no fixed point in which we can rest


Note: this is the second of two talks. Please listen first to “It’s All Made Up”.

Last week’s talk, “It’s All Made Up,” was I think a little unsettling to some of us, myself included, to tell you the truth. This week, I want to read some passages from a few spiritual writers that may shed some light on that notion. And that may give us some comfort, if we need it.

I think what that talk was trying to say goes something like this. In the phenomenal world, the world of Form, there’s no fixed point in which we can rest. Not in our self-concept, or in the makeup of what we call reality. The Diamond Sutra says, “Abiding nowhere, mind arises.” This Buddhist assertion is unsettling because we need that fixed point to define ourselves and to function well and efficiently – or at least we think we do. But listen to some words from three spiritual masters as they address that perceived need. Let’s start with Zen, which may be the hardest to take in. Here’s a passage from The Wisdom of the Zen Masters, by Irmgard Schloegl:

If in every mind burns a flame of the Buddha’s Enlightenment there is nothing to seek and nothing to acquire. We are enlightened, and all the words in the world will not give us what we already have. The man of Zen, therefore, is concerned with one thing only, to become aware of what he already is, of the Self within, of his inseverable Oneness with the total Buddha-Mind. Meanwhile this mind is wedded to thought/feeling, and each is sadly clouded with desire for self, the most virulent illusion of all.

These thoughts and desires all work in the field of duality in concepts themselves pressed into the mould of words. As such they can never contain, much less express, Truth, and not even the noblest intellect can ever know. It can study the opposites each in turn but can never with thought alone attain the state before division, when the opposites are seen still undivided, as totally, and at the same time, both. Thus, truth and falsehood are seen by the enlightened mind as dual aspects of the Truth; the ugly and beautiful as dual modes of Beauty; good and evil as both subsumed in Good. And these are truly known as a triple aspect of That which alone forever is, the Fullness/Void, the Absolute.

Now, here is Thomas Merton, the Christian mystic, thinker, writer, and Zen aficionado. This passage comes from his book New Seeds of Contemplation, which many of us have read during our spiritual journey. Merton seems to be saying that there is that which lives and endures beyond our everyday (his Absolute, or Emptiness, I think), but at the same time we are driven to process the phenomena of life (his Form) out of all reality. Here:

What is serious to men is often very trivial in the sight of God. What in God might appear to us as “play” is perhaps what he Himself takes most seriously. At any rate, the Lord plays and diverts Himself in the garden of His creation, and if we could let go of our own obsession with what we think is the meaning of it all, we might be able to hear His call and follow Him in His mysterious, cosmic dance. We do not have to go very far to catch echoes of that game, and of that dancing. When we are alone on a starlit night; when by chance we see the migrating birds in autumn descending on a grove of junipers to rest and eat; when we see children in a moment when they are really children; when we know love in our own hearts; or when, like the Japanese poet Bashō we hear an old frog land in a quiet pond with a solitary splash–at such times the awakening, the turning inside out of all values, the “newness,” the emptiness and the purity of vision that make themselves evident, provide a glimpse of the cosmic dance.

For the world and time are the dance of the Lord in emptiness. The silence of the spheres is the music of a wedding feast. The more we persist in misunderstanding the phenomena of life, the more we analyze them out into strange finalities and complex purposes of our own, the more we involve ourselves in sadness, absurdity and despair. But it does not matter much, because no despair of ours can alter the reality of things; or stain the joy of the cosmic dance which is always there. Indeed, we are in the midst of it, and it is in the midst of us, for it beats in our very blood, whether we want it to or not.

Yet the fact remains that we are invited to forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnity to the winds and join in the general dance.

In this final sentence, I think Merton is inviting us to experience the limitless possibilities we’re presented with as we move through our lives.

Finally, here are the words of Richard Rohr, cited on the web in an article titled “Join in the Dance”. He closes his article by quoting the end of Merton’s passage, cited earlier. Here’s what Richard Rohr says about all this:

Once you learn to take your place inside the circle of praise and mutual deference, all meaningful distinctions between secular and sacred, natural and supernatural, fall away. In the Divine Economy, all is useable, even our mistakes and our sin. The cross shouted this message of “failure undone and used,” yet we still struggle to hear or accept it.

Everything is holy now. The only resistance to that divine flow of holiness and wholeness is our human refusal to see, to enjoy, and to participate.

We are each a transmitter station, a relay station, but sadly this is somehow humiliating for the ego. I was so happy when I first preached in Germany and found out that my last name, Rohr, was translated as “conduit” or “pipe.” Alleluia!

But my ego self is not satisfied to be a pass-through account; it wants to be a substantial “Richard Rohr!” Yet this small, egoic frame of reference is going to be gone in a few years in the form that I presently identify with. All I can be is a part of the circle of praise. Just knowing that I’m part of the team becomes more than enough, especially when I recognize that it was all given to me freely anyway. … We each get our little chance to dance on this stage of life, to reflect the glory of God back to God and to participate with everything and everyone else.

Once again, limitless possibilities, which live in potential in each of us, in all of us.

Absolute. God. All.