5/13/2017

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' meditation teaching on the breath.

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, 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 hymn of Genesis 1, 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 same ancient secret of the breath that we 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. Each breath we take recapitulates, in our intimate microcosm, the cycle of cosmic creation and dissolution.
Breathing is death and rebirth, moment by moment. Breathing out, we abandon ourselves to dissolution in the void. We merge in divine darkness, the silence that was there before God said, 'Let there be light.' Completely surrendering through our exhalation, we enter a moment of unbounded stillness before the next inhalation arises. Yet this moment is permeated by eternity.

This tiny dimensionless 'bindhu' ('dimensionless 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 irradiates creation.
Between exhalation and inhalation, between inhalation and exhalation, a spaceless silence encapsulates the boundless ocean of divine energy. And this tiny bindhu is the real 'Noah's ark,' carrying us through the waters of dissolution into the next creation. In Sanskrit symbolism, it is called 'Hiranyagharba,' the 'Golden Egg' that floats between creations on the sea of silence. Cosmic energy is concentrated in this golden point until it is born again as the next universe.

These mythologies not only describe a macrocosmic dissolution and re-creation, but the intimate rebirth that happens in each of us through our breathing. There is an ocean of silence between each breath, where the Spirit of God stirs the un-created waters of the void with a gentle breeze. The second verse opening verses of the Bible wonderfully describe this experience: 'Earth was formless and void, darkness was upon the surface of the Deep, and the Spirit (Breath) of God hovered over the waters.' 

What is 'the Deep'? ('Tehom' in Hebrew) Is it not the vibrant 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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