In going through some of my old files I ran across this piece that I had written very shortly after the terrorist attack in New York some three years ago (9/11/2001). At the time, I found the thoughts contained therein to be so stern and judgmental, that I thought it better to not post it here, but put it away against the future. Today, I am moved to publish it because it is every bit as cogent as it was when it was written. Indeed, today, it may be important to publish it.
There are two sides to this horrific event in New York: one, the human tragedy, accompanied by pain, suffering and rage, confusion, disbelief and terror. This side is the instinctive side, the vulnerable and delicate human side, the emotional side. This side is full of suffering and pain.
This side of the event, in addition to the individual adjustment required (and in particular, by those who have lost a loved one and who will suffer the most), is now being addressed by our nation and its people in assorted ways; and this side, after the dying is accepted and the rage is acknowledged, will result in efforts to reconcile this tragedy within our national paradigm, to deal with the emotional trauma by means of responding and rationalizing it, and to relieve the pain and suffering, rage, and disbelief, by means of response to it in whatever way each individual and then our nation decides to respond to it. This is the human side of this event, and it must be fulfilled and expressed, and it must be acknowledged and respected within the human context. This will take a long time, and in some lives, may never be fully integrated and understandably so.
We in America have been privileged to live in a nation that until now has been unique in its apparent invulnerability. We have through strength and wealth, and power and foresight, been able to protect our people within its confines in an admirable and most effective manner. The enormity of this event, the surprise, the grotesqueness of its visual aspects, all make this event significant even beyond its normal impact, and its consequent human suffering is overwhelming and almost unfathomable. However, with all of this acknowledged, one inevitably searches for meaning and lessons, and the other side of the event is the meaning and rationality to it, despite its seeming insanity.
On this other side, there is an esoteric aspect to it, a huge, transcendent meaning with which I am presently grappling, and which, at first glance, is quite disturbing and tumultuous. By addressing this other side, it will bring little consolation to the human aspect of the event, nor will it relieve the human emotions of fear, confusion and sadness, but, from this other perspective, we may be able to learn the lesson that is inherent in the event, and from that, perhaps, prevent eventually, someday in history, many years into the future, it from occurring again. Certainly it has put meaning and rationality into the event for me personally.
I remember the Dalai Lama in an interview addressing the same question with regard to his own country and the horror that has occurred over the years to his people within Tibet. In effect, what he said was, in order for this kind of torture and disaster to occur, the nation of Tibet must have done something to bring on this kind of karma. In effect, he was recognizing the law of cause and effect which operates within the human domain, and at the time, I was incredulous, in that, based on what I knew of the history of Tibet, there could not possibly have been something so terrible that would generate this kind of karmic occurrence that was presently being visited upon these apparently gentle, spiritual,. and wise people of Tibet. However, since I am nowhere near the stature of the Dalai Lama, there had to be truth within his statement, and I had to live with that realization.
Today, I must, in good conscience, apply that same truth to my own world, my own life, my own nation, if I am to reap anything from the New York event. And despite my own abhorrence of the terrorism that occurred, despite my own deeply felt compassion for those directly involved, despite my human inclination to shift the "dark side" to the monsters who caused the event, I cannot turn away from the obvious implications of the karmic lesson that this reveals. A karmic lesson is the Hindu word for the expression of the inevitability of cause and effect; it is the result of actions which, eventually, cause responsive and equivalent actions to individuals, nations, worlds, throughout time.
Life is not an isolated moment in time, from a historical point of view, but instead it is a continuum of events, a building of consciousness within each individual, that, taken together, reveals at any moment of time, the cumulative effect of all those many moments in the past history of an individual, or a group, or a galaxy, depending upon where one stands. Indeed, science postulates today that there is, apparently, recorded within our very DNA, the history of generations past. It is logical to assume, therefore, that our collective consciousness, and all its past memories, suppositions, preconceptions, prejudices and history is within each of us, whether we are conscious of it or not. In other words, we are our history, and collectively, we are our nation’s history. From this perspective, then, and if viewed dispassionately, this terrorism may have been inevitable.
We, as a nation, composed of individual and distinct beings, are at base, loving, generous, and tolerant. And, as well, through history, we as a nation collectively have done great, generous, and loving things. However, we as a nation also have a darker history of intolerance, un-love, and selfishness. This is hard to face at this time, in particular, since it is always easier to project our dark side outward — indeed, that is what generated the terrorist’s actions in their own case, against us, even to the extent that they have called us "Satan". If we are to learn anything from this event, it is, I believe, that we are guilty of the same projection, and until we recognize our own dark side, our own cruelties, our own selfishness and un-love, our karmic destiny will continue to include these kinds of horrific events. In the heat of the surprise and horror of this terrorism, we justifiably are angry, enraged, confused, and terrorized. But the deeper lesson here is that, our history may have generated this event, despite its apparent incredibility.
In addition, and besides those great generous acts by this great American nation throughout its history, when we rebuilt Europe and Japan after World War II, and our generous gifts to third world nations, our philanthropic activities throughout the world, our acceptance of all cultures and peoples who come to our shores, our protection of individual rights and freedom of religious expression, our generous and tolerant spirit, we have within our history as America, as well destroyed entire cultures. In the name of God, we destroyed the Hawaiian culture and the Native American culture; in pursuit of slavery, we stole individuals from Africa to serve us; in the name of industrialization, we destroyed our own, and much of Europe’s, agrarian culture, and are now doing the same in third world countries which in turn is demoralizing the individual through subservience to a corporate culture; in the name of progress, we are destroying our environment; in the pursuit of financial freedom, we are turning our eyes away from the horror of child labor which this very moment is used to provide us with cheap merchandise; in the name of freedom of expression, our corporate entertainment now subsidizes music and movies of such violence and degeneracy that I am embarrassed to acknowledge it. Finally, in the name of tolerance, which is one of our most admirable qualities, we now, as a nation, tolerate all of this. To put the icing on the cake, our newly elected President Bush recently stated that the American economy was more important than the environment, and thus, created an environment that allows us, as a nation, to walk away from other countries seeking to protect a deteriorating environment. This is not to say we are without idealism or compassion; our history speaks eloquently of both those attributes. However, we are not innocent either.
It is this side of our karma that does not allow us, in our more honest moments, the luxury of projecting our anger outward. While in no way does this absolve the terrorists from their heinous actions, for they too are subject to the same karmic laws that we all are, and thus, will in the end, suffer equal terror in their own lives, it does explain, from a greater perspective, how this kind of thing can happen to a nation, which we believe to be composed of "good people". If one wishes to approach this from a Christian perspective, instead of a karmic perspective, these people who died in New York "died for our sins" in a very real way.
To carry it one step further, when this statement is made in the Bible, an addendum is added on to it, which, in effect says, "now, go out and love one another" in memory and in honor of that Godly individual who years ago "died for our sins". The question before me, now, and from this perspective, before our nation is, will we go out and love one another in memory of those who have just recently died for our sins, including all those individuals who are not privileged to live within our protected shores? Or, stated from a different cultural point of view, will we learn from this the "karmic lesson" which is so apparent to me today?
One doesn’t need to embrace any of these religious points of view to see the obviousness and rationality behind the operation of cause and effect throughout the world. But one does need to observe it, and to acknowledge that it is a real law which operates both physically, historically, and psychologically. Any scientist will support the basic truth of this law, and it goes without saying that it is operant in all areas of life.
As a consequence of this acknowledgement, what is before me today, is the sobering and deeply disturbing understanding that I am in many ways as guilty of these people’s deaths, as those deranged terrorists who perpetuated it. My self absorption, my protective inclination to survive at any cost, my preoccupation with my own comfort and quality of life, my reticence to speak out against policies of my government that are self-serving and degrading to other cultures and human beings, my indifference to that suffering, my tolerance of mediocrity and exploitation in the pursuit of personal gain under the protective umbrella of my nation in the name of democracy, which sometimes, but not always, justifies that exploitation — all of this is my own karmic baggage, and with which I must now grapple. In the final analysis, this is all I can do today to start the process of healing. And I can ask for forgiveness for not asking for forgiveness from those I have mistreated, however indirectly, and from those who were mistreated by my ancestors and my country throughout its history. In the final analysis, if each of us did this, the karmic lesson would be learned, fulfilled, and annihilated, and the terror would cease.
The Zoo Fence recently was the fortunate recipient of a very powerful book, "The Fragrance of the Heart – Encounters with Dadaji" by Peter Myer-Dohm. It is a biographical memoir of the now deceased Teacher known by his "devotees" as Dadaji, or "elder brother".
In my long journey of "looking for answers" to life’s mysteries, I have come across about seven books out of the hundreds, perhaps thousands, I have read that contain within them not only words, but a spirit, or power, or living-ness that other books do not seem to contain. This book is one of those.
Without fail, such "living" books that are bhakti in nature, or devotional and surrendered, produce in me, at least, an uncontrollable sleepiness, or zombie-like state of mind, which no amount of tea or coffee, or mind control, can dissipate. It is the same state of consciousness, bordering on unconsciousness, that occurs whenever there is a leap in my own consciousness, a revelation of truth, which causes the mind, when it rushes in to recapture the event, to "fall asleep", and to refuse to maintain its focus. This state, of course, is interpreted by my mind to be "asleep" or "unconscious", which, of course, to a conscious mind, WOULD appear to be just that.
While reading this particular book, the altered state was so intense that I feared losing consciousness altogether ’ an interesting reaction to the
To me, this Teacher speaks the words of U.G. and Nisargadatta and Ramana Maharshi, to name just a few, but within a devotional or bhakta frame of reference. However, lest I suggest differences by this statement, I note that they all say essentially the same thing, and their similarities outweigh their surface differences.
What I particularly resonate with in this man’s teaching is his apparently simple combination of devotion and thus certainty of a God (which he calls simply "He"), and an understanding and expression as a living example of the God within, and the within-ness of man in God and thus, of a non-dual universe. He has managed, to my mind at least, to combine jnana with bhakti, or the heart with the mind, without conflict and without imbalance.
Suffice it to say that this gentleman still lives, obviously. But lest this be misunderstood, buying the book and reading it will not guarantee that he will walk in your front door. However, it may invite God into your heart. Much depends upon our motivations, and much depends upon God.
At the end of his life, Thomas Aquinas said about his life’s works and his many writings, "It’s all straw". While intellectually, I have been able to understand how he arrived at that conclusion, emotionally and experientially, I had some trouble. Today, I do not.
Today, I have considered removing all the entries from Nancy’s Page, my page, due to this personal discovery about my own thoughts, considerations, opinions and advisories; but instead, have decided to leave them up as a kind of biography, or diary, about the progression of one human’s consciousness, and the struggle with the inability to arrive at a satisfactory answer to life’s problem which is "How do I stop being afraid?" That is, in my own opinion, the core problem that generates ALL the other questions, both great and small, that are expressed by human beings, seekers and non seekers, and that are addressed by pundits, teachers, gurus, and humankind generally throughout history, both in outer human activities and in inner human dialogues. Ultimately, there is only one answer to all questions, and addressing each of them as though there were a separate, unique answer, misses the point, and doesn’t solve the problem, which is, again "How do I stop being afraid?"
I can speak only for myself: I am afraid because I feel powerless and helpless. Indeed, I AM powerless and helpless, not unlike an infant, subject to all the world’s uncertainties and catastrophes, both great and small. By powerless, I do not mean unable to act, think, or manipulate my world, since I can do that with my mind. By powerless, I mean I am unable to escape my destiny, which is to try to survive at all costs, and to eventually die. I have used a mind to attempt to coerce the universe into being benevolent, loving, altruistic, good, all definitions flawed by virtue of being formulated concepts within an imperfect and frightened, mind. I have supported, embraced, and created philosophies, and turned to those who expounded philosophies and spiritual concepts coincident with my needs, in order to avoid having to grapple with the bare realization that I am powerless, and thus, so are they. Indeed, much of their "power" derives from their promise to give me power, "their" power. It does nothing of the sort; it simply distracts me from my fear.
It is this prime directive, to survive against my inevitable death, that submits me to struggle against that prime directive because I cannot tolerate the tension of that paradox, that dilemma. And I am powerless to escape it. In my desperation, I have turned to others, whom I have authorized to "give me power", either through their words, or through my submission to their words. I have integrated those ideas into my own consciousness which, consequently, perpetuated the distraction and apparent comfort of the group mind (who was it that said "there are no original thoughts"?).
I have discovered that the only way out of this dilemma is to accept myself as I am, with all that fear, and all that desire to survive. To honor that is to allow myself to be human, to accept myself with humor and compassion, to enjoy my life presently as it unfolds. To let it happen, and to let me happen. This is holy, this is life, this is acceptable.
In this discovery, all my authority returns to me, back from those many teachers and teachings on which I projected my authority. I become divested of concepts, all of which I have accumulated throughout my life in an effort to gain power, to control my universe. I realize that no one can help me, nor guide me, nor teach me, nor save me from my destiny, and that’s acceptable.
The following material is
excerpted from a letter written by Nancy.
You ask what is meant by people saying that love is the essence of all. I think what it means to suggest is that true love, the kind that is non-exclusive, and is not dependent upon return, but is simply FELT for all and everything, is the essence of being ’ it is what a little child IS, DOES, and FEELS all the time, good or bad, and it is only education and conformance and mind control that shadows, or covers this feeling. It is still there, but we have so much garbage accumulated over the painful years of growing up and dealing with other dysfunctional human beings, that we have forgotten what we truly are, and are unable to feel that feeling any longer because of the protective efforts. We have created a "me" of mind stuff to protect the apparently vulnerable child that we always were and are. That "me" becomes our buffer, our protective mechanism.
Thus, I take love to mean a kind of compassion, a kind of affection for all of it, good and bad, that "happens" to us as we relieve ourselves of our conditioning. It is something that can’t be learned, taught, or grasped, but it is something that arises when we forget ourselves. Meditation is one effort to cleanse the mind of this conditioning; unfortunately, meditation only lasts so long, and the mind rushes in again to fill us with uncertainty. So, meditation is good for mind discipline, so you can tell it to shut up and it will, but it will not produce the childlike mind of the sages, except perhaps in glimpses. However, that said, if one does NOTHING, undertakes no sadhana at all, then we are likely to be unable to recognize such glimpses when they occur, much less even acknowledge that it is possible (unless, of course, one is lucky enough to be personally and positively poked by God!).
So, as seekers, we end up spending a lot of time trying to escape our predicament, and although none of it truly works, in the meantime, a kind of refinement occurs, whereby we are able to discern between what is good for us and what is bad for us, and we begin to realize the ramifications of an undisciplined mind. That is good, I suspect. Certainly in my own life, I have in many ways transformed my mind, and thus my life to one of peace and happiness. I understand much, both esoteric and practical, that I did not when younger. I certainly have moments of enormous affection and love for my world and everything in it, including those whom I consider to be cruel and heartless. There are times when I am overwhelmed by the beauty and cleverness of the creator and the great, great gifts and capacities that the creator has given all of us, within all of us. None of this did I ever know or even imagine in my youth. And yet, I must admit, that this all CAME TO ME ’ it was nothing I could learn, or gain, or work for ’ it happened despite me, and happened imperceptibly and graciously. Whether all the spiritual work I have done through the years helped facilitate this, I don’t know. I suspect all it did was slow me down and settle me down long enough for me to get out of my own way. It certainly taught me the meaning of surrender, and I suspect that surrender is at the core of all spiritual achievement. Kind of paradoxical, but then, the great truths usually are. Of course, despite the glowing reportage, I am still menaced by the conditioning of my mind, and in many instances, find myself wrapped up and led by the nose by an absurd past response, a pre-conceived notion that serves me no longer, and all the rest of it. Perhaps, though, I can safely say that I now recognize when this happens, even at the time it happens, which frees me a great deal from re-inforcement and its consequences. Perhaps that is part of what ending karma is all about?
I think that most of the meditation of Zen, or any other discipline for that matter, is an attempt to relieve ourselves of our conditioning, to withdraw from the chatter of our minds, of what we THINK we are, to allow space to envelope ourselves and to simply BE. And that "division-less" space of which the sages speak is, in my mind at least, nothing special, but simply a state of mind where we are observing our world in a state of non-judgment and non-thinking. I think we are often in that state, from time to time, and perhaps the difference between most of us and the sages is that they are in that state continuously. It is a question of quantity, then, no? Of course, in the effort to increase the amount of time we are in that state, we obstruct it, because it is the mind that obstructs the state in the first place, the very effort to increase it obstructs it! A mindless child is a delight, just giggles and coos and smiles, doesn’t reflect, doesn’t consider, certainly doesn’t try to achieve anything, and probably doesn’t think at all.
As we age, life becomes more serious, primarily because we believe we must survive at all costs. So our efforts to survive make us mean, scared, petty, small, and separated and isolated. I think that this is where faith comes in. While I do not doubt that persons can retrieve the mindless state of a child without faith, it is easier, and kind of tricks the mind by playing the mind game, by acknowledging a being greater and more benevolent than we humans are presently. We feel safe that way, and thus begin to expand our perimeters, and we find, lo and behold, that it’s okay, we survived that "reckless" step out into the big bad world, with our barriers pushed a little further away from us. Progressively we find that we are always safe, and we always survive, until eventually we are able to surrender to a world bigger than us, and uncontrolled by us, and which, at that point, we find to be benevolent, because we created a benevolent world in the process. In this respect, we are the creators of our world, and who we are determines that creation, moment by moment, which of course changes, as we change. In this respect then, the mind is a formidable instrument.
Eventually, however, I think we all come to realize, as the great minds have throughout history, that there is nothing that the small mind of man can do to change things AS THEY ARE. But oddly, we reach that realization when we are in a position to deal with it, and to bring to that realization a mind that can tolerate that realization. Paradoxically, that realization becomes REAL when the mind of the seeker or sage is clarified and "simple" enough to "create" or "surrender to" a world which is already benevolent and pure and perfect. (I have always called that Grace, because I think it is the graciousness of the Universe, or God, if you prefer, to have set up such a system that it works because it is geared to work perfectly and according to circumstances ’ and it always works graciously, giving each individual just what each individual truly wants and needs.)
You mention change, and suggest that perhaps change is the consistency ’ yes, I believe you are correct in that assumption. Life is change, and it consistently changes, and to the extent that we recognize that, and flow with it continuously, life is kind to us. I also think that there are changes within changes, or a kind of spiral-like flow of events in life. So that all of us reach plateaus in our lives, at about the same time as all others shall or have, and the changes are similar, and then, within those large changes, smaller changes occur. And the ones who suffer the most, are those who do not recognize the changes or fight against them with the assistance of a mind that hankers after the past, and will not surrender to the present.
Knowing ignorance is strength; ignoring knowledge is sickness.
Nearly all men can stand adversity,
but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.
No! Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.
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(Their website seems no longer to exist.)