Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Circle of Compassion

“The heart becomes wide by forgetting the self, and narrow by thinking of the self and by pitying one's self. To gain a wide and broad heart you must have something before you to look upon and to rest your intelligence upon, and that something is the God-ideal.”

-Hazrat Inayat Khan


Albert Einstein wrote about the delusion of thinking of ourselves as separate entities. He described this limited consciousness as a prison that restricts us to our own personal desires and to a limited affection for the people nearest to us. He said, “Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security.”


To widen our circles of compassion we can call upon the wellspring of love, joy and gratitude deep within our hearts. We can extend these qualities to others regardless of their relationship to us, regardless of whether they like us or not, regardless of whether we even know them or not.


The universe is like a dome. It echoes back whatever we think into it. If we throw dust at the sun, it simply falls back into our own eyes. This is a universal law of existence and it can be a great teaching device if we let it. The universe responds tit for tat. Some would call this is tough love. Perhaps it is, because it is Love indeed; there is no judgment, no condemnation, just a simple echo.

In the Gospels of Mathew and Luke Jesus says “Judge not, least ye be judged.” What does this mean? If we judge another in truth we are actually judging ourselves. This is the principle of projection. We judge others for what we dislike about ourselves. Judging others constricts the circle of compassion, imprisoning us in the tight little sphere of our own harshness. Putting others first is the antidote to egoic thinking. In attempting to do so all sorts of negative thoughts may arise, giving us a chance to look at them, disbelieve them and let them go


Hazrat Inayat Khan has written: “How beautiful are the words of the Prophet: 'The shrine of God is the heart of man.' How true that is! ... He who understands this can worship God even in man. For when he abides by this philosophy he will always be aware that in every aspect and at every moment he may be injuring or hurting the feelings of God, that he is in danger of breaking the shrine of God in breaking the heart of his fellow man. ... What does all this teach us? It is all a lesson in sympathy for one's fellow man, to teach us to share in his troubles, in his despair. For whoever really experiences this joy of life, finds that it becomes so great that it fills his heart and his soul. It does not matter if he has fewer comforts or an inferior position than many in this world, because the light of his kindness, of his sympathy, of the love that is growing, the virtue that is springing up in his heart, all fill the soul with light. There is nothing now that he lacks in life, for he has become the king of it.”


In other words such a one has opened wide the circle of compassion. When this happens a sweetness suddenly enters our eyes. All we behold is innocent. Innocent of right doing. Innocent of wrong doing. All is doing just what it is doing. This is tolerance. This is forbearance. This is Love.

Know yourself

Know Yourself


The sun lowered itself

And poured warm gold down the funnel of my ear.

It was said:

“Where are you going

With your jaw set in a firm straight line

And the hard light of determination in your eye

Where could you possibly be going?”


“Know yourself as a river

That never left its source

Never left its destination”


The first three lines of this poem describe how this poem came to me. It actually happened that way. The next four lines describe a habitual attitude about how to interact in the world that I had, the hardness of determination to do something and to get somewhere. Then the poem questions that: “Where are you going?” There are of course a lot of pat answers to that question but it was asked (and answered) in the comic sense of “Who are you really?”


Now we come to the last three lines of the poem. The first two words, “Know yourself” could be a shocker to one with the attitude described above. The whole point of being determined to do something and get somewhere is to run away from yourself. At the surface level of course I know myself. How could I not know myself? But then the word “know” when applied to myself is not really satisfied with a surface level answer. The question arises: “What do you mean know myself?” Then another little shocker comes into play: “as a river”. As a river, I am a river? To an embodied person a river is a little fluid maybe something with softened changing boundaries unlike me. But OK, it’s an object, let’s try this metaphor on for size. The last two lines: “never left its source, never left its destination” boggle the mind if it hasn’t been boggled so far. Well yes, a river is at its source always and at its destination always as well. I had never thought about it that way before. But me, how could I be at my source and my destination simultaneously? It must mean the Source and Destination are the same.


Now here certain scriptural passages come to mind for example this from the Gospel of Thomas: “The disciples said to Jesus, ‘Tell us, how will our end come?’
Jesus said, ‘Have you found the beginning, then, that you are looking for the end? You see, the end will be where the beginning is. Congratulations to the one who stands at the beginning: that one will know the end and will not taste death.’’ And in Revelation God says, “I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.” And so we see that our Source is what we are seeking. It is our destination and we have never really left it. It just appears to be that way. When we rediscover our Source we are at home, at peace. This is the meaning of not tasting death, for there at the Source seeking is over and we abide in Eternity.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Little Musk Deer


From spiritual circles comes this story of the little musk deer. One morning a little musk deer smelled a beautiful fragrance. Where could it be coming from? He pointed his nose in the four directions and ran off in the direction he thought it was coming from. He dashed over streams, into a marsh, up over a rocky hill and back into the forest. He just couldn’t rest. He never seemed to get any closer to the source of that beautiful fragrance no matter how fast and hard he ran, until at last he collapsed in exhaustion. And then the fragrance became greater. “Oh my” he gasped, “It’s coming from me!”


This is the dilemma of all spiritual seekers, of all people actually. We are so sure fulfillment is outside of us, just around the next corner; we never stop to consider it lies within us.  We seek it in acquiring more stuff, in our relationships, in a spiritual practice or another talk by a spiritual teacher. In Zen it is said: Don’t mistake the finger pointing to the moon for the moon itself. In other words all spiritual practices are pointers toward that which is already within you. In A Course in Miracles Jesus says “Teach not that I died in vain. Teach rather that I did not die by demonstrating that I live in you.” The Living Christ is a state of Mind, accessible to us at any time we pause to tune into it. If we are aware of it continuously it becomes our living reality. The same thing can be said of Buddha mind.

In the book Broad View, Boundless Heart this story of is recounted: An American student of Buddhism, who later would be named Ajahn Sumedho, went to study with Ajahn Chah the renowned teacher of the Thai forest tradition. At first he was totally enamored of Ajahn Chah but eventually this wore off and he began to get annoyed at certain flaws he seemed to find. At last he could bear it no longer and asked Ajahn Chah for permission to talk to him about it. Ajahn Chah listened carefully and with compassion to this litany of complaints and when it was over he paused for a few minutes and then said: “Perhaps it’s a good thing that I am not perfect, Sumedho, otherwise you’d be looking for the Buddha somewhere outside your own mind."

The Charge


Charge can have several meanings. It could be the charge of the cavalry. It could be the cost of something. But the charge I am thinking about is more like an electrical charge. It is the emotional spark ignited when we get something we want. It’s that high after a shopping spree, or buying a new car or whatever. It lasts but briefly does it not? Then we are off seeking something else to get that charge again. It could also be the charge of sexual desire. Falling in love can often give us the greatest and longest lasting charge. Seeking love, itself can give us a charge and as long as we are seeking we are on fire with desire. Then either we get what we want and quickly lose the charge or we don’t get what we want and lose it. Either way we lose. Just listen to popular music of any decade; it’s either about find love or losing it.


Another way to get a charge is to have someone agree with you. How often does that happen? Yet another way is to win at something, or receive recognition of some sort from other people. Again the charge is so brief we are already looking ahead to the next game, or next award almost before the applause has died down. Is this a way to live a life, running from one charge to the next in a kind of addictive frenzy? Is a world like this satisfying or is it only the pretense of satisfaction?


Spiritual paths of all faiths are based on the need for a fulfilling life. They offer the ultimate in fulfillment- the love of God, or in the case of Buddhism it is phrased as Nirvana. This is supposed to be a permanent fix, the ultimate charge that never goes away but how many people actually attain this? Very few. That is why seekers in all religions end up settling for the everyday charges that go away quickly even in their spiritual search. This would be a totally dismal situation except for one thing. The realization of the futility of running after charges opens the door to a more sober minded search for lasting satisfaction.


You actually have to stop engaging in things that give you a charge, a temporary high. As you do this you may find delight instead, delight in common ordinary things, like the stillness when the refrigerator motor cuts off. Just noticing that can make you happy. And you can still be happy when it goes on again. That is step two, when everything is OK. These small things are the everyday practice of a spiritual life. They bring increasing happiness to your life and ultimately lead to an unbreakable sense of profound wellbeing.

Another Way to Play Scrabble


When thinking about the non-electronic games we play like cards and board games I find two puzzling aspects to them. The first is that we shuffle or otherwise hide information from ourselves and then try to find out what we had hidden. It’s the same screwy logic as hiding Easter eggs. Hopefully all the eggs are found (phew!). But in a card game the location of each card although guessed at is never exactly known until it’s played. The second puzzling aspect that is supposed to make the game fun is completion. Somebody wins and somebody loses. This holds true for every game that I can think of. Winning is supposed to be fun but losing never is. Are these games not a parody of the world at large? Look at the stock market- winners and losers every few seconds and of course the grand total at the end of the day. Even buying a loaf of bread is framed in our minds as either winning or losing. Hey! The bread was on sale. I got something for free! Or it could be “Oh my God. The price of bread went up again”, i.e. I lose. Is either of these states of mind worth having?


Let’s consider a different way of playing games and a different way of thinking. For this I must give most of the credit to my Auntie, who loved to play scrabble. In her later years I used to go over to her house and play with her. Neither she nor I was interested in keeping score- too much work. My Auntie’s idea of winning was to get all of your pieces on the board. Of course that only came into play at the very end of the game. The fun for us was in all the interesting words that came up. I even got her a scrabble dictionary. We found some really strange words in there! Anyway the goal of the game slowly evolved into getting all of the pieces on to the board. This quickly led to co-operation between us. We would even look at each other’s letters and when our turn came we would try to create a word that would help the other uses her difficult letters. It became a game of shared interests, of a common goal. The words that came up were amazingly varied and new. The games were never boring but always challenging and fun.


How would this look in the bigger context of the world at large? Goodness knows there are challenging problems enough in this world. We see some of this in volunteer efforts. People are very generous helping others after a devastating weather event. But can we extend this spirit of generosity and cooperation even further to our everyday actions? What would it be like to make things just a little bit easier for the person next to you at work, and they for you? And at home too often the chores are just that- chores. What if they became opportunities to spend some fun time with each other? Make them into a game of shared interests.

The Christmas Presence


Yes there are Christmas presents. The real gift however is the Christmas presence. Can you stop and feel it? You won’t find it in the boxes of stuff covered in paper. You won’t find it in the twinkle of strings of LED lights. They might remind you of it though. They might remind you of the vast and brilliant white light inside of us. But you might find the Christmas presence in the twinkle of an eye, the twinkle of that vast and brilliant light flashing forth in the eye of one truly happy person. Let that person be you!


Sit for a moment in these long dark evenings and ask to feel the Christmas presence. It is a full body experience of wonder and of awe. A wonder so complete there is no room for anything else, not one shred of doubt. It is a complete falling in to divine love. That’s where the wonder comes from. It is the only possible response of a full and open heart to a love that vast. It is not the wonder born of surprise or novelty. It is a wonder that never wears off, a wonder ever new. The Christmas presence is an experience of wonder and of awe. It is not an awe that is impressed with power, nor envious of power, nor even humbled by power. It is an awe that comes from knowing a power beyond all powers. Such is the power of divine love.


Yes, sit for a moment and ask to feel the Christmas presence. Having felt it you will know completion. And the pleasures you seek in Christmas presents will seem like pale and stale trinkets before it. There’s no harm in Christmas presents unless you use them as a substitute for the Christmas presence. Please do not cheat yourself this way. Please do sit and taste the Christmas presence this winter instead.

For the Love of God


They wrote love poems to God: Lalleswari, Mirabai, Catherine of Sienna, Bibi Hayati, Teresa of Avila, Rabia of Basra, Mechthild of Magdeburg. These God intoxicated women of Hindu, Muslim and Christian faiths broke free of the confines of their cultures and poured out their love of God into their writing. And here is a taste of the banquet:


At the end of a crazy-moon night

The love of God arose

I said, “It’s me Lalla.”


The Beloved awoke

And we became That.

And the mind’s lake is crystal clear.           –Lalleswari (Kashmir, India 1320-1392)



I give my heart without fear to the Beloved.

As polish goes into gold, I have gone into him.     –Mirabai (India, 1498-1550)



What is the mind to do

With something that becomes its own ruin:

A God that consumes us in His grace              –Catherine of Sienna (Italy 1347-1380)



From the moment of time’s first drawn breath

Love resides in us

A treasure locked in the heart’s hidden vault…


What can I do but thank you one hundred times?

Your face illumines the shrine of Hayati’s eyes

Constantly present and lovely.                            –Bibi Hayati (Turkey 1800’s)



The ecstatic death I know.

What can touch His exquisite form

Is not anything that can be seen

How does a soul make love to God?                -Teresa of Avila (Spain 1515-1582)                               



My eyes kept telling me: “Something is missing from all I see.”

So I went in search of a cure.

The cure for me was His beauty.

The remedy was Love.                                       -Rabia of Barsa (Iraq 717-801)




Love flows from God into man

Like a bird rivers the air

Without moving a wing

Thus we move in His world

One in body and soul,

Though outwardly separate in form.      

                                                          –Mechthild of Magdeburg (Germany 1207-1282)