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 ?

Edward Salim Michael : Hidden Influences Emanating from Beings and Things

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.

The Law of Attention chap 32

Yamada Mumon Roshi : when I see the moon, the moon is I

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.

Gerta Ital : Sudden Enlightenment

Unfortunately, most people who have decided to start working on themselves are usually too impatient.

They want to see ‘successes’ as soon as possible, otherwise they feel that Heaven hasn’t taken note of their efforts.

It is a strange paradox: nobody objects to the long years of training and study which are necessary for most professions (in the case of academic professions this period of study never really ends), nobody finds it strange that famous actors, writers and artists have to sacrifice their lives to their vocations, but everyone seems to expect instant success on the spiritual path, which is the most difficult and arduous undertaking in the world. It is extremely important to nip such wildly unrealistic expectations in the bud, for they present a very serious obstacle to progress.

A frequent objection raised at this point, even by very well-educated people, is that ‘one often reads that it (enlightenment) happens terribly suddenly, just like that, even in the case of children…’

It is important to point out that what is often described as ‘sudden enlightenment’ in Zen literature is not something which is ever attained suddenly, or even quickly, not even in the case of children who become enlightened. It is always the result of hard, untiring spiritual work, in many many incarnations.

Not even the Buddha of our age, Gautama, was an exception to this rule. Even in his last incarnation he had to devote many lonely years of struggle and unbelievable sacrifice to ascetic exercises and meditation before he could attain the perfect, cosmic enlightenment which finally made him a World Teacher.

Bodhidharma, who brought Buddhism to China from India in the year a.d. 520, and who lived a life of almost inconceivably strict asceticism himself, made no bones whatsoever about the discipline necessary on the path. When Eka, a very wise and scholarly monk who was later to become his successor came to him for instruction, under exceedingly difficult circumstances, Bodhi­dharma is reported to have said the following words to him:

The incomparable doctrine of Buddha can only be understood after a long and hard training, through bearing that which is hardest to bear and through the practice of that which is the hardest to practice. People of limited virtue and wisdom whose hearts are shallow and full of self-conceit are not capable of realising the truth of Buddha. All the efforts of such people are certain to be wasted and worthless.

There is no end to the examples one could cite of the extreme hardships which the great Chinese Masters, and the Japanese Masters who were to follow them, voluntarily bore for the sake of their great goal. But even such examples, legion though they may be, are not enough to convince those who stubbornly cling to the occasional reports of ‘sudden enlightenment’, and who are not capable of understanding that such breakthroughs can only be the culmination of endless years of rigorous spiritual discipline. This discipline is an absolute precondition, there is no way around it.

If this were not the case there would be nothing to prevent the fortuitously enlightened individual from leading a dissolute and worldly life, for he would not have the maturity which one needs in order to be able to cope with the ultimate experience.

Even after their enlightenment all the great Masters have lived very simple, strictly ascetic lives. Nor is it enough to dive into the sea of enlightenment once only, and then never again. After the first experience of enlightenment the connection with Eternal Wisdom must be refreshed every day thereafter, in order to ensure that it is never ever broken, not even for a single day. This does not mean that the actual moment of ‘contact’ with the Original Source, something which only takes place after a long period of incredibly strenuous and sincere spiritual exercises, is repeated again and again; it simply means that the seeker’s connection with this eternal and absolute plane of Being must be deepened and made more complete and perfect by daily meditation.

It is only through this ceaseless process of deepening one’s connection with the Absolute that one is able to become, and remain, a vehicle for ‘That’, or ‘It’. The objective is not one’s own happiness and bliss but to create a stage on which ‘That’ can manifest Itself in this world, no matter how small that stage may seem to be in relative terms. Becoming a vehicle for the Absolute means that although one still thinks, one is no longer the thinker, and although one still acts one is no longer the doer. The confidence and detachment from worldly matters which are associated with this state of consciousness are something which can only be fully understood by those who are themselves in the same state.

Gerta Ital – On the way to Satori

Renunciation is an inner state of Mind – Swami Ramdas

So sannyas, or any other method of approach to God, employed by various seekers of Truth, is only a means by adopting which the soul seeks liberation from the thralldom of lust, greed, and wrath, and experiences the fullness and glory of its integral spiritual life and being. It is not by mere external renunciation that one attains God. There are so many who have externally renounced and gone to the forests, but have not realized Him. It is not necessary that one should externally renounce anything. It is not the outer condition that matters so much as one’s inner state of mind.

If we dedicate our life to God and live in His light, it does not matter where we live. We can live in the family and still realize Him, because God is everywhere and not only in the forests and caves. He is in us, with us, and all about us. To seek Him, we need not go anywhere. The examples of Buddha, Chaitanya, and Vivekananda are not for all to follow. They are rare cases in which God made them renounce the external ties also, so that they might freely serve all mankind. When God wants us to undertake such a glorious mission, by all means, let us not resist the current when it comes to sweep away our narrow limitations. Sri Krishna and Janaka, in their lives, have shown that even for the work of loka sangraha, the normal duties of life that fall to our lot need not be abandoned. To attain moksha for oneself, willful breaking off from external ties is not at all necessary.

Schopenhauer : remain as a pure subject to grasp the eternal form

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It is a cliché, perhaps, but so true. It can spring up around any street corner and find its way into ordinary objects in our everyday lives, provided we are receptive. A simple flower, a tree that only yesterday was completely unremarkable because we were preoccupied with other issues, suddenly evokes an overwhelming aesthetic sense

As the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) put it so eloquently, at such times we consider “neither the place, nor the time, nor the why, nor the purpose of things, but quite simply and purely their essence”; we do so because we then allow “neither abstract thought nor any principle of reasoning to clutter our conscience; instead, we turn all the power of our mind toward intuition.” Schopenhauer went on to argue: “When we are completely engrossed by it and our conscience is filled by a natural object, be it a landscape, a tree, a rock, a building, or anything else; … the moment we forget our own individuality, our own will, and we remain as pure subject, as a clear mirror of the object, in such a way that everything happens as though the object existed in and of itself without anyone being able to perceive it, when it is impossible to distinguish between the object and intuition itself, when they both merge into a single entity, a single conscience completely filled and dominated by a unique and intuitive vision; in short, when we sever all ties with will: that is when what we grasp is no longer any particular thing in its individuality but, rather, the idea, the eternal form.”

from Chaos and Harmony: Perspectives on Scientific Revolutions of the Twentieth Century  by Trinh Xuan Thuan

Chaos and Harmony by Trinh Xuan Thuan

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It is a cliché, perhaps, but so true. It can spring up around any street corner and find its way into ordinary objects in our everyday lives, provided we are receptive.

A simple flower, a tree that only yesterday was completely unremarkable because we were preoccupied with other issues, suddenly evokes an overwhelming aesthetic sense.

As the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) put it so eloquently, at such times we consider “neither the place, nor the time, nor the why, nor the purpose of things, but quite simply and purely their essence”; we do so because we then allow “neither abstract thought nor any principle of reasoning to clutter our conscience; instead, we turn all the power of our mind toward intuition.”

Schopenhauer went on to argue: “When we are completely engrossed by it and our conscience is filled by a natural object, be it a landscape, a tree, a rock, a building, or anything else; … the moment we forget our own individuality, our own will, and we remain as pure subject, as a clear mirror of the object, in such a way that everything happens as though the object existed in and of itself without anyone being able to perceive it, when it is impossible to distinguish between the object and intuition itself, when they both merge into a single entity, a single conscience completely filled and dominated by a unique and intuitive vision; in short, when we sever all ties with will: that is when what we grasp is no longer any particular thing in its individuality but, rather, the idea, the eternal form.”

from Chaos and Harmony: Perspectives on Scientific Revolutions of the Twentieth Century by Trinh Xuan Thuan

Are Nirvana and samsara one ? Huxley, the Perennial Philosophy

That nirvana and samsara are one is a fact about the nature of the Universe; but it is a fact which cannot be fully realized or directly experienced, except by souls far advanced in spirituality. For ordinary, nice, unregenerate people to accept this truth par hear-say, and to act upon it in practice, is merely to court disaster.

Nature and grace, samsara and nirvana, perpetual perishing and eternity, are really and experientially one only to persons who have fulfilled certain conditions. Fac quod vis (do what you want) in the temporal world — but only when you have learnt the infinitely difficult art of loving God with all your mind and heart and your neighbour as yourself. If you haven’t learnt this lesson, you will either be an eccentric or criminal or else a respectable well-rounded-lifer, who has left himself no time to understand either nature or grace. The Gospels are perfectly clear about the process by which, and by which alone, someone may gain the right to live in the world as though he were at home in it: he must make a total denial of selfhood, submit to a complete and absolute mortification…/

The Pharisees reproached Jesus because he ‘came eating and drinking,’ and associated with ‘publicans and sinners’; they ignored or were unaware of, the fact that this apparently worldly prophet had at one time rivaled the physical austerities of John the Baptist and was practising the spiritual mortifications which he consistently preached. The pattern of Jesus’life is essentially similar to that of the ideal sage, whose career is traced in the ‘Oxherding Pictures,’ so popular among Zen Buddhists.

The wild ox, symbolizing the unregenerate self, is caught, made to change its direction, then tamed and gradually transformed from black to white. Regeneration goes so far that for a time the ox is completely lost, so that nothing remains to be pictured but the full-orbed moon, symbolizing Mind, Suchness, the Ground. But this is not the final stage. In the end, the herdsman comes back to the world of human, riding on the back of his ox. Because he now loves, loves to the extent of being identified with the divine object of his love, he can do what he likes; for what he likes is what the Nature of Things likes. He is found in company with wine-bibbers and butchers; he and they are all converted into Buddhas.

For him, there is complete reconciliation to the evanescent and, through that reconciliation, revelation of the eternal. But for nice ordinary unregenerate people the only reconciliation to the evanescent is that of indulged passions, of distractions submitted to and enjoyed. To tell such persons that evanescence and eternity are the same, and not immediately to qualify the statement, is positively fatal – for, in practice, they are not the same except to the saint; and there is no record that anybody ever came to sanctity who did not, at the outset of his or her career, behave as if evanescence and eternity, nature and grace, were profoundly different and in many respects incompatible.

As always, the path of spirituality is a knife-edge between abysses. On one side is the danger of mere rejection and escape, on the other the danger of mere acceptance and the enjoyment of things which should only be used as instruments or symbols.

The versified caption which accompanies the last of the ‘Ox-herding Pictures’ runs as follows:
Even beyond the ultimate limits there extends a passage-way,
By which he comes back to the six realms of existence.
Every worldly affair is now a Buddhist work,
And wherever he goes he finds his home air.
Like a gem he stands out even in the mud,
Like pure gold he shines even in the furnace.
Along the endless road (of birth and death) he walks sufficient unto himself.
In all circumstances he moves tranquil and unattached.
…/
It is in the Indian and Far Eastern formulation of the Perennial philosophy that this subject is most systematically treated. What is prescribed is a process of conscious discrimination between the personal self and the Self that is identical with Brahman, between the individual ego and the Buddha-womb or Universal Mind. The result of this discrimination is a more or less sudden and complete revulsion of consciousness, and the realization of a state of no-mind which may be described as the freedom from perceptual and intellectual attachement to the ego-principle.

To achieve it one must walk delicately and, to maintain it, must learn to combine the most intense alertness with a tranquil and self-denying passivity, the most indomitable determination with a perfect submission to the leadings of the spirit.

If an eye never falls asleep,
all dreams will cease of themselves;
Il the Mind retains its absoluteness,
the ten thousand things are one substance.
(The Third patriarch of Zen)


Gerta Ital : Sudden Enlightenment

Temple Zen week 47-2012

Unfortunately, most people who have decided to start working on themselves are usually too impatient. They want to see ‘successes’ as soon as possible, otherwise they feel that Heaven hasn’t taken note of their efforts. It is a strange paradox: nobody objects to the long years of training and study which are necessary for most professions (in the case of academic professions this period of study never really ends), nobody finds it strange that famous actors, writers and artists have to sacrifice their lives to their vocations, but everyone seems to expect instant success on the spiritual path, which is the most difficult and arduous undertaking in the world. It is extremely important to nip such wildly unrealistic expectations in the bud, for they present a very serious obstacle to progress.

A frequent objection raised at this point, even by very well-educated people, is that ‘one often reads that it (enlightenment) happens terribly suddenly, just like that, even in the case of children…’

It is important to point out that what is often described as ‘sudden enlightenment’ in Zen literature is not something which is ever attained suddenly, or even quickly, not even in the case of children who become enlightened. It is always the result of hard, untiring spiritual work, in many many incarnations.

Not even the Buddha of our age, Gautama, was an exception to this rule. Even in his last incarnation he had to devote many lonely years of struggle and unbelievable sacrifice to ascetic exercises and meditation before he could attain the perfect, cosmic enlightenment which finally made him a World Teacher.

Bodhidharma, who brought Buddhism to China from India in the year a.d. 520, and who lived a life of almost inconceivably strict asceticism himself, made no bones whatsoever about the discipline necessary on the path. When Eka, a very wise and scholarly monk who was later to become his successor came to him for instruction, under exceedingly difficult circumstances, Bodhi­dharma is reported to have said the following words to him:

The incomparable doctrine of Buddha can only be understood after a long and hard training, through bearing that which is hardest to bear and through the practice of that which is the hardest to practice. People of limited virtue and wisdom whose hearts are shallow and full of self-conceit are not capable of realising the truth of Buddha. All the efforts of such people are certain to be wasted and worthless.

There is no end to the examples one could cite of the extreme hardships which the great Chinese Masters, and the Japanese Masters who were to follow them, voluntarily bore for the sake of their great goal. But even such examples, legion though they may be, are not enough to convince those who stubbornly cling to the occasional reports of ‘sudden enlightenment’, and who are not capable of understanding that such breakthroughs can only be the culmination of endless years of rigorous spiritual discipline. This discipline is an absolute precondition, there is no way around it.

If this were not the case there would be nothing to prevent the fortuitously enlightened individual from leading a dissolute and worldly life, for he would not have the maturity which one needs in order to be able to cope with the ultimate experience.

Even after their enlightenment all the great Masters have lived very simple, strictly ascetic lives. Nor is it enough to dive into the sea of enlightenment once only, and then never again. After the first experience of enlightenment the connection with Eternal Wisdom must be refreshed every day thereafter, in order to ensure that it is never ever broken, not even for a single day. This does not mean that the actual moment of ‘contact’ with the Original Source, something which only takes place after a long period of incredibly strenuous and sincere spiritual exercises, is repeated again and again; it simply means that the seeker’s connection with this eternal and absolute plane of Being must be deepened and made more complete and perfect by daily meditation.

It is only through this ceaseless process of deepening one’s connection with the Absolute that one is able to become, and remain, a vehicle for ‘That’, or ‘It’. The objective is not one’s own happiness and bliss but to create a stage on which ‘That’ can manifest Itself in this world, no matter how small that stage may seem to be in relative terms. Becoming a vehicle for the Absolute means that although one still thinks, one is no longer the thinker, and although one still acts one is no longer the doer. The confidence and detachment from worldly matters which are associated with this state of consciousness are something which can only be fully understood by those who are themselves in the same state.

Gerta Ital – On the way to Satori

Jack kornfield : The 2 Essential truths