Archive | July, 2017

Personal God

God is the Supreme I

–Ramana Maharshi


Thich Nhat Hanh, in his book Going Home, Jesus and Buddha as Brothers, touches on the issue of whether God is a personal or a non-personal god. How then do we define a person, as in the word personal? Is it possible to have a meaningful discussion of this issue if we do not agree on what a person is? We all think that, yes, we are a person, but what does this mean?

There are thoughts we have about ourselves that we deem independent from the minds and bodies of others. There are sensations, sights and sounds that we experience as our own or belonging to others or belonging to the world itself. I see my own image in the mirror. This, I think, belongs to me. I hear the bird in the yard and experience the bird as other. I bump my arm and it hurts. I believe this pain belongs to me.  However, is there any actual person in these manifestations? In fact, these manifestations are only manifestations. There is no actual person, save the idea of a person created by our minds. Can it be the same with God? Thich Nhat Hanh states, “God is not a person, and God is not a non person. God is not a person, but God is not less than a person. The person contains the non person, and the non person contains the person.” 

One of the attributes of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path is Right View.  In this view there is no line separating person from non person: they are one and the same.  In Right View, there is no person other than the one we create with our thoughts.  When we are stuck in the thought of a separate self, we have only a limited view. We assume we can separate self from reality. And we conclude we are contained in some idea of self, thus barring our insight and perception from freely operating outside of our imagined container.

Right View in this sense is not an object for studious investigation. Right View is a realization, the realization that the container of self has never existed, that there is no separation between person and non person. If a wave was conscious, it could realize it is one with the ocean and that like other ocean waves, it is made of water.  So as human beings our actual substance is the substance of enlightened mind. This substance is obscured when we cloud its clear nature by clinging to our idea of self as an individual.

The Indian sage Sri Ramana Maharshi was once asked, “Is God personal?”  His reply was, “Yes, God is the supreme I.” Yet this I is not an entity. If he was asked “Is there a supreme being?” Perhaps he would answer, “Being itself is supreme.” He is saying Being and God are the same reality, the same supreme identity free of all conceptual attributes. This includes what we think of as a person but the mere idea of a person is not what we actually are.

There is a personal aspect to the infinite enlightened mind, and we are it. This does not change the fact that the personality is wholly created by our thoughts, and that a person’s actual substance is totally permeated with infinite mind, infinite spirit.  There is no person in the sense that our substance embraces all ideas, yet is beyond all ideas of a person. Our actual substance, enlightened mind, is not limited by, nor can it be grasped by, any ideas of a person. Is this so because there is no separation between our self and our mirror image, our self and the bird song, our self and the pain of the world? So reality is both personal and impersonal. We have a personal relationship with God because we think we are a person. If we thought we were rock we would have a “rocky” relationship with God. 

But we are much more than the idea of a person. Because our real substance is the substance of universal consciousness, we embody all manifestations of this consciousness, of the whole world.  When we see this deeply, we know without a doubt that we stand on holy ground, and not just the ground under our feet. The holy ground is what we actually are, the ground of being, the source of all manifestation. The true gift of humanness is our ability to convey this message to others through our mutual understanding of Big Self as the manifestation of the ground of being. In Zen we say form is emptiness and emptiness is form.  In the ocean wave analogy, we say the wave is the ocean and the ocean is the wave.  The ocean is emptiness, but like infinite mind, it is also unlimited fullness, beyond all conception. The ocean contains all things. The wave is form, but is manifested by, and at the same time one with, the infinite fullness of the ocean. 

The other side of the saying form is emptiness and emptiness is form, is that form is form and emptiness is emptiness. They are one in their mysterious essence.  Emptiness is full of form and form is full of emptiness.  But in the relative world we do differentiate between them. After all, in the supreme adventure of our lives, we must work, play, rest and pray and shop at the mall as our selves. In the relative world we are always a person. By deeply penetrating the depths of our being, we cultivate the vision that our personhood is far more than our limited idea of a person. 

We are the ocean that contains all things.  Our existence is an opportunity to fully express the spirit of the ocean of all being in the form of a person.  In this sense we are truly children of God.




The Cocoon

As a reflection of our inner radiance, the energy of the Great Eastern Sun, if we allow it, will melt away the solidity of our cocoon like fire melts wax.


Chogyam Trungpa was the 11th descendent in the line of Trungpa tülkus, important teachers of the Kagyü lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. In his book, The Sacred Path of the Warrior, one chapter is entitled “The Cocoon.”  He speaks of soothing ourselves through darkness, “…enclosing ourselves in a familiar world in which we can hide or go to sleep. It is as though we would like to re-enter our mother’s womb and hide there forever, so that we might avoid being born.  When we are afraid of waking up, and afraid of experiencing our own fear, we create a cocoon to shield ourselves from the vision of the Great Eastern Sun.”

Trungpa’s Great Eastern Sun is a metaphor for the powerful energy of fully awakened mind reflecting itself in the phenomenal world. It points directly to reality. The sun is always here, its energy always giving life, shining equally and unconditionally on all phenomena. The Great Eastern Sun shows us “…there is a natural source of radiance and brilliance…which is the innate wakefulness of human beings.”

We believe we abide only in the world, but when we connect to our innate wakefulness, we realize the sun and the world arise together as an expression of our true nature. If we disappear, so does the world and the sun.  Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh wrote a book called The Sun My Heart. In it he sees the sun in us reflecting the shining qualities of the world. The deep inner currents of our being naturally want to flow from our source and dance in the radiance of the world of sentient beings. This is Trungpa’s Great Eastern Sun. The vision that reveals our oneness with the world.

The beauty we see in the world is an expression of what we actually are.  But we cannot own beauty. What we think of as ‘me’ and ‘mine’ is not this beauty. In a documentary on his life, Leonard Cohen said he would often pray for a response to the beauty he saw in the world. His music is clearly divinely inspired. Through prayer, Cohen allowed his art to issue forth from him, to create itself. He did not take credit for it or try to own it.

We are dominated by desire. We feel the acute pressure of wanting to satisfy our desires and assuage our fears. Yet our efforts to do so, even if fleetingly successful, only reinforce and illustrate the power desires have over us. Take the serial dieter, for example, losing and re-gaining the fat and the weight, time after time. Fat is another kind of cocoon.

As experienced meditators, we begin to feel how our efforts to protect ourselves can create and perpetuate what Trungpa calls the cocoon.  “It’s a perceived safe place where we can keep the difficulties of the world at bay, and rest in our habitual patterns of self protection.” The child’s pose in yoga is also a cocoon — dark, inward-looking, soothing. Yet if we attempted to stay there, our bodies would cramp. A natural habit of humans is to find a way to possess and indulge in the beauty we see around us. But if we have the courage that self inquiry takes, we will realize that we suffocate ourselves by such clinging.

However, let us look kindly on these feelings of suffocation, for they are our karma, rooted in our wounds. Of course we want relief from the suffering. But at the same time, our feelings of suffocation are our resistance to the energy of the Great Eastern Sun. We may fear its power could destroy our fragile cocoon. And for this we are not ready. We constantly re-spin the cocoon to avoid its penetration by imaginary outside forces.

As a reflection of our inner radiance, the energy of the Great Eastern Sun–if we allow it–will melt away the solidity of our cocoon like fire melts wax. We can sit smack in the middle of our fear. We can combine spiritual toughness with the tender spirit of inquiry into the real nature of self. It is then that we may feel the melting. The warm radiance from inside us is no threat at all. On the contrary, our fears and desires dissolve in the heat of willingness. Sometimes we perceive this heat as the fire that purifies.

The sun within us peacefully shines on our resistance, and we offer up our protective efforts to its radiance. Our resistance, too, arises out of our own radiance, transformed into energy we can use to reflect our love. Thus we allow the solid fortress of our cocoon to dissolve. The process may be painful and anxiety producing, but if we are willing to abide in the midst of our pain, our pain will metamorphose into the fullness of being.