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.I can't help but notice the similarities between this concept and the Christian Trinity - very striking.
Monday, 24 September 2007
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
IebThis 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
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 (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
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: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.
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 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 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.
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 WikipediaSo 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
Buddhist-Christian Studies, Vol. 14. (1994), pp. 209-213.
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.Dialogue and Language
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.
John P. Keenan
Buddhist-Christian Studies, Vol. 14. (1994), pp. 169-172.
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
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.
That's exactly it. As Lao Tsu said, I don't know what it is, so I call it Great.
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
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
"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."
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
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
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
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.
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
~ from Interfaith UK - Building Good Relations with People of Different Faiths and Beliefs
- 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
Monday, 3 September 2007
"We, ... covenant to affirm and promote [the following principles]:
The living tradition which we share draws from many sources:
- The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
- Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
- Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
- A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
- The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
- The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
- Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
(The Unitarian Universalist principles and sources affirmation)
- 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;
- 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;
- Wisdom from the world's religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;
- Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God's love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;
- 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.
- 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.
"To Savor the World or Save It"via Ms Kitty's Saloon and Roadshow
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?
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