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 ?
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.
I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was staying near Rajagaha in the Bamboo Grove, the Squirrels’ Sanctuary. Then the brahman Akkosaka Bharadvaja heard that a brahman of the Bharadvaja clan had gone forth from the home life into homelessness in the presence of the Blessed One. Angered & displeased, he went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, insulted & cursed him with rude, harsh words.
When this was said, the Blessed One said to him: “What do you think, brahman: Do friends & colleagues, relatives & kinsmen come to you as guests?”
“Yes, Master Gotama, sometimes friends & colleagues, relatives & kinsmen come to me as guests.”
“And what do you think: Do you serve them with staple & non-staple foods & delicacies?”
“Yes, sometimes I serve them with staple & non-staple foods & delicacies.”
“And if they don’t accept them, to whom do those foods belong?”
“If they don’t accept them, Master Gotama, those foods are all mine.”
“In the same way, brahman, that with which you have insulted me, who is not insulting; that with which you have taunted me, who is not taunting; that with which you have berated me, who is not berating: that I don’t accept from you. It’s all yours, brahman. It’s all yours.
“Whoever returns insult to one who is insulting, returns taunts to one who is taunting, returns a berating to one who is berating, is said to be eating together, sharing company, with that person. But I am neither eating together nor sharing your company, brahman. It’s all yours. It’s all yours.”
Whence is there anger
for one free from anger,
tamed, living in tune —
one released through right knowing,
calmed & Such.
You make things worse
when you flare up
at someone who’s angry.
Whoever doesn’t flare up
at someone who’s angry
wins a battle hard to win.
You live for the good of both
— your own, the other’s —
when, knowing the other’s provoked,
you mindfully grow calm.
When you work the cure of both
— your own, the other’s —
those who think you a fool
know nothing of Dhamma.
When this was said, the brahman Akkosaka Bharadvaja said to the Blessed One, “Magnificent, Master Gotama! Magnificent! Just as if he were to place upright what was overturned, to reveal what was hidden, to show the way to one who was lost, or to carry a lamp into the dark so that those with eyes could see forms, in the same way has Master Gotama — through many lines of reasoning — made the Dhamma clear. I go to the Blessed One for refuge, to the Dhamma, & to the community of monks. Let me obtain the going forth in Master Gotama’s presence, let me obtain admission.”
Then the brahman Akkosaka Bharadvaja received the going forth & the admission in the Blessed One’s presence. And not long after his admission — dwelling alone, secluded, heedful, ardent, & resolute — he in no long time reached & remained in the supreme goal of the holy life, for which clansmen rightly go forth from home into homelessness, knowing & realizing it for himself in the here & now. He knew: “Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for the sake of this world.” And so Ven. Bharadvaja became another one of the arahants.
Samyutta Nikaya – Brahaman Samyutta SN 7.2
(Akkosa Sutta : Insult translated from Pali by Thanissaro Bikkhu°
Tierno Bokar was a Sufi, a spiritual guide, sage and teacher. He lived in the first half of the twentieth century.
“In relation to one another,” he said, “humans are comparable to walls located facing one another. Each wall is pierced by a multitude of small holes where white birds and black birds are nested. The black birds are bad thoughts and bad words. The white birds are good thoughts and good words. Because of their form, the white birds can only enter into holes for white birds and the same for black birds who can only nest in holes for black birds. Now, imagine two men who believe they are enemies of each other. Let us call them Yousef and Ali.
One day, Yousef, persuaded that Ali wishes bad for him, feels full of anger for Ali and sends him a very bad thought. In doing this, Yousef releases a black bird
and at the same time liberates a corresponding hole. His black bird flies towards Ali and looks for an empty hole adapted to his form to nest in. If, from his side, Ali has not sent a black bird towards Yousef, that is, if Ali has not emitted any bad thought, none of his black holes will be empty. Finding no place to lodge itself, Yousef’s black bird will be obliged to return to its original nest, taking with him the evil which he was burdened with, an evil which will end up eroding and destroying Yousef himself.
But let us imagine that Ali too has emitted a bad thought. By doing this, he has liberated a hole in which Yousef’s black bird will be able to enter in order to deposit part of his evil and accomplish there his mission of destruction. During this time, Ali’s black bird will fly towards Yousef and will alight in the hole freed up by Ali’s black bird. Thus, the two black birds will have obtained their goal and will have worked to destroy the men whom they were each destined for.
But once their task is accomplished, the birds will each return to their nest of origin because, it is said: ‘Everything returns to its source.’Since the evil they were burdened with is not exhausted, this evil will turn against their authors and will end up destroying them. The author of a bad thought, of a bad wish, or of an ill-spoken word is therefore attacked by both the black bird of his enemy and by his own black bird when this latter returns to him.
The same thing happens with white birds. If we emit only good thoughts towards our enemy, whereas the enemy only addresses bad thoughts to us, the enemy’s black birds will not find any place to lodge themselves with us and will return to their sender.
As for the white birds who bear good thoughts that we have sent to him, if they find no free place with our enemy, they will return to us charged with all the beneficial energy which they are carrying.
Thus, if we emit only good thoughts, no evil, no ill-spoken words can ever reach into our being. That is why one should always ask for blessings on both one’s friends and one’s enemies. Not only does the benediction go towards its objective to accomplish its mission of pacification, but also it comes back to us, one day or another, with everything with which it is laden.
This is what the Sufis called “desirable egoism”. It is the valid Love of Self, likened to respect for oneself and for one’s neighbor because every man, good or bad, is the depository of a part of the divine Light. That is why the Sufis, in conformity with the teaching of the Prophet, do not want to soil either their mouth or their being by bad words or bad thoughts, even by apparently benign criticisms.”
from : Teaching Stories from Tierno Bokar
Gathered and Rendered into English by Jane Fatima Casewit
Some testimonies are particularly strong, like this boy remembering of a young american pilot during the second world war, and Barbro Karlen, whose testimonie about Anne Franck is more than troubling.
There exists only the present instant… a Now which always and without end is itself new. There is no yesterday nor any tomorrow, but only Now, as it was a thousand years ago and as it will be a thousand years hence.
“ The beginning, in which God created heaven and earth, is the primary simple now of eternity … exactly the same ‘now’, where Himself exists eternally, where also the progress of the divine persons [of the Trinity] eternally was, is, and will be.
“ God could not have created the world earlier, because earlier than world and time there was no ‘earlier’.”
“ Dedication to prayer, to fast, to vigils and to all sorts of external exercises and mortifications, dedication to whatever work, denies you the freedom to serve God inside this present now and to follow Him, Him alone, in the light in which He guides you what to do and what to leave – in each now free and new, as if you had not, nor wanted, nor could do anything else.”
When one succeeds in staying focused, there is an outcome. But this outcome can only be achieved when I lose my ordinary individuality as I know it usually… Edward Salim Michael gives some important clues for meditation.
“Especially important is the idea which some people have that after death there is just voidness, nothingness. This view is fundamentally wrong.
The heart of the Lord Buddha and those of all the Arahants who have got rid of the kilesas which would otherwise lead them into birth and death, have hot been annihilated and reduced to nothing. They simply do not go wandering about searching for a place to be reborn; in contrast to the hearts of all others who have kilesas, which are the seeds that lead them to further birth and death.
The hearts of the Lord Buddha and the Arahants are still their hearts, but they are in the state of Nibbana without remainder (Anupddisesa-nibbana) of those who have completely got rid of all their kilesas.
“There are various ideas such as: after death there is just nothingness; there is no such thing as evil; there is no such thing as merit; there is no such place as hell; there is no such place as heaven; there is no such state as Nibbana.
All of these are doctrines taught in the textbook of the kilesas that rule the Triple Universe. Having mastered these doctrines, the kilesas use them to govern the hearts of all living beings.
No matter how severely they oppress living beings, they are not in the least afraid or concerned that anyone will dare to challenge their authority. Because their schooling is good and up-to-date, people accept it fully without reservations. All the knowledge that is learned from the textbook of the kilesas is bound to be knowledge which wipes out the truth of Dhamma. For example, the truth of Dhamma shows us that after death one is born again, whereas the knowledge which comes from the textbook of the kilesas teaches the opposite, that after death one is annihilated. In a similar way, Dhamma teaches that evil exists, merit exists, the hells exist, the heavens exist and Nibbana exists, whereas the teaching of the kilesas immediately denies all of them by teaching that the opposite is true.
(Kilesa : the mental defilements based upon greed, hate and delusion.)
Arahant : One who attains the ultimate state of Nibbana).
This is very strange.
I start to see so many things differently, I find that less and less is certain; and I have to begin to understand this possibility of inner doing without interfering with anything.
It is only by inner work that any real development is possible. But then, in spite of all we have been offered, the impulse to activate almost seems to have resolved into a deeply passive state. This is a very dangerous state, because it means that the concept of work has become for us. for me, something stupefying, and in that state, one is unable to remember.
It’s like Mr. Micawber just waiting for something to turn up. Waiting for something to turn up; waiting for enlightenment to strike me. Mr. Gurdjieff spoke once about someone who could not be bothered to do anything: he even expected roasted pigeons to fly into his mouth.
So. in the ordinary way. we all expect that. We forget that we came here just to learn how to “do”. And this refers to inner doing – that is the “doing” which is available to us. and without which we shall remain passive, becoming ever more and more comatose.
I see. then, that it is quite useless to listen with my mind only. I must have this higher part of my mind which I have experienced. I must have that related to my sensation and my feeling – and then, with that balance, be available to whatever is.
George Adie from “A Friend Remembered in his own Words”
“Motionless like the light of a lamp in a windless place is the controlled consciousness (free from its restless action, shut in from its outward motion) of the Yogin who practises union with the Self.
That in which the mind becomes silent and still by the practice of Yoga: that in which the Self is seen within in the Self by the Self (seen, not as it is mistranslated falsely or partially by the mind and represented to us through the ego, but self-perceived by the Self, swaprakasha), and the soul is satisfied.
That in which the soul knows its own true and exceeding bliss, which is perceived by the intelligence and is beyond the senses, wherein established, it can no longer fall away from the spiritual truth of its being.
That is the greatest of all gains and the treasure beside which all lose their value, wherein established he is not disturbed by the fieriest assault of mental grief.
It is the putting away of the contact with pain, the divorce of the mind’s marriage with grief. The firm winning of this inalienable spiritual bliss is Yoga; it is the divine union. This Yoga is to be resolutely practised without yielding to any discouragement by difficulty or failure (until the release, until the bliss of Nirvana is secured as an eternal possession).
Abandoning without any exception or residue all the desires born of the desire-will and holding the senses by the mind so that they shall not run to all sides (after their usual disorderly and restless habit), one should slowly cease from mental action by a buddhi held in the grasp of fixity, and having fixed the mind in the higher Self one should not think of anything at all.
Whenever the restless and unquiet mind goes forth, it should be controlled and brought into subjection in the Self.
When the mind is thoroughly quieted, then there comes upon the Yogin stainless, passionless, the highest bliss of the soul that has become the Brahman.
Thus freed from stain of passion and putting himself constantly into Yoga, the Yogin easily and happily enjoys the touch of the Brahman which is an exceeding bliss.
The one whose self is in Yoga, sees the self in all beings and all beings in the self, he is equal-visioned everywhere.
He who sees Me everywhere and sees all in Me, to him I do not get lost, nor does he get lost to Me.
Chapter VI, 19-30