1/10/2017

Christ's Teaching on the Breath

"The wind blows where it pleases. You hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is for everyone who is born of the spirit." (John 3:8)

If we carefully examine the details of this verse, we find that it contains Jesus' teaching on the breath as meditation.

Biblical Greek employs the same word for Breath, Wind, and Spirit. More than once, Jesus makes a wise pun on this Greek word, 'pneuma.'

The wind blows where it pleases. Your breath is moved by a mystery, not by your will. Simply noticing that your next inhalation is given, not taken, turns breathing into Grace. 

You hear its sound. Listening within, you sense a subliminal whisper in your breath, the sound that Elijah the Prophet called 'a subtle murmur of silence.' In Hebrew, this is 'qol daqah d'mamah.' 'Daqah' literally means 'finely ground or atomized.' The whisper Elijah heard was the vibration of the cosmos at the finest level of creation, where particles emerge from the vacuum. In Jewish mysticism, this sound of cosmic breath is the most holy name of God, יהוה , so sacred and interior that it cannot be pronounced aloud.

The first syllable of this Name is the inhalation, the second syllable the exhalation. These mantric syllables, 'Ya' and 'Hu,' both divine names in Hebrew mysticism, are also sacred seed-mantras in Islamic Sufism, Tibetan Buddhist meditation, and the Hindu tradition of Yoga.

Practicing what they called 'the Prayer of the Heart,' early Christian mystics found these same seed-syllables in the name of Jesus ('Jesu'), conjoining the Lord's name with their breathing to guide attention into the heart center. Their classic manual of prayer, the Philocalia, teaches that you may 'enter the heart by means of breathing: therefor, Let Jesus be your breath.' (Hesychius of Jerusalem, 5th C.)

The subtle sound that vibrates through the breath is the very Word of creation. 'In the beginning was the Word,' says the Gospel of John. This creative sound-energy is called 'shabda' in Sanskrit. A Vedic verse declares: 'Adau bhagavan shabda rasahih: In the beginning, the Lord manifested the creation through a current of sound.' Thus, like a tuning fork, the gentle sound of the divine Spirit in your own breath calls your Being back into harmony with creation's source.

But you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. The experience of creation's source is not a mere intellectual concept. This is not a philosophy, but a direct experience that conceptual thinking cannot fathom. Inhalation arises, but from where? Exhalation returns, but to where? Who is breathing you?

Though our intellect cannot grasp the abyss at the heart of creation, we taste its goodness in our breath: the absolute goodness called 'tova' in Hebrew. The refrain of the Biblical creation story is, 'God saw that it was good.' The goodness of 'tova' is no relative good, in relation to something bad. In the creation story there is nothing bad, no evil whatsoever. 'Tova' is unfathomable bliss, called 'ananda' in Sanskrit. Absolute bliss permeates every particle of creation with the goodness of God.

Thus Jesus teaches the ancient secret of the breath that we also find in the Yogic classic, Vijnana Bhairava: 'By resting awareness in the space of the heart, between the descending and ascending breaths, one experiences Bhairava, the source of creation.'

So it is for everyone who is born of the Spirit. Can we be born again, re-created through the power of the breath? As stated above, 'Spirit' also means 'breath' in the Bible. In truth, each breath we take recapitulates, in our most intimate microcosm, the cycle of cosmic creation and dissolution on the macrocosmic scale.
Breathing is death and rebirth, moment by moment. Breathing out, we abandon ourselves to dissolution in the void, merging in divine darkness, the silence that was there before God said, 'Let there be light.' When we have completely surrendered our exhalation, there is a moment of unbounded stillness before the next inhalation arises.

The point between breaths may seem momentary, but it contains eternity. This tiny dimensionless 'bindhu' ('dot' in Sanskrit) is the space where worlds are born. In Jewish mysticism it is called the 'ayin soph aur,' the point of no-thing from which light explodes into creation.
Between your exhalation and inhalation, between your inhalation and exhalation, a still spaceless dot of surrender enfolds the boundless ocean of divine energy. Here, the Spirit of God gently stirs the un-created waters of the void, an experience wonderfully described in the second verse of Genesis: 'The earth was formless and void, darkness was upon the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God hovered over the waters.'

What is the 'deep' ('tehom' in Hebrew)? Is it not the vibrant living vacuum described by quantum physicists, where all sub-atomic particles pre-exist as 'fluctuations' and 'probability waves' before they spill into material form?

Thus, by the grace of breathing and not by our own effort, a single exhalation carries us back to the source of creation, where we are 'in the beginning' with God. Then, from that ocean of living silence, the next inhalation arises as a gift. With each breath, we are created again. All that is required is to pay attention.


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