Monday, 24 December 2007

The immanent Divine

The first gift conferred by Asia on the religious world is insight into nature. The Oriental discovers, contemplates, and communes with the Spirit of God who, in his view, fills all creation.
Nature is not a mere stimulus to mild poetry; Nature is God's abode. He did not create it and then leave it to itself, but he lives in every particle of its great structure. Nature is not for man's bodily benefit, but for his spiritual emancipation also. It is not enough to say the heavens are God's handiwork, but the heaven is his throne, the earth is his footstool. Our Nanak said: "Behold the sun and moon are his altar lights, and the sky is the sacred vessel of sacrifice to him." In the vast temple of nature, Asia beholds the Supreme Spirit reigning, and worships him through the great objects his hand has made.
Nay, more. The Oriental beholds in Nature the image of God. "I offer my salutations unto the bountiful Lord," says Yogavasista, "who, as the inner soul of all things, reveals himself in heaven and earth, in the firmament, in my own heart, and in all around me." To the Asiatic the Immanent Spirit embodies himself in nature's beauty and sweetness, to be immersed in which is to be immersed in God himself. We receive from every object we see a suggestion of something unseen, something higher, inner, something divine and immortal. "Whatever is on earth," the Persian poet, Sadi, says, "is the resemblance and shadow of something that is in the spheres; again, that light is the shadow of something more resplendent, and so up to the light of lights."

-- Pratap Chandra Majumdar, 1893 (Brahmo Samaj)

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Wild Geese

The Poetry Chaikhana just sent me one of my favourite poems:
Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

-- from Dream Work, by Mary Oliver

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Shiva and Shakti

Lord Shiva
On the white summit of eternity
A single Soul of bare infinities,
Guarded he keeps by a fire-screen of peace
His mystic loneliness of nude ecstasy.
But, touched by an immense delight to be,
He looks across unending depths and sees
Musing amid the inconscient silences
The Mighty Mother's dumb felicity.

Half now awake she rises to his glance;
Then, moved to circling by her heart-beats' will,
The rhythmic words describe that passion-dance.
Life springs in her and Mind is born; her face
She lifts to Him who is Herself, until
The Spirit leaps into the Spirit's embrace.
from Maha Shivatri

many facets

I was reminded by a Unitarian lady today of the wonderful story of the three blind men and the elephant. It's a story that has always appealed to me as a simple illustration of why the Tao appears different to different people.

A poet called John Godfrey Saxe put the story into rhyme:
It was six men of Indostan,
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The First approach'd the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
"God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!"

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, -"Ho! what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me 'tis mighty clear,
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!"

The Third approach'd the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
"I see," -quoth he- "the Elephant
Is very like a snake!"

The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee:
"What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain," -quoth he,-
"'Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!"

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said- "E'en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!"

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Then, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
"I see," -quoth he,- "the Elephant
Is very like a rope!"

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!


So, oft in theologic wars
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean;
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!
It is so old and so widespread that no-one seems to know where it came from. Rumi knew it in the 12th century and attributed it to the Hindus, and it has been variously attributed to Jains and Hindus and Buddhists.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

that which is manifest cannot be pinpointed

It speaks to me in the silence of this one

By Fakhruddin Iraqi (? - 1289)

English version by William Chittick and Peter Lamborn Wilson

It speaks to me in the silence of this one
then through the words of that one speaking;

it whispers to me through an eyebrow raised
and the message of an eye winking.

And do you know what words it breathes into my ear? It says,

"I am Love: in heaven and earth I have no place;
I am the Wondrous Phoenix whose spoor cannot be traced.

With eyebrow-bow and arrow-winks I hunt
both worlds -- and yet my weapons cannot be found.

Like the sun I brighten each atom's cheek;
I cannot be pinpointed: I am too manifest.

I speak with every tongue, listen with all ears,
but marvel at this: My ears and tongue are erased.

Since in all the world only I exist
above and below, no likeness of me can be found."

-- from Fakhruddin Iraqi: Divine Flashes (Classics of Western Spirituality), by William Chittick / Nasr Seyyed Hossein

from the Poetry Chaikhana

Monday, 19 November 2007

Freedom, Love, Reason

Giordano Bruno
(tune: The Harp That Once)

The secret pulse of freedom throbs
In every human heart:
From martyr, mystic, heretic
The song of freedom rang.
The holy day was made for us
Not us for holy day. [1]
And human laws should shield from harm
Not cage the human heart.

The sacred rose of love divine
Blooms in awakened hearts;
From each to each the answering sign
Leaps like enkindled flame -
Love knows no bounds, not even death -
It lightens every hour;
For to all true philosophers
The whole wide Earth is home. [2]

When reason sings in harmony
With intuition's tune
And light the darkness shall embrace
In deep soul alchemy
Then shall the Earth with freedom ring:
And all Her children sing:
"Love and peace shall be our sole creed
And banish human greed."

by Yvonne Aburrow

[1] Yeshua: "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." (Mark 2:27)
[2] Giordano Bruno: "Al vero filosofo ogni terreno e patria."

Saturday, 3 November 2007

All Hallows and Samhain

(conversation-style address at Frenchay, November 2007)

I am a Pagan because I love the land, the Earth, and Nature. I love the sea, the rocks, the mountains, the woods and the fields, and the wild creatures that live among them. I love Pagan mythology and Pagan ritual, because they affirm our place in Nature, not set apart from it, but at home within its cycles of life, death, and rebirth. Paganism celebrates the Divine Feminine in the form of the Goddess, and her consort, the Lord of Animals.

It's a feeling of coming home. The words, the energies, and the space are beautiful and resonant. This is the place between the worlds, where we walk on the edge of time and space, with one foot in the otherworld, a space where you can commune with the universe, develop the self, engage in sacred play, and honour the divine within each other. Celebrating the beauty of the night and the human body. The ecstatic leaping across the fire, wild and free. The flames, symbolic of life and passion... The feeling of journeying together to other worlds, communing with the ancestors, the land, and the spirits of the land. Walking with gods and goddesses.

Why be a Unitarian?

I believe that the Spirit of Life is both one and many – that we and all other entities with whom we share this planet are part of that Spirit, and I believe that Unitarians and Pagans (and many others) are honouring the same Spirit of Life. I have always admired Jesus as a religious radical who wanted to get rid of unnecessary rules and anything that blocked the flow of the Holy Spirit, and to concentrate on the important things: compassion and living responsibly and responsively. But I regard him as one among many avatars or bodhisattvas – not as the one and only manifestation of the Divine on Earth – everything that lives is a manifestation of the Divine. I have also always liked Unitarians as being the most interfaith, the most open-minded, and socially active without trying to convert people of other faiths. One of the reasons I stopped being a Christian at the age of 15 was that my best friend was (and still is) gay, and all my Christian friends said this was wrong. Unitarians have always welcomed lesbian, gay & bisexual people, which is very important to me; and also it was the first denomination to have women ministers – another very important point to a life-long feminist such as myself. I also like the hymns, and the way people are encouraged to think for themselves and be individuals, and the way you actively build community, and the way that that community can accommodate people with very different ideas about religion.

Samhain and All Hallows

Samhain is the Irish word for the month of November. The ancient Irish festival held at this time was about the renewal of freedom – legends associated with it tell of heroes who freed their people from bondage. So the association with the dead was probably imported to this country by Christianity, as this was the feast of All Saints and All Souls. After the Reformation, of course, the importance of these festivals was downplayed, and by the early 20th century, folklorists were speculating that the origins of All Hallows were actually Pagan. The first stirrings of the Pagan revival started in the early 20th century, so the idea of Samhain being associated with the dead was imported into Paganism.

Like Unitarians, Taoists, and Zen Buddhists, Pagans tend to focus on the preciousness of this life, not some future one beyond death. Hence we want to celebrate and remember the lives of our ancestors. Ancestors can be relatives and friends who have died, or people from the past whom we admire (we often honour both). These people have shaped who we are now – given us life, given us inspiration, guided us, comforted us, and nurtured us – and it comforts us to remember them and commune with them.

Most Pagans believe in reincarnation, and that the consciousness resides in an in-between place between lives. It is this consciousness with which Pagans commune when we remember our beloved dead at Samhain. The dead are seen as not being very far away – only a heartbeat away – and many Pagans say that “the veil between the worlds is thin” at Samhain, because the tides of life are on the ebb as winter approaches, and because the encroaching darkness of winter is seen as a time for contemplation, remembrance, and introspection.

Pagans do not see darkness and death as evil, but as part of the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. If there was no death, there would be no growth, no change, and no birth. If there was no darkness, the seeds could not gestate in the warm darkness of the earth; if there was no night, there would be no sleep, and no stars and moonlight. If there was no winter cold, there would be none of the beauty of autumn, the seeds would not germinate, and germs would not be killed by the frost. Darkness is the Yin spoken of by the Taoists – one half of the divine dance of the cosmos.

Samhain or Hallowe'en is one of eight festivals of the Pagan wheel of the year – part of the dance of the elements around the wheel of the seasons, one of the many interlocking cosmic cycles of which our lives are an intimate part.

Monday, 15 October 2007


Isis Invocation
by Dion Fortune.

"I am the Star that rises from the Sea, the Twilight Sea,
I bring men dreams that rule their destiny,
I bring the Moon-tides to the souls of men,
The tides that flow and ebb and flow alternately,
These are my secrets, they belong to me.

I am the Eternal Woman, I am She -
The tides of all men's souls belong to me.
The tides that flow and ebb and flow again,
The secret, silent tides that govern men,
These are my secrets, these belong to me.

Out of my Hands he takes his destiny;
Touch of my Hands bestows serenity -
These are the Moon-tides, these belong to me.

Isis in Heaven, on Earth, Persephone,
Diana of the Moon and Hecate,
Veiled Isis, Aphrodite from the Sea,
All these am I and they are seen in me.

The high Full Moon in the mid-heaven shines clear,
I hear the invoking words, hear and appear.
Shaddai el Chai and Rhea, Binah, Ge,
I come unto the Priestess that calleth me.

still 100% Pagan

I hereby certify myself still 100% Pagan, or should that be NeoPagan?

Either way, I enjoy Taoism, love of nature, animism, non-theism, pantheism, compassion for all life, communing with the Universe, and seeking to balance myself with the Way of Nature (variously known as the Tao, Yin and Yang, Fire and Frost, Wyrd, etc). I affirm that we are all related (mitakuye oyasin). There was no fall, only an arising. The Universe is the Beloved.


The new animism

In an article entitled Animism Revisited, Nurit Bird-David builds on the work of Irving Hallowell by discussing the animist worldview and lifeway of the Nayaka of India. Hallowell had learnt from the Ojibwa of southern central Canada that the humans are only one kind of 'person' among many. There are also 'rock persons', 'eagle persons' and so on. Hallowell and Bird-David discuss the ways in which particular indigenous cultures know how to relate to particular persons (individuals or groups). There is no need to talk of metaphysics or impute non-empirical 'beliefs' in discussing animism. What is required is an openness to consider that humans are neither separate from the world nor distinct from other kinds of being in most significant ways. The new animism also makes considerably more sense of attempts to understand 'totemism' as an understanding that humans are not only closely related to other humans but also to particular animals, plants, etc. It also helps by providing a term for the communities among whom shamans work: they are animists not 'shamanists'. Shamans are employed among animist communities to engage or mediate with other-than-human persons in situations that would be fraught or dangerous for un-initiated, untrained or non-skillful people. The -ism of 'animism' should not suggest an overly systematic approach (but this is true of the lived reality of most religious people), but it is preferable to the term shamanism which has led many commentators to construct an elaborate system out of the everyday practices of animists and those they employ to engage with other-than-human persons. The new animism is most fully discussed in a recent book by Graham Harvey, Animism: Respecting the Living World. But it is also significant in the 'animist realist' novels now being written among many indigenous communities worldwide. The term 'animist realism' was coined by Harry Garuba, a Nigerian scholar of literature, in comparison with 'magical realism'.


I came across the concept of egregores on Notes from underground, the blog of an Orthodox anarchist. It seems to me a very useful concept for describing "group mind" - the projection of self beyond the boundaries of the body in order to include others. Sometimes, if the values embraced are liberal, inclusive and humanitarian, such an egregore can be useful; but at other times, it can be destructive and divisive, especially if it involves demonising (projecting a shadow onto) another group.

The clever part about the more inclusive and liberal monotheisms is the idea that there is only one supreme being, who encompasses the whole universe (this is good, because instead of worshipping the egregore of your group, denomination, religion, or country, you are instead worshipping something which is regarded as the parent of all humanity). But the problem of monotheism is that if such a being existed and was omnipotent and omnibenevolent and omniscient as monotheistic religions claim, she would need to be perfect, and not allow evil (such as genocides, pogroms, the Holocaust, etc.) to occur.

Shekhinah theology
is quite a good way to account for this problem, but it still does not explain why a perfect being could create a universe in which mind is flawed.

The existence of egregores would certainly account for the narrow, bigoted and sectarian views of many religionists, who are seeking something less than the All - worshipping an egregore of their own cultural values. As Douglas Adams said, many people can't handle the size of the universe, so they choose to live in something smaller of their own devising.

Buddhism has managed to get on for centuries without deities (it acknowledges their existence, but is more interested in liberation from samsara).

Personally I still find Buddhism too interested in liberating spirit from matter, rather than awakening the Mind of the All, but it still has some interesting ideas. That said, if we really want to awaken the Mind of the All, we'd better be sure we give it nice liberal and inclusive values....

the Tao

The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao;
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth.
The named is the mother of ten thousand things.
Ever desireless, one can see the mystery.
Ever desiring, one can see the manifestations.
These two spring from the same source but differ in name;
this appears as darkness.
Darkness within darkness.
The gate to all mystery.

—(Tao Te Ching, trans. Gia-Fu Feng & Jane English, 1972).

Friday, 12 October 2007

Godde doesn't exist yet

I had a radical and rather liberating thought this morning. There was no Fall, because there was never a Golden Age or a Garden of Eden to fall from. But there is an Arising. There was no Creator God or Divine Source, rather the universe and its inhabitants are becoming more conscious, more compassionate, more empathic, with the arising of the universal Mind (which proceeds from the unfolding of the Tao). As we interact socially with the Universe, we increase its consciousness. First we awakened gods and spirits of place, then gradually began to perceive the All and wonder at the glories of Nature and the Universe. (Evil occurs when we fail to empathise with others.) We are part of the Arising of the universal Mind, as we become more conscious and more empathic. We are all Future Buddhas. As we become more empathically connected to the All, when we die we contribute our consciousness to the All, and it is in this process of connection that universal Mind arises. Those who mystically identify the All as a Thou and not an It contribute to the process of expanding awareness and continuing the process of making everything more conscious. The process of individuation and self-development is part of the process of becoming aware of the uniqueness and preciousness of all life in its glorious diversity. The golden age is in the future, not in the past. The genius of Buddhism and Unitarianism is that they are focussed on a future golden age, not a mythical one in the past from which we fell. Bodhisattvas (such as Jesus and Kwan Yin) so identified with the All that their compassion / karuna / empathy accelerated the arising of the universal Mind, and they are still there in some sense, guiding humanity towards awakening. But the awakening will not be from the illusion of matter, but rather matter itself is becoming ever more conscious or ensouled - it is awakening. Only when the Mind of the Universe is fully conscious - when the kundalini of the Universe has arisen from the depths - only then will "Godde" fully exist.

See also: God as Manifestation of Mind

Monday, 8 October 2007

what is religion? part 2

A response to ebonypearl. My original list wasn't in any particular order, and all the points were meant to be interrelated. Nor was it necessarily an exhaustive list.

"Respect all living things" - Numenists expand that out to respecting all of creation - from the air we breathe to the bedrock of the planet to the stars and beyond as well as to other people, trees, opossums, and rotting compost. Not just what lives, all that exists.

Yes I agree with this - spirits of place are worthy of respect too, for example.

"Have compassion for suffering" - Compassion is all well and good, but is better accompanied by action. Small charities is an important part of Numenism - helping those within one's community, whether that community is one's House, one's neighborhood, one's city, state, country, or world (we don't currently have regular access beyond our planet, so we're limited to that for now). We also embrace the flip side of that - having understanding for joy. Our existence is not just suffering, there's a lot of joy and pleasure here, too, and religion should not focus just on the suffering and pain and angst of existence, but embrace and support those who experience joy and happiness. Too often, those things which are pleasurable are viewed with distrust and envy and the most religious people do their best to stamp it out - witness religious prohibitions and restrictions against dancing, music, art, love.

If compassion doesn't result in action, then it's not really compassion in my book - but I should have made that clear. There's no point getting all weepy for the suffering and then not actually doing anything about it! I totally agree with the rest of what is expressed above - of course pleasure and joy are important and should be revelled in - and religions should not forbid dancing, music, art and love. (See "celebrate being alive.")

"Release its adherents from fear and loathing" - I'm not sure about this. Fear and loathing can be useful if it is not applied universally. It's right to fear those things that cause pain, and to loathe things that enjoy inflicting pain. Rather, I'd say here that a religion should teach courage and discrimination so one knows when to rightly fear something and loathe it and act against them if at all possible. I suppose she probably meant something other than what I'm reading in to it, and if so, it's probably because I have only an outsider's knowledge of Christianity. I've never been Christian even though I've spent all my life in communities heavily populated by Christians. It is wrong to fear divinity in any form, or to loathe those who approach divinity in different fashion. It is wrong to fear and loathe those who are different from us, whether by lifestyle choice or by the ravages of living.

Er yes, I meant fear of the divine and loathing of those who approach divinity in a different fashion (and those for whom the concept has no meaning). Yes, fear is a natural response to danger; and loathing is a natural response to adverse stimuli. And I fear fundamentalism and loathe intolerance, for example! So we are in agreement here, too.

"Honour other religions as different perspectives on the same reality" - Hmmm - this is an interesting one. See, I don't believe we share the same reality, so it makes it difficult to parse this statement. We teach honouring other religions because the people adhering to them are inherently divine. But we view the world as being layered, and while our realities may overlap, they aren't the same ones. We each live in our minds and hearts as much as we live in our physical surroundings. We are vouchsafed different experiences and interpretations of those experiences so each of us lives in our own individual reality. In Numenism, we teach that we are individuated corporeal beings who are still integral aspects of Dea Nutrix. And Dea Nutrix is not necessarily singular. That means we all inhabit different realities and are collecting different experiences and knowledge to bring to the gestalt of Dea Nutrix or whatever may be beyond Dea Nutrix.

Interesting way of looking at it. Not necessarily in conflict with my way of looking at it. I certainly agree with "we are individuated corporeal beings who are still integral aspects of Dea Nutrix" - though I wouldn't necessarily put any gender on the divine source, I prefer it to be feminine than masculine, and agree that we (and animals, gods, wights, goddesses, spirits of place, etc) are distinct identities within it. I agree that we are "collecting different experiences and knowledge to bring to the gestalt" of the Divine, too.

"Teach its adherent techniques to connect with the divine" - We are already connected to the divine. We teach senses and skills to experience that connection and offer a layered view that our adherents can use to find their comfort level. This doesn't mean they won't be prodded out of it by divine need or human needs or other events, but they can at least seek it and change it as circumstances dictate.

Yes, we are already connected with the Divine - so I should have said, "Teach its adherent techniques to become aware of their connection with the divine".

"Practice tolerance and forgiveness and peace" - Worthy goals, but I prefer "acceptance" to "tolerance". Why? Because "tolerance" is a power-over word, it implies that the tolerance can be withdrawn at any time and for no reason, the person or thing being tolerated doesn't have an equal footing with the one doing the tolerating. There is no need to attempt to understand something in order to tolerate it. "Acceptance", on the other hand, is more egalitarian. It doesn't depend upon whim the way tolerance does, and it requires thought and reason. In order to accept something, you have to understand it, or at least some of it. There is communication where there is acceptance.

Yes, you're right here as well. Acceptance is a better word. I'm not sure that I would go as far as you in saying that tolerance is a power-over word, and acceptance could be criticised on the grounds of being potentially uncritical of abusive practices on the part of the other.

"Celebrate diversity" - I can't argue with the words here, but I wonder about the definitions. In the workplace, "diversity" has come to mean "minorities" and often specifically minorities of African origin, with all kinds of concessions given to the "diversity" that damages everyone. In Numenism, we use this phrase to mean taking joy in learning about our differences and sharing information - from traditions to fashions to ways of looking at the universe. I am hoping Y meant the same thing I do, and not what workplaces mean.

Yep, I meant the same as you. Celebrating diversity does not mean we should turn a blind eye to abusive practices like female circumcision, for example.

"Be aware that different people have different ways of connecting with the divine" (snipped the last bit because it was examples) - I don't see how we can not be aware of this, at least in America. We're inundated with it because we are a cultural polyglot. I see this as more of a cultural attribute than a religious one. We don't address it specifically in Numenism because it falls under so many other areas it doesn't need a stand-alone statement.

I was thinking of the claims to exclusive truth made by certain Christians.

"Celebrate being alive" - I agree with this. I'd go farther and say we should revel in being alive. We are individuated corporeal beings for a reason, and part of that reason is to experience the physical, material world. Our senses and minds have limits placed on them by our physicality and we need to explore those limits. A large part of that exploration is enjoying the bodies we have and the senses with which we've been gifted.

Absolutely - and "revel" is a good word!

"Be able to discuss theology and philosophy without trying to impose conformity" - This needs a boundary on it. When you are discussing your religion within your religion, to other adherents and to newcomers, you do need to impose conformity, else there would be no way to differentiate between the religions. Conformity itself is not a problem, strict and rigid adherence to conformity is. When there is no flexibility, no stretch, in theology and philosophy, it doesn't grow, but it definitely needs the boundaries of conformity so it can reach beyond them. It's like why we have physical form - we need the shape of our bodies and the limits of our corporeality so we can use it as a touchstone for exploring beyond that. Insert the word "rigid", and I'd agree here.

Interesting - yes we need a framework and a tradition, and also to stretch the boundaries. I was thinking of rigid conformity, actually.

"Honour the contributions of science and the arts" - Do more than honour them, celebrate them! They are sacred acts, exploring the boundaries of our knowledge and experience, providing us with a clearer picture of divinity through its works. Science measures what we know, tests it, and tests it again when new knowledge comes along. There is nothing in science that can contradict the existence of divinity. There is nothing in art that can profane it, either. Both, together and separately, explore our world. We need them.

Celebrate and revel in - yes! And I agree with everything else you have said here too - I especially like "There is nothing in science that can contradict the existence of divinity. There is nothing in art that can profane it, either."

"Cultivate virtue" - define "virtue".

Ah well I deliberately didn't define that - but I was thinking of the 8 Wiccan Virtues, the Nine Noble Virtues of Heathenry, and the Roman Virtues. Each religion has a different set of virtues - but I certainly wasn't thinking of chastity, modesty, or anything life-denying.

"Resist oppressive practices and institutions" - Gotta define "oppressive" first. What is oppressive to one person may be liberating to another. Parenting is oppressive, even the most liberated parenting. Non-parenting can also be oppressive in a different way. Business practices share many of the same attributes as parenting, as does governance. So, we need to define and set boundaries for what we consider oppressive before we can teach resistance to it.

Setting boundaries (as parents do) is not oppressive - but putting boundaries where some people cannot possibly conform to them (e.g. telling gays they're not allowed to have sex, even in a loving consensual relationship) is oppressive in any system of thought.

"Stimulate all the senses" - I'm not sure where she's going with this one. In Numenism, we teach that humans have 9 distinct and functioning senses that can be honed with practice. Most humans only recognize 5 senses, so by definition, all non-Numenists are haphazardly connecting with the 4 senses that are not commonly recognized.

I was thinking of those religious practices that only really appeal to the right brain or the left brain - also I get spiritual stimulation from smells and sounds as well as words. Also sexual/sensual and spiritual feelings overlap. Do tell me about the nine senses, that is interesting.

"Honour sexuality in all its consensual forms as a divine gift" - I left the brackets out because I feel they shouldn't be there. Sexuality is only a part of it, too. I'd broaden it to "sensuality", which goes well beyond sexuality and may or may not include sex as part of it.

Yes, sexuality and sensuality certainly! I only put in the brackets because if you say to a Pagan, "honour sexuality", they know it means "in all its forms" and don't need telling, whereas if you say it to a Christian, you have to add it in so they know you're talking about all of it.

"Relax and let go" - hmmmm - again, I'm not sure where she's going with this.

It was based on the Taoist idea that all you have to do is relax, not strain to achieve enlightenment.

Now, moving beyond her list and to the paragraph below, I'd like to address three things:

"So if the Divine source is everywhere and in everyone, then we must reconnect with each other as well as with the source. " - not "reconnect", but recognize and acknowledge the connection that is there.

Agreed, "recognize and acknowledge the connection that is there" is better.

"The Divine is both immanent and transcendent, so it's not good enough to say that the physical world is illusory or fallen - we must be aware of the Divine presence within it." - I can't address this on the same level because the physical world is not illusory or fallen, it's a part of divinity. That, by our definition, means it can't be illusory unless divinity is illusory. It can't be fallen because as divine, it remains fully within grace. We need to move beyond awareness of divinity and into acceptance, integration, reveling in divinity and the world in which we exist as individuated corporeal beings.

Agree strongly!

"And we must be aware that our perspective is finite, whereas the Divine perspective is infinite and seen from all points simultaneously." - I agree we must be aware our perspective is finite - it's part and parcel of being corporeal and individuated - but being aware of being finite doesn't mean we can't push those boundaries and make our finitude broader. I disagree that the divine perspective is infinite. We don't know that. We can't even make educated guesses about that. We can agree that divinity's perspective is broader, wider, less finite than ours, but we can't say it's infinite.

Agree strongly.

Now, having looked at Y's list and gone through our Numenist dogmas and teachings, I want to say there is no such thing as a "proper" religion. Religions are social constructs, addressing the needs of the society within which it exists. There can be false religions created by individuals by which they hope to profit materially - these are usually called cults. There are religions that can be hi-jacked by unscrupulous people and used for their ends rather than the goals established by the founders of the religion - and all religions have human founders. Even when they claim divine inspiration, in the end, the adherents are attracted by the human(s) proselytizing for it.

Yep, agree with the above, too. The "proper religion" thing was meant to be tongue-in-cheek.

Any religion which promotes greater recognition and connection with divinity is a "proper" religion. That is the single and only attribute of religion that makes it religion and not government. Everything else attributed to religion is societal, and subject to the needs of society and the times in which the people live.

Yes, this is very true, but religion needs reforming sometimes to get rid of oppressive practices (but see discussion above about what might constitute oppression).

In response to elfwreck's comment, yes, incest is a bad idea (even between consenting adults) because of the psychological damage caused by it, and if offspring results from the intercourse, genetic damage. Ability to consent - tricky question - usually begins (legally) at the age of consent, but I'd still be concerned about huge age differences in relationships, just because of the difference in power between the partners.

Sunday, 7 October 2007

stars and moon

Tonight is a night of union for the stars and of scattering,
scattering, since a bride is coming from the skies, consisting of a full moon.
Venus cannot contain herself for charming melodies, like the
nightingale which becomes intoxicated with the rose in spring-time.
See how the polestar is ogling Leo;
behold what dust Pisces is stirring up drom the deep!
Jupiter has galloped his steed against ancient Saturn, saying
"Take back your youth and go, bring good tidings!"
Mars' hand, which was full of blood from the handle of his
sword, has become as life-giving as the sun, the exalted in works.
Since Aquarius has come full of that water of life, the dry
cluster of Virgo is raining pearls from him.
The Pleiades full of goodness fears not Libra and being
broken; how should Aries flee away in fright from its mother?
When from the moon the arrow of a glance struck the heart
of Sagittarius, he took to night-faring in passion for her, like Scorpio.
On such a festival, go, sacrifice Taurus, else you are crooked of gait in the mud like Cancer.
This sky is the astrolabe, and the reality is Love;
whatever we say of this, attend to the meaning.
Shamsi-Tabriz, on that dawn when you shine, the dark night
is transformed to bright day by your moonlike face.

~ Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi

Mystical Poems of Rumi 1, A.J. Arberry
The University of Chicago Press, 1968


The 'drunken Sufis' exemplified by Bistami (Armstrong 1993: 261) desired to become one with the beloved in anihilation ('fana): "I gazed upon al-Lah with the eye of truth and said to Him: 'Who is this?" He said "This is neither I nor other than I There is no God but I" Then he changed my out of my identity into his Selfhood. Then I communed with him with the tongue of his face, saying "How fares it with me with Thee? He said "I am through Thee, there is no God but Thou".

This was taken to its visionary conclusion by al-Hallaj, the 'wool carder'

I am He whom I love, and He whom I love is I:
We are two spirits dwelling in one body.
If thou seest me thou seest Him,
And if thou seest Him thou seest us both"
(Armstrong 1993: 263).

However when he preached overthrow of the Caliphate and cried "ana al-Haqq - I am the truth" as Jesus did, he was crucified.

"When he saw the cross of nails he turned and uttered a prayer: 'And these Thy servants who are gathered to slay me, in zeal for Thy religion and in desire to win Thy favours, forgive them O Lord, and have mercy upon them; for verily if Thou hadst revealed to them what thou hast revealed to me, they would not have done what they have done,; and if Thou hadst hidden from me what you have hidden from them, I should not have suffered this tribulation. Glory unto Thee in whatsoever thou doest, and glory unto Thee in whatsoever Thou willest' "

~ from The Tao of the Sufi
So, there has been more than one Anointed who has suffered death for his extreme love of the Divine.
The Beloved

One went to the door of the Beloved and knocked.
A voice asked: 'Who is there?' He answered: 'It is I.'
The voice said: 'There is no room here for me and thee.'
The door was shut.

After a year of solitude and deprivation
this man returned to the door of the Beloved.
He knocked.
A voice from within asked: 'Who is there?'
The man said: 'It is Thou.'
The door was opened for him.

Rumi (Shah 207)

Friday, 5 October 2007

what is religion? part 1

So you want to be a proper religion...

A proper religion, in my opinion, should
  • Respect all living creatures
  • Have compassion for suffering
  • Release its adherents from fear and loathing
  • Honour other religions as different perspectives on the same reality
  • Teach its adherents techniques to connect with the Divine
  • Practice tolerance and forgiveness and peace
  • Celebrate diversity
  • Be aware that different people have different ways of connecting with the Divine - some through meditation, some through dance, some through the practice of charity, etc.
  • Celebrate being alive
  • Be able to discuss theology and philosophy without trying to impose conformity
  • Honour the contribution of science and the arts
  • Cultivate virtue
  • Resist oppressive practices and institutions
  • Stimulate all the senses
  • Honour sexuality (in all its consensual forms) as a divine gift
  • Relax and let go
The tragedy of Western religion is that it is focused on belief and creeds, rather than on mystical experience. The word religion comes from the Latin religare, to reconnect. So if the Divine source is everywhere and in everyone, then we must reconnect with each other as well as with the source. The Divine is both immanent and transcendent, so it's not good enough to say that the physical world is illusory or fallen - we must be aware of the Divine presence within it. And we must be aware that our perspective is finite, whereas the Divine perspective is infinite and seen from all points simultaneously.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Sufi peace prayer

Send Thy peace, O Lord, which is perfect and everlasting,
that our souls may radiate peace.
Send Thy peace, O Lord, that we may think, act,
and speak harmoniously.
Send Thy peace, O Lord, that we may be contented
and thankful for Thy bountiful gifts.
Send Thy peace, O Lord, that amidst our worldly strife
we may enjoy thy bliss.
Send Thy peace, O Lord, that we may endure all,
tolerate all in the thought of thy grace and mercy.
Send Thy peace, O Lord, that our lives may become a
divine vision, and in Thy light all darkness may vanish.
Send Thy peace, O Lord, our Father and Mother,
that we Thy children on earth may all unite in one family.

Sufi Order International, peace prayer

Monday, 24 September 2007

threefold Buddha

Mahayana Buddhism (like Theravada Buddhism) posits no Creator or ruler God. However, deity belief is present in the Mahayana doctrine of The Three Bodies (forms) of Buddha: (1) Body of Essence--the indescribable, impersonal Absolute Reality, or Ultimate Truth that is Nirvana (Infinite Bliss); (2) Body of Bliss or Enjoyment--Buddha as divine, deity, formless, celestial spirit with saving power of grace, omnipotence, omniscience; and (3) Body of Transformation or Emanation--an illusion or emanation in human form provided by the divine Buddha to guide humans to Enlightenment. Any person can potentially achieve Buddhahood, transcending personality and becoming one with the impersonal Ultimate Reality, which is Infinite Bliss (Nirvana). There are countless Buddhas presiding over countless universes. Bodhisattvas--humans and celestial spirits who sacrifice their imminent liberation (Buddhahood) to help all others to become liberated--are revered or worshipped as gods or saints by some.
~ Beliefnet
I can't help but notice the similarities between this concept and the Christian Trinity - very striking.

spirit and matter

Spirit and matter interact, or intertwine. According to the Gnostics, spirit is trapped in matter and needs to break free. According to Paganism, matter is good because it is infused with the Divine; and in mainstream Christianity, matter was originally good because created by the Divine (but then was corrupted by the Fall, it seems, depending on which tradition you ask).

So is the aim to break free of matter, or to infuse it with ever more spirit? The aim of the Jewish practice of Tikkun Olam is to repair the shattered vessel(s) of the Qliphoth. To me, it seems that the aim is to restore matter to its Divine status by infusing it with more consciousness - as Jung put it, to bring unconscious material into the light of day. This happens as part of a collaborative effort between humans and the Divine.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

heart symbol


This symbol represents a heart. The Egyptians believed the heart was the center of all consciousness, even the center of life itself. When someone died it was said that their "heart has departed." It was the only organ that was not removed from the body during mummification. In the Book of the dead, it was the heart that was weighed against the feather of Maat to see if an individual was worthy of joining Osiris in the afterlife.
~ Egypt Art Site

Ancient silver coin from Cyrene depicting a silphium seed or fruit. The heart () has long been used as a symbol to refer to the spiritual, emotional, moral, and in the past also intellectual core of a human being. As the heart was once widely believed to be the seat of the human mind, the word heart continues to be used poetically to refer to the soul, and stylized depictions of hearts are extremely prevalent symbols representing love. ~ Wikipedia

perichoresis and coinherence

Two rather attractive aspects of Trinitarian theology are perichoresis (the continual pouring out of love for each other by the three Hypostases) and coinherence (a term that originally referred to the dual human and divine nature of Christ, but can also be used to refer to a panentheist worldview of 'God in all and all in God', and can also mean the way all three Persons of the Trinity reside in each other). If it is then assumed that the Divine permeates all of creation, we should therefore expect to see this threefold pattern repeated everywhere, including the human soul - as above, so below. Certainly it is possible to discern threefoldness (inner, outer, and inter for example) in many ways of perceiving reality - but there are other numerical symbols of the unfolding of the Divine into creation. So it would be unwise to dismiss Trinitarian theology completely; there is much that is worthwhile in it - but it is not the sole truth. Here's an alchemical post on Unurthed that looks at the Duality, Triplicity, Quaternity and the Quintessence. Note how the alchemist emphasises prayer as the basis of alchemical work.

Perichoresis (the continual mutual flow of love) is linked to kenosis (the pouring out of self in order to be filled with the Divine, which bestows true Selfhood). For some, this is linked to the contemplative life (which necessarily results in compassion for others and love of nature); for others, it is fulfilled in the paths of action or devotion. All three of these paths lead to Tifereth and ultimately to the source.

Monday, 10 September 2007

the Trinity and Jewish theology

The Trinity is a problematic concept for a lot of people. Its nature was the cause of a major rift between the Eastern Orthodox and the Roman Catholic churches, due to the Filioque controversy. The Filioque clause was added in response to the Arian heresy (Arius and his followers believed that Jesus was divine but had not existed from the beginning of time). Apparently St Nicholas (aka Santa Claus) punched Arius at the Council of Nicaea! Other 'heretical' views of the Godhead included the Ebionites, who were Jewish Christians who believed that Jesus was the Messiah, but not part of the Godhead. There were also the Nazarenes, who believed he was divine and accepted the virgin birth story, but kept to the Law of the Torah. It should also be noted that the current contents of the New Testament were fixed at the Council of Nicaea, which also established the Nicene Creed, which fixes the doctrine of the Trinity as orthodox belief - so the history was written by the winners, as usual. Gospels that did not support the orthodox view were rejected.

If we look at the Trinity in terms of the Kabbalah (note that there is no concept of the Trinity in Judaism, though), it could be represented in two ways: as the first three Sephiroth of the Tree of Life (Kether, Binah, Chokhmah). It could also be represented as the three spheres on the middle pillar (Kether as God the Father, Da'ath as the Holy Spirit, and Tiphereth as Christ). One could also equate the figure of Adam Kadmon (the cosmic Adam, whose body is the Tree of Life) with the concept of the Cosmic Christ (as popularised by Alice Bailey), as Christ is often referred to as the New Adam in Christianity.

However, according to Jewish theology, the Godhead is unmanifest; it is the sea of limitless light (the Ain Sof Aur) which extends "above" and beyond the Tree of Life. So really the Tree of Life appears to be equivalent to what the Eastern Orthodox Church calls "God's energies" which they distinguish from the essence of God (the unmanifest). So there appears to be a contradiction at the heart of Trinitarian theology - both Christ and the Holy Spirit are manifest aspects of the Godhead, whereas God the Father is transcendent and unknowable. This contradiction is worsened if the Filioque clause is added, because it maintains that the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and Son, thus putting Christ outside the universe as well (which makes no sense if he is the Cosmic Man).

Besides which, the entire doctrine of the Trinity seems to have been spun out of a misunderstanding of the term ruach.

In John 14 (a later and more mystical gospel than the other three), Jesus says that "the Father will send the Holy Spirit in my name" (which certainly seems to back up the Orthodox position that the Spirit proceeds from the Father alone).

However, in order to understand the concept of the Spirit from a Jewish perspective, we need to look at the word Ruach. The words ruach (Hebrew), pneuma (Greek) and spirit (Latin) all mean both 'consciousness' and 'breath'.

Ruach comes from God (and the Spirit of God is mentioned in Genesis 1:2), but does not seem to be a person in the same sense as the Hypostases of the Trinity. In Genesis 2:7, it says that "the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being." So the breath is here associated with the spirit, and the human spirit comes from God.

The Jewish concept of the human soul is threefold:
Kabbalah (esoteric Jewish mysticism) saw the soul as having three elements. The Zohar, a classic work of Jewish mysticism, posits that the human soul has three elements, the nefesh, ru'ah, and neshamah. A common way of explaining these three parts follows:
the lower or animal part of the soul. It links to instincts and bodily cravings. It is found in all humans, and enters the physical body at birth. It is the source of one's physical and psychological nature.
The next two parts of the soul are not implanted at birth, but are slowly created over time; their development depends on the actions and beliefs of the individual. They are said to only fully exist in people awakened spiritually:
the middle soul, or spirit. It contains the moral virtues and the ability to distinguish between good and evil. In modern parlance, it equates to psyche or ego-personality.
the higher soul, Higher Self or super-soul. This distinguishes man from all other life forms. It relates to the intellect, and allows man to enjoy and benefit from the afterlife. This part of the soul is provided both to Jew and non-Jew alike at birth. It allows one to have some awareness of the existence and presence of God. In the Zohar, after death Nefesh disintegrates, Ruach is sent to a sort of intermediate zone where it is submitted to purification and enters in "temporary paradise", while Neshamah returns to the source, the world of Platonic ideas, where it enjoys "the kiss of the beloved". Supposedly after resurrection, Ruach and Neshamah, soul and spirit re-unite in a permanently transmuted state of being.
Incidentally, the doctrine of the reuniting of nefesh, ruach and neshamah at the end of time goes some way to explaining why Christian theology has the spirit going to heaven but the soul and body only being resurrected at the end of time.

Anyway, it could be that Jesus envisaged his neshamah returning to the Divine source (as per standard Jewish doctrine) and his ruach (which was given by the Source, as we saw in Genesis) being sent into the 'kingdom of heaven' (as are all individual ruachim). Remember that he had earlier stated that 'the kingdom of heaven is all around you'.

This Jewish doctrine of the soul was evidently known to the Gnostics (note the early, pre-Nicaea date of Valentinus' writings):
The soul, according to many religious and philosophical traditions, is the ethereal substance - spirit (Hebrew: ruach or nefesh) - particular to a unique living being. Such traditions often consider the soul both immortal and innately aware of its immortal nature, as well as the true basis for sentience in each living being. The concept of the soul has strong links with notions of an afterlife, but opinions may vary wildly, even within a given religion, as to what happens to the soul after death. Many within these religions and philosophies see the soul as immaterial, while others consider it possibly material. ... In [the] early years of Christianity, the Gnostic Christian Valentinus of Valentinius (circa 100 - circa 153) proposed a version of spiritual psychology that accorded with numerous other "perennial wisdom" doctrines. He conceived the human being as a triple entity, consisting of body (soma, hyle), soul (psyche) and spirit (pneuma).

However, on being transferred to Greek culture, much of the Jewish doctrine (which Jesus and his early followers would have been thoroughly immersed in) was lost - the start of this process can be seen in the book of Acts and the letters of St Paul. Various Greek concepts from the mystery schools were imported into the nascent religion of Christianity - one of the most influential being the Logos (famously used in the beginning of the gospel of John). The Logos originally meant the order of the cosmos, and the Hellenized Jewish Christians identified Jesus as the Logos - and here we get the beginnings of the concept of the cosmic Christ, as popularised by Paul, instead of the man Jesus being identified as a specifically Jewish messiah:
Heraclitus established the term in Western philosophy as meaning the fundamental order of the cosmos. The sophists used the term to mean discourse, and Aristotle applied the term to argument from reason. After Judaism came under Hellenistic influence, Philo adopted the term into Jewish philosophy. The Gospel of John identifies Jesus as the incarnation of the Logos, through which all things are made. The gospel further identifies the Logos as God (theos), providing scriptural support for the trinity. It is this sense, the Logos as Jesus Christ and God, that is most common in popular culture. ~ from Wikipedia
So it can be seen that the elevation of Jesus to the Logos was a gradual process of doctrinal wrangling, and not necessarily part of his original intention. Jesus knew he came from God because he knew that all spirit/pneuma/ruach is the breath of God.

Certainly Jesus was and is a child of the Universe (as are we all), but not in the Trinitarian sense. In the "Old Testament" (apologies to any Jewish readers for calling it that), there is more than one son of God. Job 1:6 refers to the sons of God; Genesis 6:2 refers to the Nephilim and the sons of God. It appears that angels were traditionally viewed as 'sons of God', and that the gods of other nations were regarded as tutelary angels of those nations.

It is sometimes argued by Orthodox and Catholic believers that the Church was guided by the Holy Spirit in the development of its doctrines, but the problem with that theory is that it got all entangled with the Roman and Byzantine empires, and even the Orthodox Church started to promulgate some pretty dodgy ideas as a result of that (Christ as Emperor, for example) - though not as dodgy as some of the ideas of the Catholic Church (original sin, papal supremacy, etc.) So discernment (a gift of the Holy Spirit) is still required on the part of the individual to ascertain which bits are true - though obviously, as others also receive wisdom in this way, much can be learned from others, both in one's own tradition and beyond it, to try and understand it all.

I prefer the Quaker and Unitarian view that the Source speaks to each one of us in the chamber of the heart (also affirmed in some Orthodox traditions like Hesychasm). Hence the über-tradition or ur-tradition consists of all those who love the Source and follow the compassionate way as expounded by Yeshua, Kwan Yin, Buddha, and many others. Not of those who have usurped worldly power and seek to impose doctrine on others (however well-meaningly). Therefore I cannot accept any authority other than the Universe itself, speaking to me through my own conscience. (There, I am a protestant after all....)

Certainly, the Way can be perceived as threefold; but it can also be seen as twofold, fourfold, and infinite. The Trinity is a useful model, but it's only a model, and is bound up with claims that Christ is the only way to the Father. But what if Christ is a state of being, rather than a person? Christ-nature seems remarkably similar to Buddha-nature. The Kabbalist Z'ev ben Shimon Ha-Levi, in his book The Anointed One, (the words Messiah and Christos simply mean 'anointed one') suggests that there is a messiah for each generation - rather like the Jewish concept of the Lamed Vav, the 36 righteous hidden ones. So the status of 'anointed' or 'son of God' is not conferred on only one person in the whole of history, but rather on many people (even in Catholicism, Saint Francis is sometimes referred to as "another Christ"). The Hindus say that Brahman sends a messenger whenever humanity needs to have the message restated again.
"Tao begets one; One begets two; Two begets three; Three begets the myriad creatures." (Tao Te Ching 42, tr. Lau, modified)

Saturday, 8 September 2007


Zen also stems from this message of healing. Zen practice heals the fissures or separations in our being so that we can "come home" to simply be. This homecoming effects five kinds of recovery in our being. First is a recovery of now, living now genuinely and not trying to escape from ourselves. Second is a recovery of our body, to be our body as the temple of the divine presence. Third is the recovery of nature, to live in unison with nature, receiving the fullness of creation in each moment, entrusting ourselves to its Source. Fourth is the recovery of the shadow. This means to accept all of ourselves and accept responsibility for, not avoid, ourselves as the key to wholeness. Fifth is the recovery of the feminine in us. Kwan-yin is the compassionate hearer of the sounds of the world. Mary, too, can remind us of this transparent, trusting, totally open compassion. It is the feminine face of God that stands ready to heal. And Zen can open our eyes to this compassionate reality at the heart of the universe and therefore can help us recover it in our hearts, too.
Zen Mind/Christian Mind: Practice across Traditions
Susan Postal
Buddhist-Christian Studies, Vol. 14. (1994), pp. 209-213.

language and mysticism

if we take a stance beyond language, in affirmations of silent awakening, then, it seems to me, we cannot engage in dialogue at all. After all, dialogue means "through words." All dialogue, therefore, is language-formed and conversational, even when it speaks about the ineffable. We must then confront the verbal differences and divergences that the traditions exhibit. Perhaps at their most fundamental level all traditions share the same ineffable experience. Perhaps all their experiences, even the basic paradigmatic experience of awakening and conversion, are so conditioned by the culture and language in which they are expressed that they are incommensurate. I would contend that the issue is beyond solution, for an ineffable experience, being unmediated in any language, can serve as no criterion for, or direct source of, dialogue. Dialogue is language, and the traditions are clearly not saying the same things. Dialogue entails the stance that we do not collapse doctrinal statements, either by a coinherent identity or by regarding them as secondary apparatuses. Even though they may be secondary, that does not mean they are not crucial. Even the inner dialogue that King speaks of is a conceptual dialogue, formed by the play of often unexpressed words in the mind of the thinker.

I suggest that we refuse to relegate language and doctrine to the periphery of our concerns, that we rejoice in the healthy tension that differences engender, without overcoming them by a further strategy. Such a strategy, although appealing to claims of mystic understanding, when expressed in words results in a mystic metaphysics of presence, replacing the living traditions with a theory or theology of world religions. And that, I suggest, is an impoverishment of the respective traditions. Allow the differences to fracture our points of view and burst our horizons. Such fractured points of view can no longer claim an absolutely true status apart from culture and language. Yet they remain as intelligent and persuasive models, some more and some less. The point is to maintain the tension between differences, for it is that tension which triggers breakthroughs in any fixed horizons or set points of view. It is, I think, the tension of living in and practicing the middle path, aware of the emptiness of ultimate meaning and engaged in the worldly and conventional discourse of codependently arisen and culturally formed ideas and judgments. Fracturing points of view is the practice of emptiness. Dialogue is all worldly and conventional and not a matter of direct mystic experience.
Dialogue and Language
John P. Keenan
Buddhist-Christian Studies, Vol. 14. (1994), pp. 169-172.


I just read these interesting articles on the Tzimtzum (the Divine contracting in order to make space for the creation). It sounds, from the articles, as if the Tzimtzum only happened once, at the beginning of time - but I thought it was happening all the time, that creation is constantly sustained by the Divine - certainly that is the insight provided by quantum mechanics, that bosons (the 'God particle') are continuously winking in and out of existence. Certainly one of the articles says that the Divine is both immanent and transcendent.

I think (but I'm not sure) that the patterns of Islamic tiles often represent this constant expansion and contraction of the Presence - kind of like breathing.

I was trying to convey a sense of the Tzimtzum in my poem, Thou Godde. I think I managed to convey a sense of the Tzim, but less so the Tzum. I wanted to add something about returning to the source in a breath and then breathing out again, something that conveys the constant flow of inbreath and outbreath, always and everywhere. This poem that I wrote about the Grail almost conveys it, and perhaps this one, The hinge of the door, too. Also, this poem, Resonance (though with perhaps a little too much emphasis on a holistic perspective) was an attempt to convey a Taoist view of the constant dance of being and non-being.

I also want to write something about spirit of place, how the manifestation of spirit is different in different places, and has a distinct personality or identity (but is not a discrete entity).

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Am I still a Pagan?

I honestly don't know.

I still believe most of what I believed when I identified as a Pagan. I still love nature, trees and rocks, folk-tales and firelight, the moon and the stars and the nurturing darkness, the sunlight on the water.

My cosmology hasn't changed that much - gods and goddesses have been reclassified as wights or loas or genii loci (some more friendly than others), and the sea of limitless light has acquired more personality than I believed was possible.

The jury is still out on reincarnation, though I certainly believe in apocatastasis (the eventual metanoia of everyone).

I sort of believed in the Fall as a Pagan, so no change there - but I understand it as a shift in consciousness where we saw ourselves as discrete beings separate from the Divine, losing our sense that "we live, move and have our being" in the Divine. Interestingly, the Wikipedia entry says that it was a "transition from a state of innocence to a state of knowing only dualities" - so it makes sense to try to view things in a Taoist manner.

I wrestled with the problem of evil as a Pagan, and came to some sort of conclusion, but didn't know what could be done to resolve it. Now I believe that the Divine is working with and through us to resolve the problem (in Judaism, the idea of Tikkun Olam; in the words of St Theresa of Avila, "Christ has no hands but you.")

I'm not a Christian as such, because I can't sign up to the Nicene Creed or accept the sole authority of the Church or the Bible. And I think the Trinity is a useful model, but not the whole picture.

I believe all traditions are valid paths to the Divine (well I sort of believed that as a Pagan, but now I feel it). I guess all that makes me a Unitarian... but one with both Pagan and Christian roots, and a strong interest in other traditions.

And the Christian habit of equating darkness with evil really gets my goat. Darkness can be nurturing and 'female' and yin; it's the hidden processes in the earth. It may be the absence of light, but it's not evil. This is not just a matter of symbolism, it's about what you do with the unconscious content of your psyche, whether you slay it or seek to transform it.

I am massively grateful to my Orthodox and Catholic friends for helping me to understand the mystical side of Christianity, and some of the important theological concepts of it. And I am full of admiration for all the LGBT Christians out there, struggling on faithfully in their love for Christ against massive discrimination.

I'm also deeply grateful to my Pagan friends for being patient with me while I wrestled with this, and for their helpful comments and suggestions, especially Trystn and Cat.

But when it comes right down to it, it's the Tao Te Ching that makes the most sense to me, and illuminates the meaning of the other traditions.

Who, not what

In the end the contemplative suffers the anguish of realizing that he no longer knows what God is. He may or may not mercifully realize that, after all, this is a great gain, because “God is not a what,” not a “thing.”

That is precisely one of the essential characteristics of contemplative experience. It sees that there is no “what” that can be called God. There is “no such thing” as God because God is neither a “what” nor a “thing” but a pure “Who.”

He is the “Thou” before whom our inmost “I” springs into awareness. He is the I Am before whom with our own most personal and inalienable voice we echo “I am.”

~ Thomas Merton
That's exactly it. As Lao Tsu said, I don't know what it is, so I call it Great.

Godde bursts the boundaries of all our attempts at definition. Every time I try to rationalise or quantify or describe the experience of the Divine, I experience some kind of diminution of the opening, expansive Presence. But it must be remembered that the Divine is both expansion and contraction, both darkness and light - the heartbeat of the universe. The rejection of the darkness of Godde diminishes the Presence. The wave and the wind are one motion: the the trough of the wave is the peak of the wind, and the trough of the wind is the peak of the wave, and each is in the heart of the other. Yin and Yang in the eternal Tao.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Taoist writings


I just found a wonderful quote from Alan Watts:
"Faith is a state of openness or trust. To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don't grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float. And the attitude of faith is the very opposite of clinging to belief, of holding on. In other words, a person who is fanatic in matters of religion, and clings to certain ideas about the nature of God and the universe, becomes a person who has no faith at all. Instead they are holding tight. But the attitude of faith is to let go, and become open to truth, whatever it might turn out to be."

Iṣṭa devatā

According to Joseph Campbell, just below the heart chakra there is a minor chakra, which is usually represented as a jewelled tree beside an altar. The altar is dedicated to one's Iṣṭa devatā, or chosen deity. However, in the experience of most Pagans, polytheists and henotheists, you don't choose the deity, the deity chooses you - or perhaps it's a moment of mutual recognition.

I had a series of experiences that suggested that Yeshua had chosen me, though I had the choice not to reciprocate. Kwan Yin was also present on one of the occasions he visited me, and I think they might be allies.

I do not believe that Yeshua is everything that the Nicene Creed says about him, but he is very powerful, and certainly a god, or a Buddha, or whatever terminology you prefer to use.

Yeshua, my iṣṭa devatā
Master of the still small voice
Rabbi of the world
Beloved of Mariamne
Bridegroom of the soul

Here is my humble altar
With the jewelled tree
and the Moon caught in its branches
As You, O Fish in the Great Primordial Sea
Were caught in the waters of the womb
And cast up gasping on the shore of life.

You wandered on the hills of Galilee
And spoke of simple things to delight the heart
So simple that no-one could understand them
Unless they let go and floated on the bosom of the Mother

You were broken
You were raised up
Like all who embark on the Path
You descended into the depths
And ascended unto the heights
You are the brightness of the noon-day
And the darkness of mystery
You are the outpouring of Divine Love
Each one of us is the outpouring of Divine Love
The whole universe is the outpouring of Divine Love

~ Yvonne Aburrow


The innocent darkness
receives and transforms
what is freely given to her.
The dark child dances
among the stars.
The radiance of night
is hidden in the deepest space.
The singing of the aether
can only be heard
if you are listening.
The prima materia,
disregarded by the philosophers,
is the darkness, the pregnant silence.
The silence receives all, gives all,
and plays with manifestation.
The alchemy of nature
in the athanor of the stars.
The opening of seeds
in the darkness of the earth.
The dance of life and death
as it moves, it moves, it moves.

~ by Yvonne Aburrow
Tao is obscured when men understand only one of a pair of opposites, or concentrate only on a partial aspect of being. Then clear expression also becomes muddled by mere wordplay, affirming this one aspect and denying the rest.

~ The Pivot - Chuang-tzu

Kuan Yin

To those who withhold refuge,
I cradle you in safety at the core of my Being.
To those that cause a child to cry out,
I grant you the freedom to express your own choked agony.
To those that inflict terror,
I remind you that you shine with the purity of a thousand suns.
To those who would confine, suppress, or deny,
I offer the limitless expanse of the sky.
To those who need to cut, slash, or burn,
I remind you of the invincibility of Spring.
To those who cling and grasp,
I promise more abundance than you could ever hold onto.
To those who vent their rage on small children,
I return to you your deepest innocence.
To those who must frighten into submission,
I hold you in the bosom of your original mother.
To those who cause agony to others,
I give the gift of free flowing tears.
To those that deny another's right to be,
I remind you that the angels sang in celebration of you on the day of your
To those who see only division and separateness,
I remind you that a part is born only by bisecting a whole.
For those who have forgotten the tender mercy of a mother's embrace,
I send a gentle breeze to caress your brow.
To those who still feel somehow incomplete,
I offer the perfect sanctity of this very moment.

~ Kuan Yin, bodhisattva of compassion

thou art that

Look, and it can't be seen.
Listen, and it can't be heard.
Reach, and it can't be grasped.

Above, it isn't bright.
Below, it isn't dark.
Seamless, unnamable,
it returns to the realm of nothing.
Form that includes all forms,
image without an image,
subtle, beyond all conception.

Approach it and there is no beginning;
follow it and there is no end.
You can't know it, but you can be it,
at ease in your own life.
Just realize where you come from:
this is the essence of wisdom.

~ Tao Te Ching, 14

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

how to dialogue

  • Recognising that all of us at times fall short of the ideals of our own traditions and never comparing our own ideals with other people's practices
  • Respecting another person's expressed wish to be left alone
  • Avoiding imposing ourselves and our views on individuals or communities who are in vulnerable situations in ways which exploit these
  • Being sensitive and courteous
  • Avoiding violent action or language, threats, manipulation, improper inducements, or the misuse of any kind of power
  • Respecting the right of others to disagree with us
~ from Interfaith UK - Building Good Relations with People of Different Faiths and Beliefs

Monday, 3 September 2007

principles and sources

"We, ... covenant to affirm and promote [the following principles]:
  1. The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  2. Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
  3. Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
  4. A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  5. The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
  6. The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
  7. Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
The living tradition which we share draws from many sources:
  1. Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;
  2. Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love;
  3. Wisdom from the world's religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;
  4. Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God's love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;
  5. Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.
  6. Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.
(The Unitarian Universalist principles and sources affirmation)


"To Savor the World or Save It"

I arise in the morning torn between the desire
To save the world and to savor it
To serve life or to enjoy it
To savor the world or save it?
The question beats in upon the waiting moment
To savor the sweet taste of my own joy
Or to share the bitter cup of my neighbor;
To celebrate life with exuberant step
Or to struggle for the life of the heavy laden?

What am I to do
When the guilt at my bounty
Clouds the sky of my vision;
When the glow which lights my every day
Illumines the hurting world around me?

To savor the world or save it?
God of justice, if such there be,
Take from me the burden of my question.
Let me praise my plenitude without limit;
Let me cast from my eyes all troubled folk!

No, you will not let me be.
You will not stop my ears
To the cries of the hurt and the hungry;
You will not close my eyes
To the sight of the afflicted.
No, you will not!

What is that you say?
To savor one must serve?
To savor one must save?
The one will not stand without the other?
Forgive me
In my preoccupation with self,
In my concern for my own life
I had forgotten.
Forgive me, God of justice,
forgive me, and make me whole.

~ by Richard S. Gilbert
via Ms Kitty's Saloon and Roadshow

Friday, 31 August 2007

how many?

Thou, Godde, art Zero: the Void from which everything was born, the ground and origin of our being.
Thou, Godde, art One: all in Godde, and Godde in all.
Thou, Godde, art Two: the union of Lover and Beloved, spirit in matter, the jewel in the lotus.
Thou, Godde, art Three: the Maker, the Lover and the Sustainer.
Thou, Godde, art Four: the Father, the Mother, the Logos and Sophia.
Earth, Air, Fire and Water.
Thou, Godde, art Five: Child, Spouse, Parent, Wise One, Hidden One.
Thou, Godde, art Six: the rays of Tiphereth, the beauty at the heart of all.
Thou, Godde, art Seven: the seven planetary angels that sing to Thee and of Thee and in Thee; the seven branches of the menorah.
Thou, Godde, art Eight: hidden in the eightfold wheel of the year, the centre to which all must connect; the compass rose, the rose upon the rood of time, the Buddha's eightfold path.
Thou, Godde, art Nine: the nine worlds upon the Tree, the nine proud walkers, the nine noble virtues.
Thou, Godde, art Ten: the ten Sephiroth of the Tree of Life, unfolding from eternity into time.
Thou, Godde, art the ten thousand things that emanate from the Tao.
Thou Limitless Sea of Light, thou of nine billion names and faces.
Thou, Godde, art infinity: Godde in all, and all in Godde.
Thou art That.
That art Thou.
That of Godde in everyone.

by Yvonne Aburrow


We pray for a religion that is not a set of preconceived beliefs,
but a pattern of living
In tune with the land with the seasons, and with human needs,
with the moods and movements of the human heart.
We pray for a religion of passion and reason,
A religion of poetry and story and drama.

We pray that our religion will be
A religion of forgiveness
Of wisdom and of gentleness
Of the wisdom of gentleness

Let the symbols of religion not be those
of guilt and sin, of the darkness of death
but those of renewal and redemption
the rolling aside of the stone,
of friendship and fellowship
of a loaf and a fish,
let our symbols be
the symbol of life and light
Of warmth and sharing,
The sunrise,
And a chalice and a flame

Let our religion be as old as sleep
and as new as tomorrow's dawn,
and let our covenant be
the loving and joyful acceptance of the natural world
in all its shapes and colours, in all its seasons;
and the loving and joyful acceptance
of all the shapes and colours of human desire:
of the heart in all its seasons.

And let our God be
a God who is both mystery and certainty,
A God of all hopes, of all hearts,
God of all joys and of all sorrows,
God of all loves and of all lovers.

~ Unitarian prayer by Tom McCready

magic and prayer

What is magic? To many Pagans, magic is an awareness of the miraculous, the magical, the spiritual, the numinous as it infuses everyday life. It's about living in a one-storey universe. In Simple Magics, a new blog discussing magical awareness, the author discusses the magic of being stung by a bee, and how this affects one's awareness of one's surroundings. She suggests an exercise to increase mindfulness:
Resolve to notice and appreciate 3 new things in everyday surroundings. Small things, big things, it doesn’t matter as long as they are new. Does this make common surroundings more interesting? more alive? more immediate? more a part of the world rather than a backdrop? more inter-related?
Magic is not just about "doing spells" - it may include that, but spells for most Pagans are a form of prayer, asking the Universe (or a deity) for the desired outcome (usually with the proviso, as long as it doesn't harm anyone). Not demanding or trying to force the issue. "Spells" are simple rituals which ask for something to happen - so are prayers.

Think of the difference between the magic of Uncle Andrew (the bad magician in The Magician's Nephew who uses magical formulae and procedures without understanding what they do and is completely unethical - simply seeking power and knowledge for its own sake) and the magic of Aslan (in all the Narnia books) who is a magical and miraculous being.

But just as prayer is about far more than asking for things, so is magic. Both magic and prayer are about allowing the fullness of the Universe to infuse our awareness, and having a sacramental view of reality. The more each of them is like a ritual (involving the whole body and all the senses, and including symbols and words that stimulate our awareness of the Thou-ness of the Universe), the more effective they will be.

One of the traps of the 'spiritual life' is thinking that spirituality is only about self-development. It's not. All the great texts of the spiritual life, from the Tao Te Ching to the Bible, point out that it's about emptying yourself to become full, losing yourself to find yourself, and many another phrase to describe the same experience. It's about detachment from unhealthy desire - the desire to dominate and control, greed, "lust" (sexual desire without consideration for the happiness of the the beloved) and so on.

The magical path is often seen from outside as a desire to set oneself up as an independent power from the universe - but all magicians must eventually realise that all power comes from the Universe. If they don't, they end up burning themselves out by trying to wield their own power. It's like the difference between a lamp running on a battery and a lamp that's connected to the mains.

However, complete identification with the Thou is an advanced mystical state achieved after a long time; it's not an instantaneous result, nor is it for the faint-hearted. But notice that those who achieved this were often very individual and full of soul - Jesus, Buddha, Saint Francis, Gandhi, and so on. The rest of us can probably only manage a balance between the inner and the outer. But let us not forget that true self-development (theosis) comes only when we are in right relation to the Universe (whatever tradition you are following).