Born-Again!?

256px-Born-again_atheist_badge,_c.1987There are polls suggesting that atheism is on the rise. I just read through a list of ‘famous atheists’ and noticed that many of these people (there are a lot of celebrities on this particular list) consider themselves atheists because they equate God with organized religion. Heck, I’d probably be one too if I made that connection. I wish more people realized that God and organized religion (as it is today) are about as mutually exclusive as you can get.  And although Pope Francis tried to bridge the gap between believers and non-believers, the Vatican still holds that if you don’t follow the Church’s teachings you are going to hell. Talk about lousy public relations. And to dare contradict what the Pope said shows how afraid the Vatican is of losing control over the masses. The interesting thing, though, is that atheism, organized religion, and the material world share a common bond; they are all born and live in duality.

Organized religions attempt to take something that is formless and give it form or structure. To believe that God, the Absolute, which is pure Consciousness, has no form is a tough concept to get, so religions give God a form or face. The form that people use as their personal God is called their Ishwara.  There is nothing wrong with having an Ishwara – it certainly helps with bhakti (devotion) – but there will come a time when all form needs to be discarded. Form perpetuates duality (God is separate from who I am) and to be stuck in form will keep you stuck in duality (separation).

A major reason atheists reject the notion of the Divine, is their assumption that religions contradict each other with the assertion that theirs embody the only true God. Sri Ramakrishna, probably the greatest saint India has ever produced, studied all religions, including Christianity and Islam (yes, Islam) and found they all lead to the same God, having truth at their heart. Unfortunately, that truth gets lost under the layers of dogma, rules, control, and fear mongering, which bastardize the teachings and give rise to the divisive right-wing fanaticism we see today. And while I understand the reasoning behind rejecting organized religion, I don’t get rejecting the notion of the Sacred because of it. That’s like throwing the baby out with the bathwater, if you ask me.

The rest of the people on the list of “famous atheists” are either scientists or some other sort of academic, which use curiosity as the driving force.  Curiosity is important; it is the spark that propels the search for truth, but scientific research is limited and words are limited, as they attempt to explain something that essentially defies explanation in the material world. It’s not that they’re useless in searching, but the seeker should not pin his or her hopes of finding Truth on either.

When you engage in philosophical discussion, even if the discussion is about non-duality, eventually you get caught up in the illusion of the ego as it becomes buried under a mountain of thoughts. When you engage in scientific research, you are bound by a methodology that also keeps you stuck in the illusion. So, a laboratory or philosophical debate can never yield Truth because the medium used to find the answers is based in duality – the unreal. You’re either stuck in a lab or in the mind and you can never find the real in the unreal. In these scenarios, the best you can hope for is a direction for your seeking or an intellectual understanding of some sort, which is not entirely a bad thing because it keeps you asking questions. Also, let me add that science is beginning to recognize that there may be more to what we see as the ‘material’ world, which leads me to the next point.

As I see it, the basic problem with atheism is the unwillingness to consider the idea  that anything exists outside of the material world. And even though science is making some headway in this area, i.e. the world as a hologram, it will be a bitter pill for many to swallow. Not only because old habits (beliefs) die hard, but also because it will be difficult to fully comprehend the ramifications such discoveries have on our perception of the world and our lives in it.  This would mean bridging the gap between duality and non-duality, acknowledging that the idea of a world with form (duality) will need to be discarded in favor of the idea of a world composed of One Consciousness (non-duality).  Shifting paradigms is no easy task – just ask Copernicus.

I found it interesting that some of the atheists listed said (I’m paraphrasing here) that what is important is that we be kind to each other.  If they only realize that we should be kind to each other because we are each other, then they will have captured Truth – without following any dogma or doctrine. Imagine that!

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Mirror, Mirror

mirrorAs a teenager, obsessed with her appearance, I spent many hours in front of the mirror. It was during those years when I first heard the expression, “The eyes are the windows to the soul.” I remember leaning forward toward the mirror to look more closely into my eyes thinking I might be able to catch a glimpse of my soul.  I began to wonder, “Who am I?” Was I my body, my soul or something else?

Spiritual searching often takes many forms, but defining the goal of a spiritual search can be tricky. I never really knew what I was looking for all those years of doing yoga, meditation, reading numerous books, attending many lectures. All I knew was that I wanted ‘Truth’ beyond what society puts out there for mass consumption. Actually, I’m a little amazed at how clueless I was in my searching. I wanted answers, but what exactly were the questions? If I had to be specific it would’ve been, “What is the meaning of life?”  I didn’t expect to realize that spiritual searching is essentially a search for Self.  I didn’t realize that all those years ago as a teenager I actually asked the right question, “Who am I?”

As it is now, society is structured to perpetuate the identity crisis in which we are all stuck. Everywhere there are distractions keeping us from indulging in any meaningful introspection.  The world is noisy, shallow, and divisive.  Any type of reflection is relegated to prayer on Sundays; however, even that is directed externally since we pray to something outside of ourselves. No wonder we don’t know the right questions to ask. When it’s all said and done, the struggle in life usually culminates with the question, “what was it all for?” since death appears to be the end. Impermanence abounds.  We are never taught that the continuity of the Self is the only constant.

Surprisingly, there are hints of truth from the mainstream media that you can catch. In the 1946 movie, “The Razor’s Edge,” Tyrone Power’s character is asked what he did during his time in India. He remarks, “I learned something about myself.”  As her time in India comes to a close in “Eat Pray Love,” Julia Roberts, portraying Elizabeth Gilbert, sums up her experience with the insight, “God dwells in me – as me.”

You probably think that once you discover who you really are you will find the answers to the rest of the questions. And you do, but really what you realize is that the rest of the questions don’t matter anymore. The struggle of finding your place in the world disappears when you discover your true identity. In fact, all struggles disappear once you become aware that there is no need to ‘strive’ for anything. You are already everything. It is the ego (personality) that is never satisfied, always doubts, and continuously struggles. It is the ego that believes society when it is told that it needs to do this or that to be considered successful or even acceptable.

It is the ego you see in the mirror.  It has nothing to do with who you really are.  In fact, the ego is the biggest obstacle to discovering the truth about yourself.  Next time you look into a mirror, try looking past the image. If you find yourself wondering, “Who am I?” congratulations, the quest has begun.

All the World’s a Stage

“All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players,” is a line from Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” and what students of non-duality strive to understand.  The idea here is that we (our ego/body) are merely actors performing a script: a script that has already been written by the Absolute and is being produced by the Shakti, the creative power of the universe.  The implication is that we cannot be the doer of anything.

Nisargadatta discusses non-doership in “I Am That,” devoting an entire section on this point.  While there is no easy way to understand this, if we recognize that we are not these bodies that move, talk, eat, or sleep, but are something beyond the physical manifestation, then we’ve taken the first step.

Advaita Master Mooji examines the world with all its activity in this video talk, “You know it’s a movie,” and asks if we can avoid the temptation to identify with or get drawn into the drama.  He discusses that the “human being is itself an effect in consciousness. It is not the operator or controller of consciousness.”  He goes on to explain that there is the mortal (our bodies) and the immortal (the being of consciousness). Only one of them is real.

Identity with the ego causes life to be claustrophobic. We are held prisoner by our own minds thinking that we are these bodies.  “Who are you?” you are asked.  “I’m a woman, a man, a mother, a father, an American, a cab driver…..” When we break the chains of the false identities that bind us to a material (un)reality, we catch a glimpse of our true state – Pure Awareness – Pure Beingness.

Remember, the ego is nothing more than a bundle of karmas and since “your karma defines your dharma” as Ram Dass says, the character in the play will experience what it needs to experience – let it be. The script has already been written. The ego will dutifully execute its lines and actions never missing a cue or its mark.

Don’t Worry….Be Happy

Being stuck in the ego is not easy or fun.  It’s only struggle. Too many thoughts. Too much thinking I should be doing anything instead of what I’m actually doing. Too much thinking I should be different than how I am.

Last night, as I went to bed consumed with too many thoughts, I used some of the tricks of the “trade” (aka sadhana), to help still my mind. I realized that whatever the current obsession of my ego was, it wasn’t worth my attention or the energy I was pouring into sustaining it. I reminded myself that we are all doing exactly what we are supposed to be doing and the only thing I can change is my thoughts.

As 2011 comes to a close and we hover on the brink of the much anticipated 2012, I am reminded of the Dan Millman quote from his book, “Way of the Peaceful Warrior.” I used to have this quote on my refrigerator. Can’t remember why I took it down. I think I need to put it back up there again…

“There is no need to search; achievement leads to nowhere. It makes no difference at all, so just be happy now! 

Love is the only reality of the world, because it is all One, you see. And the only laws are paradox, humor and change.

There is no problem, never was, and never will be. Release your struggle, let go of your mind, throw away your concerns, and relax into the world. 

No need to resist life, just do your best.

Open your eyes and see that you are far more than you imagine. You are the world, you are the universe; you are yourself and everyone else, too!

It’s all the marvelous Play of God.

Wake up, regain your humor. Don’t worry, just be happy. You are already free!”

Happy New Year everyone!

Peace.

Ego – The Love/Hate Relationship

By Perfilbtl (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

During any sadhana, the seeker will be faced with unflattering aspects of oneself.  In my personal sadhana, which is shaktipat sadhana, these aspects are merely karmas that the Shakti is removing. My teacher tells us that all we can do is watch, but that doesn’t always help the character (ego) when it is experiencing the emotionality of anger, jealousy, judgment, and the like.  Even with the tools and techniques my teacher has given us to detach from the “emotional roller coaster,” as he likes to put it, getting caught up in negative emotions seems to be a normal part of the process.

The good news is that as karmas are removed, we find fewer buttons get pushed and life goes along in a smoother fashion. That is not to say that the external parts of life get easier; that is to say that we remain calm in the face of whatever happens, because the karmic trigger is gone. Acceptance of ‘what is’ is easier allowing one to go with the flow of life.

It wasn’t until shaktipat that I came to realize the ego is nothing more than a bundle of karmas. These karmas prevent us from knowing who we really are, which is pure Divine Consciousness, and perpetuates the duality, the notion that we are separate from everyone and everything, with which we experience our reality.

So therein lies the problem. With nearly 7 billion people on the planet, every single one of them, by nature of their individual karmas, have their own perception of how the world should be and many attempt to force this perception on the rest of us. Until we understand the non-dual nature of reality – that all is One – conflict and suffering will continue to plague us.  You don’t need to have shaktipat in order to understand non-duality.  Any spiritual path will lead you to this conclusion; shaktipat just happened to be the path I landed on.

My teacher likes to use the example of scarves covering the light of a lamp as a metaphor for the layers of ego or karmas that hide the light of our true selves. But in this analogy, the removal of the layers appears to be a gentle process. For me, as well as some of my fellow students on this path, the removal of karmas can sometimes feel more like ripping off a band-aid covering a still open wound. You feel exposed and vulnerable. Sometimes an ‘ego-loathing’ (in lieu of self-loathing) sets in. We are urged not to indulge in ‘mea culpas,’ but instead to be gentle with ourselves through this process. This will help us recognize the divinity within not only ourselves, but in everyone else out there struggling with the illusion of duality.

Alchemy

William Fettes Douglas - The Alchemist

When we hear the word ‘alchemy’ we probably think of chemists trying to turn simple metals into gold during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. But, in truth, alchemy has a fascinating history. Dating back to centuries BC, many famous people, including Einstein, have studied this subject. Alchemy or transmutation (a modern word for alchemy) is more common than we think. It occurs in the physical world and in the metaphysical realm of the transcendental.

We are all aware of nuclear alchemy (transmutation) when radioactive elements, because of their unstable nuclei, literally change into different elements. One way is through alpha decay – or the loss of 2 protons and 2 neutrons. You see, it the number of protons in the nucleus of any atom that identifies what that element is. The number of protons is the ‘DNA,’ so to speak, of that element. So, for example, Radium will become Radon. Lately, however, I’ve been drawn to the deeper meanings of alchemy.

Alchemy for people can happen in an interesting variety of ways. Sometimes the change is sudden. Something unexpected, usually unpleasant, happens and we are changed forever. Some who have experienced NDEs find that their approach to life changes. They can never look at anything in the same way ever again. They disregard the scientific need for proof, because as far as they are concerned they have all the proof they need – their own direct experience. And that direct experience has brought them closer to understanding their own true nature.

photo by cincooldesigns

A more gradual experience of alchemy includes those with a spiritual practice. They understand this process of change as they undergo their own metamorphosis leaving the chrysalis of their ego behind to embrace a freer, truer experience of Self.

I feel humanity is on the brink of alchemical change. There is no doubt that life on this planet today is changing  – at its very core. The old paradigms do not work anymore and even though massive efforts are being made to keep the world as it has been, it is becoming more and more clear that these efforts are futile. We are jumping down the rabbit hole. We have taken the red pill. And nothing will ever be the same again.

So, it’s time we release any notion or attachment we have about how things ‘should’ be. It’s time to release outdated notions or attachments about who we think we are. There is an old saying in the metaphysical genre, “We are not human beings having spiritual experiences, we are spiritual beings having human experiences.” As we break free of the limiting structures of ignorance that encase and enslave our egos, alchemy begins.

So release the old patterns, habits, and thoughts. Free your mind.

Free Will….Part Two: Go With The Flow

Laguz - Rune meaning "Flow"

In my first posting of the question of free will, I talk about how, as students of non-duality, we are taught that we cannot be the doer of anything. Some points previously made:

  • Spiritual and religious traditions stress the notion that everything that happens is a result of the will of God.
  • It seems that it is only when we think we can’t ‘do’ anything about a situation do we relinquish our imagined control.
  • We do have the free will to choose where to put our awareness (attention).

This suggests that events in our lives (or the world) happen exactly the way they’re supposed to happen. Which, taken a step further, suggests that the future is set. That said, let’s indulge our ego’s need to analyze and dig a little deeper into the idea that everything happens just as it’s supposed to. If people on some level didn’t already believe this, nobody would be interested in consulting psychics. People go to them in order to know what is going to happen – doesn’t that suggest that they think the future just might be set? So what does free will have to do with anything? How can we separate free will and predetermination? That’s like saying, “I choose what I’m having for dinner, but the trip to Europe that the psychic saw is predestined.”

When we pay attention to the present moment and accept that moment and not let our awareness dwell on the past or worry about the future, we go with the flow. I know, I know – easier said than done. I have found that everyone has his or her own threshold of pain. Eventually we get tired of beating our heads against a wall by trying to control everything in our lives, and once we sit back exhausted, we throw up our hands and say, “Whatever….” That’s when we surrender to ‘what is’ and go with the flow. But honestly – it doesn’t have to be so painful.

Years ago, during a particularly difficult time in my life, I was obsessed with the need to make things happen a certain way. And of course, nothing (and I mean nothing) was happening the way I wanted it to during that period. I was tense, nervous and miserable most of the time. Finally, a friend told me, “You’re not flowing. You need to learn how to flow.” I resisted, not having a clue on how to do that. It happened that I recently had purchased a set of Runes. For those unfamiliar with the Runes, they are a set of stones carved with letters of Scandinavian origin and intended to be used, not so much for divination, but as guidance for the Spiritual Warrior. I can’t remember why, but I checked all of the Runes in the set and noticed that one was missing. The missing Rune was the one meaning “Flow.”

Not quite a watershed moment but a useful and interesting one for me, since my  awareness in that moment did expand beyond the horizon of my mundane life, serving to remind me of the bigger picture. Perhaps if we can do that, not just in challenging situations but everyday ones, remember that we are a part of an interconnected Whole and not apart from that Whole, going with the flow will become an easier and even natural way to live.