"The life of Laura proved that opening to our experience in its raw state without hope of escape makes us capable of opening to others as well."
Art credit: Edmund Dulac, But Nicolette One Night Escaped… c. 1916.
Bede Griffiths (December 17, 1906 – May 13, 1993), born Alan Richard Griffiths and also known by the end of his life as Swami Dayananda (“bliss of compassion”), was a British-born Benedictine monk who lived in ashrams in South India and became a noted yogi. He became a leading thinker in the development of the dialogue between Christianity and Hinduism. Griffiths was a part of the Christian Ashram Movement. (Wikipedia)
In Cynthia Bourgeault’s book, Mystical Hope: Trusting in the Mercy of God, she wrote:
"Bede Griffiths, one of the great contemplative masters of our time, claimed that there are actually three routes to the center. You can have a near-death experience. You can fall desperately in love. Or you can begin a practice of meditation. Of the three, he said with a somewhat mischievous smile, meditation is probably the most reliable starting point"
In 1986, Parabola Magazine conducted an interview with Father Bede Griffiths entitled “The Silent Guide” in our Spring issue: “The Witness.”
On the subject of what a witness means in the context of religion, he replied:
"In meditation one tries to calm the body and the senses, to calm the mind, and become what’s called “the silent witness,” the witness beyond the mind. We in the West think that the mind is everything, but all Eastern practice is to get beyond the mind to the point of the silent witness, where you’re witnessing yourself, where you’ve gone beyond the ego, beyond the self.
The Indian tradition rests on what the West has largely lost: that there are three levels. There is the level of the body and the level of the mind, which the Western world thinks is the end. But beyond the body is the spirit. It’s the Atman, the pneuma of St. Paul, another dimension where we go beyond the mind, the senses, and the feelings, and we’re aware of the transcendent reality. And that is the goal of life, to get to that.”
Why do you practice meditation?
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For more on Cynthia Bourgeault, see this post.
"This was what God wanted: creatures who would freely love each other and freely respond to Him with love. In a sense, God had to take that risk. If He wanted there to be love, He had to give us freedom. And by giving us freedom, He gave us the possibility of rejecting His love. Freedom therefore implies the possibility of doing evil. The world was not created evil. But God took the risk because He wished there to be love.
This is the true meaning of the Christian doctrine of Hell, which is so widely misunderstood. God does not condemn us to Hell; God wishes all humans to be saved. He will love us to all eternity but there will exist the possibility that we do not accept that love and do not respond to it. And the refusal to accept love, the refusal to respond to it, that precisely is the meaning of Hell. Hell is not a place where God puts us; it’s a place where we put ourselves. The doors of Hell, insofar as they have locks, have locks on the inside.”
—Bishop Kallistos Ware from the interview: IMAGE AND LIKENESS, PARABOLA, Volume 10, Number 1: “Wholeness.” | Order this issue here.
Photography Credit: Three shafts of sunlight illuminate the basilica and its mosaic floor in the Vatican, December 1971. Photograph by Albert Moldvay, National Geographic
The Middle Ground
There is a middle ground, a basic Reality embracing self
and Self. It may be called my true nature. To discover what
prevents me from the experience of it, I have only to look
at myself, just as I am.
It is so simple.
At this moment, what is my state?
I let my attention embrace the whole of myself, from the
top of the head through the torso, solar plexus, the entire
I am very still in the body. I follow the breath. I watch
the movements of thoughts and associations. The feelings
become quiet, and the activity in the head diminishes. I
am more. I perceive the whole of my world, just as it is.
I remain very still, refusing the mind’s inclinations to reach
Thoughts and feelings come and go like floating clouds.
They are not me.
The experience is at one and the same time, both active
and passive. Through sensation of the body, I perceive that
I am. Yet, I do not know who or what I am. I am witness to
I am aware of a feeling which suffuses the interior of myself.
It is a choiceless, an accepting awareness. With it comes a
sensation that extends to and envelopes all the parts of the
body. I am very still, relating to the silence that is both
inside and outside.
Nothing is lacking at this moment.
–William Segal (1904-2000), painter and writer, met P.D. Ouspensky and G.I. Gurdjieff in the 1940s, and later spent long periods at the main Rinzai and Soto Zen monasteries in Japan. He is the author of numerous works, including Openings: Collected Writings of William Segal (1985-1997). This poem is from The Middle Ground, (Green River Press).
From Parabola Magazine, Winter 2006, the “Home” issue. Purchase it here.
Photography Credit: A portarait of William Segal from the autobiography of William Segal, entitled A Voice at the Borders of Silence, edited by Mark Magill. (The Overlook Press, New York, 2003), p. 234.
“The authority and ease with which he often wrote came from his wholeness, but wholeness was a work in progress. “The voice of God is not clearly heard at every moment,” he wrote…,”and part of the ‘work of the cell’ is attention, so that one may not miss any sound of that voice. What this means, therefore, is not only attention to inner grace but to external reality and to one’s self as a completely integrated part of that reality. Hence, this implies also a forgetfulness of oneself as totally apart from outer objects, standing back from outer objects; it demands an integration of one’s own life in the stream of natural and human and cultural life of the moment. When we understand how little we listen, how stubborn and gross our hearts are, we realize how important this inner work is. And we see how badly we are prepared to do it.”
Passages of this quality from his writings deserve a place on seekers’ bulletin boards or in their journals. How can one keep these thoughts in mind and live by their light? One’s own search, however structured and inspired, must be similarly alive–and complex enough to address the human condition as a whole. We are our own workshops. Merton knew this.”
–Roger Lipsey, a longtime contributor to Parabola Magazine on the inner search of Trappist Monk, Thomas Merton from his forthcoming book We Are Already One: Thomas Merton’s Message of Hope: Reflections to Honor his Centenary (1915-2015).
To read the full excerpt, purchase our Fall Issue on Spiritual Practice.
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Photography Credit: Jonathan Williams, Portrait of Thomas Merton
"Most of us need to be reminded that we are good, that we are lovable, that we belong. If we knew just how powerfully our thoughts, words, and actions affected the hearts of those around us, we’d reach out and join hands again and again. Our relationships have the potential to be a sacred refuge, a place of healing, and awakening. With each person we meet, we can learn to look behind the mask and see the one who longs to love and be loved. We can remember to say our blessings out loud.”
―Tara Brach, BREATHING OUT: OFFERING OUR CARE: Transforming suffering, from the Spring issue 2013, “Spirit in the World.”
Photography Credt: Film Still from Wings of Desire, by Wim Wenders, 1987. Watch the trailer at Criterion.
"For an earliest generation of Christians, Jesus was not the Savior but the Life-giver. In the original Aramaic of Jesus and his followers, there was no word for salvation. Salvation was understood as bestowal of life, and to be saved was “to be made alive.”
This gift of life, moreover, was received in a clear rite of initiation, following the pattern of Jesus’ own initiation. According to the ancient, Aramaic-derived traditions, Jesus’ divine sonship began not in his sacrificial death on the cross, but in his spirit-filled baptism in the Jordan River. Entering the waters at the hand of John the Baptist, he emerged as the Life-giver (in Syriac, Mahyana), upon whom the Spirit “rested.” He came forth also as Ihidaya, “the only one,” or “the Unified One,” and in this pattern his initiates became known also as ihidaye, “those who are one.” This early Aramaic Christianity—scholars call it “Spirit Christology” —knew nothing of dying and rising with Christ, but only of a larger, more vivified and unified life made possible through the indwelling of the Spirit.”
–Cynthia Bourgeault, "The Gift of Life," on the unified vision of the desert fathers, Summer 1989
Parabola remembers B.K.S. Iyengar, the legendary yoga master, who passed away today at the the age of 95. Born in India in 1918, B.K.S. Iyengar taught yoga since the age of seventeen. An innovative and exacting teacher for more than sixty years, he has guided the establishment of many centers of Iyengar Yoga worldwide. His message was “Yoga is for everyone.”
In an interview with Annie Schliffer from our Fall 2009 issue “The Path,” B.K.S. Iyengar spoke candidly of his personal practice:
"I am a person who does what he says, even at my age. And I continue to practice because Yoga has helped me. Explicitly I teach the entire philosophy, but in the presentation of each asana and breath I do not speak publicly of what spiritual life is. Spiritual life begins only when you attempt to internalize completely. I am not an idol, but I practice what I speak. My life is open to each and every one to see. I am pure inside and pure outside. Whether I am nine or ninety does not matter to me. Life has a flow from birth to death. And that flow should not be interrupted. And that’s why I practice."
Later in the interview, he explains the importance of the Yoga that he practices:
"Another image I can give you is knitting a sweater. This body is “knitted” with fibers, sinews, ligaments, and so forth. It is said, “The camel can’t pass through the eye of a needle.” The needle is the consciousness, the eye of the needle is the intelligence, and the thread that you pass through the eye of the needle is the mind. If the mind, the thread, is rough can you push it through the needle? What do you do? You sharpen it. So you have to sharpen the mind, for the thread to pass through the eye of the needle. And the moment the tip of the thread passes through, do you think of the thread? You only knit with the needle because the thread is moving through the needle. So therefore I say, when the asanas are done, each and every fiber of the body is knitted through the asana.
The mind, the thread, has passed through the intelligence, the eye of the needle, for the needle to move in the body. So the needle and the fibers become one. And that is also another meaning of Oneness: “The dualities disappear,” which means “Oneness between the Body and the Soul comes.”
––B.K.S. Iyengar in an interview with Annie Schliffer: “The Yoga Master at Ninety,” PARABOLA, Volume 34, No. 3, Fall 2009: “The Path.”
"The sacred pipe of the Native Americans is a potent symbol of relationship. Through it the human breath sends to all the six directions the purifying smoke that connects the person to the divine and is the link between all forms of life: mitakuye oyasin, we are all relatives.”
―Joseph Epes Brown, "The Pipe of Reconciliation" from our Winter 1989 Issue.
Read the essay here.
Photography Credit: Edward S. Curtis, Cheyenne Indian Smoking a Peace Pipe, 1907