(Image by Wikipedia (commons.wikimedia.org), Author: Anonymous) Details Source DMCA
"...That evening, as he drove the wise rabbi to his lodging, the coachman sat upon his box and wondered what it might feel like to be so honored and revered as the Preacher of Dubno. What must it feel like to ride into town to cheers and happiness? What would it feel like to earn the love and admiration of everyone, near and far?
After a time, the coachman turned to the Preacher of Dubno and said, "I wish I could feel as you do."
"How's that?" the preacher asked.
"I'd like to know what being revered feels like," the coachman went on. "Would you consider exchanging your robes for my clothes -- just for a day? I'd like to pretend to be you, just to know how this feels."
The Preacher of Dubno smiled, for he liked his coachman. The man was a cheerful and agreeable soul, and now the rabbi saw that he was also curious. Still, the rabbi was wise enough to know that such a ruse could cause some trouble. Perhaps the coachman was not quite as smart as he appeared.
"My friend," he said, "you know it is not clothes that make a man, and it is not my clothing that makes me a rabbi. What if someone were to ask you to explain a difficult passage in the law? You might make a fool of yourself, and others would believe the Preacher of Dubno was no longer helpful to them."
But the coachman had thought of this. He was no scholar like the preacher, but he was no fool, and so at last he convinced the wise man to exchange clothes with him.
That night at the inn, the coachman and the Preacher of Dubno exchanged clothes, and the next morning when they rode into a village, all the people ran out to greet the great preacher. They hailed his entry into town, never knowing that the man they cheered was only a simple coachman. Then they led him to their synagogue, leaving the real preacher to follow with the horses and carriage.
Now every single resident of the village approached to shake hands with the wise man, and to say, as was the custom, "Shalom Aleichem, Rabbi."
The false rabbi was overjoyed, and basked in their attention and warmth. Then he sat down at a table surrounded by all the scholars and important people of the town. The real rabbi sat in a corner, carefully observing, hoping there would be no trouble.
"Rabbi," one of the wisest men of the village said, "I wish you would explain this passage in the Talmud that none of us can understand."
At this the true rabbi cringed. What would his imposter say? He feared they were about to be found out, and wondered how would he explain this to the scholars.
But the false rabbi, the coachman, did not flinch. Instead, he furrowed his brow and looked into the sacred text before him. In truth he could not even read, but he could pretend, and after a moment, he sat up straight and shook his head. "How could you ask such a question," he said, pretending to be surprised. "This passage is so obvious, even my coachman can explain it to you."
In this section I'd like to share a few practices which can aid us in growing and moving into states of being which are transcendent to the conventional world. However, first it is necessary to speak a bit about the contemporary confusion between morality and spiritual growth.
To begin, it is important to say that while ethical behavior is a prerequisite for growing into higher levels of consciousness and the experience of Oneness, it is also true that there is more to spiritual awakening (and religion) than morality.
Mature ethical speech and action has for centuries been conflated with a complex code or do's and don'ts, of rules and regulations. These rigid codes easily degenerate into compulsive ritualism and mindless obligations, which feed the ego. Too often people follow rules, instead of the flow of their compassionate hearts, and focus on surface appearances, rather than deeper, positive motivations.
The ritualism of religion has been ruinous for every tradition. In each, the process of decay is the same. The spiritual founder first breaks through into a fresh, ecstatic, illuminated realization, and pours forth a white-hot torrent of transformative spiritual energy. They describe their own realizations and practices which can aid others in moving toward higher states of being.
Their followers are frequently not ready or willing to do this work. "Truth decay" occurs, and effective spiritual practices become empty rituals. Descriptions of the founder's direct experience solidify into theoretical doctrines, which then ossify into rigid dogma. Deeply heartfelt spiritual sincerity disappears. Compassion-based ethics degrade into conventional moralism, which is deadening.
In the West there is a growing recognition that living spirit has died in much of conventional religions. While churches, synagogues and mosques may offer social support and the comfort of centuries-old rituals, the authentic transformative practices that awaken people have been too often been forgotten.
However, the factor of motive is the foundation of ethics, Mohammad said that, "all actions can be judged by the motives that prompted them." The deepest motive that underlies mature ethics is kindness, which has two dimensions: to be harmless and helpful.
There is a wealth of practices which can be found among all religions and spiritual paths. Before enumerating these, I'd like to focus on two with which I am familiar, which originated in the Buddhist path - mindfulness and loving-kindness. I know these to be powerfully transformative practices. As a context for these two practices, the Buddha proposed a three-tiered spiral.
Theravada Buddhist meditation focuses on three components: sila, samadhi, and panna. Sila is ethical purification: non-killing, non-stealing, non-lying, right speech, mindfulness around sexuality and intoxicants. Samadhi is concentration or one-pointedness. And panna is deep understanding and clear thinking, as well as the wisdom connected with it and the vast openness/emptiness that resides in a place beyond both thought and behavior.
To begin, we wouldn't even embark on this inner journey without a bit of wisdom. However, when we try to practice concentration, all of our clingings to the world tend to distract us - and especially our less than ethical behavior. We finally realize that we have to clean up our act so that our meditation can get a little deeper. As our meditation gets deeper, we are quieter and are able to see more of the universe, so our wisdom gets deeper and we understand more. Panna makes it easier to let go of some of our attachments, so it makes it easier to increase the sila. And the increased sila allows the samadhi to get deeper. We begin to see the way these three processes all keep inter-weaving with one another in a beautiful balancing act.
Within the Southern Buddhist tradition, there are two foundational practices
1) Seeing things clearly: mindfulness
One of the most effective tools in expanding our awareness is insight (or mindfulness) meditation. Its focus is captured by the title of Ram Dass's bestselling book, Be Here Now. This is nothing other than focusing a penetrating, present-moment attention on our actions, thoughts, emotions, physical sensations, and intentions during the course of the day.
The formal sitting meditation, performed with eyes closed, involves being fully present, exercising a non-grasping noticing, during which we pay careful attention to the river of our inner experience - without clinging, condemning, or identifying with the moment-to-moment flow of experience. Awareness of our breath is used as an ever-present anchor to which one can return when the mind wanders. This process fulfills Socrates' admonition to "Know Thyself."
I mentioned in a previous article that the Buddha spoke about cultivating specific qualities of mind. He called these "The Factors of Enlightenment." A central quality is "mindfulness." Equally important are those qualities that are called "arousing" - including energy, investigation and interest, and those called "stabilizing." The latter are described as calm, concentration and equanimity.
These can be developed during the process of meditation as well as in daily life.
Arousing factors include:
Effort or energy, which means the volition to be mindful;
Investigation - silent observation of what is happening;
and an intense Interest in the process of spiritual practice.
Stabilizing factors include:
Tranquility - quietness of mind and a feeling of deep peace.
Concentration or one-pointedness of mind is the ability to fully focus on the task at hand or on a given object (like the breath). This factor can lead to rapture or bliss.
Equanimity, includes non-attachment and balance of mind, where we are one not swayed this way and that by desire and aversion, and can weigh feelings with reason and exercise sound judgment in the face the many challenges that arise in life.[B1]
The seventh factor is mindfulness, the key to this practice. The development of this particular quality of mind aids in the development of all of the other factors. Mindfulness - noticing in the present moment - also has the function of bringing these factors into proper balance.
Using the factors of enlightenment, once can evaluate a whole range of meditation techniques and spiritual traditions. All approaches to practice may be considered in the light of the development of these seven qualities of mind. Some will develop the energy factors more rapidly or strongly. Others strengthen concentration or equanimity more quickly. Thus, other than personal preference there is no need to be overly concerned with the form of the practice or the words or style of the teaching.
Using the analogy of a roof, the Buddha said that just as all the beams slope toward the peak, so the seven factors of enlightenment lead toward awakening. The seven factors intertwine, constituting steps along the way to a culmination in enlightenment.
The key is experiencing this process for oneself - by silently and curiously looking into our mind and body. The essence is deepening our awareness. It appears that sustaining and intensifying an awareness of the present moment is a doorway to Infinite Consciousness (or if you prefer the term: God).
It is important not to confuse thinking with awareness. In younger cultures, such as ours, consciousness is equated with thinking. A more evolved understanding involves an experience beyond thought. That is, an awareness 1) which transcends, (while including our ability to utilize) discursive reflection, and 2) refers to an intuitive awareness capable of seeing things as they are, vs. being identified with thinking about them.
Ideally, the meditator balances broad, mindful awareness with concentration, which together integrate both clarity and stability of mind.
Loving-kindness meditation is a meditation on unconditional love without any expectations of receiving anything in return. This meditation involves directing thoughts of care, concern, and love towards oneself and others. It can be practiced in a meditative posture or anywhere else: sitting in a meeting, waiting in the hospital, or in any other potentially stressful situation. The following phrases, intentions, or projections of energy can also be practiced in any order that works for us (or, of course, we can choose any phrases appeal).
First bring your attention to yourself. Silently repeat the following words, with the intention of loving-kindness being sent to yourself:
May I be safe and free of danger
May I be healthy and life-affirming
May I be joyful
May I live with ease
Next bring your attention to someone you deeply love. Silently repeat the same words, with the intention of loving-kindness being sent to the person you love:
May you be safe and free of danger
May you be healthy and life-affirming
May you be joyful
May you live with ease
Now bring your attention to someone to whom you feel neutral - you neither particularly like or dislike this person. Silently repeat the same words, with the intention of loving-kindness being sent to this neutral person.
Finally bring your attention to someone with whom you have a lot of conflict, or to someone who you do not like. Silently repeat the same words, with the intention of loving-kindness being sent to this difficult person:
May you be safe and free of danger
May you be healthy and life-affirming
May you be joyful
May you live with ease
These are powerful practices for quieting the mind, increasing our ability to concentrate, and opening the heart.
Buddhism and Other Traditions
While these are from the Buddhist tradition, there are an abundance of practices aimed at transformation in many other traditions. For example:
The most well-known practice is that of prayer. I have found the following image useful: "Consider yourself as a cell in the body of God. See yourself as a unique individual and an integral part of a larger, living, conscious body - communicating with the Whole."
Sacred sounds have been used through history to attune oneself to the rhythm of the cosmos.
Contemplative prayer: the repetition of a spiritually significant word, phrase, or sentence. In the East this method is known as mantra meditation, in the West it is sometimes known a Christian Centering Prayer.
Ethical practices include: reflecting on our good deeds, telling the truth with kindness (even for one day), giving up gossip, concentrating on doing no harm, focusing on communication which heals (especially when dealing with one's own or another's unethical behavior) and making amends. Learning assertiveness.
Meditations for releasing anger and hostility:
Recognize the physical, emotional and cognitive costs of anger.
Recognize that there are many ways to communicate anger. Make every attempt to do so with honesty and respect.
Recall one's own mistakes.
Bring up thoughts of loving people.
Work to not indulge or inflame emotions by nursing feelings of resentment or gleefully plotting revenge.
Make a sincere effort to own your shadow energy: the usually hidden rageful or cruel (as well as the sublime) aspects of our own psyche.
Practice a forgiveness meditation, while making space for the awareness of grievances to arise in the process.
Be willing to take thought-full action in response to unethical behavior at any level.
See fear clearly and honestly without judging or condemning this or other difficult emotions as bad or evil. Make an effort to actually feel this emotion in your body, while remaining aware of your breath. Ask yourself questions about the fear - What is it really about? Are there other emotions it is masking?
Work to refrain from ignoring or defensively pushing painful emotions out of awareness.
Take up a non-hostile martial art, such as aikido.
Be willing to look deeply at all forms of passion, desire, and sexuality. Work to move energy from the sexual center to include the heart center. Do not deny or suppress these energies: rather, embrace them and see them clearly, without preconceptions. While allowing oneself to fully enjoy the physical and emotional experience, bring a penetrating mindfulness to the intensity of passion, which so often sweeps us up in its wake (pushing us to identify with the pleasure/gratification of "I, me, and mine") thereby reinforcing the separate ego. Practice not clinging to greed, desire, and attachment: there are many ways to do this, including offering these feelings to a "Higher Power." Over time learn to see eros and attraction as driving forces in our universe and learn to merge with these energies without ego-centric identification.
Grief - Feel it
It is a fallacy to think that just because one is on a spiritual path, that they should "rise above" or "detach" from the experience of grief in relation to loss. (See Ken Wilber's "pre/trans fallacy"). The goal of enlightenment is to become more human, not less.
Grief is a profoundly human emotion, which arises in response to loss. Whether the loss of a deeply loved person or pet - or a "societal loss" as institutions fall apart - or simply the impermanence of all phenomena - which the Buddha described as one of the marks of existence - we need to counteract our natural tendency to turn away from pain. We can learn to open to it as fully as possible and kindly allow our hearts to break. We must also take enough time to remember our losses - be they friends or loved ones passed away, the death of long-held hopes or dreams, the loss of homes, careers, or countries, or health we may never get back. Rather than close ourselves to grief, it helps to realize that we only grieve for what we have loved.
We have learned that the strong 'stiff upper lip' response to grief, which involves denial, is not an optimum strategy for dealing with the mourning period. An optimum approach to people who are grieving, including ourselves, is to give them a lot of support in grieving and let the process run its course. And that means not only the grief of the loss of a person, but the grief or loss of any dream in life; of anything in which you have invested that has been lost.
In allowing ourselves to grieve, we learn that the process is not cut and dried. It is more like a spiral that brings us to a place of release, abates for a time, then continues on a deeper level. Often, when grieving, we think that it is over, only to find ourselves swept away by another wave of intense feeling.
For this reason, it's important to be patient with the process, and not be in a hurry to put our grief behind us. While the crisis stage of grief does pass in its own time - and each person's grief has its own timetable - deep feelings don't disappear completely, although they usually fade in intensity. The way we deal with grief has a lot to do with whether or not the grief heals and strengthens us, or ends up depriving and starving us.
As the process unfolds, mourners may feel lost, alone, sad, empty, abandoned, out of touch with our hearts, without a way to comfort ourselves, separate from and/or angry at any kind of "Higher Power." Grief can manifest physically as aches and pains or cognitively as an inability to concentrate. It can close our hearts to others, challenging our relationships.
Grief around death affects everyone: the person who is dying, the caregiver, family, friends, and lovers. It can arise before death, a response in anticipation of the loss to come or to all the losses in the course of an illness - loss of health, social roles, the ability to speak or move around. Grief is not an event but a process. It is as individual as each of us and as unique as the person we've lost.
We also need to recognize that as we let go of attachments on the spiritual path, grief will be inevitable.
When we don't grieve in harmony with our deepest truth, we end up alienated from our hearts and end up with increasing cynicism about life and increasing fear: fear of future involvement; fear of risk.
Honoring the personality - and the soul
We know from Elizabeth Kubler Ross's research that common responses to loss include denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and hopefully, acceptance. These are natural reactions of the personality and need to be lived, experienced, and - difficult as they are - embraced.
Yet we exist on subtler planes of existence as well. Some of us will have an intuitive, felt-sense that there is another dimension, which is beyond our physical incarnation. Instead of judging "God" by asking, "Why have you done this to me?" we might say, "Let me understand. Give me the wisdom to understand and to grow strong through this."
There can be a gut-sense of the interconnectedness of all that is (including all beings) - and that, in our unfolding evolution, death is more like the period at the end of a sentence, where the pen will continue writing.
Some of us will have an intuitive, felt-sense that there is another dimension, which is beyond our physical incarnation. For lack of a better word, this can be called the realm of "soul." As powerful, personal and intense as grief can be, we can choose not to up-level the process, but instead to work to keep our awareness on more than one plane simultaneously or sequentially. As we develop a spiritual context and appreciate the suffering from that place, we are much more capable of handling the physical conditions even though our heart is breaking.
It is said that after the Buddha achieved enlightenment, he was asked to share his understanding for the upliftment of others. Knowing his experience was beyond words, he simply held up a flower and this gesture ignited the awakening of his disciple, Kashyapa. The event is pointed to as the origin of the Zen school of Buddhism, which is based on direct transmission "outside the scriptures, from mind to mind."
The method known as Guruyoga has been used all over the world. Classic examples include Rumi and Shams in Iran, the Reb Baal Sham Tov (from Poland) and his many disciples, Anandamayi Ma, Bhagawan Nityananda and Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, and their various devotees. A more recent example of the mentor/student relationship is that of Thom Hartmann and Gottfried Mueller.
A guru is a great teacher, a great spiritual master or mentor, someone who not only is able to teach from knowledge of the texts, but who is also able to teach us by his or her own example, being a living example of what Buddha or other great souls have taught. They will be ego-less and dedicated to the spiritual development of those who seek them out.
These are beings who have sincere love and compassion, which furthers disciples' growth and who are motivated only by wishing to help others. An essential qualification for this role: he or she has no interest in exploiting the students for money, fame, sex, love or attention.
Although rare - there are, and always have been - such beings on Earth. These are beings who have dissolved (or nearly so) the veil between the individual and cosmic consciousness. According to the writings we have, Christ seems to have been one; so, as appearances suggest, was the Buddha and Lao Tzu (or the beings who constructed the teachings attributed to him in the Tao Te Ching).
Such people possess a depth of enlightenment, a merging with the Infinite, but only the empty imprint of an ego for teaching purposes.
Difficult as it may be to believe, the most advanced are not limited by physical attributes of time and space. They represent what Maslow spoke of as "the farther reaches of human nature." They are the most evolved among us - and living examples of what we may become.
Obtaining their aid is as simple as asking. However, many of us find asking itself to be almost impossible. Some of us don't how to ask. Sometimes it is due to a lack of understanding of the spiritual power of such beings; at other times, we are complacent, arrogant, or excessively self-sufficient. At still other times our minds are so busy with confusion and distractedness that the simplicity of asking does not occur to us. A personality deficient in trust can also play a role.
What most of us need is the courage and humility to really ask for help - from the bottom of our hearts - for the compassion and visionary clarity of enlightened beings. We need to ask for healing and to understand the meaning of our suffering and how to transform it.
The word Guru-yoga means "union with the nature of the guru," and in this practice, over time, we blend our own mind with the enlightened mind of the master. The outer teacher introduces us to the truths of the inner teacher. Tibetan master Dilgo Khyentse Rimpoche says it this way:
"To make any connection with him, whether through seeing him, hearing his voice, remembering him, or being touched by his hand, will lead us toward liberation"The warmth of his wisdom and compassion will melt the ore of our being and release the gold""
Likewise, many words attributed to Jesus are a quintessential summary of guru-yoga. In the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus is quoted as saying:
"He who will drink from my mouth will become like me. I myself shall become he, and the things that are hidden will be revealed to him."
Given the depth of fear we harbor concerning letting go of the ego-illusion, its subtlety and obstinacy, having a mentor - the more liberated, the better - appears essential. While it is rare to encounter such a fully-enlightened soul, they do exist and can be found with some effort. Such a master's love and spiritual power keeps us true to ourselves, despite ourselves.
Gratitude: Embark on a day of thankfulness, rather than taking things for granted.
Remember that we are not guaranteed our next breath.
Cultivate devotion to the Source of all that is.
All of these practices and many more are aimed at thinning the illusory veil of ego by realizing non-duality, and graduating into a super-ordinary reality, embracing self and other, subject and object. The choice to walk the road of transcendence and evolution is, of course, up to each of us and the calling of our intuitive hearts.