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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.

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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.

Jesus and the Tax Collectors

A retelling from a master… about The Master:

Levi, a disciple

On those who would confound Jesus

Upon an eventide He passed by my house, and my soul was quickened within me.

He spoke to me and said, “Come, Levi, and follow me.”

And I followed Him that day.

And at eventide of the next day I begged Him to enter my house and be my guest. And He and His friends crossed my threshold and blessed me and my wife and my children.

And I had other guests. They were publicans and men of learning, but they were against Him in their hearts.

And when we were sitting about the board, one of the publicans questioned Jesus, saying, “Is it true that you and your disciples break the law, and make fire on the sabbath day?”

And Jesus answered him saying, “We do indeed make fire on the sabbath day. We would inflame the sabbath day, and we would burn with our touch the dry stubble of all days.”

And another publican said, “It was brought to us that you drink wine with the unclean at the inn.”

And Jesus answered, “Aye, these also we would comfort. Came we here except to share the loaf and the cup with the uncrowned and the unshod amongst you?

“Few, aye too few are the featherless who dare the wind, and many are the winged and fullfledged yet in the nest.

“And we would feed them all with our beak, both the sluggish and the swift.”

And another publican said, “Have I not been told that you would protect the harlots of Jerusalem?”

Then in the face of Jesus I saw, as it were, the rocky heights of Lebanon, and He said, “It is true.

“On the day of reckoning these women shall rise before the throne of my Father, and they shall be made pure by their own tears. But you shall be held down by the chains of your own judgment.

“Babylon was not put to waste by her prostitutes; Babylon fell to ashes that the eyes of her hypocrites might no longer see the light of day.”

And other publicans would have questioned Him, but I made a sign and bade them be silent, for I knew He would confound them; and they too were my guests, and I would not have them put to shame.

When it was midnight the publicans left my house, and their souls were limping.

Then I closed my eyes and I saw, as if in a vision, seven women in white raiment standing about Jesus. Their arms were crossed upon their bosoms, and their heads were bent down, and I looked deep into the mist of my dream and beheld the face of one of the seven women, and it shone in my darkness.

It was the face of a harlot who lived in Jerusalem.

Then I opened my eyes and looked at Him, and He was smiling at me and at the others who had not left the board.

And I closed my eyes again, and I saw in a light seven men in white garments standing around Him. And I beheld the face of one of them.

It was the face of the thief who was crucified afterward at His right hand.

And later Jesus and His comrades left my house for the road.


I’ve had on my bookshelf a collection of Orthodox writings for many years. Occasionally I pass through an Orthodox phase, wherein the Philokalia, the monks of Mt. Athos, Sophiology and a tradition that is mystical to its very roots becomes all-consuming.

I’m in one of those phases now. This time, it is the Jesus Prayer that strikes me as timely and prescient.

Since the Orthodox Church is considered “Eastern,” it is no surprise that a type of “mantra yoga” would develop from its rich monastic tradition. As with certain Hindu, Sufi and Tibetan Buddhist practices, the Orthodox commitment to the Jesus Prayer seeks to connect the practitioner directly with the Absolute through the chanting of the Divine Name:

The name of our Lord Jesus Christ is a divine name. The power and effect of that name are divine, omnipotent and salvific, and transcend our ability to comprehend it. With faith therefore, with confidence and sincerity, and with great piety and fear ought we to proceed to the doing of the great work which God has entrusted to us: to train ourselves in prayer by using the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. “The incessant invocation of God’s name,” says Barsanuphius the Great, “is a medicine which mortifies not just the passions, but even their influence. Just as the physician puts medications or dressings on a wound that it might be healed, without the patient even knowing the manner of their operation, so also the name of God, when we invoke it, mortifies all passions, though we do not know how that happens” (421st Answer).

The idea is to inwardly repeat the Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner”) while in ascetic seclusion, while performing household duties, while working, while traveling — in short, to remain in the prayer “unceasingly,” until the practice becomes so automatic that words are no longer necessary.

In repeating the prayer, we remain mindful of the person of Christ as Friend, Guide and Advocate, allowing the depth of our devotion to increase over time. Eventually, devotion is met by increased spiritual capacity, until we are completely enveloped by the Spirit and are ready for absolute surrender… as happens, for instance, through the ecstatic practice taught by the Buddha in his discourses on attainment.

One thing that I teach (see here, for instance) is that we must carry our meditative absorption off the cushion and into the world, in the form of “ecstatic saturation.” One way of doing this is to affix our attention on the “signs of absorption,” known as “jhana nimittas,” even while tending to outward responsibilities of life. As an experiment, I’ve lately been reciting the Jesus Prayer while out and about, since I’ve had what I would consider to be a mystical connection with Jesus since childhood. There is something about this devotional relationship that truly does elevate spiritual power and intensity within the practitioner.

The formulation of the prayer, asking for mercy since we are sinners, offers a way of repentance (i.e., “turning to God), which acknowledges those aspects of our being that have “missed the mark” in order to clear the deck, so to speak. Having received “purification,” we then abide in Christ’s Presence, opening to transformation beyond our ability to conceive.

Thus, the need for faith in the unseen….

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.