Suchness and Form

Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source, the infinite mystery of the universe, is described in many ways:  word, breath, spirit, formless, suchness, energy, nameless with a thousand names.  We turn to look and do not see.  We listen, but the sound escapes us.  But somewhere in our being, everywhere in and beyond our being we know, we revel, we delight.

This Teacher of mine, this Teacher of mine – he passes judgment on the ten thousand things but he doesn’t think himself severe; his bounty extends to ten thousand generations but he doesn’t think himself benevolent.  He is older than the highest antiquity but he doesn’t think himself long-lived; he covers heaven, bears up the earth, carves and fashions countless forms, but he doesn’t think himself skilled.  It is with him alone I wander.  Taosim.  Chuang Tzu 6*

The sages have sifted and filtered the light for us and with us, spoken pieces of the word, cast metaphor on the formless, seen spirit in the manifest:

Just as light is diffused from a fire which is confined to one spot, so is this whole universe the diffused energy of the supreme Brahman.  And as light shows a difference, greater or less, according to its nearness or distance from the fire, so is there variation in the energy of the impersonal Brahman.

Vishnu is the highest and most immediate of all the energies of Brahman, the embodied Brahman, formed of the whole of Brahman.  On him is the entire universe woven and interwoven: from him is the world, and the world is in him; and he is the whole universe.  Vishnu, the Lord, consisting of what is perishable as well as what is imperishable, sustains everything, both Spirit and Matter, in the form of his ornaments and weapons.  Hinduism.  Vishnu Prana 1.22*

C/S/M/S is the essential energy and spirit.  We are not separate.  We and everything are embodied temporal expression of that spiritual reality.  We fool ourselves into fear when we hide alone in seeming separate ego.  But we hide only from the falsehood of fear.  There is no true hiding from our essential being, the Self that breathed us and is us – the Self that is every rock and tree and is at the same time the no-thing, the mystery we can only sense, only trust, but not fully grasp.

 When appearances and names are put away and all discrimination ceases, that which remains is the true and essential nature of things and, as nothing can be predicated as to the nature of essence, it is called the “Suchness” of Reality.  This universal, undifferentiated, inscrutable Suchness is the only Reality, but it is variously characterized as Truth, Mind-essence, Transcendental Intelligence, Perfection of Wisdom, etc.  This Dharma of the imagelessness of the Essence-nature of Ultimate Reality is the Dharma which has been proclaimed by all the Buddhas, and when all things are understood in full agreement with it, one is in possession of Perfect Knowledge.  Buddhism.  Lankavatara Sutra 83*

We move, we feel, we see, hear, judge and act.  We must never forget who We are as we do these things.  The talent is not to be buried, but to be used to its fullest in the creation of beauty, wonder, compassion, the newness and suchness of each breath.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.  What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.  Christianity.  John 1:1-4 NRSV

We are the Word, spoke into being by I AM.  Thinking ourselves alone we hide in fear under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Awake, we breathe, we create.  Growing, becoming, we heal.  We are, suchness and form, in the image, under the Tree of Life.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  Feel free to quote, as useful, with proper reference.

*From World Scripture, A Comparative Anthology of Sacred Texts, © 1991 by International Religious Foundation.

Jerry Kennell now provides spiritual direction by Skype.  Contact jerry@2treegarden.com.

Science, Religion and the Engagement of Mystery

Let’s be clear.  Humans made religion and not the other way around.  We created our myths.  We were not created by them.  And religion has been, is and will always be no more nor less than our myth making, our dialog with, our effort and yearning to address and connect in a meaningful way with mystical matters of spirit.

Science, on the other hand, and also a discipline of our making, casts ever new light on the physical horizon of mystery.  We learn, with the tool of science, about the material manifestation of something we can never fully name.  And we use what we learn, for better or worse, to fuel our own evolution.

We want to think that our religions have stood forever.  They have not.  They have grown from the seed of our awakening.  They have adjusted and adapted continually, if often reluctantly, to changes in knowledge and culture.  Heresies of only a few centuries ago, like the notion that the earth is a body moving around the sun, are now accepted as simply good science.  And archeological finds, like the complete Gospel of Thomas in the scrolls at Nag Hammadi, give us pause and reason to reflect anew on things we once thought certain, like what Jesus did or did not say.

But our view is too often reactionary, when it should be engaging and embracing, welcoming change while being ever in amazement and awe at the new mystery that unfolds continually before us.

Good science and true religion are never at odds.  They are simply independent disciplines serving completely different purposes.  Science observes and tells us – always provisionally – what and how.  I say provisionally because deeper and more complex discoveries constantly change our view and understanding of things.

Religion explores meaning and gives us – always provisionally – a sense of purpose in the void beyond our physical circumstances.  Again I say provisionally, because the edge of the void, the event horizon between the measured and mystery, is constantly moving.

This change need not be the threat it is so often perceived to be for religion.  We want the event horizon to stay fixed.  And so we focus on battles over the fault line.  We hold tight to ridiculous claims about the number of years since creation or our vision of a Creator that we, more likely than the other way around, made in our own image.

Religion locked in this backward view sets itself up for little more than an equally immature “told ya’ so” from those that claim the latest finding of science as total and ultimate truth, the undoing of dogmatic religion.  But true science is never ultimate and always only provisional.  It is just the next tiny discovery in the puzzle in the face of mystery beyond measure, words or imagination.

When we become stuck in scientism or religionism, we waste time heaving rotten eggs and tomatoes at each other across a false divide of our own imagining.  Respect and wonder are the appropriate positions as we journey relentlessly and together into our home in mystery.  Science pulls back the curtain on amazement at manifestation, things that can be seen and measured.  Let us continually appreciate each new discovery, each speck and marvel revealed on the emerging horizon.

Spiritual experience and exploration grant joy, gratitude, a sense of meaning and blind direction in the engagement of the unmanifest, the mystery within and beyond.

May all who go forward into exploration of the void bring back forever the gifts of knowledge and of the spirit, to be enjoyed in fullness, celebration, appreciation and humility, together, under the Tree of Life.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  Feel free to quote, as useful, with proper reference.

Jerry Kennell now provides spiritual direction by Skype.  Contact jerry@2treegarden.com.

The Authoritative Word

Authoritative is a word often used in reference to scripture.  It implies a superior truth.  Paul claimed that his vision of Jesus, his gospel, was superior to and superseded the Torah of Moses, which he viewed as a temporary or even flawed fix of the human condition and our relationship to the divine.  Muslims claim that the book – the Koran – received by the prophet Mohammed is a more perfect revelation of the word of Allah.  Latter Day Saints claim that the books revealed to Joseph Smith are a more current gospel.

The natural result of any claim to exclusive authority is division and strife.  All are required to make clear cut, dualistic, judging statements of acceptance or rejection.  The response and action of those who decide in favor of a given authoritative word ranges from benign tolerance, to active proselytization, to violent vengeance and retribution.

Christians in the United States busy themselves with bloodying each other and the society around them with special authoritative words for or against select issues of morality.  Islamic fundamentalists feel righteous zeal and justification, based on their authoritative word, in delivering death to the infidel.  The West responds with “justified” violence.  Latter Day Saints take their authoritative word, two-by-two, from door to door.  Jehovah’s Witnesses seem to get by with just one carrier.

I believe – I know in my heart of hearts – that the Authoritative Word is, indeed, one.  It’s just not this one or that one.  The Authoritative Word is beyond the limitations of language.  It is bigger than any single revelation.  It is greater than any set of rules or code of ethics.  It includes all scriptures.  It is none of them.  It is read on all pages, but seen only in blindness.  It is heard by the ear, but known truly in silence.

In essence, the Authoritative Word is.  It manifests in creation and evolution.  It is glimpsed in beauty, felt in kindness, spoken in healing and known intimately in the depths of the heart.  It does not judge and is not judged.  It is not born and never dies.  Found in book, in song, in story, it is none of and beyond all of those things.

All our scriptures exist within the limits of our bodily manifestation.  They are temporary touches and glimpses of the eternal reality, as are the bodily manifestations inhabited by you and me.

When we claim any manifestation as completely and exclusively authoritative, we stay stuck under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  We judge and are judged.  We participate in aggression and defense.  We find ourselves threatened by the enemy or deluded by a false sense of security.

Be still.  Be still and know.  See all, hear all, experience all.  Judge none.  Encounter the Authoritative Word.  Be the timeless, Authoritative Word that you are, through and beyond manifestation, under the Tree of Life.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  Feel free to quote, as useful, with proper reference.

Jerry Kennell provides spiritual direction in person and by Skype.  Contact jerry@2treegarden.com.

Second Birth: The Upanishads, Jesus and the Journey to Self

Recall that the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is a metaphor for the first awakening of human awareness: the ability to perceive a discreet self; the ability and propensity to judge phenomena as good or bad, depending on how we think we are affected; the ability to contemplate life, death and the nature of the universe.  It is, in short, the realization of ego.  In its immature form, the ego only perceives separation and vulnerability, and the response is fear along with a desperate grasping for protection at any cost.

The metaphorical Tree of Life represents a maturation of awareness.  It is achievement of a stage of realization that recognizes the interconnectedness and spiritual nature of life and all that is.  We are no longer just isolated selves, dependent solely on our ability to protect our body and our fragile ego.  We achieve a realization that we are part of something larger, something that transcends time, space and physical manifestation.  We are, in fact, living sparks of the very mind of Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source, breathed full of the breath of life, the creative thrill of the universe.

The garden trees themselves are, in reality, only one.  They simply represent the manifestation of all that is, the complete creative activity of C/S/M/S.  They are the source and stuff of life, the universe and everything (appreciation and apologies to Douglas Adams).  The two trees are not distinguished by their unique and independent natures.  Rather, they are distinguished only by how we view them.  Their names – Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil or Tree of Life – are just indicators of the level of our own spiritual maturity.  Have we grown to a level of trust and comfort with our place in the universe, a place of willingness to give and to receive without fear or grasping?  Do we trust that there is “that” of us that transcends birth and death, space and time?  Or do we see only as much as we can through the blinders of separation and scarcity, good and bad, physical life and death?

The journey from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil to the Tree of Life is, in reality, the journey from small “s” self to capital “S” Self.  Nowhere is that journey presented with more clarity than in the Upanishads, wisdom teachings attached to the Hindu Vedas that grew out of the merger of the Indo-European speaking Aryan culture and the resident culture of the Indus Valley.  This merger of cultures is believed to have happened about 4,000 years ago, placing the Vedas among, if not distinguishing them definitively as the earliest of what we would call scriptures.

The relevance for those of us in the West, particularly as we move away from a spirituality based on original sin and redemption through blood sacrifice, is tremendous.  Here are writings, among the earliest on spiritual reflection and experience, that discover and declare the difference between these two different levels of spiritual maturity.  There is no presentation or burden of guilt, just recognition that we are born into small “s” self and that our task in life is to grow, to mature to capital “S” Self, our connection with and existence in timeless being.

We are, in truest essence, born again when we make this move between the two trees, the journey from disconnected ego to connected essential being.  We achieve this step, our second birth, through renunciation of attachment to the senses – the mindless drive to chase what we think is pleasure and safety and to run from what we perceive as danger and pain.  Renunciation is not separation or disengagement from these life experiences.  Rather, it is to live them fully without attachment, without being driven and governed by them, recognizing their passing existence as opposed to our eternal being.

From the Isha Upanishad*:

6 Those who see all creatures in themselves
And themselves in all creatures know no fear.
7Those who see all creatures in themselves
And themselves in all creatures know no grief.
How can the multiplicity of life
Delude the one who sees its unity?

8The Self is everywhere.  Bright is the Self,
Indivisible, untouched by sin, wise,
Immanent and transcendent.  He it is
Who beholds the cosmos together.

From the Katha Upanishad*:

Part I [3] 15The supreme Self is beyond name and form,
Beyond the senses, inexhaustible,
Without beginning, without end, beyond
Time, space, and causality, eternal,
Immutable.  Those who realize the Self
Are forever free from the jaws of death.

Part II [1] 2The immature run after sense pleasures
And fall into the widespread net of death.
But the wise, knowing the Self as deathless,
Seek not the changeless in the world of change.
3That through which one enjoys form, taste, smell, sound,
Touch, and sexual union is the Self.
Can there be anything not known to That
Who is the One in all?  Know One, know all.

Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” (John 3: 3, NRSV).  This is indeed second birth, to renounce the fear and slavery of small “s” self, and to engage our true Self, at peace, at one with all there is.  Experience without fearing.  Enjoy without grasping.  Share without owning.  Choose, practice, to be born to Self under the Tree of Life.

*From The Upanishads, introduced and translated by Eknath Easwaran, Nilgiri Press, © 1987, 2007 by The Blue Mountain Center of Meditation.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  Feel free to quote, as useful, with proper reference.

Jerry Kennell now provides spiritual direction by Skype.  Contact jerry@2treegarden.com.

American Christianity’s Elephant in the Room

Since the very beginning of the nation, Christianity has been the dominant cultural narrative of the United States.  Or, more accurately, the narrative of American Christianity has been the dominant narrative, and it reads something like this:

  1. Jesus, being conceived by the Holy Spirit, was different from you and me. He was truly God’s child, the first and last God incarnate.  We are not.
  2. Jesus loves you and wants to live in your heart.
  3. Jesus looked pretty much like a white middle-American, except he wore a robe.
  4. Jesus plays good cop to God’s bad cop. We sit in the chair of interrogation.  In the end, if we don’t answer right, we’re going to get it.
  5. Jesus said a lot of wonderful things and performed a bunch of miracles, but what really matters is that he died on the cross to save you from your sins. Jesus saves.
  6. Everyone is welcome in heaven, so long as they believe Jesus died for their sins and they praise his name on a regular basis.
  7. Jesus is coming again to get those who qualify under number 6 and to leave the rest behind, gnashing their teeth as the world goes down to hell. One of my favorite bumper stickers, in fact, reads, “Jesus is coming soon, and is he pissed!”

I would argue that this is not at all what Jesus was about.  But that is for another day.  Today, the message is that Christianity, at least in this cultural narrative, is dying in America.  And for the most part, the Christian church does not begin to comprehend the reason why.  Look around carefully, there is an elephant in the room.

Church attendance has indeed declined steadily for at least the past two generations.  Catholics have been hit hardest, followed by mainline Protestant congregations.  Large evangelical churches have been more likely to hold on, but even these are now seeing some decline.  In every research result, the “nones” and their “spiritual but not religious” cohort (all unaffiliated with any church) are steadily rising, especially in the emerging dominant millennial generation, but even among boomers and the silent generation that preceded them.

The evangelical mega-churches which had their hay day in the last twenty-five years are not immune.  Their marketing strategies and strategic plans implicitly acknowledge the consumer mentality of their, should we even use the label, parishioners.  Entertainment is not true religion.  Run the country out of fossil fuels or put on a better show down the street and watch what becomes of the theater seats, big screens and easy faith.

Some pollsters say the numbers lie, that what is happening is that people just go to church less often.  Others say that people are expressing their faith in house churches and other nontraditional gatherings.  There is no doubt a level of truth in both of these observations.

But no one is identifying or addressing the elephant in the room.  The American Christian church is dying.  It is dying not because of Jesus, but because American Christianity’s dominant story line, its basic value proposition, is bankrupt, with fewer and fewer willing to consider it credible enough to buy.  Fewer and fewer give any credence to the narrative that we are at core defective, not made just the way Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source (C/S/M/S) intended, and that America’s Christian God requires blood sacrifice – specialized human/deity blood, at that – to keep from damning us to hell.

And nowhere in the church is that being acknowledged or addressed straight out.  In my review of religious demographic surveys I could not find even one that asked Christians or anyone else whether they truly believed that God required the blood sacrifice of a human incarnation to redeem them from their fallen nature.  Why is that?

I suspect at least three problems.  First, American Christian leaders are scared to hell of the likely results, which is why they persist in speculations and surveys about every other possible reason for their steady and imminent demise.  Further, it is possibly beyond the realm of imagination for these bearers of Christian angst to conceive of this issue at all.  It is literally unthinkable.  Finally, the elephant is both so large and so preposterous that people in general find it simply easier to dismiss it quietly and not to talk about it.  Who wants to disturb a holy elephant, dead or alive?  The result is that hot air is steadily cooling in this once dominant balloon.  And the poor wizard, while nervous, convinces himself that the curtain still hides him and the illusion holds sway.

Spirituality in America needs a new value proposition.  There were two special metaphorical trees in the Garden of Eden, both intended for us in the mind of C/S/M/S.  We ate from the first, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  We did not fall, we just thought we did.  We simply woke to all the splendor and terror of human awareness.  C/S/M/S never wanted us to kill anyone or anything to get free of that tree.  That was our idea.  The call in all times and places has been to grow up, to make good choices in the context of who we are and to move on to the tree of life.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  Feel free to quote, as useful, with proper reference.

Jerry Kennell now provides spiritual direction by Skype.  Contact jerry@2treegarden.com.

The World We Dream

In his book, Mending the Past and Healing the Future with Soul Retrieval, medical anthropologist Alberto Villoldo describes the shamanic/spiritual practices of the Laika, an indigenous community of the Peruvian Amazon:

The Laika believe that everything is imaginal.  Whatever we perceive is a projection of our inner world, and the world perfectly mirrors the condition of our soul.

“The world perfectly mirrors the condition of our soul.”  I believe that to be true, individually and collectively.

So what does that mean?  Does that mean I can imagine great wealth and it will happen to me?  Maybe.  The prophets of positive thinking would say so, and Andrew Carnegie and Bill Gates certainly imagined something.  I have actually heard people say that the entire universe is constructed, at root, to conspire for our greater good.

But there is something about this glib thinking that is potentially shallow and backwards.  This thinking tempts us to focus on changing the reflected image – the world we create or manifest – rather than the underlying reality, the condition of our soul.  We act out, we manifest, what we have allowed ourselves to become.  And the work for a better world is done not by sitting around and imagining a better world, but by working on the condition of our souls.

If I focus chiefly on the universe conspiring for my greater good, I will get a world that looks like my soul – a manipulative and selfish world with relationships and outcomes to match.  When I move my focus to outcomes, I lose track of who I am and I become, perhaps unintentionally, but truly, the picture of my neglected soul.

This is true collectively as well as individually.  The United States has begun air strikes in Iraq to counter forcefully the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.  Our focus is on outcomes.  But the real world, the world that is, reflects the condition of a collective soul that wanted wealth and oil at any cost.  The condition of our soul manifested a world that supported oppressors like Saddam Hussein – or the Shah, or Somoza or any number of puppet regimes – in the oppression and pillage of people to yield the comfort we thought was our greater good.  And the perpetual wars that result, whether the violence in the Middle East or the violence in Central America beneath the current child refugee crisis, truly mirror and are an accurate manifestation of the condition of our soul.  When our soul, anyone’s soul, is sick with greed, we manifest a world of oppression and violence.

I remember bumper stickers that said “Visualize World Peace,” as though sitting still and picturing a peaceful world in our mind would make it happen.  But that is magical thinking, no better or more effective than the satirical bumper sticker retort, “Visualize Whirled Peas.”

“The world perfectly mirrors the condition of our soul.”  Mirrors can be useful.  Any one of us can look in the mirror and learn something about reality.  I might learn I am aging and wrinkling.  I might learn that I am contorted with anxiety, or that I am satisfied and radiant.  Certainly I can paste on a different face if I want to imagine something different than what I see.  I have manipulated the outcome of an image.  I have not changed the underlying reality.

There were two metaphorical trees planted at the center of the Garden of Eden:  the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and, beside it, the Tree of Life.  We ate from the first and were given the gift of conscious awareness.  We could see the mirror image of all that we had manifested.  It was frightening and disconcerting.

Our reaction was to try to manipulate outcomes, to make the picture we saw safe and comforting.  Seeing only ourselves, we resorted to fear and greed.  We created religions in an attempt to get the gods to conspire for us, to cooperate with us, or at least not to work against us.

But there were – and are – those who grew up, who awoke to a different truth.  These prophets, saints and mystics realized that the world was just a reflection of something deeper, of the condition of our true spiritual selves.

Their call in all times has been to turn from the mirror, to embrace and nurture the reality.  The reality is the quality of our soul.  If we cultivate peace and harmony in our spirit, the mirror reflects it.  It’s not that we changed the picture.  It is that we changed our being.  We made the choice to grow up.  We nurtured the condition of our soul.  And the picture around us – the manifested world of relationships – reflects our nurture.

The two metaphorical trees in the garden, as I have noted before, are really only one.  When we focus on the mirror, we see only the image of the tree.  That image is the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and we bang into the mirror, over and over, trying to get what we want, what we think we need from that picture.  And the picture only gets worse, because it reflects our frustration and unhappiness.

When we turn away from the mirror of our manifested world, and cultivate the quality of our soul, we find that we are living in true reality, under the Tree of Life.  We manifest peace.  We manifest kindness and compassion.  We manifest abundance – the power of enough for all – because we have cultivated those things at the root of our being.

Turn inward.  Cultivate your soul.  Live in reality under the Tree of Life.  You won’t need the mirror to know the outcome.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  Feel free to quote, as useful, with proper reference.

Jerry Kennell now provides spiritual direction by Skype.  Contact jerry@2treegarden.com.

Let it Flow

We all experience pain in our lives.   And it never really quite goes away.  Damage we received from our collisions with others.  Losses.  Memories of actions we unleashed and wish we could retrieve.  The memories can crush us as much or more than the true moment of the event.

We wonder why we harbor these things.  Didn’t we work at forgiveness, truly forgive the other, truly forgive ourselves?  Must we do this work again?  How long, and how many times must we suffer this brokenness?  Why can’t we heal the one we know is hurt?  Will we ever move on?

Sometimes it’s a dream where we rework the encounters, striving again with the feelings and remembered truth.  We fail still once more to change the situation, to win or to make it right.

The landscape of creation aches along the broken faults of our lives.  Sometimes a rift is torn.  Sometimes a range heaves up.  We moan audibly in an exhalation of the memory, a sound and a breath completely irrelevant to the air and the time and place that receive it.  But we know what it is.

We cannot uncreate.  We cannot undo the past, make it disappear, remove its effect from our lives.  But we can, today and always, let it flow, let it move and twist and turn.  Let it become the new thing that it will.

Breathe, moan, let it flow.  Sometimes the hot lava of the volcano, sometimes the blue water of the fountain.  It’s the flow that creates, whether it’s a glaring red-yellow stream that cools to the dark rock of a new mountain, or the water that carves a canyon in its flank on the return ride to the ocean.

Let it flow.  A good river never quits.  Water pushes up from the source.  It picks up streams and sediments on its way.  It spreads out and drops its dirt in the rich delta, only to rest in the sea, where the vast surface yields to the sun and air that return it once again to its beginning.

It’s the flow of life, the non-judging and continual cycle of movement and rest.  When we try to step out of it, to stop it or avoid it instead of riding it, we are out of touch, we lose our connection, we become the dam that only temporarily, despite our struggle, stands in the way.

There is a river that flows beside the Tree of Life.  It cleanses.  It heals.  It keeps moving, never fighting what it is.  Drink the water.  Ride the stream.  Let it flow.

Scripture today from my friend, singer/songrwriter JD Martin:

Hear me, rock of ages
Let me hide myself in thee
Touch me, living waters
Let me drink from your flowing stream

© Two Trees in the Garden.  Feel free to quote, as useful, with proper reference.

Jerry Kennell now provides spiritual direction by Skype.  Contact jerry@2treegarden.com.