“….he is Christ’s ambassador….”

In “Waking Up: Searching for Spirituality Without Religion”, Sam Harris, the neuroscientist who battles superstition, and popular religion, tells us that “the insights we can have in meditation….confirm some well-established truths about the human mind: Our conventional sense of self is an illusion; positive emotions, such as compassion and patience, are teachable skills; and the way we think directly influences our experience of the world..”

Matthieu Ricard writes in “The Art of Meditation” that “The ultimate reason for meditating is to transform ourselves in order to be better able to transform the word or, to put it another way, to transform ourselves so we can become better human beings in order to serve others in a wiser and more efficient way. It gives your life the noblest possible meaning.”

Photo by Kalen Emsleyon Unsplash

Mary Oliver sings, i think, of a person who has realized what Sam and Matthieu are talking about (in her poem “On Thy Wondrous Works I Will Meditate (Psalm 145)” (published in her collection “Devotions”)

I know a man of such

mildness and kindness it is trying to

change my life. He does not

preach, teach, but simply is. It is

astonishing, for he is Christ’s ambassador

truly, by rule and act. But, more,

he is kind with the sort of kindness that shines

out, but is resolute, not fooled….

….riding out

under the storm clouds, against the world’s pride and unkindness,

with both unassailable sweetness, and tempering word.

Peace 🙂

The Pale Blue Dot

In the “Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space“, we read Carl Sagan musing after gazing at the famous “Pale Blue Dot”  — a photograph of the Earth, from about 6 billion kms away, taken by the Voyager I space probe sometime in 1990.

“From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here, that’s home, that’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there—on the mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.”

“Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are,” Carl observes, “challenged” when we consider our pixel-status in a vast cosmos.

Coimbatore skies — the Bibliophile

The first line of “Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion”, a book chronicling the remarkable compassion-journey of Father Gregory Boyle, cautions us against fanaticism, and a narrowness of outlook that causes the heart to harden:

God can get tiny, if we’re not careful.

Peace 🙂

“Smaller than a grain of rice is the Self….Yet……greater than all the words.”

In “Seven Brief Lessons on Physics”, we read theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli’s mind-bending line about “Nature….our home”

“This strange, multicoloured and astonishing world which we explore – where space is granular, time does not exist, and things are nowhere….”

From thousands of years ago, we hear a similar mind-bending thought from a sage about the nature of Reality (in the Chandogya Upanishad translated by Swami Prabhavananda, “The Upanishads: The Breath of the Eternal”):

“Smaller than a grain of rice is the Self; smaller than a grain of barley, smaller than a mustard seed, smaller than a canary seed, yea, smaller even than the kernel of a canary seed.Yet again is that Self, within the lotus of my heart, greater than the earth, greater than the heavens, yea, greater than all the words.”

Evening skies, Coimbatore, India — the Bibliophile

Max Planck, the Physics Nobel Laureate credited as being one of the parents of Quantum Theory, writes in his 1932 book “Where is Science going?” of “the ultimate mystery of nature” — a mystery“we ourselves are part of….”, which “Science cannot solve….”

In the poem “Mysteries, Yes” (published in “Devotions”), Mary Oliver sings:

Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers.
Let me keep company always with those who say “Look!” and laugh in astonishment, and bow their heads.

Peace 🙂

“….sometimes heaven is just a new pair of glasses.”

In “Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy”, we read Anne Lamott: “Mercy, grace, forgiveness, and compassion are synonyms, and the approaches we might consider taking when facing a great big mess, especially the great big mess of ourselves — our arrogance, greed, poverty, disease, prejudice.”

the bibliophile — Coimbatore, India

Elsewhere in the book, she writes:

Mercy means that we soften ever so slightly, so that we don’t have to condemn others for being total shits, although they may be that….As Father Ed Dowling said, sometimes heaven is just a new pair of glasses. When we put them on, we see the awful person, sometimes even ourselves, a bit more gently, and we are blessed in return.

During an OnBeing conversation (11th February 2021) with Krista Tippett, Alain de Botton remarks that “by “love” I mean a capacity to enter imaginatively into the minds of people with whom you don’t immediately agree, and to look for the more charitable explanations for behavior which doesn’t appeal to you and which could seem plain wrong….

We read about Sarada Ma in Swami Gambhirananda’s “Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi”: “Once a direct disciple of the Master was so offended with the conduct of a certain devotee that he requested the Mother not to allow him to get anywhere near her. But she replied, “If my son wallows in the dust or mud, it is I who have to wipe all the dirt from off his body and take him in my lap.”

Peace 🙂

“Holy curiosity”

In an OnBeing conversation (18th February 2021) with Krista Tippett, Rabbi Ariel Burger points out that “if you ever look at a traditional page of an old Jewish text, like an old Hebrew bible with commentaries or an old edition of the Talmud….there’s text in the middle, and then there are commentaries around the sides, and then there’s space around the edges.” 

He goes on to tell us that while “in some ways, of course, the text is most authoritative and most important”, “it’s really the white space around the edges that ultimately is most important, because that’s where we get to write our questions, and we get to expand and grow and evolve a tradition that, without us, would have long since become either dormant and rigid, or would’ve disappeared entirely.”

Some months before Albert Einstein passed on, an editor of Life magazine, William Miller, visited him. William’s son Pat, a freshman at Harvard, was with him. Looking at Einstein seated in “his old-fashioned rocker”, William “had the feeling of seeing a living saint….his eyes seemed to reveal not a man but an embodiment of pure thought.”

In the course of the conversation (published in the Life edition of 2nd May 1955), we listen to Einstein’s advice to Pat:

The important thing is not to stop questioning….Never lose a holy curiosity.

The Buddhist teacher Stephen Batchelor writes (in a 2010 piece titled “Freedom Through Not Knowing”) that his Teacher “used to repeat”A famous citation….all the time”“Great doubt, great awakening; little doubt, little awakening; no doubt, no awakening.” 

Peace 🙂

*Photo by Justin Peterson on Unsplash

“….a machine for the making of gods.”

1932 saw the publication of “The Two Sources Of Morality And Religion”, a book that was probably Henri Bergson’s last.

After a lifetime trying to unveil Life, the Nobel Laureate gives us these intriguing last lines in the book: “Men do not sufficiently realize that their future is in their own hands….the essential function of the universe….is a machine for the making of gods.”

In a letter to Margaret Noble dated 7th June 1896 (“The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda — Volume 7”), Swami Vivekananda teaches that this “the essential function of the universe” (that Bergson spoke of years later) is a responsibility each of us is tasked with: “Let us call and call till the sleeping gods awake, till the god within answers to the call. What more is in life? What greater work?”

Photo by Arno Senoner on Unsplash

And why is there no “greater work”?

We find the answer in a 1946 lecture from Viktor Frankl (published as part of his “Yes To Life: In Spite of Everything”). We would do well to keep in mind that Viktor said this a few months after he was liberated from a Nazi concentration camp, after experiencing some of the worst horrors.

Everything depends on the individual human being….

Peace 🙂

“God is always bigger than the boxes we build for God….”

In an NPR talk broadcasted on 18th December 2006, Richard Rohr, the Franciscan friar who is criticised by many for his interpretations of the  Bible, and views of religion, observes:

“People who’ve had any genuine spiritual experience always know they don’t know. They are utterly humbled before mystery. They are in awe before the abyss of it all, in wonder at eternity and depth, and a Love, which is incomprehensible to the mind.”

the bibliophile — Ku Mo, Lovedale, India

In “Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer”, he teaches us:

God is always bigger than the boxes we build for God, so we should not waste too much time protecting the boxes.

Peace 🙂

Love “heals, liberates,” and “alters”

In the Prologue to “Mom and Me and Mom”, the remarkable Maya Angelou writes that she is “Frequently….asked how I got to be this way.” How did she, in the face of formidable circumstances, “get to be Maya Angelou?” — an acclaimed poet, writer, a thinker who, despite having no formal college-education, ended up with over 50 honorary degrees.

Maya tells us that she became “the woman I am because of the grandmother I loved, and the mother I came to adore.” “Their love,” she writes, “informed, educated, and liberated me.” And then we read lines that blaze from the page:

Love heals. Heals and liberates. I use the word love, not meaning sentimentality, but a condition so strong that it may be that which holds the stars in their heavenly positions and that which causes the blood to flow orderly in our veins.

Photo by Kimson Doan on Unsplash

In “Almost Everything: Notes on Hope”, Anne Lamott writes: “I have known hell, and I have also known love. Love was bigger.” Elsewhere in the book, she tells us: “Love is why we have hope.” 

Father Gregory Boyle writes in “Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship” that “A loving heart doesn’t color your world like rose-colored glasses; it alters it.”

Peace 🙂