Q. I stumbled on this quote by Rilke just after I had written the mail to you, and somehow I thought it said what I couldn't...
“I live my life in growing orbits which move out over this wondrous world, I am circling around God, around ancient towers and i have been circling for a thousand years. And I still don’t know if I am an eagle or a storm or a great song.”
A. The Rilke quote is beautiful. ”Circling round God...”. I think more and more that there is something important here which I’ve been side-stepping for years: -- that modern western spirituality can amount to circling round psychological states. Even ‘rigpa’ primordial wisdom etc. is framed as a psychological description of ‘my state’, the instrumentality. Zen also frames the goal in terms of states eg. 'Beholding the face before I was born etc.' Enlightenment' as such, also is a state of Psyche.
'God' is something else. 'God' is beyond those states with which I can perceive/know, and is Integral in itself and conscious, as well as integral with my awareness etc. The frame is different, and questions about the implications vis-a-vis contemporary culture are valid. It could appear that popular Buddhism, non-duality and other intellectual approaches have left the axle out of the wheel. (Interestingly , the etymology of 'dukkha' relates to having a badly functioning axle-hole. I get the hole. What constitutes the axle-pole?)
Perhaps the sheer popularity of such approaches, in tune with and therefore comforting to the zeitgeist of the age, speaks to avoiding the challenge of learning how to acknowledge ‘God’. The context of escalating meaninglessness adds further weight to the argument that the world needs more than respectable ‘spiritual’ development, which has really become a psychological/humanist trope. That it needs to name, or at least acknowledge the centre around which all these approaches circle. There, in that pivotal hub, energy is eternal delight. There is power. There must be the I/eye, and it’s fearful, powerful, demanding.
How should we know God for this Age?
Q. You give me lots to ponder as usual, thank you!
If there is a wheel, with a centre, spokes and a circumference, then I guess the rim is as important as the centre, is as important as the spokes. The integrity of the whole wheel.
I guess there are many paths to know the centre. One way might be a transcendental one, negating experience as real or not important, taking the route of witness consciousness to knowledge and potentiality. And another path might be through the circling, through experience, instead of saying 'neti, net'...'not this, not that', saying, 'yes, this, yes, that!' Entering phenomena rather than transcending..?
I have been thinking about this recently. It doesn't make sense to me to be incarnated, Spirit in flesh, with soul, in a world of spontaneously arising phenomena, and not to embrace the circling, to go deeply into it, to experience the arising of phenomena, (but without identifying with it), and yes, to name the source of the manifestation, and to love the process of manifestation.
A. Your wheel metaphor –yes—the whole integrity is equally important, but human experience and formulation selects. The whole wheel is a Path of Knowledge, but spiritual traditions are invariably selective in their focus and compass.
In brief, a little unkindly: God-bods go for the centre; Buddha-wallahs emphasise the rim and an empty centre, and New Agists slide up and down the spokes unable to commit fully to either but determined to eat cake!
(Don’t quote me!)
It’s all about perspective/view, not the reality.
People separate—it’s the nature of mind to divide and rule.
Q. How do you know that you know? Isn't that knowledge your experience? How can you know anything about God, if it’s above anything we can know? And without this knowing being an experience? How do you know that God is fearful, powerful and demanding? Are these not descriptions of an experience of God, just like love, bliss and beauty are descriptions of experiences of God?
I really don't get this! Why is Knowledge in this way different from Zen enlightenment? Or Tantra Liberation? Dzogchen is known as the great eraser, erasing everything that went before.
I remember 15 years ago watching an interview with Jung, where he was asked if he believed in God. He looked straight into the camera and said. 'I don't believe, I know!' That look in his eyes, his presence, and his words have stayed with me ever since. There was something terrifyingly real to me when he said this. He knew God through his own experience, in his very unique way. I guess he went through his circling, through humanness, archetypes, through psyche, through Soul, and he knew God, I have no doubt about it.
I agree that a lot of psychological oriented 'spirituality' misses the centre, avoids naming , getting lost in spiritual gymnastics or psychological states and gets identified with the rim. But I don't think that is any different than many who willingly name the centre with conviction and disregard the rim.
Thank you for enabling the engagement with such interesting metaphors.
A. I don’t think knowing is the same as experiencing. I can experience 15 different emotions, states and ideas before breakfast, and still be pig-ignorant of anything worthwhile. Experiences are a merry-go-round, changing—knowing is the centre, still, and maybe even inarticulate-able.
You saw Jung’s knowing in his eyes; all his thousand words were descriptions of thinking and experience. The eyes have it! (Look up ‘..the shine of the eyes’ in Castaneda's Don Juan)
You’re right:--love, beauty, fearfulness, demanding etc are all my experiences, and may have nothing to do with knowing God. That’s the point! Like everyone else, I’m guessing, extrapolating from my experience. Skillions of words expended, some smart, some dumb, some nearer, some further, but none equal to the glance of one who knows. And who cannot tell you......
But who can, however, describe the state needed to approach it, or help train you in the mental, emotional and physical pre-requisites, and teach the recognition of different states so your perception is refined and increased: Zen, Dzogchen, Tantra can all do this. But my point was that they tend to focus on states, how to get/sustain them, how to work with mind and emotions—so then it’s about me and my psyche. (work on self)
Q. Is God different from Dharmakaya?
A. Dharmakaya describes a state of being doesn’t it? Ie. When I know what the teaching/dharma is really about? But what is it about?
‘God’ changes the emphasis and turns it towards personhood, subjectivity, big Consciousness—and Power.
In 3 definitive words: 'God' must designate the Omni-present, Omni-potent, Omni-scient reality, or nothing does.
Doesn’t that give you a shiver? Not ‘my state’—but the somewhat Other.
I think all I’m saying is that, although one can only ever teach the way to Knowledge, it’s easy to get lost in the Way, caught by the intricacies of approach and the psyche, and forget. Forget the all-present, all -powerful and all-knowing because it’s too ‘omni’, like the air we breathe, too central, too huge, too unwieldy for the mind, too uncomfortable.
Q. What do you mean when you say that you have been side-stepping the circling?
A. I am side-stepping God, the God-question, by sticking with circumnavigation. Maybe it’s time to bring back the axle-pole in one’s own life, and in society’s. Like Rilke, and you, I love that axis which I sensed right from the beginning, and with all my circling, it’s still there, exactly as it was, and being so slight and grey compared with the lurid colours of experiencing, it is knowing.
I listen to a lot of wise contemporary teachers on YouTube, and am often moved by the truth of their words and the excellence and coherence of their particular approach. But none of them engage with ‘God’ in any form—for good reasons—but He/It is so missing! (Where art thou?) It’s all first line of Work. Not even second, because charitable activities, even in the name of loving-kindness, are rarely second line work.
Q I guess the 'Omni-everything', and us humans not being in charge is particularly hard for our age to grapple with. And yes, I do see how a lot of what goes on and sold as spirituality is just like the other industries that are built on changing one's state; drugs, entertainment, coaching, mindfulness, dancing, coffee, alcohol.
It seems to me that a lot of what we humans do is trying to manufacture ways to create desired states.
And yes, I did see Jung's knowing in his eyes, and something in me recognized that. It did shine forth, and I never forgot. ( I have no recollection of what he was saying) I haven't seen this thing about shiny eyes in Castaneda.
I read your writing, and I KNOW what you mean. Somehow all the swirling around the rim got centralized, or still. And I remember something....not with my mind, or my emotions, or my habitual self.
I still don't understand why that remembering, however other, and inarticulata-ble, isn't an experience? It's an experience of a different kind, a different order, perhaps. Maybe a trans personal experience? But for me to be able to know this, there is something in me that is awake to, notices, experiences this subtle shift, that is able to notice that the swirling around the rim or perhaps gliding along the spokes...stopped. Something in me that is not merged with the experience, an inner witness, which receives this knowing that suddenly becomes available, uncovered.. I cannot say what it is, but it is an experience...no?
So I guess Knowing is always there, available…To make it conscious is to bring it into experience, isn't it?
A. OK, that makes sense, but do you need to conflate the two terms, conscious and experience?—can you be conscious without being conscious of (experience) something?
Do you need to understand knowing, or do you just know?
I think it might come down to subject and object.
Subject knows/stands/is conscious. When I, subject, know some thing, an object, then I ‘have’ an experience.
Maybe it’s just wordplay, but I think we need to be weaned off dependence on objects, and be able to stand—like a tree.
Q. Thank you for your patience in staying with my sliding up and down the spokes, and sometimes eating cake!