Quaker Universalist Conversations

More responses to the question: “Can a Christian be a Universalist?”

Rachel Stacy’s question “Can a Christian be a Universalist?” has provoked many thoughtful responses reflecting the diversity of theological perspectives among Friends. Here are a few more:

Victoria Pearson writes:

This post is so helpful, because I think that what gets lost in these conversations is the myriad of ‘-ologies’ associated with Christian theology. What Christianity offers is a frame for exploration of these various disciplines of meaning-making. Universalism is not totalizing to these questions, but rather frames these questions in the complexity of diversity and the lived sense of our Friend in Christ (if that makes sense). Eschatology, soteriology, theodicy, christology– these are framing understandings that a simple Christianity names clearly. From a Universalist frame, I think these studies are more process than answer, more practice than intellectual exercise. And I think, from my take on Universalism, there is so much more room for multiple faith frames, and fruitful interfaith dialogue within one’s own journey. This blows the lid off of finite faith claims. I think the Christian who is a Universalist is exactly that, and that identity is becoming and processual.

Emmett Murphy writes:

This is a potent question for most Quakers. It is likely that many of our evangelical and Christocentric brethren would voice a strong “No” answer. I approach the question from the other end: can a Quaker Universalist really be a Christian. My answer is “Possibly, but not me.” I have been too rigorously affected by scientific skepticism and respect for evidence. I concede there was likely a Creator, but I see no evidence whatsoever that he/she/it maintains contact with our universe, and certainly not with individuals. I wish I had the capacity to discern the fullness of great questions like this, but I long ago concluded that the human brain was simply not created to understand fully such matters as creation, the afterlife, the nature of god. I deeply believe there might be a purpose for life; if so, our great task is to develop a cosmology and a moral code that fosters the healthiest kind of society, the most benevolent interpersonal relationships, and an environment that has the most eternal chance of prospering. Some Christian tenets seem good by these standards, others are inadequate. Belief in the divinity of Jesus seems to me inconsistent with what we KNOW about the universe, though Jesus’s teachings have stood the test of time and can claim high marks by the standards I feel logical. But certainty is impossible, especially if answers emerge that harbor exclusivity rather than inclusivity. In other words, Quaker Universalism is a big tent, and must remain so!


Perhaps we need to consider that Universalism and Christian can mean many things to many people. I would call myself a Christian Universalist and Friend although I know there are many who would not apply those terms to me from their perspective. I do believe that any Friend who centers down to actively listen to the leading of the Holy Spirit and walks in that leading with the help of other Friends is a Friend in the Light of Christ to me. And as I know God I believe all humanity has that of God in themselves so I cannot believe that Universalism is somehow invalid or incorrect. Thoughts, Friends?
Sinking Deeper into the Heart of Silence Recent postings on QUF about finding that of God in everyone and in everything have brought to the forefront an interesting set of questions about how we might look more deeply into Quaker contemplative practices. Perhaps this is where we need to direct our inquiry. Some of the wisest people I know are Quaker, but they mostly were born awake. The rest of us need help from a Quaker practice tradition. Aldous Huxley in his essay - The Best Picture- Piero's Resurrection,
said "...in religion all words are dirty words. Anyone who gets eloquent about Buddha, or God, or Christ, ought to have his mouth washed out with carbolic soap." Nevertheless, at the risk of getting my mouth washed out, I ask your patience in looking at how 40+ years of Quaker-Buddhist practice comes together with reflecting on what it means to come alive in the manner of early Friends. It is a simple spiritual truth held in in common by most religious traditions that purpose of a human life is to come closer to God. With Meister Eckhart, we would like to affirm awakened experience, saying: "The eye with which I see God is the eye with which God sees me." When asked what is the way, the Buddha answered: “Great intimacy.” Dogen, the founder of the Soto (gradual enlightenment) school of Japanese Buddhism, follows suit saying "to study the Buddha way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things. When actualized by myriad things, your body and mind as well as the bodies and minds of others drop away. No trace of realization remains, and this no-trace continues endlessly." "Yet, though it is like this, simply, flowers fall amid our longing and weeds spring up amid our antipathy." How are we to think about this from a Quaker perspective? Walt Whitman describing the early Friends says "George Fox stands for something too—a thought—the thought that wakes in silent hours—perhaps the deepest, most eternal thought latent in the human soul. This is the thought of God, merged in the thoughts of moral right and the immortality of identity. Great, great is this thought—aye, greater than all else.” A synthetic, developmentally oriented, modern interpretation of the experience of the Light might go like this. We are born open (the flowering of a longing for God), but pretty soon we develop a reactive personality (the small self) that is intended to protect us from internal and external threats and difficulties (the longing for security and comfort). In becoming protected selves, we quickly lose contact with our true nature, namely the direct experience of the Light within. We do so by building interior walls (antipathy) as if the open spaciousness that Fox describes in his awakening experience has to be constrained. From Fox talking about how to avoid or overcome this fate: “Keep within. And when they say 'lo here', or 'lo there' is Christ; go not forth; for Christ is within you. And they are seducers and antichrists, which draw your minds out from the teachings within you.” More directly from Isaac Pennington: “Even in the Apostles' days, Christians were too apt to strive after a wrong unity and uniformity in outward practices and observations, and to judge one another unrighteously in these matters; and mark, it is not the different practice from one another that breaks the peace and unity, but the judging of one another because of different practices... For this is the true ground of love and unity, not that such a man walks and does just as I do, but because I feel the same Spirit and Life in him, and that he walks in his rank, in his own order, in his proper way and place of subjection to that; and this is far more pleasing to me than if he walked just in that track wherein I walk.” This shared sense of spaciousness of the heart is central to all mystical traditions. When criss-crossed with boundaries that segment life into this and that, good and bad, high and low, rich and poor, wise and not so wise, it is hard to access and being hard to access it is impossible to transmit directly. We wall off our experience, including parts of ourselves that needed and didn't get nurtured, and become spiritually impoverished as a result. We are disconnected, not connected or, as one might say in Christian language, we are fallen. Great intimacy lost. This impoverishment sets up an inchoate longing for connection, including the longing for God that leads to entering a spiritual path the goal of which is intimacy regained. I was told I couldn't sing and didn't recover from this until I began to sing as vocal ministry many years later. Those parts of us that hurt are the places where a spiritual life begins. Because of our attachment to generating coherent stories that support and protect the self, we suppress our capacity to drop below our stories into a deeper experience of our true nature and so block our capacity for unity with God. It is not that words are not helpful, but that they are only so if we realize that the process of refining the small self is just continuing our isolation. Jesus’ parables, the sutra’s of the Buddha, the commentarial literature, can point either to God or to spiritual oblivion depending on how we make use of them. It is how we use words and the rest of our experience that matters. Typically, instead of relaxing and surrendering, we fiddle with our experience in the service of moving away from unpleasant and toward pleasant states of mind. We fix our experience and in doing so lose touch with the flowing quality of our true nature. The Sufi's say that we have at our core an essential nature that is exquisitely alive. They say that the task of a spiritual life is to come into aliveness in relationship to God by which they mean in loving connection to the one thing and the many things. It isn't that we have true nature; we are that true nature, we just don't know it. Dogen says that those who believe they are on a journey through life are deluded; those who understand that life is on a journey through them are awake. We are flowers blooming in a blooming universe. We lose awareness of it because we are forever bound up in our small stories about who we are or are not, defending our small selves. Waking up is just remembering what we’ve forgotten. Many years ago at a Sufi/mindfulness retreat at Southern Dharma with Zakira Beasley I learned three Sufi chants that illustrate the path. I've have sung them many times in Meeting as vocal ministry, especially the first. As I recall Zakira’s dharma talks, they depict the deepening of the heart on the spiritual path in three steps: remembering God continuously; seeing everything as beautiful, pleasant or painful, or in Buddhist language as arising and passing from emptiness into forms and back into emptiness; and, finally, dissolving into God altogether. I believe that you can find the sheet music and the songs themselves in the Dances of Universal Piece. Ishq Allah Mahabud Líllah “The Spirit is at once The Lover, The Beloved and Love Itself.“ All I ask of you is forever to remember me as loving you.
 All I ask of you is forever to remember me as loving you. Ishq Allah Mahabud Líllah 
Ishq Allah Mahabud Líllah
Ishq Allah Mahabud Líllah
 Ishq Allah Mahabud Líllah Hu Allah Hu: The Divine Presence, beyond definition. Allah: God Thy Light is in All Forms Thy Love in All Beings, Thy Light is in All Forms Thy Love in All Beings, Hu Allah, Hu Allah, Hu Allah Hu. Hu Allah, Hu Allah, Hu Allah Hu. Pieces of Cloud Rumi This is how I would die into the love I have for you This is how I would die into the love I have for you Like pieces of cloud dissolving in sunlight Like pieces of cloud dissolving in sunlight. La i - la - ha il - la 'llah, La ilaha illa 'llah, La ilaha illa 'llah La i - la - ha il - la 'llah La ilaha illa 'llah, La ilaha illa 'llah There are many ways to think about this. The Buddha in his awakening realized the four noble truths: the truth of suffering, the cause of suffering (greed, hatred, ignorance), the truth of the end of suffering in the eightfold path consisting of three broad steps: morality, mindfulness and wisdom. Within mindfulness, Tibetans talk of the deepening of spiritual wisdom as being like a rock on a bog sinking down through three layers: the layer of story, the layer of emotion, and the layer of fundamental concepts. Each represents a line drawn across the spaciousness of Silence--our deep connection with what in the Quaker tradition we call the Light within. (The words-true nature or big mind or God or the Light are not important, only pointing to this deeper truth.) Feeling the pain of separation, most of us enter the spiritual life through one of three gates: personal suffering, compassion or curiosity. The suffering of separation sets up a longing for connection. We all have it and know its release in, for example, in a gathered Meeting for Worship. Compassion is the natural response to the suffering of others—the analogue of simple kindness when suffering is in the background. Curiosity is a strong factor for awakening as the desire not to know is a feature of the soul’s insecurity and its fear of the unknown whereas the desire to know, to deeply connect with our experience through inquiry, is the beginning of understanding that everything that exists is dependent on everything else that exists, that we are in fact a living interconnected organism. In this vein, another of my teachers says that the true purpose of a human life is the marriage of love and power without which compassion is impossible. Though I had no clear idea of this at the start but just followed the heart’s leading, compassion and curiosity were and remain key factors shaping the impact of the curiosity factor on my life’s evolution. Curiosity lead me to science and to the Buddhist path; compassion lead me to medical research in neuropsychiatry despite a strong leading to entering a monastic vocation; and I became a Quaker in part because the heart of Quakerism is in the expression of compassion transformed out of Silence into social justice. In Buddhism, this sustained attention to the movement of experience—being fully present within awareness to the passing scenery of our lives--is what is meant by mindfulness. It is nothing more than listening underneath words from an intention informed by sincerity, integrity, curiosity and kindness. Everything held impartially and objectively. Instead of fiddling with our experience, what if with deep respect and kindness we just listen to the flow of it. Words I don't take your words Merely as words. Far from it. I listen To what makes you talk- Whatever that is- And me listen. Shinkichi Takahashi Triumph of the Sparrow The Buddhas and all sentient beings are only one mind; there is nothing else. This mind, since beginningless past, has never been born, never perished; it is not green, not yellow; it has no shape or form. It is not subject to existence or non-existence, and is not to be considered new or old... This very substance is it; stir your thoughts and you miss it. It is like empty space; it has no bounds and cannot be measured. Just this one mind itself is Buddha. Buddha and sentient beings are no different; it's just that sentient beings grasp appearances- seeking outwardly, they become more and more lost. If you employ Buddha to seek Buddha, use mind to grasp mind, you may go on all your life until the end of time, but will never succeed. Don't you realize that if you cease thinking and forget thought, Buddha will spontaneously appear? -- Obaku [Huang-po Hsi-yun] (?-849) Mindfulness on the way to wisdom and sanity is absolutely dependent on a platform of morality and on a community of teachers, the teachings, and spiritual friends/community. In Buddhism, we bring allegiance to the triple gem: the Buddha (the teachers), the Dharma (the teachings), and the Sangha (the community, in our case Friend's Meeting). With mindfulness, we see that everything is both changing and interconnected and thus empty of a fixed self. The opposite of mindfulness, papancha, the Pali word for thought proliferation, is what happens when the mind encounters a stimulus followed by a sense of pleasant or unpleasant, followed by a label, followed by a story that reinforces the sense of me looking out on the world. Sitting in Meeting my knee aches; I don’t like it; should I move, but then I won’t be a good worshiper as my fidgeting will bother my neighbor, and so on. Papancha begins to drop away under the watchful eye of mindfulness and there is real presence, the Light shining through to illuminate experience. With mindfulness, we rest in awareness so that we let go early in the sequence of sense perception, assigning affective valence, naming and making a story. This effortlessly allows the heart and the world to open up. Deeper in Silence, now imagine that awareness expands so that it holds not just your experience but the “I” that is having the experience. When the watcher drops away, there is just unity, empty of self. As Fox says, "Stand still in that which shows and discovers; and then doth strength immediately come. And stand still in the Light, and submit to it, and the other will be hush'd and gone; and then contentment comes." No separation, just the very particular in unity with the ten thousand things held in equanimity because there is no other response possible. As Dogen says so beautifully: “Awakening is like the moon reflected on the water. The moon does not get wet, nor is the water broken. Although its light is wide and great, the moon is reflected even in a puddle an inch wide. The whole moon and the entire sky are reflected in dewdrops on the grass, or even in one drop of water. Enlightenment does not divide you, just as the moon does not break the water. You cannot hinder enlightenment, just as a drop of water does not hinder the moon in the sky. The depth of the drop is the height of the moon. Each reflection, however long or short its duration, manifests the vastness of the dewdrop, and realizes the limitlessness of the moonlight in the sky.” Dogen’s poetic words evoke the longing that draws us onto and down the Quaker path, but if they are only words incorporated into a self-constructed reified story that has at it heart the intention to support the self selfing the self within time, then we will remain separate and Fox’s vision will go unrealized. Using the spiritual path as a means of fixing a reified self is a strong pull--the seduction of spiritual materialism to use Chogram Trungpa’s term. As the contemporary Zen teacher, Charlotte Joko Beck, says: “Intelligent practice always deals with just one thing: the fear at the base of human existence, the fear that I am not. And of course I am not, but the last thing I want to know is that.” Dropping the fixed self is quite frightening, until it happens. It is our intention that matters. Do we want comfort or awakening. Am I writing this to feel good about myself or am I writing this a vehicle for advancing the dharma in the West, including enriching Quaker practice? Some of each probably, but the question is important. Absent the intention of stillness (as a state of mind) or stilling the mind (as a verb) there is no knowing God as all our efforts are just slashes across space. What is needed is the intention of letting relaxing arise within awareness, allowing things to arise and pass w/o fiddling with experience, and to release even the self itself including its desire to know God into Silence. Everything is welcome, even the hard stuff. I chose the word slash intentionally. Our purest efforts to reify the self through improving it are a kind of violence insofar as striving to improve ourselves begins from a place of self-hatred (the first layer of the bog), reflects an intention to move away from the unpleasant toward the pleasant (the second layer), and manifests the deepest forms of attachment to self (the third layer). These days, I work primarily at the third layer asking simple questions like “Who is watching?”(the dewdrop) or its counterpart “What is Mu?” (the moon—Mu is Zen for true nature) or, from restriction, “What is gender?” or “What is intelligence or brilliancy?”. The tension at this boundary—the movement toward opening or toward contraction—is in fact the practice of the presence of God, whether it is me talking to you, sitting in Meeting for Worship waiting on God, deep in Silence on retreat, or driving in to work in the morning. Moment by moment, lost, found, lost found, grace arising in the finding or rather, finding arising within grace, intending receptivity w/o effort, suspended between past and future, outside time, held in forgiveness. In fact, to return to practice instruction again, meditation as a practice is simply watching the self arising as the five hindrances of Theravadan Buddhism—wanting, not wanting, torpor, restlessness and anxiety, and doubting—all within time. Let them go, time ceases and we rest in the vast openness of God in this one moment, flowing moment by moment. Please don’t take this too seriously judging your own experience relative to mine. To forget that the finger pointing to the moon is not the moon is all too common. But I can say that I’m am happy these days, not burdened with too much between me and experience, the easy rising of the traditional virtues because of greater awareness and thus the lessening of the impingement of conditions. More freedom, less determinism. As Mary Oliver puts it Halleluiah: Everyone should be born into this world happy and loving everything. But in truth it rarely works that way. For myself, I have spent my life clamoring toward it. Halleluiah, anyway I'm not where I started! And have you too been trudging like that, sometimes almost forgetting how wondrous the world is and how miraculously kind some people can be? And have you too decided that probably nothing important is ever easy? Not, say, for the first sixty years. Halleluiah, I'm sixty now, and even a little more, and some days I feel I have wings. ~ Mary Oliver ~ (Evidence) Everything I’ve written in this post sits squarely on the balance point between truly lead vocal ministry and an instructive interaction. John as spiritual friend; John as mislead and misleading teacher. While ambition has largely fallen away as I’ve gotten older, please forgive the burdens of self-aggrandizement and ambition that still persist. There’s still more than enough of the latter, but at least I know it, mostly anyway. For forty years, I’ve stayed away from teaching—I’m an expert at work, but it would be ruinous to become an expert here and not just for me. Born of curiosity and compassion, this post is a tiny movement with a lot of temerity into the wider circle of what Buddhism calls Kalyana mitta, which means "spiritual friendship" within the community or sangha, namely the wider circle of Friends. Of the teachers, the teachings and the sangha, it is often said that the sangha that is the most important in the sense of being at the heart of growing in the Spirit. Deep respect and gratitude for QUF as a help to a global Quaker sangha. As you can see, there’s not all that much in the post about Quakerism as a contemplative practice because there isn’t much to say about Quaker practices for accessing deep interior Silence. At least not relative to what's available in other traditions. It is this simple fact that drew me to Buddhism as a Quaker some forty years ago. Buddhism encompasses a 2500 year practice tradition that begins with morality, moves to mindfulness and teaches multiple pathways to non-dual awareness as exemplified in the quotes from Dogen and Eckhart earlier in this post. It began with sitting sesshin at the Zen Center at Mount Baldy in 1972, when Zen was just coming to the west as a monastic tradition. It's been enriched by vipassana (insight) practices and by the Diamond Heart Ridhwan tradition. (For a great introduction to the work, read The Unfolding Now by A.H Almass, who blends psychological work with Sufism, Buddhism and other spiritual influences into a remarkable path focused spiritual tradition.) Fifteen months of retreating over the past twenty years much of it at the Southern Dharma Retreat Center (www.southerndharma.com) has been invaluable. Of late, this support continues in the form of the Southern Dharma Practice Community, a lay-monastic community that we joined last year in anticipation of more time spent in Silence as work slows down. In the Catholic mystical tradition, I spent a year in which my daily meditations were devoted to contemplating the crucifixion as a Zen koan. John of the Cross has been very helpful to me as with many other Quakers and the past few years have brought transitioning through the dark night of the soul into something set apart from hierarchies and the linear boundaries of time. Sufism where the deep practices are held secure in times of threat and released like they are now when the world needs them most is inspirational. Despite the tremendous amount of commoditized spiritual garbage in our internet enabled world, there are powerful modern synthetic approaches to spiritual development like A.H. Almaas’ Diamond Heart program, which weren't available to me at the beginning but that support my practice immeasurably now. In the flip side of the Buddhist emphasis on emptiness, our Quaker practice likely will trend toward “finding the pearl beyond price, the incomparable pearl, the personal aspect of Essence…When the individual finally perceives it, the contented expression often is "but this is me!" The sense is of oneself as a precious being. There is then a fullness, a completeness, and a contentment…Nothing is lacking. No more search, no desire or wanting anything else. The person feels "now I have myself. I am a complete individual. I am full. I am fullness. I am complete. I want nothing else.” This from Almaas’s The Unfolding Now, perhaps the wisest rendering of the path-focused synthetic approaches, which has informed my learning via one of my primary teachers, Jeff Collins, the other primary teacher being Rodney Smith, the founder of the Seattle Insight Meditation Society. Rodney is the author of another wonderful book on the Buddhist path for western students, Stepping out of Self Deception. Thus, it is not only teachings but teachers who've helped me greatly over the past 40 years. Still, having found a good teacher, Fox like the Buddha says cleave to your own experience for no one other than you is capable of awakening. From the familiar Fox: “You will say, Christ saith this, and the apostles say this; but what canst though say? Art thou a child of Light and hast walked in the Light, and what thou speakest is it inwardly from God?” From the Buddhist scriptures: Sariputta came to Buddha, and he said, ”I have come to believe in you. I have come! Help me to build faith in you.”

Buddha is reported to have said, ”If you don’t believe in yourself, how can you believe in me? So forget me. First have trust in yourself, believe in yourself. Only then can you have trust in someone else.” No one can go there for you and poor teachers are a dime a dozen. Meeting for Worship on the other hand has proven trustworthy in the deepest possible way. Despite lots of reasons and chances to look elsewhere, my sangha has always been a Friends Meeting—first Westwood Friends Meeting, then the Montana Gathering of Friends, and now Durham Friends Meeting. Am deeply grateful to these Friends and to friends at Carolina Friends School for sustaining my practice across these 40 years. Richard Hayes, a Buddhist priest and convinced Friend also of 40+ years, writes beautifully on Friends and Buddhism. With deep knowledge of both traditions, he speaks (http://dayamati.blogspot.com/) my mind much more eloquently than I can or likely every will. To come full circle then, early Friend’s practices nicely point us toward the fact that awakening to the interior Christ is possible. Friend's contemplative practices, however, does not generally provide a rich guide to awakening. While Fox and the others clearly found what can’t be labeled they didn’t leave a practice tradition that tells the rest of us 400 years later how to follow in turn. As Friends, our best teachers express a form of the practice of interior Silence that is highly realized relative to other Christian forms of contemplative practice but relatively weak compared to the world's great mystical traditions. Hence, many Friends like me have felt the need to look elsewhere and, having looked, have reached sufficient maturity to be able to offer what we've learned to our Meetings and to the wider fellowship of Friends. It is wonderful to see that Friends like Rex Ambler have tried to develop such a practice tradition. Ditto the centering prayer movement in Catholicism that began in part with Merton’s experience of Zen within Cistercian practice and has now spread to other Christian churches. All part of a surge in interest in contemplative spirituality in a globalizing world. Thomas Merton shows us the way forward: Listen to the stones of the wall
 Be still
Listen to the stones of the wall. Be silent, they try
To speak your
 Listen to the living walls.
 Who are you?
Are you?
Silence are you? Thomas Merton Zen and the Birds of Appetite On the other hand, poetics isn’t enough. As Friends, we need to develop a Quaker contemplative practice tradition that reflects the experience of early and contemporary Friends and that draws in gnostic/Christian practices and those of other spiritual traditions as well. Remember, what we are looking to and for is underneath our stories about what is real and true. To the extent that they are based on comparing this and that, we are doomed to fail if our intention is to wake up to the experience of God’s Light and to offer this experience to the world. Mystical friends have much more in common than not. As our world becomes global, Quaker religious practices must follow suit, viz. the dramatic movement of Buddhism into the west, while retaining what is uniquely Quaker if as way opens this is what we are called to embrace. If we get caught in papancha, chewing on questions like “Are we Christian or universalist?” we are lost before we start. At present then, Quakerism is both dry as a bone and as alive as a bud on the way to blooming in Spring. Sitting inside the tension of the old and new forms with curiosity and real receptive listening should allow true discernment regarding the heart of Quaker practice. “Where is there Love in this moment?” “What does it mean to come alive in the Silence.” “Who is listening?” "What can we learn from the experience of God moving amongst us?" Traditions with strong roots in experiential approaches to Silence are loaded with questions like these that may be helpful as experientially we wait on God for clarity to arise. We should not be afraid of borrowing lest we dwindle in power. In Zen terms, sitting curiously within the tension that arises from questions like these allows a great doubt to arise which, when broken, leaves the listener not only with the answer to the question but, more importantly, with experience that fills the longing that drove the question in the first place. Inquiry after inquiry lets us go deeper into a truly Quaker practice that informs the community of Friends and beyond. In the words of the poet Robert Cording: Ears of the Heart When we are dying the last faculty usually
to shut down is hearing. St. Benedict said, Listen with the ears of your heart. And so I try to remember what was once heard
in the practice of the heart's listening:
the surprise of a robin's common song when I was ready to hear it. And wind saying itself
in the tulip leaves outside my childhood window. So many times I've needed to learn again
what I am always forgetting—
that each thing has its own pitch and vibration and rings
with the exactness of a bell. Like the sounds rain makes so differently
filling a tin cup or water falling leaf by leaf through
the understories of a forest. And there's my mother's voice calling
me home for supper and, later, saying goodbye. When I am dying to the world will the ears of my heart hear— in a hospital room's trickle of sad laughter,
in the sitcom leaking down
from the television, in the doctor's voice calling my name
when no one is sure I am still listening—the voice of my beloved moving like light
at the beginning of each day, speaking in words I have heard but never clearly enough
to write down, saying everything I could never say? --From Common Life (CavanKerry, 2006) May we as Friends come alive as individuals looking to awaken to that of God in everything and everyone. As a continuously evolving practice community stewarding a practice tradition that has at its core all that is necessary for awakening but doesn’t as yet understand exactly what that means, may we be held in the Light as we embrace continuing revelation to find out. May we discover what true nature has in store for us and in finding let it go. In this time of great need, there can be no greater practice of the presence of God.
THANK YOU, JOHN. Despite my resistance to trying to come to grips with navigating Facebook, something pushed me on this morning. I needed the contact which you offered. Look forward to seeing you shortly and maybe you can help me with some computer complexities as well as providing the warmth of your presence!
Working out of Silence The Work of Friends is Universalist and Christian--they are one and the same. A dog understands a dog’s work. A cat understands a cat’s work. Do we understand our work? It isn’t enough to awaken to true nature if doing so frees only yourself and has no benefit for other beings. So how are we to understand the work of our lives as we awaken the Christ within. In Mahayana Buddhism, the root vow is the bodhisattva vow, which purposes the awakening individual (or society) to save all beings. From the Lewis Richmond and Kazuaki Tanahashi translation of Dogen’s Shobogenzo: “Creations are numberless, I vow to free them. Delusions are inexhaustible, I vow to put an end to them. Reality is boundless, I vow to perceive it. The Awakened Way is unsurpassable, I vow to embody it.” In Dogen’s “The Bodhisattva’s Four Methods of Guidance” again from the Tanahashi translation, Dogen instructs both monks and lay people on the work of a bodhisattva. First, the phrase “Beings are numberless. I vow to free them” aims to free all beings from the prison of wrong views beginning with “giving.” “Giving means non-greed. Non-greed means not to covet. Not to covet means not to curry favor.” Coming closer to true nature has nothing to do with self-improvement, personal gain or personal advancement. Rather, it means not taking nor fiddling with things, by allowing things to show up in their own way, without meddling so that God’s leadings can emerge: “When you leave the way to the way, you attain the way. At the time of attaining the way, the way is always left to the way. When treasure is left as just treasure, treasure becomes giving. You give yourself to yourself and others to others.” Dôgen goes on to highlight the myriad forms of giving: “to launch a boat or build a bridge…making a living and producing things…to leave flowers to the wind, to leave birds to the seasons, to give yourself to yourself, to give to your family.” This isn’t abstract philosophizing, but action in the world. In giving, our mind is transformed into the mind of Christ: “Mind is beyond measure. And yet, in giving, mind transforms the gift and the gift transforms mind.” Second, Dogen turns to “ kind speech.” Traditionally, the Buddha defined right speech as true, kind, helpful not hurtful, timely and necessary. Dôgen’s interpretation in the framework of the bodhisattva vow brings this injunction about skillful means of speech into a more collective frame of mind: “Kind speech means that when you see sentient beings, you arouse the heart of compassion and offer words of loving care…Be willing to practice it for this entire present life; do not give up, world after world, life after life. Ponder the fact that kind speech is not just praising the merit of others; it has the power to turn the destiny of the nation.” Great need calls out sane speech in place of lies, harshness and selfish speech, viz. the voice of AFSC and FCNL in these trying times. The third of the bodhisattva guidances is “beneficial action.” Beneficial action is skillfully to benefit all classes of sentient beings; that is, to care about their distant and near future, and to help them by using skillful means. This means everyone, not just those members of my tribe. In fact it means the end of tribal allegiance to this and that in all forms of separation from the one mind. Acting skillfully requires engaging in beneficial action: “Foolish people think that if they help others first, their own benefit will be lost, but this is not so. Beneficial action is an act of oneness, benefiting self and others together.” This is the principle of inward Silence transformed into outward action. And, finally, perhaps the most important guidance: “identity action.” Here Dogen points out that “Identity action means non-difference. It is non-difference from self, non-difference from others.” Just as giving is non-greed, identity action is non-exclusion—we are all in this together in a way that is much deeper and more profound than simply the skillful exchange of my work for yours. For example, Dogen says “That the ocean does not exclude water is identity action. Water does not exclude the ocean either. This being so, water comes together to form the ocean. Soil piles up to form mountains.” In verse V from a Country of Marriage, Wendell Berry puts it thusly: Our bond is no little economy based on the exchange of my love and work for yours, so much for so much of an expendable fund. We don't know what its limits are-- that puts us in the dark. We are more together than we know, how else could we keep on discovering we are more together than we thought? You are the known way leading always to the unknown, and you are the known place to which the unknown is always leading me back. More blessed in you than I know, I possess nothing worthy to give you, nothing not belittled by my saying that I possess it. Even an hour of love is a moral predicament, a blessing a man may be hard up to be worthy of. He can only accept it, as a plant accepts from all the bounty of the light enough to live, and then accepts the dark, passing unencumbered back to the earth, as I have fallen tine and again from the great strength of my desire, helpless, into your arms. At the deepest level, identities merge to form greater entities such that our very existence becomes an action allowing and supporting other actions. Nothing else is possible. I had a striking experience of this at the new years retreat at Light on the Hill in Ithaca, NY, last year (see http://www.lightonthehill.org/events/silent_newyears_retreat/). I’d been sitting in the denouement of the dark night—the great surrenders of identity as a scientist, as an athlete, as someone on the path as compared to being the path itself. Deep in Silence, underneath words, I was watching the very earliest movement of the mind toward the pleasant and away from the unpleasant moment by moment. Very painful stuff and also the entry into the resistance to ending separation, when all of a sudden the personality released into non-dual awareness (no watcher) and all that remained were the traditional virtues in the form of the four Brahma Viharas (cardinal manifestations of awakening)—kindness, compassion, generosity and equanimity. All were all present like facets of a diamond each available as needed in line with the traditional Christian virtues encapsulated in the phrase from Paul’s epistle to the Colossians 3-12: “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Surrender into an engaged happiness for the benefit of all beings. From Dogen, the Bodhisatttva’s four methods of guidance define our work as engaging in God’s work for nothing else is possible from the point-of-view of identity giving. We become more and more compassionate, generous, kind in speech, acting for the benefit of others not because we must but because it is our identity in Christ (true nature) to do so. Identity giving, arising within this moment of its own nature, our nature, each in its unique particularity and in the oneness of the myriad things. Friend’s tradition and practice are identity action at heart. In the words of John Woolman in the Journal of John Woolman: ““In a time of sickness, I was brought so near the gates of death, that I forgot my name. Being then desirous to know who I was, I saw a mass of matter of a dully gloomy color, between the south and the east, and was informed that this mass was human beings in as great misery as they could be, and live, and that I was mixed in with them, and henceforth I might not consider myself as a distinct or separate being…I then heard a soft melodious voice, more pure and harmonious than any voice I had heard with my ears before…The words were “John Woolman is dead.” I soon remembered that I once was John Woolman, and, being assured that I was alive in the body, I greatly wondered what that heavenly voice could mean…This language ...“John Woolman is dead,” meant no more than the death of my own will” to be replaced by this (from Considerations on Keeping Negroes): “There is a principle which is pure, placed in the human mind, which in different places and ages hath had different names. It is, however, pure and proceeds from God. It is deep and inward, confined to no forms of religion nor excluded from any, here the heart stands in perfect sincerity. In whomsoever this takes root and grows, of what nation so ever, they become brethren.” May our work as Friends be of the nature of identity giving so that all may become aware of being brethren not separate creatures, the one and the many in the one Light.
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