Friday, May 20, 2011

Preface of "The Way of Selflessness"

"Know, O noble brother, that while the paths are many, the Way of Truth is single."--Ibn al-Arabi (Muslim) p. vii

Thus starts the book. This idea has always resonated with me. I've also heard it said that while there are 6 billion (or how ever many human folk are on the Earth these days) ways to (fill in your preferred terminology here: "Get to God", "Reach Enlightenment", "Achieve Realization", "Be Present", etc., etc., etc.....semantics don't matter ultimately, although they can certainly muck up communication...the IT OF IT matters), there is actually only one way (your way--your path).

I know some people use that "one way" to judge and oppress and cause all sorts of harm, but that isn't how I mean it. Your life is your path. That's how I mean it. If you are religious, that is your path. If you are agnostic, that is your path. If you're a little bit scattered, like me, then that is your path. Dabbler, focuser, hippie, yuppie, it matters not.

OK, moving on:

"During a particularly dark period in my life, when I despaired of ever finding happiness, I happened to stumble on some of the writings of the mystics--men and women who claimed to have discovered a universal and liberating Truth about the ultimate nature of Reality. What I found so striking about their testimonies was that, unlike the works of other philosophers and theologians, whose ideas seemed always to conflict, the mystics' accounts of this Reality were remarkably similar."--Joel Morwood (author) p. vii

And ultimately, that's what's super-cool about the mystics. When one pushes past all their cultural idiosyncratic baggage, one discovers that no matter what religious persuasion they are from, they really ARE saying the same thing.

"Another difference between the mystics and ordinary philosophers and theologians was that, instead of trying to convince the reader of the truth of their ideas through argument, the mystics instead insisted that anyone willing to undertake the appropriate spiritual disciplines and practices could discover it directly for themselves."--Joel Morwood (author) p. viii

Love this, too. I don't need faith, or trust, or belief. Just a willingness to be my own laboratory. the 13th century Sufi shaykh (master) Ibn al-Arabi declares "Knowledge of mystical states can only be had by actual experience, nor can the reason of man define it, nor arrive at any cognizing of it by deduction." p. viii

Amen, brother! This is why I gave up talking about my "spiritual experiences". There is no way to explain what states I go through in meditation, yoga, contemplation, etc. Firstly, these are not merely mental states, and words are limited. Secondly, my experience of certain phenomena is filtered through my own idiosyncratic self--not the same as your idiosyncratic self. So, I've learned to just share my practices with others and encourage them to take them up if interested, rather than describing what happens to me during said practices.

So, too, the anonymous author of the two fourteenth-century Christian classics 'The Cloud of Unknowing' and 'The Book of Privy Counseling' writes, "You will not really understand all this until your own contemplative experience confirms it." p. viii

Indeed. Just further confirmation that although "Consciousness", "God", or whatever terminology suits is universal, our experience of it is extremely personal.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Chapter 1 of "The Way of Selflessness"--'The Truth that Makes You Free'

In case this has escaped anyone's attention, this blog is very informal. I'm writing about what sparks my interest. This blog might become more refined over time, but as of now, my goal is merely to keep things flowing.

So, diving right into the first chapter, I'm struck by Joel's citations about what causes suffering. The following seems very pertinent:

"The ego sense is deep-rooted and powerful....It creates the impression that 'I am the actor, I am he who experiences.'"--Shankara (Hindu sage) p. 8

I've noticed this in my own life. Also, the opposite: I've had the sense of things just flowing through me when I'm in a state of acceptance, surrender and/or non-resistance. When I experience that state Shankara speaks of, I suffer. When I am in a flow state, I suffer much less. I'm not sure I can say I'm free of suffering when in a flow state, but to be fair, I'm not in that state for long periods of time either--at some point, my ego "enter fear" and starts "interfering". (A tip of my chapeau to author of "The Presence Process", Michael Brown, for pointing out that to 'interfere' and to 'enter fear' are the same.)

"The contemporary Sufi master Javad Nurbaksh sums it up this way: 'As long as you are "you", you will be miserable and impoverished.' According to...mystics, then, it is not the simple fact of impermanence that causes our suffering. In order for suffering to occur, there has to be some self to experience it. If there were no self, there would be no suffering....although attachment, desire, and impermanence are all important CONTRIBUTING factors to the generation of suffering, what the mystics say is that, at an even deeper level, suffering depends on the presence of some self, capable of being a suffer-ER." p. 8

This makes a certain degree of sense to me. If one is "empty", then experiences just flow through--one doesn't get stuck, so one doesn't suffer. But Joel goes on to accurately point out that we are basically "stuck" with a separate self (or at least the illusion of it). Which leads to the question:

"Does suffering have a cause even more fundamental than the experience of being a separate self--a cause which perhaps we CAN do something about? Of course, the mystics' answer to this is yes."--Joel Morwood (author) p. 8

This is where things start to get a little confusing, or at least, very subtle. Because according to the mystics, the cause of suffering isn't this sense of a separate self, but rather that we are ignorant that our true nature isn't, in fact, this separate self.

Joel makes a helpful analogy: "...when mystics claim there is not self, they are not saying that such things as thoughts, memories, emotions, sensations...don't appear in consciousness....(but) that the boudary which encloses these phenomena and marks them off as a separate entity has no true existence. It is an imaginary creation, much like boundaries which separate one country from another."--Joel Morwood (author) p. 10

So, for me, this helps alleviate any confusion. Boundaries between counties are useful, but not ultimately real. So it is also with this imaginary boundary which separates "me" from "you".