Transcendence of Enshrined Form and the Grave of Initiation
It’s always interesting to me when folks show surprise (or, occasionally, utter shock) at my speaking in terms that point through the transitory nature of religious convention. Recently this arose with a new student, and I subsequently reflected on it in light of my solemn monastic profession. For those who are unfamiliar with that rite in Catholic Christian tradition, it is the final vows that monastics make, often referred to as ‘life vows’. A universal and prominent component of this rite is a ceremonial death-and-burial, in which the candidate for solemn vows lies in full prostration on the ground, is completely covered with a large black funerary shroud and left there for a portion of the ceremony, while the Liturgy goes on without him or her.
In my own experience of this, one of my monastic students, Br. Aidan, placed a traditional Scottish tartan over my body, symbolizing my ancestral inheritance; then an old Eastern Orthodox funeral shroud printed with an icon of the crucifixion (very similar to what is depicted on the ‘Great Schema’ of some Orthodox monastic Elders), which was gifted to me and our community years ago by a dear former seminary professor; and finally the black funeral shroud. Those first two layers were dearly held things that were in one sense an integral part of my ritual death, but at the same time things that, because they were so dearly held, I knew I also had to die to in that process. The essential symbolism of this act of ritual burial is that the monastic is finally, sacramentally, then and there, once and for all, dying to the phenomenal world and to every other possible path of experience that would otherwise be open to him or her in this lifetime.
In my understanding,—and I’m confident this reflects the understanding of the ancient tradition, too—the fully vowed monastic is, if nothing else, one who is fully immersed in the process of dying absolutely to the false construct of ‘self’, as well as to every phenomenal, worldly attachment, in order to enter non-dual union with the Divine Ground. Obviously, undergoing the symbolic sacramental rituals of a rite like Solemn Profession does not magically make it so—: they don’t suddenly bring one to full awakening in non-dual awareness; rather, the outward dimensions of the rite further the depth of the process toward awakening that has been unfolding throughout many years of previous formation, ascetical and contemplative practice. They also ‘energetically’ close doors that might otherwise have remained open, narrowing one’s focus even further on the authentic aim of the monastic (and, in this case, the contemplative) life.
When I was ordained a Buddhist monk in 2003, the same essential feeling was impressed upon me: a ‘dying’ in pursuit of total freedom by means of renunciation—: real renunciation, which is not a rejection of anything, but a seeing through all things, and a releasing of one’s delusional grasping at phenomena. This is a recurring theme of what might be called the ‘perennial wisdom tradition’.
Fully entering a life of renunciation means inwardly dying to all concepts—about anything and everything, including God, metaphysical dogmas, and all the other elements of cultural-religious convention. Why? Because one has discovered (or must come to discover), in dying to ‘self’ and all phenomena, that all such things are contrivances of the human mind, cultural constructs, and they are not God, or even adequate representations of the ineffable Mystery we point to with that term. As St. Eckhart reminds us, we will have to eventually die to God as well—that is, to all our concepts about God—since we know for certain that nothing we can say about that eternal Mystery is actually true, and no image, idea, belief, or conditioned experience can truly reflect it. (This is also beautifully laid out in St. Dionysius’s treatise, Mystical Theology.) Hence, the jñāna yogīs of Vedāntic tradition commit to perpetually cutting through all thoughts and appearances with the sword of discernment, saying with everything: neti, neti: ‘not this, not this’. Nothing that’s created or conditioned can be the Mystery we’re seeking.
One who has gone down to the grave and touched the depths of self-surrender has effectively died to everything. There’s no holding certain things back or choosing ‘favorite pets’ as exceptions to the rule; that would only mean more attachments and thus more distractions from what is ultimate, from what ancient Hermetists sometimes called the One Thing. This invokes for me a motif found frequently in the sayings of the Desert Mothers and Fathers about not keeping back even a little bit of money in one’s cell as a ‘safety net’. That’s not full surrender. (In the present context, the monetary dimension of the motif is metaphorical, of course, pointing to the holding back of certain select attachments, favored ideational constructs, beliefs: whatever we want to continue to imagine can give us ‘security’.) That kind of subtle, devious jockeying against the authentic aim of illumination or awakening only reifies the false duality of the state of delusion and needless suffering—what Hindus and Buddhists call samsāra. Therefore, nothing can be carried over into contemplative life from the life of attachment to phenomena: no contrivance of mind, nothing framed by human thought. And this unequivocally includes even the most ‘sacred’ thoughts and personally prized religious ideations, which are, at the end of the day, still just made of thought—and thought itself isn’t made of anything at all.
There should be no surprise, then, when those of us who have thusly died—not just ceremonially, but in actuality, in the way we live and speak—teach or otherwise express ourselves in language and behavior that reflects the fact of that kenosis. A perennial hope of monasticism in the great religious traditions—and of many non-monastic schools of mystical training as well—is that the sharing of the fruits of this emptying would be for others not a source of fear and unwelcome destabilization, but rather an inspiring witness, to help in some small way in the universal project of apokatástasis, or, in Buddhist terms, bringing all sentient beings to enlightenment, to realization of their own true nature. Without the compassionate intention to create the conditions where that might be so, probably none of us would bother to teach or even remain much in contact with ‘the world’ at all.
Those who say ‘yes’ to this path of emptying—which is to say, legitimate contemplatives of any variety—will have to progressively shed more and more attachments, until finally nothing remains but that which was never created and never dies, cannot be spoken, and cannot be thought.
So, my friends, a humble invitation: Don’t be shocked by speech or actions from such persons that doesn’t conform to the normative, mainline doctrine of the particular religious context(s) in which they happen to presently reside. Moving beyond those constraints is an expected and hoped for stage of the path toward perfect freedom. There is a golden thread of wisdom running through many of the world’s religious traditions, the essence of which is transcendent of each and all of those traditions. This may be new information for you, and it may threaten some of your dearly held assumptions about reality—and that’s okay. I would simply encourage you to sit with that, explore it further, and be open, rather than rigidify and resist. And it’s sometimes useful also to recall that, whether we want to acknowledge it or not, all of the things we hold most dear are constantly moving, rapidly changing, conditional, and always provisional. This includes, of course, all the culturally constructed artifices of religion we like to imagine are somehow trans-human, magically pure and unaffected by the conditioned vicissitudes of phenomenal existence.
Once upon a time I had a Pāli saying of the Buddha, rendered in Devanāgarī, tattooed on my arm—well, technically I still do, but because the lettering had been put on too small (I was young and didn’t yet know enough about tattooing), it now lives underneath a Pictish motif. This saying is still very significant for me, and I think of it often. It translates roughly to: ‘All conditioned things are impermanent, subject to rise and fall. Once they arise, they must cease. And their stilling is bliss.’ I think that just about summarizes the situation perfectly.
Along the way, provisional reality must have its day, of course, and it must be embraced to the extent that it helps us (somewhat paradoxically) to eventually let go of it. In the realm of the relative, we still need to strive for the goal, we still need self-discipline, we have to have some structure or pattern of life, we need some legitimate wisdom teachings to follow, and, above all, we must practice. But we do well, firstly, to adopt those provisional forms that actually help us rather than hinder us by weighing us down with needless, extraneous dogmas or unhelpful thought-forms; and, secondly, whatever we do embrace and utilize, we do well to simultaneously know it as utterly transparent and ephemeral. Not this, not this…
And if in your travels you happen to hear something that has in it the harmonious notes of wisdom, but challenges your beliefs and assumptions, I encourage you to listen—to listen with the ear of the heart.
Fr. Brendan+ (Sumuktānanda)
Spiritual healing is the process of addressing the root causes of emotional and mental distress by connecting with one's innermost self, one's higher power, or the universe as a whole. It involves letting go of negative emotions, beliefs, and patterns that no longer serve us, and cultivating positive qualities such as love, compassion, and forgiveness. Spiritual healing can be achieved through various practices such as meditation, prayer, mindfulness, energy work, and self-reflection. It is not necessarily a substitute for medical or psychological treatment, but rather a complementary approach that can enhance one's overall well-being and help to facilitate the healing process on a deeper level. Ultimately, spiritual healing is about finding inner peace, harmony, and a sense of purpose that transcends the physical and material aspects of existence.
Una nube en mi mente en estas últimas semanas.
Sin estar segura aún si lo que “molesta” es la intermitencia o la persistencia, ni siquiera las palabras son capaces de formar frases coherentes, así como fluyen los sentimientos que vienen y van. No lo considero aún caótico, no estoy ruminando, al menos; tampoco es vacío, o soledad... algo de lo que sí soy consciente es que la sensación mejora cuando simplemente la dejo ser, fluir. Cuando no me apresuro, cuando me tomo el tiempo necesario para realizar alguna actividad o no hacerla, cuando no caigo en las redes de la indecisión.
Realmente no quisiera ponerme a sobrepensar lo que estos días en particular tratan de enseñarme, o es simplemente acerca de la entrega y la aceptación, de conectar con la calma que reside permanentemente en mi interior y que extrañamente siento aún más fuerte que nunca.
Recordar que soy más de cualquiera cosa que esté ocurriendo.
Kaptam egy üzenetet, igaz késve, de amikor önmagam elengedésének folyamatában voltam, jelzett a telefonom, arról a telefonról, amit elloptak egy hete, március 13.-án. Amikor újat sikerült intéznünk az üzletvezető is elmesélte a történetét. Neki is ellopták munka közben, s ha bár két órával később meglett a tag, a telefont már akkor szétszerelték. Nem lett meg. Én azért éreztem, hogy az enyém visszakerül hozzám. Most, megint homály fedi a hollétét, mert lokátorral már nem tudom megkeresni. Valami történt. Kaptam egy leckét. Szerintem nincsenek jó vagy rossz leckék. Leckék vannak, amik megtanítanak valamire, amit neked kell kitalálni és itt is a nyugalom lét életbe, hogy átgondold és gondolkozz rajta. Én is leszűrtem belőle amit tudtam. Beszélhetek úgy az emberekkel, mintha saját magammal beszélnék, kedvesen, de ők nem én vagyok. Habár mind egyek vagyunk, mindenki más energia. Tudom magamról, hogy megbízható vagyok, de más nem ezt eredményezi egy kedves beszélgetés közben/után. Habár nem merült fel a gondolat bennem, hogy megbízható, vagy sem, visszagondolva mindenkivel úgy beszéltem, hogy az természetes, hogy ha kedves akkor megbízható is. Mivel nem futottak le ilyen gondolatok a fejemben, nem éreztem, hogy vigyázni kell a dolgaimra. Úgy viselkedtem ahogy szoktam, amikor nem kell odafigyelnem a dolgaimra, mert tudom, hogy ott lesznek ahol hagytam őket. Azóta jobban figyelek erre, s bár nem tudom mi lesz a kis telefonom sorsa, nyugodt maradok. Az, hogy érkezett egy újabb nyomravezető jel felőle, most nem változtat a dolgokon. Este van, amit tudtam, hogy tudtára adom a rendőröknek, megtettem. Továbblépek és folytatom az estémet ezzel a nyugalommal. Persze nem ez a nyugalom volt bennem, de újra elgondolkoztam azon, mit taníthat most ez a szituáció és lenyugodtam. Akkor váltottam át és folytatom az estémet, a telefonos gondolataimról ellapozva.