To The Zoo Fence: I’ve always believed in a self and a True Self, and thought of the first as physical and the other as spiritual, and assumed that it was the spiritual that questions my progress along the path. You seem to suggest that the part which raises those kinds of questions is actually my self, or the physical part. [Editor’s Note: This question was prompted by an article at TZF’s “Consider This!” feature. If you would like to read that, please click here.]
Editor’s Comment: All of us make the distinction you do, between spiritual and physical. But, as we see it at TZF, it does not stand the scrutiny of close inspection. If God the One is Infinite, then there is nothing in the Universe (including, of course, the Universe itself!) which is not Wholly God. That being the case, then we may label things as we like, as indeed we all do, but our doing so can never alter the Fact that somehow, in a way we are unable to perceive, everyone and everything is already One and the Same One, God, and therefore Perfectly Divine. So, all the stuff you and we routinely label either spiritual or physical, or whatever, is all actually the Same Thing perceived differently.
For us, the function of the spiritual process is to reach, or awaken, or re-awaken, Awareness of That Already True Reality, to See the Universe as It Is. The question “Who am I?” endlessly asked of ourselves, and variously formed (”Who says that?” “Who is angry?” “Who is happy?” “Who sees it that way?” “Who doesn’t like, or does like, this?” “Who makes a distinction between spiritual and physical?” and so on) is perfectly designed to bring us always back to this centering place, regardless of wherever else the wandering mind may transport us.
Of course, those kinds of questions differ from the nagging variety all of us, as seekers, ask about ourselves – at their best, “How am I progressing?” and at their worst, “What’s wrong with me?” To be sure, these too can be useful, by reminding us to keep on track. But, more likely, they can be terribly counterproductive, by deflating our enthusiasm, bringing us down, and reinforcing the old, erroneous perception of ourselves.
What aspect of ourselves poses these kinds of questions? Clearly, they derive from a sense that we are not Already Wholly Divine, otherwise why would we ask them? And, as that perception of our nature must be in error – (if God is Infinite, then God is somehow Wholly us, too, and therefore we are somehow already Perfectly Divine) – many seekers refer to it as an illusion. The perception obviously exists, because we all entertain it to one degree or another, but as it is equally obviously un-True, then it must be an illusion. In that sense, it must be this illusionary aspect of ourselves which asks these sorts of questions, for it does not seem either logical or possible that our True Identity or True Self can be in doubt about our nature or our progress, or could fail to recognize the illusion for what it is.
Finally, the thorniest question becomes: If God is All There Is, then this illusion too must somehow be Divine. Indeed, at TZF, we consider it so. As we have written elsewhere [for one example, on our main menu select Consider This, then choose the article “Self-Consciousness”], it is this very illusion which gives us the sense of separative self (”I am me, and you aren’t”), and it is from there that is made the wondrous leap to the Sense of Infinite Self. Thus, we do not consider the spiritual process as something any of us actually chooses to undertake, the way we choose a pair of shoes; it is what we are all here to do, a Divine Dance, the Creation of Self-Consciousness.
Editor’s Comment: O, Canada! You take our breath away.
To The Zoo Fence: In what you write about religious wars [in our definition of religion on TZF’s definitions page], do you mean to suggest that war is never justified? After all, what about the Gita, where Krishna urges Arjuna into battle?
Editor’s Comment: As we read human history, it seems to us that so-called religious wars, inquisitions, persecutions, cleansings, and so on, are conducted less “in the name of God” than they are “over the name of God.” Thus, at best, what is ordinarily at issue is my (or our) definition or interpretation or understanding of God against your (or their) definition or interpretation or understanding of God. And so, as we see it, these contests are not about God but about me vs. you, mine vs. yours, we vs. they. In this sense, we do not see religious conflicts as being very much different from any other kind of outer conflict.
Now, it is normal and natural, even honorable, to protect what we love and cherish, and from that perspective, doing so is clearly justified. As far as we know, every species on the planet does it. That said, the question becomes, What species are we? For, until each of us answers that question for himself or herself, we cannot correctly determine what we should rightly love and cherish, and from there, properly protect, and how.
Clearly, as long as we consider ourselves to be the body we seem to be inhabiting, it and its things, including its family, its country, its values, and its religion, will fit into the category of things worthy of our protection, and so we will normally and naturally be willing to fight for them, and, as we have seen, from a separative, egoic, physically instinctive point of view, justifiably so. And please understand here, a “separative, egoic, physically instinctive point of view” is not inherently “bad.” It is, simply, the normal and natural perspective of the separative, egoic, body/mind position, which is just as “divine” as any other position, God being Infinite, and therefore this, too.
So, once again, from a seeker’s point of view, the question remains, Who am I? Am I the body I seem to be inhabiting, a separate, distinct ego, and are its things mine? Or, am I somehow the One? However we answer that fundamental question, or seek to answer it, will determine how our lives will unfold, and what behavior we will consider to be properly and appropriately justifiable.
Now, to the Gita. We read Krishna to be urging Arjuna to be who and what he is at every level of his existence, and to do so alertly, fearlessly, confidently, joyfully, and unconditionally. At TZF, we refer to that as living maturely [For more on that, see here], and we take it to be the divine responsibility of every one of us. In the story, Arjuna is a warrior frozen by doubt at the brink of a momentous battle. Krishna urges him to leap beyond his hesitation, and do what warriors do. As we see it, the question each Gita reader must ask himself or herself is, What battle? What doubt? What leap? and then do what warriors do.
To The Zoo Fence: As a medical practitioner, I understand the physical justifications for meditation (stress management, etc.), but other than that, what is the purpose of meditation, and what does it accomplish?
San Diego, CA
Editor’s Comment: Consider it this way. The Condition is known by many names. At TZF, we usually refer to it as Ignorance, or not knowing (forgetting) our True Nature.
The Symptoms are various, and are described variously. At their most simple, they distill to this: Persons suffering from Ignorance believe that they are persons. The accompanying hallucinations take various forms, but commonly they include the following: Identification with the bodies we seem to be inhabiting; Conviction that there exist more than one of us, and that each of us was born, and that all of us will die; Acceptance of the astronomical universe as the definition of reality; Attachment to an interminably unwinding past, present, and future, in which we are inextricably stuck; Perception that there is a limited amount of stuff, and that what is mine is not yours. Of all, the most complicating Symptom is the insistence that the Condition is normal, and therefore that Treatment is not only unnecessary but foolish, even perhaps insane.
The Cure is Awareness of what Ignorance hides from us: That there is the One, only the One, and nothing but the One; that the One is Life, and that it is Alive; that it is Whole, that it is Free, and that it is Good; that the One is the Creator and the Sustainer of the Universe, and the Universe Itself; and that we and the One are One and the Same, the Very Same One Itself.
The Prescription takes many forms. One expression of it that we at TZF like appears at Psalms 46.10, “Be Still, and Know.” It is in stillness that we know. Or perhaps it is that stillness equals knowing. Whichever it is, we are convinced that stillness is the key, so we seek stillness.
Stillness is not the same thing as quiet. In fact, it is not necessary to be quiet to be still. Neither does stillness presume inactivity. Stillness is an inner condition, and it seems to be mostly about the absence of desire. For us, stillness is the graceful, grateful acceptance of what is. Stillness is very much like, and may even be the same thing as, surrender. Thy Will be done! expressed with joy and relief and gratitude. Stillness is bliss.
Many refer to Ignorance as the ego. If so, the ego thrives in activity, the more frenetic and distracting the better. It doesn’t matter whether the activity is happy or sad, just so there is movement, and lots of it. Conversely, the ego seems to wither in stillness. So, again, we seek stillness.
Think of meditation as learning to be still.
Do not confuse meditation with “sitting immobile, staring intently at a candle, counting breaths.” As we see it, meditation is any practice that focuses our attention on our Goal (to Know, to See, to Be), and silences us to everything else, eventually even to it. To be sure, in the beginning, meditation is mostly something like “sitting immobile, staring intently at a candle, counting breaths.” That’s because the first thing we have to learn is to concentrate, and surprisingly, that can be painfully difficult. But with practice, determination, and enthusiasm, the whole of which we call aspiration, soon enough a practitioner can be in meditation (can be still, or approaching stillness) wherever he or she is, whatever he or she is doing.
Is there more than one way to do this? Definitely. But the thing to remember here is that, even when we are willing to consider the possibility that all of the foregoing is somehow True, it still remains beyond our grasp. And that is because the Ignorance from which we suffer is not an ordinary ignorance, like not knowing how to tie our shoes, which, once we observe the need, is easily learned. Here, none of the ordinary tools for learning or acquiring knowledge works. No one can teach it to us, at least not in the ordinary meaning of that word. We can spend endless hours memorizing all the philosophy and theology ever written in Arabic, Chinese, Greek, Hebrew, Latin, or Sanskrit, and come out none the Wiser. We can join any one of hundreds of monastic orders, and pray until we are blue in the face, and not get It. Here, the brain, upon whose extraordinary capacity and capability we rely so indiscriminately, serves us hardly at all.
In fact, this process does not seem to depend on anything we do. There are all sorts of practices developed by all kinds of seekers, and all of us adopt or develop one or another of them sooner or later. But none of them is what does it. Once again, it seems to be more about not doing than doing. The Awareness we seek seems to arise of its own accord … from some Where. Suddenly, inexplicably, we Know. We may be on our knees in prayer, or devoutly sitting in the lotus position, or on a pilgrimage to some distant holy site. But then again we may be at a kitchen sink washing dishes with a television blaring a soap opera behind us. The constant, if there is one, seems to be that this arising occurs when we are inwardly still.
Now, it must be said here that it is not necessary to Know. It is not even necessarily better to Know. Knowing does not change anything, for everything already is at it is, and will always be so, whether we Know It or not. Further, Knowing does not give us anything we do not already have. Thus, in the children’s story, when the “ugly duckling” realized he was not a duck but a swan, nothing changed. Except that he knew who he was. And that changed everything.
So, we seek stillness.
Editor’s Comment: That is an extremely difficult question. Not because a dozen titles do not immediately leap to mind, but rather because several dozen do. But to be of any use at all, a list like this has got to be kept to ten or twelve items, which positively guarantees a rush of “What about whatitsface? How could you have left that off?” kinds of reactions.
Also, a book which shook us to our roots may or may not have the same effect on you, not because there is something wrong with the book or us or you, but because each of us is unique, and so we respond uniquely. What each of us needs to hear at any given moment to propel us along the path depends upon where we are at the time, and how we got there, and that is different for each of us.
All the same, here is a seeker’s dozen which we would not want to have been without. They are presented in random order. Some we encountered many years ago, and may not still be in print. All caused our hair to stand on end.
1) I Am That - Talks with Sri Nisargadatta
Maharaj, trans. M. Frydman (Chetana),
As you consider this list, please remember that it is not exhaustive. With no effort at all, we could have included another twenty, thirty titles. Thus, if you don’t see a book on this list which is on your own “Divine Bookshelf,” it is almost certainly on ours, too, right next to these. [Some of these titles are available through our bookstore.]
San Francisco, CA
Editor’s Comment: We thank you for this beautiful sentiment, the beautiful card on which you wrote it, and just for being!