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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The Eve of Destruction…of Fear!

Barry McGuire sang the iconic song, The Eve of Destruction, in 1965, two years after the Kennedy assassination, when we were immersed in Vietnam and civil rights, and three years before the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy.  The 60’s were a decade of change, turmoil and fear – sound familiar?

I think back about how we were all manipulated by fear back then, especially during the Cuban missile crisis: fear of the Russians, fear of the bomb. I remember, as school children, the completely ridiculous ‘duck and cover’ exercises we were forced to practice. I remember being out in the schoolyard and being fearful of every plane that flew overhead; afraid that it was the Russians coming to drop the bomb on us.  And we didn’t even have 24-hour news networks with nonstop talking heads telling us who to fear, how afraid we should be, and who was to blame for not keeping us ‘safe.’ To their credit, TV news anchors and journalists back in the ‘60’s behaved with much more dignity and impartiality than what we see today, and yes, the Cuban missile crisis was a difficult time, but fear still sells ratings and so we’ve seen the atmosphere of fear escalate, especially since 9/11. More wars, more money spent on death and destruction. Has the fear abated with all these efforts – even with the elimination of Bin Laden? Of course not. Even if we didn’t have a financial crisis going on right now, there would still be media attention focused on something to provoke fear in our hearts; look at immigration reform. If you really think about it and look beyond the rhetoric, you will see that we are being manipulated to regard anyone who is not ‘American’ as a threat. And it’s not just the politicians or the media, organized religions rank pretty high on the list of fear mongering.

Unfortunately, we cling to the material world as if it were our lifeboat. It’s not. When the stock market crashed in 1929, people threw themselves out of windows. Their identity was so wrapped up in what they had that they couldn’t live with the fear that loss provoked.

What does this have to do with non-duality? Quite frankly – everything. Fear keeps the illusion of separation alive.  You cannot experience ‘Oneness’ (non-duality) while you are in the state of fear. It’s impossible.  And, some will say, that’s the way ‘they’ want to keep it. Who are ‘they?’ – I’ll let you figure that out for yourselves.  If you keep the masses in fear you can continue your control of them. It’s that simple.

There are two types of fear: fear that we internalize and fear that we externalize. The internalized fear results in panic, anxiety, obsession, compulsion, and worry. The externalized fear creates the hate and violence we see on so many levels of society.  This type of dysfunction, whether it’s internal or external, all stems from the incorrect notion that the ego is in charge and the material world is all there is.

When we get out of our egos, through meditation or other exercises that promote a state of non-duality, we are no longer afraid because we are tapping into that part of ourselves that is real and indestructible.  We no longer see others or situations as threatening.

Remember, it’s a matter of perception. It’s not what happens to us that we should worry about, but our reaction to what happens. So cultivate tolerance, compassion, and your inner life. We are on the eve of the destruction of fear.

Your Inner Life

In my Catch-22 post of June28th, I suggested a couple of ways one can begin to experience non-dualism. Cultivating tolerance and compassion along with a desire to serve others, without seeking recognition or compensation, are all ways that will help break down the wall of separation (duality) that is threatening our world today.  These suggestions will help in changing perceptions, but there is another piece to this I’d like to address.

This may be a kind of ‘chicken and the egg’ scenario, but some people will need to connect to themselves before seeing their connection to everyone and everything else.  This is where meditation comes in. Spending time in quiet contemplation or meditation helps us to better understand ourselves; not in terms of the external world, which is shallow and ultimately meaningless, but in terms of who we really are – at our core.  Meditation cultivates our inner life and it’s important to remember that the outer is the reflection of the inner.  The only focus in the world today is on our outer life. We go to school to learn science, math, history etc., so we can get a good job, compete in the world, make money, and enjoy the material comforts of life.  We learn and assimilate what society deems important and useful, so all of our energy is projected outside of ourselves.  We live in fear and anxiety over protecting what we have.  Consequently, we become lost in our lives, remaining blind and ignorant to the truth about who we really are and our connection to everyone and everything in the universe. We are lost as a society and we need to find ourselves again.  Cultivating our inner lives through meditation can be an important first step to accomplishing this.

The physical and emotional benefits of meditation are many: lowered blood pressure, reduced stress and anxiety, better concentration, management of chronic pain, to name a few. The spiritual benefits include the discovery of one’s true self beyond the ego and the body.  All these benefits (and there are more of them) will naturally lead to a more compassionate worldview.  Fear will be replaced with tolerance, compassion and love. The outer is the reflection of the inner.

I remember a time when science debated the mind-body connection, if you can imagine.  Well, at least we’ve come this far. Now it’s time to take a greater leap. Times are changing and whether we like it or not we are facing a crisis of perception. We are seeing the old societal structures being challenged and broken down. Unable to sustain the old forms, we are being given a unique opportunity to move into a more unified perception of our world. Whether it starts with cultivating our inner life through a meditation practice, or it starts with looking for ways to be of service through changing our mindset (which can lead to the cultivation of a richer inner life) it doesn’t matter. It just needs to start.

“….I saw two birds on a limb this morning laughing with the sun. They reminded me of how we will one day exist….” Hafiz

Perception – Truth or Belief?

OutTheDoor_thumbI couldn’t wait until I was old enough to buy my own clothes. When I would go shopping with my mother, well, let’s just say our tastes weren’t entirely compatible. If she were alive today and picking out my clothes, I swear she would still buy the blouses with the peter pan collars.  I remember back when I was a teenager and she would present me with yet another blouse with that horrid collar. “Oh mom,” I would groan, “they’re so childish.” “But, Diana,” she would reply, “they’re so pretty.” She thought they were sweet and feminine and I thought they were for six year olds. You could say it was just a matter of taste and leave it at that. But actually, it was a matter of perception. And perception is a powerful thing. So powerful in fact you could say that it is perception that drives not only our lives but also the material world. And the fuel is judgment.

French writer Gustave Flaubert wrote, “There is no truth. There is only perception.” This is an accurate description of what we find when we concern ourselves only with worldly matters. It was perception that was the downfall of Flaubert’s most famous character, Madame Bovary. Emma Bovary perceived her life in a certain way and judged it as dull and empty. Married to a country doctor, she struggled to find romance and excitement through a series of adulterous affairs culminating in a ruinous life and her eventual suicide. Our perceptions become our reality, our truth as it were, but what reality or truth are we really talking about?  There can be no certain validation of applied adjectives as truth. How we view our lives and the words we use to describe them is always subjective.

Our perceptions shape who we are, how we appear to others, and how we experience our lives. And those perceptions not only contribute to the judgments we make, but they motivate our action in the world. For example, if hunger could not be perceived we wouldn’t eat, (well, maybe we would anyway but that’s another story). If the cold and wet weren’t judged as bad, we wouldn’t know enough to come in out of the rain. If we perceive ourselves as not having enough, we then make the judgment that we are poor and we try to find a better paying job. The ‘we’ I keep referring to, of course, is our ego, not the Real you or me, which is timeless, indestructible, and completely unaffected by the role our ego (or character) is playing on the world stage with all of its attendant ‘stuff’, i.e. the material objects that decorate its life.

Remember, a basic premise of nonduality as proposed by Eastern traditions is “Reality is an illusion.” The ‘reality’ here refers the so-called ‘physical’ world and, of course, our perceptions of it. The lens through which we view the world is our mental conditioning, a compilation of every thought and experience we have gone through, which molds our perceptions (hence our beliefs) thereby preventing us from knowing the truth.

It is the ego that buys into all the social agreements surrounding how we are supposed to live and the things we are supposed to have, i.e. the big house, the expensive car etc. More perceptions, more judgments, more struggle. These social agreements form our perceptions and therefore our beliefs, but is there any truth to any of it? Think of all the belief systems in the world and the measures some will take to defend them. We use these perceptions and judgments to drive our characters through the play on the world stage. That is their only function. They do not define who we are. So don’t worry about them. Just recognize the material as immaterial and move on.

Truth is the only thing that has meaning.  If we are searching for it in the material world we will not be able to find it because truth transcends the material. Poet William Blake said, “If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear as it is, infinite.” And that’s the truth.