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 ?
A human being’s attention is the most precious treasure he possesses. Its purpose, force, and importance in life may not be very obvious, since through long, habitual, and instinctive use it is generally taken too much for granted. (…)
On the higher planes of life, the human being’s attention plays a particularly vital role in great artistic creations and in the discovery of mathematical and scientific truths. And, on yet higher spheres, in the spiritual and mystical world, it is possible at certain moments, through another kind of attention—a vastly more conscious one—to have a special direct knowledge of the whole at the same time.
It is essential for the seeker to understand the importance of his attention in all his spiritual struggles, both in the search for the answer to the enigma of his existence and in his process of transformation.
The Sanskrit word for mindfulness is « Smirti », in Pali it’s « Sati », and in Tibetan « Drenpa » . Significantly, they all mean “to remember”. It’s what the Catholics call “being in a state of recollection”. And it’s extremely difficult.
If we can be aware for a few minutes that’s already a lot. If mindfulness is synonymous with “remembering” it follows that the enemy of awareness is forgetfulness.
We can be aware for a few short moments and then we forget. How do we remember to remember? That’s the issue. The problem is we have this tremendous inertia. We simply don’t have the habit of remembering.’
P. 169 A cave in the snow
‘The path which I travelled and which 1 have described in my narrative was a very hard and stony one. This fact should not discourage anyone else, however, for each individual is different. Nowadays it is no longer necessary for anybody who wishes to experience their own being and God within that being to take a roundabout route, nor is it necessary to change one’s religion. I never abandoned the religion which I was brought up in—in all the time I was in Japan nobody so much as hinted that anything like that was either necessary or desirable. A truee Rôshi, a true Master, lives in a state of union with the Original One and in that dimension there is simply no such thing as ‘one way to redemption’ and all dogmas are completely irrelevant. All that exists on that plane is Truth itself as living Being and a Master’s only interest is to awaken that Being within his disciples.
This path is available to everyone without exception, no matter what their religion. The only requirement is that each individual must travel the path themselves, for it is not something ready-made which can be handed out on a platter.
In what I have written about my own beginnings on the path, I have tried to give as much help as I can, showing how one ca the many difficulties which one encounters on the way, ai possible to practise on one’s own at home, without travelling to Japan. I should like to point out, however, that all attempts to ‘conquer’ that goal are doomed to failure right from the start. It is a path whihc must be be travelled without any objectives in mind. It is important to drop any ideas of success or failure or of the magnitude of one’s ‘achievement
Enlightenment is something which is available to everyone All one needs to do is follow the right path. Enlightenment itself is neither Buddhist nor Christian. It does not belong to any particular religion. It can be found in both Mohammedanism and Christianity, although it is not striven for so and specifically in these traditions as in the disciplines of Zen and Yoga. Theoretically speaking, the association with a specific religion is secondary, even though it is very unlikely that anyone without a religious motivation or the the aspiration to realize the Absolute would ever subject themselves to all the trials, difficulties and radical renunciation which travelling on this path involves.
Father Lassalle, who is a great servant of the Truth, makes it very clear that Truth, of which enlightenment is an integral part, is something which is available to everyone. But one should not succumb to the temptation to ignore what Lassalle says about the difficulties encountered on the path and the renunciation demanded of the seeker. Even so, the degree of this renunciation always depends upon the stage of development of each individual, and in practice even the most total renunciation is usually made up of a series of many small decisions which are taken individually one after the other until one’s state of renunciation is complete. For those readers who still feel that this is too much for them and that it is all very frightening I should like to quote something which Eugen Herrigel once said, both as consolation and as encouragement: ‘Even to travel a very short distance on this path is enough, enough to make one’s entire life worthwhile
And this journey towards the Absolute is a never-ending process, even for the seeker who has already travelled a long distance and experienced much. One must prove oneself again and again, both in the tests and trials of one’s everyday life and on the path of enlightenment itself. All the great Masters have spent their lives travelling from one realization of enlightenment to the next, for nothing which one attains is static—it must be deepened, understood, and experienced in its entirety, both as an undivided whole and as endless variety.
As far as I myself am concerned, my only wish is to return to my Rôshi in Japan as soon as my circumstances make it possible and to spend an extended period of time in his monastery. Just a few weeks ago I received a letter from him confirming that I am welcome to return at any time and that he is expecting me.
When 1 was a child we all had to choose a saying from the Bible as our confirmation motto. I chose a saying of St Paul’s, and looking back it seems that the words I chose then really have turned out to be a perfect motto for my life and my search:
Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before I press toward the mark . . . (Philippians 3: 13-14)
But now I ask myself, am I pursuing it, or is it pursuing me? I don’t know the answer. All I know is that ‘It’ is driving me onwards and that it always will, for there is never ever any “end.
“All things by immortal power,
Near and Far
To each other linked are,
That thou canst not stir a flower
Without troubling of a star.”
The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed. —
“How strange is the lot of us mortals! Each of us is here for a brief sojourn; for what purpose he knows not, though he sometimes thinks he senses it. But without deeper reflection one knows from daily life that one exists for other people — first of all for those upon whose smiles and well-being our own happiness is wholly dependent, and then for the many, unknown to us, to whose destinies we are bound by the ties of sympathy. A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life are based on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving…
“I have never looked upon ease and happiness as ends in themselves — this critical basis I call the ideal of a pigsty. The ideals that have lighted my way, and time after time have given me new courage to face life cheerfully, have been Kindness, Beauty, and Truth. Without the sense of kinship with men of like mind, without the occupation with the objective world, the eternally unattainable in the field of art and scientific endeavors, life would have seemed empty to me. The trite objects of human efforts — possessions, outward success, luxury — have always seemed to me contemptible.
“My passionate sense of social justice and social responsibility has always contrasted oddly with my pronounced lack of need for direct contact with other human beings and human communities. I am truly a ‘lone traveler’ and have never belonged to my country, my home, my friends, or even my immediate family, with my whole heart; in the face of all these ties, I have never lost a sense of distance and a need for solitude…”
Take it thus, that I am here in this world and everywhere. I support this entire universe with an infinitesimal portion of Myself.
By Me, all this universe has been extended in the ineffable mystery of My being;
Vigilance is the path to Life Eternal. Thoughtlessness is the path to death. The reflecting vigilant die not. The heedless are already dead.
Ninth letter to a nun.
“Let us think often that our only business in this life is to please God, that perhaps all besides is but folly and vanity. You and I have lived above forty years in religion (i.e. a monastic life). Have we employed them in loving and serving God, who by His mercy has called us to this state and that very end ? I am filled with shame and confusion when I reflect on one hand upon the great favours which God has done, and incessantly continues to do me ; and on the other, upon the ill use I have made of them, and my small advancement in the way of perfection.
Since by His mercy He gives us still a little time, let us begin in earnest, let us repair the lost time, let us return with a full assurance to that Father of mercies, who is always ready to receive us affectionately. Let us renounce, let us generously renounce, for the love of Him, all that is not He ; He deserves infinitely more. Let us think of Him perpetually. Let us put all our trust in Him : I doubt not but we shall soon find the effects of it, receiving the abundance of His grace, with which we can do all things, and without which we can do nothing but sin.
We cannot escape the dangers, which abound in life, without the actual and continual help of God ; let us then pray to Him for it continually. How can we be with Him but in thinking of Him often ? and how can we often think of Him, but by a holy habit which we should form of it ? You will tell me that I am always saying the same thing : it is true, for this is the best and easiest method I know ; and as I use no other, I advise all the world to it. We must know before we can love. In order to know God, we must often think of Him ; and when we come to love Him, we shall then also think of Him often, for our heart will be with our treasure. This is an argument which well deserves your consideration.”
Hope for Him whilst you live,
Know whilst you live,
Understand whilst you live;
For in life deliverance abides.
If your bonds be not broken whilst living,
What hope of deliverance in death?
It is but an empty dream
That the soul shall have union with Him
Because it has passed from the body;
If He is found now, He is found then;
If not, we do but go to dwell in the City of Death.
“If we ask:
who can say that they have now within themselves, at this moment, a strong unifying presence?
A strong sense of their own separate individual reality, and also a related state to everything surrounding them here.
This is exactly what we are trying for.
This is exactly what we are aiming at.
That is, an unconditional, present, conscious state.
The experience of I AM. This is our aim …”