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#1737 - Monday, March 15, 2004 - Editor: Jerry
"As a bee--without harming
takes its nectar & flies away:
so should the sage
go through a village."
From the Book, "The Dhammapada," translated by Thomas Byrom,
published by Shambhala.
Karen Armstrong, author of bestsellers such as "The Battle for God," has found herself in demand as a speaker since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks for her expertise on religious fundamentalism.
The British writer's new memoir, "The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness" (Alfred A. Knopf), chronicles her journey from 1960s Catholic convent dropout to a new spirituality in which compassionate behavior, not belief, is key.
"At this dark time in human history, [we must] redeem religion, take it from the hands of the extremists," Armstrong said in a recent interview."I don't know that we've got time to worry about an afterlife."
She spoke this week at Harvard's Memorial Church.
Why was the religious experience of your convent days hurtful?
I think there are very few people who can live that type of life -- living without possessions, doing the will of another, living without sexual intimacy. There was a stress on [accepting] the decisions of your superior as the will of God. It can make you cease to have any confidence in yourself, and that's what happened to me. After I left, it was years before I could have any independent thoughts whatsoever. There was an emotional frigidity about the religious life. Friendship was not encouraged. We were supposed to give all our love for God.With all the great [religious] traditions, there's an emphasis on not taking other people's word for it. Jesus himself was hardly an obedient soul. He is depicted in the Gospels as a kind of rebel.
You're suggesting Jesus would be discomforted by the fundamentalist mindset.
I think he would. Often because militant piety is based on fear, fundamentalists tend to overlook the more compassionate teachings in their tradition and stress those that are more intolerant. Christian fundamentalists in the United States often quote the Book of Revelation, with its battles and the enemies of God destroyed, and don't stress the Sermon on the Mount so much, where Jesus tells his followers to love their enemies, forgive. Often, fundamentalism distorts the tradition it's trying to defend.
How well have America and the West responded to Islamic fundamentalism?
It's important to know who your enemies are; equally important to know who your enemies are not, and not to alienate people who could be your allies. I'm not sure, for example, that the war against Iraq has advanced the cause against extremism. We now have a religious Al Qaeda front in Iraq where there wasn't one before. When you see these many wounded Iraqi civilians, soldiers going into homes -- this is an image of occupation rather than liberation. It convinces some Muslims that the West is taking a war against Islam.
What is your new spirituality?
A major ingredient was the study of other faiths. Islam was thrilling to me because of its pluralism. Judaism was thrilling to me because questions could always be opened and discussed. Rabbis would argue fiercely over the centuries. Greek and Russian Orthodox spirituality was wonderful in its mystical approach, its refusal to define God in any legalistic or doctrinal system. The insights enabled me to see what was good in my own tradition, from which I had become alienated.The second element is compassion. For me, a key religious text is the Golden Rule of Rabbi Hillel -- do not do unto others as you would not have done unto you. Jesus preached a version of Hillel's Golden Rule; Confucius and Buddha had made the same point. My spirituality is based on empathy, trying to dethrone myself from the center of my universe and put others there.
Do you believe in God?
I am unwilling to define the nature of ultimate reality. What we mean by "God" goes beyond our words and concepts. Do I believe in holiness, the sacred, the transcendent? Yes. Though one can't define it, in my study -- which is my new form of prayer -- I have glimmers of awe and wonder and transcendence. I regard the afterlife as a red herring. We can't know. Paul said eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it entered the mind of man what things God has prepared for those who love Him. Belief in the afterlife can be a distraction, based on getting into heaven, piling up good deeds, rather as you put money into your retirement annuity. I don't see anything very religious in that.
Was it hard turning the spotlight on yourself and writing a memoir?
I was initially very reluctant. As I went on, it became like an examination of conscience, taking stock. It turned out to be something I enjoyed, much to my surprise. You lay aside old ghosts, and that's helpful for the future, because I'm not dead yet.
Rich Barlow can be reached at [email protected]
© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.
The art of stopping
This is from: 'The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching' by Thich Nhat Hanh
There is a story in Zen circles about a man and a horse. The
galloping quickly, and it appears that the man on the horse is going
somewhere important. Another man, standing alongside the road, shouts,
'Where are you going?" and the first man replies, I don't know! Ask the
horse!" This is also our story. We are riding a horse, we don't know
where we are going, and we can't stop. The horse is our habit energy
pulling us along, and we are powerless. We are always running, and it
has become a habit. We struggle all the time, even during our sleep. We
are at war within ourselves, and we can easily start a war with others.
We have to learn the art of stopping - stopping our thinking,
energies, our forgetfulness, the strong emotions that rule us. When an
emotion rushes through us like a storm, we have no peace. We turn on
the TV and then we turn it off. We pick up a book and then we put it
down. How can we stop this state of agitation? How can we stop our
fear, despair, anger, and craving? We can stop by practicing mindful
breathing, mindful walking, mindful smiling, and deep looking in order
to understand. When we are mindful, touching deeply the present moment,
the fruits are always understanding, acceptance, love, and the desire
to relieve suffering and bring joy.
But our habit energies are often stronger than our volition.
We say and
do things we don't want to and afterwards we regret it. We make
ourselves and others suffer, and we bring about a lot of damage. We may
vow not to do it again, but we do it again. Why? Because our habit
energies (vashana) push us.
We need the energy of mindfulness to recognize and be present
habit energy in order to stop this course of destruction. With
mindfulness, we have the capacity to recog- nize the habit energy every
time it manifests. "Hello, my habit energy, I know you are there!" If
we just smile to it, it will lose much of its strength. Mindfulness is
the energy that allows us to recognize our habit energy and prevent it
from dominating us.
Forgetfulness is the opposite. We drink a cup of tea, but do
we are drinking a cup of tea. We sit with the person we love, but we
don't know that she is there. We walk, but we are not really walking.
We are someplace else, think- ing about the past or the future. The
horse of our habit energy is carrying us along, and we are its captive.
We need to stop our horse and reclaim our liberty. We need to shine the
light of mindfulness on everything we do, so the darkness of
forgetfulness will disappear. The first function of meditation -
shamatha - is to stop.
The second function of shamatha is calming. When we have a
emotion, we know it can be dangerous to act, but we don't have the
strength or clarity to refrain. We have to learn the art of breathing
in and out, stopping our activities, and calming our emotions. We have
to learn to become solid and stable like an oak tree, and not be blown
from side to side by the storm.
Song from the animation film "Spirited Away" or
"Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi" in Japanese.
Always with Me by Yumi Kimura
Somewhere, a voice calls, in the depths of my heart
May I always be dreaming, the dreams that move my heart
So many tears of sadness, uncountable through and through
I know on the other side of them I'll find you
Everytime we fall down to the ground we look up to the blue sky above
We wake to it's blueness, as for the first time
Though the road is long and lonely and the end far away, out of sight
I can with these two arms embrace the light
As I bid farewell my heart stops, in tenderness I feel
My silent empty body begins to listen to what is real
The wonder of living, the wonder of dying
The wind, town, and flowers, we all dance one unity
Somewhere a voice calls in the depths of my heart
keep dreaming your dreams, don't ever let them part
Why speak of all your sadness or of life's painful woes
Instead let the same lips sing a gentle song for you
The whispering voice, we never want to forget,
in each passing memory always there to guide you
When a mirror has been broken, shattered pieces scattered on the ground
Glimpses of new life, reflected all around
Window of beginning, stillness, new light of the dawn
Let my silent, empty body be filled and reborn
No need to search outside, nor sail across the sea
Cause here shining inside me, it's right here inside me
I've found a brightness, it's always with me
A letter to the Highlights Editors
In my pilgrimage and explorations through India this month one thing that has stood out in my mind as worthy of note is the all too obvious gap between what passes for religion among ordinary people and what constitutes true spirituality, or recognition of the Truth of Reality, among those who dedicate themselves to spiritual awakening. Religion is the generally mechanical repetition of rites and structures
Greetings. I am recent to this list, and I hope that this is not out of turn. In my life, I have judged people as less than spiritual and given over to mechanical forms of religious ritual also. To my mind it was important to feel superior, so I could look on others as misguided and in need of my wisdom to guide them. But since those times, I have had occasion to communicate more deeply with the people, or some of them at least, who represented the kind of religiosity I had dismissed as inferior. I was sometimes embarrassed to learn there was substance to these people that existed apriori to the actions I had looked down upon.
This is not to state your observations are hubris, but I feel sometimes the worth of a being is not evident at first glance. At this point, I find I cannot be judge and jury and try anyone; each is beyond my judgment. Thank you.
Namasté and Blesséd Be!
May the longtime Sun shine upon you, all Love surround you, and the Pure Light within you
Guide your way on....(hOMe)
Meditation Society of America
Having personally enjoyed the company of followers of G's Work who I
think have attained the highest levels of consciousness evolution, and
having felt that I have received some benefit in my own understanding
from the 4th way concepts and methods, I intend to share some of
these ideas from time to time. I also invite any who have knowledge of
this source of wisdom to do so as well.
Peace and blessings,
From the StillPoint group:
Two Ways of Meeting Events
This Work teaches that if we do not identify, we save energy.
It also teaches that all mankind - i.e. the sleeping world of
humanity - identifies with every event and loses energy to that
So we lose energy by identifying with each event.
The point of this Work is to save energy and not to be eaten
by identifying. Unless we save energy we cannot awaken,
because life and its turning events take our energy at every
As you have heard many times, some of you, this means that
you are a machine driven by life and its external events. You
identify with this, you identify with that, you identify with
everything said to you, you identify with the weather, you
identify with the newspapers.
As long as you are like this you are not doing anything,
but everything is being done to you and you are simply
being used by life.
None of the things that happen on the Earth, due to tyrants,
etc., is comparable with the way in which we are used by
life whose object is to keep us fast asleep.
So it is said we are all in prison. But we do not see this.
We feel it is someone's fault. Here we err deeply.
You remember the parable which compares us with sheep
used by farmers?
All they want is our wool and meat. In order to get this
result they teach us hymns and warn us not to stray away
because dreadful wolves will eat us. And this is quite true,
because unless we have reached the level of Good Householder
and, still further, unless we have Magnetic Centre, if we try
to rebel against life we shall suffer more than before. We
become martyrs suffering from martyrdom.
That is why the Work starts with people who are at the level
of Good Householder to begin with.
We have to rebel against ourselves, not life.
Of course, lots of people who come into this Work imagine
that they will be transformed into new beings in a few weeks
They are taught not to identify but of course they do not
understand what it means, because they continue to take
every event of life as a fact, as something very serious,
and not as an event.
And certainly it takes a very long time before a man or a
woman begins to see what this Work is about.
You may be told many times that you are under 48 orders
of laws. But you do not see what it means.
Now there is one thing that I want to talk about to-night,
in connection with the power of events over you at every
There are two ways of dealing with events, once you become
conscious of their mechanical action on you.
One is to try to separate from their power by not identifying -
for you are under the power of what you identify with.
The other way is to will them.
In the early days when I was in this Work one of my tasks
was to overcome fear. I was told to observe fear in myself -
and fear is a very good thing to observe in yourself.
I noticed that I was afraid of the new double-decked buses
which used to swing round corners at full speed. I had driven
cars for a long time and so probably was more sensitive for
On one wet day I got on to the top of one of these early
buses and as it swung round a corner at full speed I willed
it to fall over and the extraordinary thing was that my fear
left me. It had vanished.
From that I learnt that a great amount of fear comes from
hoping something won't happen.
Now try to will what you have to do.
Often Mr. O. gave examples of this kind which some of you
have heard. The general idea was that if some event is
inevitable you can do two things, either try to separate
by non-identifying, or will it, and go with it.
When I was at the Institute in France I used to be told at
about six o'clock in the morning when I was on a certain job
that I had to go to a different job.
I used to think how unfair this was. I did not understand
that the concentrated work on being that the Institute was
carrying out was pardy about this becoming negative when
you cannot do what you wish to do.
Of course, this is very difficult work on oneself because
it seems unreasonable, as in the case of the novice who was
told to plant cabbages and tended them with the greatest
care and went out one morning and found that they had all
been ploughed up on purpose because he was so identified.
Apart from this it is a good thing to will what you find
yourself having to do because it frees you inside.
"Whatsoever thine hand findeth to do, do it with thy might"
(Ecclesiastes ix. 10).
I would add a commentary on this and would say:
"Whatsoever you find you have to do, do it with all your might."
And that means will it, as far as we have will.
Once I said there was a good way to observe yourself from
another angle - i.e. observe what you object to during the day
and try to will what you are objecting to and not merely
One has to say to oneself something like this: "Come, let's go
to it." And I assure you it is a very good way of getting through
quite a lot of things that you have to do during the daytime.
One reason is that you get negative so easily when you want to
do something else or you do not see why you should have to do
this other thing. You say to yourself: "This is unfair."
But everything in life is unfair.
Nothing is fair or just on this Earth, and you should read
Ouspensky's wonderful chapter on Experimental Mysticism
to realize that what he saw through inner perception from a
higher plane of understanding was that our idea of justice
on this Earth is illusion.
On this level, all sleeping humanity belongs to a tiny planet
which is a kind of lunatic asylum.
There is no justice, no fairness.
Only if everyone on this Earth became conscious, then the
whole story would become quite different.
Just notice what is happening here in the world to-day.
So instead of referring everything to the idea of fairness
and justice it is far better to will what you have to do in
everything and try to awaken from your negative emotions.
That will give you freedom and inner peace.
Kicking against the pricks will make you more negative and
therefore less and less free.
This paper is about two ways of taking the events of life.
One is that you do not identify with them; the other is to
Sometimes we have to use one method, but sometimes to
use the other, or both.
I will also tell you a secret.
We have to will one another: this is the beginning of
Psychological Commentaries on the Teachings of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky
Pages 1314 - 1316
111,111,111 x 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987,654,321
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