One is so attached to the light of joy that joy becomes dry, with a brittle smile.
Another prides herself on embracing darkness, and becomes so heavy she drowns in it.
Truth is neither light nor darkness, joy nor sorrow, but the sparkling clarity of pure awareness.
Truth is Awakened Space, not the content within it.
Whether thoughts are light or dark, whether emotions are joyful or sad, these are merely the content of awareness, not awareness itself, which is ever boundless and transparent.
When the space of truth awakens, that space itself becomes as solid as a polished diamond, while the forms that arise and dissolve within it are like a mirage, an evaporating mist.
Once truth is realized as the space whose vastness is independent of its content, there is nothing to grasp and nothing to resist. The continuum of pure awareness simply pervades all experiences, whether sorrowful or joyful, light or dark.
And since there is nothing to resist, awareness ever expands. The quality of boundless expansion is ananda, bliss.
Spacious ever-expanding bliss is the actual nature of Being, which is never limited or contained by the forms of joy and sorrow, darkness and light.
Bliss cannot be practiced, embraced, or remembered. It is the sheer grace of existence, this very moment.
What will you do? If you do anything, you are grasping, and truth will get away. If you don't do anything, you are resisting, and will never find it.
But if a way opens to dissolve the do-er, then there is a possibility that the sky will find you somewhere in the beauty of its vastness, just where you already are!
The final goal is to wake up before the journey begins. Silence is the wildest adventure.
Friend, let your heart be open, which simply means, refrain from closing it. For the ever-deepening adventure of silent awakening requires the courage of an open heart.
Be grateful for the gift of Mantra. Mantra is a Sanskrit term meaning, "vehicle for the mind." The term combines "mannas" (Sanskrit for mind) and "tra," (Sanskrit root of the suffix, "tron"). As an electron is the vehicle for electricity, so the mantra is a vehicle to carry the mind inward, through subtler strata of energy, until awareness merges in its silent source, which is unbounded universal consciousness.
A living mantra cannot be learned from a book or picked up in a casual conversation. Then it is just a hollow shell, an echo. The mantra must be ignited from that very inner source to which it guides the mind. It must be a "chaitanya" mantra, a living seed. This ignition happens at initiation, under the auspice of a guru.
Westerners give little credence to initiation, as there is no correlate for initiation in modern culture. But once there was. References to mantra initiation abound among both Christian and Jewish Gnosticism. The Nag Hammadi library of the early Christians, and classics of Jewish Kabbala such as the Sepher Yetsirah and the Book Bahir, expound the ancient science of mantra. Christian and Jewish mystics practiced Mantra, "the way of the divine Name." But in our modern culture, words have lost their mantric quality, and have become mere information: abstractions without energy.
Our media revel in mere words, with no attention to the energy that words may carry. Very few of our words are charged with consciousness.
Intellectuals write PHD theses and give lectures. Authors publish thousands of texts and articles. The news media churn out words by the millions. We spend much of our day in chatter and gossip. But how many of these words actually transform our awareness, or heal our bodies?
A mantra is a different kind of word, directly related to the Word of creation. A Vedic text declares, "Adau Bhagavan shabdha rasahi: In the beginning, the Lord first manifested the universe through a stream of sound." The Upanishads assert: "In the beginning was the syllable Om. All that was, is, or ever will be, is created through the sound of Om." The first verses of John's Gospel echo the Upanishads: "In the beginning was the Word... all things were created through the Word." Modern physics also recognizes that the universe is all vibrating energy, in a resonance of fields emanating from the silence of the vacuum.
The practical application of "creation through the Word" is the science of mantra. Through the effortless mental refinement that happens when we meditate with a chaitanya mantra, our physiology is also refined. The mantra is a vibration as substantial to the body as to the mind. Attuned to the healing resonance of the mantra, every nerve and atom in this body resonates to a singularity, which is like an inward star. This luminous vibration may be experienced in the forehead, the crown, the throat, the abdomen, or the heart, wherever in the body healing is needed.
The inward tuning fork of mantra harmonies the complex symphony of our physiology into one luminous chord, which we experience as samadhi, the bliss of pure consciousness.
Gratitude to Guru Dev for the gift of the mantra!
Zen Master Jesus gives us this koan: "Watch and pray." (Matthew 26:41)
Like all koans, it is a paradox, for one cannot watch and pray at the same time. He seems to ask the impossible, because the silent Witness who rests as pure awareness does not ask God for anything.
But Jesus is pointing the way to a deeper kind of prayer, one that does not ask, but watches. This prayer is its own answer, because in awakened silence, no question arises.
How could questions arise from hollow naked Being? In the silent inner garden of the Witness, there is no movement of thought. Jesus loves us to rest here with him, beyond asking.
But our Sabbath rest in the heart's hollow is neither passive nor devoid of love. It is a dynamic repose. How can I explain this? I can't, but I will try.
Awareness free from thought meets no limit, no resistance, no conception or desire, in a stillness that widens without effort to encircle the earth, the sun and stars. What is the flavor of motionless expansion?
The ever-opening blossom of emptiness fills all, encompasses all, unites all. And what unites is compassion. The fruit of silence is love.
This is how a fountain of active love springs from the wordless prayer of the witness. This is how compassion springs from dispassion. This is how light is born of darkness, waves of stillness, Christ of Mary's womb.
The mind sees a world in crisis. But the crisis is the mind. If we see through a shattered lens, everything appears shattered. Let us heal our sight.
Have you ever meditated on your eyes?
We are always streaming through our eyes. But do we ever take a few moments to rest in our eyes: not flowing outward toward the world, nor inward toward the mind, but resting in the liminal space, where seeing is empty, without seer or seen?
Through the portal of the eye, the energy outside presses in as a dancing chaos of light. Simultaneously, through that same gateway, we project our mind outward, organizing the light we see, superimposing onto its radiant chaos the forms that correspond to our desires, anxieties, and old stories.
The mind exits. The world enters. Yet we never notice the space of the doorway, the transparency of our own eye. We don't linger to look at what is looking.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, "The eye is the light of the body. If your eye is single, at one, your whole body will be filled with light." We like to abstract Jesus' sayings as moral concepts. We make mind-trips out of his words, instead of experiencing their roots in the spiritual heart of matter. But what if we took Jesus' words as instructions for meditation on the body, in the body? What if we became "single and at one" with our own eye?
Now, instead of streaming through your eyes, stop and rest in them. Remain in the space of pure beholding, without beholding any-thing. Sink deeper and deeper into the hollow cavern of your eyeball, neither going outside to form a world, nor upstairs to process light into thought. Let your eye be "single," resting in the clear emptiness of its own window.
Be utterly effortless. Notice the relaxation in the facial muscles, which we unconsciously strain by our seeking. We have been translating this strain into the world we see. Now, resting the eye in its own luminosity, the strain melts away, because no outer form need be imagined. This relaxation spreads through our whole face, creating a natural smile, and then through all the muscles of the body. Are we relaxing our world too?
As we feel this relaxation in our muscles, we feel peace in the mind, because there is no need to form concepts and mental images. As the "single eye," mind melts into its original nature, the pure blue sky of awareness without thought.
On the subtlest level of sensation, where light-waves become photons of flesh, we feel the bliss of an edge-less expansion, permeating the body, vibrating beyond the body. For when light rests in itself, new light is created, sparkling through the vacuum of awakened space.
At the sub-nuclear level of energy, finer than the quark, what is our body actually made of? Particles of bliss. And what are these particles of bliss made of? Pure awareness, ever expanding in stillness.
Awareness itself is the substratum, the continuum, that permeates the cosmos. And awareness effortlessly, ceaselessly expands because, at the finest level, it encounters no boundary or resistance. We are here, and we are everywhere. It is this paradox of dynamic expansion in stillness that we experience as ananda.
A few minutes of meditation relieves much stress, and transforms the way we see the world.
Very light of very light, vast cathedral dome of sight, self-illuminated mosque, starry empyrean of the eyeball: kneel here. Rest awhile. Venture neither out nor in, and every cell of flesh will bow down with you.
Repose in the bliss where seeing blossoms before anything is seen, and your whole body will be filled with light.
If you prefer to listen rather than read, you are invited to hear this on SoundCloud: LINK
There is an inner fire, cool as moonlight yet more powerful than the sun. It burns away sleep, inertia, and unhappiness. This fire is subtle. Just as the husk, the peel, and rind sheathe the sweet juice of the fruit, so the outer layers of body, breath, and mind cover and disguise the divine fire.
The kiss of the Guru's presence ignites the fire. Meditation sustains it.
Immersed in the separate "I," clinging to notions of "individuality" and "independence," many disdain the Guru. Inflated intellects pass from lifetime to lifetime in slumber, like gnats dreaming they are elephants.
But this little "I," with its sense of separateness, grows so dry and thorny that it finally rouses the soul: just as thirstiness, or a bad dream, rouses us from sleep.
No longer fearing humility, the famished seeker falls down at the feet of a Master. Then the Master teaches the soul to dive deep into the ocean of meditation.
When a true teacher awakens the fire of Shakti, those flames pulse through every nerve, gently burning away the boundaries of awareness, even while glorifying the veils of perception for the sake of love's dance. That is why it is not necessary to abandon the body in order to become infinite.
Liberation is not bound by outward circumstance, by material form, or by the mind. We don't need to escape them. These veils simply become luminous and transparent to divine Love. The light of Love does not destroy our boundaries, but pervades them. The lover no longer needs to seek freedom in a political utopia, the illusion of wealth, an esoteric doctrine, or in pompous sophistries of non-duality such as, "I am not this body." The unity of Love dances in duality.
Radiant ananda, sparkling bliss, permeates each particle of flesh, each petal of breath, dissolving clouds of thought into the vast blue sky of awareness, and the "I" itself becomes a wave of joy, playing in the sea of God.
This is why we say, "Jai Guru Dev": all gratitude to the Master.
Photo by Paramax, Deviant Art
"Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. 'Couldn't you keep watch with me for one hour?' he asked." ~Matthew 26:40
At precisely 4:22 A.M. my work is listening: a thrush in the darkness, a frog in the wetland. Their duet.
At 4:22 A.M. I need the earth to be just as it is, so that I may keep watch, so that I may witness my strange, familiar, lovely, terrible world, my sorrow and pain, my aloneness and unspeakable wonder, embrace it all, forgive it all.
Don't you need your life to be unequivocally as it is right now?
I promise I will not improve you or reform your world, because you need it to be 4:22 A.M. But I will stay, if you like, and keep watch with you.
I vow not to be your 'life coach' or 'spiritual teacher.' I vow not to interfere with this moment, the unique opportunity for you to embrace the consequence of all your choices in their sum total, then let it go and be free.
For how else but in this hot-mess of karma, and from all these little fragments of disaster, randomly fallen precisely where thy ought, might you re-member and complete yourself?
In reality, all that seems capricious occurs with impeccable necessity at the right moment, so that you may unfold, through the playfulness of time, the eternal miracle of your Being.
I vow to remain awake with you. But no more than this. Won't you remain awake with me? It is true service.
Now come out in the wet grass and take off your shoes, for wherever we stand is holy ground. Just before dawn, it is early, not late. We will watch over one another. We will let the mind of yesterday and tomorrow dissolve into Presence. This is love.
Listen to the thrush and frog. Listen to the wind and chimes. Listen on behalf of those who sleep. Listen with all the silent stars, who also watch and pray.
Humanity has reached a moment of crisis and decision: Whether to become one human family, filled with unique individuals; or revert to tribalism, obsessed with the ethnic and racial separateness of our group identity.
When our population was low, and clan loyalty preserved isolated communities, tribalism had survival value. But reverting now would be a disaster for the whole earth. We must spiral into a new stage of evolution, not circle backward.
'Spiral' is the archetype of DNA, the galaxy, and human consciousness. Spiraling means that we do not break from the past, but assimilate the lessons of the last cycle, carrying them into a richer complexity of individuation.
I Am not my clan, my nation, or my race. I Am who I Am.
What is the most intimate touch?
To touch someone with your body may be intimate, or it may be an act with no intimacy at all.
To truly touch someone with the mind may happen at a great distance, yet it may be far more intimate than the touch of the flesh.
But to touch someone through deep stillness, to touch someone through pure silence, is the deepest form of intimacy, that can change a person forever. This is how the Master touches the heart.
A raindrop falling on a fern blade. The warm sun burning gently, patiently, through a chill morning mist. The cry of the sparrow just before dawn, when the darkness seems abysmal, a cry that touches the heart of meditation at its core, awakening the mystery of love.
And that love is intimate, blue as the sky around the green earth, yet inwardly piercing to the core of the soul.
When your heart, and the space that contains the stars, become one and the same vastness, intimacy is complete.
If anyone says, "I am awake," they lie. Or perhaps they have become nobody. Because nobody awakens.
In the morning, we awaken from night dreams into another kind of dream, the dream of "me" and "the world out there." For a few graceful moments, we may float in the ocean of turiya, pure awareness, beyond waking, dreaming and deep sleep. But almost immediately the "I" rushes back in, with all the obligatory burdens of yesterday, to shut down the vast innocence we really are. When yesterday's mind returns, we see the world through a glass darkly, a window clouded by the illusion that the seer is separate from the seen.
Who awakens? If the answer is "me," then there was no awakening, only a transfer from one dream to another. But when the Second Awakening happens - not just waking from sleep, but waking from the dream of "me" - there is no separate mind left to declare, "I am awake." The universe is awake.
The mountains have awakened. The sky has awakened. The sparrows have awakened and they are singing about it. The grass has radiantly awakened to green about it. Stones and pebbles in the dust awake and shout. But none of them shout "I." Their language is not heard. It is a vast poem of silence, where "I" have become pure listening, every speck of dust a galaxy of consciousness, the distant stars intimately close. There is no other.
It is good to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, heal the sick... but the greatest service you can perform for others is to acquaint them with themselves; introduce them to who they really are; awaken the ocean of radiance that lies hidden in their own awareness, just beneath the thin gray clouds of worry and desire. This is the supreme seva, because awakening not only transforms who they are, it transforms their whole world.
The Great Initiation of human birth bestows on us the priestly garment of flesh, anoints us with the oil of pleasure and pain, and opens the temple of holy sensation, where we offer every perception back to its original radiance.
How many devas and angels await their moment of initiation, when they will fall from the heavens to take human birth on this planet of roses and thorns, this vale of milk and tears? For only here can they awaken pure awareness through the contrast of opposites.
Here we gain liberation from the flesh by the very flavor of it. "Taste and see that the Lord is good!" sings the Psalmist. Shakespeare writes, "Eternity was in our lips and eyes." And Zen founder Dogen tells us, "Those who gained enlightenment through seeing blossoms or hearing sounds, attained it through the body."
Awareness cannot awaken in paradise, where poppy fields pour forth their bliss in one somnambulant continuum. We birth awareness in bewilderment, amid earthly contrasts, every moment a startling paradox, a contradiction of matter and spirit, breaking chains of judgment and expectation.
Never ask, "What difference have I made?" The earth was transformed just by your being here, just by your breathing here, just by holding it in the palm of your awareness for a little while, in the warm space of your heart, before you laid it gently in its nest again. What did you whisper to the world, that it grew such star-drenched rainbow wings?
Each sensation is a portal to eternity. Our eyes, ears, nostrils and tongue are ancient spiritual practices bestowed at the Great Initiation: the moment of human birth. In no other world are such profound practices entrusted to the spiritual seeker.
Your niece is a caterpillar. Your cousin is a butterfly. Your unborn children are the glittering treasure that got scattered over the Milky Way when a fragile boat called Name-and-Form foundered in the waves of no-self.
One nucleotide in your little toe is bigger than your mind. You claim membership in this tribe, that race, this nation, that Faith. But your DNA belongs to the planet, embraces the whole human family, plus many other species, not just citizens of the Earth, but star kin!
Stop thinking so small. Stop shrouding your soul in veils of either/or black/white left/right east/west spirit/flesh.
O mind, listen to the music of your ribosomes, your protons, quarks and gravity waves, because every dot and bindhu of your body contains all the information in the cosmos.
You could be caroling from the green glow of your all-entangled heart. You could be singing all night about your glory, down in the moon-glittered swamp, with Great Uncle Tree Frog.
Terrible acts of violence, breaking out in unexpected places, from unlikely people, with no apparent reason. Is the world going mad?
No, the world is getting subtler - manifesting a more inward level of our own consciousness. The dense outer shell that we've been calling "the physical plane," or the "earth," is now dissolving into the astral, where our most powerful images and feelings are stored. For some people, this dissolution of matter into a subtler realm of consciousness is so confusing, they cannot tell whether they are in a dream or waking, whether their acts are happening inside them or outside. They are the ones who act out this violence.
There has always been violence. The lower astral plane is a realm of passion, full of beauty and terror, romance and cruelty. It is where our most powerful emotions are linked to intense imagery. That realm and this physical world are part of the same spectrum of energy, and the two realms are fusing on the spectrum. Things that used to be acted out inside, as fantasy, wis,h or dream, are now manifesting in the external realm. The veil between the worlds is very thin.
This means that the deeper cause of the world's violence is interior, not in the earthly realm. Therefor the solution to the problem must also be interior. It will not do much good to redesign the world's economic systems and political institutions, because the violence is pouring forth from the emotional plane of energy, particularly where those emotions are linked to intense images.
So the solution is the bring peace and stability to the lower astral field of human emotion by generating vibrations of compassion, joy, and gratitude. Uplift human consciousness wherever you can by focusing on Beauty. Bring Beauty into your awareness, your thoughts, your feelings. Radiate Beauty.
Before we can vibrate this peace to others, we must repose in the authentic non-violence of our own heart: not a concept of non-violence, or a discipline, or a hope, but the direct experience of who we really are. We are each a field of immensely powerful peace. But we do not experience this essence because our awareness is distracted by stressful images from the past and projected images of the future. The more we attach powerful emotions to these images, the more we feel the need to act them out in order to discharge the negative energy.
Practice: the Inner Work of Healing the Outer World
The solution to this dilemma is definitely NOT to keep repeating the stories of the past, and projecting them into future, in the childish delusion that, by telling the story over and over again, it might finally get a different outcome!
The solution is to DE-LINK the emotion from the story, DE-LINK the feeling from the image. Let the story and its images go, then sink into the feeling itself, the raw emotional energy, without labeling it. This stress can be released in the present moment, as pure energy; but it will never be released if we pack it into the images of a story and pretend that it is in the past.
As soon as we de-link the emotion from the image, the emotion becomes available as living consciousness, heightened awareness, and limitless possibility. The energy no longer has to be tasted as fear, or anger, or sorrow: it is free to be used in any way we choose, and its essential nature is bliss.
Thus we transform our negative emotions into bliss, first by delinking them from the images of the past, then by feeling them as present energy in the body.
The body is not a barrier to spiritual liberation. The body is the field of liberation. For it is precisely as sensation in the body, directly embraced at the present moment, that ancient karmas of anger, depression, lust and greed, get dissolved.
And this dissolution of emotional stress in our own energy-body automatically dissolves the stress in the atmosphere around us, healing others too.
Remember that, though we appear separate as physical bodies, in subtler levels of the energy spectrum we are waves in one vibratory field. Our thoughts and emotions interpenetrate.
It is most important at this time to practice meditation, to meet in satsang, to chant together in healing-sound gatherings, and unite hearts in moments of deep silence. This "work" will do more to generate harmony in the field of human consciousness, and thus eliminate violence in the world, than any other form of action.
The world is not healed by our anxiety, anger, or sorrow about it? The world is healed from deep within the heart, when we repose in the causeless Radiance of joy.
Om shantih shantih shantih!
The first discipline of non-violence is to see human beings as absolutely unique individuals. The root of violence is to regard ourselves as groups. It is easier to kill a category than a Person.
I am neither white nor black, rich nor poor, capitalist nor socialist, Eastern nor Western, Christian nor Pagan. I am neither good nor evil. I am Me.
If you wish to superimpose a general category, a group identity on me, that is your act of violence against my soul. You are free to label me. But I am also free: I don't have to identify with your labels.
The greatest step we can take toward world peace is to meet as embodied souls, each absolutely incomparable, freed from every racial, political, economic, or religious abstraction.
"Not every wanderer is lost." ~Tolkien."Now if you’re lost enough to find yourself…" ~Robert Frost
Today our nation seems plagued with Xenophobia: fear of foreigners. Xenos is Greek for alien. Yet in ancient times, xenos was not a term of derision, but a sacred word. Indeed, the fundamental law binding civilization together was the law of hospitality, the welcoming of perfect strangers. "Do not oppress the alien, for you have the heart of a stranger, you yourselves were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 22:21)In Leviticus 23 we hear this law hospitality made tangible as food: “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field... Leave some for the poor and for the alien residing among you.” Be a little sloppy in your harvest. Or a little extravagant in paying taxes...The Hebrew word for alien, “gur”, is central to Biblical community. In Jesus’ time too, refugees from surrounding nations wandered through Palestine, uprooted and literally "dirt poor." They were called, Yom ha’Eretz, "People of the Land." Jesus not only ministered to them, he identified with them. In the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, Jesus tells his disciples, "Be a wanderer.” And he certainly was: “Foxes have dens, birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20)In the Greek world, from the dawn of literature, we hear the same call to embrace the wandering alien. In Homer’s Odyssey (1:145), Telemachus welcomes a homeless beggar: “Greeting, stranger, here in our house find royal welcome. First eat and drink, then tell us your story.” Who is this stranger in disguise? Athena, Goddess of civilization.The Greeks remind us that God is “Zeus Xenios,” God of Strangers. Homer writes, “The God of Strangers guards all guests: for strangers are sacred.” Likewise, a Hindu proverb declares: “Athithi devo bhava,” the stranger is God. In Persian tradition, when a stranger knocks, one greets them with the words, “Mehman habibe khoda ast,” the guest is God's friend.Christian scripture advises us, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers; for thereby some have entertained angels unaware.” (Hebrew 13:2) And Hebrews 11:13 declares, “We confess that we are strangers and pilgrims on the earth.”Confessing this, we embrace the immigrant as the image of our own liminality. The word liminal is from the Latin "līmen," meaning threshold. It describes the disorientation we feel moving through a rite of passage, or crossing a border from one world to another. Descending from the mount Sinai, Moses set up the tabernacle of God’s law in the Tent of Meeting. There the wandering tribe would gather for guidance. Wherever these nomads camped, they set up this tent containing the Arc, not at the center of their encampment, but at the edge, on the borderline of wilderness! Later, God called Jesus and the Prophets to that liminal borderland to hear “the voice crying in the wilderness.”Tibetan Buddhism calls this borderland the "Bardo," between death and rebirth. But the Bardo can be any transition to a new expanded life. We must all identify with the immigrant, for we all pass over borders, Bardos, to become fully human. As life-pilgrims we are vulnerable, yet vulnerability is our strength: the very glue that bonds us as a covenant community.Most Americans come from immigrant stock. But in the deeper sense, we’re all wayfaring strangers. What does it mean to be "a soul"? It means that we witness the world as other. The very power of consciousness is a celebration of otherness and alienation. Our creative life is a longing to overcome this alienation, to touch the other, to touch the earth. Consciousness is estrangement. Yet that very estrangement is the source of love. Our love is consciousness reaching through its estrangement to atone, to be at-one.Immigration reform begins with Self-Knowledge. Who is not a stranger in a strange land, looking for work? Our true work is serving our fellow traveler, hand in hand, helping each other cross border after border on our way to the boundless heart.Xenophobia? Yes, some Americans fear the stranger. Because the homeless wanderer is the very image of our own pilgrim soul.
Spirituality is simply to know the Knower. That is the essence. All other knowledge and experience is just the juice.
Self-effulgent, beyond thought, naked, free from every veil of mind or sensation, the Knower is the Self. Shining alone, liberated from the images of the memory and the forms of the senses, the Knower is the Spirit.
Many seekers assume that "spirituality" is an experience, whether visionary, ecstatic, or celestial, whether of this world or another. But spirituality is the Experiencer, free from experience. It is awareness of awareness, without content. It is formless and void, the source from which creation springs.
The transparency of the Self is bliss. It is bliss precisely because there is neither image nor content nor boundary; hence the Self is ever-expanding, even while at rest in its own voidness, because there is nothing to contain it. Infinite repose in dynamic expansion is the paradox that defines bliss.
For the seeker, the bliss of pure awareness is abstract, while the world of the senses seems solid. But for the enlightened, bliss solidifies. Awareness is concrete, while the world appears as a mirage.
That alone can be called "real" which remains motionless and unchanging. A world of ever-dissolving particles and fluctuating waves cannot be called "real." Even from the vantage point of physical science, we now know that matter is not "real." It is not concrete. It is evanescent energy in ceaseless flux and dissolution.
Therefor, we practice meditation to transcend the illusion of the senses and the mind, to solidify pure consciousness in deep silence. Then and only then do we have a rock to stand on in the midst of tempest and temptation.
To behold a voluptuous vision through the agency of "sacred" herbs, like ayahuaska or peyote, is not spirituality. To taste the rapture of the heavenly worlds, or the devotional beauty of Krishna's form, is not spirituality. To see the color of auras or the radiance of chakras is not spirituality. To entertain a visiting angel is not spirituality. There is nothing wrong these explorations; they are simply not to be confused with direct experience of the Self. They are just subtler realms of sensation.
For the outer physical earth is but the surface of our senses. Sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch have finer levels that we experience as "inward," though they are still exterior to the Self. Yes, there are higher and deeper worlds to explore, where gods and devas dwell; yet they are all in this body, all refinements of our sensory perception. And ultimately, these celestial sensations are veils that cover and hide the Self from itself.
But through the loving grace of a real Guru, one learns the art of transcending. One learns to pass beyond the senses, beyond the mind, beyond the most subtle and celestial veil of knowledge. One moves from "I know" to "I don't know," and from the finite "I" to the infinite "Am." That is why one whispers, "Jai Gur Dev."
Penetrate maya to arrive at the Knower, whose radiance is prior to light, deeper than creation, shining from the holy darkness of the un-created. Then there shall be great laughter, relief, and repose.
Return to the beginning, and realize that you never departed. Hear the golden Being, soft as a rose yet brighter than ten million suns, whispering, "Welcome home." It is the voice of your own heart.
Engraving: Gustav Doré, Danté's Paradisio
I loved Holy Communion. I even studied to be a priest so that I could draw nearer the mystery of the Eucharist, the two-fold offering of divine grace and human response.
The Eucharist is the central Christian rite. Christ bestows his Holy Spirit as a gift of grace. He sends his Shakti down upon this human work of bread, this ferment of wine, and transforms them into his flesh and blood. How should we respond? By offering worship. And offering ourselves back to the giver in his service.
I used to think I needed a church, an altar, a golden grail, an unleavened host, a priestly ordination.
Then I discovered that my flesh already is the Bread of Life. My blood is the Wine of Eden's vineyard. There is no Sin that I have fallen in. And every man, woman, or child was ordained to the priesthood of wonder the moment they were merely born on earth, where pain and beauty meet at the center of eight billion crosses.
The church is my body, the alter my breastbone, the two-fold offering my inhalation and exhalation, the rising and falling of my chest. This very breath is the Holy Spirit, poured into the grail of my heart. I do not take a breath. It is given.
What may I offer in return? My exhalation. In effortless surrender, I become hollow, an empty cup again. Simply to breathe out is to follow the example of Christ's kinosis, his self-emptying (Philippians 2:7). Here is the Good News: when you are completely empty, God fills you.
The sacrament of breathing embodies, in most intimate microcosm, the essence of all rites: the Vedic yagya, the Dharma wheel of sacrifice and sustenance, the mutual exchange of Yin and Yang, the cosmic mystery of Fall and redemption, descent and return.
A perfect prayer descends into my chest without a word spoken. I simply witness in wonder and gratitude. All day long, breath pours down and is offered up, what incense!, an ebbing flowing tide of divine nearness, drawing the heart into the silence of the Godhead.
Give us this day our daily breath. Let the sacrament continue through the darkest hours. "I sleep, but my heart is awake" (Song of Solomon, 5:2).
To breathe is to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:16). Moment by moment, breathe the Spirit into flesh. Let it burst into flame on the altar of your heart, becoming earth, ashes, dust. And moment by moment, breathe out the offering of your body in return, a propitious sacrifice.
Jesus said, "Watch and pray" (Mat 26:41). To pray is to breathe. Watch and pray this breath. You will become the Presence of God.
Painting: Dante Rossetti's Grail Maiden