READINGS IN SERVICE PRIOR TO SERMON
French scientist mystic, Teilhard de Chardin –
“Evolution is an ascent towards consciousness… The consciousness of each of us is evolution looking at itself and reflecting upon itself… Step by step, from the early Earth onwards, we have followed going upwards the successive advances of consciousness in matter undergoing organization. Having reached the peak we can now turn round, and looking downwards, take in the pattern of the whole. And this second check is decisive, the harmony is perfect… Man discovers that he is nothing else than evolution become conscious of itself… We see a human tide bearing us upward with all the force of a contracting star; not spreading like a tide, as we might suppose, but one that is rising: the ineluctable growth on our horizon of a true state of ultra-humanity.”
– Albert Einstein, 1950 – from a letter to a grieving father consoling him on the loss of his son.
“A human being is part of a whole, called by us the ‘Universe,’ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest–a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
Excerpts from Chief Seattle’s Letter to the President of The United States – 1854
Every part of the earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every meadow, every humming insect. All are holy in the memory and experience of my people.
We know the sap which courses through the trees as we know the blood that courses through our veins. We are part of the earth and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters. The bear, the deer, the great eagle, these are our brothers. The rocky crests, the dew in the meadow, the body heat of the pony, and man all belong to the same family.
The shining water that moves in the streams and rivers is not just water, but the blood of our ancestors…. Each glossy reflection in the clear waters of the lakes tells of events and memories in the life of my people. The water’s murmur is the voice of my father’s father.
The rivers are our brothers. They quench our thirst…. the air is precious to us… the air shares its spirit with all the life that it supports. The wind that gave our grandfather his first breath also received his last sigh. The wind also gives our children the spirit of life….
Will you teach your children what we have taught our children? That the earth is our mother? What befalls the earth befalls all the sons of the earth.
This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth.
All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.
One thing we know: our God is also your God. The earth is precious to him and to harm the earth is to heap contempt on its creator…
As we are part of the land, you too are part of the land. This earth is precious to us. It is also precious to you.
One thing we know – there is only one God. No man, be he Red man or White man, can be apart. We ARE all brothers after all.”
(long version – actual sermon was edited shorter)
HEALING OURSELVES AND THE PLANET
Always good to be addressing a UU congregation.
Unitarian Universalism – great name. What a great philosophical and spiritual perspective when it is realized in its literalness.
What I teach and write about is fundamentally Buddhist psychology and cosmology from a contemporary American perspective. I am not a religious Buddhist. I belong to no sect or school of Buddhism, although I have a particular affinity for Zen. I have not been the student of or heir to any particular Buddhist teacher. I am a psychologist who has been drawn to philosophical Buddhism, and who has drawn on a vast variety of Buddhist teachings and authors along with the benefit of forty+ years of meditation practice – and the reason why I identify with Buddhism is that Buddhism means practically the same thing as the literal meaning of the phrase – Unitarian Universalist.
It is about The BIG perspective. It is about being Awake (as the word Buddhism means in its original language) awake in the world and seeing things as they are in their interconnectedness and interdependence, in seeing what is transient and impermanent, and what is fundamental, essential, universal and eternal.
It is seeing a world in which the intellectual and the spiritual have no gap between them – not because religious dogma rules the intellectual realm, but because intellectual clarity, where all the faculties of mind integrate, is capable of seeing and experiencing the universe as a single conscious, integrated miracle, evolving into the full realization of itself in both form and consciousness. This is the cosmology of Buddhism, and, by the way, as you heard from Chief Seattle, of Native American culture.
In the modern age, it is the cosmology of quantum physics and deep ecology —- although not yet of the main culture – or even science and technology as it is conventionally applied. – And that’s what I want to talk about today.
The readings this morning have all been about the BIG perspective. The remarkable genius of Teilhard de Chardin, Albert Einstein and Chief Seattle are all about a vision where humanity is in harmony and unity with itself, with Nature and with the Universe.
As Einstein said: “A human being is part of a whole, called by us the ‘Universe.”
Recently I wrote a column entitled “Psycho-spiritual Healing” in which I noted that I have come to consider psychological health and spiritual health to be inextricably interwoven, and the thread that weaves them together is the issue of self-absorption – that egocentricity is like a conceptual virus that deprives us of psychological and spiritual health. Or, as Einstein went on to say:
“Human Beings experience themselves, their thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest–a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us.”
A person cannot be psychologically healthy if they are fundamentally self-absorbed, focused on their separateness – I realized that all of what we call neurosis and character disorder in clinical psychology was some form of inappropriate self-absorption, an inability to function in the world with the sense of self integrated with a balanced sense of others and the Big picture – I won’t talk about that here – I’ll save that for this afternoon’s program – but I will say that while psychopathology is characterized by inappropriate self-absorption and egocentricity – it is of the utmost importance to realize that even what is considered by our society as a “normal” or “healthy” psychological profile is overly invested in this egocentric perspective – and herein lies the crux of our modern dilemma.
I also concluded that a person cannot be spiritually healthy while caught in a self-absorbed perspective, for to be spiritual is exactly to transcend experience centered in the small self – the ego, if you will – to enter into a non-dualistic and direct experience of connection with Life, with Nature, with humanity, with the Universe, some would say with God – which I would say are all the same. This is the BIG perspective – bigger than just looking after me and mine – which seems to be the current American credo – including, and in some cases, particularly, some so-called religious groups.
Again – Einstein – “This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
The same can be said about a society – Its psychological, spiritual and political health must emanate from a perspective that is bigger than getting more for me and mine – but that is exactly the perspective of our society. American society absolutely focuses us on “restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us.” Add to this our identification with our cultural, class, occupational, religious, political and national memberships, and this is a cosmology that is faulty in its fundamental premise, and that leads to faulty politics, and to a faulty economic system. And to the degree that our health, educational and religious institutions support this perspective it’s just bad health policy, bad education and bad religion.
We are a society and a species facing very big problems. We are completely failing in the BIG perspective. A society that is dedicated to spiraling materialism and narcissism, – to institutions that manipulate the population for the short term gain of an economic elite – that has no sense of a long view moving toward an evermore equitable and personally and spiritually enhancing future for all its citizens – and a future of harmony amongst people and the fellow creature Beings and the ecology of this planet, is a society that is failing – and as we are here in a church – I want to say it is not only a political failure, but a spiritual failure.
Yes – We are facing very big problems – as individuals and as a society.
AND – what I really want to talk about today is that I would go so far as to say we are facing problems that are of the dimension of an evolutionary crisis.
First – there is the issue of individuals living in far more emotional discomfort, pain and even suffering than is in any way necessary. Modern life is hard on people. The pressures are great. Often there is a sense of disconnect from something essential that we cannot quite put our finger on. We work hard, we live up to our obligations, we seek relief in recreation, entertainment, hobbies, friendships and family. Yet something is wrong. We get angry, we feel anxious, perhaps even depressed at times, far more than we want to, or ought to or need to. We go to church; we read self-help, spiritual and inspirational books. We may even go to a counselor or therapist, but none of it really gets us to the sense of well being and connectedness, the making sense out of our lives and the world that we need. We have more material wealth than any culture in the history of humanity. We have more opportunity to celebrate and advance our individuality than any culture in the history of humanity, and yet – something is terribly wrong.
And secondly – and here is where this becomes a crisis that is evolutionary in its scope – As a collective, as societies and as a species –
We are increasingly out of sustainable harmony with the planet that is our home and our fellow creature beings of other species that share this planet.
Consequently – We, like any species when its environment cannot sustain it in its current expression must either evolve, devolve or go extinct. Humanity and the majority of species we share this planet with face just such a crisis – and it is largely man made. Western class-structured, competitive, materialistic corporate consumer culture is quickly becoming the world culture – and the world – the planet – cannot support and sustain it – the culture – the current state of humanity’s consciousness (or more accurately, its lack of consciousness) is causing a problem of existential dimension.
In looking at this crisis, I became impressed with what I call the “Human Being paradox” – for to be a human being is to be caught on the horns of a paradox – a paradox that is perfectly expressed in the name for our species – “Human Beings.” The good news is that I see within this paradox, not only the problem, but also the solution, if we can only solve the riddle.
Here is the paradox – There are two distinct dimensions implied in the term “Human Being” – the human dimension – in which we are absolutely unique and distinct from any other species in our capacity for abstracting intellect, to externalize meaning and value into objects in the world and objects in the mind called thoughts – and with it the propensity to individualize our existence – what psychology would call the dimension of ego – This abstracting intellect also drives us to be inventive, to develop culture and technology along with a driving desire to express our individuality and freedom. These “human” characteristics are a mix of curses and blessings.
The unique human capacity for existential anxiety arises from this dimension, that also gives rise to our neuroses and character disorders, AS WELL AS giving rise to a competitive, acquisitional economic system that creates social inequality, exploitation and disharmony and exploitation of the non-human and environmental systems of this planet to the point of cruelty and exhaustion.
AND – then – there is also the dimension of our Beingness – That which we share with all beings – with existence itself. Being is our most fundamental nature, that which connects us, rather than separates us as the egoic dimension does, and our Beingness transcends our abstracting individuality. There is no neurosis here. Here, there is no anxiety about our place in the world, or our sufficiency in the face of life – Here – our place is certain- It is right where we already are – in the universe – with the same sense of personal security as any creature in Nature.
These dimensions create a paradox – qualities that seem to be in contradiction to each other – our unique human egoic pull to individuality and identity in form – and our collective Beingness – not only with each other, but with all Life and with a spiritual dimension that is not form. One dimension represents the materialistic, the world experienced as separate and antagonistic objects, and with it, a fundamental anxiety – and the other dimension, the dimension of Being is the spiritual, the union, the wholeness that brings with it expansive belonging and security. Buddhism holds that full Human Beingness is a balance of these dimensions. Our modern problem is that there is no balance.
As a thinker trained in both cultural anthropology and clinical psychology, I saw and experienced all of this and realized that rather than this imbalance with the egoic, competitive, self-absorbed dimension dominating and being human nature as Western society proclaims, it was something unique and endemic to our Western culture and particularly to its American expression – and I saw that it was the self-centered focus and the materialism, the self-absorption, in other words, the totally egoic orientation of our culture, and so too, its individual members, that has created the crisis of our modern age.
Hence, the “prison” that Einstein described. We have no connection to the wide circle of compassion he spoke of, that which is capable of embracing all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. We have religions, and we talk about spirituality, and some of us talk about ecology and the need to respect nature, but this intellectual understanding of a Universal perspective somehow does not seem adequate to the task. It is not leading to an urgency and immediacy that causes those who share this understanding to challenge the dominant existing paradigms of our society with a vigor born of a felt sense of that urgency.
Now – When I teach, I often challenge the assemblage with a Koan – a puzzle to the mind that is capable, if fully understood, of bringing about an insight that expands consciousness –
This Koan is – Do you know that you are Nature?
The answer is – no you don’t – not as a member of this society and culture – you may have some intellectual understanding, but the way I use the term “Know” is to imply an understanding that requires no thought – it is who you are. No, no we do not know that we are Nature. Yet – what else could we be?
Because we do not “KNOW” We do not act in harmony, or so as to establish harmony with each other and with Nature as our highest priority.
Chief Seattle knew. And he warned us. “Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.”
I looked at human culture from a broader scope looking for insight, and I realized that other cultures had a view on an essential aspect of the human experience that Western culture was seemingly blind to. They knew the Nature or Being dimension of the Human Being experience intimately. I saw relevant perspectives in Native American and other indigenous Nature-based cultures, and I saw particularly relevant perspective in the Asian religions of Hinduism, Taoism and Buddhism.
With further examination, I was eventually able to see, deeply coded within its conventional teachings, perspectives within the Jewish, Christian and Moslem traditions that have been marginalized in the mainstream practice of these faiths – this knowing – and I am referring to the mystical traditions of these faiths – The mystics knew.
But our mainstream culture, religions and psychology lacked a perspective of humanity within and integral to Nature – to a consciousness that was only given symbolic representation – in words like God and Holy Spirit. We lacked a religious or psychological tradition that could liberate us from the prison of our own limited understanding of who we were within the world. Personal rampant psychopathology and social conflict have been the result as well as economic and social systems based on hierarchy and exploitation of human, other-than-human and environmental spheres.
What to do?
To again take a quote from Einstein: – “Problems cannot be solved on the same level of consciousness that created the problems.”
We need a new consciousness – I would say, an evolved consciousness, and I find very useful the definition of evolution given us by the mid-twentieth century French theologian scientist, Teilhard de Chardin: Evolution is an ascent toward consciousness.
De Chardin also defines evolution as a process of ever complexifying unification in which the seemingly disparate and dissimilar come to be embraced within a new comprehensive whole, an ever-expanding consciousness of unity. This is, of course exactly what Einstein was saying about “widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
Now this vision is not new. It is the vision articulated by Chief Seattle. It is the vision of Native American peoples and other indigenous populations like the Aboriginal of Australia. It is the vision articulated out of the Vedic tradition of Asia that brought forth Hinduism and Buddhism. It is the Oriental vision of Taoism. This is the consciousness of humanity’s past – of its very early evolutionary era – emerging out of the forests, at one with Nature – But evolution is not a going back – it is – As de Chardin said – “a human tide bearing us upward… one that is rising: the ineluctable growth on our horizon of a true state of ultra-humanity.”
So evolution is a moving upward – a new consciousness that is a harmonization of what was disparate into a new unity, and this is exactly what is possible with humanity now – the expansion and coalescing of what de Chardin called “The Noosphere” the realm of consciousness – the availability of the totality of human culture past, present and world-wide to create a new and evolved consciousness that brings together the wisdom of the totality of humanity and Nature – the ineluctable growth on our horizon of a true state of ultra-humanity.”
IF — we are not dragged down by the existing and extremely powerful culture of ego-dominated consciousness and its misapplication of technology in the service of consolidating the vision of materialism and human separateness and competition.
The issue is what to do? How do we become instruments, participants, pioneers of this evolution, this new consciousness? My answer to this question is why I teach meditation and Buddhist philosophy. I am convinced that only through training the mind to experience and express itself in its fullness, – not only in intellect, that dimension of mind that has spearheaded humanity’s separation from nature, but also the mind’s fundamental connection with its Beingness nature- that which is connected with Nature, the mind that is expressed by Chief Seattle, and envisioned by Einstein – can humanity evolve and fulfill its destiny which is completely sane and spiritual. This is de Chardin’s “ultra-humanity”
East and West, Primitive and civilized – these are the cultural expressions which, each by themselves, manifest an imbalance on one side of the full potentiality of Human Beingness, the “Ultra-humanity” of de Chardin’s vision. In the expanding Noosphere of today’s world – a world of the World-wide Internet and the growing synthesizing, acceptance and embrace of worldwide cultural expressions, “a human tide is bearing us upwards.” But it cannot occur using only the skills and perspective of the consciousness that has caused the problem.
The call is out – to have an evolution – not a revolution – which only turns things upside down in the same consciousness paradigm, but an evolution – the kind of consciousness we have seen in a Gandhi or Martin Luther King – calling for an expansion of consciousness to include what had not been previously included in the old consciousness.
In this, as a Westerner, It is my belief and experience that within philosophical and psychological Buddhism is an ancient culture prophecy and vision that can give to us in the West the perspective and the training tools needed to accomplish this wholeness, this evolutionary step that will bring about increasing individual mental and spiritual health – and an expanding new cultural expression that holds and expands what is best about the West – technology, individuality and political freedom while embracing and applying the wisdom of ancient cultures towards what another modern bodhisattva of the West, Deep Ecologist Thomas Berry called the Eco-zoic era, – An evolutionary era of harmony between and among the human, the other than human, and the Planet.
It provides a vision that would fulfill the task of freeing ourselves from this prison of ego-centricism and anthropocentricism by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.
Buddhist teachings and meditation are, in my estimation, key. Through them we are able to open into the realization of our Beingness Nature and to see the delusional prison of our egoistic orientation. I find in them the necessary guide and practices to bring about the harmonization of the Human Being paradox. I see the challenge, however, is in extricating the wisdom and tools of Buddhist teaching from the antiquated cultural context that the wisdom and tools are brought to us. We need a new philosophy and practice of “Awakening” presented and engaging in the language of modernity that also respects and can be inspired by the teaching and language of the old Masters.
One such old Zen Master is Sekkei Harada who said:
“In the course of our lifetime, there is one person we must meet… who is this person? It is the True Self. As long as you don’t, it will not be possible to be truly satisfied in the depths of your heart. You will never lose the sense that something is lacking. Nor will you be able to clarify the way things are. This is the objective of Life.”
This meeting of the True Self – is the objective of Life. It is also the objective of Buddhist teaching and meditation. Another way of expressing this might be – the realization of true Human Beingness is the evolutionary purpose of human existence.
And so we must ask – Who is this True Self?
This is the question that Buddhism asks over and over – who is this true self, original self, sometimes expressed as the Buddha (that is, awakened, enlightened) self?
I am suggesting that the true self, the Buddha self, that Buddhism has been calling to for over 2500 years is the “Ultra-human” of de Chardin’s vision.
Allow me to share from another modern Western figure, whom I have already mentioned, who could be said to possess the consciousness necessary to lead humanity into the future solving the problems created by the old consciousness – the deep ecologist Thomas Berry –
“We need to reinvent the human at the species level because the issues we are concerned with seem beyond the competence of our present cultural traditions, either individually or collectively… the human is at a cultural impasse… Radical new cultural forms are needed. These new cultural forms would place the human within the dynamics of the planet rather than the planet within the dynamics of the human… There is need for humans to develop reciprocal economic relationships with other life-forms providing a sustaining pattern of mutual support, as is the case with natural life-systems generally… Our knowledge needs to be in harmony with the natural world rather than a domination of the natural world. We need the art of intimate communion with, as well as technical knowledge of, various components of the natural world”
– Thomas Berry – The Great Work
This last sentence is key – “We need the art of intimate communion with, as well as technical knowledge of, various components of the natural world.”
Intimate communion and technical knowledge. We have the technical knowledge. This is what Western consciousness is good at. What we lack is the capacity for intimate communion. This is what Buddhism and meditation are good at.
Again- de Chardin –
“Evolution is an ascent towards consciousness…”
Allow me to share – in closing – the vision of a Meditation master – Thich Nhat Hanh
“There is no phenomenon in the universe that does not intimately concern us, from the pebble resting at the bottom of the ocean, to the movement of a galaxy millions of light years away. All phenomena are interdependent… Unity and diversity interpenetrate each other freely. Unity is diversity, and diversity is unity.
We are imprisoned in our small selves, thinking only of some comfortable conditions for this small self, while we destroy our large self. If we want to change the situation, we must begin by being our true selves. To be our true selves means we have to be the forest, the river, and the ozone layer.
– Thich Nhat Hanh – Meditation Master
These are words in perfect agreement with de Chardin, with Einstein, with Thomas Berry, with Chief Seattle –
I see meditation as a necessary new skill for Westerners in order to evolve the consciousness necessary to address our problems –
Why and how this is true will be explored this afternoon –
There are fundamentally two levels or dimensions to the meditation path – the first is to train the mind into steadiness – sometimes called, “single-pointed-ness” this is referred to as samadhi or shamatha – which in Tibetan translates as “Peaceful Abiding.” And this training of the mind in steadiness and clear observation is what is necessary to open the dimension of Knowing – of Being.
The second stage or dimension of meditation is known as Vipassana – Insight – Wisdom – The realm of Being. It is here that we find the Awakening of Buddhism.
It is the seeing of things as they are once we stop running the program of egoic conditioning – It is opening into awareness as the fundamental dimension of mind that is steady, deep, insightful, with an instinctual wise intelligence that directly experiences and knows the interconnectedness and interdependence of all things.
Now this second stage, this insight and wisdom dimension of meditation, requires the achievement of Shamatha as the opening into the natural, intuitive, connected and spiritual dimension of mind – And within Vipassana, we find the resolution of the Human Being paradox wherein we can bring our whole mind – As the great psychologist Carl Jung would describe it – the dimensions of thinking, emotion, direct intimate sensory contact with the world and the intuitive dimension of Beingness into balanced harmony.
I believe I would have very little disagreement amongst those assembled here today that there is next to no training in our society in the taming of the wildly thinking mind – That being the case – what chance do we have to fully develop the quiet intuitive dimension of mind in which deeper knowing into the reality of existence, our interconnectedness with Nature and the purpose of the Universe occurs, in which realization of our own inherent peacefulness and wisdom resides.
This is what the Buddhist tradition of meditation can achieve – and I believe there is no replacement – and while Jung did not think Westerners in his time were capable of meditation – and so devised his psychology to bring about this integration (actually with little success, I believe) – I am convinced that modern Westerners are capable of true meditation, and that meditation as taught in the Buddhist tradition holds the key to human sanity, peacefulness and evolution – the new consciousness that can solve our problems – as individuals discovering a deep personal sanity within ourselves – and as a human society able to fulfill Einstein’s and de Chardin’s vision.
The wisdom of Nature-based cultures of the past – embodied in Chief Seattle’s description of the world – and the technology of civilized humanity can be blended into an evolved expression of humanity where individuals are sane, compassionate and fulfilled – and the collective of humanity is at peace with itself and knows itself integrally enfolded within collectives of fellow beings and the planet that is our shared home
– but a new consciousness is needed – a synthesizing of a very old consciousness with our modern scientific and freedom celebrating consciousness.
It is my encouragement – For your own sanity – and the sane evolution of humanity – I encourage you to learn this ancient skill and perspective, then bring it into your modern life. Become the master of your own mind, and a co-creator of an evolved new horizon of Ultra-humanity – at home – in the Universe – As Einstein said – “widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”