Those of you who have been reading this blog for a long time may remember that I had a page called ‘ideas’, where I posted links to articles on all kinds of subjects that interested me – mainly the nature of consciousness, power dynamics and diversity, and political awakenings, with occasional forays into quantum physics, just to show that Buddha got there first.
I still enjoy reading widely and being inspired by what I read; this week I came across two articles almost simultaneously, which overlap with each other and with what I have been trying to articulate recently; I have already shared them with friends and students.
The New Yorker piece, on Richard Rohr, a name I felt vaguely familiar with, takes a longer view, and points to the tensions between the human experience that informs religion, and the gatekeepers who subsequently codify and limit that experience. Reading it, I thought of people at Young Urban Zen, who would probably qualify as ‘the nones’ refered to in the article: hungry to be close with the experience and with no time for the gatekeepers.
Corey Ichigen Hess’ post is full of personal ‘riffs’ (as he calls it) about integrating experience and the source of experience (just as the words of recent posts here have been expanding on). Reading this in a break between meditation sessions at Core Studio, I felt light, inspired and close to tears, as I do when reading Dogen. Riding home, up Market Street, afterwards, in easy silent concert with other riders, I remembered times of riding along, with a bird gliding above me at the same speed, effortlessly. This is what it is all about.
Here are some excerpts from both:
‘Not long ago, on his way to the post office in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Richard Rohr, a seventy-six-year-old Franciscan friar, had a spiritual experience. “This light is interminably long,” he told me one morning, in late August, as we stopped at a red light while retracing his route. Rohr hates wasting time, and he had been sitting at the light fuming when a divine message arrived. “I heard as close as I know to the voice of God,” he said. The voice suggested that he find happiness where he was, rather than searching for it elsewhere. “For two and a half minutes, I’m not in control at this stoplight,” he said. Being made to sit still required a surrender to a force greater than his ego.’
‘Everything is relationship. And we need to relate to everything around us to be helpful in this everyday life.’
‘Rohr argues that the spirit of Christ is not the same as the person of Jesus. Christ—essentially, God’s love for the world—has existed since the beginning of time, suffuses everything in creation, and has been present in all cultures and civilizations. Jesus is an incarnation of that spirit, and following him is our “best shortcut” to accessing it. But this spirit can also be found through the practices of other religions, like Buddhist meditation, or through communing with nature.’ (I would argue that, in traditional western culture, Jesus has simply been the most accessible shortcut; with our current access to other wisdom traditions, we can appreciate other sources in the same way. I would say that Buddha is the best shortcut, but I acknowledge my vested interest in this)
‘We can penetrate the experience of what the patriarchs saw through the physical exploration of our interaction with reality.’
‘Many of Rohr’s followers are millennials, and he believes that his popularity signifies a deep spiritual hunger on the part of young people who no longer claim affiliation with traditional religion.’
‘When I was in college, a professor of religion said that we are in religion like fish are in water. In a way he meant that we can’t separate ourselves culturally from religion. ‘
‘Michael Poffenberger, the executive director of the Center for Action and Contemplation, told me, “It’s not an attack on religion; it’s an introduction to the sacredness of everything.”’
‘This body is the sutra I am chanting.’
‘In the thirteenth century, Francis rebelled against a Catholic Church that had become fixated on its own pomp and hierarchy; he renounced worldly goods, lived in a cave, and found God in nature, revealed to him in figures such as Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Brother Fire, and Sister Water. “His was an entirely intuitive world view,” Rohr said.’
‘Many people talk about embodiment, but have never seen the source. To realize the source of our experience. The source of our bodies, the trees, our ears, our eyes, and learn to function within that one source, this is what is meant by embodying Zen, ripening the sacred embryo, true functioning. Becoming normal again, when all awakening is forgotten, and one is just dancing and walking and eating and sleeping.’
‘For him, the Cosmic Christ is the spirit that is embedded in—and makes up—everything in the universe, and Jesus is the embodied version of that spirit that we can fall in love with and relate to. (Their simultaneous distinctness and oneness can be difficult for an outsider to grasp).’
‘Embodiment must include the source of what is embodied. In deep internal work, we discover what is sometimes called the “Source of Seeing”. Melding inside and outside, we learn to function from this perspective, rather than on the surface of things.’
‘Tim Shriver, a longtime student of Rohr’s and the chairman of the Special Olympics, told me. “He’s trying to create a new ur-understanding of religion that isn’t bound by separation, superiority, and fighting.”’
‘These days, my religion is just walking around’.