Saturday, July 21, 2018

The Infinite Benevolence of Life

Sunday July 29 we will meet at my office to discuss the idea of being perfectly protected and sheltered by life. Life is infinitely benevolent and kind. This idea may sound bizarre, yet clear seeing of what is reveals it to be true. Life can also seem cruel and painful, with many difficult experiences. Let’s question this notion of infinite benevolence together. Here is a quotation from the recently deceased Japanese Zen Master Tangen Roshi: "You too are perfectly protected. It just isn’t obvious to you. You are receiving all the care, protection and guidance and love of all the universe. You just haven’t been able to see it yet, but you will."

Tangen Roshi's story is remarkable, to say the least. He is particularly interesting to me because he was a pivotal influence and support for my teacher, Roshi Philip Kapleau when Kapleau was a new Zen student, trying to survive at the incredibly demanding monastery Hosshin-ji of Zen Buddhist teacher Harada Sogaku Roshi:

They became lifelong friends. Tangen died in March of this year. The article below is a teisho, or talk from no mind, given by Tangen in 2000. 

We generally believe without question that we are in charge of our life. While it may be useful, even necessary to act as if we are in charge, so many events intrude to challenge this belief. Normally, we ignore as much as possible these events since they challenge the core of our identity, sense of safety and world view. All deep spiritual practice eventually requires the radical questioning of every notion of self-control we have developed. To progress on the spiritual path, it is necessary to look deeply into the question: Who is really in charge here? In the June 24th talk on Ramana Maharshi and the koan Who Am I?, we discussed the importance of deconstructing the notion of a permanent, enduring, fixed self-identity. To put it bluntly, if 'I' am not real in the way I once thought, then who or what could possibly be in control of my life? This is a real question. What is your answer?

In this talk, we will consider Tangen Roshi's experiences and his observations about the meaning and purpose of life. On three occasions, he faced certain death, and yet escaped largely unscathed. Were these 'escapes' simply random, blind luck? What can we learn from this celebrated Zen Master? 

Here is another article from the online journal Buddhism now:

If you would like to attend, please RSVP as space is very limited.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Mary Magdalene

Today's talk on Mary Magdalene is now available under videos on my public person Facebook page:
Sunday July 15 we will meet at my office to discuss the role of women in early Christianity, with special emphasis on the curious case of Mary Magdalene. Immediately after the shift in consciousness experienced in 2002, a deep interest in and resonance with the teachings of Jesus emerged spontaneously. I began to read the four Gospels, as I was primarily interested in the direct teachings straight from Jesus, not interpretations via Paul, Peter, or others. I was struck by several observations that jumped out at me. First, Jesus was continuously exasperated with how poorly his male disciples understood his teachings, even though they were with him full time. And second, it seemed obviously important that Mary Magdalene had a huge role to play in the Christ story of the crucifixion (she was there) and the resurrection (she was there). Without thought I intuited that she was in fact the only disciple of Jesus who was fearless and who truly understood his teachings.
Over the next few years I read some of the Gnostic gospels, especially the wonderful Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Mary of Magdala. This latter text was originally discovered in 1896, but not translated into English and published until 1955. Reading the surviving excerpts from The Gospel of Mary of Magdala (available here: confirmed the intuitive knowing of the primacy of Mary in the Jesus story. In today's talk we will review this Gospel, as well as consider the role of women in early Christianity. How did Mary, the natural successor/primary interpreter of Jesus, get relegated to such a secondary role that by the 6th century Pope Gregory had declared her to be a prostitute, inaccurately conflating several other women in the Bible with Mary of Magdala? Why was the official position of the Catholic Church that Mary, the apostle to the apostles, was a prostitute and 'fallen woman' not rectified until 1969? And how did women, who appeared to play a pivotal role in the early church, become profoundly second class citizens in the Church, a travesty that continues until the present day?
The Gospel According to Mary Magdalene - Gnosis
The Gospel According to Mary Magdalene. Complete ancient text and explanatory material. Part of a vast collection of materials dealing with Gnosis and Gnosticism, both ancient and modern.


Monday, June 25, 2018

"Who am I?” by Ramana Maharshi

June 24 we will meet at my office to discuss the 6-page book "Who Am I?" It is recommended that you read it.
See a link to a free pdf. of the book here:

Here is an excerpt from the Introduction: 

 "'Who am I?' is the title given to a set of questions and answers bearing on Self-enquiry. The questions were put to Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi by one Sri M. Sivaprakasam Pillai about the year 1902. Sri Pillai, a graduate in Philosophy, was at the time employed in the Revenue Department of the South Arcot Collectorate. During his visit to Tiruvannamalai in 1902 on official work, he went to Virupaksha Cave on Arunachala Hill and met the Master there. He sought from him spiritual guidance and solicited answers to questions relating to Self-enquiry. As Bhagavan was not talking then, not because of any vow he had taken, but because he did not have the inclination to talk, he answered the questions put to him by gestures, and when these were not understood, by writing. As recollected and recorded by Sri Sivaprakasam Pillai, there were fourteen questions with answers to them given by Bhagavan. This record was first published by Sri Pillai in 1923, along with a couple of poems composed by himself relating how Bhagavan’s grace operated in his case by dispelling his doubts and by saving him from a crisis in life."

In a Zen monastery, the student who has a passionate drive to awaken is offered one of two initial, or breakthrough, koans. The first is Joshus' MU, which was my choice. The second is "Who Am I". These two are at root the same koan. Since I wrestled with this question for a long time, I might have something useful to say about it!

Friday, April 20, 2018

Discussion of Ecclesiastes 1: Everything is Meaningless/ All is Vanity.

This talk is available on my Vimeo page: 
Sunday April 22 we will meet at my office to discuss the meaning and implications of this powerful passage from Ecclesiastes 1, New International Version (NIV):

Everything Is Meaningless
The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem: “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless!  Everything is meaningless.” 

Here is another translation/version of the same passage:

Ecclesiastes 1 English Standard Version (ESV):All Is Vanity 

The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.

The entire book of Ecclesiastes is very challenging to our ordinary assumptions about the meaning and purpose of life. It is an outlier in the Old Testament. From Wikipedia: "The presence of Ecclesiastes in the Bible is something of a puzzle, as the common themes of the Hebrew canon—a God who reveals and redeems, who elects and cares for a chosen people—are absent from it, which suggests that (the author) Kohelet had lost his faith in his old age. Understanding the book was a topic of the earliest recorded discussions (the hypothetical Council of Jamniain the 1st century CE). One argument advanced then was that the name of Solomon carried enough authority to ensure its inclusion, but other works which appeared with Solomon's name were excluded despite being more orthodox than Ecclesiastes." 

We are fortunate that this book somehow slipped into the official canon. Ecclesiastes is one of the most powerful texts in the Bible. Although Biblical scholars have had a hard time making it fit traditional understandings of Judaism or Christianity, the author speaks very directly about the futility of our ordinary ways of living. This book provides an excellent and very clear diagnosis of the nature of our suffering. There's very little offered as a solution, other than to enjoy whatever simple and fleeting pleasures life offers. Even this recommendation is offered in an obligatory and half hearted manner. 

From my perspective, the author deserves enormous credit for his refusal to offer simple minded and pat solutions to the very vexing problems of life. Far better to not know at all then to be certain yet wrong. So much of what is currently offered in the name of religion requires the submission of questioning and not knowing to the certainty offered by fixed belief. There are no simple or easy answers offered here. Nor does the author sugar coat his description of ordinary life, but rather speaks honestly from the heart. Although he has everything, he feels empty inside. It is a perfect and highly accurate description of the human condition. As such, it is worth taking seriously.

What can we learn from this challenging work? The author could not be more clear about the problem. What is the solution? It is recommended but not required that you read it. 
If you are interested in attending, please RSVP as space is limited. 

Here is the remainder of Chapter 1:

"What do people gain from all their labors    at which they toil under the sun?
Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises.
The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course. All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again.
All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing. What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. 10 Is there anything of which one can say,  “Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. 11 No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them.

12 I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens.What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind! 14 I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
15 What is crooked cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted.16 I said to myself, “Look, I have increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.” 17 Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind.18 For with much wisdom comes much sorrow;
 the more knowledge, the more grief."