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 ?

Attention is the origin of faith- Nicephorus the Solitary, Prayer consists of attention- Simone weil

Attention is the origin of faith, hope, and love, according to to Nicephorus the Solitary, a fourteeth-century monk of Mt. Athos,

Having banished every thought from this inner talking (for you can do this if you want to). give it the following short prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me––and force it, instead of all other thought, to have only this one constant cry within. If you continue to do this constantly, with your whole attention, then in time this will open for you the way to the heart which I have described. There can be no doubt about this, for we have proved it ourselves by experience.
Nicephorus the Solitary, Writings from the Philokalia On the Prayer of the Heart, pp 33-34, Nicephorus the Solitary was a monk who lived in the 13th century, in the troubled years of the Byzantine Empire’s slow decline. He authored a brief but invaluable text of spirituality that has become a classic, On Vigilance and the Guarding of the Heart.



The French philosopher Simone Weil said,

“Prayer consists of attention. It is the orientation of all the attention of which the soul iscapable toward God. The quality of attention counts for much in the quality of theprayer. Warmth of heart cannot make up for it.”



“Usually, the human being is neither aware to what point nor in what way his attention comprises a sort of flammable substance, because it is only through it that his thoughts and imaginings may find the force to manifest themselves and subsist within him.
Without his being aware of it, his attention acts like an essential combustible material thanks to which his mind can daydream and drift wherever it pleases him—just like oil in a lamp, which supplies and keeps the wick’s flame alive !
However, the Divine Aspect in the human being, It too needs this flammable substance, his attention, to be able to bloom in his being and manifest Itself in him.”
Edward Salim Michael Spiritual Practice and Inner Awakening

Vigilance is the path to Life Eternal. Thoughtlessness is the path to death. The reflecting vigilant die not. The heedless are already dead.

Dhammapada (21)


Internationally acclaimed conductor Gustavo Dudamel continues to share his magnetic enthusiasm for music with audiences of all ages around the world. As he begins his twelfth year as Music Director of the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra, in fall 2010, he enters his second season as Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and his fourth season with the Gothenburg Symphony. Armed with unparalleled passion, energy and artistic excellence, Dudamel is dedicated to leading these orchestras, as well as to increasing his commitment to opera.

Coming from a background where being involved in music from a young age was a life changing experience, Gustavo Dudamel is devoted to investing in classical music as an engine of social change. The message of his ongoing work in Venezuela through El Sistema, which influences hundreds of thousands of children each year, is being carried now into the United States through Youth Orchestra Los Angeles (YOLA). This program for children targets underserved Los Angeles communities and continues to grow and expand under Dudamel’s leadership and that of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He is also involved in advising on pilot programs in Gothenburg, Sweden and Raploch, Scotland.

”If he attempts to grasp what happens so enigmatically in his being when he listens to certain symphonic music which conjures up in him a feeling of mystery—such as the monumental work by Gustav Holst entitled “The Planets,” or “The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian” for choir and orchestra by Claude Debussy, or “La Peri” by Paul Dukas—a refined man, endowed with acute sensitivity, will notice that an inner descent occurs in him, representing a true change of place in his being’s inner space; a change of place which will prove to be a valuable indicator of what he must try to regain during his spiritual practices.

Consequently, these great artists help listeners by the feelings of mystery that their music evokes in them, giving them, as previously said, the opportunity to be placed somewhere in their being that they never ordinarily find themselves. In fact, they cause a change of place in the inner space of the person listening to their works without his necessarily noticing what is happening within him. In this way, a great composer’s creations help mankind in a manner it could not imagine.

However, it must be emphasized that contemporary man’s intellect has developed to such a dramatic point that it has managed mercilessly to destroy any aesthetic and higher feelings in life. This phenomenon has not spared the various artistic (and even spiritual) spheres of today; it is for this reason that contemporary works of art which are created from an intellectual idea and not from an aesthetic feeling, are nothing but mere degenerate abstractions totally devoid of meaning. By abandoning tonality and the laws of harmony, symphonic music in particular has become a series of ridiculous, cold, dissonant and morbid sounds.()

When channeled, man’s attention can become a powerful instrument. It can either harm people when it is employed by someone devoid of scruples, or elevate human beings to the heights of the gods when it is used by a great artist or a saint.

It is always man’s attention which is involved in what is happening within him and in everything he does in external life—whether it be for good or bad. Only through his extremely well-developed attention does a great composer manage to produce such prodigious musical works that they uplift listeners to the point of enabling them to experience very unusual feelings which would have been impossible for them to sense otherwise—feelings which belong to a sublime world, inhabited by “Devas” (gods) and their “Gandharvas” (heavenly musicians )” .

Salim Michael : The role of Great Music in existence

El Sistema : A visionary global movement that transforms the lives of children through music. A new model for social change.

33 years ago in a parking garage in Caracas, Dr. José Antonio Abreu gathered together 11 children to play music. El Sistema was born. It now teaches music to 300,000 of Venezuela’s poorest children, demonstrating the power of ensemble music to dramatically change the life trajectory of hundreds of thousands of a nation’s youth while transforming the communities around them.

El Sistema USA is a support and advocacy network for people and organizations inspired by Venezuela’s monumental music education program. It will grow to provide comprehensive information on the El Sistema philosophy and methodology, and host a variety of resources that will aid those building, expanding and supporting El Sistema programs in the US and beyond

ebuting the Abreu Fellows Program 

The first initiative of El Sistema USA is a one-year postgraduate certificate program for accomplished young musicians and music educators who desire to become ambassadors of El Sistema and who are committed to developing the music education miracle outside of Venezuela. Housed at New England Conservatory, Abreu Fellows will spend a year studying between Boston and Caracas, and leave with the tools to return to their communities to implement the El Sistema model.

The curriculum, teacher training materials and documentation of the Abreu Fellows Program will be freely available on ElSistemaUSA.org as a resource for all to support local El Sistema programs being developed around the country and internationally.

Theodore Monod : At the end of one’s life having done nothing

“By dint of having lived one day at a time without ever having had the strength of character to decide at which moment I would devote myself to something completely, one arrives at the end of one’s life having done nothing.

Theodore Monod

I promise great and eternal things, from Imitation of Christ

The world, which promises small and passing things, is served with great eagerness: I promise great and eternal things and the hearts of men grow dull. Who is there that serves and obeys Me in all things with as great care as that with which the world and its masters are served?

For a small gain they travel far; for eternal life many will scarcely lift a foot from the ground. They seek a petty reward, and sometimes fight shamefully in law courts for a single piece of money. They are not afraid to work day and night for a trifle or an empty promise. But, for an unchanging good, for a reward beyond estimate, for the greatest honor and for glory everlasting, it must be said to their shame that men begrudge even the least fatigue. Be ashamed, then, lazy and complaining servant, that they should be found more eager for perdition than you are for life, that they rejoice more in vanity than you in truth.

Sometimes indeed their expectations fail them, but My promise never deceives, nor does it send away empty-handed him who trusts in Me. What I have promised I will give. What I have said I will fulfill, if only a man remain faithful in My love to the end.

Imitation of Christ

Swami Ramdas and Mataji Krishnabai : The aim of all religions

Swami Ramdas and Mataji Krishnabai

Surrender to God

The aim of all religions is to point out the path that leads to perfect freedom, peace, and joy. This blessed state can be realized only by the eradication of the ego-sense through surrender to God.
Divine life should flow through us, divine love should dwell in our hearts, and divine light should inspire all our activities. Therefore our heart should be attuned to His love, our intellect be illumined with His wisdom, and our body be worked at His will. This is the goal of human life.

To teach this great truth came Krishna, Buddha, Christ, and Mohammed. They declare in one voice that we can reveal the hidden Divinity in us by resigning ourselves to Him totally and dedicating our life to His service.
Mere intellectual understanding of religious truths is different from actual spiritual experience which is a matter of intimate relationship between the soul and God.
It must be understood that to love and serve God is to love and serve all beings and creatures. To realize God is to be conscious of His presence everywhere. Wherever you turn, there is His light, power, and glory.
Spiritual discipline which a man performs under the inspiration of the Divine can alone purify him and make him aware of the immortal Spirit which is God. All else is, as the saying goes, “sheer vanity and vexation.” Let us live and act as He wills for the universal good. Verily, to love and serve all constitutes true enlightenment, liberation, and peace—this is the loftiest achievement.
Swami Ramdas {TheDivine Life, pp. 370-371)


Swami Ramdas : Perfect Union with God

Yoga is the path by traversing which the individual soul realizes its real nature of immortality, omnipresence, peace, and bliss. The essential condition for the attainment of this supreme goal is the complete absence of the ego-sense. Self-control and self-discipline are the means. Yoga also signifies union with and absorption in the immortal Reality. A steady, persevering, and concentrated effort and struggle alone can lead the aspirant to the realization of the Godhead. So long as man is hankering after the pleasures of the senses, his progress on the path is slow and erratic. He must be undaunted in his endeavor and determined in his purpose. He must leave no stone unturned to subdue and eventually eradicate the impure passions of his heart and mind. A purified and enlightened bud-dhi can alone entitle the sadhaha to enter the kingdom of eternity.

Yoga is not a thing to be merely talked about, read in books, and heard through others. Yoga is for practice in life. Yoga which does not soften the heart and fill it with the pure emotion of love, compassion, and peace is not worth the name. Real concentration of mind and meditation of God in the chamber of his heart does bring about an enormous change in the devotee. His transformed life becomes a beacon light for others. Through thought, word, and deed he pours out love and bliss upon all. If not to live such a life, what use is there for a man to speak of and wish to hear of yoga ?

Work is Worship When It is Done Selflessly

Ramdas does not want anyone to lead only a contemplative life. One must also serve one’s fellow beings in a selfless spirit. “Love thy neighbor as thyself does not mean that love should only be felt in the heart. It must be shown also in action, in the form of relieving distress and rendering help in all possible ways. To serve man is to serve God. In karma yoga, work is done as worship. Then alone it gives joy. It should be clone as perfectly as possible, with great care and love and never in a slipshod, clumsy, irregular, or half-hearted way. The inner beauty must reveal itself in outer conduct.

Do not renounce work but divinize work by doing it in full submission to the will of God. Work is worship when it is clone selflessly in a spirit of dedication to God. Do not run away from the work given to you by the Divine. Do it without the ego-sense. Become willing instruments in the hands of the Divine and cheerfully do the work, without any thought of the fruits. Work, and be a detached witness of the work.

{Thus Speaks Ramdas, paragraphs 38-39

Edward Salim Michael : The Attention and its Importance

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.

Edward Salim Michael   

The Law of Attention Chp 2 The Attention and its Importance

Tenzin Palmo : Mindfulness

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.’

Tenzin Palmo

P. 169 A  cave in the snow

Gerta Ital : On the way to Satori

‘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

Father Enomya-Lassalle 

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.

Gerta Ital