When you go abroad, don’t turn around at the frontier.
Keep death always before your eyes.
—St. Benedict: The Rules: Chapter 4.47
One reason why Christian tradition has always steered me away from preoccupation with reincarnation has not so much to do with doctrine as with spiritual practice. The finality of death is meant to challenge us to decision, the decision to be fully present here now, and so begin eternal life. For eternity rightly understood is not the perpetuation of time, on and on, but rather the overcoming of time by the now that does not pass away. But we are always looking for opportunities to postpone the decision. So if you say: “Oh, after this I will have another life and another life,” you might never live, but keep dragging along half dead because you never face death. Don Juan says to Carlos Castaneda, “That is why you are so moody and not fully alive, because you forget you are to die; you live as if you were going to live forever.” What remembrance of death is meant to do, as I understand it, is to help us make the decision. Don Juan stresses death as the adviser. Death makes us warriors.
—Brother David Steindl-Rast from LEARNING TO DIE, PARABOLA, Volume 2, Number 1: Death.
Photograph: Stephen Weiss, MD, portrait of Brother David Steindl-Rast, Mt. Saviour Monastery, Elmira, NY
Sit for a short time; then take a break, a very short break of about thirty seconds or a minute. But be mindful of whatever you do, and do not lose your presence and its natural ease. Then alert yourself and sit again. If you do many short sessions like this, your breaks will often make your meditation more real and more inspiring; they will take the clumsy, irksome rigidity, solemnity, and unnaturalness out of your practice and bring you more and more focus and ease.
Gradually, through this interplay of breaks and sitting, the barrier between meditation and everyday life will crumble, the contrast between them will dissolve, and you will find yourself increasingly in your natural pure presence, without distraction.
Then, as Dudjom Rinpoche used to say: “Even though the meditator may leave the meditation, the meditation will not leave the meditator.”
–Sogyal Rinpoche. Rigpa: Glimpse of the Day
We cannot, of course, do away with our all-too-human tendency to discriminate between “us and them.” But so long as we remember that “they,” the others, are essentially like us—especially in our human aspirations and limitations—we can see through the differences and recognize that we are all part of a much larger cosmic process of evolution. From this perspective, our ordinary sense of identity is simply an obstacle to seeing a reality in ourselves that is beyond form.
―Stephen A. Grant: ENDING THE BEELZEBUB WARS: BEYOND “US AND THEM”: A plea for harmony within the Fourth Way from the new summer issue of Parabola: “Heaven and Hell.”
Image: A Hubble Space Telescope photo of the planetary nebula NGC 2818, one of few planetary nebulae in the Milky Way residing inside a star cluster.
Saints and bodhisattvas may achieve what Christians call mystical union or Buddhists call satori—a perpetual awareness of the force at the heart of things. For these enlightened few, the world is always lit. For the rest of us, such clarity comes only fitfully, in sudden glimpses or slow revelations. Quakers refer to these insights as ‘openings.’ When I first heard the term … I thought of how, on an overcast day, sunlight pours through a break in the clouds. After the clouds drift on, eclipsing the sun, the sun keeps shining behind the veil, the memory of its light shines on in the mind.
… All this has always been familiar to the theologians, in whose writing Satan is so often referred to simply as “the enemy.” For example, William Law [in The Spirit of Love]: “You are under the power of no other enemy, are held in no other captivity, and want no other deliverance but from the power of your own earthly self. This is the one murderer of the divine life within you. It is your own Cain that murders your own Abel.” And [again, in An Address to the Clergy] “self is the root, the tree, and the branches of all the evils of our fallen state…Satan, or which is the same thing, self exaltation…This is that full-born natural self that must be pulled out of the heart and totally denied, or there can be no disciple of Christ.” If, indeed, “the kingdom of heaven is within you,” then also the “war in heaven” will be there, until Satan has been overcome, that is, until the Man in this man is “master of himself…”
–Ananda K. Coomaraswamy from PARABOLA, Volume 6, Number 4: Demons.
Photograph: Frank Eugene, Adam and Eve, 1900s
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Within light there is darkness,
But do not try to understand that darkness.
Within darkness there is light,
But do not look for that light.
Light and darkness are a pair,
Like the foot before and the foot behind in walking.
–Shih’tuo, a verse from the Sandokai
Photograph: George Seeley, Black Bowl, 1907
Drifting pitifully in the whirlwind of birth and death,
As if wandering in a dream,
In the midst of illusion I awaken to the true path;
There is one more matter I must not neglect,
But I need not bother now,
As I listen to the sound of the evening rain
Falling on the roof of my temple retreat
In the deep grass of Fukakusa.
—Eihei Dōgen (1200 - 1253)
Image by Hasui Kawase, Rainy Night at Maekawa, 1932
I must tell you that in our brotherhood there are two very old brethren; one is called Brother Ahl and the other Brother Sez. These brethern have voluntarily undertaken the obligation of periodically visiting all the monasteries of our order and explaining various aspects of the essence of divinity. Our order has four monasteries, one of them ours, the second in the valley of the Pamir, the third in Tibet and the fourth in India. And so these brethren, Ahl and Sez, constantly travel from one monastery to another and preach there.
They come to us twice a year. Their arrival at our monastery is considered among us a very great event. On the days when either of them is here, the soul of every one of us experiences pure heavenly pleasure and tenderness. The sermons of these two brethren, who are to an almost equal degree holy men and who speak the same truths, have nevertheless a different effect on all our brethren and on me in particular.
When Brother Sez speaks it is indeed like the song of the birds in Paradise; from what he says one is quite, so to say, turned inside out; one becomes as though entranced. His speech purls like a stream and one no longer wishes anything else in life but to listen to the voice of Brother Sez. But Brother Ahl’s speech has almost the opposite effect. He speaks badly and indistinctly, evidently because of his age. No one knows how old he is. Brother Sez is also very old, but he is still a hale old man, whereas in Brother Ahl the weakness of old age is clearly evident.
The stronger the impression made at the moment by the words of Brother Sez, the more this impression evaporates until there ultimately remains in the hearer nothing at all. But in the case of Brother Ahl, although at first what he says makes almost no impression, later, the gist of it takes on definite form, more and more each day, and is instilled as a whole into the heart and remains there forever.
When we became aware of this and began trying to discover why it was so, we came to the unanimous conclusion that the sermons of Brother Sez proceeded only from his mind and therefore acted on our minds, whereas those of Brother Ahl proceeded from his being and acted on our being.
Yes, professor, knowledge and understanding are quite different. Only understanding can lead us to being whereas knowledge is but a passing presence in it.
—G.I. Gurdjieff, in Meetings with Remarkable Men.
With thanks to Awakin.org