From wordlessness to words to wordlessness – the gift of Transcendence as the ultimate context of our faith
Presentation for Crawley Interfaith Network – by Roger – Dr Roger E Prentice
“Like the bee gathering honey from the different flowers, the wise person accepts the essence of the different scriptures and sees only the good in all religions.” – attributed to Mahatma Gandhi
INTRODUCTION: We begin with Rumi, the 13thC Sufi mystic poet; “Silence is the language of God, all else is poor translation.” I’m told someone once said to Rumi, “If you believe in silence, why have you done nothing but talk and talk, and write and sing and dance?” He laughed and said, ”The radiant one inside me has never said a word.” Father Thomas Keating added. ….”In order to hear that language, we must learn to be still and to rest in God. Perhaps learning to rest in God is resting in Awareness?
Spirituality & Religion – Spirituality is what we ultimately are. It is the life-force that through us flows. It is our capacity to reflect virtues, and the Names and Attributes and Qualities of God – in our acts as well as in our being. We are a being within Being. For all of us our message to the world is what we actually do. Religion is the institutionalization of the spirituality that fountains from the Revelations of the Messengers of God – or, if you are a very modern theologian, around and from Ultimate Reality. Spirituality exists everywhere, including outside of religions. Some parts of some religions, some of the time, show very little of the sweet water of spirituality that was the intention of the Messengers or High Prophets that founded those great Traditions.
Outline of this presentation – Realizing Oneness is the means to peace. We are enriched if we look for sameness in other Traditions – The Oneness is best illustrated by the great seers; Lao Tzu to Socrates and Heraclitus, from Plotinus and al-Hallaj to Meister Eckhart and St. John of the Cross and up to and including contemporary spiritual teachers such as Rupert Spira and Reza Shah-Kazemi.
They teach us to let go our egoic self and sense the presence of God – through the Messengers of God. The Messengers enable four things. Firstly they repeat the eternal spiritual truths. Secondly they give a set of social teachings. Thirdly they act as ‘Transformers’ of God’s Infinite power into ‘potential and manifest capabilities’ – for us humans. Fourthly they act as Perfect Mirrors, or exemplars, so that we learn to reflect in the mirrors of our hearts their perfect reflection of the qualities of God.
Because of the constraints of time I focus on how in all great Traditions we are challenged to realize the Oneness behind the great traditions as evidenced by teachings from the seers and other outstanding teachers. In particular I present teachings concerning the two realms – the dual and the Nondual.
What is Nonduality in a nutshell? – ‘Nonduality is, when we stop ‘self-ing’ enough, to be surrendered within the Whole, out of which the ‘I’ appears. Then we shall see that ‘I = Awareness’
The Interspiritual Way is the same as e.g. the Taoist Way except inspiration is drawn primarily from seven Traditions. Nonduality is the ‘center pole’ or ‘backbone’ of the One Garden interspiritual reading of self & life. From the teachings of the various Traditions I hope we come to see that we are all set the same challenge in life. The briefest description of that challenge that I’ve ever seen is from a Zen Master, “No self; no problem.” Now let’s see what the seven Traditions say about Nonduality & duality. Each Tradition points to the insight of the two realms but provides a different aspect on the subject;
FROM JEWISH TEACHINGS: The great Jewish poet, philosopher & activist Rebbe Abraham Joshua Heschel describes the two worlds exquisitely ;
“The Search for reason ends at the known; on the immense expanse beyond it only the sense of the ineffable can glide. It alone knows the route to that which is remote from experience and understanding.
Neither of them is amphibious: reason cannot go beyond the shore, and the sense of the ineffable is out of place where we measure, where we weigh.
We do not leave the shore of the known in search of adventure or suspense or because of the failure of reason to answer our questions. We sail because our mind is like a fantastic seashell, and when applying our ear to its lips we hear a perpetual murmur from the waves beyond the shore.
Citizens of two realms, we all must sustain a dual allegiance: we sense the ineffable in one realm, we name and exploit reality in another. Between the two we set up a system of references, but we can never fill the gap.
They are as far and as close to each other as time and calendar, as violin and melody, as life and what lies beyond the last breath.” – Abraham Joshua Heschel, in Man Is Not Alone: A Philosophy of Religion.
A simpler way of presenting the key idea is to be found in this metaphor: “The larger the island of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of mystery.” Notice that even reason stops at the shoreline of mystery. The key is that to realize Nondual Reality we have to surrender to the impossibility that language, words, concepts, even mind and reason can play no part. We either feel the Nondual whole or we don’t. But the good news is that we can clear away the inner clutter that comes with the ‘dual world’ and find that our true Self is there all the time. This is Awareness, but Awareness is us only when we have stopped ‘selfing’. Then, relatively, we sense that God is closer to us than our life-vein as in We are closer to him than (his) jugular vein.” (Qur’an 50:16). As in the one set of footsteps in the sand God carries us, even when we are not fulfilling our covenantal obligation. To transcend we have to get our false egoic self sufficiently surrendered to allow our true Self to be reflected from our heart.
FROM BUDDHIST TEACHINGS: – The two realms are pointed to in this ancient Zen teaching telling us that the great Master Dogen taught, “To study the Buddha Way is to study the self, to study the self is to forget the self, and to forget the self is to be enlightened by the ten thousand things.”……… To be enlightened by the 10,000 things is to recognize the unity of the self and the 10,000 things.
FROM SUFI ISLAMIC TEACHINGS: Rumi in one of his poems says; “Not Christian or Jew or Muslim. Not Hindu, Buddhist, Sufi, or Zen. Not any religion or cultural system. I am not from the east or the west. Not out of the ocean or up from the ground. Not natural or ethereal. Not composed of elements at all. I do not exist. Am not an entity in this world or the next. Did not descend from Adam & Eve or any origin story. My place is the placeless, a trace of the traceless – neither body or soul. I belong to the beloved, have seen the two worlds as one & that one call to & know, first, last, outer, inner, only that breath, breathing, human, being.” – Rumi – 13thC Sufi mystic – (C Barks).
FROM HINDU TEACHINGS:
“Like two birds of golden plumage, inseparable companions, the
individual self and the immortal Self are perched on the branches of the
self same tree. The former tastes of the sweet and bitter fruits of the tree; the latter, tasting of neither, calmly observes.
“The individual self, deluded by forgetfulness of his identity with the
divine Self, bewildered by his ego, grieves and is sad. But when he
recognizes the worshipful Lord as his own true Self, and beholds his
glory, he grieves no more.” -0- SOURCE This trans. is in ‘The Upanishads, Breath of the Eternal’, by Swami Prabhavananda.
FROM CHRISTIAN TEACHINGS:
Jesus said, “If those who lead you say to you, ‘See, the kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you. Rather, the kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and you will realize that it is you who are the sons of the living father. But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty and it is you who are that poverty.” The Gospel of Thomas HERE
Fr. Richard Rohr comments; “Western Judeo-Christians are often uncomfortable with the word “nonduality.” They often associate it (negatively) with Eastern religions. I am convinced, however, that Jesus was the first nondual religious teacher of the West, and one reason we have failed to understand so much of his teaching, much less follow it, is because we tried to understand it with a dualistic mind.” – Fr. Richard Rohr, in The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See.
FROM BAHA’I TEACHINGS: “The purpose of God in creating man hath been, and will ever be, to enable him to know his Creator and to attain His Presence.” – Bahá’u’lláh – Gleanings XXIX
The goal for the individual is to; “Free thyself from the fetters of this world, and loose thy soul from the prison of self. Seize thy chance, for it will come to thee no more.” – Bahá’u’lláh – Persian Hidden Word No 40
FROM TAOIST TEACHINGS: The first chapter of the Tao Te Ching says; The tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. The name that can be named is not the eternal Name. The unnamable is the eternally real. Naming is the origin of all particular things. Free from desire, you realize the mystery. Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations. Yet mystery & manifestations arise from the same source…..
This speaks of the two realms & of the ‘Way’ as being beyond what we take as being the normal or real world. The (Nondual) Way cannot be described in words or concepts. With mind you always end up with your own limitations. The key, whether you’re a sage or a Mr or Mrs J Bloggs, is to overcome or transcend ‘self’. Why? Because self as an autonomous, self-subsisting entity is an illusion & as our Buddhist teachers show us is the source of all of our self-created suffering. Only God is Self-subsisting.
- This all sounds very deep – is there a simpler way to understand Nonduality? Some beauty or goodness or truth, or breath meditation, or art, ‘takes us out of our ‘egoic-self’. We all have had some experiences such as this – as captured by the 8thC Chinese poet known as Li Po;
“The birds have vanished from the sky, / & now the last clouds slip away. / We sit alone, the mountain and I, / until only the mountain remains.”
Yes we kick ourself when we realize how simple Reality is . What is your true self? It’s what we already are – if we only we can get our egoic self out of our way – & out of The Way.
FROM CONTEMPORARY SPIRITUAL TEACHERS WE HAVE: “Every thought in consciousness has been born into form, a temporary form and then it dies and goes onto another form……..the whole world is consciousness having taken birth as form, manifesting as form temporarily, and then dying which means dissolving as form. What always remains is the “essence” of all that exists – consciousness Itself.” – Eckhart Tolle. We must avoid exclusivism & making the ‘other’ the enemy. Self is the only enemy.
What then is The Interspiritual Way? instead of drawing on just one great Tradition, the One Garden worldview draws, primarily, upon 7 Traditions. At the heart centre of them all is the magnetic force of love – love makes of us, & every ‘thing’ the Transcendent Whole. Love makes a group of people into a family. The Interspiritual Way is the same as the Taoist Way but draws in the transcendent heart-centre of the other Traditions. Love is what enables us to transcend our egoistic self and ascend to the heaven of our true self. Our sole theology = “All in God; God in all.” ( panENtheism). Each of us a being within Being.
Our true Self is love, & our place to be is the One Garden. Love is the spirit, the energy, the life-force, the ‘chi’ – the river of life that through us flows. You don’t ‘get a life’ – you are life. Love is the magnet of compassion that unites, makes of parts wholes. It is peace & the bringer of peace. We need the spirit of love but we also need forms through which love may flow. Love is the reality, the hub, the mystic heart around which all can centre. As Ibn ‘Arabi says; “I follow the religion of Love: whatever way Love’s camels take, that is my religion & my faith.” From Rumi there is an ocean of inspiration concerning love & gardens.
‘One Garden’ for us is the ‘state of being’ in which we realize Oneness behind all Traditions, & it is also the chosen name of our face-to-face groups. Other metaphors include many pathways but one summit, many rivers; one Ocean. Intellect & the ‘word’ are God’s gift. However as Rumi says “Silence is God’s first language,” so all our words are merely ‘pointers’ that might gift us insights with which to transform & see the Nondual, the light of heaven, Nirvana or bliss. There’s no need to change our ‘faith community’ to realize the Oneness behind all. It’s there in all great Traditions.
Being interspiritual I suggest is to walk the path of life Awakening, Detaching & Serving others better …. the perennial framework, also taught by all great Teachers – and it is our spiritual legacy, ancient but perpetually new. With love as the’ river ‘& ‘perennial wisdom’ as the ‘river-bank’ of structure we have another metaphor for the Inter-spiritual Way.
Our primary purpose as people on the spiritual path, & members of various faith traditions, is to live in the presence of God, or Nowness i.e.in Nonduality – as sages & mystics have taught as a golden thread down through the ages. In so being we can become agents of unity, & crafts-people for peace-building. The ‘key’ lies in resisting any claims of ‘exclusivity’ instead we can ‘centre on the Oneness at the heart of all great traditions’. When a religion loses its mystic heart The Interspiritual Way & interspiritual living, engender “recovery of ‘the shared mystic heart’, beating in (us & in) the centre of the world’s deepest spiritual traditions” – Rabbi Shapiro.
You are what you seek- You cannot possess awareness because awareness is not a thing. Awareness is not an object. You cannot become aware or develop awareness because you already are awareness. The only thing that is required of you is to stop identifying who you are with the many forms that awareness takes. As soon as you stop identifying with form, which is the “content” of awareness, then all that is left is pure awareness. YOU.
Awareness is open, transparent, and always aware of itself. Awareness is absolute spaciousness, and this spaciousness includes everything, keeps everything within its embrace, and lovingly lets all things exist in whatever way they choose. What happens in this space does not corrupt or debase it. Everything in existence emerges from and falls back into this pure, immaculate, and incorruptible space; be it emotions like pain and anger, battles and armed conflicts, despotic dictators, all manifestations of weather including rain, wind, snow, and the clouds that float across the sky, as well as the people in our lives whom we cherish the most. The “you” that you think you are also arises in this space that you are.
Close your eyes and take a moment to simply be aware of the vast space that is immediately within and before you and which surrounds you. It has no beginning or end, yet it always has, always is, and always will, exist as this changeless, eternal, still, and immediately available ground of beingness.
There is an aspect of you that has accompanied you through all of your life experiences as your very nature. Can you identify what this is that is perpetually unmoving and always present? Wise men and women from time immemorial have talked about an “all-embracing ultimate reality,” which is none other than your very own ordinary present awareness. Try not to stray from this profound simplicity.
Just be aware of a sense of presence that is always here. Now, don’t think about what you have just read. Simply notice the presence that is seeing the world through your eyes now and is always seeing the world through your eyes. This seeing is timeless and never leaves you. What is looking, the watcher in you, is this pure awareness, this ultimate presence. The truth of who you are is that actual awareness, which has always been free. You are that freedom. -0-
IN SUMMARY: All the great traditions teach the same core truths. At the deepest level our life-journey takes us from ‘apparent reality’ to ‘true Reality’.
We realize our true Self as shown by Rumi and all of the great Sages and Teachers. How? We find that we are citizens of two realms that in the final analysis are One. “God in all; all in God.” This is the paradox that Reality, God, is wholly Immanent and wholly Transcendent. Ultimately we need to transcend our lower selves in order to be faithful to our Tradition, and to attract God’s good pleasure.
From the dual realm we need to realize as Albert Einstein did that, “Reality is merely an illusion,’ However he added, “albeit a very persistent one.”
In the Nondual realm we have to realize as Rumi did that no words suffice for what is ineffable
Our unity, and therefore the peace of the world, and the longing in all peoples for justice as well as truth, beauty & goodness, depends on the transcendence of realizing the Oneness behind our Traditions
Rumi and all of the other great teachers are teaching us that ‘Nonduality is, when we stop ‘self-ing’ enough, to be surrendered within the Whole, out of which the ‘I’ appears. Then we shall see that ‘I = Awareness’
Realizing Oneness is the means to peace. Inner peace is the way to national and international peace.
Rumi by the way teaches us to transcend. One way he does this is by ending many of his poems by pointing us back to silence i.e back to the Nondual – as in;
“Be silent now………… Let yourself become living poetry.” from ‘Rumi – Bridge to the Soul’
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