1/22/2013

Five Milestones on My Spiritual Journey


On the occasion of my 65th birthday, I share five milestones on my path. Or rather I should say, my pathlessness. For each milestone is but a melting of the path into the goal. I was going to call this little essay, 'Five Essential Spiritual Ideas,' but the first essential spiritual idea is that there are none....

1. There Are No Spiritual Ideas. 
Spirituality is freedom from ideas. An idea can no more contain the Spirit than a cloud can contain the sky. The first and last steps on the spiritual path are exactly the same: let go of thinking.

2. There Is No Time.
This milestone on the pathless is like awakening from a dream. It is simply the realization that past and future do not exist: all is Presence.

Time is thought. Past and future only exist as neural activity in the brain. Is your brain in the past or future? That would be pretty good trick. My brain is always right here. Thank God.

I sense this miracle of Presence momentarily, but flee back into my cocoon of thought. When I have the courage to fully emerge, the Now magnifies a thousandfold in intensity. I ride the cutting edge of the wave of Now, ceaselessly electrified, never one moment old.

My neural energy was previously bound up in sustaining illusory images of past and future. When time collapses, this energy is liberated from thought and is available as Now-Consciousness. Dropping past and future, my mind not only feels lighter and clearer, but my nervous system is augmented with free energy, heightening every sensation. Ordinary living takes on color and is saturated with bliss, because so much more energy is here for alertness, sensation, and availability to others. My life is no longer siphoned off into the ghost-world of thought. The work of Presence begins.

3. Space is Awake
The next milestone: reversing the polarity between abstract and concrete. What used to be empty becomes solid, and what used to be solid becomes empty. This too is an awakening, peeling off another layer of the dream.

The so-called 'material' world now becomes the abstraction, ever dissolving, devoid of any lasting substance. Awareness itself, which used to seem abstract, now appears solid as diamond. Consciousness, not the object of consciousness, is the only concrete reality, because everything else dissolves into it. Now the very ground of being shifts from object to subject. In fact, I Am the shift. I stand not on the passing mists of this world, but on pure Awareness.

The space between events is alive, sparkling with eternity. The path between goals is self-luminous and lovely, an end in itself. Awareness, not its object, is the ground.

4. The Heart is the Center of Creation
Now a third monument on the pathless way: I realize that the only real wealth is the radiance of an awakened heart.

This is a shift of "center." All outward centers dissolve into my inward core. To love my own heart is the beginning of all true relationships.

The fire of stars, the black hole at the center of the galaxy, the Word of creation, radiate not from external points in space, or from any Creator above, but from the pulsing silence within me: quite literally my heart, beating in this human body. The heart is not only a physical organ, but a portal to the heavens.

Now I understand that every theological concept and every name of God was but the description of a possibility in my own consciousness. Vishnu, Shiva, Mother Divine, Brahman: all states of me. Father, Son, Holy Spirit; the Christ, the Comforter, the Kingdom of God: all radiant faces of my own heart. The influence of the constellations and planets, sun and moon: my chakras seeking alignment with my inward sun, through the waxing and waning of my breath.

I no longer dwell in the dark ages of mythology, astrology, or religious belief, giving away my spiritual power to heavenly ghosts, or projecting my spirit onto the stars. The universe is the expansion of my heartbeat. The light of the galaxies radiates from the blue flame burning at my center.

One photon in the tip of my little finger contains the electrical energy of the cosmos. An atom in my toe incorporates countless suns. I am astonished by the mighty chorus of creation. But this music pours not down from celestial spheres. It emanates from my depths. I experience this universal harmony not as sound, but as the silent vibration of simply being alive, right here.

5. Love Needs No Object.
The last revelation is just beginning to dawn for me. I am struggling to express it...

For eons we have assumed that in order to love there must be an object of love, and a relationship of lover and beloved. It might be another person, a spouse or child; it might be a guru, a savior, or a god in heaven; it might be a goal or project to complete. But there is someone who is the lover, and something else who is the beloved. We project this assumption into our religion, our conception of God. We assume, therefor, that God loves us and that we are the objects of his love.

But then of course, things get personal. Because God is personal, he might be disappointed in us. He might get angry or jealous. He might even want to punish us, or get a divorce.

Personal love is so limited!: first, because it confuses love with attachment. When love needs an object for its gratification, then even the most selfless and "spiritual" love becomes narrow, and quickly shifts into its polar opposite. Fearing loss of the love object, the lover becomes jealous, or possessive, suspicious, even hateful. That is why the "god" of the Old Testament becomes "a jealous god" and a god of "wrath." Wherever there is relationship between subject and object, wherever love needs an other for its object -- and it makes no difference whether the other is an "it" or a "thou", because the flaw is in the very duality of lover and beloved  -- then love's selflessness becomes self-seeking, love's scope becomes narrow.

But divine love transcends relationship. Love is absolute, not relative or relational. Love does not need to confine its heart to a lover or beloved, for true love dissolves the subject and the object, until only love remains. If I really love you, then I cannot say, "I love you." I can only say it like this:
"(I) Love (You)."
This love is cosmic and dispassionate, bathing every creature in divine intimacy without attachment, without any "me" or "mine." This love is what Jesus called "Agape". It is neither the passion of "eros" or the familiar attachment of "filios."

Relationships are just rehearsals for divine love. In the words of William Blake, "We are set on earth a little while to learn to bear the beams of love." When we are ready, we discover the truth: the glory of God is passionate dispassion, love without a lover, consuming all creatures in the uncreated fire of bliss.
___________

II. Autobiography of Nobody

In the eight grade, I awoke through some great books. I should mention them: Alan Watts' 'Way of Zen'; 'A Coney Island of the Mind' by Lawrence Ferlinghetti; the collected poems of e. e. cummings, which I immediately stole from my school library since no one, it appeared, had ever checked it out, and the poems in it filled me with ecstasy.

A little book of haiku called 'Cherry Blossoms' introduced me to the essence of Zen in the poems of Basho, Issa, Buson. Then I stumbled onto Laotzu and I knew I was on a quest for something called enlightenment. I would take these books to an abandoned grave yard in the woods and read all weekend, alone.

I heard John Coltrane and started playing the sax. I called him up on the telephone and pretended I was a "jazz man." I didn't want him to know I was only 13. I said, "I love your music. You are great." He said, "Thank you." He was kind.

This all happened when I was in the eight grade. None of it happened in school.

From the green earth I had a sense of what enlightenment was. I used to wander through the woods and fields, just listening to silence and gazing across space. When I was five I wandered far into the fields and got by boots stuck in the mud of a freshly ploughed field. The fire department came and found me standing there.

The distance from one apple bough to the wood pile, the shimmering space over a plowed field expanding to the edge of the forest, the sky punctuated by a drifting red tailed hawk: space itself seemed to be filled with living consciousness, but I had no words for it then.

I assumed that this space was God, and knew that God was formless, an intimate Presence gazing at me from every atom and every star. I knew even then that God could not possibly be a form. I loved Winter, because the spaces around twigs, between branches, over fields, stretching to the moon and stars, were so alive with emptiness. There were many moments as a child when it seemed that space was the solid substance, and the material forms that filled it were just dreams.

I escaped from Sunday School by wandering off into the forest before my parents awoke. I hated Sunday school. But in the woods, there was God shimmering between twigs, gazing back from rocks and singing in the brook. I named the forest creatures after Native American tribes: every fallen tree that gave me a bridge across Red Clay Creek, every rock, every bend in the stream had an Indian name. From a very early age, I knew over 60 tribes and where their homeland was on the continent of America.

I played Indian warrior. I killed and died over and over again, in every possible way. But the great moments were when I delivered funeral orations over the bodies of dead warrior, honoring my enemy's soul and prowess. My friends grew weary of playing with me because I would insist that, after I killed them, they must lie there a long time and listen to me deliver a funeral oration. Then they would have to deliver an oration over my dead body in the next battle. They just wanted to play, and kill, and die. I wanted us to give funeral orations.

In 7th grade, I tried to get into the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, because I was forced into Confirmation classes. But it didn't work. Prayer, I realized, could not be read out of a book. It had to emanate from my own breath. One day after Church, I was out on the green lawn gazing at thunderheads in the deep blue sky of April. I realized in a flash what the Holy Trinity really was. I understood that it had nothing to do with Church.

God is the blue sky father. The Spirit is the green earth mother. The Son is their offspring, Me. A human body is the link between sky and earth, and each of us is the offspring of Sky and Earth. The Holy Trinity is our family, Father, Mother, and Child. I laughed at how obvious this was, and how ridiculous adults were, making it so complicated. I had nothing but disdain for priests and ministers who preached sermons that turned the sparkling sky, the barefoot tingling earth, the glory of this human body, into a frozen system of beliefs.

Years later, in seminary, I remembered this experience and swore I would never be ordained as a priest or minister, for we are all priests, all offspring, all Christs in the Holy Trinity. That is when I became a Quaker.

Spending three years at Princeton Seminary made it very clear that I would never find fulfillment in orthodox religion. The reason was simple: Christian orthodoxy is based on stories from the past and promises for the future, but it leaves the present moment devoid of significance. That is why I followed the way of the mystics, not the theologians.

I went to Europe on a quest for the Christian mystical experience, through contemplative prayer and Gregorian chant, wandering through France, following the Medieval pilgrimage roots. I've shared this story in a post here: 'Searching for the Magdalene' (LINK). I've also shared my attempt to understand the meaning of Christ's incarnation and sacrifice in the Christmas story, The Magi (LINK).

My path became more formal when I started Transcendental Meditation in college, then became a teacher after my personal study with Mahesh Yogi. I have never stopped the practice, never needed another type of meditation. It's been that way for over 40 years. My life energy is also enhanced by the Sudarshan Kriya, the healing breath technique taught by Maharishi's one-time disciple, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. My many personal encounters with Sri Sri, including his stay in my house in Philadelphia, gave me invaluable openings and incalculable gifts of Grace.

I can truly say, he is my Guru. On a summer night, a mall group of us were sitting with him in a field under the full moon. We were singing kirtans, and weeping, because it was his last night with us before he returned to India. This was in 1990. I watched him dance into the mist and disappear, dance out of the mist, reappearing in his white veil, then disappearing again into the moonlight darkness. He was teaching us that form and formlessness are no different. He was saying what Christ said to Mary in the garden at dawn on the morning of the Resurrection: "Do not cling to me."

Once when I was meeting with him alone in his room, I told him, "Guruji, you have something we want. What is it?" He said, "No, I've gotten rid of it. You're still carrying it."

Then I asked him, "Who are you, really?" He looked at me with intergalactic eyes of boundless love and said, "I am nobody." He meant it. That is when I knew he was my Guru. It has taken me another 25 years to understand what he meant.

But this spiritual autobiography does not deal with events and places. It simply highlight the inner milestones of realization on my pathless path. I leave you Five Milestones on the Pathless Path.

Jai Guru Dev

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