Sunday, December 13, 2009
Purification, the Present Moment, and Oneness
We all have shortcomings. We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t – and yet, one of the things distinguishing us from other life forms (in my opinion) is our capacity to self-examine. With the effort of spiritual practice we are able to see the things in our mind that cut off our awareness of inflowing Divine energy (or the ‘grace of God’ if you prefer). Someone once said that ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’. When we fail to see the truth of our lack of conscious connection to the Divine in all things we are totally unable to cooperate effectively in enhancing or improving that connection.
Whether we call these bliss-busters ‘shortcomings’, ‘defects of character’, ‘maladjustments’, ‘seeds of unhappiness’, or ‘evils’ one thing is certain – the more we can do to disable their influence in our lives the happier we (and everyone around us) will be. Therefore purification is in order.
And when is purification in order? Not yesterday. Not tomorrow. Not next Thursday. Purification is in order NOW! Consider these questions; is there any other time available for the experience of life? Is there any other time when our shortcomings retard our awareness of our connection to the Divine? Everything happens in the now. Yesterday is history and tomorrow’s a mystery – and taking care of the now automatically takes care of the future and reduces stress and anxiety. As one of my favorite Buddhist teachers once said, “In taking good care of the present moment we are already taking good care of the future because the future is made of present moments. The present moment and the future inter-are” (Hanh, 2006).
In this YouTube video, Thich Nhat Hanh offers a Dharma Talk on living in the present moment:
My favorite revelator of spiritual wisdom, Emanuel Swedenborg, says much the same thing about the present moment in the following citations:
"… every smallest fraction of a moment of a person's life entails a chain of consequences extending into eternity. Indeed every one is like a new beginning to those that follow, and so every single moment of the life both of his understanding and of his will is a new beginning…." (Swedenborg, 1965, AC 3854:3)
"Every single moment of life is the starting point of consequences in life, and like a single seed from which countless results ensue to eternity."
(Swedenborg, 1998, SE 2714)
"… spiritual purification ought to go on all the time, and so always, as from a new beginning." (Swedenborg, 1965, AC 2044)
In regard to new beginnings, Hanh writes:
“The determination to begin anew is a very powerful energy. It can help begin to heal our wounds right away and relieve our suffering and the suffering of others. We can help many people be liberated from their guilt by offering them this kind of teaching and practice.” (Hanh, 2006, p. 234)
So, the 18th century Swedish “Buddha of the North” (see Suzuki, 1996) and the venerable little Buddhist teacher from Vietnam are in agreement about the present moment, its relationship to the future, the power of new beginnings, and the importance of doing spiritual practice NOW.
I would like you to notice that I am trying to be careful about something. In the above, I am NOT saying that our shortcomings cut us off from inflowing Divine energy. I am saying that they are joy killers that cut us off from being aware of that influx, and, of the internal and external blessings and bliss that accompany it. This is very important because nothing and no one is ever cut off from God. In fact, according to Swedenborg, if a person were ever deprived of influx from the Lord through heaven “he would instantly fall down dead.” (Swedenborg, 1965, AC 3884). The “inseparable fellowship” between the Lord, the spiritual world, and ourselves – our Oneness if you will – is simply imperceptible to us without a life of spiritual practice and awareness (Swedenborg, 1952, AE 1162).
There is a constantly inflowing Divine energy and life – a constant connection - AND, according to Swedenborg, it’s very personal.
"Every change or variation in the state of the [individual] human mind means a change or variation in a series of things present and to come; what then of progress to eternity? The situation is like that of an arrow shot from a bow, which if it deviated from the target in the least on being aimed would deviate widely at a thousand feet or more. The like would happen if the Lord did not lead the states of the human mind every least moment." (Swedenborg, 1949, DP 202.3)
"… when man has made a beginning the Lord quickens all that is good in him, and causes him not only to see evils to be evils, but also to refrain from willing them, and finally to turn away from them. This is meant by the Lord's words, `My yoke is easy and My burden is light' (Matt. 11:30)." (Swedenborg, 1995, HH 533)
Johann Wolfgang Goethe also noticed this phenomenon of ‘quickening’ on the part of Providence.
"The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred… unforeseen incidents, meetings, and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way." (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe cited in Dyer, 2004, p. 201)
The lack of awareness of our Oneness with all things and events through the “One who has all power” (W., Bill, 2001, p. 59) is not without its own Divine design. It is a part of the Divine lesson plan established for each of us at our conception. We are designed to FREELY participate in our spiritual development – or not – as we see fit. God leads us in freedom by means of the appearance that we are in charge of ourselves and our lives. This allows for the development of the love of good in our hearts and minds which is the essential of spiritual growth. This cannot be compelled by anything but can only grow in a mental state of free thought and free will. What is love if it is not free?
The appearance that we live from ourselves by ourselves is very strong and pervasive. Mr. Swedenborg explains it here where he writes “that it does not differ at all” from actual self-life:
"Nearly everyone believes that man thinks and wills from himself and consequently speaks and acts from himself. Who from himself can suppose otherwise, since the appearance of it is so strong that it does not differ at all from actually thinking, willing, speaking and acting from himself? And yet this is not possible. (Swedenborg, 1949, DP 308)
Our very ability to physically see objects in the natural world (or experience our other four senses) is constantly caused and made possible by God. Whereas I experience and believe that I am doing the seeing of, for example, you – the truth is that it is God who is seeing you through me – and vice versa. That’s just how personal our relationship with God (and with His leading) actually is. In Swedenborg’s massive work Arcana Coelestia we read:
“Thou God seest me… signifies influx…. Mental view from the higher into the lower… is termed influx, for it takes place by influx; just as in the case of man's interior sight… for it is the interior sight which, through the eye, apprehends the things which the eye sees; and by no means is it the eye, although it so appears…. [I]n fact it is the sight of his spirit, which is the interior sight, that sees through the eye…. [Again] the spirit sees through the eye. The same thing may be seen from dreams, in which a man sometimes sees as in the day. The case is the very same in regard to… [the sight] of the spirit; this again does not see from itself, but from a still more interior sight, or that of man's rational…. [N]either does this see of itself, but does so from a still more internal sight, which is that of the internal man….. And even this does not see of itself, for it is the Lord who sees through the internal man, and He is the Only One who sees because He is the Only One who lives, and He it is who gives man the ability to see, and this in such a manner that it appears to him as if he saw of himself. Such is the case with influx.” (Swedenborg, 1965, AC 1954:1-2, emphasis added)
As I usually do (apparently), I feel as though I have gone on too long with this piece so I will here wrap it up. To summarize, our focus on our own ego concerns which manifests as ‘shortcomings’, ‘defects of character’, etc. is what blocks us from being aware of our connection (our Oneness) to all things via the One God. Self-examination or introspection is the spiritual practice which begins the process of spiritual development and we are led to this practice by the Lord with varying levels of personal awareness over the course of our lives. Purification is a life-span experience. We are gently (and sometimes not so gently) brought to see the harm that is done to ourselves and others by our own self-will – the pain of which motivates us to work to become other-centered and God-centered. All of this occurs in the present moment – never in the past or future which have no reality outside the appearance in our own brains.
"If man believed, as is the truth, that all good and truth originate from the Lord, and all evil and falsity from hell, he would not appropriate good to himself and account it meritorious, nor would he appropriate evil to himself and account himself responsible for it." (Swedenborg, 1949, DP 309)
Dyer, W. W. (2004). The power of intention: Learning to co-create your world your way. New York: Hay House, Inc.
Hanh, T. N. (2006). Understanding our mind. Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press.
Suzuki, D. T. (1996). Swedenborg: Buddha of the north (A. Bernstein Trans.). West Chester, PA: Swedenborg Foundation.
Swedenborg, E. (1949). Divine providence. Wm. Dick & E. J. Pulsford (Trans.). London: The Swedenborg Society. (Original work published 1764) DP
Swedenborg, E. (1952). The apocalypse explained. I. Tansley (Trans.). London: Swedenborg Society. (Original work written c.1757-1759 and first published posthumously in the original Latin in 1870) AE
Swedenborg, E. (1965). Arcana coelestia. J. F. Potts (Trans.). New York: Swedenborg Foundation. (Original work published c. 1749-1756) AC
Swedenborg, E. (1995). Heaven and hell. J. C. Ager (Trans.). West Chester, PA: Swedenborg Foundation. (Original work published 1758) HH
Swedenborg, E. (1998). Spiritual experiences. J. D. Odhner (Trans.). Bryn Athyn, PA: Academy of the New Church. (Original work written c.1747-1765) SE
W., Bill. et. al. (2001). Alcoholics Anonymous. Fourth edition. New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services. (Original work published 1939)