TRAILING ONENESS THROUGH ZEN
This article first appeared in VENTURE INWARD,
March/April, 1994, pp. 26-29, published bimonthly
by the Association for Research and Enlightenment (A.R.E.)
for its worldwide members and affiliates.
March/April, 1994, pp. 26-29, published bimonthly
by the Association for Research and Enlightenment (A.R.E.)
for its worldwide members and affiliates.
I had no regrets in leaving the Catholic priesthood because when I left I found nourishment in Zen Buddhism. What helped turn me to Zen was the church’s new appreciation of other religions: “Buddhism, in its various forms, realizes the radical insufficiency of this changeable world; it teaches a way by which men in a devout and confident spirit, may either acquire the state of perfect liberation, or attain by their own efforts or through higher help supreme illumination,” declared the Second Vatican Council in 1965. “The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions.”
Vatican II thus took notice of the flowers of other gardens that scented the earth’s air. I smelled the wildflowers and found them intoxicating, especially when I inhaled deeply the perfume of meditation. Through meditation, I broke boundaries and was led inward to where Jesus assured the kingdom of God is found.
I visited and studied at five Zen centers from New York to Honolulu and asked a Zen master to be my teacher. He told me that the pope had asked a Zen master to tour the Catholic centers of Europe to teach the members how to meditate, and explained to me that Zen meditation (zazen) is nonsectarian. He made it clear that Zen is the practice of meditation which brings discovery and renewal, and that as spiritual training, it is unbiased and unlimited.
In Chicago, a Catholic priest from Amsterdam had practiced meditation for five years on a regular basis with the Zen community. He and a group of nuns studied at the Buddhist temple. The priest and nuns shared the long history of mystical meditation in the church and that the non-conceptual nature of Zen meditation ideally suited their purpose. Its “empty” character and formless illumination of consciousness without an object slices down to our essential nature. They intended to use Zen meditation as the ideal source and rock-like foundation on which to build a revitalized strain of mystical Catholicism. Zen in no way drew them away from but actually deepened their Catholicism.
Through this kind of meditation, God became more real because He was truly universal and Christ took even a higher place in my life because the eternal that other religions talk about had been brought into human shape. As a Native American guideline puts it, “Taste the wind and read the clouds for we must bring the spiritual into physical form.”
Zen Buddhist do not usually talk about God but when I explained that God to me is the ultimate reality, or the reality which grounds all activity, they could then use the word God and talk about “It.” Some gave the opinion that as the ocean contains the perfection of the wave, so emptiness or the void must contain traits of consciousness and personhood. One told me that he thought Buddha was the most “religious” person who ever lived and that he, Buddha, never used the word “god” because it was associated with the idea of a person and therefor limiting.
I found Zen to be a great emptying device, It drains a cesspool of human rubbish. We probably know people who are full of themselves—perhaps even we qualify at times. And we likely know the beauty of someone who has nothing to prove, also like ourselves sometimes. With excellent teachers and faithful practice, I found that Zen brings the mind to its original state of non-duality, empty of conceptualization. Any concept means I have one more step to go. In this manner Zen is the practice of infinity, I learned, conforming to the principle of the universe. The infinity of space and the infinity of consciousness are identical. Zen is a kind of spiritual cleansing. Its grand contribution is in creating awareness. This is an abiding light of Zen for anyone who chooses to use it.
Sometimes following the breath or “just sitting,” I decided on a third form of Zen meditation—working with a koan or riddle that I put to myself: “What am I?” Meditation on this brought glimpses of myself that I had not expected. My whole life and all history loomed up before me. I did not want to lose anything, such as Christ and His teaching. Further, I wanted to determine things, such as the state of my existence. I found, however, that because I work for a future state, I often sacrifice the present.
This personal truth convinced me to stick with the question and concentrate, for I was learning things about myself that were true, even though I did not like them. The answers did not come out of my intellect but were self-evident “revelations” from my deeper being. It became apparent to me that life is a process and that I am a process. The meditations allowed the process to continue consciously.
In one meditation, I could see a large cross on a rocky shore while I was alone in a boat. A beautiful apricot-colored bird flew over the cross, and I was ready to shoot it with a rifle I brought. I proclaimed that the place and the cross were mine, and I felt interference from the bird.
A few days later, words in a poem-like fashion came to me in meditation as I saw myself again in a boat:
Arms and hands waving,
The rock doesn’t move.
I am the unknown.
And two days after that:
The sun passed through me,
I passed through the sun.
There is no answer to, “What am I?”
It’s beyond words and concepts,
Realized only in experience.
I was unsatisfied and wanted an answer in the present. I was frustrated because my intellect dominated, and I could not escape.
As my meditations continued week after week, some of my deepest insights came. I kept a journal which turned up the volume and clarity of the notes being played. I became aware of the dualism that I couldn't overcome. I kept trying to fit everything into my own mind, while intellectually convinced that I could not do this. I had no experience on the level of Universal Consciousness or the Universal Mind, but became more convinced that I am what happens to me.
I was undecided about continuing with the koan meditation when it all flashed clear. There is no answer, for answer would be dual. Life is one. All is one. There is nothing to pursue. At last I am free! These insights came with a clarity and sureness from beyond my singular mind—I am the question and the answer at the same time. By questioning “What am I,” I was asking the mind something it could not answer.
With this realization came an indescribable peace. I saw tightly bound boxes that I discarded falling in the sea and at greater depth many plants were swaying. The unmistakable message was that of joyous freedom.
Oneness is. It’s a mystery I try to live, for I am convinced that we all are One. Sometimes I feel Oneness is creative emptiness; other times I think it’s the being of light in which all things exist. At other times it is all the wills in the world seeking expression like my image of plant fronds in the ocean.
Pursuing answers can divide me from myself. I get to feel uneasy and disturbed when I push for them. Then I know I just need to be in the present moment. Whatever is needed uncovers itself in due time and a sense of integration returns.
Zen stopped my grasping for God. I think we quit questing when our timeless awareness finds it already exists in ultimate consciousness. As long as the mind seeks a haven, it can find no home. Fullness is born of emptiness.
My meditations only sparked my need to grow. What do I do now? Do I rest in the tranquility of absolute emptiness? Do I just keep returning to meditation for its absorbing insights and sense of fulfillment? There is a great satisfaction in “just sitting.” This unconditional bliss is hard to explain, but the state is real and wonderful. I cannot take credit for it because it is beyond the power of a separate individual, yet the reality of the experience exists as a possibility for everyone. From whence comes the power? From a universal consciousness that I tapped into? Or from our Father God? Or what? This was my state of mind when I attended the Association for Research and Enlightenment (A.R.E.) Conference, “Mysticism: Knowing God Directly.”
Flying to Virginia Beach, I tried to attune myself for what was coming. I had been to A.R.E. before, but this time I would be listening to knowledgeable people speaking for many mystical paths. I felt a sense of purpose as I read from Edgar Cayce regarding sects: “Are there not trees of oak, of ash, of pine? There are the needs of these for meeting this or that experience…..Find not fault with any, but rather show forth as to how good a pine, or ash or oak or vine thou art! (254-287) Cayce’s words supported my resolve to find my own way.
I found pearls of wisdom in the conference. Ancient traditions, I learned, used imagination as a dynamic tool in the work of self-transformation. Since imagery came readily in my meditation and dreams, I felt I needed to work with them if I wanted to use their healing power.
I had difficulty with the Gnostic View that God is a state of consciousness because I thought it was limiting God to my perception. Here is where the other two members of my group threw me a lifejacket. One woman said, “If you think you’re happy you are happy.” It struck me that consciousness is the key. Another said, “It’s not that God funnels down into your head; you’re funneled up into His space.” She caught me selling myself short and reminded me of that precept from Buddhist mysticism—“The infinity of space and the infinity of consciousness are identical.”
One of the presenters mentioned two key works which I began reading in the Foundation of Tibetan Mysticism in the library. “Whosoever wants to progress spiritually must turn towards the highest ideal within the range of his understanding.” What I read summed up exactly what I was discovering in the various mystical traditions. Different ideals, personally grasped, urge to ever higher attainment. “He who strives for the highest will partake of the highest forces and thereby he himself will move his limits into the infinite: he will realize the infinite in the finite, make the finite the vessel of infinity, the temporal the vehicle of the timeless.” The early Buddhists insisted on freedom in searching for liberation. All—including the self—are to be treated according to his own needs, his own values, and his own way.
I realized that freedom was a pervading ideal of my life—it describes my inward, outward, and upward reach that I see changing all the time. The “other” in meditation is sometimes utter emptiness and at times a personal loving Father. Why can’t I enjoy whatever comes? The gist of the Bodhisattva bow helped build a universal attitude in the Buddhist council of the first century A.D.—“Whatever the highest perfection of the human mind, may I realize it for the benefit of all that lives.” Whatever the “other” might be, it is I who must grow to whatever capacity I have. That focuses responsibility. I decided to go with whatever feels most loving at the time.
The need to freely follow my instincts hit home when I discovered that one of my deepest needs is freedom. In a session on ideals, we were told that if we pick a song that inspires us, and find what in it moves us, we are working with our own ideal. “Battle Hymn of the Republic” immediately popped into mind—it sees God’s glory coming in freedom. When the heart sings them, ideals become concrete.
Danaan Parry, the main speaker, made me realize that mysticism is not an intellectual game or just internal experience. He gave e a dramatic insight into oneness which I now call to mind when I become too introspective. Oneness had been one of his ideals, leading him around the world in his work of conflict resolution. In the midst of a confrontation in Belfast as British soldiers took a baby from its carriage, Danaan fell into a complete rage when he touched the Irish mother cursing the soldiers, “I ranted at I didn’t know what, but I experienced herself.” He had talked about oneness, but now he tasted it. Words came to him: “So you want to know about oneness—it’s the whole thing, darkness and light. If you do not integrate them in yourself you project the darkness upon others.”
Louise Wilson, speaking on “Quakers as Modern Mystics,” summed up my approach. She said Quaker mysticism is natural, a direct communion with God in which there is no dogma. The greatest ritual is silence and the core is experiential.
After the conference I saved a day for the beach to let the results of the conference wash over me before going home. As I lay in the sun hearing the roar of the Atlantic I tried to form a picture of where I am in my journey. The various mystical paths demonstrated the freedom of the human spirit and drove home to me the need to keep internally free for greater realization. I decided to be flexible in my meditations by following different methods and using assorted images. I meditate at least twice a day and the imagination has great power. Imagery in dreams, or meditation, is my psyche going beyond the will’s control to display immediate spiritual perception in familiar forms.
I needed to be alert to other means of gaining oneness, the source and goal of my life, such as when another is angry or I’m angry at being cut off on the highway. A new response could change me. This is where Danaan Parry put a corrective into my approach. Darkness exists in the oneness of God’s world, so I need to work on my own shadow. I have many faces, different forces in me struggling for supremacy. Unmasking my own darkness is the way to oneness. The next step in our spiritual evolution, he said, is not “You are my brother or sister,” but “You are me.”
In my meditations back home, I was sometimes engulfed in the vast tranquility of emptiness which I felt was still purging my mind from ingrained thoughts. But more often I felt confronted by scenes carried over from dreams or rising out of the unconscious which seemed calling me to work with the images. Moods and attitudes were taking shape in pictures. A vivid one showed me drowning in a well where I couldn't help others or myself as I gloated over the faults of friends—hardly an example of the oneness I preach. I saw that when I say, “I am you,” it is a lie. I went out and bought The Other Side of Silence by Morton Kelsey, and Foundations of Tibetan Buddhism by Lama Govinda.
A similarity I found between the two books is the stress on imagery in meditation. Kelsey’s book aims to provide one simple way to encounter the Divine Lover—through imagery. He says, “If we want most of all to learn about God as best we can and to communicate something of that experience to others, our best bet is to use the images that are given to us …. Communication is possible so long as there is a reality that can be savored and recalled to imagination ….The important thing is to work with one’s own images that come in meditation relating them to the great symbols of our religion.”
For Lama Govinda the process of transformation is achieved in the act of worship. He says that “it is the devotee who produces within himself the vision of the divine being … in order to experience the divine being visibly in the state of duality that corresponds to the devotee’s consciousness.” Govinda explains, “An active symbol or image of spiritual vision is reality … as real as the mind that creates them … Experiences and symbols of true visions are something that is alive, that is growing and ripening within us. They point and grow beyond themselves.”
I had needed to practice different kinds of meditation. Zen kept opening my mind to the new, while imagery warmed my heart to love. Love cries for a relationship. While the empty mind has potential, love is a positive power. And while an open mind accepts others, love actively supports them. To feel love, I need action—some gesture. And if I am to believe in love as a universal propellant, as the emotion behind the empty hollow, then I need the assurance that I am known and cared for no less than one would for a sparrow that falls from a tree. Words are not enough; I need to experience it. And that is why relationship and images are necessary.
Govinda’s deep study of the power and use of images paves the way for me to use these as never before. The Bible, dreams, and meditation provide a healthy supply. The Old and New Testaments regarded dreams as a means of God’s revelation, and for hundreds of years the church believed that God continued to speak to women and men in that fashion. When I ‘entertain’ the images, they often move like motion pictures. In meditation the images from my dreams bring depth and meaning. I’m having a new adventure with Jesus.
Kelsey says this way of mediation came from God through the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Instead of God being completely transcendent and utterly removed from humanity, He became Himself a member of the human race.
Joan of Arc intuited God’s revelation by trusting her imagination. An auditory mystic, Joan heard voices that directed her to lead armies and become a national heroine. She maintained that her voices came from God, even though that stubborn claim caused her to be burned alive. When the judge at her trial said the voices were from her own imagination, Joan replied, “Of course they come by way of my imagination. How else could the voice of God come to me?”
I had wanted the desirelessness of Zen but now I treasured the decisiveness in Christ. An active image is real, as real as the mind that creates it. When I hear Jesus say, “Clasp my hand and come,” and he sends me off into life, it brings a joy that charges me and I know we will meet again. And although there may be long periods of emptiness, a simple picture like Jesus looking up at me as He washes my feet makes me tremble all over. When He says, “I am you,” it has the ring of truth. I am a visual learner and God goes along with that.
There is so much to learn and such a long way to go—yet every step of the way is guided. Images of the Risen Christ change the organ of perception as I move from thinking through feeling to being. Jesus becomes me and disappears. God moves through me as me. Life in the Spirit surrenders to what comes. The non-conceptual emptiness of Zen fills with images of the Risen Christ in order that I may have life, and have it more abundantly. If I am to turn to the highest ideal within my range of understanding, as Govinda says is the Buddhist ideal, then I choose Christ as He images the mind and heart of God.