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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.

Matt 23:8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. (NRSV)

Many English translations say “brothers” or “brethren” instead of “students.”

While I appreciate the NRSV’s editorial policy of inclusiveness, I think “you are all brethren” better highlights the brotherly and sisterly responsibility we have toward the 7 billion siblings around us.

Matt 22:36-40 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”

He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’

This is the greatest and first commandment.

And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Spirit — the loving, divine, transformative, impossible-to-adequately-describe energy that continually beckons from the moment of birth, sometimes coming through in torrents — …Spirit directly and unmistakably delivers the fruits of the Teacher’s guidance to those who surrender completely.

Unwinding the hopelessly-tangled string of our existence is usually a long-term project.  Our highest calling, then, is to become surrendered as often as possible — recognizing that some days will be better than others, and that “failure” sometimes kicks us hard.

Healing and transformation happen in an environment of surrender.

Pain and suffering happen in an atmosphere of resistance.

The way to love our neighbor is through practicing surrender.

1Thess 5:17 Pray without ceasing.

Meditate, contemplate… commune… pray… surrender, as often as possible.

St. John of the Cross

Here is a recurring thought, stemming from ongoing studies of the Buddha’s discourses and a background in Protestant Christianity: Is it that insane to believe that life on Earth in this 3rd dimensional reality — this bardo, to borrow from the Tibetans — is actually a Hell realm?

What if, rather than necessarily being a fiery zone of unimaginable and constant pain/anguish, Hell is actually a relegation to the Wheel of Rebirth, doomed to being born over and over and over again in this world of delusion… until, at one point or another, one finally steps off the Wheel?

Hardcore conservative Christians insist that Hell is where we go if we turn our back on the Gospel of Jesus Christ, refusing God’s Grace as offered through the blood of the Cross — and once a person is judged to have missed his or her opportunity to attain eternal life in Heaven, that person must spend eternity in unimaginable pain/anguish, separated from God forever.

Universalists and other rogue Christians, however, are able to discern in the Bible a message of universal redemption. They maintain that, according to the overall Divine Plan represented in the totality of the Bible, every human who was ever born will have ample opportunity to attain redemption (i.e., be allowed into Heaven for all eternity), no matter how awful he or she may have been while in human form. Think of Hitler, Pol Pot, Stalin and Idi Amin — they would all have the opportunity to “come to Jesus” and achieve eternal life in Heaven.

Christians, I think, get hung up on the notion that this human life — the one I, for instance, am living at the current moment — is all we get. This is our brief moment, “fallen” as it is, to secure salvation through belief in the archetypal Sacrifice of the Son — and then we die, at which time our soul moves on to its just reward.

But… what if the Buddhists have a more accurate concept of life-after-death? What if the Christian doctrine of Hell is only partially correct, in that Hell is actually what we encounter through multiple rebirths on this plane of existence — sometimes horrific, sometimes relatively blissful, always delusional until the light of Nirvana pops on…?

What if Salvation through Christ’s life, death, resurrection and ascension is actually a Mystery-depiction of the one universal Path back into ultimate union with God?

These questions, I maintain, lead naturally to a view of the Bible that tends to restate (in an albeit roundabout way) the Buddhadhamma, or the Middle Path that Gautama Buddha described through the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path.

While the Buddha refused to expound on the theme of God, he never denied the existence of God. What he gave us, however, was a detailed and (I would maintain) universal set of instructions for getting off the Wheel of Rebirth — out of Hell and into Heaven, in other words — and this message was for all humans who would dedicate their lives to a rigorous and skillful practice of his instructions.

Do you think that Jesus really meant you could get into Heaven by reciting a formula? Or do you think that Jesus, through his teachings and the example of his life, showed us a certain Way to secure union with the Father? Was it really a simple question of faith and belief (i.e., Free Grace)… or did he insist on a much deeper and committed level of surrender?

I sometimes wonder if Jesus, coming 500 years after the Buddha, wasn’t recasting the Buddha’s instructions for a much, much different audience — and, like the Buddha, he insisted that the way to Heaven is attained by dying to this world so that we may be reborn into an infinitely better one.

For both, it came down to transcending the desire-saturated nature of human life on this planet, seeing through the machinations of Mara/Satan, keeping one’s eyes on the prize through constant meditation/prayer/communion.

Hmmmmm…..

As someone who has spent the last 20 years questing for “enlightenment” through mostly Eastern approaches, these past five years have seen me drawn back into an investigation of the religious tradition of my upbringing: Protestant Christianity.

The process of daily Bible reading, sermon-listening and otherwise studying myself silly… has led to a degree of confusion, somewhat expressed through the name of this blog. Which model is correct? Enlightenment or salvation? Are they (despite rabid denials on every side) one and the same? If so… how do I rectify them in my own mind and heart?

Longtime studies in various forms of Hinduism (Sanatana Dharma), Buddhism, Sufism, Sikhism, Christian mysticism and other esoteric teachings have led to a personal determination that ecstatic union is the key to enlightenment (i.e., the full and complete merging with God, or the extinction of the illusion of separateness, characterized by an ultimate level of ecstatic absorption and saturation which solves the riddle of human existence once and for all).

If a teacher is not speaking from a place of ecstatic attainment (samadhi/jhana), I reason that what’s being offered is a mental approach that, while possibly interesting, will probably lead to just another diversion from That into which the ecstatic mystic is persistently magnetized.

The vast majority of spiritual literature does not fit the requirement of an ecstatic approach. Instead, we get innumerable “takes” on various sacred writings, each one pretending to be the “correct” interpretation, one that will lead to… enlightenment or salvation, depending on which tradition it belongs to. Ninety-nine-point-nine-nine-nine percent of these “experts” do not have a contemplative practice, but are instead committed to thinking their way out of their human predicament — which just leads to neurosis, since the ego-mind is not about to think itself into submission.

I believe that many in my position would throw up their hands and say something like, “Just meditate and let the dead scripture writers rest in peace.”

For whatever reason, that’s not been an option for me.

I know I’m not the first person to say this, but I have an inexplicable conviction that the Bible can be understood as an ultimate roadmap to ecstatic union with God, which is the Judeo-Christian concept of enlightenment.

I have not worked this out sufficiently in my head, however… thus, this blog.

I will follow my intuition in posting studies on this or that, looking for correlations between my own direct spiritual experience and what I find in the Bible, in ecstatic utterances of certain mystics, and in sacred scriptures that have provided powerful ecstatic insights during my 20 years’ journey.

My prayer is that whatever comes of this will be of some help to someone, somewhere, during this time of collective transformation.

May we support one another through whatever gifts we possess, according to the Divine purpose bestowed upon us in this life.