Grace and Grit  2


The perennial philosophy is the worldview that has been embraced by the vast majority of the world's greatest spiritual teachers, philosophers, thinkers, and even scientists. ... It has been held by [men and women] who report the same insights and teach the same essential doctrine whether living today or six thousand years ago, whether from New Mexico in the Far West or from Japan in the Far East.


How many profound truths or points of agreement are there? Dozens. I'll give you seven of what I think are the most important. One, Spirit exists, and Two, Spirit is found within. Three, most of us don't realize this Spirit within, however, because we are living in a world of sin, separation, and duality - that is, we are living in a fallen or illusory state. Four, there is a way out of this fallen state of sin and illusion, there is a Path to our liberation. five, if we follow this Path to its conclusion, the result is a Rebirth or Enlightenment, a direct experience of Spirit within, a Supreme Liberation, which Six - marks the end of sin and suffering, and which - Seven - issues in social action of mercy and compassion on behalf of all sentient beings.


If "oneness with Spirit" is merely believed in, as an idea or a hope, then it is frequently part of a person's "immortality project," a system of defenses designed to magically or regressively ward off death and promise an expansion or continuation of life, as I tried to explain in Up From Eden and A Sociable God. But the experience of timeless unity with he Spirit is not an idea or a wish; it is a direct apprehension, and we can treat that direct experience in one of three ways: claim it is hallucinatory, which I just answered; or accept it as it announces itself to be, a direct experience of Spirit.


Thou are That - tat tvam asi. Needless to say, the "thou" that is "That," the you that is God, is not your individual and isolated self or ego, this or that self, Mr or Ms. So-and-so. In fact, the individual self or ego is precisely what blocks the realization of the Supreme Identity in the first place.


What's the sin? ... The various traditions give many answers to question, but they all essentially come down to this: I cannot perceive my own true identity, or my union with Spirit, because my awareness is clouded and obstructed by a certain activity that I an now engaged in. And that activity, although known by many different names, is simply the activity of contracting and focusing awareness on my individual self of personal ego. My awareness is no open, relaxed, and God-centered, it is closed, contracted, and self centered. And because I am identified with the self-contraction to the exclusion of everything else, I can't find or discover my prior identity, my true identity, with the All. ... Sin, in other words, is the self-contraction, the separate-self sense, the ego. Sin is not something the self does, it is something the self is. ... Suffering is not something that happens to the separate self, it is something that is inherent in the separate self. ... You cannot rescue the self from suffering. As Gautama Buddha put it, to end suffering you must end the self - they rise and fall together.


But that brings us to the fourth major point of the perennial philosophy: There is a way to reverse the Fall, a way to reverse this brutal state of affairs, a way to untie the knot of illusion. ... This Path is meditation? Well, we might say that there are several "paths" that constitute what I am generically calling "Path" - again, various surface structures sharing the same deep structures. ... But maybe I could simplify the whole thing by saying that all these paths, whether found in Hinduism or in any of the other wisdom traditions, breakdown into just two major paths. I have another quote here for you, if I can find it - this is from Swami Ramdas: "There are two ways: one is to expand your ego to infinity, and the other is to reduce it to nothing, the former by knowledge, and the latter by devotion. The Jnani [knowledge holder] says 'I am God the Universal Truth.' The devotee says: 'I am nothing, O God, You are everything.' In both cases, the ego-sense disappears."


... In both Hinduism and Buddhism, this death-and-resurrection is always described as the death of the individual soul(jivatman) and the reawakening of one's true nature, which metaphorically the Hindus describe as All Being(Brahman) and the Buddhists as Pure Openness (shunyata). The actual moment of rebirth or breakthrough is known as enlightenment or liberation (moksha or bodhi). The Lankavatara Sutra describes this enlightenment experience as a "complete turning about in the deepest sear of consciousness." This "turning about" is simply the undoing of the habitual tendency to create a separate and substantial self where there is in fact only vast open, clear awareness. ... As Neither Exhort put it, "In this breaking through I find that God and I are both the same."


Anyway that brings us to the sixth major point of the perennial philosophy, namely that enlightenment or liberation brings and end to suffering. Guatemala Buddha, for example, said that he only taught two things, what causes suffering and how to end it. What causes suffering is the grasping and desiring of the separate self, and what ends it is the meditative path that transcends self and desire. The point is that suffering is inherent in the knot or contraction known as self, and the only way to end suffering is to end the self. It's not that after enlightenment, or after spiritual practice in general, you no longer feel pain or anguish or fear or hurt. You do. It's simply that they no longer threaten your existence, and so they cease to be problematic. You are no longer identified with them, dramatizing them, energizing them, threatened by them. ... Suffering comes and goes, but the person now possesses the "peace that surpasseth understanding." The sage feels suffering but it doesn't "hurt". Because the sage is aware of suffering, he or she is motivated by compassion, by a desire to help all those who suffer and think it's real.


... True enlightenment is said to issue in social action driven by mercy, compassion, and skillful means, in an attempt to help all beings attain the supreme liberation. Enlightened activity is simply selfless service. Since we are all one in the same Self, or the same mystical body of Christ, or the same Dharmakaya, then in serving others I am serving my own Self. I think when Christ said, "Love your neighbor as yourself," he must have meant "Love your neighbor as your Self."


Grace and Grit III


I was thinking of Hegel's critique of Kant: you can't question awareness since the only tool you have is awareness Trying to do so, Hegel said, is like trying to go swimming without getting wet. We are drenched in awareness, in experience, and have no choice but to go with it on some profound level. ...


But the Tibetans have a practice where, on the out breath, you are actually supposed to 'mix the mind with all space' or mix the mind with and sky.' This means, when you breathe out, you simply feel your separate identity going out with the breath and then dissolving into the sky in front of you - dissolving, in other words, into the entire universe. It's very powerful.


"I've actually started doing that," she said, 'but almost spontaneously. And recently there's been a real change in my meditation. I start out very focused and very willful, concentrating on the breath, then carefully sweeping down and up the body. But then I experience moments when there seems to be a sudden abrupt shift of awareness. Then, instead of directing my attention somewhere, I just sit and don't pay attention to anything, really. It seems much closer to something like complete self surrender, just surrendering to the divine will, letting go and letting God. Everything is sacrificed, everything is exposed. This seems much more powerful."


"My own experience is that either way will work, you just have to be consistent." I though for a while. "You know, you're actually describing perfectly what the Japanese Buddhists call 'self power' versus 'other power.' All meditation breaks down into those two types. Self power is epitomized by Zen, by vipassana, by jana yoga. Here, one relies strictly on one's own powers of concentration and awareness in order to break through the ego to a larger identity. In other power, one relies on the power of the guru, or on God, or simply on complete surrender." ...


... It seems to me that what they both have in common - well, actually what virtually all forms of meditation have in common - is that they break the ego by strengthening the Witness, strengthening you innate capacity to simply witness phenomena."...


"So that's why awareness meditation works. By looking at my mind, or practicing bare attention to all mental events, I eventually transcend the mind, or disidentify with it, and move up the Great Chain to the levels of soul and then spirit. Its basically an extended view of evolution, like Teilhard de Chardin or Aurobindo."


"Yes, I think so. The body is aware of matter, the mind is aware of the body, the soul is aware of the mind, and spirit is aware of the soul. Each step up is an increase in awareness, a discovery of larger and wider identity, until there is nothing but the supreme identity and a universal awareness, so called 'cosmic consciousness.' All of that sounds pretty dry and abstract, but as you know, the actual process, or the actual mystical state, is incredibly simple and obvious."


... The soul, as I am using the term, is a sort of halfway house, halfway between the personal ego-mind and the impersonal or transpersonal Spirit. The soul id the Witness as it shines forth in you and nobody else. The soul is the home of the Witness as it shines forth in you and nobody else. The soul is the home of the Witness in that sense. Once you are established on the soul level, then you are established as the Witness as the real Self. Once you push through the soul level, then the Witness itself collapses into everything witnessed, or you become one with everything you are aware of. You don't witness the clouds, you are the clouds That's Spirit."


First we die to the material self - that is, disidentify with it - then we die to an exclusive identity with the bodily self, then to the mental self, and then finally to the soul. The last one is what Zen calls the Great Death. We make steppingstones out all our dead selves. ... Remember that great quote from Dogen: "To study mysticism is to study the self; to study the self is to forget the self; to forget the self is to be one with, and enlightened by, all things." ... The real self is the real world, no separation, so sometimes the mystics will also say there is no self, no world. But that's all they mean, no separate self, no separate world. Eckhart called it fusion without confusion, ...


Treya - Thus my path for now is predominantly Buddhist in flavor (but I'll study anybody). But I am not searching for enlightenment. I would not join a full moon group, which consists of people who have made the commitment to reach full enlightenment in this lifetime. I know that kind of commitment is dangerous for me; it is either too soon or not the path for me at all. I need to learn how to not want to get anywhere. How to chop wood and carry water in fullness. Not grasping for more, craving for more, not desiring purpose. Just to live, and to allow.


I find that lately I am meditating regularly, for the first time in a while and I think it is because of a change in approach. When I sit now I do not secretly wonder if I will have an interesting experience, if I will see light, if I will feel that rush of energy through my body. I do not sit with the purpose of "progressing" in my practice. I do not hunger for something to happen. Well, that is not entirely true. For the hunger and the desire do at times arise. But I notice them, release them, and return again to my current focus. When I wonder why I sit - and of course this question comes up regularly - I say to myself that I sit to express myself as I am in this moment. I sit because there is something in me that wants to give this quiet time of discipline as a kind of offering of myself. It is even a kind of affirmation, rather than a kind of seeking. Perhaps later purpose will come clear, free of the grasping I use to experience. Perhaps purpose is already here, unfolding as I let go.


... That's esoteric religion, a series of belief structures that attempt to explain the mysteries of the world in mythic terms rather than direct experiential or evidential terms. ... Esoteric religion asks you to believe nothing on faith or obediently swallow any dogma. Rather, esoteric religion is a set of personal experiments that you conduct scientifically in the laboratory or your own awareness. Like all good science, it is based on direct experience, not mere belief or wish, and it is publicly checked or validated by peer group of those who have also performed the experiment. The experiment is meditation. ... Esoteric religion or mysticism is hidden to the mind that won't perform the experiment; that's all it means.


... Mythic believers do not interpret their myths allegorically, they interpret them literally and concretely. Joseph Campbell violates the fabric of mythic beliefs in his very attempt to salvage them. This is unacceptable scholarship. It says to the mythic believer, "I know what you really mean by that." But the problem is, that is not what they mean by that. His approach is fundamentally wrong right at the start, in my opinion.

Grace and Grit - Ken Wilber