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Holy Spirit

In Buddhism, the practice of mindfulness is an attempt to take sitting meditation out into the world of everyday life. We learn to focus on the object of meditation – usually the breath – such that, when the mind naturally wanders, we gently bring our attention back into focus. We do this over and over until, eventually, the “monkey mind” calms down enough for true meditation to happen.

When we leave the cushion to head out into “normal” waking life – into traffic jams, dish washing, bill paying, grocery shopping and strange objects in the sky – we are encouraged to continue meditation practice as best we can, using whatever is present as the object, learning slowly how to bring our full attention to this very moment, right here, right now.

“I am watering the flowers.”

“I am brushing my teeth.”

“I am steeping my tea.”

“I am looking at dust bunnies behind my bedroom door.”

Ecstatic Buddhists who, either through long wrestling with the demons of meditation, or through some unknown mechanism of activation, have given rise to the bliss, joy and ecstasy of jhana/samadhi – these contemplatives are gifted with an object of meditation and mindfulness that can’t be beat. We bring the focus of our attention to the “pleasant arisings” that have evolved into a saturation in bliss, joy and ecstasy. We acknowledge whatever manifestation of these sensations happens to be present. This manifestation may be visual, tactile, olfactory, auditory or some combination thereof – and when it appears, we allow our attention to rest on it. We allow our connection with it to guide our awareness.

“I am aware of pleasant vibrations in and around my head, centered between the eyes, dripping down the spine, flowering in the heart.”

“I see streams of shimmering energy trailing behind that passing blue bus.”

“I hear sublime, indescribable music from the Celestial Choir.”

“I smell heaven.”

“I feel a blanket of bliss all over my body, inside my body, beyond my body.”

Jhana/samadhi – the indwelling expression of spiritual effulgence that rewards fervent and skilful seeking – finds an equivalent in the Christian experience of the Holy Spirit.

John 14:17 He is the Spirit of truth. The world is unable to receive Him because it doesn’t see Him or know Him. But you do know Him, because He remains with you and will be in you.

John 14:26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit — the Father will send Him in My name — will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you.

John 20:22 …He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Acts 2:4 Then they were all filled with the Holy Spirit….

That the Holy Spirit is “real” and offers an actual experience of the Divine is not something my church upbringing acknowledged. As a teenager I used to complain to my father – a Presbyterian minister – that there’s no “direct experience” in church. Dad had grown up in the Pentecostal church, however, so he was able to tell me about ecstatic experiences associated with revival meetings and such – men, women and children spinning on the ground, whaling strange utterings, tears of ecstasy streaming down their faces.

Wikipedia:

Pentecostalism or Classical Pentecostalism is a renewal movement within Protestant Christianity that places special emphasis on a direct personal experience of God through the baptism with the Holy Spirit. The term Pentecostal is derived from Pentecost, the Greek name for the Jewish Feast of Weeks. For Christians, this event commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the followers of Jesus Christ, as described in the second chapter of the Book of Acts.

During his years in the Pentecostal church, Dad had become convinced that much of what he’d witnessed was faked, but he did not discount the very “real” presence of the Holy Spirit.  That there is an entire Protestant Christian tradition that is largely centered on a living experience of the Holy Spirit is, for me, validation of Christianity as a genuine vehicle for connecting with our truest Divine nature.  It says that I am not alone in craving direct experience of Spirit.

Thomas a Kempis, the great Christian mystic who wrote The Imitation of Christ, said:

“THE kingdom of God is within you,” says the Lord.

Turn, then, to God with all your heart. Forsake this wretched world and your soul shall find rest. Learn to despise external things, to devote yourself to those that are within, and you will see the kingdom of God come unto you, that kingdom which is peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, gifts not given to the impious.

As an ecstatic Buddhist contemplative with a Christian heritage (and a continuing daily immersion in the Bible and prayer), it brings deep healing and joy to practice mindfulness of the Holy Spirit, which is none other than the spontaneous arising of bliss, joy and ecstasy born of silence and surrender.  In a world filled with diversions, constant mindfulness of Spirit is a vehicle that delivers us from chaos, confusion and aimless wandering.  This is the refuge we not only seek, but need in the deepest possible way.

Prayer.Bliss.Light

Like many who early in life started asking hard questions about the religion of their upbringing, I spent years and years receiving less than adequate answers. Asking questions was often viewed as an act of alienation, a sign of faithlessness, backsliding or apostasy.

At some point, I realized that the discomfort caused by my questions was related to the fact that no one really knew the answers – other than to (basically) say, “The Bible tells me so.” I would then ask, “How do you know that the Bible is true?” The answer would always, of course, circle back around to, “Because the Bible tells me so.”

Period.

Beyond questions about the existence and nature of God, the veracity of the Bible, the mystery of the Trinity and so forth… what I really wanted to know was, “Where is the direct experience of God in all this?”

Crickets.

So, I determined to leave the religion of my upbringing. I stopped going to church and watched football on Sundays instead. I got jobs, made friends, went to concerts and Dodger games, parties, bars, softball leagues, bowling leagues, bookstores, coffee shops, etc., etc., etc. – all the things that offer an illusion of individuality. I honestly thought I’d left all that church stuff behind – except when I paused to notice that a vestige of “all that” remained intact.

This vestige was, I now know, the presence of God – the common LIFE-NESS that animates and breathes into all existence, perfectly, mysteriously, miraculously.

I may have sought a direct experience of God through spiritual traditions outside that of my upbringing, but my own sense of the Absolute never changed. I may have been reading the Bhagavad Gita, Yoga Sutras  and Upanishads, but when I looked inside of myself, I found that these writings pointed to the same direct apprehension of “God” that I’d always known. Same thing with Buddhism, which purports to be a system without God. When the Buddha talked about jhana/samadhi, which is self-arising bliss, joy and ecstasy, it was the same bliss, joy and ecstasy I’d always felt when the presence of God was most undeniably upon me.

Fact is, no matter how far afield I strayed from the religion of my upbringing, the more stark the realization that God is omnipresent.

Many years after leaving the fold, while putting the pieces together through a renewed pursuit of answers, it occurred to me that, if God – the presence of self-arising bliss, joy and ecstasy that is a constant reminder of the Infinite – is omnipresent and has never abandoned my field of awareness – shouldn’t I stop running and open a line of communion with the LIFE-NESS of all existence? Wouldn’t this be the direct experience I’d always desired?

They call this line of communion “prayer.”

I’m not talking about the rote recitation of thanksgiving over dinner – although that’s a wonderful and healing thing to do. I’m not talking about the conditioned imperative to ask for forgiveness so that one’s transgressions may be wiped clean – although, of course, this provides a profound sense of relief, as we humans are always transgressing in this way or that, followed by a burden of guilt whether acknowledged or not.

For me, prayer is a conscious availing to That which is always nudging from within, the Great Soul that lives inside all of us and is just waiting for our attention. Prayer is a form of surrender that says, “I’ve been acting like a separate entity all this time, pretending that I can – in and of myself – find ultimate contentment and satisfaction… but now I realize that my consciousness is just a minuscule fraction of the One Consciousness, and the wisest choice is to align with That.”

When we clear away the theological inquiries, the metaphysical riddles and the myriad practices that flood the spiritual marketplace, we are – in my opinion – stranded in a loneliness that feels like checkmate. We possess all this knowledge and witnessing of sages, saints and scholars who have either found their way Home, or who seem to know the path – but what does this knowledge get us? Does it bring us any closer to God? Or does it provide yet another diversion from a direct experience of God?

At a certain point, our prayer, meditation and/or contemplation must put us into immanent union with the Ultimate – with God – and it must provide a constant remembrance of our true relationship with That. Further, it must lead us to utter surrender – even when it means years and years of struggle (Dark Night of the Soul), as our false sense of separateness is whittled to the bone.

In the end, a life of prayer leads to genuine relinquishment, where all false beliefs go to die.  Constancy in prayer, meditation and contemplation provides the intelligence, power, guidance and communion that alleviate the utter loneliness that meets me at every turn. I cannot ultimately rely on myself, nor can I rely on other flailing humans – but I can rely on the LIFE-NESS that was, is and always will be in and around me, making Itself available as the Answer to the deepest questions I could possibly ask.

All that is required is to continually die to myself, either through conscious letting-go or through kicking and screaming every step of the way.

This is my notion of prayer.

Spirit of Life
In these days of shifting perceptions, dawning awakening and the recognition that we as a species are wrapped in the midst of sweeping change, many of us worry about making rent next month, about paying the heating bill, about putting nourishing food on the table. News headlines are filled with portents of doom — something we’ve grown accustomed to over a lifetime of increasingly pervasive media, but also something that takes a hidden toll on our coping abilities.

So this morning during my devotions, I came to the twelfth chapter of Luke, where Master Jesus (like Master Buddha, with whom we check in below) reminds us to step back from the drama and to remember the Source of life itself.

Luke 12:22 He said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, don’t be anxious for your life, what you will eat, nor yet for your body, what you will wear.
Luke 12:23 Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing.
Luke 12:24 Consider the ravens: they don’t sow, they don’t reap, they have no warehouse or barn, and God feeds them. How much more valuable are you than birds!
Luke 12:25 Which of you by being anxious can add a cubit to his height?
Luke 12:26 If then you aren’t able to do even the least things, why are you anxious about the rest?

My conditioning says that this is a quaint set of sayings, but that I can’t really believe them because I live in the “real world” and I have “responsibilities” and I wouldn’t want to “fall through the cracks.”

My knowingness, however, understands that what the Master says here is absolutely true — that all my paycheck-to-paycheck jobs down through the years were nothing but props, that my sense of security was NEVER derived from a so-called “steady job,” but, rather, from the One Life that expresses through me every moment of my life.

Luke 12:27 Consider the lilies, how they grow. They don’t toil, neither do they spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
Luke 12:28 But if this is how God clothes the grass in the field, which today exists, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith?
Luke 12:29 Don’t seek what you will eat or what you will drink; neither be anxious.
Luke 12:30 For the nations of the world seek after all of these things, but your Father knows that you need these things

If I assume that the Master is not telling me to sit around doing nothing, expecting manna to fall from the heavens… then, what?

Luke 12:31 But seek God’s Kingdom, and all these things will be added to you.
Luke 12:32 Don’t be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.

Ah — seek God’s Kingdom, and all these things will be added to you.

But what does that mean, to seek God’s Kingdom?

Luke 17:20 Being asked by the Pharisees when the Kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The Kingdom of God doesn’t come with observation;
Luke 17:21 neither will they say, ‘Look, here!’ or, ‘Look, there!’ for behold, the Kingdom of God is within you.”

The Master teaches us that true security is never found through external means, but is always located within — beneath the surface illusion brought about by our belief that we are the body.

I believe that the Master taught us to trust in the still, small voice inside, which is our connection with the Creator — our tether to Truth. We are to derive our sense of well-being from the God within — the Spirit of Life that is always the same, never wavers, animates our every moment from cradle to grave. We are to hand over our problems and troubles to the Spirit, to talk to the Spirit, to pour our souls out onto the Spirit… and to the extent that we maintain a habit of doing this, we will see our external reality transform into conformity with this ever-strengthening Union.

Luke 12:32 Don’t be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.
Luke 12:33 Sell that which you have, and give gifts to the needy. Make for yourselves purses which don’t grow old, a treasure in the heavens that doesn’t fail, where no thief approaches, neither moth destroys.
Luke 12:34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

The Buddha, of course, spoke of this Union with Spirit in terms of jhana/samadhi, which is literally an absorption in the blissful Spirit of Life of which we speak here. Here is are some typical pointers from the Buddha about the need to form this Union:

Aranavibhanga Sutta, MN 139

9.”Here bhikkhus, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, a bhikkhu enter upon and resides in the first (absorption) jhana”… (through 4th jhana). “This is called the bliss of renunciation, the bliss of seclusion, the bliss of peace, the bliss of enlightenment. I say of this kind of pleasure that it should be pursued, that it should be developed, that it should be cultivated, and that it should not be feared.”

Just as Jesus says to “Sell that which you have, and give gifts to the needy. Make for yourselves purses which don’t grow old, a treasure in the heavens that doesn’t fail, where no thief approaches, neither moth destroys…,” the Buddha encourages us to go “all in” with the Spirit of Life (jhana/samadhi), and to know that this is the ground for wondrous outcomes beyond our limited ability to desire.

It is true that the Buddha goes more deeply into the mechanics of how this works, but I believe that he and Jesus are talking about one and the same thing — and that Jesus assures us that, if we give our trust to the Spirit, if we rely on the Spirit to unfold all good things in Life… we will encounter the bliss, joy and ecstasy of perfect security, perfect peace, perfect Union.

There’s no worry here, no stress, no dread, no belief one way or the other.

Just a direct connection with the Source, which is our eternal Home.

Gary keeps after it, engaging the “war within Christianity” as to whether God sends sinners to eternal torment… or do we find salvation at some point along the soul’s journey?

Hebrews 4:12: For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

Albert Barnes says about this verse:

It is to show that we cannot escape the notice of God; that all insincerity, unbelief, hypocrisy, will be detected by him; and that since our hearts are perfectly open before him, we should be sincere and should not attempt to deceive him.

Why do we act like God won’t see into our hearts? Why do we live as though God can’t see us?

After all:

James 1:18: Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

None of us is truly separate from our Creator.

We may as well acknowledge this truth, and live each moment accordingly — as best we can, giving to the effort all that we have.


2Cor 9:15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

How I’m feeling at the moment.

‘Nuff said.

But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. John 16:13 (NASB)

Feeling the need for knowledge of the Will of God, I searched the Bible this morning, following a handful of passages. This is the one that hit me hardest.

The bliss, joy and ecstasy of charismatic phenomena — meditative absorption, samadhi, jhana, kundalini, chi, pranha, shakti — is none other than the Presence of the Spirit of God.

If we surrender to it, and agree to follow its guidance, life will open up in beautiful and unforeseen ways.

Throughout the decade of the 70’s, when I went through the gauntlet of  junior and senior high school, my father was a Youth Director, then Associate Pastor, then Senior Pastor at a Presbyterian church in California’s San Joaquin Valley.

The friends I had in the youth group at that church were some of the closest relations I’ve ever known in this life. When it came time to leave the nest in 1982, I had no idea the size of the black hole inside where my church youth group used to live. After all this time, I’m reconnecting with some of these old friends on Facebook, and it’s interesting to see how their lives have evolved during these intervening years — but, for me, I am mostly reminded of the fact that I’ve never since found a spiritual home — an ekklesia — like the one I knew as a boy.

EKKLESIA: In our English Bible the Greek word, “ekklesia” is translated in most places “church.” The word “ekklesia” is found in one hundred and fifteen places in the New Testament. It is translated in English one hundred and thirteen times “church” and the remaining times it is translated “assembly.” In classical Greek the word “ekklesia” meant “an assembly of citizens summoned by the crier, the legislative assembly.” The word as used in the New Testament is taken from the root of this word, which simply means to “call out.” In New Testament times the word was exclusively used to represent a group of people assembled together for a particular cause or purpose. It was never used exclusively to refer to a religious meeting or group.

An examination of the Greek word “ekklesia” reveals that the word is properly translated into English as the “assembly” or “congregation.” It is used to refer to a group of persons that are organized together for a common purpose and who meet together.

Based on the above, another way of defining the word “church” in today’s world could be “The Called Out Ones.”

I like the word “ekklesia” (or “ecclesia”), since it refers to the earliest group of Jesus followers, back before Christianity fell into the hands of mere humans.  There is a profound sense of communal intimacy in New Testament depictions of the early ekklesia. When I remember all the roadtrips, backpack treks, pancake breakfasts and sleepovers… I feel gratitude for having experienced such communal intimacy in this life, but I also wonder if such a thing could happen again.

I’m not talking about finding a church home.

I’m talking about finding an actual ekklesia — a group that is “called out” for a specific spiritual purpose, and is willing to evolve a tight-knit community based on agape love and a genuine desire to grow together.

Why hasn’t it happened?

I’ve long suspected that, when I “lost my faith” at some point leading up to leaving the nest, I began to regard church buildings as “quarantine zones” to be avoided at all costs — except for the occasional wedding or funeral. Over the years, I’ve become increasingly aware that my early indoctrination just doesn’t apply any more — I’d always had deep questions about the things they were teaching me, and when I left, I just set the whole thing aside and went about the merry business of living a life of unbelieving degradation. Unconsciously, I’ve felt unworthy of participation in the ekklesia, and have felt helpless to do anything about it.

That said… I spend an awful lot of time studying Scripture — 95% Biblical — and a steady prayer life is gradually being established. Some of my old religion wounds are being salved and succored through this practice. As time goes by, I find it impossible to ignore the setting of the early church — which was all about devoting one’s personal possessions, time and energy to supporting a community of Jesus followers — and I’m back to yearning for such a setting for myself.

What do you think? Is prayer and Bible study enough — just a relationship between me and the godhead — or must one follow New Testament injunctions to gather together around a common purpose?


Mat 21:22 And if you have faith, everything you ask for in prayer, you will receive.’ (New Jerusalem Bible, here and throughout)

A dear and respected friend has recently engaged me in a conversation about prayer, positive thinking and what he sees as the misguided notion of a personal God who gives us what we ask for. My friend is, in fact, waiting for my response to a recent email, in which he goes into minute detail around his conclusions, ending with, “What do you think?”

I’ll at least begin my answer here, since the question of prayer and its relationship to contemplation are important for many on the Path.

Mar 11:25 And when you stand in prayer, forgive whatever you have against anybody, so your Father in heaven may forgive your failings too.’

Prayer in a Christian context is a vast subject, with hundreds (or even thousands) of books devoted to its practice. When one searches for the words “pray” and “prayer” in the Bible, one can’t but be reminded that Christianity (as well as its Abrahamic relatives, Judaism and Islam) involves a relationship between some form of Deity and the individual human. This relationship is supported and sustained through study of revealed Scripture, through following certain moral, ethical and religious instructions… and, especially, through a spiritual form of communication known as prayer.

Luk 6:12 Now it happened in those days that he went onto the mountain to pray; and he spent the whole night in prayer to God.

A thorough reading of the four canonical Gospels shows that Jesus seemed to be constantly in prayerful communication with the Father — the “Father” being a personalization of the One God, a concept worthy of a million blog posts, knowing that one can never adequately define “God.” These many examples of Jesus in prayer — sometimes with tears flowing down his face — give many hints as to what prayer is really all about. Absolute supplication and surrender to God — yes, a creator God, a sustainer God and a destroyer God, all wrapped into one — is a primary lesson from these examples, which obviously requires that a person accept the existence of such a God.

This is one of the Mysteries of the human predicament: while an adequate, rational “proof” of the existence of God may be impossible (thereby rendering the concept of God invalid for many), those who “know” God — who have genuine faith, belief and assurance by virtue of strong devotional practice — are able to boldly affirm the power and efficacy of prayer. It can be a maddening paradox, this insistence that one must experience a thing in order to know its truth, while those who invalidate the thing without having experienced it — no matter how rational and ordered the “outside” analysis — will always have to make due with intellectual speculation around something that is spiritual in its essence. When it comes to God, faith comes before knowing.

Mat 6:5-6 ‘And when you pray, do not imitate the hypocrites: they love to say their prayers standing up in the synagogues and at the street corners for people to see them. In truth I tell you, they have had their reward. But when you pray, go to your private room, shut yourself in, and so pray to your Father who is in that secret place, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.

There is something about the act of true, earnest, fervent prayer that demands supplication. Approaching the “Father,” one feels intimidation and even foreboding, and is reminded of the vast insufficiency inherent in human experience. The Christian, in fact, insists that the only way to truly approach the Father in prayer is through a spirit of repentance. One must admit one’s sins, failings and ultimate helplessness, all of which is expressed in vast detail (often from an archetypal or collective perspective, as in the Old Testament stories of the Israelites constantly violating their covenants with Yahweh) in the revealed Scripture, the accumulation of which stands as an indictment of “fallen” human nature. It is understood that, having “confessed” this state of affairs, one has every intention of drawing a line in the sand and doing things differently from hereon out — and it’s not just a pile of words, but a genuine expression of willingness to walk a Path of righteousness, if not holiness. Having adopted such a suppliant attitude, one’s prayers cannot help but be offered in alignment with Divine Will.

The psychological insight at work in this arrangement revolves around an insistence that humans carry a great deal of guilt, regret and self-judgment in their hearts, accumulated over a lifetime filled with dubious (at best) thoughts, choices and actions. This insight says that we require forgiveness, even though we absolutely do not deserve it. Prayer is the vehicle for approaching the infinite Intelligence — the Father — who has authority to forgive, to regenerate and to open up a better way of life — here and in the hereafter.

Again, those who avail themselves of this experience know how profound a healing is available through it. Those who see nothing but fairy tales and delusion in this process are, from the Christian (Abrahamic) perspective, on their own, challenged to deal (or not deal) with life’s slings and arrows in some other way… if such a way exists.

Mar 11:24 I tell you, therefore, everything you ask and pray for, believe that you have it already, and it will be yours.

From the perspective of the Buddha’s instructions on achieving Nibbana/Nirvana in this very lifetime (i.e., “salvation” from the Wheel of Suffering), one may overcome a lifetime’s accumulation of negative, unskillful “dross” — that which holds us in attachment to human existence, with all its inherent trials and difficulties — through a rigorous and skillful contemplative practice that leads to ever-intensifying degrees of meditative absorption (jhana/samadhi). Daily saturation in the bliss, joy and ecstasy of skillful meditation has the effect of eroding — slowly-but-thoroughly — the “fetters” of action and belief that keep us attached to delusional existence. From a Buddhist perspective, “heaven” (or Nibbana/Nirvana) equals liberation from delusional existence, once and for all; we don’t have to pass through this “hell” world ever again; our individual ego-identity is snuffed out, dispersed in a way that (once again) makes no sense to those who’ve not tasted of the eight samadhi states described and enjoined in the Buddha’s teachings.

Rom 8:26 And as well as this, the Spirit too comes to help us in our weakness, for, when we do not know how to pray properly, then the Spirit personally makes our petitions for us in groans that cannot be put into words

The Ecstatic Buddhist meditation approach converges with the Christian prayer approach around what is known as the “baptism in the Spirit.”

In the depths of fervent prayer, just as in the bliss, joy and ecstasy of skillful meditation, the “Spirit” makes itself known. The result is “contemplation.” Focusing with all our being on the pleasant manifestations of the Spirit’s Presence invites these manifestations to expand, fill-out and energize, such that the contemplative is gradually “taken over” into ever-refining states of spiritual ecstasy. The Buddha expressed this phenomenon in terms of fulfilling prerequisites for Liberation (Nibbana/Nirvana). Jesus expressed this phenomenon in terms of fulfilling prerequisites for Salvation. Both depend on Samadhi/Spirit. Both challenge the contemplative to surrender his or her egocentric expectations for how the process should unfold, and to commit — in full trust — to spending the remainder of one’s life in an inevitably up/down practice that prepares us for the Final Goal.

Eph 6:18 In all your prayer and entreaty keep praying in the Spirit on every possible occasion. Never get tired of staying awake to pray for all God’s holy people

I know that “true believer” Christians and Buddhists will protest, but I believe that Buddhism and Christianity (leaving aside other traditions begun by enlightened mystics) offer two distinct ways of describing the same ultimate outcome, while the Path that leads there is one and the same.

Prayer — even if offered in hopes of material gain — is a pathway to contemplation, if the person praying approaches God in earnest humility, like a child before a stern and demanding Father. Meditation also leads to contemplation, if the meditator allows self-arising bliss, joy and ecstasy to peel back his or her layers of belief and expectation. Both these approaches enter “hyper-drive” once the “Spirit” (jhana/samadhi) is engaged. Both depend on utter and complete surrender — even if it means dropping (eventually) one’s concepts of a Father God, heaven, hell, Nibbana/Nirvana or the Wheel of Suffering.

Religion, even with its deep corruption and dilution, offers a vehicle for its most dedicated contemplatives — a vehicle designed to carry him or her all the way Home. Granted, the contemplative “seed” at the heart of today’s religions has been mostly hidden, demonized and otherwise excised from orthodox teachings, but this miserable state of affairs has never been able to snuff out what happens under the transformative, ecstatic influence of the Spirit (jhana/samdhi). The challenge is to reach a point of absolute surrender, which leads to commitment to a lifetime’s daily contemplative practice, which connects the contemplative with the Spirit (jhana/samadhi) and leaves individual efforting in the dust.

True prayer and skillful meditation both lead to contemplation. Whether we receive prayerful guidance from the Holy Spirit or from self-arising bliss, joy and ecstasy (jhana/samadhi), it really makes no difference. Either way, one is led “out of the desert” and into an enlightenment that opens the way to liberation and salvation. This is what the Buddha taught, and I believe it is also the Truth behind the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ, wherein he sent back the Spirit to guide, comfort and transform those who avail themselves of it.

1Th 5:17 pray constantly

To begin our journey, it seems wise to look into some questions regarding biblical composition — questions like: who wrote the Bible; who decided which books would make it into the Bible; and what constitutes biblical Authority?

Conservative evangelicals seem to rally around the notion of biblical inerrancy, or the idea that the Bible was literally written by the Holy Spirit through chosen human beings, and that the Bible in its original texts (which are now lost to us, but are inferred from extant copies) is perfect in every way.

Channeled, so to speak.

Right off the bat, I’ll list some material I’ve quickly found on biblical inerrancy. My own thoughts and conclusions will follow.

Definition (from a well-known and disseminated statement by conservative evangelicals):

1. God, who is Himself Truth and speaks truth only, has inspired Holy Scripture in order thereby to reveal Himself to lost mankind through Jesus Christ as Creator and Lord, Redeemer and Judge. Holy Scripture is God’s witness to Himself.

2. Holy Scripture, being God’s own Word, written by men prepared and superintended by His Spirit, is of infallible divine authority in all matters upon which it touches: it is to be believed, as God’s instruction, in all that it affirms, obeyed, as God’s command, in all that it requires; embraced, as God’s pledge, in all that it promises.

3. The Holy Spirit, Scripture’s divine Author, both authenticates it to us by His inward witness and opens our minds to understand its meaning.

4. Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God’s acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God’s saving grace in individual lives.

5. The authority of Scripture is inescapably impaired if this total divine inerrancy is in any way limited or disregarded, or made relative to a view of truth contrary to the Bible’s own; and such lapses bring serious loss to both the individual and the Church.

[From the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy]

Here is Wikipedia’s explanation of the above (which is just a snippet from a larger document):

The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy was formulated in October 1978 by more than 200 evangelical leaders at a conference sponsored by the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, held in Chicago. The statement was designed to defend the position of Biblical inerrancy against a perceived trend toward liberal conceptions of Scripture. The undersigners came from a variety of evangelical Christian denominations, and include James Montgomery Boice, Carl F. H. Henry, Kenneth Kantzer, J. I. Packer, Francis Schaeffer, and R. C. Sproul.

Leading inerrantists regard the Chicago Statement as a very thorough statement of what they mean by “inerrancy”. The statement elaborates on various details in Articles formed as couplets of “WE AFFIRM …” and “WE DENY …”. Under the statement inerrancy applies only to the original manuscripts (which no longer exist, but can be inferred on the basis of extant copies), not to the copies or translations themselves. In the statement, inerrancy does not refer to a blind literal interpretation, but allows for figurative, poetic and phenomenological language, so long as it was the author’s intent to present a passage as literal or symbolic.

The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy has been compared to the Vatican Council Decree Dei Verbum, which expounds similar teachings for Roman Catholics.

Here’s an excellent resource page on the topic of biblical inerrancy. From the overview:

The word “inerrancy” is used to refer to a text that is considered accurate, truthful, and totally free of error. A text that contains mistakes is errant.

The term is often used by conservative theologians:

  • In Judaism to refer to the Torah,
  • In Christianity to refer to the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures (a.k.a. the Old and New Testaments),
  • In Islam to refer to the Qur’an, and
  • In other religions to refer to their own holy books.

The Torah, Hebrew/Christian Scriptures, and Qur’an do not agree on many topics including the nature of God; creation and origin of life, the world and the rest of the universe; various scientific topics; morality and ethics; personal salvation; the afterlife; abortion access; equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, and transgendered persons; same-sex marriage; and many other cultural matters.

Because the holy books of the world differ from each other, only one of them — at most — can be inerrant. Some people suggest that none are inerrant.

Since all of the people who are affiliated with a religion are members of minority religions, most people’s holy book cannot be inerrant. If they believe that their holy book is inerrant, they are probably wrong. Perhaps all are wrong.

And here’s a contrarian and scholarly write-up on the subject, from which I pull this concluding quote:

Is the Bible inerrant, by modern standards, in everything it asserts – even incidentally – about history, science, geography, math, and every other field of human inquiry? Was it meant to be? Our answer to these questions has been a resounding “no.” The Scriptures fulfill their intended purpose of communicating God’s word to His people, but they never claim to be something they’re not – a scientific textbook, for instance. These post-Enlightenment expectations, when superimposed upon the Scriptural testimonies, produce the most curious interpretations

My current view:

I can think of few things I’d rather believe in than a Bible (or Qur’an, or Bhagavad Gita, or any other holy scripture) that is absolutely perfect in every way. I would love to have absolute faith in a written revelation, trusting that God is speaking to humanity with crystalline clarity, devoid of any and all human contamination.

Having grown up in church, however, I’ve had occasion since early childhood to question the things that I was being asked (or forced) to accept regarding God’s Word.

Early on, I suspected that circular reasoning was being employed to brainwash the flock. Remember this little jingle they had us sing?

Jesus loves me! This I know,
for the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to him belong;
they are weak, but he is strong.

I would ask the question, “How do we know that this stuff is true?

The responses was always the same: “Because the Bible says so.”

If I persisted in my questioning, I would be sat down and stared at for a moment, before hearing, “You are NOT to question the Word of God, do you understand?”

What it comes down to is, we are to maintain a base belief that our given holy scripture is divinely inspired, that every word is spiritually authoritative (in some way, despite the seeming contradictions found between varying sections), and that all Truth worth knowing is contained within the pages of this book.

So, right out of the shoot, there was little or no room for questioning.

I remember being allowed (as a 7th grader) to attend an adult church class on the topic of Satan. On the first day I asked the teacher, “If God is all-powerful and we are all children of God, and we have access to God’s protection whenever we need it… what do we have to fear from such a being as Satan?”

The teacher thought I was causing problems and he kicked me out of the class, never to return.

I do, however, think that the Bible is spiritually inspired, and that there are incredible Mysteries within it. I think that it is a document that deserves deep and continual study, as it provides food for the inner being, as well as food for getting through the drama of existence. I believe it has the power to inspire us to bigger and greater things, to the extent that we are able to surrender to the highest principles contained within it (i.e., “Not my will, Lord, but Thine”). I think there are many, many layers of interpretation available within it, and that it’s actually okay to open ourselves to some of the more far-out theories — as in some of the Dispensational ideas spawned by the Plymouth Brethren many years ago — although their hyper-literalism leads me down the path of symbols, wherein I look for deeper meaning behind all the fear and trembling related to a coming Apocalypse.

I do think, in fact, that the Bible in its entirety offers a roadmap to enlightenment/salvatioin. I look forward to fleshing this out in future posts.

My own, personal bottom line is, there is no need for the Bible (or any other ancient document) to be deemed “inerrant.” Human beings were involved in writing, editing, inscribing, copying and choosing these documents for canonization. There is plenty of “saving” or “enlightening” spiritual food in them… and when all is said and done, we must individually live up to the challenges presented in these texts. We are, in short, to achieve a going home, a returning, or a reunion with That from which we first emerged — and this is not achieved by reciting some formula, or by thinking about it, or by any other shallow means of asserting our goodwill. It is achieved by fully surrendering, day by day, moment by moment, to the divine that is present within and without, self-arising, independent of external influence, transformative, beyond human corruption.

So, I won’t be taking each word from our biblical study as inerrant. I’ll be taking them as a Mystery that can only be resolved through the above-mentioned surrender — which, for me, involves a rigorous and skillful contemplative practice that leads to blissful union… and we’ll explain more about this as these posts roll by.

In the meantime… do you have any thoughts regarding the possible inerrancy of the holy book of your tradition?