Archive | September, 2015

The Joy of Opening to Grace

For me grace in the context of spiritual awakening is the gift of our life force freely and unconditionally bestowed upon human beings. Every experience in life is a gift to us manifested by our feeling of just being alive and present. Everything in life is the gift of grace from the mysterious infinite consciousness we are. Our spirit of wanting to intimately know this life force as our very being, our deep desire to actually be the fullness of our life force expressing itself through our heart, is a gift of grace. Our willingness to surrender, again and again, to this deepest desire is our true joy. And our willingness to continually give grace away, is what allows us to realize the joy is always flowing through us, as us, with no beginning or end.

In my contemplative practice, I’m continually drawn back to particular phrases and verses. Each time I discover new implications from them developing new aides on the spiritual journey. One of these is from the 18th century mystic William Blake:

He who binds to himself a joy, does the winged life destroy.

He who kisses the joy as it flies, lives in eternity’s sunrise.

Blake is inviting us to love the joy while it’s here, even as it is always dissolving into new forms of expression. If we don’t cling to our joy, we can be all the more intimate with it while it’s here. Caught in the fear of losing joy, we are unknowingly obstructing its continual flow. Liberated from this fear, joy and freedom melt together as we kiss it all flying by.

Living in eternity’s sunrise is an invitation to live fully in the moment. Living fully in the joy of the moment without getting caught in anticipation of the next moment, is an expression of eternity. Eternity is not an incalculably long time period of time; eternity is beyond time, without time, timeless. This is the actual nature of each moment flowing simultaneously with all time and all space. We are always simply here and now. This becomes more and more obvious the less energy we put into clinging to our ideas of being separate from the flow of grace, from the flow of our aliveness as consciousness itself.

When we welcome the faceless tombstones of our personal attachments with the joy of our spirit of inquiry, our energies are directed towards our oneness with Infinite Consciousness. The more we do this, the more the grace of self realization is naturally allowed to saturate our awareness.

With Blake’s verse, we can substitute pretty much anything else we try to grasp and hold onto. This verse can be a profound teaching about holding onto power, love, money, suffering, self, pleasure, or personal free will. So we can say:

She who is bound to the idea of self, puts the winged life on the shelf. She who kisses self as it flies, lives in eternity’s sunrise. Or, She who binds to herself divine mystery’s will, reduces the winged life to nil.

Everything is flying by, the free flow of our experience is like a river, and we can never step into the river in the same place twice.  Our very being, our awareness here and now is the river.  I remember a story about a devotee of Ram Dass’s guru Neem Karoli Baba, called Maharaji by his devotees.  He said that what was so amazing about Maharaji wasn’t that he loved everybody. After all, he was one of India’s greatest saints, so people expected that he love everybody.  “But what was so amazing was that when I was in his presence, I loved everybody.” The power of Maharaji’s presence is so infectious because he has no resistance to the continual flow of grace, his presence simply is love.

Freedom, love, and grace arise together, and we gradually learn to embody them together.  When we simply are love, we simply are freedom, we simply are grace, and we freely express them as we freely receive them. As aspirants on the path, we don’t need to try to become freedom and joy, or try to possess them.  We simply need to pay attention to the unconditional love and freedom of grace that is always already here.

The cd Awake is now available, and I highly recommend getting it. It’s a movie/documentary about Yogananda bringing his Kriya Yoga teachings to the West from India. It’s very illuminating to see what’s changed, and hasn’t changed since he arrived on the American spiritual scene in 1920. Someone once asked him about Human Effort and Grace:

In the history of religion there is a perennial debate as to which is more important: divine grace, or human effort. The answer is quite simple, and the masters have tried to convey it to people in their teachings. Man must do his best, of course. His best, however will be crowned with success to the extent that he realizes that it isn’t he, as a human being, who is acting, but God who is acting through him, inspiring and guiding him.

To think of God as the doer doesn’t make a person passive. It takes great effort of will to be receptive to him. The devotee must offer himself positively and joyfully into the flow of inner grace. The power that is in you is your own, but God-given. Use it; God won’t use it for you. The more you attune your will, during activity, to His infinite will, the more you will find His power and blessing strengthening and guiding you in everything you do.”


Opening to the Divine Calling

Our spiritual ancestors tell us that we don’t need to try and attain enlightenment, all of us are already enlightened. In the absolute world where all separation isn’t real, there is no one more enlightened than you or I. And there is no one less enlightened than you or I. This is no less true in the relative world, where separation appears real. However in the relative world of self and other, there are different layers of belief in our ideas about enlightenment and delusion. The veil hiding our inherent joy in the freedom of our true nature obviously appears much denser and solid in some of us than in others.

I was having a private discussion with senior dharma teacher Reb Anderson about this very topic some years ago. I mentioned that when contemplating how to further deepen others’ realization, I was aware of a tendency to want to measure where I’m at, to measure how much can I be of help? He replied that right there, in that attachment to wanting is an attempt to unenlighten your Self. Sometimes it can be helpful to reframe our selfish obsessions as attempts to unenlighten ourselves. This simply means we’re deeply conditioned to continually attempting to control and interfere with the divine life force always living in and through us, calling us home.  Clinging to these self conscious attempts to control is what obscures the clear realization of our inherent freedom; this clinging is an attempt to unenlighten ourselves.

I was grateful for Reb pointing out to me the need to deeply contemplate and be aware of the components and implications of that self conscious wanting I was expressing. He pointed out that it is good that there was an awareness of the tendency. The pure awareness of the tendency is witnessing the wanting from a place that isn’t attached to the wanting, from a place that isn’t attached to the results of that wanting, from a place willing to just let the wanting be what it actually is. So the inquiry becomes what is the wanting really? What is the attachment to the wanting, and what is helpful as well as harmful about the attachment?

These are big questions, and any conceptual answers I talk about here are only true for me, they are only true in my mind. And they are only true in the minds of you reading them. They won’t necessarily be helpful to you. The main point for me is that it is important to be willing to more fully enter the questions, to allow ourselves to be more fully absorbed in the questions that are most relevant to each of us. This doesn’t mean becoming fully absorbed in the conceptual content of the questions, but to become more fully absorbed in the actual life of the questions which is free of all conceptual content. Excessively clinging to the conceptual content of our deep questioning is an attempt to deaden the aliveness of the questioning, is an attempt to deaden the aliveness of our spiritual inquiry. We learn to allow the questions to stay fully alive by gradually surrendering to the aliveness of our yearning, to our joy and sorrow, and learning to trust that our spirit of inquiry is divine spirit calling us home.

It is usually much easier for us to welcome our joy than it is to welcome our grief that comes up from absorbing ourselves in the aliveness of the big questions. We learn that attempting to cover up and deny our suffering will eventually lead to rude awakenings, and the more energy we put into denial, the more frequent and ruder the awakenings become. When we learn to be willing to embrace our grief, by just offering it to the mystery, offering to a higher power, we begin to realize that the deepest root of our suffering is a profound sadness from the overall felt sense of being separate from our natural expression of unconditional love and acceptance. We begin to deeply realize that underneath all of our neurotic desires, is the desire for wholeness; our deepest desire is the desire for the innate wholeness we actually already are.

The great Indian saint Anandamayi Ma said the following about our willingness to yield to the Divine calling within.

When intense interest in the supreme quest awakens, ever more time and attention will be given to religious thought, spiritual philosophy, the remembrance of God as immanent in all creation, until thereby every single knot is untwisted. One is stirred by deep yearning: “How can I find Him?” As a result of this, the rhythm of body and mind will grow steady, calm, serene.

Suppose some people go to bathe in the sea and make up their minds to swim ahead of everyone else; consequently they will have to look back. But for him whose one and only goal is the ocean itself, no one has remained for whose sake he looks back or is concerned; (transcend and include, not exclude concern for others) and then, what is to be, will be.

Give yourself up to the wave, and you will be absorbed by the current; having dived into the sea, you do not return anymore (Attachments to the sense of a separate self just continually fall away). The Eternal Himself is the wave that floods the shore, so that you may be carried away. Those who can surrender themselves to this aim will be accepted by Him.

But if your attention remains directed towards the shore, you cannot proceed – after bathing you will return home. If your aim is the Supreme, the Ultimate, you will be led on by the movement of your true nature. There are waves that carry away, and waves that pull back. Those who can give themselves up, will be taken by Him. In the guise of the wave (sometimes in the wave of deep grief, sometimes in the wave of deep joy) She holds out her hand and calls you, come, Come, COME!




Willingness to Embody Our Grief

Grief has always been a powerful and intimate force in my life, and it continues to be as I’m now moving towards my late 60’s.  If we’re willing to deeply inquire into the actual nature of our life, we will allow deep feelings of grief to surface as we grow older. This is our natural emotional expression as human beings, this is our resistance to the truth of the impermanence of all things.  I’m aware of a tendency to spontaneously try to separate myself from the grief of eventually losing everything I hold dear; my loved ones, dear friends, and losing the joy of helping others on our path to self realization.  Though I’m very aware of the willingness to enter and embody the grief, there is still a profound depth to my resistance, there is still wanting to hold suffering at a distance, and wanting to control this rapidly disappearing life.

As I woke up this morning feeling inspired to write, an image arose from a year ago of a photo of a four year old African girl dying of Ebola. She was lying on the floor of a woefully ill equipped treatment center amidst pools of infected vomit and blood, her eyes open, appearing dazed and lifeless. She was dying all alone, the photographer was some twenty feet away, not daring to move closer.  As I relived my initial emotional reactions of horror, fear, anger, and deep sadness, there was also a warm loving feeling of acceptance. It felt like all the suffering was being absorbed by the light of our actual being, revealing that we all actually are the suffering of that little girl, we all actually are the suffering of all beings. The sense of being fully absorbed revealed that everything is always being transformed into boundless love and compassion.

I got up with a deep appreciation of how even though I, like everyone else, may still have an infinitely long way to go, there is always the invitation, and the real possibility, to actualize what Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche said,

“When all thoughts are imbued with the devotion to our true self, the Buddha within, there is a natural confidence that this will take care of whatever may happen. All forms are the guru, all sounds are prayer, and all gross and subtle thoughts arise as devotion.  Everything is spontaneously liberated in the absolute nature, like knots untied in the sky.”

One of my favorite masters of the Zen tradition, who so wonderfully embodied the spirit of compassion is Ryokan, the famous hermit monk/poet who lived in the mountains in 18th century Japan. Totally unconcerned with worldly wealth or fame, his deep devotional spirit to the Buddha way serves as a lasting inspiration to everyone awakening the spirit of true inquiry and love.

Two of his poems express the wide variation of the emotional depth of Ryokan’s heart of compassion. Many of us on the spiritual path are unaware of how attached we are to controlling our experience. Our lives consist of a continual flow of sensory experience, thoughts, feelings, sights, and sounds. We can think of this flow as a swinging pendulum. Our efforts to control the flow, and keep the pendulum swinging on the high side, away from our deep grief, our deep suffering, interfere with our ability to fully experience the depth of aliveness expressed in the spirit of these poems.


Walking along a narrow path at the foot of a mountain

I come to an ancient cemetery filled with countless tombstones

And thousand -year-old oaks and pines.

The day is ending with a lonely, plaintive wind.

The names on the tombs are completely faded,

And even the relatives have forgotten who they were.

Choked with tears, unable to speak,

I take my staff and return home.


First days of spring-blue sky, bright sun.

Everything is gradually becoming fresh and green.

Carrying my bowl, I walk slowly to the village.

The children, surprised to see me,

Joyfully crowd about, bringing

My begging to an end at the temple gate.

I place my bowl on top of a white rock and

Hang my sack from the branch of a tree.

Here we play with the wild grasses and throw a ball.

For a time, I play catch while the children sing;

Then it is my turn.

Playing like this, here and there, I have forgotten the time.

Passers-by point and laugh at me, asking,

“What is the reason for such foolishness?”

No answer I give, only a deep bow;

Even if I replied, they would not understand.

Look around! There is nothing besides this.


Ryokan was able to spontaneously move with the compassionate heart of Buddha. He freely entered the depth of human sadness and blissful joy, entrusting spirit to move him where it willed, free of the conceptual haze most of us live our lives surrounded by. Spiritual practice is not about being free from negative emotions, it is about being free in the midst of fully experiencing all emotions. There is inherently no less freedom and aliveness in the painful realization that our personal identities are nothing more than faceless tombstones, than there is in the joyful bliss of childlike play.

One more poem, and waka from him:,

A cold night – sitting alone in my empty room

Filled only with incense smoke.

Outside, a bamboo grove of a hundred trees;

On the bed, several volumes of poetry.

The moon shines through the top of the window,

And the entire neighborhood is still except for the cry

of insects.

Looking at this scene, boundless emotion,

But not one word.


What is the heart of this old monk like?

A gentle wind

Beneath the vast sky








Desire for Truth, Devotion

The spirit of Great Doubt is the spirit of great devotion to our spirit of inquiry, to the great mystery itself showing us the way to self realization. Great Doubt is deeply doubting the actual substance of all of our ideas about reality, including our ideas about devotion. Deeply doubting the own being, the separate existence of all of our ideas, allows the opening of the heart to pour forth the aliveness of spirit living through us. We learn to practice offering all of our ideas to the aliveness of our spiritual heart, witnessing them being dissolved again and again. This process of surrender allows us to use our thought energy in the service of our inquiry into the truth of our actual being, rather than wasting energy on trying to control the direction and results of our devotion.

Freed from the confines of ideas and beliefs, our devotion naturally goes much deeper over time. We begin to deeply sense and intuit our intrinsic union with the great mystery. This arises together with our realizing the infinite support of spirit in our welcoming the challenges of human life in its most fundamental motivations. We begin to trust the fullness of our very being, and we spontaneously begin the process of surrender, wanting more and more to bow down to the great mystery we can’t comprehend.

One of our most fundamental needs as human beings is our relationship to a higher power. As children our parents ideally serve as the higher power we are most intimately connected to, and are almost totally dependent on. Though this relationship changes as we grow more independent, this fundamental need remains with us, and in its most evolved forms to date it expresses itself in our spirit of inquiry into the actual nature of our existence. Martin Buber called this the I – Thou relationship. In the context of spiritual practice, ‘I’ refers to the idea of a separate self, and ‘Thou’ refers to the infinite mystery of our source. The I – Thou relationship is an inherent part of any spiritual path, though perhaps not by the same name, as it is an inherent part of being human and living our lives with other beings.

Ken Wilber says some Eastern traditions seem to repress the I – Thou relationship, particularly some Buddhists. He uses the terms God in the first person, and God in the second person. The Great I AM is God in the first person – “I AM That I AM,” God’s answer to Moses. The great I AM has no other. All things are a manifestation of the supreme identity. You are God, and I am not is God in the second person. This is the I – Thou relationship, the separate self relating to God as other. Wilber states, “God in the second person is very important, for it is the relational aspect of spirit.

It’s harmful to repress our innate need for the relational aspect of spirit, just as it is harmful for a young child to be forced to repress their natural urge for the closest most intimate bond with their mother. It’s also harmful to cling to the conceptual form of spirit’s relational aspect, and to ignore the wisdom component. Wisdom shows us all things are free of our thinking, so our true identity is nothing, no-thing. Love shows us we are everything, as Christ said, “the greatest of the two is love”, but we need wisdom to fully enter the depths of love, to fully enter our being no-thing as the expression of everything.

Willingness to not find anything is one with the willingness to give up everything that interferes with merging with the true beloved, our true identity that is all things. And this willingness is the willingness to agree to be guided from within, to let spirit itself do our work. We’re learning to be willing to be participants in spirit’s work, while realizing that it is God or spirit that is actually doing the work. We care less and less about taking any personal credit for the work being done.

So we use the I-Thou relationship to let go of all attachments, including the attachment to the idea of the relational aspect of spirit, the personal story about our spiritual awakening. We learn not to close around, and not to solidify God in the first person, The Great I AM, and also learn not to close around or solidify God in the second person, ‘you are God, and I’m not. We are moving more freely with the life of spirit, free to immerse ourselves in the depths of our longing and joy, and free to immerse ourselves in the wisdom of letting it all go.

There has been more of a movement in contemporary Buddhist practice to embrace the more traditional forms of prayer. The Tibetan Buddhist master Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche expresses the essence of devotional inquiry that uses all of our senses and our entire mind.  Here I interpret the guru as God’s presence or universal mind, which can include the manifestation of the human guru.

Devotion is the essence of the path, and if we have in mind nothing but the guru and feel nothing but fervent devotion, whatever occurs is perceived as his blessing. If we simply practice with this constantly present devotion, this is prayer itself.

When all thoughts are imbued with devotion to the guru, there is a natural confidence that this will take care of whatever may happen. All forms are the guru, all sounds are prayer and all gross and subtle thoughts arise as devotion. Everything is spontaneously liberated in the absolute nature, like knots untied in the sky.”

Sometimes our relationship with a pet can serve as a constant reminder to express our deepest devotion to spirit by Just Being Loving Awareness. Rumi wrote a very deeply heart felt poem expressing the wonder, agony, and divine joy of our yearning for truth.

Love Dogs”

One night a man was crying,

“Allah, Allah!”

His lips grew sweet with the praising,

until a cynic said, “So! I have heard you

calling out, but have you ever

gotten any response?”

The man had no answer for that.

He quit praying and fell into a confused sleep.

He dreamed he saw Khidr, the guide of souls,

in a thick, green foliage, “Why did you stop praising?”

“Because I’ve never heard anything back.”

“This longing you express

is the return message.”

The grief you cry out from

draws you toward union.

Your pure sadness that wants help

is the secret cup.

Listen to the moan of a dog for its master.

That whining is the connection

There are love dogs no one knows the names of.

Give your life to be one of them.

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