Friday, November 28, 2014

The God Shaped Hole

"There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus." 
- Blaise Pascal

Thanksgiving is over and simultaneously the most stressful, and most wonderful of seasons begins.

I have not been sleeping well; waking up at around 4 a.m. For the past couple of early morning periods of sleeplessness I pulled out my rosary beads and prayed my own version of the “Hail Mary.” Mixing it with the "Jesus Prayer” and extemporaneous thoughts and wishes. I’m mystified by this apparent gut reaction to sleeplessness. Resorting to prayer at times of despondency or distress seems to be a reaction like putting out my hands when falling.

At this time of year my thoughts become intensified around the spirituality that I have always sought and never really found. The problem is that during the Christmas season - religion becomes extremely superficial and schmaltzy. Nativity scenes pop up in strange places and platitudes about sharing the “christmas spirit” are mouthed without, I believe, much good intention.

The story of the nativity has become such a folk legend that it is hard to see any real meaning behind it - it is legend undoubtedly, but the idea of a divine being coming to earth in humble circumstances to the poorest of people living in exile carries a lot of weight in interpreting the human condition. The allegories that can be drawn from the story are endless and rich in teaching. But, unfortunately, they are lost by so many Christians who spend tremendous amounts of energy clinging and “protecting” the literalness of the events.

If God exists he has made himself very elusive to me and it makes no sense. I have sought to encounter God in so many different ways - praying for guidance, a word, a sign, and perceiving nothing except a little self-motivated emotion. I have always believed in God; or so I thought. But how long can you look for something that you’ve never seen before you realize that perhaps it’s imagination?

Is there a God shaped hole in the human psyche? Or is it just a delusion that we experience as a desire to be more than we are?

It seems that the more I question the reality of God and consider the ways that God can possible exist outside of my limited awareness and experience - I keep coming back to a potential answer that says that God is life itself. The very nature of reality appears to be a boundless ocean of experience that "bubbles up” into waves of infinite variety with the sole purpose of experiencing itself in all its endless forms. I keep coming back to the same beliefs that Alan Watts speculated and wrote about in the mid 70’s.

Alan Watts has always been one of my spiritual heroes. I was very disheartened to learn from one of his acquaintances that he was a very tormented man - an alcoholic by action, if not by admission. He struggled with maintaining long lasting relationships and it seems that he was spiritually and emotionally restless most of his life.

But, that being said, I see a lot of Alan Watts in me - not as intelligent or gifted in the wisdom that seemed to pour from his mind almost endlessly, but the spiritual restlessness and the desire for aloneness rings true.

I’ve sought to fill the perceived “God-Shaped hole” with religious practice - as if by obeying the rules I could calm or control the wanderlust that pulls me in all directions. But, time after time, the shallow thinking and more bitter aspects of the teachings get to me. In Buddhism it doesn’t take long for the mythology of Shakyamuni to become front and center. The founder of Buddhism, known for teaching that discussions about the meaning of the universe and the speculation about the nature of God, quickly becomes a God (or divine being) that makes him special and somehow an unobtainable role model.

Jesus, the perfect exemplar, becomes someone to be worshipped, rather than someone we should follow and emulate.

Religion has a way of disarming the reality of being. It devalues our potential by claiming that “through grace,” or through “grace plus works,” we too can become “special.”

We are a focus point of the universe. What can be more special than that?

We do not have a God-shaped hole anywhere but in our minds. If we live life believing that we’re lacking the presence of God we are devaluing ourselves - the hole that we seem to have is our own creation - a figment of our delusion of inferiority.

We are not sinners in the hands of an angry God - we are gods in the hands of ignorance. We have built cages to our own design, and limited our freedom to the shape of our own imagined restrictions.

It is scary to be outside the cage - but it is where life is.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Religion of Doubt

Whenever I get the sense that I’ve found the spiritual practice and/or community that I feel I can settle into it rarely fails that I quite quickly become exposed to some of the more esoteric and, let me be frank, batshit cultish practices that the community engages in that, for me, completely muddy the water and miss the point of the core meaning of the teachings.

I became very excited by the fresh and practical teachings of the New Kadampa Tradition - and I’ve liked many of the teachers and practices that I’ve been exposed to; I continue to attend their Sunday “Advice for Life/World Peace Prayer” sessions a few times a month.

Back in September I visited a more established community in Northampton, England - and was given a tour along with many other visitors, of their temple and grounds. During the visit I was taken to their Puja room - where a long term practitioner described his daily Buddhist practice of filling seven offering bowls and offering prayers to Dorje Shugden. I had no real problem with the concept of making offerings and being devotional to the symbolism of an enlightened being. But, what drove me a little batty was when the guide described how he had to make sure each of the seven bowls was filled evenly and equally - he said that this was very difficult at first and took many hours for him to master. For someone who tends to be a little obsessive compulsive - this concept was a nightmare.

I belong to a Facebook group devoted to the teachings of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso and the New Kadampa Tradition, and yesterday I was copied on a question that one of the other members asked. Without naming names - here’s the post:
"Hi there, I have a question. I have recently completed a close retreat of time of Je Tsongkhapa. In heart jewel it mentions finishing an action close retreat by doing 7 sessions of the Vajradhaka burning offering. Since my retreat was one of time and not actions, is it still necessary for me to do 7 sessions of vajradhaka burning. I don't want to do so unless it is strictly necessary. Also, if I am to do these vajradhaka sessions, do I need to burn actual sesame seeds or can I just imagine this process. Many thanks."
I’m sure if Shakyamuni Buddha read this he would slap his forehead and groan…..

As would Jesus, Muhammed, Baha’u’llah, Lao Tzu, and all other founders of religions upon observing the absolute nonsense that the “believers” get hung up about.

I’ve come to realize that all religious people are crazy; or as my wife says, perhaps we’re all crazy and religion provides a better way to observe it!

I need to be healed of this deep seated dependence on institutional religion. It’s not healthy for me to feed my addictive personality with all of this superstitious crap.

When I was an Orthodox Christian I loved the idea that Icons were “Windows to Heaven,” but now I realize that we don’t need "Windows to Heaven” but rather "Mirrors of Heaven” as it is here on earth. The religious division of people into those who are heaven bound and those who are hell bound is a perversion of all of the teachings of the Masters. In Tibetan Buddhism, the punishment of hell is more dramatic and awful than any of the imagery of Bible, yet people often flock to Tibetan Buddhism to be free of the guilt of judgement that they found in Christianity.

I think we need to be rid of religious  superstition - and the fear-mongering that goes along with it.

Enlightenment, liberation and salvation is not purchased by good behavior in this life - nor is it a gift born on the back of a bloody sacrifice. It is already the case -

I think this is what Buddha and Jesus were really trying to tell us - but humanity didn’t “feel” that it was true so humanity tried to create a formula for emotional manipulation that manifests as Dharma or Dogma.

Of all the Buddhist schools, the one that seems closest to expressing the teachings of present and imminent liberation is the Pure Land school. More so than Zen, Pure Land offers the principal of boundless grace and compassion with no strings attached. Zen is close, but comes with a few disciplinary strings that require specific behaviors to earn merit - it’s not unconditional until you’ve met the conditions for receiving the unconditional compassion!!

Pure Land practices seem to be those of gratitude for what has already been received, rather than tools of barter for gaining liberation or salvation. Christianity in its original form - prior to the dogma and rubrics of the Church - seems to also be about the unlimited, boundless compassion of the Universe.

All of this of course begs the question: “If boundless compassion is already present, and liberation is already the case, why do I need to practice any religion at all?”

I’m wondering the same thing myself……..

Perhaps the craziest, most outrageous answer is this: perhaps we should practice religion like we listen to music or drink wine or enjoy a good story, not to gain anything - but merely to appreciate the beauty of it and enjoy the experience without expectation beyond the very doing itself.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Wrong Questions - Right Answers?

In order to find something that you’re looking for you have to know what you lost - or at least know what it is you’re looking for so that you’ll recognize when you’ve found it.

This is the conundrum of all spiritual seeking. We seek for truth - but obviously there must be some recollection or awareness of what truth is, already present in our consciousness in order for us to be satisfied that we’ve found it.



Truth can never be new. It is only our understanding of it that can be fresh or newly experienced.

In all the various spiritual teachings, religions, and philosophies in the world there are answers offered for the deep questions.

  • What is the meaning of life?
  • What happens when we die?
  • What is the nature of consciousness?
  • Are we consciousness experiencing life - or life experiencing consciousness?
  • Is there a soul that lives on beyond our bodies?
  • Do we reincarnate or do we live only one life?
  • Is there a God (Ultimate Being)?
  • Why is there suffering?
  • What is the purpose of existence?
As I’ve spent most of my life looking into these questions and come up with a vast array of answers that often contradict one another; I’m beginning to realize that perhaps I’m asking the wrong questions - or that it may be possible, however strange it may sound, that the truth about reality is a flexible continuum of experiences that is conditioned by our own sense of existence.

As we believe - so is reality?

Could it be that we determine our own experience of reality - within a boundless expanse of potential absolutes?

Could it be that there is no meaning to life other than that which we give it?

Could it be that what we believe to be God is the ultimate expression of life itself? Not something that is separate from our experience as living beings but rather the entire underlying “technology" of our awareness itself.

The various varieties of religions appear to be interpretations of the teachings of their founders. Whether eyewitness accounts of encounters with ultimate reality, or the embellished oral transmissions of a legacy of disciples, they all record the experiences of apparently unique individuals as they live out their experience of communing with reality.

The various religions do not agree on the answers to ultimate questions - so not all religions are true if we hold their answers to be the ultimate truth. But, there is another way of looking at these apparent contradictions. Perhaps we need to take another look at the questions we’re asking before we disqualify some of the answers.

It seems to me that what matters most about these questions is not arriving at timelessly true specific answers - but to be constantly seeking the relevance of the answers that fit the circumstances of life over time.

In my study of Buddhist teachings I’ve observed that over the course of his life the Buddha would deliver teachings that were appropriate to a time, place, and an individual’s circumstances. Sometimes a teaching or answer that was delivered to one disciple would drastically contradict the same teaching or answer given to a different disciple. This principle of applying time-based reality transfers well to interpreting the teachings of all other religions.

What I’m suggesting is that we perhaps would find a healthier mindset about religion or spiritual teachings in general, if we removed the designation of “absolute truth” from the recorded verbal or written traditions. 

One practical example of this may be the teachings on the afterlife that are found in the Judaeo Christian tradition. So many assumptions about the existence of heaven and hell have been made based on some specific time-based comments that Jesus made to an audience that was made up of fairly unsophisticated listeners, whose perception of the world was generally pretty narrow and full of superstitious fears and mixed with pagan beliefs. To interpret his words on this deep subject as being ultimate timeless truth - may well be a stretch beyond the context of their meaning. 

When Jesus spoke of hell - he often used the imagery of a dump where lifeless and unwanted objects were sent to be destroyed and burned in a fire that was never extinguished. We can’t know the minds of the people that he was talking to at that moment - but we can certainly visualize that they might be emotionally charged and inspired by the concept of a wasted life being compared to worthless garbage being incinerated, especially if the burning dump was clearly visible in their peripheral vision!

The value of Buddhism is not that of just an alternate religion - but as a set of beliefs and practices that explore the nature of the mind it has incredible value when its practical methods of meditation and contemplation are applied to all other religions. Applying its critical self-analysis techniques and studying how it has adapted and changed over time in each of the cultures where it has flourished can help us break down the barriers in communication with other religions.

Personally, I struggle tremendously with the institutions that supposedly support (any) religion. The “protection” that they provide often becomes additional dogma that becomes attached to the heart of the teaching and divides people based solely on matters of dubious interpretation. I have so-far been unable to find a faith community that is truly open to exploring reality beyond the context of unquestioned, traditionally held beliefs. I have hopes that there are others out there who feel that it’s time for a fresh approach to interpreting reality. 

We cannot continue as a divided world much longer. 

We have had too many religious and/or political wars, based on “jot and tittle” matters that ultimately have no real importance to the practical lives of most people.

It could well be that the Messiah that so many religions look for, or expect to return, is already here among us - within us. The Messiah may well be the personification of all of us agreeing to disagree but loving each other anyway.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Transmission; from no-one to no-one

Bart Marshall
More “Random Dharma” - on the subject of liberation, enlightenment, and self-discovery.

I’ve been a subscriber to the TAT Forum for many years. It’s an interesting gathering for people who seek to know and experience reality for themselves; “Spiritual Seekers” who seek through dialogue and self-inquiry.


Here are some interesting observations from Bart Marshall;  


"In Zen, the word transmission is used to denote the "passing on" of enlightenment through a master-student relationship. It is misleading, in that it implies an energy transference in which enlightenment flows from someone who "has" it to someone who does not. 

Still, there's really no better word for what Zen points at with transmission. Enlightenment cannot be "taught" like mathematics or language, or mastered with "practice," like art or music. The Zen master's task is more akin to helping someone born with no sense of humor suddenly break into an uncontrollable belly laugh. Or to trigger in a self-absorbed ego-maniac a spontaneous experience of unconditional love. One never makes "progress" towards this sort of thing. It could happen any moment, or never. And so when Truth stands revealed, it is said transmission has occurred. 
Within that metaphor, however, it is perhaps more accurate to say that transmission is occurring always. God, Tao, the One, the Source, the Absolute—whatever we might call it—is in an unceasing state of transmission. Awakening is when reception occurs. (Although this, too, is misleading since there is no receiver.) 
God's eternal state of transmission is a standing "invitation to receive" that may be accepted at any moment—but not by the ego-identity. The ego-mind—even one that has spent years "seeking enlightenment"—treats the invitation to receive transmission as a threat, as "the hound of heaven." As long as ego is in control—or believes itself to be—the hound is successfully kept at bay. But if ego is dethroned for even a moment, the hound is upon it, and its name is Grace. Invitation accepted, transmission complete. 
Knowing the ego-identity to be the sole "guardian of the gate," the Zen master—with the permission and complicity of the aspirant—goes about the business of undermining and attacking its "authority" in subtle, and sometimes not-so-subtle, ways. 
This is the entire work of Zen. There is no teaching or practice, no zapping, no secret wisdom imparted with words—or rather, whatever there is of this is not the point. The Zen master is up to one thing only—the maneuvering of the seeker's ego-mind into a sufficiently vulnerable position that it might falter just long enough for reception to occur. 
The master transmits nothing. He does not "have" enlightenment (no one ever has) so what could he transmit? He is a midwife, a facilitator, an "awakening therapist." 
All rests with the aspirant. The Source is as unavoidable as air—the very "space" you now take in. How close is the place you peer out from? How far from it could you stray? To "see" it where do you look? To "know" it where do you go?"

for more information on the TAT Foundation -  click here.

Monday, November 3, 2014

More Random Dharma

Today I flipped open Thich Nhat Hanh’s wonderful book: “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching,” at random, and read this:

“This morning, before giving a Dharma talk, I was having breakfast with my attendant, a lovely novice monk. I paused and said to him, “Dear one, do you see the cow on the hillside? She is eating grass in order to make my yogurt, and I am now eating the yogurt to make a Dharma talk.” Somehow, the cow will offer today’s Dharma talk. As I drank the cow’s milk, I was a child of the cow. The Buddha recommends we live our daily life in this way, seeing everything in the light of inter being. Then we will not be caught in our small self. We will see our joy and our suffering everywhere. We will be free, and we won’t see dying as a problem. Why should we say that dying is suffering? We continue with the next generations. What is essential is to be our best while we are here. Then we continue to be through our children and grandchildren. Motivated by love, we invest ourselves in the next generations. Whether birth or death are suffering depends on our insight. With insight, we can look at all these things and smile to them. We are not affected in the same way anymore. We ride on the wave of birth and death, and we are free from birth and death. This insight liberates us."
- Thich Nhat Hanh, “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching,” p. 118  

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Random Dharma

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
I opened the book “Science of Being and Art of Living” by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi at random - and read the following:

“It is said that we should love others for the good in them, and that it is wrong to rebuke anyone for any weakness that he might have, or for the bad behavior of others. It is a highly significant point to see good in others. As a matter of fact, no man can be all good or all bad, because human life is the result of a mixture of good and bad. Had it been only good, one would have been in the world of angels where there is no suffering and where dwells only happiness and joy. In man’s life, however, one finds happiness and suffering mixed. This shows that human existence is the result of some good and some bad action. Everyone has some good in him and some bad in him, and, if we admire a man for the good that he has, then we have first seen the good in him. When we see good in him we receive the reflection of the good. If, on the other hand, one tries to see bad in someone, one receives the reflection of the bad which pollutes one’s own mind and heart. If one sees good points in someone, then naturally some good reflects on him. The very action of seeing good in someone reflects that good on the mind and heart of the seer and therefore the seer gains good from the good that he sees in the other man. This is a great skill in life, to see the good in others. Everyone has some good."
- Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Science of Being and Art of Living, pg. 224 

It’s a passage from the book that at first one tends to gloss over on the way to something more meaty - but in reality, it’s a passage that contains some real practical advice on living out the Dharma. Seeing the good in others brings out the good in you. 

Very practical. 
Very difficult. 
Very fruitful.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Conscious Freedom

Photo from DeviantART
This post is going to be written in a rather unformatted “stream of consciousness” format - because the thoughts are coming too fast for me to think about organizing and potentially losing them.

Suddenly, without any warning while meditating, I became very aware that I did not need to accept anyone else’s interpretation of the truth unless I choose to. I say this without arrogance because along with this awareness came the parallel idea that I already knew the truth about reality.

I have been a spiritual seeker all my life. Seeking to adopt someone else’s interpretation of reality because I wanted to avoid the responsibility for making decisions in my own life.

Since I started practicing Transcendental Meditation outside the boundaries of an institutional belief system I am perceiving the depth of consciousness that exists beyond that of my daily awake self. It is through this practice that I have become completely comfortable in knowing (not believing) that all is consciousness.

ALL THAT EXISTS IS CONSCIOUSNESS

I no longer worry about what happens at death. Obviously I’m not comfortable with the idea of separation from this existence, but I’m not afraid of it anymore; as some kind of darkness, place of punishment, or place of reward. Death is just a return to the primordial sea of consciousness from which everything appears. I don’t just believe this - through my meditation experiences - I actually know this, in the same way that I know my name or history. It’s a real understanding about reality.

Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean that I’ll adopt some weird Vedic name, or that I’ll start claiming to be enlightened and seek fame on Oprah’s “Super Soul Sunday.” No, this is just the way things are and everybody can know this for themselves.

Knowing how reality works does not make someone special - it is very ordinary.

There are no “descending masters,” or “ascending humans that become god-men,” all of that is just fantasy. There is just consciousness experiencing “itself” as expanding awareness.

No religion is necessary. Religion is always an interpretation of reality. A “boxed lunch” approach to life.

There is no God because God is not different than consciousness - nothing is outside consciousness. To be unconscious is to be conscious of unconsciousness. Consciousness is a continuum of experience. Some people have open awareness of the boundless nature of consciousness, others do not. This does not make any difference to their status on the level of being.

To be totally aware of the connectedness of all things within consciousness is not a gift - it is the actual reality of things. The gift is losing all of the things that hinder the experience; religion, philosophy, conditioned belief, prejudices, concepts, …. all of that must go.

ONLY YOU - NO OTHERS

Religion is not needed because anything that religion can teach is already known when you realize the underlying reality of Conscious Being. There is no need to be told to “love your neighbor as yourself” because you become aware that your neighbor IS yourself. There is no need to be told to “do no harm to others,” because you are aware that there are no others - there are only appearances of consciousness as other beings.

The idea that we are separate individuals that need to preserve ourselves is an illusion. We are all in this together - there are no higher beings, no Buddhas, no Avatars, they are merely appearances in time that reflect what we all are forever.

This is not a belief system that I have adopted - it is the end of belief. I have exchanged belief for experience. Meditation is the only “path” that eradicates the need for a “path” of any kind.

We are all here together. There is no division. We appear that way because it helps us navigate through this life and gain the experiences necessary for our growth in consciousness. We have a purpose but if we think it’s about us as individuals we have more to learn.

There is no evolution apart from the evolution of consciousness. All of this is so that we can “see" how it all works together. The narrower our perception of reality - the narrower our awareness of the nature of it.

To embrace a particular set of religious beliefs may give us a sense of security - but it must ultimately be transcended. For reality is beyond beliefs - our beliefs do not shape reality, they only shape us into an expression of our interpretation of reality.

This experience may fade - but it is not emotionally founded or conditional on something I’ve read. It’s this now - existing as it is.