“THE GREATEST OF ALL THE ACCOMPLISHMENTS OF 20TH-CENTURY SCIENCE has been the discovery of human ignorance.” Lewis Thomas, Lives of a Cell. “OUR IGNORANCE, OF COURSE, HAS ALWAYS BEEN WITH US, AND ALWAYS WILL BE. What is new is our awareness of it, our awakening to its fathomless dimensions, and it is this, more than anything else, that marks the coming of age of our species.” Timothy Ferris, Coming of Age in the Milky Way.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Even the Lion Lies Down for the Worm

Excerpt from the novel “Cinnamon and Gunpowder,” by Eli Brown.

(In this shipboard scene, crashing furniture has killed Kerfuffle, a pet rabbit owned by Mabbot, a female pirate captain. The narrator is a man who is nursing the wounded captain, his lover, back to health. Until now, the man has felt jealous of the pet rabbit, but is aghast when the captain tells him to cook it for them to eat.)

“You’re joking.”

“Do you imagine that I don’t know where meat comes from?
It was the most lucid I had seen her in days. I would have balked if not the glare she gave me over her shoulder, which was a taste of the old Mabbot.

Knowing she needed proper nourishment, and as there was no other fresh meat, I dressed and went to the galley, holding Kerfuffle under my arm.

I thought I would take pleasure in skiing that watchful rabbit, but not that it was still, it engendered in me a tenderness for all fragile flesh. I sharpened a knife until it shone, then skinned and cleaned the rabbit, trying to make each cut a gesture of respect. Loath to waste any part of the animal, I set brains and hide aside for tanning.

As I progressed deeper into the body, I felt a mystery revealing itself to me and began to pray, not with words but with simple cooking, a prayer not for the soul of the rabbit exactly but for the generous blending of its life with Mabbot’s. She had fed and loved it, and now its flesh would become hers and mine, and in this way I understood that all beings lived to feed one another as even the lion lies down for the worm. In the striations of the rabbit’s muscle, I saw eons of breath and death.

This was God’s grace, without which all bodies would fall to ash. I had been cooking my entire life and had never understood the sanctity of my duties. For all of my kitchen philosophies were nothing compared to the truth that now opened me to the bone: that I was, myself, food.

The book of rabbit broth I carried to Mabbot’s cabin was a forgiveness and a plea for forgiveness, an acknowledgment that this blood is shared universally. With this meal I surrendered to the mystery of my days and vowed never to look askance at love of any kind, nor to defy it. For the world is a far more expansive and mystifying place than can be said.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Naming the Nameless

Every philosophy and religion has its “god-term”— the term that stands for ultimate reality. Plato’s term was “The Form (or Idea) of the Good.” Lao Tzu called it Tao (“The Great Way”). Pythagorus referred to “The Divine Number” and Plotinus named it “The One.” One of my favorite terms for ultimate reality comes from the German theologian Rudolf Otto: Mysterium Tremendum et Fascinans, that is, “The Terrible and Fascinating Mystery”.  Or we could just agree to name it Sheila.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Astrology Debunking 101

Carl Sagan complained that of the ~1,500 daily newspapers in the U.S., only 31 have weekly science sections. Yet EVERY daily newspaper offers a daily horoscope.

There are five schools of astrology: Egyptian, Chinese, Tibetan, Hindu and Western Astrology. What if there were 5 schools of biology, 5 schools of anatomy & physiology, 5 schools of physics? Which particular school of physical science would you trust? Which surgeon would you allow to operate on you---the doctor who believed in and practiced Hindu surgical procedures, or Egyptian?

Yes, there is a grain of truth in astrology: INTERDEPENDENCE. Related to chaos theory: a butterfly farts in Beijing and one hundred zillion multiplier effects cause a rainstorm in Tallahassee.

Interdependence, YES. But astrology?

How accurate were astrological charts before...

1781 and the discovery of Uranus?
1846 and the discovery of Neptune?
1930: and the discovery of Pluto?
2003: and the discovery of Charon (twice the size of Pluto)?
2005: and the discovery of Quaoar (½ size of Pluto)?

Here is my UNIVERSAL Astrological Reading. It applies to virtually all human beings. Read it carefully and see if the description fits you:

You are a mostly self-confident character, yet sometimes you feel drastically unsure of yourself. With the help of your circle of friends you feel, for the most part, self-sufficient and more or less complete emotionally, yet at certain moments you can get so lonely and haunted with an undefined longing that it surprises you—and kind of scares you.

You’ve got a few little unexplained quirks or habits that are mostly just amusing to you and those around you, although once in a while your little hang-ups or idiosyncrasies may start to bug others—or especially annoy yourself. That’s no big deal. But on the other hand, every now and then, a REALLY perverse thought or feeling runs through your mind that you are damned glad no one else can detect!

In general, you do accept and appreciate yourself. You deem yourself to be an imperfect but basically good person—if people took the time to know you, they’d like you. Yet in certain moments, it can feel as if you are own worst enemy!—or that in some weird way you are both “who you want to be” and the “opposite” of who you want to be! But in spite of such self-conflict and the occasional sense of struggling with yourself, you truly believe you have a remarkable potential for happiness, love, and success—maybe even greatness of some kind.

All-in-all, you consider yourself “above average” in intelligence, talent, and abilities. If you were to compare yourself to 100 Americans your age, chosen at random, you would rank yourself in the top 25 percent on most scales: looks, smarts, personality, sense of humor, likability, creativity, loyalty to friends, and so forth. In other words, you regard yourself (quite honestly, you believe), as actually superior to most of the people you know and meet. (If you are "above average" and in the top 25 percentile, then it follows that you are superior to most humans.)

Is this YOU?

The Pre = Trans Fallacy

Let's take a look at the Pre = Trans Fallacy (as exposited by the philosopher Ken Wilber):

The Pre = Trans Fallacy is the belief that to return to a state BEFORE the mind (pre-rational) is the same as advancing to a state BEYOND the mind (trans-rational).

This false idea is universal among the "New Age" philosophies and pseudo-sciences. It operates like this this: 

1) The rational mind is limited, therefore, it cannot grasp truth.
2) Therefore, the rational mind is to be distrusted and discarded.
3) Therefore, the PRE-rational (pre-verbal, "magical thinking") state of a little child is superior to the rational.
4) So let’s all return to our childhood pre-rationality (a mind so open, one’s brains spill out in one’s lap)!

The only problem is, you CAN'T go back to the pre-rational. You simply end up with the irrational, the immature stuff of the superstition of the ages.

The genuine way to deal with the limits of the rational mind is to move forward, evolve BEYOND it and thereby experience the trans-rational—without losing the ability to discriminate, to use knowledge and reason, to think critically.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Original Blessing

I completely disagree, which inspired this little rhyme:

Church on Sunday is a fossilized vision,
CPR for a heart-dead religion.
Words dried in ink on pages,
Is not true Tao, say all the sages!

Spirit breathes, it flows, It waltzes in the weather.
It’s found in children’s laughter; not bound in antique leather.
Tired old rituals just make you yawn and nod
While Shakti surges as the Ever-Living God.

So on Sunday, stay in bed and practice Tantra,
Let "O God, I'm coming!" be your honest mantra.
May all lovers feel the real spiritual delight
Of rising up, up, up into the Lotus of Light.

But what if you’re not into Tantra and you’re not a Bhakta?
Well, good old-fashioned passion is guaranteed to rock ya!
Great sex is infinitely more healing than listening to preachings
About imaginary devils and women-hating teachings.

So allow me to introduce my own concept of church
(In the hope that eager readers will start their own research):
I simply worship the Goddess, Who smells and tastes divine.
She gladly blesses me in these hungry prayers of mine.

From morning until noon in the Heaven of Appetite
We dance and we spoon to the fires we ignite.
I kiss her as my liturgy; I lick her as my hymn.
I enter in her temple, which makes her come again.

At last we find our naked souls languishing in the Garden
Where all our roughness and our sins have healed and been pardoned.
Sexual Love is the Original Blessing, not the original curse!
And the congregation of our church is the total universe.

Indeed, Shakti is making love through all the streams of living.
Through birth and death and everything, she is now-ever giving.
The Goddess is not modest! Prudes would scream themselves hoarse
If they knew—truly knew—how Orgasmic is Our Source.

Monday, March 10, 2014

'Self' Emerges

What does it mean to say "self" is an emergent phenomenon? Here's an explanatory excerpt from my novel "Orchard of My Eye":

“Neuroscientists tend to think of ‘self’ as an emergent phenomenon, like team spirit. Let’s say a group of guys get together to play soccer. They pool their talent and skills, enthusiasm and so forth—they interact—and team spirit emerges. Follow me?”


“So the experience of team spirit is real enough while it appears—it’s felt by all the team members and even by others—but team spirit has no vital essence that survives the breakup of the team. Team spirit has no ‘soul.’ As soon as the team disbands—poof!—the phenomenon, or process, called team spirit no longer exists.”


“Now, did team spirit go somewhere? North, South, East, West? Off to heaven?” he asked. “No. It just stopped arising. Another specimen of it will emerge whenever the necessary ingredients come together.”

“Two guys, a football game, and a six-pack of beer,” Aria said.

“In the same way, the self—the sense of ‘yourself’ as an independent entity—is an emergent process. The self emerges from the synergism of the senses, language, memories, and so forth. These simpler parts interact to give rise to a working sense of selfhood. But the self has no essence that exists independently of these senses and thoughts and all the little algorithms busy making something wonderfully complex out of simple parts.”

“What about the soul?”

“No such entity.”

“So you’re saying the self is just an illusion. This is Buddhism you’re throwing at me, Nat.”

“Actually, this is neuroscience I’m throwing at you. And no, I did not say the self is an illusion. Like ‘team spirit,’ it’s very real when it exists, even though it isn’t eternally real at all.”

“I’m not sure I follow you.”

“In other words, it’s real enough to say, ‘I feel angry,’ and ‘I am an American,’ and ‘I blew my driver’s test,’ and ‘I can’t stand licorice.’  It’s also correct to say, ‘do not exist aside from a temporary, emergent phenomenon. There is no abiding substance that is self.”

“Yep. Zen Buddhism. Thought so.”

“Not just Zen. Others have said the same thing. The Greek philosopher Epicurus said, ‘Death is nothing to us, because when we exist there is no death, and when there is death we do not exist.’”

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Infantile Philosophy of "Oops!"

12 Tenets of Holons

Some complain that the contemporary science philosopher Ken Wilber is too tough to understand. Here’s a 6-minute video I made of one of his most important ideas—HOLONS. See if you get it.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Awakeness of Those Who Are Awake

A Zen student asked her spiritual guide, “What is the enlightenment of the Buddhas?” (This is the same as asking, “What is the awakeness of those who are awake?”)
            “The enlightenment of the Buddhas,” her teacher answered, “is the nature of ordinary awareness.”
            What is the nature of ordinary awareness?

  1. Our real nature is not any knowledge that must be learned.
Studying the Pali language, for example, or learning about the “chakra system,” is not necessary for directly awakening to our truth. Whatever can be learned (although perhaps valuable, useful and enjoyable) is not identical to the Heart, the Real Person, who is already present and free, depending on nothing.

  1. Our real nature is not anything that is hidden or secret.
Being initiated into a secret practice, a secret mantra, a secret text, and so forth, is not necessary for directly awakening to our truth. Whatever can be kept secret and must be discovered or revealed (although perhaps valuable, useful and enjoyable) is not identical to the Heart, the Real Person, who is already present and free, depending on nothing.

  1. Our real nature is not any experience or state that must be attained. Archetypal visions, ecstasies of energy, “rising through the lotus of light,” and so forth, are not necessary for directly awakening to our truth. Subtle visions,[1] energies, inner lights and other higher psychic phenomena that may occur (although perhaps valuable, useful and enjoyable) are not identical to the Heart, the Real Person, who is already present and free, depending on nothing.

  1. Our real nature is not any body-mind condition that must be held in place. Manipulating and controlling the body-mind and life-force by intellectual effort, or by celibacy, diet, or yogic practices (such as concentration on energy channels, or continuous prayer, or breathing techniques) are not necessary for directly awakening to our truth. Whatever conditions must be maintained through effort (although perhaps valuable, useful and enjoyable) are not identical to the Heart, the Real Person, who is already present and free, depending on nothing.

  1. Our real nature can only be that which is always, already real.
We are not identical to any object or changing state of the body-mind, no matter how subtle or glorious. Our truth must be the ever-present capacity of all possible states of body and mind, “low” and “high.” Our original nature is not bound to time (not a matter of becoming), nor bound to space (not “within” or “without”—indeed, not locatable anywhere). Our reality is the Irreducible Mystery that undermines the seeker and all seeking. It is the awakeness of those who are awake, the nature of ordinary awareness, the timeless conscious being, who stands already free as the Heart, the Real Person, depending on nothing.

[1] A Zen fable goes: A beginning meditator exclaimed to his teacher in a gush of emotion, “I had a vision of the Buddha, seated on a lotus throne, surrounded by beatific beings!” His teacher replied, “Don’t be concerned. Just keep on meditating and such stuff will go away.”

Friday, February 28, 2014

Zombies Need Not Apply

Seekers like to idealize “egoless” persons. Gurus, saints and spiritual masters are supposedly “egoless”. I’ve spent time in the company of a number of famous gurus and not one of them was egoless. A few of them, in fact, were egomaniacs (but that’s a different point).

It’s boorish at best to be an egomaniac. But, on the other hand, there is no use striving to be “egoless.” Even the greatest Buddhas who ever lived had functioning egos. You can be certain of this, because to be without a functioning ego is to be utterly helpless.
There are only four completely egoless states:
  • newborn babies
  • deep (dreamless) sleep
  • coma or vegetative states
  • trance-absorption in formless, super-mental consciousness.[1]
None of these egoless states is permanent (even coma is resolved at death). If you are not presently abiding in one of these temporary egoless states, then be assured, you are not presently egoless.
            In the fullness of enlightenment the ego arises and works just fine. The “I” sense is apparent, but it does not hamper the feeling of free being. Ego—the individual-bodily-self point of view—is recognized as an operating program for organizing experience and functioning in the world.
The operating program called ego emerges from both “hardware” and “software.” The “hardware” of ego pertains to the brain’s wiring for language and thought; the “software” of ego refers to cultural conditionings and individual experiences overlaid on the self-idea.[2]
Ego is handy for driving a car, buying groceries, writing books on enlightenment, cashing huge royalty checks, paying taxes, etc., and it remains transparent to the mood of wonder, humor and freedom. Then, during periods of formal meditation (and also deep sleep), when awareness relaxes beyond even the noticing of external or internal data, ego melts away like a salt doll dropped into the ocean.

There is no need to kill the ego. No possibility of it, either! Just see it for what it is. In periods of stillness and quiet investigation (meditation), learn to see beyond the software. To fear or hate ego is a belly-ache from partially digested Eastern philosophy. Mature teachings have criticized this futile path of trying to destroy the ego.

  1. Ego-“I” is not within (interior) to the body-mind. “I” names the whole body-mind.

  1. Ego-“I” (the whole body itself) is the sophisticated creation of billions of years of psycho-physical evolution.

  1. There is nothing independent about ego. “I” is a functional unit of the total cosmos.

  1. The multi-dimensional human body-mind itself is ego, and it is the crown of creation!

  1. Acknowledge the ordeal of Original Mind evolving in biological form: amoebas to trilobites to dinosaurs to primates to hominids to self-consciousness (ego). Praise the ego!

You can try to eliminate or block the ego. (But ask yourself who is trying, pal.) Or, you can live each moment as Wholeness, in which case, you’ll find that ego comes and goes all by itself. Where is ego during moments of deeply focused involvement—the “flow” of athletes, musicians and artists? Ego also vanishes in deep sleep and meditation, during passionate lovemaking, and in many other moments of “flow.”
Whether ego appears or disappears, ego is not the enemy. The “I”-sense does not prevent happiness or enlightenment. Indeed, even after a person enjoys oceanic states of ego-dissolution, of absolutely selfless being, the ego-“I” comes back on-line, all by itself. This should not be surprising: after all, every night the ego vanishes in deep sleep, and every morning it pops up again in the waking state. This tells you all you need to know about the ordinary usefulness of the “I”-program.
“I” is not our True Nature, and not everlasting. Again, it is only a biologically-based system for organizing experience and bodily functioning. But as long as it appears, “I” is a feature in the process of True Nature. Like the ocean is waving, God (Who else?) is ego-ing. “I” is an aspect of Original Mind.
Not the much-maligned ego, but rather, separative activity—the unwillingness to love, to relate, to participate, to share, to live as peace—is the true obstruction of happiness.


Now let’s live and work and play and die without beating our poor heads against an imaginary problem. You and me.

Zombies need not apply.

[1] A Sanskrit term for this state is nirvikalpa samadhi. I prefer to call it deep wake, or dreamless wake, since it is to enter the previously “unconscious” realm of deep sleep while remaining wide awake. It is the experience of awareness prior to all qualifications—a luminous boundless void that Buddhists have called Original Face or Clear Light Mind.

[2] In large part, the ego-construct is based on language. Prior to about two years old, an infant is basically egoless. Then children rapidly develop the ability to talk and at the same time acquire a conceptual self-image: “I,” “me,” “myself,” “mine.” These factors together—brain-wiring, cultural overlays and personal experiences—form the ego, the self-system named “I.”

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Archetypes and Synographs

An ARCHETYPE is a collectively-inherited idea or image that shows up as a recurring symbol in literature and art and mythology (and even technology), found in cultures widespread in space and time. SYNOGRAPHS are different graphics (such as the ying-yang symbol and the Star of David) that actually convey the same meaning.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Seed Bearer

                            "Life Itself: Its Origin and Nature"

Smiling in the Same Language

A short video based on Huston Smith's "Universal Grammar of Religions." 

(Incidentally, if you recoil from the word "God" used herein, I understand. The term carries a mountain of religious and anti-religious baggage. Feel free to substitute your own term for what is All-Inclusively Whole; then see if most or all of the "universal grammar" still makes intuitive sense to you.)

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Today is Sunday, February 2, 2014. It’s 7:18 p.m.

But it is not REALLY “Sunday” or “the second day of February.” Obviously it is not actually “2014” and it isn’t “7:18 post meridian.” All of these are human conventions and measures, superimposed on the openness that truly IS. 

You knew that, right? 


Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Perennial Philosophy

(Transcript of a Sunday talk I delivered at the UU Church, Tallahassee, in 2005.)

One way by which to determine if you’ve found a church that is appropriate for you, is the extent to which you are free from the need to translate what the speaker is saying. You know what I mean by translating: Every time the speaker says, “God, Our Father, He…” you switch genders in your head—“Goddess, Our Mother, She…” or you render the phrase into non-theistic terms—“Our Cosmic Condition, It…” or humanistic terms—“Our human intellect, our communal efforts, we…” Without such translations, the words don’t ring true to your personal sensibility and philosophy.

I wonder what it would take for me to speak in your language—with perfect compatibility—so that you aren’t obliged to constantly translate my message?

Is there an Esperanto of spiritual experience to which we can all relate?

It seems highly unlikely—no, it seems impossible. Perhaps we can all relate to our animal experience—talking and joking about bodily functions—but we seem to have nothing in common above the navel. According to the triune model of the human brain, one could say that we share the reptilian and mammalian functions of the brain stem and limbic system—the crocodile that lives down in the basement and the ape that inhabits the ground floor—but once we rise to the human domain (the attic of the neo-cortex), we are no longer experiencing the same worldview. And to whatever degree our worldview diverges, to that degree we are not living in the same world.
Human beings are not clones; not even identical twins are identical subjectively. Many different human temperaments and constitutions exist; and within each psycho-physical category one can find people at very different stages of development: physical, psychological and spiritual. Therefore, spiritual practices that may be helpful for one person may be useless or even harmful for another person of a wholly different temperament or at a lower or higher stage of development.

Do “All roads lead to Rome”? Maybe so—but only if it is Rome, and not Amsterdam or Tokyo, the wayfarer wants to reach.

And yet we do call ourselves universalists; you, in your official church documents, and I, too, in my self-description. What does universalist mean?
If you know your church’s history, you’ll recall the word “universalist” originally referred to a theological doctrine in which everyone—even the worst sinner—is saved; there is no eternal damnation, all souls are embraced by the divine. That original definition of Universalism identified this church for a couple hundred years. Today, Universalist has come to mean a wide-open, liberal, rational, skeptical religion in which all are welcome—even those few who may actually believe in souls and heaven.

Now what do I mean when I say that I am a universalist? Allow me to explain in a roundabout way.
All of the following words have two related meanings in their respective languages; they each mean both “spirit” and “breath”.

  • Spirutus (Latin)
  • Pneuma (Greek)
  • Ruach (Hebrew)
  • Ruh (Arabic)
  • Prana (Sanskrit)
  • Chi (Chinese)
  • Ki (Japanese)
  • Ka (Egyptian)

Spirit and breath: It is no accident that these words are synonyms. Not only among the eight languages and their corresponding cultures just mentioned; one encounters this twin meaning again and again—from the Inuit of the Arctic Circle to the natives of Tierra del Fuego; from the Lakota Sioux of the American Plains, to the Dogon tribespeople of Africa. Spirit and breath. Spirit as breath.
            To breathe in is to inspire; just as we feel inspired by beauty and the movement of the spirit. To breathe out is to expire; just as when the animating spirit is withdrawn, the body dies.
Living Spirit, greater than the material bodily processes (and even the total cosmic process), is living us, breathing us—breathing all the worlds. In the Hindu scriptures, an epithet for this Living Energy is “Breath of the Eternal.”
This intimate kinship of transcendent spirit and bodily breath is a universal mystical experience—found throughout spiritual traditions diverging in place and time, culture and language.
Such congruent experiences have led some religious philosophers to propose that there exists a set of universal truths at the core of the world’s wisdom traditions. In the 1700s, Leibniz coined a title for this set of ever-recurring themes: Philosophia Perrenis or “Perennial Philosophy.”
That is the sense in which I am a universalist; I subscribe to the Perennial Philosophy, which has also been called Hagia Sophia (meaning “Sacred Wisdom”), Lex Aeternus (“Eternal Law”), Din al-Haqq (“Religion of Reality”), Sanatana Dharma (“The Eternal Way’), among other names.
Important thinkers have promoted the idea of such a universal religion: Emerson, Rene Guenon, Frithjof Schuon, Mircea Eliade, Aldous Huxley, Joseph Campbell, Alan Watts, and Lex Hixon are among its more recent champions.
The most famous living advocates of this universal wisdom are Huston Smith and Ken Wilber. Smith, the author of The World's Religions—first published in 1958 and to this day the best textbook on comparative religion—is a practicing Christian in his nineties. Smith is a lens through which delicious light shines; I say “delicious,” because the spiritual brilliance he brings into focus has nourished many.
Ken Wilber is a middle-aged guy living in Boulder, Colorado, who happens to be one of the philosophical giants of the ages. His opus magnum, Sex,Ecology, Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution is a masterpiece of what he calls “integral philosophy.”
That said; the talk that follows owes its biggest debt to Aldous Huxley, who compiled an excellent anthology titled The Perennial Philosophy: An Interpretation of the Great Mystics, East and West. Incidentally, it’s safe to listen to this presentation with an open mind. Be assured that if you do not agree with the Perennial Philosophy, you will not be dragged out to a ditch and shot in the back of the head. (If you balk at the much abused word “God,” try replacing it in your mind with “Totality of Life” or whatever can name for you that which transcends the limits of the encapsulated ego.)

* * *

About 30 centuries have passed since the spoken tradition of the Perennial Philosophy was first frozen in writing. Over the millennia it has sung hymns to itself in nearly every language of the world and has fitted to itself the garbs and modes of every world religion. But beneath this Babel of tongues and tomes, of parochial histories and narrow doctrines, there can be analyzed a Highest Common Factor, which is the Perennial Philosophy in what Huxley calls its “chemically pure state.” This purity can never, of course, be expressed in mere words—no matter how un-dogmatic or deliberately syncretistic such a statement may strive to be. Only those who practice a contemplative way of life that ultimately transcends words and even personality can actually grok the Perennial Philosophy. Yet the words left by those sages who have understood this profound way, whether Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, Jewish, Christian, or Muslim, point to the same essential structure of consciousness or reality.

At the core of the Perennial Philosophy we can discern at least six fundamentals:

·        First: A self-existing, self-luminous Divine Identity, Intelligence and Power is the Source or Ground within which all appearances have their moment, and apart from which they could not arise, change and pass away. (In shorthand, this first perennial truth could be summed: God IS.)

·        Second: The phenomenal world of matter and of individualized consciousness—the cosmos of galaxies, stars and planets; and the earth of mountains, rivers, trees, people, buildings, cars and flat-screen TVs—is the ongoing revelation, manifestation and evolution of the Divine Identity. (God LIVES.)

·        Third: There is directionality or purpose to the entire process of Kosmos. The great and total event is evolutionary: matter becomes life, life becomes mind, mind becomes self-aware mind, and self-aware mind awakens to its condition and identity in and of and as the Divine. In some views, such as that of Jewish mysticism, God is working out some evolutionary purpose through the ordeal of God’s own Self-submission to the phenomena of space-time-energy-matter. (God EVOLVES.)

·        Fourth: Human beings are capable not merely of inferring about the Divine Ground; they can actually realize its existence by direct intuition, superior to discursive reasoning (or the thinking-talking faculty of awareness). This immediate knowledge dissolves the knower into that which is known. Such annihilating union is the root and path and goal of the perennial philosophy—and the defining emblem of all mysticism. (In Sanskrit: Ayam Atman Brahman: This self IS God.”)

·        Fifth: Human beings possess a double nature, a temporal and mortal ego—the born personality—and a transcendental and timeless spirit. It is possible for each of us, through devotion and trust and insight, to identify with our eternal spirit which is of the same (or like) nature as the Divine Identity. (Love God, become God.)

·        Sixth: To identify with our eternal spirit and so to actualize unitive knowledge of the Divine is the very point of our lives on earth. (This is IT; this is as God as it gets.)

In the Bhagavad Gita of Hinduism, perhaps more clearly than in any other scripture, these doctrines are stated explicitly. The Divine Identity is Brahman—the inconceivable mystery at the Ground of cosmic power. This creative, sustaining and transforming power is manifested as the so-called Hindu Trinity. A hierarchy of manifestations links inanimate matter with plants, animals, humans, godlings, High Gods, and the undifferentiated Godhead beyond.
Similarly, in Mahayana Buddhism, the Divine Identity is called the Clear Light of Space, and the place of the High Gods of Hinduism is taken by the Dhyani Buddhas. A remarkably similar theology was set forth by Plotinus and later by Ralph Waldo Emerson and the American Transcendentalists, in which the High God is replaced by the World Soul (or Oversoul) and beyond that is the irreducible mystery of “The Alone.” Plotinus described the spiritual path as the “journey of the alone to the Alone.”
Similar conceptions are compatible with Jewish, Christian and Islamic mysticism. Thus, in Kabbalah, Ein Sof is the Divine Mystery/Ground underlying the personal aspects of Adonai. In Christian mysticism the absolute singularity of Godhead underlies the Trinity. Within the Islamic Sufi tradition, there is Al-Haqq, “the Real” (also called the “Abode of Essence”), which transcends Al-Haay, “the Living” (or “Abode of Power”), which is the active, personal aspect of Allah. In Black Elk’s Lakota Sioux religion, Wakan Tonka is the Great Mystery and below that is the Great Mother and below her are the divine children of the Earth and the Moon and the Sun.
I could go on for the next hour drawing connections between the worldviews of mystics from all the wisdom traditions. The congruency of their reports is evidence that these seers have gained direct insight into the same reality: God IS and God LIVES.

The third doctrine of the Perennial Philosophy is called, in Greek, telos—or “directionality”—the idea that there is directional growth toward a wonderful destiny, not just for individuals, but for cultures, for all of humankind, even for all of the biosphere and all the planets and the Cosmos itself. Indeed, according to the Kabbalistic view, God is evolving!co-evolving, in unqualified relationship with us!

The fourth doctrine—that it is only possible to know the Divine Ground via a trans-rational intuition that is deeper than logic—is proclaimed in every mystical tradition. One who is content merely to know about the ultimate Reality—theoretically and by hearsay—is compared by Muhammad to an ass bearing a load of books. Christian, Hindu and Taoist teachers wrote no less emphatically about the pretensions of mere book learning and analytic reasoning.
True gnosis is not discursive, but of the heart: an implicit, tacit and timeless apperception. It has been described as “Knowledge through Identity.” Or, in the words of the Tantraloka from Kashmir: “Only Shiva can realize Shiva.” (It takes one to know one!) The Zen tradition describes such mystical awakening as directly transmitted, “outside the scriptures,” from Buddha-mind to Buddha-mind.

The fourth recurring doctrine of the Perennial Philosophy affirms the multi-dimensional nature of human beings. The unitive knowledge of the Divine Ground has, as its prerequisite, self-transcending surrender and what is variously called compassion or loving-kindness or charity. By means of profound surrender and kindness we can cut through the narcissistic folly of mistaking the bodily personality to be our ultimate nature and self. We can discover that our identity is actually an Irreducible Totality—which includes the ever-evolving whole pattern of relationships best described as unqualified mutuality: Everything is everything!
Nisargadatta Maharaj, a great mystic of modern India, put it this way: “Love says, ‘I am everything.’ Wisdom says, ‘I am nothing.’ Between these two, my whole life flows.”
Incidentally, the Bhakti Yoga of Hinduism—the path of union with the Divine through devotional love—offers a full range of relational moods in which to love God, including the disposition of loving God as Parent to Child and the mood of loving God as lover to lover. Erotic union with the divine is not really so scandalous; it exists in Western spirituality, as well—in the so-called bridal mysticism of Jews and Christians, and in the emotion of aishq (longing for union) celebrated by the Sufi poets. Their religious poems and songs gave birth to the troubadour and courtly-love tradition of the Renaissance in Spain, Italy and France.

The fifth doctrine of the perennial philosophy states that the fulfillment of our lives is to bring awareness of the Divine into everyday relationships; or as the Lakota Sioux would put it, to walk in a sacred manner. The mystics of India, China, classical Greece, Moorish Spain, and Christian Europe, regarded this as an obvious tenet of their respective faiths—not public, weekend worship of a god beyond the sky, but living the vision of divine communion here on Earth, in this moment, with this breath—and now, with this breath.

This set of doctrines constitutes the Perennial Philosophy in its minimal form. Some mystics ask for nothing more; these working hypotheses are enough for their intensely personal investigation and practice. They are the Soul-Magellans ready to set sail on voyages of exploration upon the inner seas. But people who can begin their spiritual practice at the very core of mysticism are exceedingly rare. It is very difficult at the outset to probe these truths, and just about impossible to live them daily. That is why religious paths have been institutionalized around the teachings of one or more human realizers (some would say “incarnations”) of the Divine Ground. By their mediation (some would say “grace”) the lover of the divine is prepared and helped to achieve her goal—unitive gnosis of the Godhead, which is eternal life and beatitude. Such “incarnations” or enlightened sages are simply human beings who are awake to their own nature and condition—they understand WHAT they are—and can therefore effectively remind us of what we have allowed ourselves to forget: namely, that we too are always, already united with the Divine Ground.

Because the Perennial Philosophy constitutes a Highest Common Factor, present in all the major religions of the world, it is possible for people to remain good Jews, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, or Moslems and yet to fully agree on the basic doctrines of the Perennial Philosophy. Humanity would take a giant stride toward world peace if religious practitioners could understand and confess that, at heart, the major religions are not at war. Mutual religious tolerance, respect and cooperation would go a long way toward increasing the safety of the world.

I know that some of you would argue that the best project for bringing peace and improving human destiny would be to do away with religions altogether—mystics and mysticism included. As John Lennon sang, “Imagine no religions.” But aside from the fact that it is impossible to abolish religions (Karen Armstrong names our species homo religiosis), I would add that if we did away with mystical personalities, we would have to erase Buddha and Lao Tzu, Bach and Brahms, Bohr and Einstein, Thoreau and Emerson, Whitman and Rumi, and most of the shining stars of our species!

        Niels Bohr                             Ramana Maharshi 
Then where would we be? Stuck with the idolatries of scientific materialism, which cannot see past the limits of stuff; with logical positivism, which cannot get over the limits of language; with humanism, which cannot feel beyond the limits of the grave; and with the flattened landscape of post-modernism, which is so discomfited by hierarchies and absolutes that it insists on placing the word “reality” within quotes!
In short, we would be sealed in a coffin with seven billion other Earthlings, without a view that opens onto what is prior to and greater than each human lifetime. At best, we might spend our days studying psychology, biology, physics, and the glories and terrors of Nature, while “progressing” toward a techno-utopia—but we would not be consciously participating in communion with our Inexhaustibly Living Source, and thus, we would have closed the only doorway to self-transcendence.
(Jean Paul Sartre said, “Hell is other people.” But I must confess, “Hell is my lonely, limited self, when alienated from the Wholeness that includes and transcends me.”)

In any case, given that we are NOT going to do away with religions in this or any proximate century, a worldwide political groundswell of folks having a working understanding of the Perennial Philosophy might make a pleasant alternative to a bloody, planet-wide clash of religious fanatics. I invite you to join me in considering the ancient perennial wisdom at the tap root of the branching tree of the world’s religions.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Cancel My Subscription to the Ressurection

Eternal life is defined as LIFE WITHOUT END. Let’s take a moment to consider what it might be like to live without cessation.
First, I need to introduce a mathematical term, the “googolplex,” the biggest number that mathematicians have bothered to name. A googolplex is 10 to the exponent 100 (or 1 followed by 100 zeroes). It looks like this: 10,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000.

Okay, now we're ready to inspect the concept of living forever in the best place of all, Heaven. If you lived in Heaven for a googolplex of years, how much closer to the end of your eternal life have you progressed? Are you now a tenth of the way to its end? Halfway to its end? Well, obviously the question is bogus, because ETERNAL LIFE HAS NO END; you cannot ever get closer to the end of your unending life.

Is that what you want?

Let's see. You’re living in paradise, daily praising God with the angels. You know—what you already do now, every minute of every day—when you aren’t watching football or Game of Thrones, noshing, napping, drinking beer, having sex, and so forth. (Do they have TV in Heaven?) 

In Heaven, you get to live all your tomorrows, without threat of annihilation. You will live a googolplex of tomorrows, times a googolplex of tomorrows, times.... you get the idea. ETERNAL LIFE. And you will always live the day AFTER all your tomorrows, and the year and the millennium and the eon after that—ad infinitum.

In the eternal life of your resurrected body, will you be the same race and gender and age as you are now? Is this the form you would you like to keep FOREVER AND EVER?

Well, it is paradise, so let’s presume it will be the best of all possible worlds. It's all "spiritual," so presumably you can be a male spirit for a few zillion years and then switch to living as a female spirit. Try being a stallion, a dolphin. Expand your imagination galactically: What’s it like to be an orchid-squid from the planet Zoo? Play through all possible forms. Yet won’t you eventually get bored with a life that CANNOT end? Years which go on and on to the exponent of a zillion, zillion googolplexes—with no exit, only an infinitude of eons dawning over the horizon.

Is that what you WANT?

It seems to me that life in ANY form or endless menagerie of forms—no matter how beautiful, exalted and super-powerful—would begin to feel claustrophobic given enough time. I know that I would feel packaged, trapped, boxed-in, by eternal life. I would eventually yearn for release from all possible bodies and minds, from the perpetual motion machine of experience.

Thanks for the offer, but please "cancel my subscription to the resurrection."

Friday, January 10, 2014

Be Calm, No Nicknames

On my way to the gym I stop at a red light on Main and Centerville, and I hear loud moans. A man’s lying on his side under the entrance to Wells Fargo, and he’s moaning in pain. I’m thinking: Homeless man who fell down drunk?

I weave through two lanes of traffic and pull into the parking lot, and I see that the guy is Hispanic—big dude, dressed in T-shirt, jeans and work boots—and he’s moaning in agony.

He’s having a heart attack? So I’m trying to remember CPR—oh hell, Step One, Step Two—how’s that’s go? I jump out of my car and then I see the hole in the ceiling of the entranceway. This poor guy has plummeted about 20 feet onto concrete. I start to dial 911 when his coworker shows up and tells me an ambulance is already on the way. He says something to the groaning man in Spanish and then he just disappears. So I’m left alone with the injured guy and my taxi-cab-level Spanish.

I kneel beside him and put my hand on his back. “Lo siento mucho, mi amigo,” I say. “I’m so sorry, my friend.” He clutches my knee, and it makes me feel humble to realize how much my touch really matters. So I take his hand that’s gripping my knee and I hold it. And he squeezes it. “Tranquillo,” I say, “no motes”—which is supposed to mean, “Easy, don’t move,” but I’m wondering if it means, “Easy, you’re not a motor,” so I quit saying that. (I just Googled it, and it means, “Be calm, no nicknames.”)

So I’m holding hands with this big guy—he’s built like a heavyweight wrestler—and I’m feeling grateful that I’m able to lend him some comfort, although he’s still moaning. I want to tell him, “The ambulance is on the way.” But I can’t conjugate the future tense, and if I tell him the ambulance was on its way, it might give him a heart attack for real. So I just keep saying, “La ambulancia, mi amigo” in the most soothing tone I can manage—as if it’s a mantra: La ambulancia, la ambulancia, shanti, shanti, shanti. And I figure he’s Catholic, so I throw in, “Dios está contigo”—“God is with you”—because I care more about comforting him than insisting that I’m an atheist.

So I’m slowly caressing his back, and talking broken Spanish like a horse whisperer, when a white-haired lady appears. “I’ve got a clean towel in my car he can use as a pillow,” I tell her, and without another word, she takes my place, rubbing his back while I go grab a bath towel and roll it up and place it under his head. He’s still groaning in agony and then we all hear the sweet sound of the siren.

An EMT hops out and asks the man to wiggle his toes, and he does, which makes me realize the big dude understands English. The white-haired lady and I wait there till the ambulance goes. Before we get into our cars, she smiles kindly and says, “Thank you.”

So I missed yoga class, but I actually was able to help that man. O, the power of human touch! I want to go around today rubbing everybody’s back and telling them, “Please be calm. No nicknames.”