Spirituality & Eco-Responsibility, and Never the Twain Shall Meet?
While I’d love to see God and faith discussed without the lingering presence of a convenient, unrecyclable plastic (petroleum) water bottle (let’s walk our mindful talk, shall we?), it’s great to see Father Thomas Keating—one of the great souls and teachers and presences in Christianity today, a gentle man whom I remember from back in the ’80s when I, as a child, attended (was dragged along to) the Buddhist-Christian Dialogues hosted by Chogyam Trungpa—and it’s great to see him in conversation with one of modern philosophy’s greatest minds and most forceful, charismatic characters: Ken Wilber of Integral Naked.
via Integral Naked:
Religious, but not Spiritual?
Good News and Bad News from Christianity, with Father Thomas Keating.
It takes a moment to reconcile oneself to the fact that the religious tradition of St. Francis and Mother Theresa is also the tradition of the Crusades and the Inquisition. Fr. Thomas Keating, considered one of the great contemplatives of our time, has spent a lifetime in the practice of Christianity, seeking and sharing its depths. The goal of the tradition, suggests Fr. Thomas in this week’s video, is transformation—but transformation into what?
The answer depends on what stage of development you’re at. Beyond becoming a better person (though your family and friends may thank you profusely), beyond even becoming a saint, Fr. Thomas suggests that the goal of the mature Christian life is to become no thing. As with any developmental sequence, the subject of one stage becomes the object of the subject of the next—in this case, until absolute Subjectivity itself. The problem—and the challenge—lie in the fact that, among its 2 billion adherents, relatively few are aware of Christianity’s mystical tradition and contemplative path. Statements like “I’m spiritual, but not religious” actually come from a fairly evolved place, from which one rejects external aspects of the tradition, while still longing for its esoteric wisdom.
Integral spirituality offers an entirely new perspective on this question. From this perspective, we can see that although the stories of the world’s religious traditions vary wildly, the contemplative experience is essentially similar. And from Integral, we can appreciate the stories for what they are, the first rung in a ladder of development—both our own development, and that of anyone on a similar path. In the end, no matter how profound the state in which we experience the divine, it is always interpreted from our stage of development.
Integral also points to the reality of our shadow, and points out that we might need something other than our contemplative practice to bring it into the light. Finally, Integral can help us both to transform into deeper stages of awareness and compassion, and to translate our current stage in the healthiest way possible.
From Comparing the Heart: A Dialogue between Father Thomas Keating and Chögyam Trungpa
Father Thomas Keating: I felt so very much at home in your remark this afternoon, Rinpoche, where you said that the contemplative path, in whatever tradition, is a kind of hidden treasure. And that this treasure has great potential in terms of furthering peace and harmony in the world today. Spiritual awareness is what seems to be missing in our emerging global society. We see interaction on every level: travel, communication, science, education. But the spiritual dimension is missing. So I feel that it is important for the religious traditions to identify and articulate their common understanding of the ultimate or transpersonal experience. Society desperately needs to rediscover values beyond the argumentations of reason. And if the religions themselves are always arguing about doctrinal differences, the deeper message, which is so healing and so fundamental, is never able to come through.
Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche: Yes. That is what catholic means.
Fr. Thomas: Universal.
Rinpoche: Universal, yes.
Fr. Thomas: So many people are hungering for this hidden treasure that we must make every effort to make it known. Even making it known to each other, as you and I are doing now, is a contribution.
Fr. Thomas: I’m sure it has made you, as a Buddhist on the contemplative path, feel a certain joy to find others in various traditions who share something of your own experience of the ultimate. Thomas Merton spoke of his delight at meeting people in Asia whom he immediately felt to be long-lost or long-sought friends on the path.
Rinpoche: Yes. I think it is important to practice the disciplines of the particular traditions properly. I have witnessed some churches trying to be more modern by playing jazz on Sunday for their youth group. That kind of social activity becomes their focus. They interject a little spirituality, but mostly they feel guilty introducing religion. I feel disheartened by that. What I want to see is the actual practice of discipline, whatever that discipline is. In order to have any realization—in order to discover God or enlightenment, or whatever term we might use—discipline is very important. But there is a lot of apology about that, which is unfortunate. For instance, in the Catholic Church, it is being said that there are too many saints, so a lot of them are being removed.
Fr. Thomas: Hopefully there will be a few more to take their place! [ Laughter]
Rinpoche: And the original Latin liturgy has been translated into native languages. But Latin, as I see it, has magic. And so does Greek or Russian.
Fr. Thomas: Those ancient liturgical languages of course have a very great beauty and richness of spiritual teaching. A lot has been lost in the transition between the original languages and the vernacular of today.
Rinpoche: There seems to be a lack of respect for language and elocution in America. In fact, lately I have been reintroducing the English language to my students, so they could speak good English. Then they could speak good dharma, good Buddhism.
Fr. Thomas: Could I ask you, in relation to this topic of good language and discipline, whether you feel the value of silence—the capacity to listen, to be open to the teacher—is not also important. In Latin, the word to obey literally means “to listen deeply.” By listening in this way, one can respond from the depth of hearing, and one’s whole being becomes a gift to the teaching or the teacher, as the case may be.
Rinpoche: What is the word in Latin?
Fr. Thomas: Obaudire is the term that became obedience in English. It means “to listen thoroughly or deeply.”
Rinpoche: That seems to be the same as ka in Tibetan. Our lineage, is called Kagyu.Ka means “command” or “to listen deeply” or “to take something into your heart.” And gyu means “the lineage of those who listen.”
Fr. Thomas: That’s wonderful because, in the Trappist tradition from which I come, silence is the value that is given predominance. A strict rule of silence was honored when I first entered the monastery. Since then it has been mitigated to some degree, but it is still one of the primary disciplines in our tradition. It provides the context in which to meditate. You come to the meditation, or to the contemplative practice, already prepared by the atmosphere of silence and peace. And then you go out of the silence and try to express that peace in relationships in the community. I noticed that in this community, you emphasize hospitality very strongly. I have never been treated so well! It makes the heart feel warm. This is what we understand, too, by Christian charity, but I have never seen it done so well. I really have a heartfelt admiration for that spirit of gratitude and openness in the community here. It seems to be the fruit of good practice.
Rinpoche: Generosity is very important in Buddhism. In Sanskrit there is a word,dana, which at its Indo-European root is related to “donation.” Dana is generosity, or giving in. Dana is also connected with devotion and the appreciation of sacredness. Sacredness is not purely a religious concept alone, but it is an expression of general openness—how to be open, how to kiss somebody, how to express the emotion of giving. You are giving yourself, not just a gift alone. So real generosity comes from developing a general sense of kindness. We have to understand the real meaning of a voluntary gift; it is that you are able to give without expecting anything in return. Usually when you give something you expect some reward. But in this case, you don’t expect anything. This is expressed in the meditation posture. When you sit in meditation, you open your arms, your front. You just open. So you are not conducting your religious practice in a business fashion. I think that attitude has a lot to contribute to the Western world. Some people think that God should give them something because they did something good for God.
Fr. Thomas: Yes, there is a certain amount of that, unfortunately. People might think that if the reward isn’t forthcoming, something must be wrong, and they give up the whole thing. But that disposition of devotion which you just described is exactly what is meant by true charity in the Christian sense; it is not self-seeking, but self-giving. Isn’t it also true, in Buddhist meditation practices, that the habit of expressing one’s dedication, or resolution to continue the practice, and to submit to its growing pains and to the direction of the guru or the master is important? Is not dedication another quality that is almost as essential as devotion in order to keep on the path? It seems to me to be like the two banks of a river, which enable the energy—both the spiritual energy and the energy of the emerging psychological unconscious—to flow through. Without these two banks one would be swept away. And the practice of devotion and dedication enables one to have a stable or skillful means to direct those energies to efforts that are constructive, such as to use them in service to others and to further the development of one’s consciousness.
Rinpoche: Yes. That is also connected to the idea of giving up one’s ego, one’s egomania.
Fr. Thomas: Could you define the word ego? I also like to use this term, but I know that it has a precise psychological meaning which is not the same as the way you or I might use it, in the context of meditation. For the psychologist, the ego is an entity. One’s self-consciousness is crystallized into a kind of identity or individuality which separates us from other people. Egolessness is a very difficult concept; it is not really understood by modern psychology. Exactly how would you define ego, as it is discussed in Buddhist meditation?
Rinpoche: I think basically it is that which produces aggression, passion, and ignorance. And ego is not regarded as the devil’s work, particularly. Ego can be transformed into wakefulness—into compassion and gentleness. But ego is that which holds to itself unreasonably. In English we say ego-centered, for instance, or egomaniac.
Fr. Thomas: Is there an ego that is uncentered?
Fr. Thomas: And what name would you give to that? Egolessness?
Rinpoche: Egolessness; yes. Or shunyata.
Fr. Thomas: Let me ask this question, then—which may actually be coming from a confusion of terms—but when one has shed this egocenteredness, with its aggression and selfish self-seeking, there is still an identity left, which may actually be very good. This identity is experienced as self-control, goodness toward others, or even as union with God. And yet, that which is in union with God is still a self, a self-conscious or personal self. So now, is egolessness a further stage of the spiritual journey, a stage in which even a good ego, a transformed ego, ceases to exist? And would this experience be what Zen Buddhists call “no-self”?
Rinpoche: Well, I think now we have reached the key point. Egolessness means that there is no ego—at all.
Fr. Thomas: That’s what I thought it meant. So I’m glad to have that clarification. This is not at all understood in modern psychology.
Rinpoche: And union with God cannot take place with any form of ego. None whatsoever. In order to be one with God, one has to become formless. Then you will see God, or the God, whatever.
Fr. Thomas: This is the point I was trying to make for Christians by quoting the agonizing words of Christ on the cross, where he asked God, “Why have you forsaken me?” His sense of personal relationship with God, as God’s son, seems to have disappeared. Many interpreters say, “Oh well, it was only temporary.” But I am inclined to think, in light of the Buddhist experience of no-self, that he was passing into this stage beyond the personal self, however holy and beautiful that self was. So that stage would then have to be defined as the primary Christian experience, too. Christ has called us Christians not just to accept him as savior, but to follow the process which brought him to that final stage of consciousness.
Rinpoche: Well, it could be said that Christ is like sunshine, and God is like the sky, blue sky. In order to experience either one of them, you have to be without the sun first. Then you begin to develop the dawn.
Fr. Thomas: Yes!
Rinpoche: And then you begin to experience sunshine; the sky becomes blue. First you have to have nothingness, nonexistence. It’s like jumping out of an airplane. First you experience space, and then your parachute begins to open. You jump out of the airplane, which is gone by then.
Fr. Thomas: Yes. But then out of that nothingness there begins to emerge a new life, which is not one’s own, but is without a self and is united with everything else that is.
Rinpoche: That’s right.
Fr. Thomas: So that’s a similar experience in Buddhism. It is our understanding of Christ in his glory—he is so at one with the ultimate reality that he has completely merged into it . . .
Rinpoche: In order to be ultimate you have to be a non.
Fr. Thomas: A nun?
Rinpoche: Non. Nonexistent.
Fr. Thomas: Well, that’s the ultimate of the ultimate.
Rinpoche: Yes. [ Laughter ]