[From a sermon at Agape Church, Santa Monica, CA, September 25, 1994; used with permission.]
We live in a great time; we've come so far. Because of transportation, mass communication, the world is becoming a single village. Most of us have access to the sacred teachings of basically any tradition, any religion that has ever existed. We can use that access, not to scatter ourselves, but to see "My God, it is the same, the Spirit is the same over here, the same over there."
There's an old saying about digging one well 200 feet deep rather than 20 wells 10 feet deep, and sometimes we've used that as an excuse for religious intolerance. But many of us have come to see that while it is true we should dig one deep well, we can use a shovel from Japan, a spade from India, a pick from Israel — tools and insights from any tradition to dig down to our depths.
What is this deep well, what is the Sacred Water it yields? The idea of living in spirit, the outlandishness of really living in Spirit, in the One, is an impossibility for our minds to grasp. We'll read things in the Bible like:
My own peace I give you, such as the world cannot give. This is a peace which surpasses understanding,
and we go "Oh right! I get it!" No, let's do it again:
This is a peace which surpasses understanding.
We go, "Oh . . . now I see!" Nope, nope.
This is a peace which SURPASSES understanding!
Confused, deflated of pride, we say, "But I don't understand . . . !" Ahh, finally! Now we're beginning to get it.
I dissolved into the Emptiness, and discovered it was filled with Love. — Father Dom Bede Griffiths
The most complex understanding I can imagine sustaining in the heart would be something like, "I have no idea what's going on, but it has something to do with Love." There's no point arguing about the difference between this religion and that religion, this practice, that practice. Like the old saw, "Excuse me sir, how do I get to Carnegie Hall?" Do you remember the answer? PRACTICE! How can we simultaneously be a poor and nameless devotee of the one living spirit, yet be bursting with energy for making positive contributions to the world? Practice!
When Sita and I visited His Holiness the Dalai Lama earlier this year, I put all my attention into being present, open, receptive in the presence of such a great spiritual elder. I tried to look very practically — "He's got two legs, two arms, a head, a nose. We both wake up in the morning, both go to sleep at night. What is the real functional difference between his experience and mine?"
One of the things I noticed is simply that he's "full-time." You and I will come together here this morning, and with enough mutual support and encouragement, we may open and open, and gradually be willing to feel the Living Spirit with each other, open and trusting and experiencing the preciousness of being together in this mystery where we are God yet we are separate, and we can't figure it out but it has something to do with love.
And then the service ends and we go out to our cars and on the way home we stop for gas or at a bagel shop or whatever, and you and I are then willing to pretend with the gas station attendant or with the waiter or waitress at the bagel shop that life isn't so sacred, that this is just a bagel going on, this is just getting gas; we won't look in their eyes, we won't be intimate; it's like an unspoken agreement not to feel how precious we are to each other.
The Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa simply don't turn it off! They go in there and see a Precious Child of God taking their Divine Credit Card for the Sacred Gas, and they don't hide it from that person taking the credit card! Their whole presence says "It's all equally sacred. Getting gas, praying in church, buying a bagel, all the same Mysterious Miracle. I live in Love, so of course I am in Love with you, and when I walk through that door then I'll be in Love with whomever or whatever is through that door."
A popular American Buddhist meditation teacher asked the Dalai Lama a question which seems to be a favorite notion in our culture: "Your Holiness, how do you feel about the issue of needing to take time for ourselves? You know, our need to drop out of our roles and just take time off, how do you feel about that?"
The Dalai Lama turned to his translator, Tenzin Geyche, who explained it a little more in Tibetan, but he still couldn't understand the question. So the fellow rephrased it about four different times, and finally the Dalai Lama got it. He burst out laughing and said "Buddha time off? Bodhisattva time off? Hahahahahaha." What a concept!
Do we need time off from breathing? What would happen if we take time off from breathing? Every movement, every thought, every breath we take is our only begotten Son of God, God's expression into the world. Why create separateness between "me and the community," or "me and life," with expressions like "I need time for myself, and I deserve it!" That just reinforces our duality.
Sure, we need to eat, relax, play with our family — but because it's natural, not because there is any inherent conflict between altruism and self-care. Besides, the only real rest from all our roles and identities would be, as the monk Father Theophane would put it, "to throw away our silly smiles, fall to our knees, clutch his hand and whisper, 'Father!'''
That's a perfect description of a period of daily spiritual practice: "I throw away my silly smile" — all my clever ideas, what I'm wearing, what I look like, who Bo Lozoff is, what I drive, how much money I earn, how much good I want to do in the world, what I'm going to say in this sermon — I throw away my silly ideas, fall to my knees, clutch his hand and whisper "Father." That's the opportunity we all have to take a real break from the tediousness and weariness of our worldly lives. Nothing less is truly "time off."
One of the things I love most about the spiritual journey is the humbling equality with which we are born. Regardless of wealth or race or culture or era, we are all born with several conditions exactly the same:
The first Great Equality is that the moment we are born, whether we are born in a crack house or the White House, we have no idea when or how we will die. We have no idea whether we will live to be 6 months old or 105 — the Greatest Humbler of all!
The second Great Equality is that we have no idea who or what the most important influences of our lives will be. Looking back on the past, we may say, "Wow, little did I know when I woke up that one fateful morning, that was the day my life would change forever . . ." But when we actually woke up that morning, it was impossible to see. It takes practice to realize equally every day of our lives, every moment, every person we meet, "This could be the most important experience of my life." That attitude of perpetual openness is reflected in the core of both the Jewish and Christian traditions, of being ready every moment for the appearance of the Messiah — the instrument of our deepest salvation. It can come in any form, from joy or sorrow, success or failure, alone or with multitudes. We must therefore have infinite respect for the spiritual potential of all people and experiences.
The third Great Equality — our Common Tasks. We also are born with several equal duties. One of the interesting ideas that has come up over the past thirty years in the West is "I create my own reality." There is, of course, some truth in that. We surely create some of the mind-body attitudes which can lead to illness or health, but to take that idea into the realm of the deepest spiritual truths is to miss the boat by a mile.
We don't really create all our own reality. If you say "I choose for my heart to digest food instead of pump blood," that's simply not going to work. There is a certain obedience and surrender required to the natural and spiritual laws. The stomach digests food, the heart pumps blood, the lungs process air. Everybody is born with many equal physical responsibilities.
Everyone is born with a spiritual responsibility also, as specific as our hearts pumping blood: We must learn to love one another, to receive and express goodness. It doesn't matter whether we believe in it or not. Obey it and we will thrive, disobey it and we won't. Period. Isn't that wonderful? Our human justice system may be all screwed up, but the Divine Law treats us absolutely equally.
Look all over the world and see the people who unselfishly receive and express goodness, who are dedicated to the cause of love. They're the only people who are truly happy. They have tapped into the one mysterious, wonderful connectedness that frees them to live full-time in love. Some of them had great childhoods, some were horribly abused, some are pretty, some are homely, some tall, some short, rich, poor — our situations are always unequal, but life does not judge us by where we've been, what we own, or what has been done to us; life judges us by what we do.
Every religion tells us in one way or another that "the Word becomes flesh." But we, the flesh, must become the Word as well. That's what happens when we are enlightened — a constant loop of the Word becoming flesh and the flesh becoming Word endlessly. Nobody home but God; no ego-self experiencing fear and selfishness; nothing going on but the Sacred being conscious of being Sacred, of existing simultaneously as formless and form; Word and flesh; Divine Love and Human Compassion.
There's something in the East called Sanatana Dharma, which roughly means "Eternal, Universal Truth," and it consists of only three principles:
1. There is indeed something transcendent, beyond comprehension, something divine. It's real. It exists.
2. Each of us — you and I, not just the Dalai Lama, St. Francis, Mother Teresa — but you and I, can and must directly experience this divinity.
3. That is the only purpose of life. Everything else, who we are, what we look like, how old, how wealthy, how poor, how much or how little we suffer or find happiness, what we do for a living, what we do in the world, how many children we have, EVERYTHING else is a support system toward our direct experience of the eternal Great Mystery.
There are so many compelling forces pushing us to forget that all life is sacred, that this is all just a process of our experiencing God. There are so many compelling forces saying "You need this" and "you need that," and "be wary of that" and "be afraid of her" and "be upset over what they did to you." How can we possibly remember that we are the flesh becoming the Word of God? PRACTICE! It takes a lot of practice to remember our depth when we're being constantly hustled to be shallow and materialistic toward the goals of a culture built around consumerism.
Coming out of retreat and looking around at my own culture, looking at the crises that we are in, the problems that exist in the American family, I saw that, on the one hand, many of us have come a long way in order to be able to acknowledge Eastern masters, saints from other traditions. But where are the American realized beings? Where are our enlightened elders, where are the "Word become Flesh" in people who share our cultural experience, who share the bombardment of Ninja Turtles and McDonalds and all of that, who come from the same place, yet have transformed entirely and died into the living spirit "for the benefit of all beings?"
I started thinking, "I'll bet there are some in monasteries, convents, caves right now who are from the American culture and are just about ready to come out and say 'Here we are,''' but that didn't really fly, because a little voice in me said, "Schmuck, you're it!" Me. You. Little old us. If not me or you, it's not going to happen.
The American realized beings, people whose motivation is so compassionate toward our own people, our own unique situation of being brought up in this bizarre combination of unparalleled affluence amid vast spiritual loneliness and confusion — they've got to come from among us. Are we willing? Our people are so confused and dismayed, so fearful, jaded, and unhappy, can we take that as inspiration and encouragement to get on with our awakening?
What is it that turns us into a being whose very presence quietly, modestly evokes the best in others? It's practice, and then putting what we practice into expression. So that's what I mean by Sacred Living, Sacred Practice.
What this country needs more than anything else is for us to become elders, walking the streets and doing our jobs, really happy, classic, ageless spiritual human beings. So that's the opportunity we have and I don't think any people in the history of the world has ever had more access to the methods and ideas for how to do that.
(From Sunrise magazine, June/July 2005; copyright © 2005 Theosophical University Press)
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The wise person never resents but welcomes all difficulties for he knows that when they fall upon him he has the most favorable of all opportunities to accomplish the seemingly impossible. At the hour of struggle, when the odds seem to be the most pressing, the greatest of all feats may be performed — that of conquering the elements of dissension within one's own nature. Such a feat is magical in its stimulating effect upon others.
It is in the intangible realms that lie the potent causes which cast their shadows as effects upon the physical world. Let men look therefore to their thoughts, for it is there that the great wheel of the Law turns in its unerring course. Let us purify the gaping wounds of discord by exerting ourselves as never before to bring into being thoughts imbodying the elements of love and sympathy towards all beings. Let us show that understanding sympathy which is the essence of brotherhood. — Martyn Witter