Sunday, November 20, 2011

The soul that sinneth, it shall die.

~ Ezekiel 18:20

The word guilty comes from the Old English gylt (meaning crime, sin or fault) and is synonymous with the French word coupable from the Latin culpabilis. There is no more serious infraction nor more costly payment than genuine guilt though its colloquial use to denote the superficial feelings that arise from human weakness (as in, "I feel guilty about eating that piece of chocolate cake") has turned guilty feelings into mere chafings of the ego. Guilt is yet the ultimate emotional discomfort, and it is caused by our having a moral conscience which is the hallmark of our humanity. By owning the imperfections that go along with being human, guilt is both the crime and the punishment, the sin and the fine or cost of our redemption.

Guilt's counterpart is denial, the suppression of the painful feelings that arise from having a moral conscience. Denial literally means negation which, in the case of conscience is the negation of what makes our hearts ache and as such drives a wedge between us and our true nature. In this, it is also a form of self-negation, the same denial that enables criminal behaviour and prevents ours and others' healing and wholeness.

In the Judeo Christian faith, repentance and confession are the basis of atonement, or the reconciliation between man and God. In non-theistic terms, this is clearing the conscience, like a pool of water becoming limpid once again. The ultimate atonement is achieved in death which is symbolically and vicariously recommended in the sacrificial offering of a lamb or goat. Of course what dies is not the literal sinner but denial itself as that wedge that divides me from myself and others. When denial finally expires, and the soul that sinneth with it, the pristine heart of conscience pure and clear is recovered:

And then, may the radiant red hook
Emanating from your pristine heart
Enter my crown, then descend my central channel,
Hook my very subtle clear light mind,
And bring it to your pristine realm.
~Phowa, Guided Meditation at the Time of Death

Sunday, November 6, 2011

So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.
~ Genesis 3:23

Prayer, meditation, yoga... following the breath in and out... How do we find our way back home? All of the sages, saints and mystics tell you that Heaven is right before your very eyes, or just as plain as the nose on your face, but then why is it so difficult to find? Why is the way so “guarded”?

Our alienation is a fall from a state of grace. Not because of evil or impurity, but because of a loss of innocence, a loss of our basic harmlessness in, literally, not knowing who we are. One bite from the tree of knowledge and we're dead, we exist.

The reason the way home is so arduous is that we try with all our might to know what it is or to know who we really are, and in this we incessantly split off from what we seek. We simply cannot know ourselves and return to innocence at the same time. We cannot figure out the mystery.

So the way is not knowing, but it is not mindlessness either. It is mind before knowing. The flaming sword, and the mirror, are symbols of this: pristine awareness. This is what ultimately slices through duality itself, enabling us to see our true nature*. To find our way home is to be reconciled with what is, no separation, or atonement (my teacher, Albert Low, likes to emphasize “at-one-ment”). Just being.

I think another way to describe this is intimacy, or loving, although love is regrettably not a word that comes up in Buddhist literature very often. Sometimes it is described as bliss or ecstasy, but these fail to convey the gentleness, the simplicity, the warmth and breath of life coming home to itself. In fact, no concept can hope to elucidate an experience that is not a thing and cannot be known. The Garden surpasses all of these with a simple metaphor.

*I am informed by Zen teacher and translator, Jeff Shore, that “see nature” is the literal translation of the Chinese term kenshô