A most essential question
What convergence is there between the journey of the ascetic Tibetan yogi Milarepa and that of the little-known great French mystic of the Seventeenth Century, Madame Guyon ? between Ramana Maharshi and the famous sufi Al-Hallaj ? What is the common denominator between these extraordinary beings who, in such apparently dissimilar ways, climbed the rungs leading to the ultimate realization ? Is it not a question of the greatest importance, to conjecture about what is essential and what is of incidental value, about what is truly the core of a practice and what relates to a cultural context and epoch ?
The Reality that came to me is profound and hard to see or understand because it is beyond the sphere of thinking. It is sublime and unequaled but subtle and only to be found by the dedicated. Majjhima Nikaya
Just as space reaches everywhere, without discrimination, just so the immaculate element, which in its essential nature is mind, is present in all. Visuddhi Magga
The truth is noble and sweet; the truth can free you from all ills. There is no savior in the world like the Truth.
Have confidence in the Truth, even though you may not be able to understand it, even though its sweetness has a bitter edge, even though at first you may shrink from it. Trust in the Truth.
The Truth is best as it is. No one can alter it, neither can anyone improve it. Have faith in the Truth and live it.
The self is in a fever; the self is forever changing, like a dream. But the Truth is whole, sublime and everlasting. Nothing is immortal except the Truth, for Truth alone exists forever. Majjhima Nikaya
The development of integrity and of true being, therefore, is indispensable for the seeker in his spiritual quest.
If he gives a promise he must keep it—no matter how hard it may be for him. He must constantly be wary of any unconscious lying, dishonesty, or inaccuracy, either to himself or to others. He should watch over his thoughts, his speech, and his way of being with people.
He must try to be as honorable and as sincere as he can, both with himself and with all those with whom he has dealings. He has to learn to have compassion for everyone with whom he comes into contact, because he never knows what profound hidden pain and worry this person may be carrying in him. He must become aware of the fact that, in one way or another, all beings suffer.
If, right from the start, moral values do not develop along with his inner spiritual work, then the seeker can be absolutely sure that his struggles will not bring him the true spiritual comprehension and unfolding he is seeking. His misdirected efforts may even accentuate and crystallize his undesirable tendencies, making them yet more difficult to eradicate later.
Fidelity to oneself also means fidelity to others; what one would wish for oneself, one must wish for others too. If a person does not want to be robbed of his happiness, he must not rob others of theirs either. The seeker must begin this spiritual work with the clear understanding that there is nothing in the universe that is not part of the whole. And if each thing is part of the whole, then there is only the One. All beings and everything in the world, as well as all the planets and stars, are parts of the Divine Universal Being in the same way as one’s head, neck, arms, trunk, legs, internal organs, and blood cells are part of the whole of oneself. Whatever harm is done to the one, the whole will inevitably suffer, sooner or later.
That is why there is so much insistence throughout a greater part of the text that follows on moral values and sincerity of being.
The Law of attention (chp Introduction)
What is of primary importance for an aspirant on this path is to learn to get away from his habitual state of being, the ordinary state into which he constantly falls each time after he has made the vital effort to rise and be connected anew to his Inner Source.
This habitual condition of being—or rather of not being and of not sensing himself—in which the human being generally passes his entire life is the very dragon in him to be overcome and transformed.
If a seeker can really see and understand what takes place in him every time the mists of this strange inner death descend upon him and mysteriously swallow up the awareness he has of his existence, he will have gained a further precious insight into himself and found a weapon with which to combat the enigmatic problem of his self-forgetfulness .
This difficulty can thus be used by a wise aspirant as an additional means to rise spiritually. Each time he catches himself flattering or disliking someone, saying something unkind, being untruthful, or even playing a certain role with people, if he follows up the source whence all these have sprung, he will generally find it to be a form of wrong self-consideration.
This will, in turn, be an alarm signal for him to realize the immediate need there is to try to disengage himself from the grip of his inferior state of being and of feeling himself into which he has once more sunk. The aspirant will find that, each time he makes a genuine effort to redirect his gaze inwardly to dwell in the silence of his true abode, he will at that moment begin to experience a state of pure and uninvolved impersonal awareness.
In this state, there will be neither the time nor the place in him for personal consideration or anything else arising from his lower nature.
Edward Salim Michael The Law of Attention chap 5
For all its problems, uncertainties, and pains, life as it is affords the human being the indispensable and only means of learning right and noble conduct, and with the chance to sublimate himself through these very difficulties.
After death, the conditions necessary for his transformation will no longer be there. Without these harsh trials, it is ordinarily impossible for a human being to evolve to higher planes, just as it is impossible for a glittering pot of gold to come into being if it has not passed first through fire.
Can someone become a high officer by merely once seeing such an officer ? He may become one if he strives and equips himself for the position. Similarly, can the ego, which is in bondage as the mind, become the divine Self, simply because it has once glimpsed that it is the Self ?
Is this not impossible without the destruction of the mind ?
Can a beggar become a king by merely visiting a king and declaring himself one ?
Similarly, unless the bond of the mind is cut asunder by prolonged and unbroken meditation, ‘ I’ am the Self, the Absolute,’ it is impossible to attain the transcendental State of Bliss, which is identical with the annihilation of the mind.
Ramana Maharshi (Teachings of Ramana Maharshi
As in a game of chess, the dying person sees at that fateful moment how every one of his actions unleashed a chain of events that made his life what it was as well as the turn it took, whether fruitful or sterile; he also sees in what manner and to what extent he was responsible for it all.
The hidden motives that had been behind everything he said and did, the effect that his actions had on his surroundings, the damage done to others in satisfying his desires, and the lost opportunity to do something worthwhile with the gift of his life will all become clear to him at that momentous second. If his life and energies were not spent in the quest for enlightenment and spiritual unfolding, he will be seized with a profound feeling of remorse. He may well wish he had lived and acted differently—but it will then be, of course, too late.
Just as sleep can be a welcome friend and the necessary means to a sometimes much-needed rest and recuperation from all the turmoil, worries, and cares of the previous day, so it is with the last stages of death. The deceased person’s past life becomes little by little very distant and hazy—in the same way as the memory of the very early years of one’s existence on Earth becomes indistinct as one grows into an adult—until at last it is buried in the catacombs of his unconscious, with all the manifold experiences and different tendencies he has accumulated through the repetition of certain actions and what his main interest in life was, all of which await to sprout again in the future, in one manner or another, for good or for bad.
Cyclic recurrence is indispensable in the Universe for the human being to gather the necessary experience he needs to his understanding of things and especially of life itself. If there were only one day and one night in the whole Universe, after which this day and this night would disappear forever into total nothingness, one would suffer a sort of strange psychological death, making it impossible for one to comprehend what day and night are. It would—in a very particular way—not even be possible to realize that they had had any existence, let alone to try to conceive the least notion of their significance.
It is the perpetual renewal of the four seasons, or the continual return of the day and night, that gives them their sense, thus enabling the human being—albeit at the limit of his present understanding—to perceive the Cosmos and Creation in a certain light that would otherwise be impossible for him. Through these incessant repetitions, an opportunity is afforded him to discover important facts concerning the laws that govern the Cosmos—discoveries through which he may one day understand the hidden mysteries behind the Universe and his life on an altogether higher level.
Had there not been in the human being, concealed somewhere in the innermost depths of his consciousness, a secret memory of the repetitions of his life, with a vast wealth of varied experiences already stored in the recesses of his being, he would not have been able to turn his thoughts to the more lofty questions of the Universe, its enigmatic laws and hidden meaning. Equally, it would not have been possible for him to discover and accomplish the remarkable things that he did in so many different fields as, for example, in the arts, where the sublime and sometimes astonishingly complex yet wonderfully logical music that some unusual beings have been capable of creating in a seemingly miraculous way leaves the listener utterly speechless and plunged into profound wonderment, as much at the extraordinary mathematical truth it seems to impart as the exalted sentiment it so mysteriously arouses in him.
If there were only one life for the human being—without the hidden knowledge already in him of its possible recurrence, or at least continuity in some other form—and his existence really stopped forever after his physical death, he would spend his unique life in a state, so to speak, of curious mental obscurity as to the purpose and meaning of his sojourn on Earth, with little or no incentive in him for wanting to live and for wanting to learn anything. Moreover, when he died everything—including whatever knowledge he might have acquired during his single existence—would mysteriously die with him, vanishing forever in an invisible land of total oblivion. All the experiences he so painfully gathered in his one solitary life would have been for nothing. For there would no longer be the possibility of putting into practice the harsh lessons learned from them, both in the service of the Divine and for his own inner growth and spiritual unfolding.
Eighth Letter: Concerning Wandering Thoughts in Praye
You tell me nothing new; you are not the only one that is troubled with wandering thoughts. Our mind is extremely roving; but, as the will is mistress of all our faculties, she must recall them, and carry them to God as their last end.
When the mind, for want of being sufficiently reduced by recollection at our first engaging in devotion, has contracted certain bad habits of wandering and dissipation, they are difficult to overcome, and commonly draw us, even against our wills, to the things of the earth.
I believe one remedy for this is to confess our faults and to humble ourselves before God. I do not advise you to use multiplicity of words in prayer; many words and long discourses being often the occasions of wandering. Hold yourself in prayer before God like a dumb or paralytic beggar at a rich man’s gate. Let it be your business to keep your mind in the presence of the Lord. If it sometimes wander and withdraw itself from Him, do not much disquiet yourself for that: trouble and disquiet serve rather to distract the mind than to recollect it; the will must bring it back in tranquillity. If you persevere in this manner, God will have pity on you.
One way to recollect the mind easily in the time of prayer, and preserve it more in tranquillity, is not to let it wander too far at other times. You should keep it strictly in the presence of God; and being accustomed to think of Him often, you will find it easy to keep your mind calm in the time of prayer, or at least to recall it from its wanderings.
I have told you already at large, in my former letters, of the advantages we may draw from this practice of the presence of God. Let us set about it seriously, and pray for one another.
from The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
To whatever person or object an aspirant, either consciously or unconsciously, allows his thoughts to drift and dwell upon, he is unknowingly connecting himself to that person or object. By so doing, he will subtly begin to receive certain impressions and feelings from these thoughts that will affect and color his being to a greater or lesser extent, depending on how strong these thoughts are. These will, in turn, influence and affect his spiritual practice or inner growth for good or bad, according to whether these impressions and feelings are of a positive and elevating quality or a negative and perturbing nature.
If he is sensitive enough and sufficiently observant, he will not fail to perceive that the impressions he receives from other people—whether it be through direct contact with them or by merely thinking of them—will undoubtedly produce in him sentiments conforming to the manner in which he was secretly acted upon and influenced by the prominent characteristics, temperament, level of being, and particular vibrations emanating from these people at the time when he first came into contact with them, or when he later invisibly linked himself to them with his thoughts (not forgetting also the particular inner state in which he was himself when he initially received these impressions and which contributed to the manner in which they acted upon him).
If someone behaved very unkindly to a friend, the latter’s feelings will have sustained a deep hurt, leaving a trace that may not depart from him for some time—or may not heal at all but remain there, gnawing at him throughout his entire life. Unless he has the strength to cut short the memory of this emotional wound, he will keep turning around this unpleasant experience and reliving it over and over again in his mind, with his feelings becoming ever more colored by the distressing sensation this event provoked in him. It may eventually give rise in him to an indelible feeling of resentment and ill will, with perhaps even a hidden desire for vengeance.
All this will also—even from a great distance—inevitably touch and mysteriously affect the being of the man or woman who inflicted this grievance upon him. Furthermore, each time the thoughts of the person who caused this hurt upon his friend casually turn back to his old acquaintance, he will, without knowing it, connect himself even more strongly to him and will secretly receive, and be influenced by, all the thoughts and pained emotions that have so far emanated or may still be emanating from his embittered friend. These will subtly perturb and evoke in the former troubled feelings, the true cause of which will in all probability escape his understanding.
Unless he has already spent some time doing meditation, various other spiritual practices, and self-study to realize the need for him to go to his hurt friend and offer him his humble apologies for the suffering he has caused him, thus releasing his friend as well as himself from the invisible and unfavorable bond he created between them, he will almost certainly attribute his troubled state solely to climatic, health, or other reasons. What people are generally not able to conceive is that, by knowingly or unknowingly thinking of someone or something, they are connecting themselves to that person or thing in an ordinarily incomprehensible manner. This will, in turn, start them off being impregnated with imperceptible suggestions and sentiments that they receive from that person or thing, stealthily coloring the different planes of their being either favorably or unfavorably.
When an aspirant’s thoughts go out to and dwell upon a particular religious figure—a Buddha or a great saint—it will indisputably start evoking in him subtle suggestions and feelings of a sacred nature corresponding to the particular religious figure (the Buddha or the great saint) to whom his thoughts reached out. He will not be able to help receiving any promptings and sentiments other than those that are connected to a holy state.
Sitting in zazen, I become nothing and everything become nothing, that is to say I and everything melt into One. So when I see a flower, the flower is I, when I see the moon, the moon is I. All things become I. There is no greater love than this.