Monthly Archives: June 2011


This will not be a rehash of well-known facts about the life of this incredible Tibetan holy man. These are easy to find.  But his lifestory is filled with many historical facts, legends and myths, and all are important in understanding what he was all about and his significance both for Tibetan Buddhism and for all of us, yet not all the details get the “visibility” or the interpretation that they should.    The hagiography of any saint always needs careful reading—especially “between the lines”!


The first important thing to say is that there is a certain “anti-institutional” flavor to Milarepa’s spiritual path,  which kind of gets glossed over in the “official version” of  his various representations.  Milarepa was flourishing around 1100 in Tibet when that area was experiencing a profound shift in religious culture from the old Bon religion to the new one of Buddhism imported from India.  Interestingly enough in Europe at about this time it was the period between two great Western Christian saints:  St. Romuald and St. Francis, and the latter himself is also somewhat of an anti-institutional figure who has been domesticated by  ecclesial  history.  It is interesting that all three have a certain orientation to solitude, more or less.  In Francis’s case poverty was the chief value but solitude played an important role.  It can be said that the solitary one and institutional religion seldom fit together comfortably or without tension.  This can be seen in the Christian West from the Desert Fathers on.


Returning back to Milarepa, it is important to underline that Milarepa was a layman, not a traditional Buddhist monk, not a Buddhist bhikku.  He never belonged to any monastery or monastic group.  There were already Buddhist monasteries in Tibet at the time so he could have joined them, and there are stories that once his spiritual life was beginning to become known,  there were established monks who felt threatened by him and tried to show him up in their knowledge and their spiritual superiority.  Needless to say they not only failed but he “converted” them to be his disciples.  In any case, one can sense a real tension between the solitary Milarepa and the first rudiments of established Buddhism in Tibet.  Furthermore, Milarepa’s great teacher, Marpa, who was so instrumental in importing Buddhist texts into Tibet from India and translating them into Tibetan, well, he also was a layman, a married layman was Milarepa’s guru!


At this point let us note that within Tibetan Buddhism, the Kagyudpa School or lineage claims Milarepa as within their “ambience.”  In actuality this is done retrospectively, and this is perfectly fine–as long as we simply see the whole thing as a guru–disciple lineage that follows a certain line.  Naropa, Marpa, Milarepa, Gampopa, etc, etc.  But when the thing becomes formalized along some pretty strict institutional lines and is even called a “sect” of Tibetan Buddhism and when one sect hardly speaks to another, I think we have something that would not have really mattered one iota to Milarepa.  This is an outrageous thing to say for a non-Tibetan like myself, but in a sense Milarepa has to be “liberated” from the Kagyudpa label just as much as St. Francis has to be liberated from the Franciscans!!


If Milarepa deliberately rejected a formal institutional role for himself, he also included the institution of monasticism and priesthood in this rejection.  Monasteries are on his list of the “six deceptions”!!  Note this little quote:


“Monasteries are like a collecting-station for hollow drift.

The priestly life … is deceptive and illusory to me.

Of such prisons I have no need.”


Then he goes on to say:  “Having made a monastery within my body,

I forgot the monastery outside.”


Another rather interesting anti-institutional flavor to Milarepa’s spiritual journey is his relationship with women.  All the great world religions have problems in this regard in usually relegating women to some inferior position or as subservient to men.  Milarepa, like Jesus, does not really solve “the problem,” but in the case of both of them in their encounters with women they show the way to a transcendence of the restrictions of social norms and they empower women to overcome the narrowness of religious institutions.  In Buddhism itself, it was Ananda, one of the first disciples of Buddha, who convinced the Buddha himself to admit women into “the path”–thus you had Buddhist nuns from the beginning, but one still has the feeling that they “are riding 2nd class.”  Milarepa is much more direct and radical.  In one story he meets a young girl of about 15 with whom he has an exchange.  She is intrigued by what he is all about and wants to learn.  He tells her:

“Living in a rugged, deserted, and solitary hut is the Outer Practice.

Complete disregard of the self-body is the Inner Practice.

Thoroughly Knowing the Absolute is the Absolute Practice.

I am a yogi who knows all three.

Is there a disciple here who wishes to learn them?”


She becomes his disciple just like that, no formal “nun stuff”–and the story says that she achieves perfect enlightenment in this lifetime—just like Milarepa!  Another encounter with another young girl of 16 is even more interesting.  This time Milarepa, on another one of his journeys, stops at a well begging this girl for some food.  She rebuffs him and walks away toward her home.  He follows behind her.  She still ignores him.  He plops down outside her doorway overnight.  She has a special dream during the night, and the next morning she goes out and tells Milarepa the following:


” Please listen to me, Great Repa Yogi, accomplished One.

Looking at human lives, they remind me of dew on grass.

Reflecting on this my heart is full of grief.

My friends and relatives are as merchants passing in the street.

My native land is like a den of vice. …

My past life drives me from behind;

cooking and household duties pull me on.

This world is but a play:

the endless toil of housework,

the struggle for a living,

the leaving of one’s gracious parents,

the giving up of one’s own life to one’s betrothed.

Sometimes I think to myself: Does it make sense? To freely give yourself with your parents’ goods to someone who for life enslaves you as a servant?

At first a lover is an angel, then a demon, frightening and outrageous,

In the end he is a fierce elephant who threatens to destroy you.

Thinking thus, I feel sad and weary.

So now this maiden will devote herself to the Dharma!

Now she will join your disciples!”


Now this sounds like a REAL feminist!!  She is not too keen on her arranged marriage, and she doesn’t ask Milarepa for permission to join or to be accepted as a disciple.  She says she’s in; that’s it.  Milarepa has hardly anything to teach her; he merely gives his seal of approval as it were to her going off and being a hermitess.  What’s really funny in this story is something that is not fully evident until you stop and think about it:  she is fully in charge of the situation at all times in this story.   Years later they meet again, and she is one of the accomplished ones.



Finally, just a minor but interesting point.  Milarepa often calls himself a mendicant, a beggar.  He moves around quite a bit.  It is said that he inhabited something like 26 different caves during his life!  Usually he did not eat meat–he did not want to kill animals–but there are several stories where he does eat meat when offered it by some hunters who find his cave.  Like one of the great Desert Fathers, he considers the demands of hospitality more important than his own “purity” or the formalities of a monastic rule.


Let us conclude with a humorous but sharp observation by Milarepa:


” “When you run after your thoughts, you are like a dog chasing a stick: every time a stick is thrown, you run after it. Instead, be like a lion who, rather than chasing after the stick, turns to face the thrower. One only throws a stick at a lion once.”





The Place of Realization

 Realization of what?  Realization of the ultimate reality that one’s tradition holds up as the goal of it all:  this is what it’s all about.  Now in the Christian Desert Fathers there is a very famous saying by the great Abba Moses: “Go and sit in your cell and your cell will teach you everything.”  This “everything” is obviously not a collection of information, nor even wisdom in any ordinary sense, nor even some profound insight or great idea, etc.  No, it is what is sometimes called the “Great Realization”—though you will not find that kind of language among the Desert Fathers.  There is almost no “mystical” language among these venerable figures, but many signs of a mystical spiritual life (correctly understood) are present in their simple words and in their existential actions and lives.  Consider the following words of Abhishiktananda:


“The act of pure love is what awakes.  Advaita, non-duality is not an intellectual discovery, but an attitude of the soul.  It is much more the impossibility of saying ‘Two’ than the affirmation of ‘One.’  What is the use of saying ‘One’ in one’s thought, if a person says ‘Two’ in his life?  To say ‘One’ in one’s life: that is Love.”                                                          Indeed.  And this the Desert Fathers profoundly exhibit.


Now the word “cell” in that saying is a very interesting word, and it has several layers of meaning but each layer is interconnected to the others.  It is first of all an invitation to live within a certain confined  physical space.  That space, we are assured, will become the place of manifestation and thus of the Great Realization.  Similar insights are found in other traditions where that space can be denoted by “hermitage” or “cave,” etc.  Consider the following from the incomparable Milarepa:


“To stay in a hermitage is, in itself, to help all sentient beings.  I may come to Tibet; however, even then I will still remain alone in a hermitage.  You must not think that this is an ill practice.  I am merely observing my Guru’s orders.  Besides, the merits of all stages on the Path are acquired in the hermitage.  Even if you have very advanced experiences and Realization, it is better to stay in the land of no-man, because this is the glory and tradition of a yogi.  Therefore, you also should seek lonely places and practice strict meditation.”


Milarepa, of course, has a very austere reputation–one who lived in incredible conditions, perhaps not everyone’s “cup of tea”—not even nettle tea which is all he usually consumed!  And the Desert Father “cell” or cave was also usually a very austere place.  But we have these wise words from the Upanishads:


“Choose a place for meditation that is

Clean, quiet, and cool, a cave with a smooth floor

Without stones and dust, protected against

Wind and rain and pleasing to the eye.”


Not so bad afterall!  But seriously, let us reflect a bit on this “place of realization.”  As we noted, it is first of all a physical space: a cell, a cave, a trailer, a cabin, a room, etc.  It is where the monk abides–if not 24/7, pretty close to it.  It is characterized by solitude and silence.  Not a hangout, not a place to crash, not just a functional place, but shockingly enough it seems to be “an end in itself”—just live in that solitude and silence and let it take you where you have never been before!  Now very, very few are so blessed and privileged as to be able to actually physically live in that way.  But not all is lost for the rest.  For “the rest” are also “called”, “given” the Great Realization—-everyone at all times everywhere stands at the entrance of the Gates of Paradise.  While doing dishes there is no point of dreaming of a cave along the upper Ganges—Paradise is right there at the sink,  Enter….  So the “place of realization”  then is seen as the place where your two feet are!  The relation between the monk’s cell and Everyman’s (woman’s) place is extremely important and deep and not easy to see or understand—but it is absolutely true.  In a sense, everyone is called to “sit in their cell and their cell will teach them ‘everything.'”  The monk in his cell is truly Everyman(woman), but he/she has taken concrete steps to facilitate a certain awareness and aliveness to the Presence that is always there, to the Great Realization of Oneness.  The existential values that help this awareness, or at least some of them, are solitude, silence, poverty, simplicity, meditation, etc.  What happens to the average person “in the world” is that he/she gets lost in the nitty-gritty of historical existence, in the give and take of what the phenomenal ego undergoes/does/desires, in the social values of wealth, success, reputation, etc.  Indeed a person can even get lost in the “good things” which they do.  So everyone needs to learn from the monk in his cell—and indeed that monk can also get lost and scattered in trivial pursuits and become unfaithful to his journey.  So what is to be learned?


First of all let us note a physical characteristic of the monk’s cell—it is a circumscribed space, an enclosure of sorts, a space of limitation, of a very concrete finiteness. That is merely a representation and an embodiment of a more fundamental limitedness which is simply our human condition. It is important to attend to that “limitedness,” to live within it with a certain attentiveness.  That concrete finiteness is always there within our humanity, but it becomes more manifest as we experience our inadequacies, our failures, our “sinfulness”(why the Desert Fathers never hesitated to call themselves “sinners”), our frustrations, our inability to be satisfied, our losses, etc., etc.  The Desert Fathers did it marvelously–in all circumstances; and you can see it in their stories and sayings.  It comes out in their key words like: silence, poverty and dispossession, perseverance, humility(especially that), repentance, hospitality, prayer, etc. etc.  If you read their stories and sayings carefully,  you will see how they are “attending to the limits” of their situation.  This is crucial in understanding what they are up to and who they are, so let us turn to another tradition for a bit of help.


Bodhidharma, the first Patriarch of Zen who brought Buddhism to China, sat in meditation facing a wall for 9 years.  That iconic image should teach us much.  In a sense he was “sitting in his cell” and finally his cell taught him “everything.”  That wall is our finiteness, or better, the finiteness of our phenomenal ego self that trashes about with fears, confusions, desires, hang-ups, going with whatever is the latest stimulus, etc.  The ego self wants to be divine, infinite, fully satisfied, but there is one little catch—death is around the corner, a dissolution of that very identity that is so carefully and assiduously constructed.  If you have ever seen a spoiled little child in a market start screaming when he/she doesn’t get what he/she wants, that is the picture of the ego self as death negates all its “achievements,” all its “accomplishments”, all its constructs, all its gains.  So the ego self will tend to suppress the thought of death, its dissolution, and “play” at being divine.  So many of the stories in the Bible relate to that:  the serpent’s temptation to Eve, the builders of the Tower of Babel, Satan’s temptation to Jesus in the desert, etc.  The amazing thing is that every person is one with God in the core center of their being, sometimes called “the heart” –this comes as pure gift, not a construct of our doing.  Death cannot touch that reality—in fact that may be said to be the ONLY reality.  Again, from the Gospels:  Jesus asks us why lay up treasure where moth and rust can eat them away or a thief can steal them—this is ultimately the fundamental reality of Death, and that kind of treasure is what the ego self loses itself in.



So that “wall” is everywhere, every place where our two feet are–whether it be the monk in his cell or a person doing his dishes or taking a walk. (Thus the wandering monk is also facing that same wall and can be said to be “in his cell.”)  You are facing that wall.  So the amazing thing is that this is precisely the place of realization!  The Buddhist equation holds:  nirvana=samsara — when you see it right!  Indeed, when one sees right through that wall!!  On the one hand, the mountains will still be mountains(as Zen teaches us) and carrying water will still be carrying water, but on the other hand it will all be different.


Now we need to push our understanding of the place of realization a bit further.  If our very personhood, no matter its circumstances, is potentially the locus of the Great Realization, it is because that realization unfolds at the core of our being, the center of our being, in the Sufi and Hesychast tradition, the heart.  The monk abiding in his/her cell symbolizes and lives out Everyman(woman) –including the monk himself–abiding within his/her own heart.  We see through the wall only from the standpoint of the heart. Otherwise the cell, the human condition,  becomes intolerable in its limitations–a veritable prison cell, and modern consumerism will sell you the “drugs and toys” to keep you distracted and entertained while you “sit in your cell and learn nothing” but churn away in desire and endless dissatisfaction.


Here we may very well learn most from our Sufi and Hesychast friends.  But a modern rendition of what “the heart” means is provided by Thomas Merton, and this quote is given approval by the great scholar of Hesychasm, Kallistos Ware:


“At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes of our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our mind or the brutalities of our will.  This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us.  It is so to speak, His Name written in us.  As our poverty, as our indigence, as our dependence, as our sonship, it is like a pure diamond blazing with the invisible light of heaven.  It is in everybody.  And if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely.  I have no program for this seeing; it is only given.  But the Gate of Heaven is everywhere.”


And Kallistos Ware:  “In this passage, Merton does not actually use the word ‘heart,’ but surely he is referring with insight and precision to what the Christian East means in its ascetic and mystical theology when it refers to the deep heart.”


The Great Realization will always be explicated in different language by different traditions, and it may be argued that not all these point to exactly the same experience.  However that be, in terms of the Christian East and Hesychasm (and very much Sufism), the Great Realization is best approached through the language of the heart as above.  Here we arrive at the “ultimate” place of realization when we arrive at the heart.  And the nature of this Great Realization begins to be delineated through what is called the Prayer of the Heart.


In Hesychasm, the heart is the locus of the Divine Indwelling.  As St. Paul says:  “God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts , crying, ‘Abba, Father,'”(Gal 4:6).  So in the heart we are one with Christ and drawn into the unspeakable mystery and awesome transcendence of the Trinitarian relationships.  So much so that St.Paul could say: “I live now, not I, but Christ lives in me”(Gal 2:20).  The Sufis would put it in a more concrete, existential way:   I see  what I see with God’s eyes, I hear what I hear with God’s ears, I touch what I touch with God’s hands, I walk where I walk with God’s feet, I smell what I smell with God’s nose, I speak what I speak with God’s voice.

Rather bold but marvelous way of putting it!  And we can perhaps push it one more step:  when I truly pray it is God who is praying in my heart.  This is the true Prayer of the Heart.  As Kallistos Ware puts it, we come to the realization “where prayer becomes part of us, not just something we do, but something we are, and it can lead us to the point where we are no longer conscious  of the subject-object dichotomy, no longer conscious of ourselves praying to God, which leads us to the point where God is all in all.”  As Cassian put: “Prayer is not perfect when the monk is conscious of himself or of the fact that he is praying.”  For the Great Realization means our surrender to that Total Gift of Christ praying to the Father in our Heart and the totality of our life being swept up in the doxology of the Holy Trinity—Glory be to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit–whether we are sweeping the floor or in deep silent meditation.  This is a surrender way beyond any words or concepts.


But let us conclude with this brief saying by John of Gaza about his fellow hermit, Barsanuphius:


“The cell in which he is enclosed alive as in a tomb, for the sake of the Name of Jesus, is his place of repose; no demon enters there, not even the prince of demons, the devil.  It is a sanctuary, for it contains the dwelling-place of God.”










Some More Notes A: The One and the Many

A. The One and the Many


The title refers to a classic philosophical problem, a dilemma that intrigued ancient Greek philosophers.  It goes something like this:  from the standpoint of appearances the world seems radically characterized by diversity–“the many.”  You look around and you see dogs, cats, birds, rocks, trees, water, fire, butterflies, your own self, etc., etc., etc.  But if there is only “difference” it becomes difficult to make sense of the world.  For you need some commonality, some “sameness” even to affirm “difference.”  For example, are you “the same person” now as  you were 20 years ago?  You probably would answer, “yes” and “no.”  From the standpoint of radical diversity, from the standpoint of “difference” as the fundamental principle of reality, you could only answer “No, I am not the same person I was 20 years ago.”  Heraclitus, one of the philosophers who held that position, did say that you never step into the same river twice.  But other Greek philosophers began to intuit another principle at work in reality.  For example: take a piece of raw gold ore, refine it, melt it down, pour it into a mold, hammer it out and maybe you have a chalice or some decorative piece.  Is that which we call “gold” different in each instance or is there some continuity, some underlying unity?  Another example: take a seed and plant it, once grown into a tree cut the tree down, use some wood to make furniture, some is burned to make heat.  From the seed to the furniture or the ashes there is some unity that undergoes these transformations and underlying these transformations.  This they called the principle of unity–it is also at work in reality, and it is this which allows us to make sense of the world.  Unlike the principle of diversity, the principle of unity is not obvious to appearances—one has to intuit it through a kind of philosophical intuition.  It is a kind of breakthrough in rational reasoning that the Greeks achieved, but it left them in a great dilemma because the two principles are actually self-negating.  They cannot exist together in the same entity at the same time because they cancel each other out–and yet that is precisely what is needed to be faithful to the world we experience.  So some philosophers simply opted for one principle over the other:  Parmenides opted for Unity–All is One.  Thus difference was considered merely an “appearance”, practically an illusion and not truly real.  Others opted precisely for “difference”–like Heraclitus–“Otherness” is All. There is nothing that is “the same” in reality–it is only a function of our words that anything seems the same.  It was not until you get to Aristotle that the problem is solved sort of, and he shows you how the two principles do not negate each other by introducing a third principle which actually holds them together and leads to his proof for the existence of what he calls “God.”

Now all this is simply by way of preparation for what I really want to discuss: the diversity of spiritual paths.  That bit of philosophical history might help us if we refer to it by analogy, as a kind of very rough paradigm of the way we need to proceed to even see  the problem clearly.  First of all, it is very obvious to everyone that there is an enormous diversity in spiritual paths.  The diversity in this case is two-fold: diversity of methods, and diversity of ultimate goals as presented by each tradition. It is not only that there is Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, etc., each with its own spiritual methods, with its own claims,  and with its own  expressions of the ultimate goal,  but even within any one of these traditions there are also some amazingly different variants.  And just like with the ancient Greek philosophers, people tend to take one of several possible positions in the face of a deep dilemma.  Some will radicalize this diversity and claim that all these traditions are totally different and have nothing in common.  The problem here is that often this is accompanied by a claim of one’s own superiority or dominance as “the” tradition.  These people see little need to talk to the “other” because there is nothing they could possibly learn.  They tend not to want to explore that “otherness” and see what it might bring.  At the other end are  folks who opt for a kind of radical unity—it’s all the same. A variant of this is simply pointing to a diversity of methods, but of the same goal:  One Truth; Many Paths.    And sometime that alleged sameness is established by simply picking and choosing the elements from each tradition and each experience that fit with one another and ignoring those that don’t.  Also, even here, sometime is found a claim to superiority of a given tradition, but usually in a more refined, subtle manner.

Again, the people who tend to opt for “sameness” also tend to stress the value of “experience” over and against conceptual constructs which tend to go in the “difference” direction.  There are two problems with that: 1. the spiritual experiences among various saints and mystics has an amazing variety even with some common elements among them.  An example:  many Orthodox do not recognize anything valid in the spiritual experience of St. Francis.  Is it simply because of their hardheartedness and stubborness or is it because they simply do not recognize their spirituality in St. Francis.  I think it is a bit of both.  And what happens when you cross the BIG religious divides and look at the experiences of various holy people in their own traditions.  To claim that it is all the same is to overlook some significant differences.  2. The relation between conceptual framework and the “spiritual experience” needs a lot of careful study, and yes, lived experience.  At this point let us just simply point out that one’s spiritual experience is shaped by the conceptual framework that one lives in.  The conceptual framework is not simply a ladder or a boat that one can throw away once one reaches one’s goal–at least not this side of the grave.

At this point, if we are truly open and truly honest to what we have, we find ourselves in a similar dilemma as the ancient Greek philosophers.  The “cheap” solution is to opt for one side or the other of the dilemma—the deeper thing is to hold on to both at the same time!  Unfortunately we do not have our religious Aristotle to solve our problem–and perhaps that’s good–but we do have a “word” from our Hasidic friends to help us out and encourage us:

There were two Hasidic brothers who both deeply thought about the things of God and the mystical path.  It seems that in a discussion they were having they discovered that they held a contrary view on a very important point.  Neither one could convince the other of his rightness and the wrongness of the other’s view.  The argument reached a frustrating point of no longer being fruitful in any sense.  One of them suddenly got an idea.  “Let us go to so-and-so and we will lay out our positions and he will decide which one of us is right.”  They agreed; they went to their friend, and their friend listened to them deeply and was troubled.  “I don’t see a way out of this.  Both of you can’t be right; one of you must be wrong, but I can’t tell which one it is.  But let us go to the Rabbi, he will determine this.”  So off they went to the Hasidic Master and presented their dilemma.  He listened to them intently.  Then he turned to Brother A and said, “You are right.”  Then he turned to Brother B and said, “You also are right.”  Then the friend exploded in exasperation, “But they both can’t be right.”  And the Rabbi turned to him and said, “You know, you also are right!”

(Caution: This story may be hazardous to your orthodoxy.)

All of the above is by way of a kind of prolegomena to a future reflection on the thought of Abhishiktananda, one of the most remarkable spiritual figures of the 20th Century.

B. St. Thomas Aquinas:  “At the end of all our knowing we know God as something unknown; we are united with him as with something wholly unknown.”

The problem with Christian piety (and theology) is that too often it does not take seriously enough those amazing words of Aquinas—it is too often that Christian spirituality does not embrace the Mystery of God, but only a kind of pretend “mystery” which is easily controlled by a clerical church.  And furthermore this cripples the Christian encounter with the great religions of the world.

  1. One of my favorites, Shaikh Ahmad Al-Alawi:  “It is not a question of knowing God when the veil be lifted, but of knowing Him in the veil itself.”
  1. And finally a word on “nakedness” from Merton:

“The inmost self is naked.  Nakedness is not socially acceptable except in certain crude forms which can be commercialized without any effort of imagination(topless waitresses).  Curiously, this cult of bodily nakedness is a veil and a distraction, a communion in futility, where all identities get lost in their nerve endings.  Everybody claims to like it.  Yet no one is really happy with it.  It makes money.

Spiritual nakedness, on the other hand, is far too stark to be useful.  It strips life down to the root where life and death are equal, and this is what nobody like to look at.  But it is where freedom really begins: the freedom that cannot be guaranteed by the death of somebody else.  The point where you become free not to kill, not to exploit, not to destroy, not to compete, because you are no longer afraid of death or the devil or poverty or failure.  If you discover this nakedness, you’d better keep it private.  People don’t like it.  But can you keep it private?  Once you are exposed….  Society continues to do you the service of keeping you in disguises, not for your comfort, but for its own.”

  1. Louis Dupre:  “Negative theology means far more than that we find no adequate names for God.  It means, on a practical-spiritual level, that there exists no failproof method for reaching God, and hence that my only hope lies in the humble awareness of my inadequacy.  My lack of faith, my pschic limitations(including the ones that spiritually incapacitate), the radical worldliness of my age, this is the dark cloud I must enter deliberately if I am to find God at all.  It is the cloud of my own estrangement, my own waylessness.  No spiritual life can take off without passing through an intense awareness of the emptiness of the creature.  This is the lasting message of all negative theology, especially of Meister Eckhart’s lesson of absolute poverty.

The message seems far removed from the aspirations of a culture predominantly bent on self-fulfillment and self-achievement…  Current secularism has questioned far more than the doctrine of God.  It has jeopardized the possibility of lifting our minds and hearts beyond the objective world we know and control.  The very attitude toward existence required for the idea of God to make sense has vanished.  We have become the efficient, objective and responsible inhabitants of a well-organized closed world.  Amazingly enough, deep down men and women still nurture the aspiration of breaking through the enclosure into the free space of transcendence.  To realize this aspiration, however, they must first become aware of their own moral and spiritual predicament.  A precondition for spiritual life is the willingness to enter into our own radical profaneness, to recognize the practical atheism by which we conduct our affairs and to admit that it is not only the name of God we have forgotten but also the natural piety which alone enables man to speak the name truthfully.  The aspirant to spiritual life must learn a new attitude before he learns new concepts or practices.  Unconditional trust without knowing what it is we trust, willingness to let go without knowing whether anyone will ever catch us, preparedness to wait without knowing whether we will be met.  Total looseness and unconditional trust are the virtues negative theology teaches us to cultivate.  There could be no more appropriate lesson for our time.”



Some Notes:

1. “The highest form of jihad is to speak the truth in the face of an unjust ruler” Saying of Prophet Muhammad

2. From the current issue of Adbusters—a sign of the times: “Roxxxy is the world’s first sex robot. Her hair style, skin color and personality are customizable. She has tactile and aural sensors that allow “her” to respond appropriately to conversation and stimulation. She can talk about football or moan orgasmically when the time is right. With her embedded wireless modem, she can access the internet and download personality updates and new knowledge. She weighs 27 kilograms, making her easy to store. She can grip your hand, move her head up and down and her hips back and forth. Roxxxy costs $7000. And yes, she has an off switch.” Comment: Walmart will eventually sell this robot a lot cheaper. Walmart’s Motto: Save Money. Live Better

3. Cost of keeping a no-fly zone over Libya: 2 million per week

Cost of arms that NATO SUPPLIED to Qadaffi over the last 3 decades: 10 billion

Money Qadaffi had in US banks before his assets were frozen: 29 billion.

Funny how Syria was destroying its own citizens just like Libya was doing, but nobody either here or in Europe seems to care. (A few other countries engaging in such activities also.) Oh, I forget, Syria has no oil. Hmm, Libya has oil. Iraq has oil. Iran has oil. Afghanistan has one of the richest mineral deposits in the world. Do I see a pattern here? Do we ever attack or invade any country that has nothing in the ground, even though it might be doing horrible things to people?

4. Maybe the only antidote to the madness of our world—a quote from one-time Secretary General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjold:

“Understand through the stillness. Act out of the stillness. Conquer in the stillness.”

If one correctly understands this “stillness”, this is the essence of hesychasm. Understanding it wrongly or inadequately results in the ego wrapping its arms around a kind of stillness and enjoying it as a new kind of experience, albeit a kind of spiritual experience.

5. One of Merton’s favorite Sufi sayings:

“On the heart of Poverty three renouncements are inscribed:

Quit this world. Quit the next world, and quit quitting.”

6. Narcissism vitiates all spirituality and all relationships. Narcissism disguises itself as a kind of positive message: “You are at the center of the universe.” Indeed. Every person is at the center of reality, but not any ego self is anywhere near there. The ego self cannot enter through the Gate of Paradise–only the True Person can. Now one of the problems of modern spirituality is that it often does not understand how modern technology enhances the dynamics of the ego self. An essay in the NY Times is a remarkable reflection of the problems that modern technology presents to human relationality, how it tends to pull us toward the surface of reality and fix us there. Only a little further extrapolation would give us an idea of how that would affect spirituality. Here is the link.

Incidentally, Dostoyevsky would readily agree with this writer about the connection of suffering and real love.