pay attention to, which in turn will change your perception of what is possible. When your awareness is expansive and wide angle you can achieve a deeper fuller sense of being an active participant in life, an active player in life, an active team member, who is not alone and separate.

You can cultivate the capacity to have a compassionate, composed experience of your life. An experience that is expansive, multidimensional, and multicolor. An experience similar to the many times in your life when you felt great and had the sense that your life really can be all that you have been hoping for.

Slow down your thinking mind by breathing fully, sit up straight, tense and then release various muscle groups throughout your body, place your current challenge in the context of your entire life, and look at your challenge from a distance with the perspective of a wise person. Consider the many resources you have available to you, and the many other times you have overcome challenges. Imagine your have already overcome your challenge, and ask yourself “What did I do to accomplish this?” Let the answer to this question “come to you” slowly over time. You really do have the ability to achieve all you truly desire!

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"The Devil and the Seraph" by A.H. Almaas

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The Devil and the Seraph
by A.H. Almaas

Man is asleep. Little do we know what this means, the extent of this sleep. Little do we know what it means to be really awake, to be ripened, completed, a whole person. Sometimes, when a drop of grace kindles my heart, my first feeling is to cry, with a burning heart for how asleep I am, how blind I can be, without even knowing it. I feel so sad then, so sorry for how far I go from God, how estranged I can be from my true nature. My deep love for Truth, for the precious gold of Reality, melts my heart into warm running tears when I remember how hard it is to remember. The realization that when I am asleep I don't even know how far I am from God makes my heart burn with more fire. It is so easy to forget. And it is such a sad affair, for what I forget is my own true nature, the precious wine of my innermost soul. No wonder the Sufi makes it his first and foremost duty to remember God, day and night. God's name is always on his tongue, constantly within his heart. It is so easy to forget who I am because identifying with my ego patterns is such a smooth and automatic process. It's like gravity, always there to pull me down. Even when I am keenly aware of my process, there always comes a time when a subtle game takes over, and without realizing it I am cut off from the origin, estranged from the source of Being.

Identification always comes with blindness. They go together. When I identify with a particular reaction or a pattern of mine I am really saying that I am this reaction or this pattern, without being aware that I am saying so. The blindness can go so far that I feel self-righteous about this particular identification. And this really means that I am asserting the existence of the devil, and negating what is real. I blind myself from seeing this by rationalization or pretension. Essentially it is self-deception. So I find myself running after gratification of my games with complete justification and self-righteousness, of course. Forgetting God, the one Reality, always means siding with the devil, the delusion we call ego. It's so painful, it's so shameful, that sometimes I actually say to the devil, "Yes, I believe you." I turn my back on God, on Reality, on the source of life, believing that the devil, my ignorant ego, will give me the satisfaction and contentment I desire. Time and time again, with a lot of pain and sorrow, I find that I only end up in more frustration, more suffering, and more alienation.

It is in the nature of ego striving and the desire for gratification that the heart is upset. There can be no peace with craving and grasping. This craving is a certain energy, a certain state that is by its very nature harsh, hard, excited, and violent. It is the seed and source of all negative emotions. It is felt and experienced as violence within the heart. It feels like sand grating against the pure smoothness and softness of the heart. It is no wonder greed, craving and desire for gratification produce wars and violence, for it is actually the energy of war within our hearts, inside our own bodies.

Still, rare is the individual who will even listen to such a fundamental truth, let alone do anything about it. It's as if our very nature does not want us to see this truth or to admit to its validity and significance. Of course not, the devil does not want to see its deception, ego does not want to die. NO. It will fight fiercely with all weapons possible, more weapons than we can even conceive of, to avoid the truth, to conceal it, to reject it. The devil will not see itself as the devil. It has to point to something else as the cause of trouble. And it will continue opening its hungry mouth, screaming, "Give me, fill me, satisfy me." But of course, this is another illusion; it will never be filled, it can never be satisfied. For its hunger is bottomless, its emptiness has no limits. It is always the temptation of satisfaction, but never total satisfaction. The Buddhists found an apt image for this state of ego. They call it the hungry ghost. It is a being with a huge stomach and a tiny mouth, like the hole of a needle. It can never get enough through the small hole to fill the huge stomach. This is the usual state of ego, whether we are conscious of it or not.

The core of ego is a feeling of deficiency, of poverty, of emptiness, of saying: "I am no good, I am worthless, I am empty. Give me, give me, more, more, more, more." In this state of deficiency I don't love myself, I don't accept myself. I reject myself. I want to run away, distract myself; maybe go to a movie, see a friend, have sex, eat, fill myself with knowledge, or pretend I am O.K. I am always wanting to fill this emptiness, always rejecting it, always afraid of it. In fact, we are all terrified by it. Most of the time people don't know that this emptiness, this deficiency is what is driving most of their actions. It's such a desperation, such a race to fill this bottomless pit. But how sweet it is to say "yes" to this emptiness. How courageous it is to say: "I feel empty, I feel deficient, and I won't attempt to fill it. I want to see the truth. I want to experience the reality of me. I refuse to manipulate. I want to wake up regardless of how painful it is." Only the hero will take this attitude, for it is a heroic act to see your deficiency, your neediness, your emptiness, and yet not try to manipulate your life to fill it. We are so compulsive, so driven to manipulate, to avoid feeling this basic deficiency of our personal ego. But believe me, my friend, there's no other way towards fullness. God will not pour His grace if you don't accept your deficiency and stop manipulating. Manipulation, striving to fill this emptiness, is only the devil doing its efficient work. It is constantly working to hide its weakness.

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"PHILOSOPHY OF THE TAO" by Alan Watts

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PHILOSOPHY OF THE TAO BY Alan Watts
(Lecture by Alan Watts, circa 1970 transcribed by Scott Lahteine)

The subject of this seminar is going to be Taoism as contained in the teachings of Lao-Tzu and Chuang Tzu who lived approximately 400 years or more before Christ, separated probably by 100 years from each other. And as is often repeated, Lao-Tzu started out by explaining that "The Tao which can be explained is not the eternal Tao," and then went on to write a book about it, also saying "Those who say do not know; those who know do not say." Because there's nothing to be explained. You must remember that the word "explain" means to lay out in a plane. That is, to put it on a flat sheet of paper.

All mathematics is done on a flat sheet of paper until very recent times. But it makes a great deal of difference, because this world isn't flat. If you draw a circle on a flat sheet of paper it has an inside and an outside which are different. On the other hand if you draw a circle around a doughnut the inside and the outside are the same. So what we are first of all saying is that the Tao - whatever that is - cannot be explained in that sense.

So it's important, first of all, to experience it so we know what we're talking about. And in order to go into Taoism at all we must begin by being in the frame of mind which can understand it. You cannot force yourself into this frame of mind, any more than you can smooth disturbed water with your hand. But let's say that our starting point is that we forget what we know - or think we know. That we suspend judgment about practically everything, returning to what we were when we were babies. When we have not yet learned the names, or language, and although we have extremely sensitive bodies - very alive senses - we have no means of making an intellectual or verbal commentary on what is going on.

Now can you consider that as your state? Just plain ignorant, but still very much alive. And in this state you just feel what is without calling it anything at all. You know nothing at all about anything called an external world in relation to an internal world. You don't know who you are. You haven't even got the idea of the word "you" or "I." It's before all that. Nobody has taught you self-control. So you don't know the difference between the noise of a car outside and a wandering thought that enters your mind. They're both something that happens. You don't identify the presence of the thought, which might be just an image of a passing cloud in your mind's eye, and the passing automobile. They happen. Your breath happens. Light all around you happens. Your response to it by blinking happens.

So you simply are really unable to do anything. There's nothing that you're supposed to do. Nobody's told you anything to do. You're unable, completely, to do anything but be aware of the buzz. The visual buzz, the audible buzz, the tangible buzz, the smellable buzz, all buzz that's going on. Ha ha. Watch it! Don't ask who's watching it. You've no information about that yet, that it requires a watcher for something to be watched. That's somebody's idea. You don't know that.

And Lao-Tzu says, "The scholar learns something every day. The man of Tao unlearns something every day... until he gets back to non-doing." And that's what we are in at the moment.

Just simply, without comment, without an idea in your head, be aware. What else can you do? Don't try to be aware. You are. You'll find, of course, that you can't stop the commentary going on inside of your head. But at least you can regard it as interior noise. Listen to your chattering thoughts as you listen to the singing of a kettle. We don't know what it is we are aware of. Especially when you take it all together. And there's this sense of something going on. I won't even say that. This. You see? This.

Well, I said it was going on. That's an idea. It's a form of words. Obviously I wouldn't know if anything was going on unless I could say something else wasn't. Huh. I know motion by contrast with rest. So while I am aware of motion I am also aware of rest, so maybe what's at rest isn't going on and what's motion is going on. So I won't use that concept because I've got to include both. And if I say, "Well here it is," that excludes what isn't - like space. And if I say "this" it excludes "that." Ha ha ha, I'm reduced to silence!

But you can feel what I'm talking about, can't you? That's what's called "Tao" in Chinese. That's where we begin.

Tao means basically "way" - and so "course" - the course of Nature. Of which Lao-Tzu says "Tao fa tzu yan," which means - the "fa" - "Tao fa" means the way of functioning of the Tao. "Tzu yan" is of itself, so. That is to say, is spontaneous.

Watch again what's going on. If you approach it with this wise ignorance you will see that you are witnessing a happening. In other words, in this primal way of looking at things there's no difference between what you do on the one hand and what happens to you on the other. It's all the same process. Just as your thoughts happen the car happens outside. The clouds. The stars.

When a Westerner hears that he thinks of fatalism or determinism. That's because he still preserves in the back of his mind two illusions. One is that what is happening is happening to him, and therefore he is the victim of circumstances. But when you are in primal ignorance there is no you different from what's happening, and therefore it's not happening to you. It's just happening. Ha ha. So is you, you know, what you call "you," what you later call "you" is part of the happening. You're part of the Universe. Although the Universe, strictly speaking, has no parts. We only call certain features of the Universe parts of it, but you can't disconnect them from the rest without causing them to be not only nonexistent but never to have existed. Ha ha.

So when you have this happening the other illusion that a Westerner is liable to have is that it's determined in the sense that what is happening now follows necessarily from what happened in the past. But you don't know anything about that in your primal ignorance. Cause and effect? Why, obviously not! Ha ha ha! Because if you're really na•ve you see that the past is the result of what's happening now. It goes backwards into the past like a wake goes backwards from a ship. All the echoes are disappearing, finally, going away and away and away. And it's all starting now. What we call the future is nothing, the great void. And everything comes out of the great void.

That's the way a na•ve person - and as I explained if any of you were at my lecture last night, if you shut your eyes and contemplate reality only with your ears you'll find there's a background of silence and all sounds are coming out of it. They start out of silence. If you close your eyes - listen, just listen. [rings meditation bell] You see the bell came out of nothing, floated off, off, off, off, and then stopped being a sonic echo and became a memory, which is another kind of echo. A wake. It's very simple!

It all begins now. And therefore it's spontaneous. It isn't determined. That's a philosophical notion. Nor is it capricious! That's another philosophical notion. As we distinguish between what is orderly and what is random. Of course we don't really know what randomness is. If you talk to a mathematician about randomness he'll make you feel quite weird.

What is so of itself? "Sui generis" in Latin. That means coming into being spontaneously on its own accord. It's the real meaning of "virgin birth." Sui generis. And that's the world. That is the Tao. That makes us feel scared. Perhaps. Because we say "Well if all this is happening spontaneously who's in charge? I'm not in charge, that's pretty obvious! Ha ha ha! But I hope there's God or somebody looking after all this." Though why should there be someone looking after it? Because then there's a new worry that you may not have thought of. Like who takes care of the caretaker's daughter while the caretaker's busy taking care? Who guards the guards? Who supervises the police? Who looks after God? Well you say "God doesn't need looking after." Oh. Oh, then nor does this!

Tao. Because Tao is a certain kind of order. And this kind of order is not quite what we call order. When we arrange everything geometrically in boxes or in rows that's a very crude kind of order. But when you look at a plant it's perfectly obvious that this bamboo plant has order. We recognize at once that that is not a mess. But it is not symmetrical. And it is not geometrical looking. It looks like a Chinese drawing. Because the Chinese appreciated this kind of order so much that they put it into their painting. Non-symmetrical order.

In the Chinese language this is called "li" and the character for li means originally the markings in jade. Also means the grain in wood, and the fiber in muscle. We could say too that clouds have li, marble has li, the Human body has li. And we all recognize it, and the artist copies it whether he is a landscape painter, a portrait painter, or an abstract painter, or a non-objective painter. They all are trying for li.

And the interesting thing is that although we all know what it is there's no way of defining it. But because Tao is the course we can also call li the watercourse, because the patterns of li are patterns of flowing water. And we see those patterns of flow memorialized as it were in sculpture, in the grain in wood (which is the flow of sap), in marble, in bones, in muscles. All these things are patterned according to the basic principles. That is the fa, Tao fa, the Tao's principle of flow.

There is a book called "Sensitive Chaos" by Theodore Svenk with many many studies and photographs of flow patterns. And there in the patterns of flowing water you will see all kinds of motifs from Chinese art. Immediately recognizable, including the S-curve in the circle, the yang-yin, like this.... See?

So li means then the order of flow, the wonderful dancing pattern of liquid. Because Lao-Tzu likens Tao to water. "The great Tao," he says, "flows everywhere, to the left and to the right. [Like water]," - I'm interpolating that - "it loves and nourishes all things but does not lord it over them." "Because," he says elsewhere, "water always seeks the lowest level, which men abhor." Because we're always trying to play games of one-upmanship and be on top of each other. Well, Lao-Tzu explains that the top position is the most insecure. Everybody wants to get to the top of the tree. But then if they do the tree will collapse.

That's the fallacy of American democracy. You too might be president. The answer is, no one but a maniac would want to be president! [Laughter] Who wants to be put in charge of a runaway truck? [Laughter]

So, Lao-Tzu says that the basic position is the most powerful. And this we can see at once in Judo, or Aikido, which are wrestling arts or self-defensive arts where you always get underneath the opponent, and so he falls over you if he attacks you. The moment he moves to be aggressive you go either lower than he is, or in a smaller circle than he's moving. And you have spin if you know Aikido. You're always spinning, and you know how something rapidly spinning exercises centrifugal force. So if somebody comes into your field of centrifugal force he gets flung out, but by his own bounce. Huh, it's very curious. So, therefore, the watercourse way is the way of Tao.

Now, that seems to white Anglo-Saxon Protestants and Irish Catholics... lazy... spineless... passive. And I'm always being asked when I talk about things, "If people did what you suggest wouldn't they become terribly passive?" Well, from a superficial point of view I would suggest that a certain amount of passivity would be an excellent corrective for our kind of culture. Because we are always creating trouble by doing good to other people. [Laughter] You know, we wage wars for people's benefit. [Laughter] And educate the poor for their benefit, so that they desire more things which they can't get. I mean, that sounds rather callous. But our rich people are not happy, whereas the poor people of Haiti are - to judge by the way they laugh. And we think-- we're sorry, really, not for the poor but for ourselves. Guilty.

So a certain amount of doing nothing, and stopping rushing around, would cool everything. But also it must be remembered that passivity is the root of action. Where do you suppose you're going to get energy from, just by being energetic? No, you can't get energy that way. That is exhausting yourself. To have energy you must sleep, but also much more important than sleep is what I told you at the beginning. Passivity of mind, mental silence. Not-- you can't, as I tried to explain, be passive, as an exercise that's good for you. You can only get to that point by realizing there's nothing else you can do. So for God's sake don't cultivate passivity as a form of progress. That's like playing because it's good for your work. [Laughter] You never get to play! [Laughter]


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"Abiding in the Tao" (excerpt) THE TAO IS SILENT by Raymond M. Smullyan

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ABIDING IN THE TAO

In the Judeo-Christian religions, one hears much of “fear of God” and “love of God”—also “obedience to God”. In early Chinese Taoism, one speaks not so much in terms of “love of Tao”—and certainly not “fear of Tao”!—but rather of “being in harmony with the Tao”.

Fear of Tao is completely ludicrous! Tao loves and nourishes all things, but does not lord it over them! Tao is something totally friendly and benevolent—friendly to
all beings, not just those who believe in it or “accept it as their Savior!” Thus Tao is the sort of thing which is impossible to believe in without loving. But the loving of Tao is not stressed for the simple reason that it is so obvious. To command love of Tao would be as silly as commanding one to love his closest friend!

By contrast the Bible commands us to “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and all thy might”. We are also enjoined to seek salvation; it is our duty to seek salvation, our very purpose is to be saved. Indeed some Protestant sects say that the purpose of man is to “love God and enjoy Him forever”.

Now, is it not strange that the Taoist Sage abides in the Tao, not because he is “commanded” to nor because it is his “duty”, but simply because he loves to! He is not seeking anything from the Tao; he is not striving to “save his soul”, nor does he seek any “future reward”; he has no
purpose in abiding in the Tao; he is in the Tao simply because it is delightful to be there.
The situation is like that of the many children and friends who visit us—sometimes for extended periods—in our country house in Elka Park. They abide with us not because they are commanded to, or because it is their duty, nor do they “discipline themselves” for some future good. They come because—to use the children’s words—“we like it here”.
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"Why It Is Important to Read the Difficult Parts of the Bible" by Philip Jenkins

1234bible
Nov., 16, 2011

Over the past thirty years, Western societies have repeatedly come into conflict with radical Islamist movements, to the point that many Americans regard the faith of Islam as almost synonymous with terrorism. After an atrocity such as the September 11 attacks, Western observers often express concern about the violent and militaristic nature of passages within the Qur’an, and ask whether fanaticism is somehow hard-wired into the faith of Islam. By implication, global terrorism and jihadism can only be solved by a quite fundamental shift in the nature of the religion itself.

Absent though from such discussions is any sense of the still more unforgiving passages that litter the Hebrew Bible, which is also the Christian Old Testament. Many passages quote God as commanding acts of genocide, ethnic cleansing, and racially-based mass murder.  To take just one example of many, when God orders the conquest of Canaan, he supposedly commands his followers to exterminate the native inhabitants: “You must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy.” The violence attributed to God in these texts is far more extreme, far more ruthless, than anything that appears in the Qur’an, although those Biblical atrocities spawn nothing like the same outcomes among that book’s devotees.

This in itself is a significant comment on the relationship between the scriptures on which a religion is founded and the ways in which that faith develops through history. To say that terrorists or extremists can find religious texts to justify their acts does not mean that their violence actually grows from those scriptural roots. Indeed, such an assumption itself is based on the crude fundamentalist formulation that everything in a given religion must somehow be authorized in scripture—or that the mere existence of a scriptural text means that its doctrines must shape later history. When Christians or Jews point to violent parts of the Qur’an and suggest that those elements taint the whole religion, they open themselves to the obvious question: what about their own faiths? If the founding text shapes the whole religion, then Judaism and Christianity deserve the utmost condemnation as religions of savagery. Of course, they are no such thing; nor is Islam.

The most striking fact about the violent Biblical passages is not that they exist, but that they have been so utterly forgotten by the vast majority of Christians and Jews, including among devoted Bible-readers. And Western Christians who scarcely know the Bible’s dark passages potentially face real difficulties in their own faith. Although they are not likely to come across these texts in church, they still find them through their own reading or, just as likely today, through hearing the militantly anti-religious attacks of a New Atheist writer, a Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens. When atheist writers point out the alarming texts, contemporary Christians have little effective response, and many are unnerved to find that, yes indeed, God does apparently offer these frightful commands. Believers who ignore their own scriptural realities have no credible basis on which to debate atheists or secularists.

Unless they hear these texts read and discussed, what is an ordinary believer to make of them? The greatest menace is that a modern reader simply dismisses the bloody passages as no more than a primitive substratum of the Bible that has no possible relevance to later eras, and certainly not to Christianity. It thus becomes “just the Old Testament.” In practice, many Christians treat the Old Testament as basically archaeological or historical material, not terribly relevant to the content of the New, creating a Christianity that is thoroughly distorted and unhistorical.

The observation that the Bible contains brutal and unpalatable texts is not new, as these passages have been a commonplace of secularist and anti-religious writers at least since the Enlightenment. I am not interested, though, in using these texts to attack or undermine faith, but rather to develop a mature framework of understanding by which such passages can be absorbed, comprehended, and freely discussed as part of a Christianity that fully acknowledges its Old Testament roots. Above all, I show how individual scriptural texts are incomprehensible except in the context of the historical development and maturing of the monotheistic traditions.

The more Westerners probe the unacceptable portions of the Quran, the more urgent becomes the need to confront the texts of terror in their own heritage.
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Dialogue Between God and a Mortal (excerpt) THE TAO IS SILENT by Raymond M. Smullyan

777Smullyan
Raymond Smullyan's "The Tao is Silent"

Mortal:

   And therefore, O God, I pray thee, if thou hast one ounce of mercy for this thy suffering creature, absolve me of having to have free will!
God:
   You reject the greatest gift I have given thee?
Mortal:
   How can you call that which was forced on me a gift? I have free will, but not of my own choice. I have never freely chosen to have free will. I have to have free will, whether I like it or not!
God:
   Why would you wish not to have free will?
Mortal:
   Because free will means moral responsibility, and moral responsibility is more than I can bear!
God:
   Why do you find moral responsibility so unbearable?
Mortal:
   Why? I honestly can't analyze why; all I know is that I do.
God:
   All right, in that case suppose I absolve you from all moral responsibility but leave you still with free will. Will this be satisfactory?
Mortal (after a pause):
   No, I am afraid not.
God:
   Ah, just as I thought! So moral responsibility is not the only aspect of free will to which you object. What else about free will is bothering you?
Mortal:
   With free will I am capable of sinning, and I don't want to sin!
God:
   If you don't want to sin, then why do you?
Mortal:
   Good God! I don't know why I sin, I just do! Evil temptations come along, and try as I can, I cannot resist them.
God:
   If it is really true that you cannot resist them, then you are not sinning of your own free will and hence (at least according to me) not sinning at all.
Mortal:
   No, no! I keep feeling that if only I tried harder I could avoid sinning. I understand that the will is infinite. If one wholeheartedly wills not to sin, then one won't.
God:
   Well now, you should know. Do you try as hard as you can to avoid sinning or don't you?
Mortal:
   I honestly don't know! At the time, I feel I am trying as hard as I can, but in retrospect, I am worried that maybe I didn't!
God:
   So in other words, you don't really know whether or not you have been sinning. So the possibility is open that you haven't been sinning at all!
Mortal:
   Of course this possibility is open, but maybe I have been sinning, and this thought is what so frightens me!
God:
   Why does the thought of your sinning frighten you?
Mortal:
   I don't know why! For one thing, you do have a reputation for meting out rather gruesome punishments in the afterlife!
God:
   Oh, that's what's bothering you! Why didn't you say so in the first place instead of all this peripheral talk about free will and responsibility? Why didn't you simply request me not to punish you for any of your sins?
Mortal:
   I think I am realistic enough to know that you would hardly grant such a request!
God:
   You don't say! You have a realistic knowledge of what requests I will grant, eh? Well, I'll tell you what I'm going to do! I will grant you a very, very special dispensation to sin as much as you like, and I give you my divine word of honor that I will never punish you for it in the least. Agreed?
Mortal (in great terror):
   No, no, don't do that!
God:
   Why not? Don't you trust my divine word?
Mortal:
   Of course I do! But don't you see, I don't want to sin! I have an utter abhorrence of sinning, quite apart from any punishments it may entail.
God:
   In that case, I'll go you one better. I'll remove your
abhorrence of sinning. Here is a magic pill! Just swallow it, and you will lose all abhorrence of sinning. You will joyfully and merrily sin away, you will have no regrets, no abhorrence and I still promise you will never be punished by me, or yourself, or by any source whatever. You will be blissful for all eternity. So here is the pill!
Mortal:
   No, no!
God:
   Are you not being irrational? I am even removing your abhorrence of sin, which is your last obstacle.
Mortal:
   I still won't take it!
God:
   Why not?
Mortal:
   I believe that the pill will indeed remove my future abhorrence for sin, but my present abhorrence is enough to prevent me from being willing to take it.
God:
   I command you to take it!
Mortal:
   I refuse!
God:
   What, you refuse of your own free will?
Mortal:
   Yes!
God:
   So it seems that your free will comes in pretty handy, doesn't it?
Mortal:
   I don't understand!
God:
   Are you not glad now that you have the free will to refuse such a ghastly offer? How would you like it if I forced you to take this pill, whether you wanted it or not?
Mortal:
   No, no! Please don't!
God:
   Of course I won't; I'm just trying to illustrate a point. All right, let me put it this way. Instead of forcing you to take the pill, suppose I grant your original prayer of removing your free will -- but with the understanding that the moment you are no longer free, then you will take the pill.
Mortal:
   Once my will is gone, how could I possibly choose to take the pill?
God:
   I did not say you would choose it; I merely said you would take it. You would act, let us say, according to purely deterministic laws which are such that you would as a matter of fact take it.
Mortal:
   I still refuse.
God:
   So you refuse my offer to remove your free will. This is rather different from your original prayer, isn't it?
Mortal:
   Now I see what you are up to. Your argument is ingenious, but I'm not sure it is really correct. There are some points we will have to go over again.
God:
   Certainly.
Mortal:
   There are two things you said which seem contradictory to me. First you said that one cannot sin unless one does so of one's own free will. But then you said you would give me a pill which would deprive me of my own free will, and then I could sin as much as I liked. But if I no longer had free will, then, according to your first statement, how could I be capable of sinning?
God:
   You are confusing two separate parts of our conversation. I never said the pill would deprive you of your free will, but only that it would remove your abhorrence of sinning.
Mortal:
   I'm afraid I'm a bit confused.
God:
   All right, then let us make a fresh start. Suppose I agree to remove your free will, but with the understanding that you will then commit an enormous number of acts which you now regard as sinful. Technically speaking, you will not then be sinning since you will not be doing these acts of your own free will. And these acts will carry no moral responsibility, nor moral culpability, nor any punishment whatsoever. Nevertheless, these acts will all be of the type which you presently regard as sinful; they will all have this quality which you presently feel as abhorrent, but your abhorrence will disappear; so you will not then feel abhorrence toward the acts.
Mortal:
   No, but I have present abhorrence toward the acts, and this present abhorrence is sufficient to prevent me from accepting your proposal.
God:
   Hm! So let me get this absolutely straight. I take it you no longer wish me to remove your free will.
Mortal (reluctantly):
   No, I guess not.
God:
   All right, I agree not to. But I am still not exactly clear as to why you now no longer wish to be rid of your free will. Please tell me again.
Mortal:
   Because, as you have told me, without free will I would sin even more than I do now.
God:
   But I have already told you that without free will you cannot sin.
Mortal:
   But if I choose now to be rid of free will, then all my subsequent evil actions will be sins, not of the future, but of the present moment in which I choose not to have free will.
God:
   Sounds like you are pretty badly trapped, doesn't it?
Mortal:
   Of course I am trapped! You have placed me in a hideous double bind! Now whatever I do is wrong. If I retain free will, I will continue to sin, and if I abandon free will (with your help, of course) I will now be sinning in so doing.
God:
   But by the same token, you place me in a double bind. I am willing to leave you free will or remove it as you choose, but neither alternative satisfies you. I wish to help you, but it seems I cannot.
Mortal:
   True!
God:
   But since it is not my fault, why are you still angry with me?
Mortal:
   For having placed me in such a horrible predicament in first place!
God:
   But, according to you, there is nothing satisfactory I could have done.
Mortal:
   You mean there is nothing satisfactory you can now do, that does not mean that there is nothing you could have done.
God:
   Why? What could I have done?
Mortal:
   Obviously you should never have given me free will in the first place. Now that you have given it to me, it is too late -- anything I do will be bad. But you should never have given it to me in the first place.
God:
   Oh, that's it! Why would it have been better had I never given it to you?
Mortal:
   Because then I never would have been capable of sinning at all.
God:
   Well, I'm always glad to learn from my mistakes.
Mortal:
   What!
God:
   I know, that sounds sort of self-blasphemous, doesn't it? It almost involves a logical paradox! On the one hand, as you have been taught, it is morally wrong for any sentient being to claim that I am capable of making mistakes. On the other hand, I have the right to do anything. But I am also a sentient being. So the question is, Do, I or do I not have the right to claim that I am capable of making mistakes?
Mortal:
   That is a bad joke! One of your premises is simply false. I have not been taught that it is wrong for any sentient being to doubt your omniscience, but only for a mortal to doubt it. But since you are not mortal, then you are obviously free from this injunction.
God:
   Good, so you realize this on a rational level. Nevertheless, you did appear shocked when I said, "I am always glad to learn from my mistakes."
Mortal:
   Of course I was shocked. I was shocked not by your self-blasphemy (as you jokingly called it), not by the fact that you had no right to say it, but just by the fact that you did say it, since I have been taught that as a matter of fact you don't make mistakes. So I was amazed that you claimed that it is possible for you to make mistakes.
God:
   I have not claimed that it is possible. All I am saying is that if I make mistakes, I will be happy to learn from them. But this says nothing about whether the if has or ever can be realized.
Mortal:
   Let's please stop quibbling about this point. Do you or do you not admit it was a mistake to have given me free will?
God:
   Well now, this is precisely what I propose we should investigate. Let me review your present predicament. You don't want to have free will because with free will you can sin, and you don't want to sin. (Though I still find this puzzling; in a way you must want to sin, or else you wouldn't. But let this pass for now.) On the other hand, if you agreed to give up free will, then you would now be responsible for the acts of the future. Ergo, I should never have given you free will in the first place.
Mortal:
   Exactly!
God:
   I understand exactly how you feel. Many mortals -- even some theologians -- have complained that I have been unfair in that it was I, not they, who decided that they should have free will, and then I hold them responsible for their actions. In other words, they feel that they are expected to live up to a contract with me which they never agreed to in the first place.
Mortal:
   Exactly!
God:
   As I said, I understand the feeling perfectly. And I can appreciate the justice of the complaint. But the complaint arises only from an unrealistic understanding of the true issues involved. I am about to enlighten you as to what these are, and I think the results will surprise you! But instead of telling you outright, I shall continue to use the Socratic method.
To repeat, you regret that I ever gave you free will. I claim that when you see the true ramifications you will no longer have this regret. To prove my point, I'll tell you what I'm going to do. I am about to create a new universe -- a new space-time continuum. In this new universe will be born a mortal just like you -- for all practical purposes, we might say that you will be reborn. Now, I can give this new mortal -- this new you -- free will or not. What would you like me to do?
Mortal (in great relief):
   Oh, please! Spare him from having to have free will!
God:
   All right, I'll do as you say. But you do realize that this new you without free will, will commit all sorts of horrible acts.
Mortal:
   But they will not be sins since he will have no free will.
God:
   Whether you call them sins or not, the fact remains that they will be horrible acts in the sense that they will cause great pain to many sentient beings.
Mortal (after a pause):
   Good God, you have trapped me again! Always the same game! If I now give you the go-ahead to create this new creature with no free will who will nevertheless commit atrocious acts, then true enough he will not be sinning, but I again will be the sinner to sanction this.
God:
   In that case, I'll go you one better! Here, I have already decided whether to create this new you with free will or not. Now, I am writing my decision on this piece of paper and I won't show it to you until later. But my decision is now made and is absolutely irrevocable. There is nothing you can possibly do to alter it; you have no responsibility in the matter. Now, what I wish to know is this: Which way do you hope I have decided? Remember now, the responsibility for the decision falls entirely on my shoulders, not yours. So you can tell me perfectly honestly and without any fear, which way do you hope I have decided?

Mortal (after a very long pause):
   I hope you have decided to give him free will.
God:
   Most interesting! I have removed your last obstacle! If I do not give him free will, then no sin is to be imputed to anybody. So why do you hope I will give him free will?
Mortal:
   Because sin or no sin, the important point is that if you do not give him free will, then (at least according to what you have said) he will go around hurting people, and I don't want to see people hurt.
GOD (with an infinite sigh of relief):
   At last! At last you see the real point!
Mortal:
   What point is that?
God:
   That sinning is not the real issue! The important thing is that people as well as other sentient beings don't get hurt!
Mortal:
   You sound like a utilitarian!
God:
   I am a utilitarian!
Mortal:
   What!
God:
   Whats or no whats, I am a utilitarian. Not a unitarian, mind you, but a utilitarian.
Mortal:
   I just can't believe it!
God:
   Yes, I know, your religious training has taught you otherwise. You have probably thought of me more like a Kantian than a utilitarian, but your training was simply wrong.
Mortal:
   You leave me speechless!
God:
   I leave you speechless, do I! Well, that is perhaps not too bad a thing -- you have a tendency to speak too much as it is. Seriously, though, why do you think I ever did give you free will in the first place?
Mortal:
   Why did you? I never have thought much about why you did; all I have been arguing for is that you shouldn't have! But why did you? I guess all I can think of is the standard religious explanation: Without free will, one is not capable of meriting either salvation or damnation. So without free will, we could not earn the right to eternal life.
God:
   Most interesting! I have eternal life; do you think I have ever done anything to merit it?
Mortal:
   Of course not! With you it is different. You are already so good and perfect (at least allegedly) that it is not necessary for you to merit eternal life.
God:
   Really now? That puts me in a rather enviable position, doesn't it?
Mortal:
   I don't think I understand you.
God:
   Here I am eternally blissful without ever having to suffer or make sacrifices or struggle against evil temptations or anything like that. Without any of that type of "merit", I enjoy blissful eternal existence. By contrast, you poor mortals have to sweat and suffer and have all sorts of horrible conflicts about morality, and all for what? You don't even know whether I really exist or not, or if there really is any afterlife, or if there is, where you come into the picture. No matter how much you try to placate me by being "good," you never have any real assurance that your "best" is good enough for me, and hence you have no real security in obtaining salvation. Just think of it! I already have the equivalent of "salvation" -- and have never had to go through this infinitely lugubrious process of earning it. Don't you ever envy me for this?
Mortal:
   But it is blasphemous to envy you!
God:
   Oh come off it! You're not now talking to your Sunday school teacher, you are talking to me. Blasphemous or not, the important question is not whether you have the right to be envious of me but whether you are. Are you?
Mortal:
   Of course I am!
God:
   Good! Under your present world view, you sure should be most envious of me. But I think with a more realistic world view, you no longer will be. So you really have swallowed the idea which has been taught you that your life on earth is like an examination period and that the purpose of providing you with free will is to test you, to see if you merit blissful eternal life. But what puzzles me is this: If you really believe I am as good and benevolent as I am cracked up to be, why should I require people to merit things like happiness and eternal life? Why should I not grant such things to everyone regardless of whether or not he deserves them?
Mortal:
   But I have been taught that your sense of morality -- your sense of justice -- demands that goodness be rewarded with happiness and evil be punished with pain.
God:
   Then you have been taught wrong.
Mortal:
   But the religious literature is so full of this idea! Take for example Jonathan Edwards's "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." How he describes you as holding your enemies like loathsome scorpions over the flaming pit of hell, preventing them from falling into the fate that they deserve only by dint of your mercy.
God:
   Fortunately, I have not been exposed to the tirades of Mr. Jonathan Edwards. Few sermons have ever been preached which are more misleading. The very title "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" tells its own tale. In the first place, I am never angry. In the second place, I do not think at all in terms of "sin." In the third place, I have no enemies.
Mortal:
   By that do you mean that there are no people whom you hate, or that there are no people who hate you?
God:
   I meant the former although the latter also happens to be true.
Mortal:
   Oh come now, I know people who have openly claimed to have hated you. At times I have hated you!
God:
   You mean you have hated your image of me. That is not the same thing as hating me as I really am.
Mortal:
   Are you trying to say that it is not wrong to hate a false conception of you, but that it is wrong to hate you as you really are?
God:
   No, I am not saying that at all; I am saying something far more drastic! What I am saying has absolutely nothing to do with right or wrong. What I am saying is that one who knows me for what I really am would simply find it psychologically impossible to hate me.
Mortal:
   Tell me, since we mortals seem to have such erroneous views about your real nature, why don't you enlighten us? Why don't you guide us the right way?
God:
   What makes you think I'm not?
Mortal:
   I mean, why don't you appear to our very senses and simply tell us that we are wrong?
GOD:
   Are you really so naive as to believe that I am the sort of being which can appear to your senses? It would be more correct to say that I am your senses.
Mortal (astonished):
   You are my senses?
God:
   Not quite, I am more than that. But it comes closer to the truth than the idea that I am perceivable by the senses. I am not an object; like you, I am a subject, and a subject can perceive, but cannot be perceived. You can no more see me than you can see your own thoughts. You can see an apple, but the event of your seeing an apple is itself not seeable. And I am far more like the seeing of an apple than the apple itself.
Mortal:
   If I can't see you, how do I know you exist?
God:
   Good question! How in fact do you know I exist?
Mortal:
   Well, I am talking to you, am I not?
God:
   How do you know you are talking to me? Suppose you told a psychiatrist, "Yesterday I talked to God." What do you think he would say?
Mortal:
   That might depend on the psychiatrist. Since most of them are atheistic, I guess most would tell me I had simply been talking to myself.
God:
   And they would be right!
Mortal:
   What? You mean you don't exist?
God:
   You have the strangest faculty of drawing false conclusions! Just because you are talking to yourself, it follows that I don't exist?
Mortal:
   Well, if I think I am talking to you, but I am really talking to myself, in what sense do you exist?
God:
   Your question is based on two fallacies plus a confusion. The question of whether or not you are now talking to me and the question of whether or not I exist are totally separate. Even if you were not now talking to me (which obviously you are), it still would not mean that I don't exist.
Mortal:
   Well, all right, of course! So instead of saying "if I am talking to myself, then you don't exist," I should rather have said, "if I am talking to myself, then I obviously am not talking to you."
God:
   A very different statement indeed, but still false.
Mortal:
   Oh, come now, if I am only talking to myself, then how can I be talking to you?
God:
   Your use of the word "only" is quite misleading! I can suggest several logical possibilities under which your talking to yourself does not imply that you are not talking to me.
Mortal:
   Suggest just one!
God:
   Well, obviously one such possibility is that you and I are identical.
Mortal:
   Such a blasphemous thought -- at least had I uttered it!
God:
   According to some religions, yes. According to others, it is the plain, simple, immediately perceived truth.
Mortal:
   So the only way out of my dilemma is to believe that you and I are identical?
God:
   Not at all! This is only one way out. There are several others. For example, it may be that you are part of me, in which case you may be talking to that part of me which is you. Or I may be part of you, in which case you may be talking to that part of you which is me. Or again, you and I might partially overlap, in which case you may be talking to the intersection and hence talking both to you and to me. The only way your talking to yourself might seem to imply that you are not talking to me is if you and I were totally disjoint -- and even then, you could conceivably be talking to both of us.
Mortal:
   So you claim you do exist.
God:
   Not at all. Again you draw false conclusions! The question of my existence has not even come up. All I have said is that from the fact that you are talking to yourself one cannot possibly infer my nonexistence, let alone the weaker fact that you are not talking to me.
Mortal:
   All right, I'll grant your point! But what I really want to know is do you exist?
God:
   What a strange question!
Mortal:
   Why? Men have been asking it for countless millennia.
God:
   I know that! The question itself is not strange; what I mean is that it is a most strange question to ask of me!
Mortal:
   Why?
God:
   Because I am the very one whose existence you doubt! I perfectly well understand your anxiety. You are worried that your present experience with me is a mere hallucination. But how can you possibly expect to obtain reliable information from a being about his very existence when you suspect the nonexistence of the very same being?
Mortal:
   So you won't tell me whether or not you exist?
God:
   I am not being willful! I merely wish to point out that no answer I could give could possibly satisfy you. All right, suppose I said, "No, I don't exist." What would that prove? Absolutely nothing! Or if I said, "Yes, I exist." Would that convince you? Of course not!
Mortal:
   Well, if you can't tell me whether or not you exist, then who possibly can?
God:
   That is something which no one can tell you. It is something which only you can find out for yourself.
Mortal:
   How do I go about finding this out for myself?
God:
   That also no one can tell you. This is another thing you will have to find out for yourself.
Mortal:
   So there is no way you can help me?
God:
   I didn't say that. I said there is no way I can tell you. But that doesn't mean there is no way I can help you.
Mortal:
   In what manner then can you help me?
God:
   I suggest you leave that to me! We have gotten sidetracked as it is, and I would like to return to the question of what you believed my purpose to be in giving you free will. Your first idea of my giving you free will in order to test whether you merit salvation or not may appeal to many moralists, but the idea is quite hideous to me. You cannot think of any nicer reason -- any more humane reason -- why I gave you free will?
Mortal:
   Well now, I once asked this question of an Orthodox rabbi. He told me that the way we are constituted, it is simply not possible for us to enjoy salvation unless we feel we have earned it. And to earn it, we of course need free will.
God:
   That explanation is indeed much nicer than your former but still is far from correct. According to Orthodox Judaism, I created angels, and they have no free will. They are in actual sight of me and are so completely attracted by goodness that they never have even the slightest temptation toward evil. They really have no choice in the matter. Yet they are eternally happy even though they have never earned it. So if your rabbi's explanation were correct, why wouldn't I have simply created only angels rather than mortals?
Mortal:
   Beats me! Why didn't you?
God:
   Because the explanation is simply not correct. In the first place, I have never created any ready-made angels. All sentient beings ultimately approach the state which might be called "angelhood." But just as the race of human beings is in a certain stage of biologic evolution, so angels are simply the end result of a process of Cosmic Evolution. The only difference between the so-called saint and the so-called sinner is that the former is vastly older than the latter. Unfortunately it takes countless life cycles to learn what is perhaps the most important fact of the universe -- evil is simply painful. All the arguments of the moralists -- all the alleged reasons why people shouldn't commit evil acts -- simply pale into insignificance in light of the one basic truth that evil is suffering.
No, my dear friend, I am not a moralist. I am wholly a utilitarian. That I should have been conceived in the role of a moralist is one of the great tragedies of the human race. My role in the scheme of things (if one can use this misleading expression) is neither to punish nor reward, but to aid the process by which all sentient beings achieve ultimate perfection.
Mortal:
   Why did you say your expression is misleading?
God:
   What I said was misleading in two respects. First of all it is inaccurate to speak of my role in the scheme of things. I am the scheme of things. Secondly, it is equally misleading to speak of my aiding the process of sentient beings attaining enlightenment. I am the process. The ancient Taoists were quite close when they said of me (whom they called "Tao") that I do not do things, yet through me all things get done. In more modem terms, I am not the cause of Cosmic Process, I am Cosmic Process itself. I think the most accurate and fruitful definition of me which man can frame -- at least in his present state of evolution -- is that I am the very process of enlightenment. Those who wish to think of the devil (although I wish they wouldn't!) might analogously define him as the unfortunate length of time the process takes. In this sense, the devil is necessary; the process simply does take an enormous length of time, and there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. But, I assure you, once the process is more correctly understood, the painful length of time will no longer be regarded as an essential limitation or an evil. It will be seen to be the very essence of the process itself. I know this is not completely consoling to you who are now in the finite sea of suffering, but the amazing thing is that once you grasp this fundamental attitude, your very finite suffering will begin to diminish -- ultimately to the vanishing point.
Mortal:
   I have been told this, and I tend to believe it. But suppose I personally succeed in seeing things through your eternal eyes. Then I will be happier, but don't I have a duty to others?
GOD (laughing):
   You remind me of the Mahayana Buddhists! Each one says, "I will not enter Nirvana until I first see that all other sentient beings do so." So each one waits for the other fellow to go first. No wonder it takes them so long! The Hinayana Buddhist errs in a different direction. He believes that no one can be of the slightest help to others in obtaining salvation; each one has to do it entirely by himself. And so each tries only for his own salvation. But this very detached attitude makes salvation impossible. The truth of the matter is that salvation is partly an individual and partly a social process. But it is a grave mistake to believe -- as do many Mahayana Buddhists -- that the attaining of enlightenment puts one out of commission, so to speak, for helping others. The best way of helping others is by first seeing the light oneself.
Mortal:
   There is one thing about your self-description which is somewhat disturbing. You describe yourself essentially as a process. This puts you in such an impersonal light, and so many people have a need for a personal God.
God:
   So because they need a personal God, it follows that I am one?
Mortal:
   Of course not. But to be acceptable to a mortal a religion must satisfy his needs.
God:
   I realize that. But the so-called "personality" of a being is really more in the eyes of the beholder than in the being itself. The controversies which have raged, about whether I am a personal or an impersonal being are rather silly because neither side is right or wrong. From one point of view, I am personal, from another, I am not. It is the same with a human being. A creature from another planet may look at him purely impersonally as a mere collection of atomic particles behaving according to strictly prescribed physical laws. He may have no more feeling for the personality of a human than the average human has for an ant. Yet an ant has just as much individual personality as a human to beings like myself who really know the ant. To look at something impersonally is no more correct or incorrect than to look at it personally, but in general, the better you get to know something, the more personal it becomes. To illustrate my point, do you think of me as a personal or impersonal being?
Mortal:
   Well, I'm talking to you, am I not?
God:
   Exactly! From that point of view, your attitude toward me might be described as a personal one. And yet, from another point of view -- no less valid -- I can also be looked at impersonally.
Mortal:
   But if you are really such an abstract thing as a process, I don't see what sense it can make my talking to a mere "process."
God:
   I love the way you say "mere." You might just as well say that you are living in a "mere universe." Also, why must everything one does make sense? Does it make sense to talk to a tree?
Mortal:
   Of course not!
God:
   And yet, many children and primitives do just that.
Mortal:
   But I am neither a child nor a primitive.
God:
   I realize that, unfortunately.
Mortal:
   Why unfortunately?
God:
   Because many children and primitives have a primal intuition which the likes of you have lost. Frankly, I think it would do you a lot of good to talk to a tree once in a while, even more good than talking to me! But we seem always to be getting sidetracked! For the last time, I would like us to try to come to an understanding about why I gave you free will.
Mortal:
   I have been thinking about this all the while.
God:
   You mean you haven't been paying attention to our conversation?
Mortal:
   Of course I have. But all the while, on another level, I have been thinking about it.
God:
   And have you come to any conclusion?
Mortal:
   Well, you say the reason is not to test our worthiness. And you disclaimed the reason that we need to feel that we must merit things in order to enjoy them. And you claim to be a utilitarian. Most significant of all, you appeared so delighted when I came to the sudden realization that it is not sinning in itself which is bad but only the suffering which it causes.
God:
   Well of course! What else could conceivably be bad about sinning?
Mortal:
   All right, you know that, and now I know that. But all my life I unfortunately have been under the influence of those moralists who hold sinning to be bad in itself. Anyway, putting all these pieces together, it occurs to me that the only reason you gave free will is because of your belief that with free will, people will tend to hurt each other -- and themselves -- less than without free will.
God:
   Bravo! That is by far the best reason you have yet given! I can assure you that had I chosen to give free will, that would have been my very reason for so choosing.
Mortal:
   What! You mean to say you did not choose to give us free will?
God:
   My dear fellow, I could no more choose to give you free will than I could choose to make an equilateral triangle equiangular. I could choose to make or not to make an equilateral triangle in the first place, but having chosen to make one, I would then have no choice but to make it equiangular.
Mortal:
   I thought you could do anything!
God:
   Only things which are logically possible. As St. Thomas said, "It is a sin to regard the fact that God cannot do the impossible, as a limitation on His powers." I agree, except that in place of his using the word sin I would use the term error.
Mortal:
   Anyhow, I am still puzzled by your implication that you did not choose to give me free will.
God:
   Well, it is high time I inform you that the entire discussion -- from the very beginning -- has been based on one monstrous fallacy! We have been talking purely on a moral level -- you originally complained that I gave you free will, and raised the whole question as to whether I should have. It never once occurred to you that I had absolutely no choice in the matter.
Mortal:
   I am still in the dark!
God:
   Absolutely! Because you are only able to look at it through the eyes of a moralist. The more fundamental metaphysical aspects of the question you never even considered.
Mortal:
   I still do not see what you are driving at.
God:
   Before you requested me to remove your free will, shouldn't your first question have been whether as a matter of fact you do have free will?
Mortal:
   That I simply took for granted.
God:
   But why should you?
Mortal:
   I don't know. Do I have free will?
God:
   Yes.
Mortal:
   Then why did you say I shouldn't have taken it for granted?
God:
   Because you shouldn't. Just because something happens to be true, it does not follow that it should be taken for granted.
Mortal:
   Anyway, it is reassuring to know that my natural intuition about having free will is correct. Sometimes I have been worried that determinists are correct.
God:
   They are correct.
Mortal:
   Wait a minute now, do I have free will or don't I?
God:
   I already told you you do. But that does not mean that determinism is incorrect.
Mortal:
   Well, are my acts determined by the laws of nature or aren't they?
God:
   The word determined here is subtly but powerfully misleading and has contributed so much to the confusions of the free will versus determinism controversies. Your acts are certainly in accordance with the laws of nature, but to say they are determined by the laws of nature creates a totally misleading psychological image which is that your will could somehow be in conflict with the laws of nature and that the latter is somehow more powerful than you, and could "determine" your acts whether you liked it or not. But it is simply impossible for your will to ever conflict with natural law. You and natural law are really one and the same.
Mortal:
   What do you mean that I cannot conflict with nature? Suppose I were to become very stubborn, and I determined not to obey the laws of nature. What could stop me? If I became sufficiently stubborn even you could not stop me!
God:
   You are absolutely right! I certainly could not stop you. Nothing could stop you. But there is no need to stop you, because you could not even start! As Goethe very beautifully expressed it, "In trying to oppose Nature, we are, in the very process of doing so, acting according to the laws of nature!" Don't you see that the so-called "laws of nature" are nothing more than a description of how in fact you and other beings do act? They are merely a description of how you act, not a prescription of of how you should act, not a power or force which compels or determines your acts. To be valid a law of nature must take into account how in fact you do act, or, if you like, how you choose to act.
Mortal:
   So you really claim that I am incapable of determining to act against natural law?
God:
   It is interesting that you have twice now used the phrase "determined to act" instead of "chosen to act." This identification is quite common. Often one uses the statement "I am determined to do this" synonymously with "I have chosen to do this." This very psychological identification should reveal that determinism and choice are much closer than they might appear. Of course, you might well say that the doctrine of free will says that it is you who are doing the determining, whereas the doctrine of determinism appears to say that your acts are determined by something apparently outside you. But the confusion is largely caused by your bifurcation of reality into the "you" and the "not you." Really now, just where do you leave off and the rest of the universe begin? Or where does the rest of the universe leave off and you begin? Once you can see the so-called "you" and the so-called "nature" as a continuous whole, then you can never again be bothered by such questions as whether it is you who are controlling nature or nature who is controlling you. Thus the muddle of free will versus determinism will vanish. If I may use a crude analogy, imagine two bodies moving toward each other by virtue of gravitational attraction. Each body, if sentient, might wonder whether it is he or the other fellow who is exerting the "force." In a way it is both, in a way it is neither. It is best to say that it is the configuration of the two which is crucial.
Mortal:
   You said a short while ago that our whole discussion was based on a monstrous fallacy. You still have not told me what this fallacy is.
God:
   Why, the idea that I could possibly have created you without free will! You acted as if this were a genuine possibility, and wondered why I did not choose it! It never occurred to you that a sentient being without free will is no more conceivable than a physical object which exerts no gravitational attraction. (There is, incidentally, more analogy than you realize between a physical object exerting gravitational attraction and a sentient being exerting free will!) Can you honestly even imagine a conscious being without free will? What on earth could it be like? I think that one thing in your life that has so misled you is your having been told that I gave man the gift of free will. As if I first created man, and then as an afterthought endowed him with the extra property of free will. Maybe you think I have some sort of "paint brush" with which I daub some creatures with free will and not others. No, free will is not an "extra"; it is part and parcel of the very essence of consciousness. A conscious being without free will is simply a metaphysical absurdity.
Mortal:
   Then why did you play along with me all this while discussing what I thought was a moral problem, when, as you say, my basic confusion was metaphysical?
God:
   Because I thought it would be good therapy for you to get some of this moral poison out of your system. Much of your metaphysical confusion was due to faulty moral notions, and so the latter had to be dealt with first.

And now we must part -- at least until you need me again. I think our present union will do much to sustain you for a long while. But do remember what I told you about trees. Of course, you don't have to literally talk to them if doing so makes you feel silly. But there is so much you can learn from them, as well as from the rocks and streams and other aspects of nature. There is nothing like a naturalistic orientation to dispel all these morbid thoughts of "sin" and "free will" and "moral responsibility." At one stage of history, such notions were actually useful. I refer to the days when tyrants had unlimited power and nothing short of fears of hell could possibly restrain them. But mankind has grown up since then, and this gruesome way of thinking is no longer necessary.
It might be helpful to you to recall what I once said through the writings of the great Zen poet Seng-Ts'an:

If you want to get the plain truth,
Be not concerned with right and wrong.
The conflict between right and wrong
Is the sickness of the mind.
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“ZEN FREEDOM” by Tim Lott

header_A-Boat-in-the-Sea-by-Arkhip-Kuindzhi
A Boat in the Sea by Arkhip Kuindzhi, c.1875. Oil on canvas.

ZEN FREEDOM” by Tim Lott

Tim Lott is the author of The Scent of Dried Roses (Penguin Modern Classics) and Under the Same Stars (Simon and Schuster). His writings can be viewed at: https://aeon.co/users/tim-lott

Free will and fate are both illusions. The trick is learning to sail with the prevailing winds of life

There is a line in J G Ballard’s book
The Atrocity Exhibition (1970) that strikes at the heart of the issue of free will versus fate. Ballard writes: ‘Deep assignments run through all our lives; there are no coincidences.’ It is an arresting line — and no doubt many of us at one time or another have felt just this way about our lives, that they have a fated quality to them ­—­ but just what these ‘deep assignments’ consist of is unclear. The issue of free will versus fate might, for many people, feel a little rarefied, and irrelevant. Yet it seems to me it is absolutely crucial to how we approach the countless dilemmas that confront every one of us each day.

Perhaps it’s peculiar, but this question has vexed me for as long as I can remember. At one point in my life, this challenge pretty much sent me crazy. In the late 1980s, when I was studying history at university, I found myself grappling furiously with the question of why things happened — this question being, really, at the heart of all historical analysis.

Why did the Russian Revolution happen in 1917 rather than the ‘first time round’ in 1905? What caused the Second World War? Was it ‘larger historical forces’? Or just individuals making individual decisions? And, at the same time, in my own life — after I had split up with my then long-term girlfriend — I was left asking, what had I done to make that happen? What did I have to do to get her back? Was it in my control?

After three years, I was no wiser than when I started. Did we choose freely? Or were we just victims of larger historical, social and biological forces? It was impossible to tell. What I did realise was that philosophers had been struggling with such questions for thousands of years, but were no closer to understanding the answer than they were when they started out. Today, the consensus among most modern physicists, chemists and biologists is that free will is impossible — it is simply an illusion generated by a consciousness that is itself illusory. This explanation didn’t satisfy me. After all, if consciousness is an illusion, who is generating the illusion, and who is perceiving it as an illusion? For me, mechanistic determinism­ — that there is a sort of fated cause and effect at play in the universe, with no room for choice — raised more problems than it solved.

Consider your breathing: are ‘you’ breathing, or is breathing happening to you?

It also just felt wrong. I felt so sure that I could decide whether or not to drink the glass of water in front of me that I would find it impossible to be convinced otherwise. That direct experience of reality is valid, particularly since it also takes into account the fact that I might drink the water without consciously choosing to, without thinking about it first.

At the same time, it seemed impossible to believe wholeheartedly in free will. At one level, I intuited that there were paths that you just ‘had’ to take, even if you didn’t want to. When I decided to leave my publishing company to go to university later on in life, it felt like something I had to do. When I ended my marriage, I felt I had no choice — but of course, in theory at least, I did.

More objectively, there is no doubt that we are profoundly affected by our genes and brain chemistry. We are created by our social and parental environment, shaped by the language we speak, and fashioned by the things that happen to us, accidentally or otherwise. Our character is subject to so many forces beyond our control. How can any choice, then, be said to be free?

It was only after I finished studying history [or to give it another name, ‘Western notions of cause-and-effect’] and began to study Zen Buddhism that some kind of meaningful answer began to occur to me. No one could resolve the question of free will versus determinism because, fundamentally, it was the wrong question. The real question was not:
Do I have a choice? Rather it was: Who is the ‘me’ that’s asking if I have a choice?

If there is no ‘I’ to make a choice, then there is only one process going on — that of existence as a whole. No one­ — no fate, or brute circumstance — is pushing you around because there is no one to be pushed around. Or to put it another way, you are both simultaneously the one who is doing the pushing and the one who is being pushed. To think of this process in another way, consider your breathing: are ‘you’ breathing, or is breathing happening to you?

Of course, this is no simple solution. It merely shifts the focus and takes us on to another equally dense philosophical question:
Who am I? Individuals in the West tend to consider themselves as a sort of ‘first cause’, an isolated ego that somehow acts on ‘the world out there’. We see ourselves as struggling against our external world, as that same world struggles to dominate us. And it feels, for some, like a fight to the death.

The view that there is no ‘you’ for things to happen to is a hard, even painful one to accept

But what if, for a moment, we entertain the possibility that there is no ‘me’. No ‘I’ who can act freely or be fated to become X or Y. What if, as Carl Jung suggested, the ego is simply a complex of the unconscious, a mere concept, and as such quite powerless? This might go against everything we have ever been taught, both overtly and subliminally, but to me, it seems and feels convincing. After all, can you show me your ego? Where is it? How can you be so certain that it exists? It’s not a tangible sensation, like ‘love’ or ‘fear’. Rather, it’s an idea that perhaps we don’t even realize is an idea, so much do we take it for granted. Maybe it’s just an abstraction — like the number three.

If you take this admittedly large leap – that there is no such thing as the you that ‘you’ imagine yourself to be – then what? Then ‘you’ at the deepest level are simply one particular expression of everything else that is going on. Or as the Zen writer Alan Watts put it: ‘Will and fate are two aspects of the same thing. Life lives you, you do not live life. Everything that happens is “of itself so”.’

What
you do is what the whole universe is doing now. In the same way, a single wave is something the whole ocean is doing — you cannot point to a discrete end or beginning of a wave. You are experiencing different aspects of one thing happening, not separate events linked by cause and effect. Imagine a dance between two people that looks so seamless you can’t tell who’s leading and who’s following. Is it the ‘you’ who is called ‘Tim Lott’ or ‘Joe Doakes’ or whatever, or is it the sum total of everything that’s going on? Ultimately, what’s the difference?

But where does this leave you? ‘Free’ to do whatever you want to do? Possibly. Or perhaps its means you’re absolutely unfree. It depends which way you look at it. The view that there is no ‘you’ for things to happen to is a hard, even painful one to accept. There is only a continuum: you, everything. There is no such thing as progression in time, with one cause pushing a certain effect. This is also an illusion.

For some this could be a terrifying prospect. But for me this is a good arrangement. It involves a universe full of surprises rather than a dead machine, as the determinists would have it. And neither is it a factory of regret, guilt and anxiety, which tend to be suffered by those who believe in free will too much. It leaves existence as a profound mystery and, without mystery, life would be intolerably boring.

Let your brain do the work without interference, just as you let your liver or your heart do their jobs

When I am faced with a difficult choice now, I neither make it nor don’t make it. As Zen teaching has it, I try to await the condition of being ‘choicelessly aware’. At some point, the choice ‘just happens’, in the same way that your breath ‘just happens’, when you’re not thinking about it. Let your brain do the work without interference, just as you let your liver or your heart do their jobs without interference. Don’t let your ego — your centre of conscious reflection — get in the way. In other words, you are trusting ‘nature’ — or if you prefer, your unconscious — to make the choice for you. Nature is not always to be trusted, but it is a better bet than so called ‘rational action’; it contains a wisdom that is far deeper than reason.

If you think too much about a choice, it is bound to go awry. The same instinct that governs, lightly, your decision whether or not to go out for a walk should be the same instinct that decides whether or not to stay in your marriage. It is not motivated action. It does not involve a cost-benefit analysis. It just recognises when, and if, the door of action is open, and suggests whether you might want to walk through it — or not. What happens next is not a matter of reason, but only of courage, and faith.



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"Why Doesn’t Asia Have Religion?" by Thomas David DuBois

by Thomas David DuBois — Website: https://thomasdaviddubois.wordpress.com

989asia

Having spent the past 10 years writing and teaching on Asian religions, I now have something to confess:

Asia does not have religion.

“But what,” you may ask, “about that college class I took on ‘world religions?’ We learned about Hinduism, Confucianism, Daoism (Taoism) and Shinto. Half the class was about Asia.”

Between you and me, I hate that class. I hated it as a student, because I thought it didn’t make sense. I hate it even more as a professor, because I
know it doesn’t make sense. Here’s why.

Think about the religions the Western world knows best: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Whatever the differences that separate them, these three religions all share a great deal in common. Each one, for instance, is centered on a text — a holy and inviolate scripture. For Jews, Christians and Muslims, the sacred text is never wrong — although man’s interpretation of it often is. Based on this knowledge, it would seem sensible to assume that religion and scripture are inseparable. But in fact, the central role of scripture, like much of what we assume about “religion” as a concept, is uniquely Western.

The same applies to the rules about how religion functions in society. What the West knows best is its own religious history, which was shaped in large part by the question of where Christianity should fit into politics. As we all know, European kings once claimed to rule by divine right, at least until the age of the great revolutions came along and banished organized religion from political life. But the declining political prominence of Western Christianity was more than just a battle between kings, popes and the awakened masses; it was also mirrored by a new understanding of religion itself, a sense that God resides, not in the church, but in the heart of and soul of the believer. True religious belief thus came to be seen as something very personal. This understanding shapes our idea that religion does not belong in the public sphere (some countries like France take this idea very seriously), but also means we do not accept the validity of religious conversion made at the point of a gun. The freedom of religious conscience has taken on a global currency, and is now portrayed as a basic human right. It is the standard used by the United Nations, and most of the world pays lip service to it in at least some form. Whatever the reality, religious freedom is enshrined in the constitutions of Cuba and North Korea. At least on paper, even Iran formally accepts the existence of certain religious minorities.

The fact is that the Western idea of religion did not reach Asia until very recently. When it did, the concept was so foreign that many Asian languages had to invent a new word for it [specifically for making diplomatic treaties with the Western powers who insisted on a clause protecting “religious freedom”]. This puts Asia’s own traditions into a strange bind. Even now, we face the problem in deciding just what to call the ideas of Confucius or the Buddha. Calling them “religions” clearly doesn’t work, because Asian traditions look and behave so differently from what we know in the West.

Daoists, for example, don’t have a Bible. In the entire canon of Daoist scripture, there is nothing that compares to the central role occupied by the sacred books of Western religion. Shinto has no scriptural tradition at all. Historically, East Asia has had far less religious conflict than the West, not because Asian religions are inherently any more peaceful, but rather because they have a very different concept of religious membership. In Western religions, affiliation is absolute: you cannot be a hyphenated Muslim-Jew, or a Christian-Hindu. Asian religions, in contrast, treat religious membership in more fluid terms. Everyone in China is to some degree influenced by Confucian ethics, but nobody would call himself a “Confucian.” Trying to fit Asian beliefs into Western categories produces the classic square peg-round hole scenario.

As always, one needs travel no further than “The Simpsons” for a good example. When Lisa’s quest for religious identity (driven by her dissatisfaction with the fictitious Presbylutheran congregation) led her to embrace Buddhism, she promptly shouted the epiphany, “I’m a Buddhist!” out her bedroom window. In doing so, she was actually echoing a classic
Christian metaphor of religious belonging — the lightning-bolt conversion of Paul of Tarsus. Lisa may have been a Buddhist, but she became one in a very Christian way.

This is not merely a cartoon dilemma (pun very much intended). Our understanding of what religion is, what it should look like, and what role it should play in society all have real world ramifications. When political figures like Michele Bachmann cynically promise to outlaw shariah, they are doing more than merely repeating the mistaken assertion that the United States is foundationally a Christian nation, they are also making a broader statement about what constitutes legitimate religion. Such ideas may play well with American voters, but they compromise our ability to understand the world outside our borders, and tangibly harm our image abroad.

Perhaps the greatest irony of all is that many of those who reject religion themselves rely on this same limited definition. Religion is in no way inimical to science. Certain interpreters of Christianity may reject evolution and global warming. That is unfortunate, but it is neither representative nor exclusive. Pig-headedness is not unique to Christianity, or even to religion. Just like the anti-Islamic screed emerging from the political right, dumping everything we dislike about Christianity into a single bucket we call “religion” serves only to muddy the waters.
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"Private "I," Private Property" (excerpt) THE TAO OF ABUNDANCE by Laurence Boldt

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Private "I," Private Property

The name that can be named is not the real name.
—Lao Tzu

The primary or original consciousness, the Tao—the innate intelligence of the universe—is there all the while, whether we are aware of it or not. The man who has amnesia has not become someone else—he has simply forgot-1 ten who he is. In the Western world, which is today (in a cultural sense) ] most of the world, we have a collective amnesia regarding the unnameable Tao—we have lost touch with a consciousness that is prior to the ego. It is j not only that we have failed to open the Wisdom Eye; we have forgotten that it even exists. As a result, the field of consciousness available to us is limited to that defined by the ego.

One manifestation of our collective amnesia regarding transcendence is ' our unwavering commitment to the concept of private property. Like the ego, private property may well serve a useful social function. Yet if we take a man-made social convention and confuse it with the underlying reality, we are sure to go astray. Standing out in the middle of the desert, a sign marks an imaginary line that separates the states of Arizona and New Mexico. Nothing in the landscape distinguishes this side from that. The boundary [line is clearly arbitrary and imaginary. In truth, this is the case with all property. The boundary lines are always arbitrary and imaginary. They exist as a function of belief—not in the physical world, and much less in the transcendent unity of all things. This is an obvious and easily demonstrable fact of life, yet one which, in our daily living, we choose to ignore.

We fail to understand that a particular thing is merely an artificial definition by our senses, of some indefinable . . . infinitely surpassing that thing.
—P. D. Ouspensky

Despite the implications that our belief in private property has on our 1 experience of abundance or lack, we seldom, if ever, hold it up to critical analysis. The concept of ownership is meaningless without a name to attach the object to. Name is, as we have said, the original seed of the ego. It bis through names that we distinguish differences, and it is by identifying \ with and clinging to our own names and their associations that we stake tout our personal territory. (We forget too easily that persona means "mask," which implies both an illusion and a cover.) Having marked the territory, Live look for how what is inside the boundaries can be distinguished from [what is outside. This territory is the original, and the most private, property. Name (and its associations) is the first thing that we own.

Since name is the core of the ego, we seek to enlarge, protect, and prepare our names. We feel pleasure when "good" things are said about our names, and pain when "bad" things are said about them. From this comes the sense of gain and loss, the psychological origins of credit and debt. iMentally attaching an object to your name gives the sense of possession. ^Preserving possessions is a way of preserving your name, that is, the ego. [Since we realize that we as egos are destined to die, we want somehow to [extend our ego identities beyond the scant seventy, eighty, or perhaps ninety [years we are normally allotted. One device for achieving an illusion of ego [life-extension is the conception of the inheritance of private property. It allows us to pass on the possessions (objects attached to our names) to our offspring, and in so doing, preserve our names and ego identities beyond the grave. It is an attempt of the ego to find security and permanence in a world of constant change.


The universal human problem of recognizing, transcending, and integrating the ego is compounded by the artificiality of modern life. One who lives in nature is constantly in touch with, and immediately aware of, a field of power and experience transcendent to the life of ego and society.] People in most traditional cultures tried to live in accord with the cycles! seasons, and powers inherent in the natural world. Today, we try as much as we can to insulate and isolate ourselves in an artificial man-made world. I Like no other in human history, our society tries to project and protect the illusion that we are separate from nature and its universal life processes! Wrapped up in the complexity of modern technological society, we find it difficult to see that the order of nature governs our own lives collectively and individually, and therefore to put our trust in the Tao.

The Taoists, then, condemned the differentiation of society into classes. Rightly they associated the process with increasing artificiality and complexity of life. . . .
—Joseph Needham

If there is anything like a law of consciousness, it is this: whatever we focus our attention on expands in our lives. Every major spiritual tradition in the world employs this fundamental principle of consciousness a an essential part of its path to liberation. The first of Christ's two commandments is to love (focus on) the Lord with all of thy mind and heart and strength. The yoga tradition of India, from the sutras of Patanjali to the Bhagavad-Gita, tells us that awakening is achieved through the focus of attention—be it on the individual's own higher self, or Atman, the impersonal universal Brahman, or the personal deity forms of God, Bhagavan. Similarly, the Taoist teachings of Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu instruct us that we are to cultivate (become more aware of) the Tao.

In traditional cultures, myth, ritual, and art provided points of focus on transcendent symbols as means of projecting or pitching the consciousness beyond the field of the ego. For the society, this served two primary functions: First, it provided the mass of people with authentic rituals that promoted a temporary release from the ego state—a peek into the beyond. Second, it gave a relative few individuals a general blueprint for, or path to, enlightenment. The awakening of these individuals in turn enriched the whole society.

Lawerence Boldt - “EmpowerYou.com

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"How Biblical Literalism Took Root" by Stephen Tomkins

ornament_on_bible_8x10_oil_on_canvas___commissioned_painting_325b37d82d39668c9be571f2be2080ac
"Ornament on Bible" by Hall Groat II


How Biblical Literalism Took Root
by Stephen Tomkins
Written for the Guardian


The Bible doesn't state that it should be read literally – yet an all-or-nothing approach is the core of many Christians' faith

Where does biblical literalism come from? What is the genesis, if you will, of the habit of mind that makes many Christians read the Bible with a different brain to the one they'd use with any other writing?

It is by no means an essential Christian tenet. No creed says anything about how to read the scriptures. The highest claim the Bible makes for itself is when the writer of
Paul's letter to Timothy says the Hebrew scriptures were "God-breathed", which is wonderfully suggestive but hardly precise or dogmatic. I mean, Adam was God-breathed, and look what happened to him.

The Bible is the word of God, Christians believe, but why should the fact it's God's mean it has to be read with naive absolutism? Many Christians call the church "the body of Christ" without considering it anything like infallible, or refusing to see its rites as symbolic.

Part of the problem is historical. The deification of the Bible is a result of the
Protestant reformation. Before then, the final authority, the ultimate arbiter and source of information in religious matters was the church, with its ancient traditions and living experts. When Luther and friends opposed the teaching of the Catholic hierarchy, they needed a superior authority to appeal to, which was provided by the Bible.

Fair enough. But in defending or reclaiming the Bible from papists and then liberals, evangelical Protestants made it the very heart of the faith. Hence the ludicrous situation where many evangelical organizations, such as the
Southern Baptist Convention, have statements of faith where the first point is the Bible, before any mention of, for example, God. Hence the celebrated idolatrous aphorism of William Chillingworth: "The BIBLE, I say, the BIBLE only, is the religion of Protestants!”.

One practical problem of this text mania is that the Bible, unlike the church, can't answer questions, clarify earlier statements, arbitrate disagreements or deal with new developments. So those in search of religious certainty have to find it all in the text: if it says the earth was created in six days, or that gay sex is an abomination, them's the facts, end of story. And if it forbids charging interest, well there's always wriggle room.

The other practical problem is that for more moderate Christians, Christ is the heart of the faith, and the Bible offers information and ideas about him and is one of the things that point us in his direction. But if the Bible itself is the heart, then to read it is to enter the Holy of Holies, making it that much harder to accept any normal human ambiguity or inaccuracy in its words.

This effect is magnified by a more recent historical development: the charismatic movement. Even among evangelicals who don't speak in tongues or put their hands in the air when the sing Shine Jesus Shine, the movement has had profound effects, one of which is that they don't read the Bible just to be reminded and shaped by its teaching, but to hear what God has to say to them today.

If you read the Bible asking: "What was St Paul saying to the Galatians?" all kinds of critical questions arise: How would first-century Asia Minor have understood these words? Would Paul have phrased it differently to a church he was less pissed off with? Would other witnesses have recalled the events he describes differently? But if you read the Bible asking: "What is God saying to me today?" it seems less appropriate to do anything but accept it at face value.

One last factor in biblical all-or-nothingism is the part that biblical criticism plays in evangelical conversion, which is none at all.

People who convert to evangelical
Christianity, including those who grow up with it, are persuaded by the experience of a religious community, and by finding that evangelical theology seems to hold water. All this is totally underpinned by the Bible – it's the foundation and guarantee. But the only test of its reliability that inquirers are invited to make is to read it and ask "Is this something that I can accept wholesale and entrust my life to?”

It's generally much later that a convert will have to consider concrete evidence that biblical writers were human beings, capable of being one-sided, of writing myth, of exaggerating, of guessing, of having opinions it's impossible to agree with.

Some of us, faced with this evidence, shape our faith in the light of it, making the Bible a far more fascinating, revealing and diverse record of human religious experience. But it's not surprising if for others the evidence comes as an attack that threatens to undermine the foundation of their faith, and has to be beaten off blindfold.
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"Christian Mysticism as a Threat to Papal Traditions" by Hayley E. Pangle

famous-catholic-mystics
"CHRISTIAN MYSTICISM AS A THREAT TO PAPAL TRADITIONS"
by Hayley E. Pangle
Grand Valley State University,
pangleh@mail.gvsu.edu

This Article is brought to you for free and open access by ScholarWorks@GVSU. It has been accepted for inclusion in Grand Valley Journal of History by an authorized administrator of ScholarWorks@GVSU. For more information, please contact scholarworks@gvsu.edu.

__________________


From the Gnostics of the second century to the Waldesians of the thirteenth century, popular religion as practiced outside the structures of the Roman Church challenged the religious authority of the papacy and greatly influenced the decisions it made as it refined doctrines, decrees, and practices that it deemed acceptable to the church. Christian mysticism, although having its roots in the earliest days of Christianity, expanded and intensified in the eleventh through fourteenth centuries in Europe. Several aspects of the mystic Christianity in the Middle Ages challenged the traditions of the church, including the mystics’ theological interpretation of scripture, their graphic visions, and their threat to established gender roles.

But first it is important to explain the basics of Christian mysticism. The term mysticism taken by itself embodies an idea that is prevalent amongst the world’s religions: that a human has the ability to experience a deep connection with the divine on his or her own terms, without the use of scripture, doctrine, and other rules dictating how the person should perceive or believe in the divine. Mysticism “is an experience, not an idea”1 which cannot be explained easily since it stresses the “inability of human reasoning to know the incomprehensible deity.”2 Commonly a mystical movement within a religion is viewed with skepticism from the doctrinal tradition; this was especially true with the medieval papacy and Christian mysticism. For although mysticism produced wonderful role models of Christian believers to laypeople, many of its aspects, i.e. the mystical interpretation of scripture, mystic visions, and challenge to gender roles, were “often on the periphery of acceptable practice”3 and directly challenged Roman Catholic traditions.

There were two main phases of mysticism in medieval Europe. Twelfth century mysticism was characterized by personal experimentation of the laity’s faith and subsequently having mystical experiences without the “benefit of theological training.”4 Evidence of this was religious community living and the production of theological literature that gained popularity in popular culture without papal sanction and control. The fourteenth century ushered in the second phase, an “age of intolerance and repression,”5 which was characterized by the papacy’s attempts to gain control or even eliminate these lay movements. As a result, many of the movements that started in the twelfth century deteriorated during this second phase. However a key idea ran strongly through both phases: the mystic should be “dissatisfied with a religion of external devotion” and must possess a spirit entirely dedicated to God through extreme asceticism and “inwardness.”6 Medieval mysticism stressed that the mystic needed to trust God to reveal himself to him or her, which he often did in areas that challenged papal traditions.

Studies on medieval Christian mysticism have placed heavy emphasis on women, their contributions to the movement, and the papal response to those contributions. Yet there were some things that the papacy had to suppress in both men and women, and one of these was the mystic’s theological interpretation of scripture. The issue of personal interpretation of the Bible came to the fore with reformers such as Jan Hus and John Wycliffe in the fourteenth century who challenged the traditional idea that the papacy was the ultimate answerable authority in Christianity.7 Although this issue did not permanently hurt the church until the Protestant Reformation in the early sixteenth century, mystical interpretation of scripture started with Origen of Alexandria in the mid-third century CE and continued to be an important feature of a mystic’s faith.

1 Elizabeth Alvilda Petroff, Body and Soul: Essays on Medieval Women and Mysticism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 3.
2 Steven Fanning, Mystics of the Christian Tradition (New York: Routledge, 2006), 1.
3 Petroff, Body and Soul, 5
4 Fanning, Mystics, 85.
5 Ibid., 102.
6 Ibid., 108.
7 Judith M. Hollister and C. Warren Bennett, Medieval Europe: A Short History, 10th ed. (New York: McGraw Hill, 2006), 343.
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As mystics read the Bible, they refused to simply read the texts and accept its message at a literal level. They exhaustively studied the scriptures and tried to find multiple meanings in order to grow closer with God. Song of Songs in the Old Testament is a prime example of this. Bernard of Clairvaux in the twelfth century wrote eighty-six sermons alone describing his understanding of the book.8 Traditionally the speakers of the poem were thought to be two lovers, but the book became analogous to the relationship between Christ and the church. Mystics took the interpretation a step further and suggested in their writings that Song of Songs represented God’s love and (sensual) desire for the mere human soul. The church was familiar with literal and allegorical interpretations of scripture; it was the mystics who added an anagogical, or spiritual, dimension to them.

Meister Eckhart, a Dominican preacher of the early fourteenth century, was an example of a “scriptural mystic”9 who added spiritual depth to the verses he studied. In one sermon, he closely analyzed verse thirty-eight in chapter ten of the Gospel of Luke. He applied mystical meanings and themes behind every portion, and purposefully translated certain phrases incorrectly from Latin to vernacular German to fit his message.10 This latter point was particularly seen in the way he translated a word as “a virgin who was a wife” instead of simply “woman.”11 This purposeful mistranslation was to make the point that in order for the soul to “be fruitful” in good works, much as a wife is fruitful in marriage, it must first “be ever virginal” and pure to accept Christ.12

A mystic’s personal interpretation of scripture challenged the papacy because it undermined the role of the clergy, especially priests with congregations. The call for personal interpretation ignored the educated men who were trained to read and interpret scripture in a way that was acceptable to the Roman Catholic Church. Meister Eckhart was reprimanded for several of his works because of the many liberties he took when he translated and interpreted them for his audience. As mentioned above, his studies of divine scripture were tropological in nature, that is, he added moral significance to each passage not readily seen or interpreted. Because of his method of interpretation, he had to defend himself and his theologies many times throughout his life. A papal bull, “In Agro Dominico,” was passed against him post humorously in 1329 and listed over two dozen statements from Eckhart’s sermons “that clouded the true faith” and were deemed heretical by Pope John XXII.13 It is interesting to point out, however, that with added “explanations” to some of his ideas, they might have been “able to take on or have a Catholic meaning.”14 This little disclaimer at the end of Eckhart’s papal bull brings to mind the idea that mysticism was often on the “periphery” between doctrinal faith and heresy.

Visions were another area in a mystic’s faith that posed challenges to the papacy. It was often an uncomfortable area of contention because they were frequently erotic in nature, especially the visions of beguine mystics. The beguines were religious sisterhoods or communities run by women in the eleventh and twelfth centuries and were an alternative to nunneries. They offered a Christian life rich in contemplation, education, and spiritual growth for the woman who did not want to marry, bear children and follow the traditional path of medieval womanhood. She could also come and leave whenever she wished since the beguines did not have official or formal monastic vows.15 Many of the famous Christian women mystics came from the beguine tradition, such as Hadewijch of Antwerp who lived in the mid-thirteenth century.

8 Bernard McGinn, ed., The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism (New York: The Random House Publishing Group, 2006), 27.
9 McGinn, Essential Writings, 35.
10 Ibid.
11 Meister Eckhart, “Sermon 2,” in The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism, ed. Bernard McGinn (New York: The Random House Publishing Group, 2006), 36.
12 Ibid.
13 “In Agro Dominico,” in The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism, ed. Bernard McGinn (New York: The Random House Publishing Group, 2006), 496.
14 Ibid.
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Pangle: Mysticism vs Papal Traditions

Hadewijch’s “Vision VII” was one she had “one Pentecost at dawn”16 and contained many archetypes found in other visions by women mystics. The erotic and almost fanatical tone and desire to be with God was expressed by Hadewijch in this way:

I desired to consummate my Lover completely and to confess and to savor to the fullest extent—to fulfill his humanity blissfully with mine...and to be strong and perfect so that I in turn would satisfy him perfectly...And to that end, I wished, inside me, that he would satisfy me with his Godhead in one spirit and he be all he is without restraint.17

This passionate yearning to feel God’s presence was followed with an image of Christ as a child presenting himself to Hadewijch as the Eucharist.18 The vision of Christ as a handsome young man or child was a common theme in women’s visions, along with the vision of a mystical marriage with Christ.

Despite living in the repressive phase of Christian mysticism in the mid-fourteenth century, Catherine of Siena had two such mystical marriage experiences. The first was when she was twenty-one years old in which she envisioned a ring Jesus placed on her finger in the company of Paul, the Virgin Mary, and other important biblical and saintly figures.19 The second and most graphic of Catherine’s visions consisted of Christ opening the left side of her body and exchanging her heart with his own, forever joining them together.20 This intimate visionary experience became the ultimate reason for Catherine’s authority within fourteenth century papal politics (explained more below).

Graphic visions were a common feature of a mystic’s faith. They comforted the mystic and served as proof that his or her methods of pursuing Christ were correct. They served as evidence that the mystic was closing the gap between humanity and the divine. For a religious person who was devoted to a life of chastity and ideally resisted any and all sexual temptations to have such strongly erotic desires of God posed a strange dilemma to papal tradition. The church had to ask whether or not it was acceptable for a Christian to have these visions and to feel an almost sexual desire for God’s love and acceptance of their faith.

Mystical marriage was the biggest obstacle in this area of Christian mysticism. The church defined marriage as two people becoming “one flesh” as was suggested in Genesis. The essence of mystical marriage entailed that the same idea might be applied. Bridal mysticism suggested that the self ceased to be the created entity God made it, as implied in Julian of Norwich’s (1342- 1416) statement that she could have no “rest or true happiness” until “I am so bound to him that there is no created thing between my God and me.”21 If that was the case, bridal mysticism therefore suggested that the self became God. Hadewijch stated this idea in her vision, that this “is what it means to satisfy [God] completely: to grow to being god with God.”22 The Roman Catholic Church condemned such ideas and declared that it “is a blasphemy against God...to say that a person can become God.”23 Aside from some of these aspects, doctrinal Christianity accepted visionary experiences since they served as testaments to the faith and were expressions of unity with God. Visions remained an essential part of mysticism throughout the Middle Ages.

15 Fanning, Mystics, 94.
16 Hadewijch of Antwerp, “Vision VII” in The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism, ed. Bernard McGinn (New York: The Random House Publishing Group, 2006), 103.
17 Ibid.
18 Hadewijch of Antwerp, “Vision VII,” 104.
19 Fanning, Mystics, 129-130.
20 Ibid., 130.
21 Julian of Norwich, “Revelations of Divine Love,” in The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism, ed. Bernard McGinn (New York: The Random House Publishing Group, 2006), 242.
22 Hadewijch of Antwerp, “Vision VII,” 103.
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A third area of papal tradition that mystics challenged was the concept of gender roles within society and the church. It was a “long-established custom” for women to be “passive, meditative, and receptive” to the religious authority of men.24 There were few options for a woman who felt called to the religious life. But the development of beguine communities in northern parts of Europe and tertiary branches of the Franciscan and Dominican orders prevalent in the south widened their horizons in the Middle Ages. If she joined one of these communities, a woman was expected to join men in the performance of two types of penitential acts: ones of self- contrition and ones of mercy toward others.25 Women took these acts of penance to heart and their “practice of self-denial was more austere than men’s and, in some cases, perhaps self- destructive.”26 Women might have felt this “self-destructive” pressure from the need to prove their devotion and faith to their Christian brothers and the papacy; they acted out their faith “by living virile, masculine, styles of sanctity”27 and suppressing their femininity. Their oftentimes extreme devotion to the spiritual life was inspirational to all Christians, but challenges arose against church tradition when clerical men relied on the spiritual insight and wisdom of these women.

In several cases men who served as confessors or mentors to mystic women were impressed by their faith and were inspired to learn from them. James of Vitry had this experience with Mary of Oignies (1176-1213), who was considered to be the first beguine mystic.28 Mary inspired James to pursue his ecclesiastical career, and he became an archbishop and later one of the major supporters of the beguine lifestyle within the papal court.29 He wrote a biography of Mary, in which he said he was often “moved with compassion” over her sufferings; she was known for “long fasting,” “many vigils,” and “great floods of tears” whenever her eyes beheld the crucifix.30

She was so diligent in her self-sacrifice to worldly gain and pleasures that James “was never able to perceive a single mortal sin in her whole life and manner of acting.”31 If anything, she was almost too good at confessing and punishing herself, even once cutting off a significant portion of her own skin, that James, as her religious advisor, “sometimes reprimanded her” over this.32 Yet for the most part, “this handmaid of Christ”33 was an inspiration to her community and especially James. This relationship posed a difficulty to the church’s ability to produce Catholic males who would continue accepted traditions: instead of gaining motivation from the governing body of the Catholic faith, James developed his clerical career at the behest of Mary, a woman who practiced “peripheral” Christianity and who was not even properly initiated as a nun. James’ support of Mary’s lifestyle and beguine sisterhoods was a challenge to traditional gender relations because he trusted the insights of these women and supported their faith to an extent that went beyond the minimal concessions originally granted to them by the church.

23 “The Compilation Concerning the New Spirit,” in McGinn, 491. 24 Petroff, Body and Soul, 7.
25 Ibid., 8.
26 Ibid.
27 Petroff, Body and Soul, 116.
28 McGinn, Essential Writings, 60.
29 Ibid.
30 James of Vitry, “The Life of Mary of Oignies,” in The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism, ed. Bernard McGinn (New York: The Random House Publishing Group, 2006), 61.
31 Ibid., 62.
32 Ibid., 63.
33 Ibid.
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Pangle: Mysticism vs Papal Traditions

Mysticism also provided a way for women to enter the much more public spheres of society traditionally reserved for men, namely politics and prophecy. Catherine of Siena was astonishing in the political roles she took. At barely thirty years of age she was sent as an ambassador to convince Pope Gregory XI to leave Avignon, return the papacy to Rome, and reform the corruptions of the papal court. He complied and employed her into his own services as an ambassador.34 She left behind a legacy of her good and influential works when she died at age thirty-three.

Female prophets in Christendom were common in the Middle Ages but societal reactions to their roles differed between earlier and later medieval mysticism. Hildegard of Bingen (1098- 1179) was a healer and abbess of her own convent and was considered to have prophetic powers from her contemporary, Bernard of Clairvaux. She was an avid composer of both written accounts and musical scores inspired by her visions.35 Her role, she felt, was to be an active mystic and to “admonish priests and prelates, to instruct the people of God”36 on preaching tours. She was threatened with excommunication multiple times, including an incident when she was eighty and near her death bed, but always managed to convince her ecclesiastical peers of her mystical legitimacy37 and had considerable freedom as a woman during this era.

Joan of Arc (1412-1431) was probably the prime example of mysticism’s threat to established gender roles. Unfortunately for her, this teenage girl lived at the time the Roman Church was the most intolerant of bold religious claims. They had dealt with others like her, such as Guglielma of Milan in the thirteenth century. 38 Guglielma went so far as to proclaim herself an incarnation of the Holy Spirit, condemned the ecclesiastical office of her time, and declared that the only way it would be successful is if it were run by women.39 Naturally, she was deemed heretical by the papacy. Joan was able to take her influence a step further and be very active on the military front since her powers were judged by the French court to be from God. But her position as a holy female prophet was quickly misconstrued after her capture by the English. Her age, gender, and daring spiritual claims provided a shocking spectacle for the English who regarded her divine revelations as demonic. She was attacked multiple times for the fact that she wore men’s clothing—which ultimately symbolized her success and high level of power she achieved in society’s public spheres. Fears of witchcraft were on the rise at this time and her behavior made her a “prime candidate for accusations.”40 She was burned at the stake as a warning to anyone, not just women, who dared to waver from tradition and claim support from God for their actions.

The mystic tradition of gender roles threatened not only the Roman Church but many areas in medieval life as well. Women like Mary of Oignies, although initially under the leadership of men, taught them many things about Christian living that they probably would not have gotten from traditional papal teachings. The women who occupied powerful places in public circles, from Hildegard of Bingen to Joan of Arc, went against the idea that women should remain cloistered in the home or at a nunnery. A woman was expected to only “pray for the salvation of
their own souls and for the souls of their Christian community,”41 and not take an active role in religious affairs. Not only did female mystics establish themselves in the spotlight, but the men who were involved in their lives respected and often helped them reach that high level of authority, such as Bernard of Clairvaux and James of Vitry. The challenge to preconceived gender roles in the Middle Ages was initiated by these female mystics.

34 Fanning, Mystics, 131. 35 Ibid., 82-84.
36 Ibid., 84.
37 Ibid., 82.
38 Anne Llewellyn Barstow, “Joan of Arc and Female Mysticism,” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 1, no. 2 (1985): 33. Barstow argues that Joan was just one in a long line of women that challenged the Roman Church with critiques and prophecy. Another example was Marguerite Porete (d. 1310) who was burned at the stake for her book A Mirror for Simple Souls. In it, she claimed that she did not need papal authority or the sacraments in order to be a true Christian.
39 Ibid., 35. 40 Ibid., 41.
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Traditional ideas about faith and power in the Middle Ages were challenged by Christian mysticism. This form of popular religion posed complex problems that the papacy had to grapple with repeatedly. The movement lasted and succeeded in many ways, probably because the faith required extreme devotion from its followers. “Offer me [God] yourself and everything that is yours and do not take back what you offer,” wrote Henry Suso, “let your heart always be ready to bear all adversity for my name’s sake.”42 The people of the mystic movement took this idea to heart and were unrelenting in their desire to demonstrate their faith and obey God’s orders to change the world around them.

Bibliography
Barstow, Anne Llewellyn. “Joan of Arc and Female Mysticism.” Journal of Feminist Studies in
Religion 1, no. 2 (1985): 29-42.
Eckhart, Meister. “Sermon 2.” In The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism, edited by
Bernard McGinn. New York: The Random House Publishing Group, 2006. Fanning, Steven. Mystics of the Christian Tradition. New York: Routledge, 2006.
Hadewijch of Antwerp, “Vision VII.” In The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism, edited by Bernard McGinn. New York: The Random House Publishing Group, 2006.
Hollister, Judith M. and Bennet, C. Warren. Medieval Europe: A Short History, 10th ed. New York: McGraw Hill, 2006.
“In Agro Dominico.” In The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism, edited by Bernard McGinn. New York: The Random House Publishing Group, 2006.
James of Vitry, “The Life of Mary of Oignies.” In The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism, edited by Bernard McGinn. New York: The Random House Publishing Group, 2006.
Julian of Norwich, “Revelations of Divine Love.” In The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism, edited by Bernard McGinn. New York: The Random House Publishing Group, 2006.
McGinn, Bernard, ed. The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism. New York: The Random House Publishing Group, 2006.
Petroff, Elizabeth Alvida. Body and Soul: Essays on Medieval Women and Mysticism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.
Suso, Henry. Chapter 4 from The Clock of Wisdom. In The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism, edited Bernard McGinn. New York: The Random House Publishing Group, 2006.
41 Petroff, Body and Soul, 7.
42 Henry Suso, Chapter 4 in The Clock of Wisdom, in The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism, ed. Bernard McGinn (New York: The Random House Publishing Group, 2006), 237.
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"Awakening from the Egoic Trance" (excerpt) — FALLING INTO GRACE by Adyashanti

566419-27628-28
If we really want to address the whole issue of suffering, as well as our desire and yearning for freedom, love, and connection, then we need to learn how to look clearly at our own minds…

…The difficulty of this and the problem with it is that the images we have of ourselves are often in conflict—because the perceptions and thoughts that others have about us don’t always “agree” with one another. At one moment, we have an image of ourself as being a worthy, loving, and happy person—but within minutes or an hour, our image of ourself can change quite drastically. All of a sudden, we may decide that were a terrible person because someone was critical of us, said something unkind about us, or told us that they really didn’t like us anymore. The idea we have of ourselves is something that makes us feel very insecure, because it can change so quickly, and often at the hands of another. And so we suffer, because someone’s opinion of us can so easily trigger anger, sadness, even depression. Our sense of self is very ephemeral; it’s not as solid as we imagine it to be, and the confusion around it is one of the greatest causes of human suffering that there is. To address the dilemma of human suffering, we need to look even more closely at the way our minds create this shifting sense of who we are.

The very idea that we may not be who we think we are, for many people, is something quite revolutionary. This discovery naturally gives rise to the larger question: Is our mind who we are? Are we actually able to be identified by, described by, and defined by the thoughts in our mind? When we begin to look at our experience clearly, we’ll see that there are at least two phenomena going on: one is the movement of mind, including all of the descriptions, self-images, ideas, beliefs, and opinions that arise moment to moment. The other phenomenon is the
awareness of mind. Very rarely do we take into account the awareness of mind, the space in which mind arises and subsides.

Mind has a very powerful ability to put awareness into a trance. Very quickly, we find ourselves lost in that trance. This trance is precisely what we’ve been calling “egoic consciousness”—the creation of our belief in who we are, which forms the very structure of ego. Ego is nothing more than the beliefs, ideas, and images we have about ourselves—and so it is actually something completely imaginary.

Note what happens to your sense of self when you go to sleep and your mind isn’t thinking about who you are. What happens to your beliefs, your ideas and opinions, and the world as you think it is, when you’re in bed and asleep? While your mind is resting, none of the projections that your mind imagines exist. All of the imagination of your mind ceases when you go to sleep, at least until you start dreaming. In this state of deep sleep, what you experience is great peace. We call it “sleep,” we call it “rest,” and it’s absolutely vital to our survival. If we don’t get enough sleep, we’ll eventually go somewhat crazy. We can even die if we don’t get enough sleep, if we never allow the mind to come into a deep state of peace and rest, where it isn’t thinking anymore.

This is ironic, because we think that if we control our minds in a certain way, then peace, rest, and freedom will be ours. We think that it is simply a matter of coming up with the right thoughts, the right ideas, the right beliefs, then we’ll find the key to peace, and from there we will all begin to get along with each other. But our history shows us—hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of years of history—that our ideas haven’t saved us. Our ideas haven’t saved us from our own anger, bitterness, and violence. They haven’t saved us from wars and famine and destruction. If our history has shown us anything—the history of thought, the history of ideas—it’s that thought can’t save humanity, that thought can’t save the world, that it’s going to take something other than even the greatest ideas that we can imagine. Instead, we must start with our own minds. Because if we don’t start with ourselves, then our mind is just going to keep projecting itself into the way we view life, and we’ll be lost within another dream, another trance.

THE TRANCE OF EGO
As soon as we’re caught in a trance state, we’re imprisoned in a mechanical, conditioned movement of mind. Everyone knows what it’s like to be caught in this egoic trance state: We experience great frustration and dissatisfaction. Part of our frustration arises because the ego can’t really do anything about this underlying discontent, because the ego itself is simply a mechanical movement of thought. It can’t express any true creativity. Our egos are basically the past expressing itself in the present. By that, I mean the ego is simply our conditioning unfolding and displaying itself here and now—in the way we think, act, and react. In the egoic state of consciousness, we really don’t have the amount of choice or volition that we imagine we have.

On a deep, intuitive level, we all know this, because if we had the choice that we think we possess, we would simply choose happiness and peace; nobody who’s not insane would choose otherwise. And yet, even though we believe that we have this power of choice, life keeps showing us that we can’t even manipulate where our minds go, that we can’t even insist on the way we feel day to day, much less control every one of our behaviors or the behaviors of those around us. How many times have we made New Year’s resolutions about how we were going to change, and how many times did that change actually occur? More often than not, even the things we say we want to do, we don’t end up doing. The reason isn’t because we have a lack of willpower. The reason isn’t because we haven’t figured out how to do them. The reason is because, from the egoic level of consciousness, we don’t really have the power of choice that we imagine we have, and that’s one of the most frustrating things within the trance state of egoic consciousness.

This trance state of egoic consciousness is where 99 percent of humanity lives and breathes, yet it’s the very thing from which we yearn to escape. Even though we don’t know it’s what we long to be free of, we all have this desire to not be confined or limited imprinted within us. We all have this innate desire to be free, creative, loving, open, and compassionate—and yet when we’re trapped within the egoic state of consciousness, in this trance of ego, our options are very limited.

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"A Meditation on Alan Watts & A Christianity Worth Following" by James Ford

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February 22, 2016 by James Ford — Pathos Website

To quote from myself, because, well, because I can, in my history of Zen Buddhism come west, “Zen Master Who?” I describe the first of the several times I met Alan Watts. It was sometime, I believe, in 1969.

“I was on the guest staff of the Zen monastery in Oakland led by Roshi Jiyu Kennett. I was enormously excited to actually meet this famous man, the great interpreter of the Zen way. Wearing my very best robes, I waited for him to show up; and waited and waited. Nearly an hour later, Watts arrived dressed in a kimono, accompanied by a fawning young woman and an equally fawning young man. It was hard not to notice his interest in the young woman who, as a monk, I was embarrassed to observe seemed not to be wearing any underwear. I was also awkwardly aware that Watts seemed intoxicated.”

Alan Watts was in fact the first person to write popular books about Zen in the West, beginning in 1937 with the “Spirit of Zen,” and more importantly in 1957 with his best selling “Way of Zen.” He drew mainly on the scholarly volumes just being written by D. T. Suzuki, the first person to write authentically about Zen in European languages, through Watts engaging style made enormously readable and genuinely compelling. As I summarized in my history, “An erstwhile Episcopal priest, engaging raconteur, and scandalous libertine, Alan Watts was also a prolific author whose books created an inviting sense of Zen-as-pure-experience and a do-what-you-want spirituality. These qualities both profoundly misrepresented Zen and led many people to it.”

On that last note, some years later I attended a talk by an American Zen priest. At the end, during the question and answer period, someone asked about Watts. The priest sighed, and then said,
“I know there’s a lot of controversy about Alan Watts and what he really understood about Zen.” He paused. And then, added, “But, you know, without Alan Watts, I wouldn’t be standing here on this platform.” I have to say, in large part, that’s true for me as well. In the 1960s and 70s, Alan Watts opened some important doors for many of us looking for a new way.

Over these passing years I’ve come to feel the title of his biography “In My Own Way” and the title of the English edition of Monica Furlong’s biography of him, “Genuine Fake,” taken together points to the complexities of this intriguing Anglo-American Zen trickster/ancestor of our contemporary spiritual scene.

In a relentless critique of Alan Watts, Lou Nordstrom and Richard Pilgrim point out how an authentic spirituality must encompass “practice, discipline, and effort,” features completely lacking in Alan Watts’ “Zen.” In large part I agree, but not completely. There is absolutely a place of falling away of practice, discipline, and effort. As we open our hearts we find the way is in fact broad and forgiving. And it seems he tasted that freedom and joy. I really believe he did. But, the authentic spiritual is also in that delightful conundrum of a real life, totally bound up with practice, discipline, and effort. The way is also, without a doubt, harsh and demands everything. And here Watts seems completely clueless.

Now, in my opinion, Alan Watts was at his very best during a brief period when he tried at practice, discipline, and effort. Or, at least stood in their general neighborhood. Raised in England, his natal tradition was Anglicanism, although he formally abandoned it by sixteen for the eclectic Buddhism of the London Buddhist Society. In his late twenties, having come to America and desperate for an occupation that paid something, he decided to become an Episcopal priest. He had not attended college, but by providing a very long list of the books he had read and then showing a suspicious faculty he had not only read them, but profoundly absorbed them, he was admitted into the divinity program at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois.

Watts graduated with a masters degree in divinity and was ordained an Episcopal priest in 1945. He was immediately engaged as the Episcopal chaplain at Northwestern University. He was thirty years old. It appears to have been an amazing moment. He was wildly popular on campus, and his books were received in progressive religious circles as challenging and compelling. And then within five years Watts was out of the ministry, for many reasons not least of which was when his wife sued for an annulment on grounds of adultery. This part would become something of a pattern for his life.

For our time here I want to remain focused within that Christian moment. His divinity degree thesis was reworked and published as the book “Behold the Spirit: A Study in the Necessity of Mystical Religion,” first released in 1947. I can’t tell if it has ever been out of print. What I do know is you can buy a new copy today, there’s even a Kindle version.

It’s really interesting, an attempt at synthesizing eastern and western spirituality grounded in a broad and sympathetic expression of Anglicanism. I’ve seen the term “monistic” or “non-dual Christianity” being used here and there lately. Monistic or nondual as in the reconciliation of the myriad things of the world within an interdependence so complete one can speak of it all taken together as one. Of course, variations on monism are at the heart of much of Eastern religions, certainly of Hinduism and Buddhism and Taoism.

While one can argue there have been non-dual currents in Christianity, particularly among some although not most early gnostic schools, this perspective has definitely not been a part of normative Christianity. In mainstream Christianity the world and God are seen as relentlessly separate, creator and created. A world of problems have followed this setting up of a hierarchy with the spirit above and good and the world below and condemned.

If the proposition that the world is completely separate from the divine were true, well, we would just have to live with it. But, and let me make a categorical statement rather than my general hedging: That’s not true. Rather, as I open my heart to the world, the world, the great mess that is you and me and all things, I find each thing is created by and creating the host of other things at the same time, in a dance or web of intimacy, where each of us is a moment in a shimmering play of reality. And, that play of reality is exactly where I find the divine, the holy, the sacred. Here. I don’t need to go to some other place to find it.

Me, I see no need of some extra bit. Perhaps why I am not a mainstream Christian, or anywhere near by. That said there are today a host of emergent Christians who don’t see the separation, either. Richard Rohr and Cynthia Bougeault are two contemporary and apparently popular writers that fit the bill. I would add in Bruno Barnhart, Bougeault’s mentor, as well as a variety of Hindu influenced Christians like the nun Sara Grant, the anonymous Cistercian monk who writes under the name “a Monk of the West,” as well as, well the list is increasingly long, but such folk as the medieval mystic Meister Eckhart and the moderns Thomas Keating, Bede Griffiths, and Martha Reeves, who write as “Maggie Ross” are a pretty good start for those who wish to pursue this further.

And, Alan Watts’ book kind of spells it all out in a way perhaps even best done by someone not actually immersed, as he was, standing more in the neighborhood of that “practice, discipline, and effort” than within it. Of course that distance also means he misses some things. Additionally I find Watts a tad too comfortable with his own insight, unchecked by others who’ve walked the way before, a danger for the spiritually unaffiliated. All this acknowledged there remains something quite wonderful…

Behold the Spirit was a revelation when published nearly seventy years ago. It was, I gather, and perhaps obviously, criticized for its “creeping pantheism.” The book was in fact a through going panenthiest screed, probably the most compatible Christian variation on pantheism, the other word for non-dual or monistic spirituality, where in panentheism the world is seen is divine, but that the divine, God, cannot be limited to the universe. Even with that accepting at some point an other of some sort, this panentheism is still a major step from the normative vision of the Christian church.

And with all this taken together a question bubbles up, and which, in a meditation he wrote a quarter of a century later, Watts’ asks on behalf of all those who would challenge his thesis.
“Can Christianity abandon the monarchical image of God (a God separate from all that is in a great split between creator and created) and still be Christianity?” To which he responds with another question, a rather burning one, as I feel it in my heart, “(W)hich is more important – to be Christian or to be at one with God?” Or, for me: to follow some orthodoxy of separation, and cut myself off from what is calling to every molecule of my being, or commit whole-heartedly to the great play of the many as one found as I open myself to the world as it presents?

A worthy challenge, I believe, perhaps the great challenge. And, I think Watts in fact spells out a fair amount of what an affirmation of a non-dual Christianity can look like in his thesis and book. The sad thing, as I see it, was that he couldn’t follow through for himself. His personality, what he liked to characterize as his “bohemian personality” just didn’t have a fit in the organized church. I’d have to add his lack of personal boundaries would have meant he would never had made it as a Unitarian Universalist minister, either. He was born to be an outsider. And after that five years stirring up the Anglican church he made sure he would forever be an outsider.
But he also pointed a way.

First he spells out a reality that I find resonates with my experience. The metaphors are straight out of the traditional church, which I think can be helpful for Westerners hoping to find the real. More complicated for me is a relentless masculine by preference language. But, if we allow ourselves to listen, we find the underlying understanding he presents shakes the very foundations of the moral universe the conventional church preaches. He declares:

“God is the most obvious thing in the world. He is absolutely self-evident – the simplest, clearest and closest reality of life and consciousness. We are only unaware of him because we are too complicated, for our vision is darkened by the complexity of pride.
“We seek him beyond the horizon with our noses lifted high in the air, and fail to see that he lies at our vary feet. We flatter ourselves in premeditating the long, long journey we are going to take in order to find him, the giddy heights of spiritual progress we are going to scale, and all the time are unaware of the truth that ‘God is nearer to us than we are to ourselves.’ We are like birds flying in quest of the air, or men with lighted candles searching through the darkness for fire.”

Then he lays out the traditions of the Christian church as a manifestation of this truth of our radical interdependence, of our bottomless unity. The man who can only stand in the neighborhood of practice, discipline, and effort, shows where it can be found. I think in part because he really did taste the deeper truths, really did to some degree, and none of us are judge of how deep any other, or for that matter, even we ourselves have traveled, really did touch the great insight.

So, as the Episcopal priest, Martin Smith noted, Even
“as a mirror reflects all colors and shapes without interference,” Alan Watts could call us to stand in the place of the wise heart. “(I)n the same way the mystical awareness of God does not contest place with other experiences and state(s) of mind. Mental states such as joy, sorrow, exaltation, dejection, pleasure, and pain are as a rule mutually exclusive. But the mystical stage is inclusive, just as God and His love include the whole universe. There is no conflict between experiencing the Now and things which happen in the Now.”

Smith touches the heart of wisdom as Alan Watts presented it. This is an extremely good pointing that even those of us with no affinity for the traditional language of the Christian church, can, nonetheless, recognize as an expression of what we all find as we open our hearts as wide as the human heart can be opened.

The field is found. And the dance of things within it is revealed.
In his little book and during those five years, Alan Watts showed those who love the Christian tradition how they can turn toward the real without abandoning their tradition.
Genuine fake. A teacher for those willing to follow the way he pointed, but could not himself go.

A wonder. And a joy.
And.
A hint of possibilities for us all.

___________________

What Watts has done and continues to do for me is keep the light burning on the most intimate questions/challenges I struggle with in regards to orthodox Christian doctrine: the belief in the inerrancy of scripture; the exclusivity of Jesus as “THE” son of God verses “A” son of God [or as Watts describes him — the “bosses son]; the “pedestalizing of Jesus” at the expense of our connection with him; a system of monarchical rule by a Zeus-like/Jehovah overseer; guilt laden believers separated by an ever widening chasm between themselves and a perfect Jesus (even considering the Pauline “doctrine of grace” enabled).

In regards to Watt’s shortcomings consider Numbers 22:28. As a gun for hire, Balaam fell far from being an honest chap. and God’s anger against him is shown in God causing Balaam’s donkey to actually speak and rebuke him. “And the LORD opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?”

Watts was and continues to be a powerful voice (even if some view him as irrelevant, immoral, and surely heretical). It seems reasonable to assume that God, who could surely create the ultimate human drama, might purposely cast someone many would argue unfit for centerstage.

—Bei Kuan-tu


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"NATIONAL AND RACIAL PAIN-BODIES" (excerpt) The New Earth by Eckhart Tolle

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Painting - “Tattooed With Emotions” by Melinda Konya


NATIONAL AND RACIAL PAIN-BODIES

Certain countries in which many acts of collective violence were suffered or perpetrated have a heavier collective pain-body than others. This is why older nations tend to have stronger pain-bodies. It is also why younger countries, such as Canada or Australia, and those that have remained more sheltered from the surrounding madness, such as Switzerland, tend to have lighter collective pain-bodies. Of course, in those countries, people still have their personal pain-body to deal with. If you are sensitive enough, you can feel a heaviness in the energy field of certain countries as soon as you step off the plane. In other countries, one can sense an energy field of latent violence just underneath the surface of everyday life. In some nations, for example, in the Middle East, the collective pain-body is so acute that a significant part of the population finds itself forced to act it out in an endless and insane cycle of perpetration and retribution through which the pain-body renews itself continuously.

In countries where the pain-body is heavy but no longer acute, there has been a tendency for people to try and desensitize themselves to the collective emotional pain: in Germany and Japan through work, in some other countries through widespread indulgence in alcohol (which, however, can also have the opposite effect of stimulating the pain-body, particularly if consumed in excess). China's heavy pain-body is to some extent mitigated by the widespread practice of t'ai chi, which amazingly was not declared illegal by the Communist government that otherwise feels threatened by anything it cannot control. Every day in the streets and city parks, millions practice this movement meditation that stills the mind. This makes a considerable difference to the collective energy field and goes some way toward diminishing the pain-body by reducing thinking and generating Presence.

Spiritual practices that involve the physical body, such as t'ai chi, qigong, and yoga, are also increasingly being embraced in the "western world. These practices do not create a separation between body and spirit and are helpful in weakening the pain-body. They will play an important role in the global awakening.

The collective racial pain-body is pronounced in Jewish people, who have suffered persecution over many centuries. Not surprisingly, it is strong as well in Native Americans, whose numbers were decimated and whose culture all but destroyed by the European settlers. In Black Americans too the collective pain-body is pronounced. Their ancestors were violently uprooted, beaten into submission, and sold into slavery. The foundation of American economic prosperity rested on the labor of four to five million black slaves. In fact, the suffering inflicted on Native and Black Americans has not remained confined to those two races, but has become part of the collective American pain-body. It is always the case that both victim and perpetrator suffer the consequences of any acts of violence, oppression, or brutality. For what you do to others, you do to yourself.

It doesn't really matter what proportion of your pain-body belongs to your nation or race and what proportion is personal. In either case, you can only go beyond it by taking responsibility for your inner state now. Even if blame seems more than justified, as long as you blame others, you keep feeding the pain-body with your thoughts and remain trapped in your ego. There is only one perpetrator of evil on the planet: human unconsciousness. That realization is I true forgiveness. With forgiveness, your victim identity dis-1 solves, and your true power emerges—the power of Presence. Instead of blaming the darkness, you bring in the light.
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"Who Am I?" by Ken McLeod

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Painting: "Not to be Reproduced" by Rene Magritte (1937)


Who Am I? by Ken McLeod

A simple question, you say. Well, how do you answer it? With your name? With your family pedigree? With your job? At some point, you see that nothing you say really answers the question and you stop — at the edge of a vast open space. “This can’t be who I am?”, you say, and turn away.

Won’t you please, please tell me what we’ve learned I know it sounds absurd but please tell me who I am.

Let’s start again. Who are you? Every time you fill out a job application, work up your resumé, fill in your information on an online dating service (one of the many new forms of hell created by the web), or meet someone socially, that ‘simple’ question has to be answered.

In the world of social conventions, the answer is a story. Lots of things may go into this story: interests, history, quirks, talents, achievements, background, likes, dislikes, successes and failures. And the story we tell changes according to the circumstances.

We don’t stop there. We reflect, refine, and even create such stories, not only to navigate in the world, but also to understand why we do certain things or to prepare for a new stage in life. The stories are always evolving. They are not fixed. They take on new dimensions, reveal connections we hadn’t seen before, or seem to explain things about our lives in a different, perhaps even useful, way.

But none of the stories, not one of them, not even all of them, answers the question “Who am I”.

I’m a million different peoplefrom one day to the next…
— The Verve, Bittersweet Symphony

Perhaps we can answer this question by looking at how we behave. Many things affect our behavior, but here, we’ll consider just two, feelings and roles.When angry, we see the world in terms of opposition. Anyone, even our partner or our child, appears, at least for a moment or two, as an enemy, and we treat them as such, though we may well regret doing so afterwards. When needy, we see the world as not providing what we need, and we grasp and hold onto things, sometimes quite unnecessarily. The same holds for pride, or jealousy, or love, compassion, or devotion.

How we behave also depends on our role in any given situation. We tend to behave one way when we are giving orders, another way when we are receiving them, and yet another when we are mediating between those who give orders and those who receive them. We have one personality when we are accepted members of a group and another personality when we are outside or new to a group. We behave one way with our parents, and another way with our children and still another with our siblings. Who we are, even in the context of family, seems to change according to our role.

All we can conclude from this is that we are a million different people, every day.

The more we look into this question, the more mysterious it becomes. And that, right there, opens another possibility. Who am I? Could I be a mystery?

In spiritual work, a mystery is something that cannot be put into words, but can be known in experience. Can we know, experientially, who we are?

“What is the highest truth?” the emperor asked Bodhidharma. “I have no idea.” “Then who is standing before me?” “I don’t know.”

Instead of trying to describe who we are, let’s look right at our experience and keep in mind something John Audubon once said, “When the book and the bird disagree, always believe the bird.”

Look at “I”. What do you see? All sorts of thoughts and ideas may come rushing in, but don’t be distracted. Keep looking. At some point, we see that when we look at “I”, we don’t see any thing. Actually, it’s more accurate to say we see no thing. Initially, we don’t trust this “not seeing”. Something must be wrong, we feel, and we quickly shift back to thinking about who we are or trying to figure out what we are doing wrong. In effect, we don’t believe the bird and are consulting the book.

If we keep coming back to the looking, if we trust this “not seeing”, we gradually develop the capacity to rest in seeing no thing, and we come to know that we are not a thing: there is just awareness aware of awareness.

That may be all very well, but how does this help us negotiate life?

Nasrudin was visiting a friend one afternoon. They became so engrossed in their conversation that they didn’t notice the passage of time. Night fell, and the friend said, “Nasrudin, it’s dark. Why don’t you light a candle? You’ll find a candle and matches in the drawer to your right.” “What!” shouted Nasrudin, “How do you expect me to know my right from my left in the dark?”

First, let go of all absolutes. Since everything is a story, regard everything as a story. Stories change, and our relationships with people and things changes, too. Some people have such elaborate stories about things — flowers or stamps, or computers or cars — that they interact with them as if they were people. Conversely, most of us have experienced at least one relationship, be it in our personal or work life (tech support, perhaps?), in which we were treated as a thing. Peopleness or thingness aren’t absolutes: they are qualities defined by how we interact with our experience.

In other words, pay attention to relationships. The Buddhist word for this is interdependence: everything exists and is defined only in relation to other things.

Second, let go of fixed positions, inside or out. When we take a fixed position, saying, “This is how it has to be,” we create conflict — this against that, right against wrong, black against white. We see only two mutually exclusive possibilities and we are in a zero-sum game. In any conflict, the two poles are expressions of a deeper principle, expressions of a world that our fixed position prevents us from seeing. Black and white, for instance, are both expressions of the world of color. How many possibilities are there in a world of color compared to a world of black and white? When we see the underlying principle, we have a whole spectrum with which to work. In Buddhism, this approach is known as the middle way, not falling into an extreme position, but always including both poles in awareness.

Third, touch the awareness that is always present, even in the worst of times. As noted above, we carry stories about who we are and stories about who others are and, in the moment of interaction, we regard the stories as facts, as how things are. They aren’t facts. They are only ideas and projections arising in the moment. They distract us from what we are actually experiencing. To stop the projections, we drop the stories about who we are, who they are, how we are meant to be, or how they are meant to be. We drop everything and open to what we actually experience, the play of physical and sensory sensations, emotions and feelings, and thoughts and ideas. We open to the whole ball of wax, the whole mess, until we can rest in the clear empty awareness in which the whole mess arises. It’s there. It’s always there, just as silence is present in sound, and space is present in form. When we touch it, we know what to do and how to do it.

You live in confusion and the illusion of things. There is a reality. You are that reality. When you know that, you know that you are nothing, and in being nothing, are everything. That is all.
— Kalu Rinpoche (1904-1989)

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"Who am I? A philosophical inquiry" - Amy Adkins



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"How to Quiet Your Mind" (excerpt) by Tina Su

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How to Quiet Your Mind (excerpt)
by Tina Su

Do you regularly feel at ease and at peace? Are you continuously overflowing with Joy and Bliss on a daily basis, such that you seem free of problems and emotional pain? If so, go directly to the comment section and share with us your secrets.
If you’re still reading, you are amongst the vast majority of us striving for a better life, yearning for a more peaceful and joyful existence. Yet, it seems like an impossible challenge, where we end up mentally punishing ourselves for failing, concluding that “I’m just not made to live in peace.”

You see, it’s not us, it’s just that we’ve become so easily distracted by the hurrying demands of modern life, that we’ve temporarily lost touch with our natural state of being. But there is a way, if we seek it.

The purpose of this article is to share a simple technique to bring more peace, joy and
clarity into your life. Would you like that?

Why It’s Hard to Find Peace and Joy?
If you observe our problems, you will notice that most problems are rooted in the mind. The basic premise is the same: some external event happens, we choose to see only one side of the story, and then interpret the situation such that it causes some form of mental conflict, resulting in some form of emotional suffering.

While it is easy to simply say, “drop your problems”, you and I both know that it is not that simple. We all have had years and years of conditioning in attracting problems and conflicts. So much so, that the simple concept of ‘stop thinking about problems’ will not be so effective on us. We need tools that strike at the problem’s root.

Let’s now try something. Close your eyes for about a minute (or 5 minutes), and during this minute, send out the intention that you want silence and stillness, and you do not want to be pulled away from this silence by thoughts. (Pause your reading and go do this.)

Okay, so what happened? You probably noticed that the moment you become silent, thoughts started popping up – random and unrelated thoughts. These thoughts become a form of distraction, pulling us away from our inner silence.
This was only an experiment where we consciously observed our mind and tried to become still, but could not. Imagine the state of our inner space, while we are going about our day, unaware of the polluting in-coming thoughts.

As a result, our inner space becomes cluttered with useless information, with thoughts that are
not conducive to our wellbeing, with garbage. Because our inner space is cluttered, our inner clarity and in-born wisdom becomes distant and foggy. And essentially, we loose touch with that part of our inner selves that is sacred, and wise, and peaceful, and eternal.

The distractions that we’ve declared as urgent and important, such as watching TV, updating our
facebook and myspace and twitter pages, checking email, gossiping on the phone, loading mp3s on our music players, etc. all pull at us. They all pull at our attention, distracting us away from the things that are truly important to us – things that will bring lasting happiness and fulfillment to our lives and the lives of others we have yet to come to know.

Whether we recognize it or not, the
information that we expose ourselves to, fills our inner space on some level, and affects our emotions and desires.

And if we are not careful, we can easily
rush through life, while spending our precious time on this planet focused on that which does not matter – and then wonder where did my life go? Why do I feel unsettled and easily irritated? Why do I feel unfulfilled and incomplete? And then we die wondering.

If you are here, breathing and reading this right now, then you have been blessed with this day, to wake up! Wake up and take control of your destiny, starting with what you focus on and allow into your life (regardless of your age)…

…I had learned the following simple but incredibly effective technique from 
Swami Nithya Bhaktananda, spiritual counselor and direct disciple of Paramahamsa Nithyananda (Swamiji).

Follow these 
four rules to inner cleanse:
1 Say what you mean. Mean what you say.
2 Don’t say to anyone unless you can say to everyone.
3 Don’t say inside, what you cannot say outside.
4 Don’t say unless it is true, useful or kind.

The 4 Rules to Quiet the Mind – Explained

1. Say what you mean. Mean what you say.
—-Part A: Say what you mean.

Have you found yourself making up excuses to avoid fully dealing with a potentially uncomfortable situation?
For example, your friend asks you to some social event. You don’t really want to go, but make up an excuse that “
I can’t make it” or “I’m busy“, probably so you can quietly avoid something or someone or some activity.

Another example, someone asks you for a favor that you do not wish to comply to, but you feel guilty for rejecting him, so you either avoid that person (ie. Ignoring emails or phone calls), or create an excuse that isn’t really true (ie. I am out of town.)

It is not that you cannot do something, as your excuse suggests. The truth is that you have chosen not to do something, but the act of creating an excuse or avoiding it initiates a stir in your inner space, and it takes energy to maintain. Instead of stillness and peace, you are now holding onto and thinking about this little lingering “lie”.
When you are about to say anything, make a conscious decision to say the absolute truth, or what you actually mean. The absolute truth doesn’t have to be harsh or hurtful, you can do so compassionately and authentically, but firmly. When you own what you say, no one can reject it, even if they don’t like what they hear; because you are telling the truth and you mean it.

Part B: Mean what you say.
Sometimes we say things in passing out of obligation or habit that we don’t mean or intend on following through with. For example, we say, “I love you” to our parents or significant other when we hang up the phone, not because we mean it, but out of habit. The words comes so automatically now, that they start to lose their true meaning.

In another example, we will say, “
I’ll call you soon“, “let’s chat soon“, or “I’ll call you tomorrow“. Or we offer to help, as parting words to a friend, and don’t intend on keeping that statement, but say it because it was easy and made the other person feel good.

We may think that these casual comments are harmless, but we know deep down that they are not true. They become little lies that we internalize, and over time they will develop into a guilty conscience that distracts you away from this moment.
Make a conscious commitment to yourself to mean everything that you say, and not to make empty promises that you cannot, will not, do not intend to fulfill.
 
2. Don’t say to anyone unless you can say to everyone.
Whether we admit to this or not, most of us love some form of gossiping (myself included). We are also quick to notice fault in others, and then talk about them with our trusted allies. Or we find out about someone’s misfortune and immediately we want to tell somebody.

I’m sure you can interject and include many examples from your life. But for sake of conversation, one example is: Jenny, at work, had an emotional fit and yelled at a co-worker today, and when we got home, we immediately told our spouse about the drama.

Another example, Pat was fired from his job, once we heard about it, we called or text-messaged our best friend Jane to tell her about it, or even exchange jokes about Pat, because we don’t like him.

In both examples, we cannot repeat the same things to everyone, especially Jenny or Pat. And if we really observed our inner space during and after we said these things, we wouldn’t feel very good in our stomach.

When we consciously observe such a conversation, we learn that we have accomplished nothing that feeds our soul. All we did was spread drama and created negative energy and inner conflict that polluted our inner space.

Make a commitment to yourself, that you will not say something to one person, unless you can announce it to the world, to everybody. Make a commitment to stop the spreading of drama and bad energy.

3. Don’t say inside, what you cannot say outside.
Most of us are extremely critical of ourselves. Because we would never tell the world what we say to ourselves, in the privacy of our mind, we believe that we are the only ones affected by negative self-talk, low self-esteem, and anxiety.

When something doesn’t go perfectly, we are first to blame ourselves, criticizing what we did wrong, what we didn’t do perfect enough, what we missed.

We all have 
inner chattering, but problems arise when we start to believe in our inner chattering, such that false beliefs about ourselves are formed. These false beliefs become detrimental to our spirits and future wellbeing, unless we do something to unlearn these beliefs.

Next time, you hear the voice in your head say “
I’m stupid” or “I’m not good enough”or “I am a failure” or other related self-defeating thoughts, recognize that it is not you. You could verbally say, “That’s not me! That’s not true!” and even declare the following to this thought, “From today forward, I choose to let you go, for you are no longer serving me. I am exposing you, for you are not real! From today onward, I am free from you.

The basic premise of the third 
rule to inner cleanse is that, whatever thought you are not able to say out aloud to people (anyone), don’t even bother entertaining inside your head. Keep your inner space clean.
 
4. Don’t say unless it is true, useful or kind.
Some people have so much inner chatter that it spills out of them in the form of useless speech.

Observe the people who talk on buses, or love to chitchat at work by the water fountain. If you observe and count the number of things they say that are actually useful or truly interesting, it would be a low number.

Not only is this distracting for those around this person, it takes an enormous amount of energy for this person to keep talking. Recall the last time you talked for a long time about something random, and how drained you felt afterwards. Plus, the more useless things we say, the more useless things we feed back into our head.
If you feel that I’ve described you, don’t feel discouraged. I’ve been there too, and can contest that it is possible to quiet down.

Some people practice sabbatical days where they don’t speak at all, or read, or use the computer. And at the end of such a day, they feel a tremendous sense of peace, space and energy bubbling inside them.
Be conscious of what you say and only say it if any of the following is true:
Is what I’m saying …
• True to me? An authentic statement from my heart?
• Useful or helpful to someone or some situation?
• Kind or compassionate? Such as a compliment, or an offer of help?…

🎹 TAP HERE for "Think Simple Now" website
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"THE COLLECTIVE FEMALE PAIN-BODY" (excerpt) The New Earth by Eckhart Tolle

image
Painting - “Tattooed With Emotions” by Melinda Konya


(Our pain-bodies are the energy of our past hurts: the bumps, bruises and scars of life that we never really dealt with fully in the moment. The result is that we carry that pain in an energy field within us)

The collective dimension of the pain-body
* has different strains in it. Tribes, nations and races, all have their own collective pain-body, some heavier than others, and most members of that tribe, nation, or race have a share in it to a greater or lesser degree.

Almost every woman has her share in the collective female pain-body, which tends to become activated particularly just prior to the time of menstruation. At that time many women become overwhelmed by intense negative emotion.

The suppression of the feminine principle especially over the past two thousand years has enabled the ego to gain absolute supremacy in the collective human psyche. Although women have egos, of course, the ego can take root and grow more easily in the male form than in the female. This is because women are less mind-identified than men. They are more in touch with the inner body and the intelligence I of the organism where the intuitive faculties originate. The female form is less rigidly encapsulated than the male, has greater openness and sensitivity toward other life-forms, and is more attuned to the natural world.

If the balance between male and female energies had not I been destroyed on our planet, the ego's growth would have been greatly curtailed. We would not have declared war on nature, and we would not be so completely alienated from our Being.

Nobody knows the exact figure because records were not kept, but it seems certain that during a three-hundred-year period between three and five million women were tortured and killed by the "Holy Inquisition," an institution founded by the Roman Catholic Church to suppress heresy This surely ranks together with the Holocaust as one of the darkest chapters in human history. It was enough forH woman to show a love for animals, walk alone in the fields or woods, or gather medicinal plants to be branded a witchcraft then tortured and burned at the stake. The sacred feminine was declared demonic, and an entire dimension largely din appeared from human experience. Other cultures and religions, such as Judaism, Islam, and even Buddhism, and suppressed the female dimension, although in a less violent] way. Women's status was reduced to being child bearers and I men's property. Males who denied the feminine even I within themselves were now running the world, a world I that was totally out of balance. The rest is history or rather a case history of insanity.

Who was responsible for this fear of the feminine that j could only be described as acute collective paranoia? We could say: Of course, men were responsible. But then why in many ancient pre-Christian civilizations such as the Sumerian, Egyptian, and Celtic were women respected and the feminine principle not feared but revered? What is it that suddenly made men feel threatened by the female? The evolving ego in them. It knew it could gain full control of our planet only through the male form, and to do so, it had to render the female powerless.

In time, the ego also took over most women, although it would never become as deeply entrenched in them as in men. We now have a situation in which the suppression of the feminine has become internalized, even in most women. The sacred feminine, because it is suppressed, is felt by many women as emotional pain. In fact, it has become part of their pain-body, together with the accumulated pain suffered by women over millennia through childbirth, rape, slavery, torture, and violent death.

But things are changing rapidly now. With many people becoming more conscious, the ego is losing its hold on the human mind. Because the ego was never as deeply rooted in woman, it is losing its hold on women more quickly than on men.

Tolle “The New Earth” p. 155-57
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"THERE ARE TEACHERS EVERYWHERE" (excerpt) The Exquisite Risk by Mark Nepo

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--PAINTING - “Power of Wisdom” by Linda Apple


THERE ARE TEACHERS EVERYWHERE
by Mark Nepo

The Upaguru—Hindu for the teacher that is next to you at any moment.

From the rotting tree felled by lightning to the water re-smoothing after the whale dives down, everything is of equal sanctity and grace. From the darkness we can't see through to the [ tenderness of a grandfather afraid to speak, everything and everyone is a teacher. Each flower, each bird, each suffering, great and small, each eroded stone and crack in that stone, each question rising from each crack—every aspect of life holds some insight that can help us live. We can learn and deepen from anything anywhere.

Yet one of the paradoxes of being human is that no one can see or comprehend all of it. Thus, each of us must discover the teachers that speak to us, the ones we can hear. This seems to be our job as initiates of being: to pursue our curiosity and passion and suffering in an effort to uncover our teachers. Just as different insects are drawn to certain flowers, though pollen is everywhere,different souls are drawn to certain aspects of the living Universe,
though God is in everything.

While the geography of stars pulsing in the night may help you discover the peace waiting in your soul, digging in the earth may help your sister know where she belongs. And yet listening to elders speak of their lives as they near death unlocks the things I learn. Each is equally a teacher, one no truer than the other. It's as if everything has to carry what is holy because each of us 1 one set of ears and one set of feet to help us stumble on our way.

The moments that hold mystery, whether dressed in wonder, wait to be treated with respect and sincerity, as i sage was carved in stone for you before you were born, and a storm has washed it ashore just in time, and you need all you can get to decipher its meaning. And we will be found by teachers repeatedly—be they the moon, the thief, or the until we can uncover their meaning.

It makes a difference when we can look at experience a vastness. And the moments that open our lives become p stories in our own personal mythology, the retelling o renews our vitality. For me, such moments include God err solitude through the waves of the sea, and Grandma star eternity at ninety-four when she thought no one was look when I woke after surgery to the miracle of freshly squeezed juice.

So, who and what have been your teachers? What stories carry the teachings? And what inner history do they form? Who can you share this with? If no one, find someone. It's one of things that matter.

And where is your next teacher? In the loss about to that you won't be able to make sense of? Or in the stone shoe next month that has the imprint of a bird's wing?

It is all very humbling. For plan as we will, study as I search as we can, it is all a guess—a wild attempt to land ourselves in the open or in the dark until our teachers appear.
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Male and Female Differences and Strengths- The Yin Yang Perspective by Felice Dunas Ph. D


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Male and Female Differences and Strengths - The Yin Yang Perspective
by Felice Dunas, Ph.D


The most fundamental essential philosophies behind Oriental history, culture, religion, government and business is Yin Yang theory.  This is one of the oldest cosmologies in all of human thinking.  People have been using this understanding of life for over 5000 years.  We don’t know its true historical timeline as  archeological evidence can document only around 5000 years at present.  Yin Yang theory works with the premise that all of life stems from a point of perfect balance.  On either side of that balance you have the left and the right, the wet and the dry, the night and the day, the female and the male, the negative and the positive, multi-faceted focused, single goal focused, etc.   According to this theory, everything that you can think of can be placed somewhere on the yin or yang aspect to the line.  Behavior, time of day, seasons of the year, kinds of food, colors, everything!  Yin is the capacity to be receptive.  Yang is the capacity to be creative.  Yin/Yang is the concept of duality.  Yin and Yang are compliments and opposites in life.  This is a vast topic and I am only touching upon it here.  If you wish to learn more about Yin and Yang energy and how they influence people and their relationships, consider reading Passion Play, a book that I wrote on the subject.    Women’s bodies are more Yin and men’s bodies are more yang.  Women get unhealthy when they are not good at being receptive, because they are not utilizing their primary energetic trait, which is receptivity.  Men become unhealthy when they do not utilize their gifts of contribution and creativity, which are their primary energetic traits.    When a woman is spending most of her life force, her vitality and time, giving to others, she is going to end up sick, weak, unhappy and, eventually, unproductive.  Yin energy moves from the outside in towards the self.  Mothering, which takes up decades of our adult lives, is, in large part, about contribution.  It’s about giving in creative, structured ways. These are more Yang oriented activities.  They are not about receiving.  From my medical perspective, it is imperative that a woman put herself in situations that allow her to receive support from others during her mothering years.  She needs loving kindness, she needs others to do favors and tasks for her, she needs to receive praise for what she does.  She needs to be taken care of if she is going to be good at taking care of others.  If there is no balance, if a woman becomes a chronic giver,  or as I call her, a giveaholic (pronounced give-a-holic as in alcoholic with the addiction being to self sacrifice),  her body will break down and she will become more masculine.   Her relationships will suffer, especially her relationship to a man who needs to be more masculine than she is.  Her spirit will suffer, her kids will not get the benefit of learning about healthy femininity and she will feel like she is “loosing herself”.  This is happening to so many women.    When a man is “self oriented” rather than “other oriented”, when he puts emphasis what is given to him rather than on what he contributes to others, when he is silent and avoiding of his woman’s aggressiveness, “wimping out”, so to speak, he is not utilizing his primary strength.  Yang energy moves from the self outward in direct, goal oriented ways.  When a man behaves in a childlike way, (women often call their husbands the “other” child) when he doesn’t take a stand for his creativity, his vision, his beliefs or his drives, he sacrifices his yang nature, his greatest truth.  Unfortunately, men are given very mixed messages by women who want both a strong hero and a girlfriend-like partner to chat and vent with.  Men have been labeled brutish in their sexuality and lack of emotional expression but are also being criticized for expressing weakness or emotionally vulnerable.  Self sacrifice and accomplishment are good for men and they would be wise to devote themselves to pursuits’ that enable them to give and to feel the joy of surmounting challenges in reference to giving.  Men need to know they have impact, influence  and positive effect on others.  They need to leave their mark, to have made a difference.  Too many men do not recognize the value of behaving in inherently masculine ways.  The more feminine they become, the sicker their bodies and the weaker their sprits.  The more they execute and complete with success, the better for everyone.
Learning to live within your foundational strengths will allow for greater physical health, deeper intimacy and more pleasant relationships!

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"The Baby and the Bath Water" (excerpt) The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck

baby-with-bathwater
There is clearly a lot of dirty bath water surrounding the reality of God. Holy wars, Inquisitions, animal sacrifice, human sacrifice, superstition, stultification, dogmatism, ignorance, hypocrisy, self-righteousness, rigidity, cruelty, book-burning, witch-burning, inhibition, fear, conformity, morbid guilt and insanity. The list is almost endless. But is al this what God has done to humans or what humans have done to God? It is abundantly evident that belief in God is ofter. destructively dogmatic. Is the problem, then, that humans tend to believe in God, or is the problem that humans tend to be dogmatic? Anyone who has known a died-in-the-wool atheist will know that such an individual can be as dogmatic about unbelief as any believer can be about belief. Is it belief in God we need to get rid of, or is it dogmatism?

Another reason that scientists are so prone to throw the baby out with the bath water is that science itself, as I have-suggested, is a religion. The neophyte scientist, recently come, or converted to the world view of science, can be every bit as fanatical as a Christian crusader or a soldier of Allah. This is! particularly the case when we have come to science from a culture and home in which belief in God is firmly associated with ignorance, superstition, rigidity and hypocrisy. TheS we have emotional as well as intellectual motives to smash the idols of primitive faith. A mark of maturity in scientists, however, is their awareness that science may be as subject to dogmatism as any other religion.

I have firmly stated that it is essential to our spiritual growth for us to become scientists who are skeptical of what we have been taught—that is, the common notions and assumptions of our culture. But the notions of science themselves often become cultural idols, and it is necessary that we become skeptical of these as well. It is indeed possible for us to mature out of a belief in God. What I would now like to suggest is that it is also possible to mature into a belief in God. A skeptical atheism or agnosticism is not necessarily the highest state of understanding at which human beings can arrive. To the contrary, there is reason to believe that behind spurious notions and false concepts of God there lies a reality that is God. This is what Paul Tillich meant when he referred to the "god beyond God" and why some sophisticated Christians used to proclaim joyfully, "God is dead. Long live God." Is it possible that the path of spiritual growth leads first out of superstition into agnosticism and then out of agnosticism toward an accurate knowledge of God? It was of this path that the Sufi Aba Said ibn Abi-1-Khair was speaking more than I nine hundred years ago when he said:

Until college and minaret have crumbled
This holy work of ours will not be done.
Until faith becomes rejection, and rejection becomes belief
There will be no true Muslim*

Whether or not the path of spiritual growth necessarily leads from a skeptical atheism or agnosticism toward an accurate belief in God, the fact of the matter is that some intellectually sophisticated and skeptical people, such as Marcia and Ted, do seem to grow in the direction of belief...
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"Understanding Gender" (excerpt) The Seekers — E. Lesser

gender-reiki
I often turn to Jungian psychology to better understand issues of gender. Jung separated personalities not so much into male and female, but into unique blends of masculine and feminine qualities, which he believed were found in all human psyches in varying degrees of potency. The masculine principle, or archetype, as Jung called it, celebrates rational thinking, heroic power, goal-oriented achievement, and independence. It is transcendent, visionary, mindful. The feminine principle loves to feel; it compels us to nurture; it links sexuality with relationship; and it reveres life and death as natural cycles of nature. It is embodied, intuitive, heartful.

The feminine is that part of the self that is vulnerable, receptive, open; the part that values connection and communication. It likes to put all the cards on the table and doesn't want to hold back or keep secrets. It is the part that is comfortable right here on earth with all of its pain and messiness, the part that does not want to run away from life or try to change nature's rules. This is the feminine archetype. The masculine archetype sees beyond this life, looks outside of itself, identifies with the eternal, and wants to move ever forward. It plans and negotiates, is reasonable and rational. It is on a mission to achieve, invent, build, make a mark. It is the part of the self that is determined, loyal, judicious, and steady.

A great pair, the feminine and the masculine. A person who cultivates his or her masculine and feminine qualities is able to balance power with love, inventiveness with sustainability brilliance with wisdom. Of course, most of us are not naturally balanced within ourselves. We usually have more of one archetype than the other, and it usually is true that women are much more heavily endowed with the feminine principle and men with the masculine principle. The point of working to balance our masculine and feminine energies is not to move toward androgyny. It is to become aware of the inner forces at play within each one of us and within the culture. Even as we strive for inner and outer balance, we still can depend on each other to fill in the missing pieces. In fact, the more we value both archetypes, the less pulled each one of us will feel to be "perfect," and the less likely we will be to misunderstand the basic nature of our counterparts. We will be able to stand in for each other as we all grow toward wholeness.

Most of recorded human history is the story of one archetype—the masculine—not merely dominating, but also discounting the values of the other—the feminine. It's particularly ironic to note the suppression of the feminine in religious history, given that the basis for most religions is God's all-embracing inclusion and love of all creation. As the poet Jane Hirshfield says about God's egalitarian spirit, "The numinous does not discriminate . . . infinitude and oneness do not exclude anyone." But indeed, the feminine voice has been excluded in most religious traditions to the point where spiritual myths, images, and structures are primarily masculine. Even more harmful than their mere exclusion, feminine values have also been deemed inferior, even dangerous, in patriarchal cultures. Backed up by our earliest religious myths, from Adam and Eve to Prometheus and Pandora, the message has been insidiously clear: feminine values are manipulative and untrustworthy, bound by the suffering of the earth, controlled by the dark side of the moon, and more related to the animals than to the angels.

It is the masculine principle within humans that is attracted to transcendent spirituality—always moving forward, intent on self-improvement, compelled by the light of truth beyond the horizon. The feminine principle is more at home with the way things already are. Feminine energy moves in a circle, longing to know all by embracing all. In valuing one archetype and rejecting the other, as opposed to enjoying the fruits of the marriage of both, we have denied many people, not just women, their natural way of finding God.

Religions have perpetrated the myth of masculine superiority as much as any social system has; in fact, I think that until we rewrite our spiritual mythology, societal structures will continue to empower men and mistrust women. The first step of the women's movement has been the demanding of equal status for women within the patriarchy. This has been a critically important step. But it has also masked other, equally important steps: the celebration of feminine values in the world; the granting of respect, money, and power to the kind of work that nurtures families, teaches the young, connects communities, and cares for the earth; and the acceptance that while men's and women's wisdom may be different, each is real, precious, and necessary.

It's not enough to say that spirituality transcends gender, even if it ultimately does. Spirituality is the human search for eternal wisdom. It is not the wisdom itself To humanize spirituality, we must look not only outside of ourselves to the limitless universe, but also inside of our own person-hood—the sum total of our gender, our conditioning, our genes, and our unique challenges and gifts. Obviously, then, different people will respond better to different spiritual concepts and techniques. Some people will use their minds most effectively. Others will find it easier to search for God using the physical body or the emotions. Some people, when they think of the ultimate truth, use language and images of light and glory. Others relate to the stark aloofness of the ascetic's search. Still others discover truth right here on earth, inspired by the interconnection of all life and through service to others.

Both genders are capable of tapping into the masculine and feminine wisdom streams. But first we must question the patriarchal obsession with power and control in the culture, and widen the definition of reality to include the feminine principle. To some extent, this has been the role of feminism in our times. When feminism and spirituality combine forces, the feminine face of God will illuminate the path for all of us.

From - The Seekers Guide

Commentary:
To understand femininity men must see the essential Yin nature for what it is: the magnificence of feelings, the yearning to nurture others, and sexuality as an “all-encompassing intimacy." Sexual penetration to a woman is far more than vaginal—it's experiencing an intellectual, emotional and spiritual oneness with her partner. Men for too long have clung to the notion that these qualities are exclusively female and therefore a sign of human weakness. In a women’s eye, a man opening his heart to the gifts and wonders of Yin is the quintessential man!

—Bei Kuan-tu
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"Patterns" by Donna Woodka

Nature Patters
“Nature Patterns” by Pamela Gallegos


“Patterns”

“The pattern, and it alone, brings into being and causes to pass away and confers purpose, that is to say, value and meaning, on all there is. To understand is to perceive patterns. To make intelligible is to reveal the basic pattern.”
— Isaiah Berlin, British social and political theorist, philosopher and historian, (1909-1997), The proper study of mankind: an anthology of essays, Chatto & Windus, 1997, p. 129.

“When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it — they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.
Unfortunately, that’s too rare a commodity. A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experience. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem.
The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.”
— Steve Jobs, Wired, February 1996

Pattern and Creativity
Are the two poles of action.
It is wise to plan each day. By setting goals for oneself and organizing activities to be accomplished, one can be sure that each day will be full and never wasted.
Followers of Tao use patterns when planning. They observe the ways of nature, perceive the invisible lines of destiny. They imagine a pattern for their entire lives, and in this way, they ensure overall success. Each day, they match interim patterns against their master goals, and so navigate life with sureness and grace. It is precisely this ability to discern and manipulate patterns unknown to the ordinary person that makes the follower of Tao so formidable.
When unpredictable things happen, those who follow Tao are also skilled at improvisation. If circumstances deny them, they change immediately. To avoid confusion, they still discern the patterns of the situation and create new ones, much like a chess player at the board. The spontaneous creation of new patterns is their ultimate art.”
– Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao

Time to create some new patterns in my life. Coming back to this space is one of them. So what do you do when you want to create new patterns in your life?

Changing Places Blog

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“Mad Dash!” by William Martin

urgent
Chapter 9
(The Tao Te Ching, translated by Stephen Mitchell)
Commentary by William Martin

Fill your bowl to the brim
and it will spill.
Keep sharpening your knife
and it will blunt.
Chase after money and security
and your heart will never unclench.
Care about people’s approval
and you will be their prisoner.

Do your work, then step back.
The only path to serenity.

      

“Mad Dash!”

A new drive-through food establishment has opened in Chico. It’s called… wait for it… Mad Dash! The sign out front proudly proclaims, “Two slices of pizza and a drink in 90 seconds!” I’m thinking of opening a competing place called Instant Gratification! People will pull up to a pump, insert their credit card, stick a hose in their mouth and pump a liter of high fructose corn syrup directly into their gut. No muss, no fuss, no nutrients to get in the way and keep us from getting about the business of… whatever it is that is so urgent.

As Lao-tzu says in Chapter 9, we hurry to fill our bowls, sharpen our knives, and chase about our world with a frenzied mind and a clenched heart. I feel it every time I drive my automobile on city streets and freeways. I see it in my rear view mirror in which I can count the bugs on the grill of the behemoth behind me. I experience it as I sigh with impatience at the confused and dawdling driver in front of me. I have nowhere to get, yet I often hurry to get there. If there is more traffic than I expected I find this somehow wrong; it shouldn’t be this way. (Or, often, “I should have chosen a different time or route. The wrongness is my fault!&rdquoWinking

Taoist thought does not value urgency because it sees all events as having their own natural flow, occurring at the proper time and place without effort or strain. Urgency is a product of the conditioned human mind, superimposed on top of the movement of the Tao. This urgent conditioning is not wrong, and in a broad sense it is also part of the overall context of the Tao. But Lao-tzu is clear that, while all things belong to the Tao, not all things are helpful and congruent with human happiness and contentment. Not all things help the human mind find the balance of the Tao. Urgency is one of these things.

I can’t change it by holding up a “SLOW” sign like a highway worker. The only thing I can change is the way I respond to that urgency when it arises from my conditioned mind. I wish I could say that, “It’s really no problem. I’m actually above all this hurry and stress. I can go out and about and remain serene and placid because I am so very very spiritual. I let it roll off my back while I meditate and breathe deeply.” Not likely.

Perhaps one could discover a coexistence with the sound, fury, and mad dashes of our world, but I’m not so sure. Lao-tzu eventually had to get on his ox and leave the country rather than live where the preponderance of societal energy was so contrary to his perception of the flow of the Tao. I don’t have an ox on which to ride and don’t know where I’d go if I did. (Can Nancy and the cat fit on an ox anyway?)

So I’ll stay. I’ll pay attention to the way my mind creates urgency, impatience, and judgment. I’ll ask myself over and over, “What’s the hurry anyway?” I’ll turn my attention to the slow cooking and eating of natural and tasty food. I’ll continue to develop the habits of walking, biking, and public transportation whenever I can instead of pushing and being pushed through traffic.  I’ll wander the Farmer’s Market and the cooperative farm to which we belong instead of the aisles of Mega-Market Inc. where the music, lighting, and signage is devoted to hurrying me into impulsive and unnecessary purchases. I’ll slow down as best I can.

While nurturing my sense of outrage and writing the above essay, I have been sitting at a coffee shop absent-mindedly scarfing down a lemon-poppyseed scone. The crumbs remain on the plate as the only reminder of the process. I vaguely remember tasting it…I think.
Oh my! Do you know where I can get a deal on a nice two-person, one cat, ox?

William Martin’s Web site


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Losing Jesus’ Cultural & Theological Baggage by Adyashanti — from 'Resurrecting Jesus: Embodying the Spirit of a Revolutionary Mystic' (EXCERPT)

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Adapted from Resurrecting Jesus: Embodying the Spirit of a Revolutionary Mystic by Adyashanti. Copyright © 2014 by Adyashanti. To be published by Sounds True in April 2014.

Losing Jesus’ Cultural & Theological Baggage
by Adyashanti

I often wonder what would it be like if Jesus were alive today. Imagine Jesus—who wasn’t a Christian, after all, but a Jew—entering a church today, going up to the pulpit and giving a sermon. Can you imagine how challenging that would be for the congregation? Can you imagine how uniquely different that sermon would be from what many of us received in church?

In the Gospels, Jesus repeatedly challenges the religious authorities of the day, but ultimately what he’s saying is relevant to all forms of religion. It wouldn’t matter if he grew up a Jew, or a Christian, or a Buddhist, or a Hindu, because he’s speaking about the structure of religion itself—its hierarchy, its tendency to become corrupted by human beings’ desires for power, for influence, for money. Jesus, I think, had a profound understanding that the religion itself, instead of connecting us to the radiance of being, connecting us to that spiritual mystery, could easily become a barrier to divinity. As soon as we get too caught up with the rites and the rituals and the Thou shalts and Thou shalt nots of conventional religion, we begin to lose sight of the primary task of religion, which is to orient us toward the mystery of being and awaken us to what we really are.

Of course, these external forms do have a certain usefulness. The social function of religion is to have a moderating influence on egoic impulses and desires, and this moral and ethical role has been very important throughout history. When people move in the world of time and space from a healthy sense of ethics and morals, it’s a very positive thing, and religion has an important function in helping control the deeper and darker impulses of the ego.

But religion’s primary function is not about conveying ethical and moral codes, not about politics and power and hierarchy. Religion’s primary function is to awaken within us the experience of the sublime and to connect us with the mystery of existence. As soon as religion forgets about its roots in the eternal, it fails in its central task. Jesus was so critical of the religion of his time because he saw that not only was it not connecting people to the mystery, but that it was actually an active participant in veiling the mystery of existence, in obscuring the Kingdom of Heaven. And so he was a critic from the inside; he didn’t necessarily reject the religion he was brought up in, but he felt called to challenge it, to transform it. Jesus’ keen insight into the potential for the corrupting influence of power in all institutions—whether they’re political, economic or religious— is very relevant to the modern day. If Jesus existed here and now as a human being, what he’d have to say about these subjects would be as shocking now as it was two thousand years ago.

I’ve talked to many people over many years that have turned away from Christianity because it seems so often to focus on only the moral and ethical questions, on telling them how to live their lives, but hasn’t connected with them in a really deep way. Of course, there are those churches today that are inspired by the real living presence of Christ, but as a whole, Christianity needs new life breathed into it. It needs to be challenged to awaken from the old structures that confine spirit, so that the perennial spirit of awakening can flourish once again.

This may bring a sense of insecurity, but the living presence of the Christ is something that can’t be contained within any structure. The spirit that Jesus embodies is not a safe spirit; there’s no guarantee of how it will all play out in your life. There’s only one guarantee that Jesus gave: if you can receive and awaken and embody what he is speaking about, then your life will never be the same again. Then you will realize that you’re already living in the Kingdom of Heaven.

The Jesus story gives us many different images of how spiritual realization can be embodied in the world of time and space. It’s important for us to realize that we must not only have the courage to recognize the divinity within ourselves, but also to embody it and manifest it in the way we live. Jesus as a living presence is not meek or mild. Jesus was a revolutionary, but he wasn’t a revolutionary just for the sake of rebellion; he wanted to break down the lines of separation between people, between heaven and earth, between human and divine.

The events in the Jesus story can be seen as a living metaphor for what’s necessary in our own being.

The true boundaries that need to be broken down are the boundaries within our own minds and within our own hearts. So the whole Jesus story, ultimately, is the map of a journey that happens within us. It’s an invitation to live out the radiance that’s revealed when we have the courage to step beyond anything and everything that separates us.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Adyashanti began teaching in 1996 after a series of transformative spiritual awakenings.
Adapted from Resurrecting Jesus: Embodying the Spirit of a Revolutionary Mystic by Adyashanti. Copyright © 2014 by Adyashanti. To be published by Sounds True in April 2014.




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"The End of Your Life Drama" (excerpt: p.150-51) — THE POWER OF NOW

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THE END OF YOUR LIFE DRAMA (excerpt: p.150-51) — THE POWER OF NOW

…Ego is the unobserved mind that runs your life when you are not present as the witnessing consciousness, the watcher. The ego perceives itself as a separate fragment in a hostile universe, with no real inner connection to any other being, surrounded by other egos which it either sees as a potential threat or which it will attempt to use for its own ends. The basic ego patterns are designed to combat its own deep-seated fear and sense of lack. They are resistance, control, power, greed, defense, attack. Some of the ego’s strategies are extremely clever, yet they never truly solve any of its problems, simply because the ego itself is the problem.

When egos come together, whether in personal relationships or in organizations or institutions, “bad" things happen sooner or later drama of one kind or another, in the form of conflict, problems, power struggles, emotional or physical violence, and so on. This includes collective evils such as war, genocide, and exploitation — all due to massed unconsciousness. Furthermore, many types of illness are caused by the ego’s continuous resistance, which creates restrictions and blockages in the flow of energy through the body. When you reconnect with Being and are no longer run by your mind, you cease to create those things. You do not create or participate in drama anymore.

Whenever two or more egos come together, drama of one kind or another ensues. But even if you live totally alone, you still create your own drama. When you feel sorry for yourself, that’s drama. When you feel guilty or anxious, that’s drama. When you let the past or future obscure the present, you are creating time, psychological time — the stuff out of which drama is made. Whenever you are not honoring the present moment by allowing it to be, you are creating drama.

Most people are in love with their particular life drama. Their story is their identity. The ego runs their life. They have their whole sense of self invested in it. Even their — usually unsuccessful — search for an answer, a solution, or for healing becomes part of it. What they fear and resist most is the end of their drama. As long as they ore their mind, what they fear and resist most is their own awakening.

When you live in complete acceptance of what is, that is the end of all drama in your life. Nobody can even have an argument with you, no matter how hard he or she tries. You cannot have an argument with a fully conscious person. An argument implies identification with your mind and a mental position, as well as resistance and reaction to the other person’s position. The result is that the polar opposites become mutually energized. These are the mechanics of unconsciousness. You can still make your point clearly and firmly, but there will be no reactive force behind it, no defense or attack. So it won't turn into drama. When you are fully conscious, you cease to be in conflict. “No one who is at one with himself can even conceive of conflict,” states A Course in Miracles. This refers not only to conflict with other people but more fundamentally to conflict within you, which ceases when there is no longer any clash between the demands and expectations of your mind and what is.
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"Quiet Please! Taming 'Monkey Mind' in Meditation" by Madisyn Taylor

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"Quiet Please! Taming 'Monkey Mind' in Meditation"
by Madisyn Taylor, The DailyOM

"We all have the endless chattering and noise in our head often referred to as the monkey mind. It’s been called the monkey mind – the endless chattering in your head as you jump in your mind from thought to thought while you daydream, analyze your relationships, or worry over the future. Eventually, you start to feel like your thoughts are spinning in circles and you’re left totally confused.

One way to tame this wild creature in your head is through meditation – although the paradox is that when you clear your mind for meditation you actually invite the monkey in your mind to play. This is when you are given the opportunity to tame this mental beast by moving beyond thought – to become aware of a thought rather than thinking a thought. The difference is subtle, but significant. When you are aware of your thoughts, you can let your thoughts rise and float away without letting them pull you in different directions.  Being able to concentrate is one of the tools that allows you to slow down your thought process and focus on observing your thoughts.

To develop your concentration, you may want to start by focusing on the breath while you meditate. Whenever your monkey mind starts acting up, observe your thoughts and then return your focus to your breath. Some breathing meditations call on you to focus on the rise and fall of the breath through the abdomen, while others have you concentrate on the sound of the breath. Fire can also be mesmerizing, and focusing on a candle flame is another useful tool for harnessing the mind. Keep the gaze soft and unfocused while observing the color, shape, and movement of the flame, and try not to blink. Close your eyes when you feel the need and continue watching the flame in your head. Chanting, devotional singing, and mantras also still the mind. However you choose to tame the monkey mind, do so with firm kindness. The next time the chattering arises, notice it and then allow it to go away. With practice, your monkey mind will become quiet and so will you."
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"Elkhart Tolle and the Christian Tradition" by Richard Rohr, OFM

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Although Eckhart Tolle is arousing great interest today, many think he is a novelty, New Age, or even non-religious. The process—and that is what it is—that he is teaching, can be traced through the Greek and Latin traditions of contemplation, the apophatic tradition in particular, and the long history of what was sometimes called "The Sacrament of the Present Moment" (Brother Lawrence, OCD, Francisco de Osuna, OFM, Jean Pierre de Caussade, S.J.).

The mystical tradition inside of Orthodoxy and Catholicism often divided contemplation into two types: infused or natural contemplation, and acquired contemplation. Evelyn Underhill, the brilliant historian of mysticism sees three forms of contemplation: 1) Mystical Contemplation of the Natural World, 2) Metaphysical Contemplation of the World of Being and Consciousness, 3) Theological Contemplation of the World of God.

After the oppositional mind that set in place during and after the Reformation of the 16th century, and after the Enlightenment of the 17th-18th centuries, this ancient tradition was largely lost, except among individuals. We lost the older Tradition of "praying beyond words" as the entire Western and Eastern Churches became quite preoccupied with words and proving words to be true or false. This is the only period that Protestantism and Evangelicals have ever known. So for at least 400 years, we have had neither an understanding of infused nor acquired contemplation! It is such foreign terrain to almost all Protestants, and most Catholics and Orthodox that they immediately think it is heresy or even pagan, when in fact, it is the solid tradition of the first 1400 years of Christianity! (Which I will try to document in my next book,
The Third Eye).

Tolle is, in fact, rather brilliantly bringing to our awareness the older tradition of both "infused" or "natural contemplation," and the two first types in Underhill's listing. These are both the ground and the process for breaking through to theological contemplation of God, and acquired contemplation of Jesus, the Gospels, and all spiritual things. He is teaching process not doctrine or dogma. He is teaching how to see and be present, not what you should see when you are present. Tolle is our friend, and not an enemy of the Gospel. There should be no conflict for a mature Christian. "Anyone who is not against us, is for us," as Jesus said, and he also said, "Fear profits nothing.”

What Tolle Is Not:
1. Eckhart Tolle is not a Christian theologian or teacher.
2. He is not teaching Christian contemplative prayer or Christian prayer at all.
3. He is not teaching any dogmas or doctrines as such.
4. He is not presuming or teaching that there is a personal/relational God (but neither is he denying it).
5. He is not a proponent of the social, communitarian nature of religion.
 
What Tolle is Doing:

1. Eckhart Tolle is teaching a form of natural mysticism or contemplative practice.

2. He is teaching a morality and asceticism of recognizing and letting go of "the self that has to die" (Matthew 16:25), which he calls ego and Jesus calls the "grain of wheat" (John 12:24) ; so that another self can be born, which he would call "consciousness" and we would call the person born again in Christ, or something similar.

3. He is giving us some practices (Similar to how John Wesley gave "methods" or Ignatius gave "exercises") whereby we can be present to the grace of the moment and stop the "passions," the "egocentric mind," or the "prideful self" which keeps us from true goodness (or God, as we would call it). Each tradition uses different language for what is to be overcome, but it is always some form of "un-love" and selfishness (which he calls ego). TOLLE IS NOT ASKING YOU TO BELIEVE ANYTHING. HE IS ASKING YOU TO TRY SOMETHING! You will know if it is true, if you try it, and you will not know if it is true or false, if you don't try it. No point in arguing it theoretically or in the abstract.

4. He does assume and imply a worldview that is foreign to many, if not most Christians. For Tolle, Being, Consciousness, God, Reality are all the same thing, which is not all bad, when you come to think of it. Of course, his very point is that you cannot think of it at all, you can only realize it. I would not call him pantheistic (all things are God) as much as panentheistic (God is IN all things).

5. His brilliant understanding of the "pain body," as he calls it, is actually very close to the Catholic notion of Original Sin, and does give a corporate, communitarian, mystical understanding to religion. We are all in this together, and share one another's pain. I'm not sure he makes clear how we share one another' joy, except that he tends to create very "low maintenance" people who can relax and enjoy life.
 
In Tolle's world, Jesus is not central. However, he is a beloved teacher, who does it perfectly right himself. "Redemption," as we understand it, is not necessary beyond letting go of our own fears, negativity, and oppositional energy. He might understand reality itself as gracious. We would localize that grace in and through Jesus, as the "Sacrament" of all of Creation.

Although Tolle is not a Christian teacher, we must not assume that makes him an anti-Christian teacher. Today we need whatever methods or help we can receive to allow the Christian message to take us to a deeper level of transformation. Our history, and our guidance of Western history, shows this has clearly not been happening on any broad scale. This is an opportunity for us to understand our own message at deeper levels. It would be a shame if we required him to speak our language and vocabulary before we could critically hear what he is saying—that is true and helpful to our own message.

What if John's Gospel had refused to use the word "Logos" which was a term directly taken from Platonist philosophy? What if Paul had kept the limited vocabulary and categories of Judaism when he preached in Rome and Athens? What if Thomas Aquinas had not written his Summa because it was a dialogue with Aristotelian philosophy? Would they have had any success as evangelists?

Admittedly, this will be much harder for those Christians who emerged after the 16th century when the older contemplative tradition was no longer taught, or understood even by the older Tradition. Catholics and Orthodox simply have the trustful advantage of apophatic saints like Clement of Alexandria, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory Palamas, Dionysius the Areopogite, Bonaventure, Francisco de Osuna, Meister Eckhart (whose name Mr. Tolle chose when he recognized his gift as a spiritual teacher!), the Cloud of Unknowing, John of the Cross, and Jean Pierre de Caussade.

Unfortunately, most of Western Christianity has understood Jesus apart from the eternal Trinitarian life and the Pre-Existent Cosmic Christ that is presented in Colossians 1:15-20 or Ephesians 1:8-11. Here "The Son" is at work in the universe from the very beginning and everywhere, and not just during and after Calvary (which Protestantism has tended to exclusively concentrate on). Remember, both Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventure said "Deus est Ens," God is Being Itself. This is not new or dangerous teaching, but if ones denominational tradition has no tradition of philosophical theology, or no tradition of the pre-existent Christ as the Second Person of the Trinity inherent in the very pattern of creation, then I admit that Eckhart Tolle will be quite foreign terrain. That does not make him wrong.

I have learned to join with Peter, who said after much resistance, "God has made it clear to me that I must not call anyone profane or unclean" (Acts 10:28), and I am willing to hear truth today wherever it comes from, as long as it does not compromise the Gospel. As St. Thomas Aquinas said, "If it is true, then it is from the Holy Spirit."

I must join with Paul who in preaching to the secular Athenians, said "God is not far from any of us, since
it is in him that we live, and move, and have our very being" (Acts 17:28). That is an excellent foundation for trusting Tolle's natural mysticism. We are also preaching to a largely secular world, and must find a language that they can understand and draw from, as Paul did, and not insist that they learn our vocabulary before we can even talk to them or hear them. How else can we ever be "all things to all people" (1 Corinthians 9:22) or dare to think that we can "preach the Gospel to all creation" (Mark 16:16)?
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"Listening" — by Mark Nepo

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Listening is a personal pilgrimage that takes time and a willingness to lean into life. With each trouble that stalls us and each wonder that lifts us, we're asked to put down our conclusions and feel and think anew. Unpredictable as life itself, the practice of listening is one of the most mysterious, luminous and challenging art forms on earth. Each of us is by turns a novice and a master—until the next difficulty or joy undoes us.

In truth, listening is the first step to peace. When we dare to quiet our minds and all the thoughts we inherit, the differences between us move back, and the things we have in common move forward. When we dare to quiet the patterns of our past, everything starts to reveal its kinship and share its aliveness. And though we can always learn from others, listening is not a shortcut, but a way to embody the one life we're given, a way to personalize the practice of being human.

In real ways, we're invited each day to slow down and listen. But why listen at all? Because listening stitches the world together. Listening is the doorway to everything that matters. It enlivens the heart the way breathing enlivens the lungs. We listen to awaken our heart. We do this to stay vital and alive. This is the work of reverence: to stay vital and alive by listening with an open heart.

Yet how do we inhabit these connections and find our way in the world? By listening our way into lifelong friendships with everything larger than us, with our life of experience and with each other.

Our friendship with everything larger than us opens us to the wisdom of Source. This is the work of being. Our friendship with experience opens us to the wisdom of life on earth. This is the work of being human. And our friendship with each other opens us to the wisdom of care. This is the work of love. We need to stay loyal to these three friendships if we have any hope of living an awakened life. These three friendships—the work of being, the work of being human and the work of love—frame the journey.

In a daily way, listening is being present enough to hear the One in the many and the many in the One. Listening is an animating process by which we feel and understand the moment we are in, repeatedly connecting the inner world with the world around us, letting one inform the other.

All of this helps us hear who we are because our identity and the reach of our gifts can only be known in relationship. The wave would not exist if not for the reach of the ocean that lifts it, and the mountain would not exist if not for the steadfastness of the earth that supports it. Listening helps us discover our relationship to all that supports us in life. Listening helps us find our place as a living part in a living Universe. And each moment is a new place to start, no matter how overwhelmed we might feel. For the living Universe can be entered at any time by listening to our inmost self. This begins by meeting ourselves and opening our minds to silence. It helps to think of silence as the connective tissue for all life. By listening to silence, we can be nourished by everything that is larger than us.

It is giving our complete attention to the silence that holds our self that awakens us to both the soul's calling and the call of the soul. While the soul's calling is the work we are born to do, the call of the soul is the irrepressible yearning to experience aliveness. The center of our aliveness doesn't care what we achieve or accomplish, only that we stay close to the pulse of what it means to be alive. In doing this, we stay close to the energy of all life.

The deeper we look at listening, the more we find that it has to do with being present, because a commitment to being fully present enables us to listen more to others, to their dreams and pain, to the retelling of their stories. It deepens our compassion. And listening to the history of our heart allows us to hear and feel the sweet ache of being alive.

Each of these ways of listening—to our inmost self, to the silence that joins everything, to the soul's calling for meaningful work, to the call of the soul to simply be alive, to the complete presence of others that holding nothing back opens in us, and to the tug of life and its sweet ache of constant connection—is a practice that deepens our understanding of who we are and of the precious life we're given in our time on earth.

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"Male and Female Differences and Strengths" - The Yin Yang Perspective by Felice Dunas

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“Yin Yang Eye” by Nina Kuriloff


The most fundamental essential philosophies behind Oriental history, culture, religion, government and business is Yin Yang theory.  This is one of the oldest cosmologies in all of human thinking.  People have been using this understanding of life for over 5000 years.  We don’t know its true historical timeline as  archeological evidence can document only around 5000 years at present.  Yin Yang theory works with the premise that all of life stems from a point of perfect balance.  On either side of that balance you have the left and the right, the wet and the dry, the night and the day, the female and the male, the negative and the positive, multi-faceted focused, single goal focused, etc.   According to this theory, everything that you can think of can be placed somewhere on the yin or yang aspect to the line.  Behavior, time of day, seasons of the year, kinds of food, colors, everything!  Yin is the capacity to be receptive.  Yang is the capacity to be creative.  Yin/Yang is the concept of duality.  Yin and Yang are compliments and opposites in life.  This is a vast topic and I am only touching upon it here.  If you wish to learn more about Yin and Yang energy and how they influence people and their relationships, consider reading Passion Play, a book that I wrote on the subject.    Women’s bodies are more Yin and men’s bodies are more yang.  Women get unhealthy when they are not good at being receptive, because they are not utilizing their primary energetic trait, which is receptivity.  Men become unhealthy when they do not utilize their gifts of contribution and creativity, which are their primary energetic traits.    When a woman is spending most of her life force, her vitality and time, giving to others, she is going to end up sick, weak, unhappy and, eventually, unproductive.  Yin energy moves from the outside in towards the self.  Mothering, which takes up decades of our adult lives, is, in large part, about contribution.  It’s about giving in creative, structured ways. These are more Yang oriented activities.  They are not about receiving.  From my medical perspective, it is imperative that a woman put herself in situations that allow her to receive support from others during her mothering years.  She needs loving kindness, she needs others to do favors and tasks for her, she needs to receive praise for what she does.  She needs to be taken care of if she is going to be good at taking care of others.  If there is no balance, if a woman becomes a chronic giver,  or as I call her, a giveaholic (pronounced give-a-holic as in alcoholic with the addiction being to self sacrifice),  her body will break down and she will become more masculine.   Her relationships will suffer, especially her relationship to a man who needs to be more masculine than she is.  Her spirit will suffer, her kids will not get the benefit of learning about healthy femininity and she will feel like she is “loosing herself”.  This is happening to so many women.    When a man is “self oriented” rather than “other oriented”, when he puts emphasis what is given to him rather than on what he contributes to others, when he is silent and avoiding of his woman’s aggressiveness, “wimping out”, so to speak, he is not utilizing his primary strength.  Yang energy moves from the self outward in direct, goal oriented ways.  When a man behaves in a childlike way, (women often call their husbands the “other” child) when he doesn’t take a stand for his creativity, his vision, his beliefs or his drives, he sacrifices his yang nature, his greatest truth.  Unfortunately, men are given very mixed messages by women who want both a strong hero and a girlfriend-like partner to chat and vent with.  Men have been labeled brutish in their sexuality and lack of emotional expression but are also being criticized for expressing weakness or emotionally vulnerable.  Self sacrifice and accomplishment are good for men and they would be wise to devote themselves to pursuits’ that enable them to give and to feel the joy of surmounting challenges in reference to giving.  Men need to know they have impact, influence  and positive effect on others.  They need to leave their mark, to have made a difference.  Too many men do not recognize the value of behaving in inherently masculine ways.  The more feminine they become, the sicker their bodies and the weaker their sprits.  The more they execute and complete with success, the better for everyone.
Learning to live within your foundational strengths will allow for greater physical health, deeper intimacy and more pleasant relationships!

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"The Rites of Man" — a continued reading from Fire in the Belly: On Being a Man by Sam Keen

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“Modern Day Job” by John Larsen

Act I: Separation. The cultural task of turning a boy into a man begins by the disruption of the primal bond between mother and son. In infancy he and she have been one flesh. But at some point, usually near the onset of puberty, the boy child will be rudely stolen from the encompassing maternal arms, ready or not, and thrust into the virile society of men. In many tribes, the men kidnap the boys and take them to live in the men's clubhouse where they are subject to hazing, discipline, and teachings of the elders. “Modern Day Job” by John Larsen

Some form of painful ordeal inevitably accompanies and dramatizes the separation from the world of WOMAN. The list of minor and major tortures imposed upon initiates reads like a page from the fantasy life of de Sade and includes: lip piercing, scarification, filing or knocking out of teeth, scourgings, finger sacrifices, removal of a testicle, bitings, burnings, eating of disgusting foods, being tied on an ant hill, subincision of the penis, solitary confinement, exile in the wilderness for long periods, sleeping naked on winter nights, etc. Often a boy was sent out into the forest to kill a dangerous animal or an enemy to prove his courage. Among the Plains Indians,«fasting, vigils, and sometimes psychedelic drugs were used to induce an altered state of consciousness and a personal vision.

As a general rule, the more a tribe or nation practices warfare the harsher its rites of initiation for boys. In such cultures, the main purpose of the initiation rites for males is to turn civilian boys into military men. The life of a man is the life of a warrior. To be a man one must be able to bear suffering without complaint, to kill, to die. Some tribes, in their effort to create manly virtues, amputate the nipples, since only women should have breasts. The neophyte warrior learns to disdain woman's ways, to reject the sensuous knowledge of the body he learned kinesthetically from his mother, and to deny all that is "feminine" and soft in himself.

Why this connection between masculinity and pain? We can see the logic that underlies such ordeals if we look closely at the typical "primitive" ritual of circumcision. For reasons that are deeply unconscious—or mythic—the male elders of the tribe ordain that boys must bear a scar throughout life to remind them that they are required to sacrifice their bodies to the will of the tribe. To be a man is to leave behind the world of women-nature-flesh-sensuality-pleasure and submit one's will and body to the world of men-culture-power-duty. The implicit message given to a boy when he is circumcised, whether the ritual is performed when he is seven days old or at puberty, is that your body henceforth belongs to the tribe and not merely to yourself.

If we are to understand the male psyche, decipher the baffling male obsession with violence, break the unconscious sadomasochistic game that binds men and women together in erotic combat, and end the habit of war, we must understand the original wound, the scar, around which masculine character has traditionally been constructed.

The rite of circumcision is widely though not universally practiced, but it is the best symbol of the process by which boys are turned into men. That so primitive and brutal a rite continues to be practiced nearly automatically in modern times when most medical evidence indicates that it is unnecessary, painful, and dangerous suggests that circumcision remains a mythic act whose real significance is stubbornly buried in the unconscious. That men and women who supposedly love their sons refuse to examine and stop this barbaric practice strongly suggests that something powerfully strange is going on here that is obscured by a conspiracy of silence. We do not want to look at the cruelty that is systematically inflicted on men or the wound that is deemed a necessary price of manhood.

Imagine, if you dare, that you are small enough to rest complete within your mother's arms, so sensitive that every nerve ending of your flesh reaches out to the unknown world, eager as lips to receive the bounties of the breast. Then, suddenly, you are seized by male giants, taken from your mother's arms (but with her consent), and held down by force. The tender skin covering your penis is cut off (whether by a stone knife or surgical blade is a matter of small difference). Feel the violation of your flesh, your being. (Do not allow yourself the comforting lie that circumcision isn't that painful, the wound heals quickly, and the pain is soon forgotten.) What indelible message about the meaning of manhood would be carved on your body, encoded within the scar tissue of your symbolic wound?

It is possible to interpret the cruelty involved in rites of passage as expressing the unconscious resentment of the fathers against the sons. But more likely the pain inflicted served as a sacrament—an outward and visible sign of an inward change that transforms boys into men. To create a social body requires a sacrifice of our individual desires. The pain of the ordeal, the hazings, and the insults were designed to break down individuality and replace personal identity with the imprint of the tribe. From the beginnings of recorded human history to the present day the most important tacit instruction boys receive about manhood is: Masculinity requires a wounding of the body, a sacrifice of the natural endowment of sensuality and sexuality. A man is fashioned by a process of subtraction, decision, abstraction, being severed from the "natural" world of WOMAN. We gain manhood by the willingness to bear the mutilation imposed on us by the ruling elders.
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Stages of Human Development (simplified) by William Martin

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Painting by Nam Hải Huyền Môn


Infant:
As infants, we are ushered into a world of physical separateness but a sense of ego separateness has not yet been formed by the brain. Our psychic boundaries are still porous and we experience everything without self-reference. It's all One Thing Happening and we haven't yet made categories to separate it out.

Child:
As the brain creates categories our experience begins to have the reference point of a separate self. As children we now live in two worlds. We have a growing sense of a separate self yet still have many moments in which we are still aware of the vast mystery and magic of Life. Most of us have a memory or two remaining of this wonder and awe.

Rebel:
As we enter adolescence, our separate ego becomes solid but we are sub-consciously aware that we are leaving something important behind. The world is making its demands that we "grow up" and enter the Adult stage as quickly as possible. The Rebel will express itself in one of two ways: resistance or compliance. We either say, "hell no" or "yes sir" (often a bit of both). Either way is in reaction to the pull of the Adult world. My own route was predominately “yes, sir” and repressed a great deal of awareness, power, and clarity.

Adult:
The Adult is the driving force of society. The adult is, at once, both the producer and consumer in the economic engine. The pressure is enormous to pull the child/rebel up into this stage and thus insure that the society "functions" as usual. There is nothing wrong with the Adult stage. It can be productive and creative, but usually operates according to unconscious conditioned forces that lead to unhappiness and dissatisfaction. The adult is conditioned to be “responsible” and this responsibility is usually defined by society rather than by a deeper sense of responsibility to authentic and meaningful living.

Outlaw:
This is where things really get interesting! The abandoned memories of the early stages begin to reassert themselves. The ego boundaries soften and some of the "rebel" energy emerges, but now not in reaction to adult authority but instead in response to a pull from a higher sense of Being. The Outlaw asks the embarrassing questions: "Why?" and "Who says?" and begins to assert: "Not me. I don't believe it. I’m going to do it my way." Again, the gravitational center of the Adult stage pulls against  Outlaws, demanding that they remain conformed to the accepted beliefs and roles; that they go to the grave as "good adults.”

The Outlaw is threatened with a legion of frightening stories about what will happen if this “lawless” path is followed: "There won’t be enough money. Your old age will be uncomfortable. Your health will suffer. You will get in trouble with the authorities. People will not like you anymore. Who do you think you are?”

These questions are believable and powerful. They stop cold the Outlaw journey of most people and turn them back to comfort-seeking compliance or to withdrawn apathy and bitterness. Lao-Tzu was considered an "Outlaw" by most of his society. It is a difficult stage to enter. Most of social conditioning warns against it.

Sage:
If the Outlaw path is followed with courage and determination, the Sage awaits. The Sage has been present all the time, but has been unnoticed and repressed. The Sage is free. The ego boundary is very porous and a sense of returning to the Oneness of the Tao pervades life. The Sage can choose to adopt the responsibility of the adult; the wonder of the child; the emptiness of the infant; the "Hell, no!" of the rebel; or the "Who says?" of the outlaw as the mood strikes - moving between these personas with ease and compassion. No rules, no beliefs, no rituals constrain the Sage who needs neither to rebel nor conform, but simply to be.
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'WOMAN as Erotic-Spiritual Power' (excerpt) Fire in the Belly: On Being a Man by Sam Keen

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Venus Verticordia” by Dantte Gabriel Rossetti


The third aspect of WOMAN is as an irresistible erotic-spiritual force. She is the magnet, and men the iron filings that lie within her field.

It is difficult to give this aspect of WOMAN a familiar name because Western mythology, philosophy, and psychology have never acknowledged its reality. Once, men and women assumed that the goddess controlled all things that flow and ebb—the waxing and waning moon, the rise and fall of tide and
phallus. But ever since God became Father, and men have considered themselves the lords over nature (and women), we have defined man as active and WOMAN as reactive. Consequently, we have never developed a language that does justice to WOMAN'S erotic-spiritual power.

In Eastern mythology, notions of gender are reversed. The female principle is seen as active and the male as responsive. Among human beings, lions, and other members of the animal kingdom, the female of the species sends out her invitations on the wind and commands the male's response. He may think he initiates, but her sexual perfumes (pheromones) and inspiring image influence him to action. She is the primer mover, the divine eros, whose power draws him to her. As Joseph Campbell points out,3 the term Shakti in Hindu mythology names the energy or active power of a male divinity that is embodied in his spouse. "Every wife is her husband's Shakti and every beloved woman her lover's. Beatrice was Dante's. Carried further still: The word connotes female spiritual power in general, as manifest, for instance, in the radiance of beauty, or on the elemental level in the sheer power of the female sex to work effects on the male."

To detect this important aspect of men's experience of WOMAN that our language or philosophy of gender does not name or honor, we have to look at the angelic and demonic extremes of men's sexuality—the ways in which WOMAN figures in the imaginations of artists and rapists.

For many creative men WOMAN is the muse and inspiration for their work. She possesses a semi-divine power to call forth their creativity. Without her inspiration they cannot paint, write, or manage. She is the anima, the spirit and soul of a man. Without her a man is only will and intellect and blind force.

At the opposite end of the spectrum the rapist confesses the same experience of the irresistible erotic power of WOMAN. His defense is inevitably: "She tempted me. She wanted it. She seduced me." For a moment, put aside the correct response to such deluded excuses, which is that it is not the victim's fault, and consider the raw unconscious experience of WOMAN that underlies rape no less than the inspiration of the artist. In both cases, she is experienced as the active, initiatory power.

When we consider how most "civilized" men have repressed their experience of the power of WOMAN as goddess, mother, and erotic-spiritual motivator, it is easy to understand the reasons that lie in back of the history of men's cruelty to women. We fear, therefore deny, therefore demean, therefore (try to) control the power of WOMAN. There is no need here to rehearse the routine insults and gynocidal hatreds of men toward women. Mary Daly, Susan Griffin, and other feminist thinkers have traced this painful history in brilliant and convincing fashion.

As men we need to recollect our experience, reown our repressed knowledge of the power of WOMAN, and cease establishing our manhood in reactionary ways. If we do not, we will continue to be workers desperately trying to produce trinkets that will equal WOMAN'S creativity, macho men who confuse swagger with independence, studs who anxiously perform for Mother's eyes hoping to win enough applause to satisfy a fragile ego, warriors and rapists who do violence to a feminine power they cannot control and therefore fear.

So long as we define ourselves by our reactions to unconscious images of WOMAN we remain in exile from the true mystery and power of manhood.
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"The Collective Ego" (excerpt) THE NEW EARTH by Eckhart Tolle

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How hard is it to live with yourself? One of the ways in which the ego attempts to escape the unsatisfactoriness of personal selfhood is to enlarge and strengthen its sense of self by identifying with a group – a nation, political party, corporation, institution, sect, club, gang, football team.

 In some cases the personal ego seems to dissolve completely as someone dedicates his or her life to the working selflessly for the greater good of the collective without demanding personal rewards, recognition, or aggrandizement. What a sense of relief to be freed of the dreadful burden of personal self. The members of the collective feel happy and fulfilled, no matter how hard they work, how many sacrifices they make. They appear to have gone beyond ego. The question is: Have they truly become free, or has the ego simply shifted from the personal to the collective?

 A collective ego manifests the same characteristics as the personal ego, such as the need for conflict and enemies, the need for more, the need to be right against others who are wrong, and so on. Sooner or later, the collective will come into conflict with other collectives, because it unconsciously seeks conflict and it needs opposition to define its boundary and thus its identity. Its members will then experience the suffering that inevitably comes in the wake of any ego-motivated action. At that point, they may wake up and realize that their collective has a strong element of insanity.

 It can be painful at first to suddenly wake up and realize that the collective you had identified with and worked for is actually insane. Some people at that point become cynical or bitter and henceforth deny all values, all worth. This means that they quickly adopted another belief system when the previous one was recognized as illusory and therefore collapsed. They didn’t face the death of their ego but ran away and reincarnated into a new one.

 A collective ego is usually more unconscious than the individuals that make up that ego. For example, crowds (which are temporary collective egoic entities) are capable of committing atrocities that the individual away from the crowd would not be. Nations not infrequently engage in behavior that would be immediately recognizable as psychopathic in an individual.

From — A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle. This is from page 125 and 126
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"Embracing the Reality of Sorrow" (excerpt) by Adyashanti

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Sooner or later we will all experience the tragic quality of life. Perhaps this quality of life is brought to us through illness, or the death of a loved one, or losing a job, or an unexpected accident, or having your heart broken. But we will all experience this tragic quality of life in both small and overwhelmingly large ways over the span of our lives. Whether we want to face it or not, life, with all of its beauty, joy, and majesty, also has a tragic element to it. This is exactly what the Buddha saw, and it inspired his entire spiritual search.

It seems that most people look for various ways to escape from this tragic quality of life, but ultimately to no avail. There is no escaping it. And it must be faced sooner or later. The question is, when we are faced with this aspect of life, how do we respond? Surely, to avoid it only leads to denial, fantasy, life-numbing withdrawal, cynicism, and fear. It takes great courage to face the totality of life without withdrawing from it or trying to protect ourselves from it.

Paradoxically, to face the totality of life we must face the reality of death, sorrow, and loss as well. We must face them as unavoidable aspects of life. The question is, can we face them directly without getting lost in the stories that our mind weaves about them? That is, can we directly encounter this tragic quality of life on its own terms? Because if we can, we will find a tremendous affirmation of life, an affirmation that is forged in the fierce embrace of tragedy.

At the very heart and core of our being, there exists an overwhelming yes to existence. This yes is discovered by those who have the courage to open their hearts to the totality of life. This yes is not a return to the innocence of youth, for there is no going back, only forward. This yes is found only by embracing the reality of sorrow and going beyond it. It is the courage to love in spite of all the reasons to not love. By embracing the tragic quality of life we come upon a depth of love that can love “in spite of” this tragic quality. Even though your heart may be broken a thousand times, this unlimited love reaches across the multitude of sorrows of life and always triumphs. It triumphs by directly facing tragedy, by relenting to its fierce grace, and embracing it in spite of the reflex to protect ourselves.

In the end, we will either retreat into self-protection, or acknowledge the reality of sorrow and love anyway. Such love not only transcends life and death, it is also made manifest in life and death. You give yourself to life out of love, and it is to love more fiercely that you walk through the fires of sorrow that forge the heart into boundless affection.
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"Women - Surviving the Fire" (excerpt) A Womans Worth by Marianne Williamson

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I once saw a funny birthday card. On the front it read Happy birthday to my daughter, the princess. On the inside, it continued, From your mother, the queen.

What is a princess, and what is a queen? Why is princess often a pejorative description of a certain type of woman, and the word queen hardly ever applied to women at all? A princess is a girl who knows that she will get there, who is on her way perhaps but is not yet there. She has power but she does not yet wield it responsibly. She is indulgent and frivolous. She cries but not yet noble tears. She stomps her feet and does not know how to contain her pain or use it creatively.

A queen is wise. She has earned her serenity, not having had it bestowed on her but having passed her tests. She has suffered and grown more beautiful because of it. She has proved she can hold her kingdom together. She has become its vision. She cares deeply about something bigger than herself. She rules with authentic power.

Our kingdom is our life, and our life is our kingdom. We are all meant to rule from a glorious place. When God is on the throne, then so are we. When God is in exile, our lands are at war and our kingdoms are in chaos.

To be a princess is to play at life. To be a queen is to be a serious player. Audrey Hepburn was a queen, Barbara Jordan is a queen, Gloria Steinem is a queen. Most of us are a little of both. The purpose of life as a woman is to ascend to the throne and rule with heart.

The growth of a girl into a woman, a princess into a queen, is not a liberal transition. Like any true creative flow, it is radical. That is not to say it is angry or harsh. But it is radical, the way truth is radical—and birth and art and real love and death. It changes things. It represents a shift in core beliefs, a belly-up of dominant paradigms. Without this shift, a woman seesaws between the brink of disaster and the brink of salvation. She goes from moments of bliss to moments of terror. And then the children, and the world, begin to seesaw with her.

When a woman has owned her passionate nature, allowing love to flood her heart, her thoughts grow wild and fierce and beautiful. Her juices flow. Her heart expands. She has thrown off crutch and compromise. She has glimpsed the enchanted kingdom, the vast and magical realms of the Goddess within her. Here, all things are transformed. And there is a purpose to this: that the world might be mothered back to a great and glorious state. When a woman conceives her true self, a miracle occurs and life around her begins again.

Mary's was a virgin birth, and the word virgin means "a woman unto herself." The actualized woman is powerful unto herself and gives birth to things divine. Today we have the chance to give birth to a healed and transformed world. This cannot be done without a major uprising of the glorious in women, because nothing can be healed without the female powers that nurture and protect, intuit and endure. What does this mean for the individual woman living day to day in a world that resists her expansion and makes her wrong for her passions? It means finding others who have seen the same light. They are everywhere, and like us they await instruction. They are men and women, young and old, who have heard the joke but take it too seriously to laugh. It is funny but also tragic, this cutting off at the pass of the life-force of half of humanity. Something new is brewing, and let's be grateful that it is. The Queen is coming to reclaim her girls.

When the Queen emerges, she is magical and enchanting. She is calm and happy. She creates order where there was none. She has grown new eyes.
When a woman rises up in glory, her energy is magnetic and her sense of possibility contagious. We have all seen glorious women, full of integrity and joy, aware of it, proud of it, overflowing with love. They shine. I have known this state in other women and, at moments, in myself. But it could be a stronger statement, a more collective beat. We don't have to do anything to be glorious; to be so is our nature. If we have read, studied, and loved; if we have thought as deeply as we could and felt as deeply as we could; if our bodies are instruments of love given and received—then we are the greatest blessing in the world. Nothing needs to be added to that to establish our worth.

Just stand there. Sit there. Smile. Bless. What a hunger is left unfulfilled in our society for no reason other than that women have been so devalued by others and so dishonored by ourselves.
Every woman I know wants to be a glorious queen, but that option was hardly on the multiple-choice questionnaire we were handed when we were little girls. Rarely did anyone tell us we could choose to be magic.

When I was a child, there was a woman who lived across the street named Betty Lynn. She was sort of a cross between Auntie Mame and Jayne Mansfield. I thought she was the most beautiful, most fascinating, most wonderful woman in the world. Betty Lynn was wild and gorgeous and drove a Cadillac. I thought it was beige, but she called it the color of champagne. She wanted a thatched roof on her guest house. She obviously had sex with her husband. She always told me I was wonderful.

Years later, I remembered the scotch and water that was almost always in her hand, and many things began to make sense that hadn't made sense when I was young. But at the time, she was a model of sorts, a glamorous woman who made me see magic when all I found on my side of the street was a lid placed on my emotions and disapproval of my more outrageous passions.

Why, in the thirty-odd years since I knew this woman, have I never forgotten her? What did she represent that struck me as so real, so passionate, so enchanted?

Whatever it was, the alcohol helped her let it out, but then the alcohol enslaved her, and then it killed her. That's clear. But why do people who have the most ardor, the most enchantment, the most power so often feel the need for drugs and alcohol? They do not drink just to dull their pain; they drink to dull their ecstasy. Betty Lynn lived in a world that doesn't know from ecstatic women, or want to know, or even allow them to exist. In former times, she would have had her own temple, and people from all around would have gathered to sit at her feet and hear her pronounce them marvelous. She would have mixed herbs and oils. But an unenlightened world began to burn these women, and the world burns them still. Betty Lynn crucified herself before anyone else had a chance to. Many of us are a little like her, choosing to implode rather than take on society's punishment. Those of us who don't must bear society's wrath. But we live through it, bruised and battered though we might be. And more and more of us are now living to tell the tale, surviving the fire, surviving sober, and, hopefully, altered in such a way that our daughters will have an easier time.

(excerpt) A Womans Worth by Marianne Williamson
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"Responsibilty' (excerpt) The Road Less Traveled

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We cannot solve life's problems except by solving them. This statement may seem idiotically tautological or self-evident, yet it is seemingly beyond the comprehension of much of the human race. This is because we must accept responsibility for a problem before we can solve it. We cannot solve a problem by saying "It's not my problem." We cannot solve a problem by hoping that someone else will solve it for us. I can solve a problem only when I say "This is my problem and it's up to me to solve it." But many, so many, seek to avoid the pain of their problems by saying to themselves: "This problem was caused me by other people, or by social circumstances beyond my control, and therefore it is up to other people or society to solve this problem for me. It is not really my personal problem."

The extent to which people will go psychologically to avoid assuming responsibility for personal problems, while always sad, is sometimes almost ludicrous. A career sergeant in the army, stationed in Okinawa and in serious trouble because of his excessive drinking, was referred for psychiatric evaluation and, if possible, assistance. He denied that he was an alcoholic, or even that his use of alcohol was a personal problem, saying, "There's nothing else to do in the evenings in Okinawa except drink."


"Do you like to read?" I asked.
"Oh yes, I like to read, sure."

"Then why don't you read in the evening instead of drink-ing?

"It's too noisy to read in the barracks."
"Well, then, why don't you go to the library?"
"The library is too far away."
"Is the library farther away than the bar you go to?"

"Well, I'm not much of a reader. That's not where my interests lie."

"Do you like to fish?" I then inquired.
"Sure, I love to fish."
"Why not go fishing instead of drinking?"
"Because I have to work all day long."
"Can't you go fishing at night?"
"No, there isn't any night fishing in Okinawa."

"But there is," I said. "I know several organizations that fish at night here. Would you like me to put you in touch with them?"

"Well, I really don't like to fish."

"What I hear you saying," I clarified, "is that there are other things to do in Okinawa except drink, but the thing you like to do most in Okinawa is drink."

"Yeah, I guess so."

"But your drinking is getting you in trouble, so you're faced with a real problem, aren't you?"

"This damn island would drive anyone to drink."
I kept trying for a while, but the sergeant was not the least bit interested in seeing his drinking as a personal problem which he could solve either with or without help, and I regretfully told his commander that he was not amenable to assistance. His drinking continued, and he was separated from the service in mid-career.
A young wife, also in Okinawa, cut her wrist lightly with a razor blade and was brought to the emergency room, where I saw her. I asked her why she had done this to herself.
"To kill myself, of course."
"Why do you want to kill yourself?"
"Because I can't stand it on this dumb island. You have to send me back to the States. I'm going to kill myself if I have to stay here any longer."
"What is it about living in Okinawa that's so painful for you?" I asked.
She began to cry in a whining sort of way. "I don't have any friends here, and I'm alone all the time."
"That's too bad. How come you haven't been able to make any friends?"
"Because I have to live in a stupid Okinawan housing area, and none of my neighbors speak English."
"Why don't you drive over to the American housing area or to the wives' club during the day so you can make some friends?"
"Because my husband has to drive the car to work."
"Can't you drive him to work, since you're alone and bored all day?" I asked.
"No. It's a stick-shift car, and I don't know how to drive a stick-shift car, only an automatic."
"Why don't you learn how to drive a stick-shift car?"
She glared at me. "On these roads? You must be crazy."

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The Wisdom of Don Juan

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I was a mere twenty years old when I first read the works of Carlos Castaneda. His interactions with the mystical Yaqui teacher Don Juan fascinated and inspired me. His lively words allowed my eyes a glimpse into a deeper meaning of life, the universe and love. Here are a few insights from the Yaqui teacher.

I’d love to here your comments.
___________________


Everything we do, everything we are, rests on our personal power. If we have enough of it, one word is enough to change the course of our lives. If we don't, the most magnificent piece of wisdom can be revealed to us and that revelation won't make a damn bit of difference.
Do you know that at this very moment you are surrounded by eternity? And do you know you can use that eternity, if you so desire? Do you know that you can extend yourself forever in any direction and use it to take the totality of yourself forever in any direction? Do you know that one moment can be eternity?  If you had enough personal power, my words alone would serve as a means to round up the totality of yourself and get to the crucial part of it  out of the boundaries in which it is contained.

-From Tales of Power
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When nothing is for sure we remain alert, perennially on our toes. It is more exciting not to know which bush the rabbit is hiding behind than to behave as though we knew everything.

-From Journey to Ixtlan
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Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself, and yourself alone, one question . . . Does this path have a heart?  If it does, the path is good; if it doesn't it is of no use. Both paths lead nowhere; but one has a heart, the other doesn't. One makes for a joyful journey; as long as you follow it, you are one with it. The other will make you curse your life. One makes you strong; the other weakens you.

-From The Teachings of don Juan
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As long as a man feels that he is the most important thing in the world, he cannot really appreciate the world around him.  He is like a horse with blinders; all he sees is himself, apart from everything
else.

-From Journey to Ixtlan
________________________

We talk to ourselves incessantly about our world.  In fact we maintain our world with our internal talk.  And whenever we finish talking to ourselves about ourselves and our world, the world is always as it should be.  We renew it, we rekindle it with life, we uphold it with our internal talk.  Not only that, but we also choose our paths as we talk to ourselves. Thus we repeat the same choices over and over until the day we die, because we keep on repeating the same internal talk over and over until the day we die.  A warrior is aware of this and strives to stop his internal talk.

-From A Separate Reality
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"Belief in Inerrancy May Be Hazardous to Faith (PART 2) — Problems with Biblical Inerrancy" (from: Religious Tolerance.org)

Co-exist
(PART 2)

Intentional translation errors: No Bible translation into English is free of bias. Essentially all versions of the Bible are the product of translators who come from a similar theological background. Being human, they sometimes produce versions of the Bible that tend to match their own belief systems. For example:

The original Hebrew and Greek texts contain a number of
different concepts for the place where people will live after death: Sheol, Gehenna, and Hades. Some translations transliterate these place names, and so they appear in the English text in their original forms as "Sheol," "Gehenna," and "Hades." The reader is thus aware that they refer to different beliefs about life after death. But the King James Version and some other Bible versions rendered all three locations as "Hell." This makes the Bible appear more internally consistent than it really is, and clouds the meaning of the original text. That may be successful for those people who cannot read Hebrew and who have no access to other English translations of the Bible. But with the multiplicity of Bible translations available today, such techniques are no longer as successful
 
Many Bible translations contain what appear to be intentional errors in relation to some activities.
Exodus 22:18, in the original Hebrew orders the death penalty for "m'khashepah"  The word means a woman who uses spoken spells to harm others - e.g. causing their death or loss of property. Clearly "evil Sorceress" or "woman who performs evil, black magic" would be a clear translation. But many versions of the Bible render this word as "witch," thus inverting the meaning of the original text. Witches and many other Neopagans are specifically prohibited by their Wiccan Rede from doing any harm to others.

A similar intentional mistranslation in some versions of the Bible relates to the Greek word "
pharmakia" from which the English word "pharmacy" is derived. It refers to the practice of preparing poisonous potions to harm or kill others. "Poisoner" or simply "murderer" would be an accurate translation here. But many versions of the Bible invert the meaning of the original text by again rendering the word as "witch."   These inverted translations have caused a few modern-day, devout Christians to persecute Neopagans, believing that they are following the will of God. Although such attacks have been decreasing over the past two decades, they still occur in some areas of North America.

Copying Errors: A small number of conservative Christians believe that a particular English translation of the Bible is inerrant. Often this is the King James Version (KJV). first published in 1611 CE. However, most believe that it is only the original autograph copy as written by the author in Hebrew, Aramaic and/or Greek which is inerrant. This leaves open the possibility that subsequent manual copying introduced mistakes into the book. Thus, copies made after the mistake may be errant. Often, we have no way of detecting where errors or later insertions have occurred.

Symbolic vs. Literal Interpretation: Not all passages in the Bible can be interpreted literally. For example: John 15:1 describes Jesus as saying:
"
I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman." (ASV)
In this case, Jesus is obviously not a vine. He is using symbolic language. Other passages in the Bible are more ambiguous; they might be translated literally or symbolically. For example,
Genesis 3:15 describes Jehovah talking to the serpent in the Garden of Eden. He says:

"
and I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed: he shall bruise thy head, and thou salt bruise his heel." (ASV)

Some Bible scholars interpret the verse literally, that the men and women who are descendants of Eve (i.e. the entire human race) and the descendants of the serpent (i.e. all the snakes in the world) will hate and attack each other. The phrase "
he shall" is interpreted in the collective sense to refer to all of humanity. Other Bible scholars interpret the verse symbolically. They believe that it is linked to Romans 16:20:
"
The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet."
The "
he shall bruise thy head" phrase in Genesis refers to Jesus triumphing over Satan. As a result of this interpretation, Genesis 3:15 is sometimes referred to as the "protean", the first gospel. 1

There are many Bible Passages that have been interpreted literally by some groups and symbolically by others. This generally leads to conflict, and has historically triggered many church schisms.
 
Multiple Authorship: Some passages in the Bible appear at first glance to be completely written by a single author: e.g. the Pentateuch (Genesis to Deuteronomy) states that the five books were all written by Moses. The book of Isaiah was written by Isaiah; the Book of Daniel by Daniel; the Gospel of Mark by a single author. But analysis of the books' content and style reveals that the Pentateuch was written by several authors from different traditions over many centuries. The books appear to have been edited later by still other unknown persons. Isaiah also appears to be written by multiple authors. The Book of Daniel appears to have been written circa 180 BCE -- over 4 centuries after Daniel's death -- by an unknown author. The Gospel of Mark originally ended abruptly at Mark 16:8. However:

Some other writer subsequently added verses 9 to 20, to make a "
longer ending" to Mark; these additional verses were apparently based on Luke, John and some other sources.
 
Another writer created a "
shorter ending" consisting of two sentences after verse 8. It was also a later addition, probably based on Matthew. Some translations include both endings.
 
Still other Bible versions include additional material after verse 14.
All of this multiple authorship raises the question whether the later additions by unknown authors are inerrant, or merely attempts by later believers to augment the text to better match some early Christian group's evolving belief system.
 
Multiple Versions:  There appears to have been two versions of Mark: "Secret Mark", "for those who had attained a higher degree of initiation in to the church than the common crowd." 3 and the shorter, edited version that has survived to the present time. The latter was the freely available, public version, and was probably a later, smaller version. This raises the question as to which version should be considered inerrant.
 
More conflicts in interpretation: Some biblical passages are unclear or ambiguous. For example, the Bible contains many references to parents using physical punishment in order to discipline their children. All but one of these passages come from the book of Proverbs. The book itself says that they were written by Solomon, although many mainline and liberal theologians believe that the book was assembled long after Solomon's death. The author(s) appear to have considered corporal punishment of children as the preferred method of discipline. One can assume that he followed his own advice in the raising of his son Rehab. The son became a widely hated ruler after his father's death. He had to make a hasty retreat to avoid being assassinated by his own people: 1 Kings 12:13-14 and 1 Kings 12:18 describe how he acted in such an evil manner towards his people that they killed his representative. Ultimately, Rehoboam fled Jerusalem to avoid being assassinated by the subjects that he mistreated. The passages from Proverbs and 1 Kings can be interpreted in at least two ways:

Some conservative Christians accept the verses in Proverbs at their face value: Proverbs requires all believers to use corporal punishment on their children as the main method of discipline.

Some liberal Christians might interpret Proverbs as accurately representing Solomon's parenting style, and interpret 1 Kings as indicating the horrible outcome of that form of discipline. Thus, 1 Kings is a warning to parents to
not follow Solomon's advice, to avoid hitting their children, and to rely on other, non-violent forms of discipline.

Since these two interpretations are mutually exclusive, at least one is probably false. But a consensus cannot be reached at this time as to which is in error. The secular belief that
hitting children is counter-productive appears to be gaining ground at this time, and is supported by studies linking the spanking of children with increased levels youth rage and criminal activities, and of alcoholism, drug addiction, clinical depression and anxiety once they reach adulthood.
 
Internal Conflicts: Various passages in the Bible appear to be in conflict with each other. To liberal/progressive Christians, these disagreements are consistent with their beliefs that the books of the Bible were written over a period of about 1 millennium, by authors with very different religious views. But to conservative Christians who believe in Biblical inerrancy, conflicts present a problem. If all passages of the Bible were inerrant, then no passage can truly contradict any other passage. Such problems have been resolved using various techniques:

• Many conflicts can be handled by interpreting one passage in its literal sense, and other, apparently conflicting, passages either in some narrow sense or symbolically. Unfortunately, different faith groups will often select different passages to interpret literally.

• Some passages cannot be harmonized in this way. Conservatives usually believe that the latter passages can be resolved in theory, but not with our present knowledge. Books harmonizing hundreds of apparent conflicts have been written. One attempts to solve over 500 such difficulties.
7

• The ultimate resolution method is to assume that errors have crept in to the original autograph copy as it was manually copied and recopied through the years. Religious conservatives are often reluctant to resort to this approach because it throws doubt on some passages in current translations of the Bible.

The nature of Truth - absolute or relative: It is sometimes not obvious whether a portion of the Bible refers:
• Only to a particular society at a particular time, or
• Only to one society for all time, or
• For all societies only at a particular time, or
• For all locations and all times.
For example:

In 1 Corinthians, chapters 11 & 14, Paul advises the Christians at Corinth to restrict the roles of women to positions of little or no authority and under the supervision of men. These passages are often quoted in debates over whether
women should be allowed to be ordained as clergy.

Other passages, particularly from the Hebrew Scriptures, describe the position of women as greatly inferior to men, and often as an item of property.

Some liberal Christians believe that Paul's instructions to the church at Corinth was in response to a specific problem in that city in which women were disrupting services; they might interpret limits on the roles of women in the Hebrew Scriptures as being accurate representations of the oppression of women within early Hebrew society. But they might also believe that such passages are not applicable in today's society where limitations and restrictions on women have been largely removed after centuries of effort by pro-democracy movements and the feminist movement. Meanwhile, many conservative Christians regard St. Paul's instructions to the Corinthians as being equally valid today; their denominations often deny ordination to women.
 
The Bible has many references to
slavery. Much of the conflict that led to the American civil war was fueled by differences in interpretation of Biblical passages on this topic:

• Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America, said that slavery "was established by decree of Almighty God...it is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to Revelation."
• Rev. Alexander Campbell, a Christian leader at the time said: "
There is not one verse in the Bible inhibiting slavery, but many regulating it. It is not then, we conclude, immoral."

• A contemporary of Campbell, Rev. R. Furman, said: "
The right of holding slaves is clearly established in the Holy Scriptures, both by precept and example."

Meanwhile, abolitionists argued that the teachings of Jesus made the ownership of human beings a sin. Many of the arguments over slavery revolved around whether the institution was an acceptable practice for all times and all societies, or whether it was no longer permissible in 19th century North America. Clearly, the matter could not be resolved theologically at the time. In North America, it was eventually settled by a political consensus in Canada and, much later, by a civil war in the U.S.

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Conclusions:
The combination of source ambiguity, intentional translation errors, copying errors, symbolic vs. literal interpretation, multiple authorship, multiple versions, interpretation conflicts, internal conflicts, the nature of truth, etc. make it quite impossible to prove that a particular passage in an English translation of the Bible is inerrant. Or if the passage is assumed to be inerrant, it is not necessarily obvious how the passage is to be interpreted today.

One can hope to minimize the effect of intentional and accidental translation errors by accessing many versions of the Bible to compare the full range of translations. Many Christians use parallel Bibles for study. These have two, four or eight translations side-by-side on the page. Also, by comparing verses on the same topic in other parts of the Bible we may obtain a consensus of what the Biblical authors intended. But we are largely stuck with the remaining factors. 
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References:
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
1 Christians for Biblical Equality has a home page promoting non-discrimination on the basis of gender. See: http://www.cbeinternational.org 
2 S.H.T. Page, "
Powers of Evil: A Biblical Study of Satan and Demons," Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI, (1995), Page 20 to 23.
3 C.M. Laymon, "
The Interpreter's One-Volume Commentary on the Bible," Abingdon Press, Nashville TN, (1991) Pages 670 - 671.
4 Robert J. Miller, Ed., "
The Complete Gospels", Polebridge Press, Sonoma CA, (1992), Pages  402-405.
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"Belief in Inerrancy May Be Hazardous to Faith (PART 1) — Problems with Biblical Inerrancy" (from: Religious Tolerance.org)

Co-exist
Belief in Inerrancy May Be Hazardous to Faith — Problems with Biblical Inerrancy


Why belief in biblical inerrancy can be hazardous to one's faith:
When a person considers the Bible to be totally inerrant in its teaching of theology, morals, beliefs, geology, geography, history, etc., it may leave the person's faith vulnerable. Even one proven error could shatter their entire belief system and make the Bible seem useless.
Mark Mattison wrote:

"If in actual fact Caesar Augustus did not really order a census while Quirinius was governor of Syria [or] if it turns out there really was only one Gadarene demonaic rather than two, then the entire Bible becomes worthless and every tenet of Christian faith falls flat. If one single discrepancy emerges, it's all over. This makes Christian faith an easy target for skeptics, and drives believers to unimaginable lengths to 'defend' the Bible." 1

Fortunately, this need not happen even if the Bible, as we see it today, is shown to be errant. That is because most conservative Christians only consider the original (a.k.a. autograph) versions of Bible books to be inerrant. No such documents exist today. If an error is found, it can be attributed to an intentional or accidental error made when copying a manuscript or when subsequently translating it from Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek into English.

Problems with inerrancy:

Interpretation conflicts: Bible ambiguity is perhaps the most serious problem associated with inerrancy. Some biblical passages can be interpreted in so many different ways, there is no way to know which is the correct one. This renders the concept of inerrancy essentially meaningless.

People bring different foundational beliefs to the Bible. This causes them to reach very different conclusions about what it says. One example involves the roles of men and women:

The folks at
The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood believe that men and women should be restricted to very different roles within the family, church organizations, and the rest of society. 2 Typically, they view positions of leadership and authority to be reserved for males only.
 
Christians for Biblical Equality teach that men and women were both created in the image of God, and that the Bible intends that they function in a full and equal partnership. Talents, including the ability to preach and to lead, exist throughout both genders. 3
Both are conservative Christian groups. Both believe that the Bible is the authoritative Word of God. Both groups are staffed with honorable, devout, intelligent, thoughtful, rational people. But both groups find many biblical passages which support their position and which negate the other group's beliefs.

Another example of ambiguity in the Bible is seen in the series of books published by Inter-Varsity Press and Zondervan. Some are: "
Women in ministry: Four Views," "Two views of Hell: A biblical and theological dialog," "Divorce and remarriage: Four Christian views." Each book involves a number of leading evangelical Christian writers explaining their conflicting personal views on a specific topic. They also critique each other's beliefs as being false. Each of the authors is intelligent, sincere, serious, devout, thoughtful theologian and is quite confident that their own belief is the only one that is biblically based. Yet, the authors' conclusions conflict with each other, making the concept of inerrancy meaningless.

Another example involves the Christian faith groups in North America, which number in excess of 1,000. All or essentially all believe that their group's beliefs are based on the Bible. Many take the position that they are the
"true" church. Yet their belief systems differ. There appears to be no way to resolve these different interpretations. Worldwide, the situation is even worse because there are on the order of 35,000 Chrisitan faith groups teaching different interpretations of the Bible.

Some have suggested that believers resolve biblical ambiguity by assessing the will of God through prayer. However,
this appears to be unreliableaccording to a pilot study that the staff at this web site have conducted.
 
Translation errors due to source ambiguity: Inerrancy of the Bible refers only to the original, autograph copies of each book, as written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. Hebrew is an extremely ambiguous language. Some passages in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) may be interpreted in many different ways. At most, only one of those translations into English would be correct, and thus be inerrant. But there is no way in which we can know for certain which translation is the correct one. Consider Leviticus 18:22. According to one source, a word-for-word translation is:

"
And with a male thou shall not lie down in beds of a woman; it is an abomination.

(The word "abomination" is actually a mistranslation into modern English. The Hebrew word means something like "ritually impure". Some other examples of "abominations" are: a person eating lobster, the offering of an animal which has a blemish for ritual sacrifice, a man getting a haircut or shaving his beard, or a woman wearing jeans or slacks, a person eating a cheeseburger.) This passage is normally interpreted in English as something like:
"
You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination" (RSV)

That rendering would condemn all male-male sexual activity. Or, if the translators really wanted to stretch the meaning of the passage well beyond what the original Hebrew states, they might want to include a condemnation of lesbianism into the translation, as in:
"Do not practice homosexuality; it is a detestable sin. (NLT)
But it could be argued that an equally accurate rendering is:
"Men must not engage in homosexual sex while on a bed that belongs to a woman; it is ritually unclean"
Or perhaps:

"When a man has sex with another man, they must treat each other as equals; otherwise it is ritually unclean.”

That is, same-gender sexual activity between men is not intrinsically unclean, but only if it is done in the wrong location -- on a woman's bed -- or in a manner where one man is considered inferior.

Bible translators, scholars and individual believers debate endlessly over the precise meaning of individual passages such as this one. If people attribute multiple meanings to various verses, then only one (perhaps none) could be inerrant. We can try to compare a passage with other similar verses in the Bible in order to determine which interpretation is most likely. But, we have no absolutely reliable method of determining which interpretation is correct.
 
The inclusion/exclusion of the Apocrypha: The Bible used by Jesus, his disciples, and the early Christian movement was the Septuagint (a.k.a. LXX). This was a Greek translation from the original Hebrew. It included a number of books that are commonly called the Apocrypha. These books appear in the translations of the Bible used by Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and some Anglican churches. They have been deleted in the translations used by Protestants and most Anglicans. One reason for their removal was a passage which implies the existence of Purgatory. Thus, the range of books in the Bible which are to be considered inerrant is open to debate among Christians. However, in any given denomination, the official canon is firmly established.
 
The selection of the Christian Scriptures: There were three main movements within early Christianity:
• The Jewish Christians, who formed a reform movement within Judaism centered in Jerusalem, with James -- a brother of Jesus -- as their leader;
• Pauline Christians who were mainly former Pagans who followed the teachings of Paul, and
• Gnostics who had a unique religious belief based on knowledge.

Among the three groups, there were on the order of forty gospels, probably hundreds of epistles (letters), and a few examples of apocalyptic literature similar to Revelation. All were considered authoritative by various early Christian groups.

When the bishops fixed the official canon centuries later, they selected the Hebrew Scriptures, and 27 books. The latter consisted of only four gospels, Acts, 21 epistles, and Revelation. The concept of inerrancy requires that they did not make any errors in their selection: that the authors of the 27 books that were selected were all inspired by God and written without error. This would imply that the Bishops' selection process must have been guided by God so that errant books were not chosen. The Gospel of John was almost rejected by the early Church because of its heavily Gnostic content. Revelation almost did not make it into the Bible either, because it described God in angry, hateful terms that seemed incompatible with the loving Abba (Dad) that Jesus prayed to. When Emperor Constantine ordered 50 copies of the Bible to be copied, they included
The Letter of Barnabas and The Shepard of Hermes -- two books that do not appear in today's Bibles.

Author Richard Nicholson wrote:
"The Canon evolved obscurely over many centuries. Books were accepted by some and banned by others. Books accepted for centuries were rejected later. Rival church factions excluded each other's scriptures. Personality clashes and rival ambitions were responsible for the disappearance of much that scholars would like to read today." 4

The extreme animosity, political armtwisting, and banishing or exiling of non-conforming bishops would seem to indicate that the book selection process was a very human one and not inspired by God.

Grammatical errors: Biblical scholars have noted that almost every page of the Bible, whether written in Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek contains both spelling and grammatical errors. Although some spelling errors could be attributed to mistakes by later copyists, it appears reasonable to assume that some of the grammatical errors were in the original copy. If one assumes that the Bible is not inerrant, then one would expect errors of all types to creep into the Bible: errors in fact, errors in belief, errors in spelling and errors in grammar. But if the Bible is inerrant, one wonders why the original writings were not free of errors in grammar.

(NEXT WEEK — PART 2)
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"How Big is Big?" by Larry Newman (from "AS WE AWAKEN" website)

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Humanity has thrown around the words “infinite” and “eternal” for ages. Due to our perspective we have held about as much regard for the words as we do for “beautiful” or “intelligent”. We have casually used the words for both the Creator as well as creation. With little more than our own lives and the world we live in for context we have felt comfortable with both the words and their use because telling God that we believe He is bigger than we are or that His influence is greater than the Earth or the sky we see above us is really not a stretch. Such thoughts keep God close and our ability to personalize Him is only slightly more challenged than the efforts of the ancient Greeks or Romans or Norsemen. We have become comfortable with that. So much so we try to use our primitive understanding as a definition of God and resist anything that would try to change that.

Enter modern science and the context of the words begin, whether we like it or not, to change dramatically! Now grains of sand can no longer be seen as merely ‘small’. Now we can move our understanding and perceptions into more precise and intricate building blocks only to find that each has more confounding components. We think of microbes, then molecules, atoms, quantum particles and maybe that is only the beginning. A measurement that is larger than mankind’s thoughts of infinity seems to fill our understanding of just one grain of sand as it sparkles on our fingertip. And then we look outward …

The context of us and the world we live in stretches. The scale of things quickly reduces us to the imperceptible; hardly larger than the atoms hidden beneath us. The distance just keeps stretching: our planet, the moon and its orbit, our place in the solar system circling our sun, the outer reaches of our solar system, our ‘local’ neighborhood of stars, our galaxy, the ‘local’ neighborhood of galaxies, our galactic cluster, the cluster of clusters, stretching fields and spheres of superclusters finally filling a universe that is reaching beyond our ability to see or guess at. Then astronomers and physicists guess anyway, “Why just one? Maybe there are more universes beyond our own and maybe clusters of universes and superclusters of clusters and …”

Is it any wonder that ‘modern’ man looks inward and then outward and says, “Wow! Infinity is REALLY big! Eternity is must be REALLY long!” at which point they have a new context for the words. Infinity becomes TOO big for our provincial idea of God to handle. “How can the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob encompass the entirety of infinity? How can I believe (if He IS that big) that He can still take notice of me and my small life?”

We find ourselves in the midst of a paradigm shift of the spirit and we wonder, “How can it be?”

It helps a little to realize that Infinity hasn’t changed, only our conceptions of it. Our old conceptions limited our understanding of how the words applied to God but our old conceptions didn’t change who or what God is. As our understanding of the infinite changes we have to remember that our understanding of God has to change as well. While the questions get bigger as our understanding expands it doesn’t change that it has always been an infinite and eternal God that has heard our prayers. The difference now is how much more wondrous that has become.

Oh Lord, my God,
When I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds
Thy hands have made
I see the stars
I hear the rolling thunder
Thy power throughout
The universe displayed
Then sings my soul
My Savior, God, to Thee
How great thou art
How great thou art*
It’s okay to ask, “How can this be?” We have always asked that. It is also okay to stand in awe when no answer is forthcoming.
“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what’s a heaven for?”
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