I’m attracted to simple spirituality. That’s probably because my mind is complex, like most people’s minds are. I need to balance myself out. Yin and yang.
So when I come across a believable one-sentence summation of spirituality, it catches my eye. And my heart. This is from Thomas Keating’s wonderful “Open Mind, Open Heart,” one of my favorite books.
I think it can be said that the essential point of all the great spiritual disciplines that the world religions have evolved is the letting go of thoughts.
Yes. On this Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, and Taoism can agree. (I’m not sure about Judaism, the most thought-obsessed religion). Or rather, the mystics of these traditions are in agreement. For they recognize that no thought, emotion, or perception can encompass the unfathomable mystery of ultimate reality, which many call “God.”
Keating advocates the practice of centering prayer. He says that this is different from mantra meditation, but in many respects it is similar. Keating says that the mental repetition of a word—“God,” “love,” “peace,” whatever appeals to you—is an act of intention, not attention.
That is, your goal isn’t to attend to the mantra, but rather you intend to unite with what lies beneath the contents of ordinary consciousness. As Voltaire said: God is a circle whose center is everywhere and circumference nowhere. (Or maybe it was someone else who said this.)
Head for the center of yourself and you’ll find God. That’s the idea, for Keating and countless other mystics. He says:
Centering prayer is an exercise in letting go. That is all it is. It lays aside every thought. One touch of divine love enables you to take all the pleasures of the world and throw them in the wastebasket. The Diamond Sutra says it all: “Try to develop a mind that does not cling to anything.” That includes visions, ecstasies, locutions, spiritual communications, psychic gifts. These are not as valuable as pure consciousness.
I admire a Catholic priest who quotes the Diamond Sutra. I also admire Keating for his sensitivity to the games meditators play. As a long-time meditator myself, I know what he is talking about.
Letting go is tough enough. Letting go of letting go—that’s much tougher. But essential. I manage to stop thinking. Then a thought comes, “Wow! I’m not thinking!”
Well, at least my intention is to let go of thoughts, which naturally includes theological dogma, metaphysical hypotheses, imagined higher powers, and all other mental machinations that draw me away from my center. And after letting go, I’d like to be able to let go of letting go.
To just be whoever I am when I’m not engaged in trying to be someone else.
Followers of fundamentalist religions and sects have an opposite intention. Their goal is to hold on. And more: to hold on to holding on. They only are interested in finding what they already believe to be true. If an astronomer puts a green cheese filter over the lens of his telescope, that’s how the moon will appear. Falsely.
Truth is found with open clear eyes. Yesterday I happened to glance down at the counter of a store where my wife had just bought a hat. A saying was taped to the wood: “You are lost the instant you know what the result will be.” Nice.
I’ve spent many years in an Indian mystic tradition where the guru is considered to be the end-all and be-all. Essentially, god in human form. I was told to distrust any spiritual realization that wasn’t in accord with the guru’s teachings. The result was set in stone, like the tablets of Moses. “Thou shalt experience X, Y, and Z.”
I’ve let go of those rigid presumptions. Now, I’d like to be able to let go of letting go. I can’t make that happen. That’d just be another form of clinging to an expectation. Keating says:
Trying dilutes the basic disposition of receptivity that is necessary for the growth of contemplative prayer. Receptivity is not inactivity. It is real activity but not effort in the ordinary sense of the word. If you want to call it effort, keep in mind that it is totally unlike any other kind of effort.
It is simply an attitude of waiting for the Ultimate Mystery. You don’t know what that is, but as your faith is purified, you don’t want to know. Of course, in a sense you are dying to know. But you realize that you can’t possibly know by means of any human faculty; so it is useless to expect anything. You don’t know and can’t know what you are waiting for.
Wu. We keep coming back to Wu.