Closing#2: Bangkok: Now we are here in the year twenty-three, I thought it worthwhile to offer a few thoughts about the number 23. What I mean is the belief that the number 23 has some sort of magical or mystical significance, because of all the instances in which it occurs. A quick dive into internet and the many web pages exploring the “enigma of 23” tells me: All of us humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes in our genetic makeup.The Earth is inclined on its orbital plane by 23.5 degrees. The “point-five” can be represented as 5 = 2 + 3. The September 11 attacks occurred on 9/11/2001, 9 + 11 + 2 + 1 = 23. Psalm 23 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. The letter W has 2 points down and 3 up = 23. It is also the 23rd letter of the alphabet. Harpo Marx’s birthday was Nov. 23, 1888, and Bonnie and Clyde’s death on May 23, 1934. There are more. Twenty-three seems to pop up when you least expect it… That’s how it was for me, many years ago, a friend told me that he had learned about the mystery of 23 on his 23rd birthday by somebody else who said, once you start to think about it, the number twenty-three seems to arrive in your awareness in all kinds of ways: a bookmarked page number, parts of car numbers, parts of phone numbers, house numbers… and if you have the ability to perceive “truth” in nearly anything, you can associate 23 with; all sorts of extraordinary things. But you don’t have to do that, he said; just note the incidental nature of it appearing in ordinary consciousness. So that’s what my friend did and after a while it just started to appear in daily life. When we were driving around town, he’d point out 23 here and there, so I decide to start doing that too and sure enough, it begins to get my attention every now and then… or maybe it doesn’t for quite a long time, then suddenly it’s the 23rd of the month, or a utilities bill arrives and the first two digits of the reference number are 23 – it is significant if only because it appears in so many forms. And so, it seemed to follow along with me for many years. Then I came to live in Thailand and it disappeared, maybe because there isn’t so much communicative imagery out there, trying to get my attention, or if there is, I don’t pay attention to it because it’s all in Thai.The prevalence of 23 can be explained as an example of ‘apophenia,’ the tendency to see connections or meaningful patterns between unrelated or random things. Or ‘selection bias,’ which refers to the falsification of a statistical analysis, resulting from the method of collecting samples. Also ‘confirmation bias,’ the tendency to search for, or interpret information in a way that confirms or supports prior beliefs or values.Whatever, what I’m saying is; if after reading this, you find the number 23 appearing in ordinary incidental awareness from time to time, check back here and see if anybody else has noticed it. That’s all, and have a good day.
our permanent house guests
Closing#1: Bangkok: Hi everybody, I thought I’d introduce two members of the household. The grey and white has a French name, he is Benoit [ben-wa]. The ginger one is Croissant [kwa-son] … when she curls up to sleep, she looks like a croissant. Their owner is M our niece who lives with us. She came down from Chiang Mai with the cattos (note; they are not cats, they are cattos; it’s a special species) … so the cattos came in a friend’s car, a seven-hour journey. A long time, but Benoit and Croissant were free to explore the whole of the interior of the car – look out the windows, ‘where are we now?’ Food and water and toilet box behind the back seats… then sleep together somewhere among the blankets.
Now they are here, and it’s been nearly a year. They integrate with nearly every aspect of our lives; this is their residence; this is their world. They can’t go out to the garden beyond the screen doors. Everything they need is in here, a staircase they can run up and down on, get exercise, fall asleep together somewhere upstairs or downstairs – get lost in sleep… [more later]
year’s end and the unconditioned
OLD NOTEBOOKS: Bangkok: In Buddhism there is no continuing, personal Self, only a temporary, constantly changing, aggregation of mental and physical elements. For all intents and purposes there is no self. There is no God, no divine being in human form. There is, however, an understanding of the Divine Spark’ of the Gnostics; the spark of knowing: gnosis, consciousness. Christian Gnostic groups in the first century AD, emphasized personal spiritual knowledge above the orthodox teachings, and traditions. The quiet struggle against the authority of religious institutions continues up to the present day. Franciscan friar, Richard Rohr says people are disillusioned with conservative churches that teach that nonbelievers go to Hell.
So, what happened to the Gnostic writings which flourished among Christian groups in the Mediterranean world? Fathers of the early Church in the second century, denounced them as heresy. Efforts to destroy these texts proved largely successful, resulting in the survival of very little writing by Gnostic theologians. What were these early Gnostics mainly concerned about? According to the Jewish Torah (the first five books of the Christian Bible), God plants the two trees of knowledge and immortality in the Garden of Eden, yet forbids Adam and Eve to eat from them. He warns the other gods, the Elohim, that if humans should taste omniscience and everlasting life, they will become divine like God himself, and this must be prevented at all costs.
The Gnostics felt that if God was truly good, he wouldn’t want to keep these divine gifts from humankind, and therefore concluded that the God of the Old Testament is evil, a malignant being who traps human souls in the world of matter he created. In order to keep them subject to his power, they believed, he must prevent them from realizing their true nature—that they are divine beings from a kingdom of light which transcends the world of suffering in which he keeps them enslaved.
This alternative reading of the book of Genesis can be found in the Nag Hammadi texts ‘On the Origin of the World and The Hypostasis of the Archons.’ The Nag Hammadi texts were discovered in Egypt in 1945. There is so much to find in these texts, including the dialogue between Jesus and his brother James. Jesus explicitly tells James, “Free yourself from this blind idea, that you are merely the case of flesh which encircles you. Then you will reach Him Who is. Then you will no longer be James; rather you are the One Who is.” It’s amazing to find this Vedantic teaching, from India, claiming that the individual soul (Atman) is identical with God himself (Brahman), spelled out so clearly in an early Christian text. Today Christians believe that only Christ was “one” with God, but Jesus seems to be saying that the rest of us are too.
“We cannot attain the presence of God because we’re already totally in the presence of God. What’s missing is awareness.” [Richard Rohr] According to Rohr’s teachings, a person does not have to follow Jesus or practice any formal religion to come by salvation, but rather “fall in love with the divine presence, under whatever name.” The Perennial Tradition, or Perennial Philosophy, forms the basis of much of his teaching. “God’s love for the world has existed since the beginning of time, suffuses everything in creation, and has been present in all cultures and civilizations. Jesus is an incarnation of that spirit. But this spirit can also be found through Buddhist meditation, or through communing with nature. This is the Cosmic Christ, who always was, who became incarnate in time, and who is still being revealed.”
In an early Latin work Eckhart asserts, ‘God is existence’ (Deus est esse), that ‘existence is God’(esse est deus). The ‘isness’ of all that exists is God. This is the ‘birth of the Son of God in the soul.’ In Eckhart’s Christology the reason for the Incarnation (indeed, for the Creation) is that human beings might come to a realization or conscious awareness of themselves as the ‘image and likeness of God’, bringing forth or ‘giving birth’ to the Son of God within their innermost soul. Christ is understood not as Redeemer but as Reminder: ‘Christ came to remind us of our blessed and divine origins as images and likenesses of God in a grace-filled universe. The purpose of his coming is more our divinization than our redemption from sin and guilt.’
“The ineffable reality of God lies beyond our ordinary comprehension.” I have only just started finding out about this special kind of Christian contemplation (apophaticism) that rejects all the attributes and ideas about God we’ve known since we were children, and staying in the ‘darkness’ of a state of “unknowing.” Thus, arriving at this experiential union with the divine.
There are many things about this kind of Christian contemplation that seem very ‘Buddhist’ to me, I recognise the state of unknowing as being that which is outside human experience. Not impossible that the Buddha’s Dhamma had an influence on the Jesus Teachings. Maybe that’s why I had this strange recognition of it, déjà vu, when I first went to Wat Pah Nanachat in 1984. Studying Buddhism revealed fragments of an innate knowledge.
Instead of being deluded by the conditioned realm, I observe it. There is the state of knowing, of being aware of the changingness of conditioned phenomena – behind which there is the Unconditioned. With intuitive awareness – we find that silence, the unconditioned, as an embracing background, within which the conditions are in perspective. They are the way they are, they’re like this: but then they end, they cease. [Ajahn Sumedho. Escape. Forest Sangha Newsletter: October 2000]
Excerpts from the following:
Richard Rohr: “Richard Rohr Reorders the Universe,” The New Yorker, February2, 2020
Christopher Malcolm Knauf: Meister Eckhart and the ‘Wayless Way’.
Lynda Johnsen: Gnostic Texts Reveal Jesus in a New Light
Photo: Sunset on Phuket Island, by M.
POSTCARD#500: Bangkok: Three years have passed since we were last on this Bangkok-Chiang Mai flight, the marker in time is COVID-19. Hard to believe it’s been three years. These days, the passing of time is all of a oneness… I’m ‘flying away’ in a manner of speaking, as the mind wanders where it will. Grateful for the mindful collectedness to ‘know’ the mind has gone adrift and bring it back to where it’s at. We landed in Chiang Mai and made our way to the apartment, stepping back into the quietude of mountains and trees all around.
An easefulness, this is how it was on the flight today, maybe it was that airborne feeling, but as soon as I close my eyes, I stop thinking, and there’s just nothing there. Awareness of the cold air on my head coming from the air vent above – that specific feeling. Otherwise, no thinking, no input, nothing. There’s a huge empty space where my thinking used to be… it leads me to consider that this is why the world exists; the desire to be thinking – but then I realise I’m thinking again.
I spend most of the time thinking about how to see it, how to get there, but not actually “seeing it” or “getting there.” How to get out of this conundrum? You have to be an accomplished meditator to do that, and there are only a few in this world, I have to find them and observe and see how it’s done. One Buddhist monk we can follow is Ajahn Brahm and I want to bring you into his world in the examination of this wonderful Pali word which means: ‘one-pointedness’ (ekaggatā)… he is talking about the first jhāna:
“One-pointedness is mindfulness that is sharply focused on a minute area of existence. It is one-pointed in space because it sees only the point-source of bliss. It is one-pointed in time because it perceives only the present moment, so exclusively and precisely that all notion of time completely disappears. And it is one-pointed in phenomena because it knows only one object – the mental object of pīti-sukha (joy happiness), and is totally oblivious to the world of the five senses and one’s physical body.
Such one-pointedness in space produces the peculiar experience, only found in jhāna, of non-dual consciousness, where one is fully aware but only of one thing, and from one angle, for timeless periods. Consciousness is so focused on the one thing that the faculty of comprehension is suspended a while. Only after the one-pointedness is dissipated, and one has emerged from the jhāna, will one be able to recognize these features of the first jhāna and comprehend them all.
The one-pointedness in time produces the extraordinary stability of the first jhāna (Note the Wobble), allowing it to last effortlessly for such a long period of time. The concept of time relies on measuring intervals from past to present or present to future of from past to future. When all that is perceived within the first jhāna is the precise moment of now, then there is no room for measuring time. All intervals have closed. It is replaced with timelessness unmoving.
One-pointedness of phenomena produces the exceptional occurrence of bliss upon bliss, unchanging throughout the duration of the jhāna. Mystic traditions more recent than Buddhism have been so overwhelmed by the pure otherworldliness of the first jhāna, they have understood the experience as ‘union with God.’ (April 29, 2022) However, the first jhāna is the first level of supramundane bliss and there are another seven levels of jhāna to experience.” [Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond, Ajahn Brahm]
Following up on the Eckhart and Zen discussion recently, I came across another Buddhist monk who can bridge the gap between Christian and Buddhist Mystics:
“Just because Buddhism rejects a discussion of a personified Godhead, does not mean there are not many parallels that can be drawn to mystics in the various theistic religions. Since theists tend to describe their God in terms of an infinite dimension, then I believe it is reasonable to acknowledge that the nonmaterial absorptions (arupa-jhanas) are fundamentally the experience of the union (yoga) with the infinite God/Jehovah/Brahma.” [Jhanananda (Jeffrey S. Brooks)]
There’s more to be said on this subject and I’ll continue to research the parallels between the theists and the atheists. In doing so we will perhaps move away from the way the dhammafootsteps blog has been going since 2012 (Note: This is the 500th post), and mark the new decade with a new format. What I’m planning to do is reblog or reprint texts from related sources and write a short analysis here and there, similar to recent posts on Meister Eckhart. Let’s see, what I’m saying dear readers, is I cannot continue blogging the way I’ve been doing these last ten years. My eyesight is not good enough; macular degeneration in the right eye.
The condition alters what I see around the centre of vision; horizontal lines appear to have a ‘bend’ in the middle, it means lines of text are distorted and I can’t read the words unless I close my right eye and look through my left eye. Also, these small black spots like mosquitos moving over the page take the place of random punctuation marks. Treatment started in June 2022 and is ‘ongoing.’
You can imagine then; it takes a very long time to write a post and I depend on the spell checker app to tell me when I have the spacing between words all wrong. I’m dependent also on the automated suggestions app for rewriting sentences that don’t make sense in their present form. With the help of these aids, and my keen interest in the subject, I expect to be propelled into finding the texts to re-blog, re-publish… and re-new!
Let other people do the talking and I shall take a back seat for a while. Remember, your comments and dialogue are the actual Postcards from the Present Moment. Merry Christmas to One and All
Tiramit, 23 December 2022
This is exactly how I feel these days, gratitude Tashi Nyima
Live more unhurriedly, more deliberately, more mindfully. Decelerate the activities of body, speech, and mind; eliminate superfluous movement.
Glide and soar through life, like birds taking advantage of wind currents, barely flapping their wings. —TN
The Big Buddha at Bodh Gaya, a religious site and place of pilgrimage associated with the Mahabodhi Temple Complex in Gaya district in the Indian state of Bihar. It is the place where Gautama Buddha is said to have attained Enlightenment (Pali: bodhi) under what became known as the Bodhi Tree. Since antiquity, Bodh Gaya has remained the object of pilgrimage and veneration both for Hindus and Buddhists
Photo by Abhijeet Gourav
OLD NOTEBOOKS: BANGKOK: The overwhelming immense presence of the image above, in my mind, says something about the experience of the Buddha within., and because I’m a Western Buddhist, I cannot ignore the writings of Fourteenth Century German Christian Mystic, Meister Eckhart, who refers to the experience of being a ‘Son of God,’ the latent capacity in all of us to leave the Teachings behind and simply become God. Eckhart goes on to say furthermore, we can leave the concept of God and explore the Godhead. He uses the word ‘nothingness’ in the sense of śūnyatā (emptiness) a state of mind that, in Mahāyāna Buddhism, refers to the principle that all things are empty of intrinsic existence and nature. In Theravāda Buddhism, śūnyatā refers to the non-self (anattā) and it is slightly different; one becomes an Arahant: gains insight into the true nature of existence and has achieved Nirvana thus liberated from the endless cycle of rebirth.
There’s something about Eckhart that strikes a chord, rings a bell – identifies the missing piece of a jigsaw that completes the picture. Why? Because it springs from my own European heritage. The theory of Eckhart makes sense, the practice is something for another post. At the moment the question is, how to make myself fit to receive the revelation of the eternal birth? The article that follows this, answers parts of the question I have about how to begin.
When I was a young person there was no guidance on how to even start on the Path of Revelation. So, I wandered away from my UK home and ended up in India, like so many from my generation at that time. There I discovered the missing piece of the puzzle; Advaita Vedanta – I wrote a post about it:
https://dhammafootsteps.com/2012/07/01/jesus-was-advaitist/ That was 10 years ago, trying to say something about the struggle to find Real Meaning in a world of television, consumerism and now the picture looks pretty grim over there; poverty in spirit, not to say poverty as an actuality – Real Poverty. Now 10 years later I’m still in Asia, returning to the Jesus Teachings by way of Meister Eckhart. From the very beginning, it has been a revelation to find so many Google references to Eckhart and Buddhism. The following are notes from an article taken from the Buddha Space blog (source at the end):
Buddha and Eckhart: On Nothingness:
“According to Meister Eckhart, God gives birth to his Son in the solitary soul. ‘The Father begets me as his Son, as his very same Son (…). The ‘birth of God in the soul,’ spoken of here in the language of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, is the leap to realization of his own authentic life that man experiences in ‘solitariness’ with the surrender of the ego.”
The above quotation, along with the others in this article, are taken from the essay ‘”Nothingness” in Meister Eckhart and Zen Buddhism’ by Ueda Shizuteru. As with other Buddhist scholars, including the famous D. T. Suzuki, Ueda had an intense interest in the writings of Meister Eckhart, the Medieval Dominican priest. Not surprising, really, when we examine some of the parallels between Eckhart and the teachings of the Buddha. Take the above quote, for example. Ueda extracts the essential similarity between Buddhism and Eckhartian theology; both involve the giving up of the sense of being a separate self or ego, which dies into the greater reality which the Buddha named Nirvana and Eckhart called God.
“‘The Father begets me as his Son, without any distinction.’ This means that the absolute event of salvation touches each and every individual in its full originality, without first passing through a mediator. This being the case, Eckhart stands very close to Mahayana Buddhism, the philosophical-religious base of Zen Buddhism. According to Mahayana teaching, the very same awakening to the very same truth transforms each and every individual into the very same Buddha – that is, it makes each individual the same ‘Awakened One’ that it made of the historical Buddha, Gautama.”
Ueda’s insight that Eckhart’s view (or experience) of the Son is “without any distinction” and parallels the Mahayana Buddhist belief that every ‘Awakened One’ is the Buddha is worth reflecting upon. For, whereas in conventional Christian thought, Jesus is God’s only begotten Son, and we are separate from Christ and God, even at the deepest level of being, Eckhart insists that if we practice correctly, we can merge into God, and are his Son just as Jesus was/is. Imagine declaring to a Christian congregation, “I am the Son – and so are you!” This identification with being God’s Son is mirrored in the Zen experience of being Buddha, that is to say, discovering that the essence of being is Buddha.
In essence, this realization that we are all Buddha is the case with Theravada Buddhism also, as the Buddha is considered the first Arahant (in this age), and that everyone that achieves full awakening is also an arahant. (‘Arahant’ is a term that denotes an enlightened person in the Theravada tradition, and is the ideal in that form of Buddhism. The title ‘Buddha’ is reserved for the historical Shakyamuni Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, and his predecessors that all discovered the Buddhist truths independently and then established Buddhism in eras when it had disappeared. Despite these differences, in the light of the central truth of enlightenment or salvation as understood by the Buddha and Eckhart, we can say that Arahant, Buddha, and Son are all descriptions of those who have been ‘saved’ from life’s sufferings.
“So far the similarity is only of a general nature. A more deep-reaching spiritual kinship appears when Eckhart speaks of a ‘breakthrough to the nothingness of the godhead.’ ‘The soul is not content with being a Son of God.’ ‘The soul wants to penetrate to the simple ground of God, to the silent desert where not a trace of distinction is to be seen, neither Father nor Son nor Holy Spirit.’ By carrying out in radical fashion his Neoplatonically laden understanding of ‘being one,’ Eckhart transfers the essence or ground of God back beyond the divine God to the simple modeless, formless, unthinkable, and unspeakable purity that he calls, in distinction to God, ‘godhead,’ and that he describes as a nothingness.”
This “simple, modeless, formless, unthinkable, and unspeakable purity” that Eckhart calls “godhead” comes very close to the Buddha’s description of nirvana as “the Unborn, Unoriginated, Uncreated and Unformed” If the godless is formless, then it’s not the gendered god envisaged by most Christians, sat atop a throne with a long beard and flowing robes. This “silent desert” without “a trace of distinction” is not, as Eckhart clearly states, the Holy Trinity nor any one of its Persons, but is “a nothingness.” As with Buddhist explanations of nirvana, the idea of nothingness can be easily misunderstood. As the forest monk Ajahn Sumedho has suggested, by writing the word as “no-thingness” we emphasize that it is not a thing, rather than point to nothing.
“For Eckhart, the nothingness of the godhead is, in a non-objective manner, the soul’s very own ground. Hence the soul, in order to return to its original ground, must break through God and out into the nothingness of the godhead. In so doing the soul must ‘take leave of God’ and ‘become void of God.’ This is accomplished only if the soul lets go of itself as what has been united with God. This is what Eckhart understands by extreme ‘solitariness,’ the ‘fundamental death.'”
For the Christian word ‘soul’ Buddhists (and nonreligious types) can substitute the term ‘mind.’ Doing so, we can better relate to Eckhart’s assertion that “the nothingness of the godhead is…the soul’s very ground.” In other words, these minds and bodies which are created things in a world of things are not self; indeed, there is no such individual, separate self. At heart, the “original ground” of our being, is this nothingness that is “void of God.” Reading Eckhart’s words carefully, it would seem that to achieve this realization, we need to practice meditation or silent prayer, and allow the soul (or mind) to let go of its self-identification which has surrendered to the idea of God (or Buddha) and rest in the godhead that is nothingness. This is because self is an entity, God is an entity, Buddha is an entity, and no-thingness is beyond all entities or things. Put another way, in Eckhart’s view, surrendering to God is an important stage to full salvation (or enlightenment), but to achieve the latter we must let go of everything, dying as a separate self into the nothingness of what he calls the godhead.
“In Eckhart’s thought it is the category of ‘substance’ that is, in the last analysis, definitive. But concomitant with this arrival at, and insistence on, the imageless and formless nature of substance pure and simple, Eckhart advances a radical de-imaging of the soul which is consummated in and as a ceaseless ‘letting go.’ This ‘letting go’ accords his teaching its extremely dynamic quality, corresponding to the dynamic of the Zen coincidence of negation and affirmation – except that in Zen, where we see a radical execution of the Mahayana Buddhist thinking on relatedness, the scope of coincidence is wider than it is in Eckhart.”
By “substance,” Ueda refers to that same nothingness that we have been discussing, and which is also known as ‘the ground of being’ elsewhere. By “a ceaseless ‘letting go,'” Eckhart and Ueda refer to the process of realizing the truth of not-self. We can observe the world, the body, and even the mind (or ‘soul’) and see that none of them constitute a self, and in this realization, we get to the heart of the religious life as envisaged by both the Buddha and Meister Eckhart. This “de-imaging” is the act of letting go with mindfulness, as in meditation and deep prayer. By the “coincidence of negation and affirmation,” Ueda alludes to the Zen tradition of the koan that leads to an alogical experience of life, where opposites merge into a single, interrelated and interdependent understanding of existence. Ueda, as an advocate of Zen Buddhism proposes that it has a broader significance than Eckhart’s theology of nothingness, which is an issue that the current author is unqualified to comment on.
In this article, along with several others, the striking similarities between some of the Buddha’s teachings and those of Meister Eckhart have been shown to be well worth reflecting upon for the open-minded Buddhist – not to mention the open-minded Christian! Whether or not you agree with the claims of Eckhart or this blog author, it is hoped that the material printed here has been interesting to you and has perhaps touched your beliefs or practices, or both. Reaching out to other traditions than our own can be of much benefit if done with kindness and consideration. It is not the claim of this author or others such as Ueda Shizuteru featured herein that the Buddha and Meister Eckhart experienced and taught exactly the same (No-)thing. There are notable coincidences within their respective teachings however, that glisten with the merest of polishings, and it is in this spirit that the Buddha & Eckhart Reflections have been offered. May all beings be happy!
without beginning and without end
POSTCARD#499: Bangkok: [Continuing with last week’s theme: “The Divine in us”] I was amazed to ‘hear the voice’ of Meister Eckhart reaching out to me from the 14th Century with observations on life that could have been expressed in recent times. All the more amazing to read his words on the subject of time and discover this was even more in context than I thought:
A day, whether six or seven (days) ago, or more than six thousand years ago, is just as near to the present as yesterday. Why? Because all time is contained in the present Now-moment. Time comes of the revolution of the heavens and day began with the first revolution. God makes the world and all things in this present now. Time gone a thousand years ago is now as present and as near to God as this very instant.
For me, also strangely synchronistic, are the words: the ‘Now-moment,’ because, without knowing or having read Eckhart before, I decided only a few years ago to name one of my Blog Categories: ‘The Now Moment.’ Another thing I find to be a remarkable coincidence is that my post of October 10, 2016 contains the following: ‘Language gives everything names, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday… different ways of describing present time. It’s always today, no matter if I call it yesterday, tomorrow or next week – today is every day.’ Perhaps not so unusual when you think of the social construct that surrounds us now and would have in Eckhart’s day: “The world we have experienced (since we were children), has been psychologically, socially, and linguistically constructed. As we (become adults), we learn to see the world in the way that everyone else does, but we don’t realize that’s what’s happening. We think we are seeing reality itself.”[David Loy, the interview with Insight Journal] It’s possible Eckhart wouldn’t have wanted to call it a construct, without it being in some way, God’s construct.
Being is God… God and being are the same. Everything that is has the fact of its being through being and from being… there is nothing prior to being because that which confers being creates and is a creator. To create is to give being out of nothing.
And here is Eckhart’s 14th Century Fundamental Truth, ‘Being is God.’ Even though I might be inclined to separate ‘God’ from ‘Being,’ I can’t. Maybe I need to change the word ‘God’ to something less emotive… I’m used to the Buddhist no-self (anatta) but it doesn’t convey the same breathless urgency of Eckhart’s sermon.
What is life? God's being is my life, but if it is so, then what is God's must be mine and what is mine God's. God's is-ness is my is-ness, and neither more nor less. They just live eternally with God, on a par with God, neither deeper nor higher. All their work is done by God and God's by them.
The Buddhist experience is this ‘is-ness’ or suchness (tathatā) and the idea of God creating the world out of nothing, in absolute present time is familiar to the Buddhist point of view in the context of Emptiness (śūnyatā). There are other connections between Eckhart and Mahayana Buddhism but I must leave that for another time. What I’ve been most taken with is the approachability of Eckhart’s God.
“I am as sure as I live that nothing is so near to me as God. God is nearer to me than I am to myself; my existence depends on the nearness and the presence of God.”
What jumps out at me here is the following: ‘God is nearer to me than I am to myself.’ Time and space disappear and I have an immediate closeness with this 14th Century Christian mystic.
The eye with which I see God is exactly the same eye with which God sees me. My eye and God’s eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowledge, and one love
The universality of this statement is that much more effective than other metaphors on the Eye. This is the eye that sees ‘me,’ and I am seen by God, just as I see God and God is seen by ‘me.’ I’d like to close with another non-dual quote by David Loy, in the interview with Insight Journal:
“We are not in time because we are time. Our nature is temporal which means we are not things; we are bundles of physical and mental processes. And when we become nondual with those processes, the past is not something that falls away, and the future is not something that’s coming. Then we live “in” what is sometimes called the eternal present. Etymologically the word “eternity” means without beginning and without end. What is without beginning and without end? It’s always now.”
Image: File:Rathausturm Köln – Meister Eckhart – Johann I. (Brabant)-4871.jpg
From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository
Photo credit: Maria Clementine Martin
the Divine in us
POSTCARD#498: Bangkok: I was in the library in Harnham Buddhist Monastery in September 2022, browsing through all the books they had on Meister Eckhart, the Thirteenth Century Christian Mystic. He is famous for asking: “What does it avail me that Mary birthed Christ long ago if I don’t also birth Him in my soul?” I hadn’t thought of Christ being reborn in an ordinary person – although Eckhart was an extraordinary person, nevertheless the Teaching is that this could happen to you or me. The text goes on: ”…we do not find God outside ourselves and we should not conceive him except as in us…” The main difference between Christianity and Theravadin Buddhism is that Christian meditation is about Self or Soul, and in Buddhist meditation there is no discussion on whether there is a Self or a Soul. Besides, most Western Buddhists arrived at the Buddhist point of view from a Christian background without any closure on that earlier time and some unresolved issues remain, to a greater or lesser degree. We are quick to see the differences and not interested in any parallels.
I had only just started finding out about this special kind of Christian contemplation (apophaticism) that rejects all the attributes and ideas about God we’ve known since we were children, and staying in this ‘darkness’ until there is only a state of “unknowing.” Thus, arriving at this experiential union with the divine. There were a few things about this kind of Christian contemplation that seemed very ‘Buddhist’ to me, I recognised the state of unknowing as being that which is outside human experience; “Outside the thinking mind there is only the uncreated.” [Ajahn Sumedho] There is an agreement here: “The ineffable reality of God lies beyond our ordinary comprehension.” Also, on the position of thinking during meditation: “…we are slipping in and out of interior silence, a state in which we do not become attached to the thoughts as they go by.” (Centering Prayer, a method of Christian meditation). I know the feeling of that curious extended, stretched-out moment when there’s just no thought at all: Suññatā: emptiness, often refers to the non-self (Pāli: anattā).
However, the main difference is, at this stage Buddhism stays with Suññatā but Christian meditation goes on to “Christhood and the supreme state of God consciousness.” Most Western Buddhists find it difficult to bring in the anthropomorphic God. “When we speak about ‘God’ we start getting ideas in our head about what God is and that is very far from the unborn, the unconditioned, the uncreated, the unoriginated, the deathless.”[John Cianciosi (Ajahn Jagaro)]
There is also the book “The Cloud of Unknowing” an anonymous work of Christian mysticism written in Middle English in the 14th century. The Cloud requires the initiate to withdraw from the senses. All cognitive and sensory faculties must be pushed “beneath” the practitioner in a “cloud of forgetting.” This is so that the initiate can focus and cultivate a “blind stirring of love” toward the Divine. The Cloud instructs us to “forget all of Creation … so that your thoughts and desires are not directed and do not reach out towards any of them”. In this process of forgetting, the soul goes through a darkness where a desiring love reaches out to the Divine in a “cloud of unknowing.”
The turning point for me was that “we are to give birth to the Divine in us.” At first, I didn’t notice the prevailing familiarity about all this; it wasn’t me, wasn’t mine or whatever, because I’m a Buddhist, nearly 30 years now, and long since taken on the Buddhist no-self anatta reality that there is no Self. But what I’d overlooked was a tiny fragment of Christian conditioning embedded in memory that triggered the thought about an everlasting soul. So, it all came crashing in on me; a returning to something about the paradox of the Holy birth that held my interest at the time but I had never understood it as a young person.
I haven’t really reached any conclusions about my Christian beginnings except that fantastic imagery does appear in the mind during advanced meditation but Buddhist ignore it: Experience shows that visions arising at this stage are notoriously deceptive and completely untrustworthy. The recommended thing to do is to remove all interest and go back to the breath meditation. [Link:] https://dhammafootsteps.com/2022/03/25/suitable-nimitta-and-useless-nimitta/ If you are a regular reader of these posts, you will remember our study of Mindfulness, Bliss and Beyond, A Meditators Handbook by Ajahn Brahm.
Another similarity mentioned in Christian meditation, is: “the Divine light … this light is not apprehended by the senses.” A more detailed description is given in Ajahn Brahm’s book, where it is: “the Nimitta, the reflection of the mind freed from the five senses. It is like the full moon coming out from behind the clouds.” [Link:]https://dhammafootsteps.com/2021/08/13/experiencing-the-beautiful-nimitta/ VIsiting again Mindfulness, Bliss and Beyond, A Meditators Handbook by Ajahn Brahm. There are other Heaven-like colours and images (Jhānas) we have read about in the same book and these would be on a parallel with Eckhart’s advanced meditation. But Buddhism does not recognise there is a God. These are meditational experiences, part of Buddhist Practice.
“One of the criticisms of Christianity, and one of the reasons why many young Christians turn to the East, to Buddhism or to Hinduism, is that in Christianity there is no apparent help with method. How do we find God? How do we even start? Eckhart is one of the Christians who faces this and accepts it as a problem. Good intentions are not always enough. We need instruction in how to make ourselves fit to receive the revelation of God, to receive the eternal birth. “[Ursula Fleming, The Eckhart Society, 1995]
the eye of a needle
POSTCARD#497: Bangkok: There was a time when I was travelling long distances every few weeks, then there was Covid. No unnecessary travelling and the stay-at-home order got us all locked in. Since then, there have been few ventures out into the world, only to the neurologist, and the dentist. A few days ago, I had to go for an appointment at the out-patients department of the eye hospital which is downtown, about an hour’s journey by car from here to there. So, it was a novelty for me to be out on the road again sitting in the back seat with other passengers in this shared taxi. Looking out the window at the world whizzing by. Long journeys like this are quite liberating in an existential sense, ‘I’ am being ‘taken;’ I am in a passive state. Usually, I am in the active state. I am the ’doer,’ figuring things out. Here, I have to ‘be’ rather than ‘do.’
The car sets off on the Tollway, gets up to speed. I’m like a child, watching as these huge chunks of landscape fill the window and pass through the car, ‘seen’ in an instant, then another chunk of landscape takes the place of the one before it, passes through, and is itself layered over by the next and successive landscapes. There is no constant ‘seeing’ as the landscape(s) go by, there are intervals; consciousness is a series of discrete, isolated events some of which happen to be integrated into chunks and in a moment, they come apart again because there is nothing in between holding them together. There is no ‘thing’ continuing in one smooth flowing moment to the next, and onwards that we might take to be an abiding ‘self.’ Chunks of concrete imagery like massive Lego constructs fit together as in a 3D jigsaw and when the engine gathers speed, the whole thing builds up a velocity like a long, straight highway cuts through the city blocks, large masses of it seen rising up and falling away on either side.
Then we start to slow down and come to a stop; traffic congestion, this is the downside… and I have to reign in the wild horses of accelerated thinking. Remembering the breath in ānāpānasati and in a moment, the agitated thinking is gone. Here we are, somewhere in a tarmac space with metal and concrete wall on the left side, all the way up above head-height, and on the right, five lanes of stationary traffic. Nothing to look at except the neglected, unwashed surface of the metal part of the wall, on my left; ugly, unpleasant… and again I have to halt the momentum of thinking – mental proliferation papañca. the tendency of the mind to elaborate on any sense object, out of control. Focus on mindfulness of breathing, and the unhappy state of mind is neutralised.
I start to notice there’s a headache building up. Immediately there’s the anticipation of pain, seen by ‘self’… “this is happening to me, me, me!” It’s my headache so I’m going to suffer.” But after seven years of coping with headaches like this, I can get rid of ‘self,’ not endeared to it anymore. There is a headache but no ‘self’ to which it can get attached – so there is no one there to feel the pain! In fact, there is pain, but much reduced and the mind is not bringing more anxiety into awareness, making a bad situation worse, as is its wont. I’m reminded that Feeling, vedanā is not mine, not me, not a ‘self.’ Understanding vedanā as just vedanā and beyond anyone’s control, gives rise to dispassion toward pleasure and pain. “A perfect heavenly world is seen as a sensory impossibility, merely wishful thinking, and an eternal hell is similarly implausible.’
The traffic opens up and bit by bit we are up to speed again, then down to street level and tremendous acceleration through the narrow sois, green lights all the way, ‘and this is my stop folks, see you later.’ Out of the car and into the eye hospital. The first thing you notice is all the signs are unusually large, I go to RECEPTION and give them my details. Then there is the waiting but I can skip over that and enter the room of the ophthalmologist doctor, lights everywhere and an image on the screen of the macular part of my retina, before-and-after treatment; “a great improvement” he says – and I think it’s supposed to make me see that all this is worthwhile, but I don’t get drawn into the conversation, let’s just get this ordeal over with.
I’m seated and pushed gently into an upper body contraption that holds my chin firmly and the nurse behind me presses on the back of my head so the forehead fits comfortably in a curved heavy metal strip anchored in the front of the frame. The doc is sitting on the other side of the frame, in the centre of my vision with needle in his left hand and the ampule of chemical that does the magic, in his right. There are some preliminaries but the gist of it is this: A voice says, “Don’t move!” and the left-handed ophthalmologist doc brings the needle up to my right eye. There is some pressure getting the needle in, pushing on the balloon surface… pushing again but it still doesn’t go in. Then it does, I can see what’s happening projected on the screen in front of me. There is the needle in the interior of my eye, but it’s not in the lower right, it’s in the upper left… one of those back-to-front, upside-down optical illusions. Then he says, “Now this may hurt a little,” and presses the plunger… I see the fluid streaming out of the end of the needle. It is intensely painful for a few seconds, then it’s over, Somehow, it all turns into black bubbles when the needle is out for a moment but the sinister blackness is gone in a moment. Next thing I’m out of there, paying the bill and get the meds. The car comes quite quickly: I’m surprised. Everybody has been shopping; the sound of crinkly paper bags make an immense noise, getting louder and louder, and activates a headache but when they are finished with their ‘crinkling,’ it goes away. I want the car to speed up get us out of here, put some miles between me and the needle man… then we’re gone.
the past never gets old
POSTCARD#496: Bangkok: In the mind’s eye, it’s a few years back and I’m with my mother in the Care Home in Scotland, holding her hand and she is still sleeping. Her partner Jay, is with me, he is a North American Indian, but this was his secret, he was just that guy from Wyoming – even then he made the effort to remain incognito. You’d hardly notice anything different about him, except that he had a kind of straight-backed posture walking around the town. He took care to wear the same kind of clothes as everyone else, had large-lensed glasses and a cap, and could blend in with the population perfectly as long as he didn’t have to speak. When he did, out came the American intonation, and he was instantly different.
Jay came to Scotland with the US Oil Company to work on the North Sea Oil Rigs, and was somewhere up there in the hierarchy of employees. Then he had chest pains, rushed to hospital, had open-heart surgery twice and took early retirement. The second time he had surgery lasted for a few hours. I thought that experience must have had a major effect on him psychologically (spiritually), but he never talked about it. Jay and Mother, had been together for more than twenty years and settled into a coastal village community in the North East of Scotland. He also had his boat moored in the small harbour there, and a small utility vehicle for getting around town for supplies.
During the months of her illness, Jay and I shared the time with her. One of us would spend part of the day or the night with her, at the Care Home, then we switched over. During the off-time, whoever was free hung out on his boat. There was the house too, now become a bachelor pad, television, a kitchen and dishwasher, with no woman taking care of things.
Then the library, for me, within walking distance, and my reservation for computer time to check emails. Jay had had some training on how to use the computer but (I think) his fingers were too thick and kinda stiff and he couldn’t strike the keyboard accurately. So, that was that… and he allowed the internet to pass him by, sadly. He used a very old Vodaphone with small screen display held in place with scotch tape. It had a phone memory of the numbers he’d call and could receive basic text messaging. It was all he needed.
If we were in mother’s room at the same time, we took turns to sit next to her holding her hand and trying to include her in our conversation. On that particular morning, without thinking, I gave Jay my camera-phone to take a photo of mother and me. He held it up pointed it at us but nothing happened; he couldn’t press the button to take the picture. It was this problem with his fingers. Then laughter – well, you had to see the funny side of things. Try again and another silence with incoherent mumbling in a Wyoming dialect… more laughter, and we were getting a bit loud, forgetting the grave circumstances of our being here.
I said to Jay: “If Elizabeth was here, she would be laughing too!” And it was significant that I didn’t say ‘Mother,’ I said ‘Elizabeth,’ which was her name of course and it was Jay’s way of addressing her. Then, just at that moment, he managed to press the button on the phone-camera and it was one of these old-fashioned shutter-click sounds, quite loud and an unusual ‘c-l-ick’ sound. That’s when we heard the sound of mother’s last breath. A long throat-gargling outbreath… and when it came to an end, there was no inbreath. We waited in silence for the in-breath to come, but only the sound of the rain on the roof window. I have to accept the fact that she has stopped breathing. This is the moment she dies and I see her move from present time into the past tense – irretrievably gone from our world.
I hear Jay calling the doctor on the room’s phone and in a moment, Doctor comes in a white uniform and a stethoscope to listen to Mother’s heart. Everything in the room poised for a moment. Then she puts away the stethoscope and leaves the room without saying anything. Suddenly I see that everything is happening in the present moment and Mother, now gone from our forever-present time dwells, in a sense, in the past; can only be accessed as a remembered event.
The past never gets old, always brought back into present time, refreshed, revealed again in the memory of those remembering it. Sometimes I wonder how it would have been if we hadn’t been fooling around with that phone-camera, and Mother’s passing might have been in more comforting circumstances? But who’s to say there would have been more comforting circumstances than having her partner and son by her side all the way. The fact is, there is this element of comedy here; it would seem she was going to have her photo taken as she stepped out of this life and into a new life – there was laughter, it was a joyful event. She would have recognised our voices and my calling her by her given name, which is something I never did before, this was a reference to Self, a calling away from that old Self and into a new life. There is a Buddhist belief that the Bhavaṅga citta bears all the characteristics of that last moment of life and becomes the Patisandhi (rebirth) citta in the next life.
Postscript: Regular readers may remember I’ve referred to my mother’s death in these pages already, but didn’t include the details on Jay and the bigger picture of our interaction with Mother at the end of her life. About Jay being a North American Indian, this was confirmed by an American friend in Japan who grew up in an Indian Reservation – his father was the Superintendent. My friend took one look at the photo I have of Jay, and recognised his features immediately. I always thought that for Jay, the North East of Scotland was the perfect place for him because at that time, the population had no idea what a North American Indian would even look like, and Jay could happily sink into anonymity. Jay passed away three years after Mother, in their house in Scotland.
Image: another pic of the bougainvillea plant on our balcony.
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