Fiction and Fantasy Feed Humanity

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Ask not when Christ was born… ‘the birth falls in the soul exactly as it does in eternity, neither more or less’ – Meister Eckhart. (But you can still like Silent Night)

Many years ago I asked a spiritual teacher whether she believed that Christ was God. She smiled and said, “Of course.” And then, before I could get too far into believing she had actually answered the question that I had intended, she added, “But aren’t we all?”

It was many years before I even started to understand the depth and wisdom of the seemingly contradictory mystery she had presented to me that day.

As Christmas approaches – a holy day that I embrace and look forward to every year, that I celebrate by trimming a tree, creating a village with sheep, angels, Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus and several music boxes, by buying presents and cooking a turkey, and a day that finds me in awe at Mass with my family – it is important to ask a pertinent question.

Just what exactly does someone who believes in the complete yet mysterious unity of God and Creation, in the non-dualistic immanence of Spirit, in the Cosmic Christ of Teilhard de Chardin, celebrate on Dec. 25? What does this particular birth mean once you’ve moved beyond the dualistic way of looking at the Incarnation?

I’m nowhere near truly answering that question, but in reading the European mystics while writing In the Same Breath, (yes we are jumping ahead about 1,600 years, sorry), I came across one of the writings that got German Dominican Meister Eckhart accused of heresy shortly before his death in 1328. As you can see, he has gone about as far into believing in the complete unity of Spirit and Creation, of Self and self, of Brahman and Atman, as one can.

And yet, the words are familiar even without leaving dualism. Christians do pray for Christ to be born in their souls on Christmas Day, all the while believing in a transcendent, separate, omnipotent personal God.

Eckhart recognizes that, but then takes us firmly to the the unity his mysticism felt as he ends this homily on Christmas with the words “we are the Son himself.”

This is a common theme for Eckhart. To him, the core of our being is the “ground of the soul,” and this ground is “one with the divine nature or ground.” In Eckert’s words here: “Hie ist gotes grunt mîn grunt und mîn grunt gotes grunt,” or “Here, God’s ground is my ground and my ground God’s ground.”

Meister Eckhart – From Whom God Hid Nothing

Here in time we make holiday because the eternal birth which God the Father bore and bears unceasingly in eternity is now born in time, in human nature. St. Augustine says this birth is always happening. But if it does not happen in me, what does it profit me? What matters is that it shall happen in me…

Now note where this birth occurs … this birth falls in the soul exactly as it does in eternity, neither more nor less, for it is the same birth. This birth falls in the ground and essence of the soul.

‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son (John 3:16). By this we understand not the external world, but the inner world. As surely as the Father, by his one nature, gives birth to the Son innately, so surely he gives birth to him in the innermost recesses of the mind, which is the inner world.

Here God’s ground is my ground, and my ground God’s ground. Here I live in my own as God lives in his own…

On one occasion I was asked what the Father is doing in heaven. I said that he is giving birth to his Son, an act he so delights in and which pleases him so much that he does nothing else but generate his Son, and these two are flowering with the Holy Spirit.

When the Father gives birth to his Son in me, I am his Son and not another: we are another in manhood, true, but there I am the Son himself and no other …We are sons in his Son, and we are the Son himself.

Now I’ll admit that as far as getting into “the spirit of Christmas” goes, this isn’t the warm and fuzzy Silent Night that was written in the early 1800s in Austria.

But I would say that both have their place. Perhaps the goal is to be able to appreciate both in whatever our spiritual lives or beliefs are – the soaring philosophical treatises and aha! moments of deep meditation and the folksy, emotional hymns and rituals. Might not that be another form of nonduality?

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Blessed Solstice and Joyous Kwanzaa!

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Mystery and darkness, profound and subtle – Tao and Cloud of Unknowing?

After reading the most recent post here, Richard over at Buddhism Now sent me a piece of Zen Grafffiti that he said he thought I’d like.

We are all contemporaries of beginningless time, yet we run in fear of
death.

What a great way to express so many concepts in so few words. I’m taking the “we” to extend in all directions in time and space and the “beginningless time” to be one of those bare statements, seeming to be an oxymoron but not, that pushes our levels of thinking even deeper into nondualistic ground..

I’m tempted to jump ahead to some “ground of being” readings and comparisons between Medieval mysticism and the new physics that would fit well with this quote, but I will restrain myself. Best we become a little more grounded first in the thoughts of these epoch-changing years from 600 to 300 BCE.

Since Zen, many say, fuses many concepts of Taoism with Buddhism, perhaps Richard’s gift of that Zen graffiti can be an introduction to more of the Buddhist and Taoist writings of that time

Here are two that I chose for In the Same Breathboth seminal works in their own traditions.

Tao Te Ching – Stephen Mitchell, trans.

The tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name.

The unnameable 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 and manifestations
arise from the same source.
This source is called darkness.

Darkness within darkness.
The gateway to all understanding.

In reading this first of 81 chapters of the Tao Te Ching, of the one question that comes to my mind is, “What is this darkness and how can it be the gateway to understanding?”

It is often helpful when reading English translations of poetic writing from a different time and culture to look at other translations to see if the meaning becomes clear by seeing how severl people have expressed something.

The Tao Te Ching has been translated in to many languages and someone has taken the time to post the names of translators in 26 languages, including 112 in English, with links to their translations. Here are the final paragraphs of Chapter One from two of them.

Tao Te Ching – D.C. Lau

These two are the same
But diverge in name as they issue forth.
Being the same they are called mysteries,
Mystery upon mystery.

Tao Te Ching – Hua Ching Ni

Nothingness and Beingness and other conceptual activity of the mind all come from the same indescribable subtle Originalness.
The Way is the unfoldment of such subtle reality.
Having reached the subtlety of the universe,
one may see the ultimate subtlety,
the Gate of All Wonders.

Tao Te Ching – Bram den Hond

These two spring from the same source.
They have different names; yet they are called the same.
That which is even more profound than the profound
The gateway to all mystery.

Darkness, mystery, subtle, profound.

Four ways of describing where one must go to attempt to understand that which is not able to be understood.

And perhaps – to do what we said we weren’t going to do yet and jump ahead to writings of the Medieval mystics – these are also the same methods necessary to begin to “beat against the Cloud of Unknowing” described by an anonymous Christian European mystic of 1375 in a slim book of instructions to new monks.

But to understand how the mystical, spiritual landscape of the 14th Century was formed in Europe, we have many more paths to travel.

A closer look at Buddhism during the Axial Age when next we meet.
– Thanks to Christine Tobias for the new art on top, one of many from “In the Same Breath.”