There appears to be more reference in our contemporary discourse about consciousness, awareness, waking up, than ever before. It is not unusual to hear of Westerners seeking teaching and teachers in the East----Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, etc. Something is stirring! Perhaps this phenomenon is related to a feeling of emptiness experienced by so many in our unproductive obsession with “STUFF,” physical stuff or mental clutter. A friend told me that her eight year old grandson said to her: ”Gramma, you gotts too much stuffs!”
In our society we place great importance on results, success. Because of our upbringing the importance of results even permeates our spiritual/religious expectations leading us to think that “success” in practices such as meditation “should” result in “spiritual experiences,” which, as mystics assure us, are passing, impermanent like everything else, and actually not significant in themselves. Yes, there may be consequences from experiences which transform a person’s life. But the experiences themselves need to be let go, not sought after as ends in themselves. “When Shunryu Suzuki was once asked why he never referred to his enlightenment experience, his wife, who was sitting in the back of the hall, stood up and said, ‘Because he never had one!’ The recognition of our true nature is not an exotic experience. Indeed, it is not an experience at all.” (1)
Rupert Spira speaks of “the essential non-dual understanding that lies at the heart of all the great religious and spiritual traditions.” (2) They all call us to waking up, consciousness, awareness. Essential non-dual understanding means: we are all one—not separate as it may appear.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus prays “that all may be one as you, Father, are in me and I in you…that they may be [one] in us…” (Jn. 17: 21) This prayer is not some romantic utopia of a universal hug among separate beings. It is a realization that all seemingly separate beings are but a manifestation of the ONLY BEING. Richard Rohr states: “God is not a being among other beings, but rather Being itself revealed for any mature seeker.” (3) The implication of this saying in John’s Gospel has never, to my knowledge, been taken to its conclusion in mainline Christianity!
The invocation of Hazrat Inayat Khan who brought Sufism to the West from India in 1910, speaks to this:
“Toward the One, the perfection of love, harmony and beauty, the only Being, united with all the illuminated souls who form the embodiment of the Mystery, the Spirit of Guidance.”
Then there is the Gayatri Mantra from the Rig Veda, in written form 2,500-3,500 years old (possibly more than 6,000) which in Sanskrit reads: “tat savitur vareNyaM bargo devasya dimahi dhiyo yo nah prachodyat” It might be translated as: ”That all-pervasive Consciousness is worthy of being sought. We are devoted to that Divine Light which bestows understanding. It energizes, guides, and inspires our intuitive grasp of reality.” The point here is All Pervasive Consciousness.
In Islam the earliest criterion of orthodoxy was the phrase, “la ‘ilaha ‘illa allah,” meaning “there is nothing but Allah, God, Oneness, Unity. From another source: “The words ‘Allah’ and ‘God’ refer to the ineffable reality, the essence of all things. Allah includes everything and depends upon nothing for existence.” (4 ) That is quite similar to what we read from Richard Rohr above. In another source, Rohr writes: “The brilliant word, nonduality (advaita in Sanskrit), was used by many in different traditions in the East to distinguish from total and perfect absorption or enmeshment. Facing some of the same challenges of modern day ecology and quantum physics, they did not want to say that all things were metaphysically or physically identical, nor did they want to separate and disconnect everything.“ (5). And from another source stated even more clearly: All things “have no independent existence of their own. They are neither identical to nor distinct from the essence.” (6)
This depth, this heart, lying at the center of all the great religious and spiritual traditions, all of which have their own mystics who know this bottom-line truth about oneness and nonduality, presents a serious challenge to institutional religions as they are. Institutional religions create separateness as soon as doctrines or dogmas are established. Dogmatic or doctrinal fundamentalism leads to extremes. If you accept the doctrine or dogma you are in. If you do not accept the doctrine or dogma you are out. Other religious traditions are more often than not, seen as false. This does secure a sense of safety, of “being sure,” but it separates! God is seen as separate and as judgmental, ready to punish deviant behavior. A completely different understanding is given by Richard Rohr: “Any talk of anger in God, ‘wrath’ in God, unforgiveness in God, or any kind of holding back whatsoever, the Cappadocian mystics would see as theologically impossible and forever undone in a Trinitarian notion of God. Nothing human can stop the flow of divine love; we cannot undo the eternal pattern even by our worst sin.” (7 ) In our growing up and adulthood we heard plenty about sin. Rohr writes: “Sin is the state of being closed down, shut off, blocked, and thus resisting the eternal flow that we’re meant to be.” (8) This Trinity is a constant flow of giving and receiving, giving and receiving, which dynamic actually characterizes the whole universe.
The Trinitarian dynamic is one of giving and receiving, giving and receiving. “What could have been a Divine Wave, we have for the most part related to as a static particle god.” (9) With such a particle god, patriarchy has, can and does thrive. A major obstacle to entering into the growing swell of awareness is that institutional, patriarchal religions very quickly interpreted mythology in literal terms, losing the rich and lasting meaning in the stories whether or not the stories are historically based.
The challenge of addressing patriarchy for institutional Christianity as well as for other religious traditions is gargantuan. What needs to happen will not happen quickly but neither did the unfolding of the Universe. The appearance of life was a trial and error process and once it appeared for the first time, it lasted only a moment, but eventually life held on and here we are, part of this awesome green planet.
Transformation happens one person at a time, which requires time and patience and love. It is up to us whether we wish to join the swell of growing consciousness and to invite others to join as well. Systems change as individuals change, one person at a time. This change is also greatly enhanced as folks gather in loving, sharing communities and as communities interact and communicate with other like communities. I have found Richard Rohr to be an example of loving, inviting, companioning leadership, helping people to dip their toes into the deepening consciousness that we are not separate but one.
We are challenged to chart a path in our spiritual journeys which will prove useful to the authentic growth for which we all yearn. What might a process of transformation from literalism and separation to awareness of our oneness look like? It begins with the understanding that change and growth happen as part of life. Karl Jung said that human beings grow only in relationship. Relationship can thrive in healthy communities. For the process of transformation, we need to begin at the beginning…with children in atmospheres of love, support and trust. Example: Most children in the West believe in Santa Claus. Caring adults know that the Santa story has an historical base in St. Nicholas. They indulge the Santa fantasy to give joy and excitement to their children. At the right time they guide their children to the awareness that the story has the meaning of “giving and receiving.” Even if Santa as such actually existed, his existence would be quite irrelevant since it is the meaning which makes the difference, in this case the meaning of “giving and receiving.” The loving supporting community of family helps children to transition and grasp the meaning of Santa Claus. This provides a model of what needs to happen as a person grows older. The community provides the context of love, safety and trust as the education process proceeds. Another example: The Buddha was an historical figure. He is said to have stated: “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.” It is the rich tradition that he taught which, if practiced, can lead to transformation, not his historical existence.
The Jesus tradition is another such rich tradition, the teachings of which, if practiced, can lead to transformation. But the “practice” is not about external exercises like attending church services and performing external actions, or rote recitation of prayers. External behavior by itself, does not transform. Jesus had plenty to say about the external observances of the Pharisee sect of the time! The danger of compromising the Jesus tradition’s potential for transformation of consciousness is literalizing, taking the story literally, rather than grasping its authentic intent! The intent is transformation of consciousness, coming to the awareness that we are in God and God is in us, that we are not identical to God’s Essence but neither are we distinct from that Divine Essence! Good News! Again John17:21, as cited above “that all may be one as you, Father, are in me and I in you…that they may be [one] in us…” The Book of Acts tells of Paul’s discourse to the people of Athens. Paul speaks of an altar inscribed “to a God unknown…in whom we live and move and have our being.” Acts 17:23 and 28.
For Christian devotees, whether clergy or lay persons, it is critical to assume responsibility for their own spiritual growth. This is a scary challenge perhaps especially for lay persons who are used to having clergy tell them what to do and what to think. Clergy, of course, get what they have from those who have preceded them, which they, in turn, pass on to laity. On the other hand, people today are learning to use various kinds of technology and use it to communicate and learn at paces previously unheard of. These technologies also hold resources available to all for spiritual growth. As previously stated, the process needs to proceed with integrity, passion, compassion and love! The transformation will proceed gradually not instantaneously, and within the context of living, loving, caring, supporting, communities. Adults, taking responsibility for their own spiritual growth, will focus on the meaning of the Jesus Story, using resources available and wisdom, to move beyond a literal understanding to the core of the Jesus Story which is about our oneness with each other, God, and all that is! This is scary precisely because emphasis for hundreds of years of Christianity has been on a literal interpretation which left us with external observances to please a distant and wrathful god. “Richard Rohr and others provide resources, hands extended in love and care for the growth to take root. Of course, it is WORK, the work of reading, sharing, studying and using the wealth of resources available. People need to move forward without being paralyzed by fear even in the face of moving into uncharted waters, unfamiliar territory.
Let us consider some examples of meaning in the myths which pertain to understanding basic elements of the Jesus story. To begin with, many of the elements of the Jesus story are found long before Jesus is believed to have lived. The basic outline contained in the many mythic stories around the Middle East is that god becomes human, is crucified, dies and rises from the dead. The meaning of this common mythology is that the divinity becomes human and needs to die, because resurrection is the realization of, the waking up to one’s true self as divine. Crucifixion is about the painful challenge of addressing the ego which lives a life of its own, thinking that it is a separate being. One of the stories predating Jesus is that of the entry of the godman into a city astride a donkey, acclaimed by the crowd waving palm branches. The point of the story is about ego. The donkey is a symbol of the ego. The master, the godman, is riding the donkey, not the other way around as is the case when we are unconscious of who we really are, thinking that we are separate from God and each other! So, no surprise that Jesus speaks about dying to self (ego, false self). Practically, we need to ask ourselves over and over again when we get caught in fighting for our own way, “What is going on here? Is this all about me? This is also something we can teach children when they reach the ripe age. Even with small children, parents encourage them to “share” their toys. This is education about addressing ego, about growing in awareness. The best resource I ever read about ego is Eckhart Tolle’s book, A New EARTH. It has often led me to sing “It’s all about me” to the tune of “Singin’ In the Rain.”
The Gospels speak of Jesus, the healer. In the Gospel of Mark, chapters 8:22-10:52 relate Jesus healing two blind persons. From the beginning to the end of these verses the point is about “seeing,” waking up, becoming conscious of who Jesus is. The opening of Mark’s Gospel: “Here begins the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” After the death of Jesus, the centurion says: “Clearly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 13: 39) (10) The whole of the Jesus story as preserved in the gospels invites us to realize who we really are, that we are all one, that we are not separate from each other, creation, or God! The bottom line is that resurrection isabout becoming conscious
Staying with this point of who we really are, another source I came upon recently is the work of Rupert Spira who offers “The Essence of Meditation Series.” Part of this series is the book Being Aware of Being Aware. Spera says that being aware that we are aware is achievable by anyone without any spiritual practice or discipline. One needs only to notice that one is aware that whatever is going on, is going on in our experience, bodily sensations, emotions, feelings, thoughts. He further notes that all that we experience is similar to a movie. The movie cannot be experienced unless there is a screen. We cannot experience a movie without there being a screen. The movie does not and cannot in any way have an effect on or change the screen. It is the same with awareness. Whatever we are aware of does not and cannot change or have any effect on the awareness itself. Spera also uses the example of the ocean and the wave as does Thich Nhat Hanh. All of our experience has no independent existence. It is simply a manifestation of awareness, consciousness. Regarding the ocean and the wave, the wave is ocean before it is a wave. The wave has no existence apart from the ocean. As noted above there is one Consciousness, call it what you will, Christ consciousness, Buddha consciousness, Universal consciousness, Unitive consciousness. Augustine stated that “God is closer to us than we are to ourselves,” …as close as our own Awareness of being aware! We have known for most of our lives that all that we are and all that we have is “received” from God. Because of our being so given to thinking we are separate from God, the magnitude of what we have always thought about receiving everything from God, could not realize its proper impact. Our Awareness is God since there is only one Awareness! As stated at the beginning of this article: All things “have no independent existence of their own. They are neither identical to nor distinct from the essence.” (11)
We might try an exercise of consciously breathing in, knowing that our very breath is received from the Source, our Awareness, and in consciously breathing out knowing that we are filled with the movement of the Divine. When we do this, ego is not running the show. This is what we mean when we speak of “being aligned with the One, tuned to the Source.”(12) Let us conclude where we began this article with reference to our distraction with too much stuff; another possible translation from the Aramaic, this time the second line of the Lord’s Prayer: “Help us let go, clear a space inside of busy forgetfulness so that your Luminous Name can find a home, a center on which our life turns.” (13)
1 Being Aware of Being Aware, by Rupert Spira, Page 93, The Essence of Meditation Series, Sahaja Publications, 2017
(2) Spera, ibid, back flap of cover
(3) Richard Rohr, The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation Page 43, Whitaker House, 2016
(4) Physicians of the Heart: A Sufi View of the Ninety Nine Names of Allah Page 1, by Wali Ali Meyer, Bilal Hyde, Faisal MuQaddam, Shabda Kahn, Sufi Ruhaniat International, 2011
(5) What the Mystics Know: Seven Pathways to Your Deeper Self, Page 12, The Crossroad Publishing Company 2015
(6) Physicians of the Heart, ibid.
(7) The Divine Dance, Page 43
(8) ibid Page 56
(9) Ibid, Page 55
(10) These two sets of passages in Mark’s Gospel are instances of a literary practice known as inclusion. What it comes down to is that stories such as the blind man at Bethsaida in Mark 8:22-26, and the story about the blind Bartimaeus in Mark 10:46-52, act as brackets for the focus on the rest of the material between the brackets, in this case, who Jesus really is. The use of inclusion is also noted in the “brackets” about “Jesus, Son of God.” Everything in the intervening chapters from the opening of Chapter I to verse 39 of Chapter 15 is saying the Jesus is the Son of God.
(11) Physicians of the Heart Page 1
(12) These are two possible translations of the first word of each of the Beatitudes in Aramaic, Jesus’ native tongue. See Dr. Neil Douglas-Klotz, Meditations On the Aramaic Words of Jesus, Page 75, for these and various other meanings of the first word of each of the Aramaic Beatitudes. Alignment and attunement reminds us of what Richard Rohr says in The Divine Dance about “Flow.” See Pages 43 and 56
(13) ibid., Page 16. by the same author, see: The Hidden Gospel: Decoding the Spiritual Message of the Aramaic Jesus Page 55