I watched the movie Jacob’s Ladder again the other day. It’s about a young Vietnam vet suffering from the trauma of war and fear of hell and death. Towards the end he’s receiving a healing treatment and asks his doctor if he’s dying, telling him he’s deathly afraid, and that he’s seen hell. His doctor tells him he should read some Meister Eckhart, the great 13th century German mystic.
He says, “Eckhart saw hell also. He said the only part of you that burns in hell is the part of you that won’t let go of your life. Your attachments, your memories, they are all burned away. But the burning away is not punishing you he said, it’s freeing your soul. So the way he sees it, if you’re frightened of dying and you’re holding on, you see devils tearing your life away. But if you’ve made your peace, the devils are really angels, freeing you from the earth. So it’s all a matter of how you look at it.”
Meister Eckhart also said: “The eye with which I see God, is the eye with which God sees me.” Is there really a seer and the seen? Or is what is actually here the whole of seeing itself, which includes but isn’t bound by any ideas of the seer and the seen? We can’t find the seer, because we and God are always already the seeing itself. Deep down we all want to realize the ‘eye’ or the ‘Supreme I’ that is our true nature, that is what we actually are.
Of course, we need to learn to make our peace with the trials of our everyday life before we can make peace with the depths of the source of our desires and fears that are trying to hold onto to our personal identities. Just as all of our sensory experience is always dissolving, everything we see, hear, feel, and think is continually arising and passing away faster than we can comprehend. Eckhart’s teaching isn’t just about the actual death of our physical bodies, it’s also about surrendering to the ever changing flow of our experience. In this way we’re being freed from the confines of our trials while still living through our physical bodies. What is being burned away are our attachments to our life, freeing us to deeply live as the life of God’s spirit.
Zen master Yasutani Roshi said the reality of our true nature isn’t attained. It simply flows into view, when we allow it to. Making peace with our everyday life allows our true nature to flow into view on deeper and deeper levels. These deeper levels are the gradual realization that the painful trials of our life arise and pass as expressions of our own minds. And the ‘I’ with which we see our trials, and allow them to be transformed, is the ‘I’ with which God sees and transforms them. As we surrender and release our hold on our ideas about our pain, the pain and the trials begin to transform from punishments to lessons freeing our souls. We begin to fully realize that the devils are really angels freeing us from the confines of our earthly life.
Yogananda offered a powerful prayer, embodying the spirit that recognizes surrender itself as a mighty prayer:
DANCE IN ME THE DANCE OF INFINITY
O Mother Divine, I have learned to love Your dance of destruction! For I see, now, that what is destroyed is my own ignorance and folly!
You have shattered again and again with Your war-dance of destruction my fragile cage of bones and flesh, and consigned it to crematory flames. You have done so smilingly, to show me and everyone that our souls are ever free, and cannot be burned or broken.
With Your mercy You have stripped away – sometimes, seemingly with harshness, but always with loving purpose – the countless hardened, mud encrusted covers of delusion that coated us.
I now appreciate Your dance of devastation, Mother! Together let us cremate all attachment to my every desire, fraility, weakness, and finitude, forever and ever. I’ll join You, laughing, in Your dance of evil’s destruction.
O Mother, since nothing more is now left of my confinement by finiteness for You to destroy, dance in me Your Dance of infinity and of cosmic love!