Tuesday, January 08, 2008

God and Perfect Balance

In the Comments section of the previous blog (re: Ken Wilber), Stephen describes his own course as, "rooted in a concern to criticize and perhaps help redefine Christian tradition."

I myself rarely consider the Judeo-Christian perspective, since I've been more interested in Eastern traditions, particularly Buddhism and Zen, for the last few decades. But I can't help bumping into the Christian-style now and then. I mean, that whole "Christmas" thing we've just passed through is kinda hard to ignore.

I was at a holiday party last month, and people were talking about their feelings about The Season. Some felt the holidays have spiritual significance; others expressed a lack thereof (atheism is more popular and acceptable here in Berkeley than in the rest of the country).

Someone in this discussion had seen me in Buddhist robes, when I'd performed a funeral ceremony. Perhaps based on that, in the midst of this party talk, he asked me, "Stuart, you believe in God, don't you? A Higher Power or something?"

My Zen practice is to attend to each moment as it appears, so I don't carry around canned answers to those Big Questions. I deal with them "on the fly." I generally don't think in terms of God or Higher Power... so I had to ponder a few moments about how I could express my perspective in a language that'd connect with the question and the questioner.

I ended up saying something like this: There are times when I get this sense that all of existence is already in perfect balance, harmony, and resolution. These experiences come only now and then, but they're strong enough to color my life at other times. I sense that there's truth in the perspective of perfect balance, whether or not I'm seeing it at the moment.

That was as honestly as I could communicate it. Though I rarely talk about "God," I realized that someone who says, "God is all-powerful and perfect, and He's taking care of everything," is pointing to a perspective that's not so different from what I had expressed.

Beliefs and ideas don't count for much unless they're put into action. (Thinking that you're an environmentalist is pretty empty, until you actually pick up some litter.) So maybe my sitting Zen is a practice of connecting with the perspective of perfect balance. To sit quietly, doing nothing... is putting into "action" a faith that this moment is already resolved.

In his comment, Stephen mentioned Blaise Pascal. One of the few things I know about Pascal is that he famously said, "All men's miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone." Maybe he was referring to the benefit of stopping and being still for a moment, tasting balance and resolution, and letting all things take their own course. (Hell, maybe Pascal meant something entirely different, but that's how it sounded to me.)

None of this means that passivity is better than activity. Sitting still and quietly is a special practice, which can strengthen the habit of accepting what is. Acceptance means there's no need to hold my opinions and push for what I want. "Put down I/my/me" in Zen-language may equate to "Let God take care of everything" in Judeo-Christian language.

It ultimately means that perfect balance and resolution is present in the midst of all activities. It's not an idea, it's the experience of "What are you doing right now?" Efforts and activities don't hinder it... but stopping for a moment and being still allows us to perceive and taste that balance, harmony, and resolution... to get a clearer awareness of what's always there anyway.

One of my big experiences of universal harmony came during a Salvia Divinorum trip. In my mind's eye, I saw all beings, connected to each other, all crawling along a surface, as if struggling to get somewhere, to advance and evolve. And then, my perspective pulled back, and I realized that this surface was actually a globe, and that all this struggle and apparent advancement was really part of a circular motion, around and around. From the wider perspective, all the efforts and struggles and advancements were part of a larger system that was unchanging in its perfect balance.

17 comments:

hard at work said...

You know, I can never tell with this damn "God" thing. Some people would probably be amenable to that perfect balance experience description, but i think a lot of people really are gunning for an inivisible man in the sky. I mean for all I know there may very well be an invisible man in the sky named "God" or "Yahweh" or whatever. But I'd also say that an experience of perfect balance is just an experience, even if a compelling one, just more stuff passing in and out of awareness. And let's say you have an experience of God or a deva or an angel or something: even if said being is "real" like you or me (and it depends on your ontology) it's still just more crap flickering in and out. It's hard for me to reconcile the idea of a permanent, separate god with Real Ultimate Reality(tm).

This is probably where you get five-dollar words like "immanent" and "transcendent" from, because God by definition has to be greater than the thing you call "God". there's the old "than which there is no greater" again.

At times I harbor suspicions that many folks subscribe to the what I will call the God as an Invisible Man to Whom I Owe Some Sort of Fealty (GAAIMTWIOSSOF) model, where "God" is not actually the big kahuna, which falls more in line with Gnosticism than Christianity but life is rough like that.

And if God is everywhere all the time, is he in the toilet?

yomamma said...

Hey i saw those creatures too, the first time i took the LSD, but i thought i was just really stoned. yes i was.

My thoughts are that it has to do with a deep inborn capacity to see patterns and to make patterns , that we don't exercise enough as moderns. We have a deep innate capacity to feel connected to the universe (the one song) because we are connected to it and of it, so when we have spiritual experiences, either drug induced or not, we feel incredibly at home, or at peace, awakened , flummoxed,( whatever it is to you). and that as you say it colors life , or also , any time we want we can stop and feel that connection. but now i have to go deal with an insurance company, talk about downer!

Stuart said...

hard at work said...
I mean for all I know there may very well be an invisible man in the sky named "God" or "Yahweh" or whatever.

As far as the big philosophical questions, it wouldn't mean much if we ever meet that invisible guy in the sky who's named "God." I mean... if this "God" guy made everything, the question just shifts to "then who the bleep made Him??"

But I'd also say that an experience of perfect balance is just an experience, even if a compelling one, just more stuff passing in and out of awareness.

I hesitate to even mention the "perfect balance" experiences, since special experiences are so often over-emphasized. People give these experiences fancy names, and pile on pompous ideas like "This experience makes me more enlightened than you!"

As I've posted elsewhere, my Zen teacher didn't seem very interested in discussing special experiences, but rather spoke about using everything we experience to help all beings.

It's simply true that many (all?) of us do get experiences of perfect harmony sometimes. And such passing experiences do seem to color our perspective on life. For better or worse, whether we intend it or not.

Past experience, however compelling, isn't the most important thing. The most important thing is our situation of this moment. True balance and harmony has already appeared just-now... and it's not dependent on any memories, or ideas, or feelings of "balance and harmony."

We all have our karma, and that sometimes includes memories that stand out for us, experiences we describe with words like "God" or "perfect balance." This karma, these memories, give us a set of tools, or medicines, that maybe can be of use to the world. Our job, moment-to-moment, is to try to use whatever's in our toolbox or medicine chest, in a clear and compassionate way.

And if God is everywhere all the time, is he in the toilet?

Zen Master Un Mun was asked, "What is Buddha," and he replied, "Dry shit on a stick." The point is that Truth is whatever we experience right now, regardless of our likes and dislikes, or any ideas such as good and bad.

Stephen said...

"And if God is everywhere all the time, is he in the toilet?"

Yes.

But I would personally use the name Jesus used in the Lord's Prayer -- Abba.

And suggest the gospel is what Jesus says it was in the earliest Gospel -- Mark. That this Abba is at hand because the time has been fulfilled and that people should repent (=turn) and believe this.

This is not an invitation to the creedal elaboration that has been the evasive mechanism of the church for 2000 years. It is a summons to an immediate and positive relationship between a person and the ground of being.

Where I would not part company, but offer a footnote to Stuart, is that the relationship with Abba is not merely related to stillness, balance and peace but to critical engagement with a world that is still in thrall to principalities and powers.

yomamma said...

Hey i don't think Abba was born yet, disco came later.

hard at work in the lab said...

"is that the relationship with Abba is not merely related to stillness, balance and peace but to critical engagement with a world that is still in thrall to principalities and powers."

Can you elaborate on that? I am interpreting this in a Traditionalist lens--i.e., we are not separate--which doesn't take free will as a presumption.

I for one have struggled with "critical engagement" because I really have no clue where and how to act, and have found that simple ethical training is more helpful.

Stephen said...

Hard at work...

I am responding very spontaneously and what comes to me as a response is that Abba is within us, almost as elemental as what Star Wars calls the force and that this is both a brake on complete spontaneous response to an issue or problem or situation and access to a resolution that one might not come to without awareness of that connective reality within. I can draw a great deal from the phrase connective reality. Yes we are all connected and that must create transcendence of boundaries that would otherwise serve to create violence, etc. Make any sense? Cheers, S

Stuart said...

Stephen said...
I can draw a great deal from the phrase connective reality. Yes we are all connected and that must create transcendence of boundaries that would otherwise serve to create violence, etc.

In Zen-style teaching, we say that everything is made by thinking. Whatever boundaries seem to exist are created by thinking. I hear this phrase "connective reality" as a name for the way things are before we get hypnotised by our own ideas and opinions. There are no boundaries in original experience.

The separation between You and I, Us and Them, Good and Bad, Spiritual and Mundane, etc... appear when we draw a line that separates one from the other. The line is drawn when we attach to our thinking, mistaking our ideas and beliefs for substantial truth. Whenever we let go of our opinions... right in that moment there are no boundaries.

yomamma said...

why is it that people who aren't into boundaries and separation spend so much time talking about and defining it? It seems to me if one was a true non-duelist, or advaitist this wouldn't be such an all consuming pastime. this also leads to a lot of thinking , another non-reality.

Stuart said...

Yomamma wrote...
It seems to me if one was a true non-duelist, or advaitist this wouldn't be such an all consuming pastime. this also leads to a lot of thinking , another non-reality.

Thankfully, I've never been involved in a duel, at least not the type with pistols at 20 paces. So I suppose you could call me a non-duelist. Beyond that, I don't understand or see the point of the labels you're using here, "advaitist" and "true non-dualist."

It's nice to sometimes stop thinking and experience extreme quiet and stillness. But why call thinking "non-reality"? What's wrong with thinking? We don't need to stay empty-minded all the time.

Thinking is so mysterious and powerful. I'm happy when people honestly share their thinking, and also their thinking about thinking.

Stephen said...

What is thinking? As I think about that question I feel as though I am looking out at a big horizon, except it is my mind. And the question may be a minnow bobbing up and down. My mind, my being, has been unalterably formed by impressions which have given rise to conclusions, or visions which have given rise to near certainties, or external things that have given rise to internal senses, and at the end of it I feel that this all relates to language. Thinking may be how I express in words the interplay between my mind and what it perceives. And all the time I was writing this I was thinking about a time when I could not distinguish stars from the lights of boats in the water and the coalescence of mood and music to create an enduring sense that we do live in a moral universe -- all in just a moment on a rainy afternoon.

yomamma said...

It's nice to sometimes stop thinking and experience extreme quiet and stillness. But why call thinking "non-reality"? What's wrong with thinking? We don't need to stay empty-minded all the time.

Good, anyway I'm glad because I've been wanting to hear you say this so , i got what i wanted!
As to duel, well a duel takes two, so it fits somehow punwise, free association wise.
Hey Stephen I want some of whatever your having dude!
But back to this Gospel of Mark thing. I just read this gospel for the first time recently. and my take is this; Jesus said I'm here to tell you the truth , but you won't get it. .....So it seems this sets us up for the whole Judgement day thing. which scares you into morality? It sets up a relative world for us mortals, in which to act.

Stephen said...

I once turned Mark into songs that teens sang here and there. What rubbed off on them was humor and iconoclasm, both big positives for me. I think the view you have is shared by many scholars who see Mark as a grim apocalyptic thing heading us for judgment day. But all Jesus said in Mark is the time is fulfilled, turn around, believe the good news. Jesus did not come bedecked with the Apostle's Creed and catechisms. People like the poet William Blake may be closer than scholars to the realities of Mark. Cheers, S

yomamma said...

Ya, Mark is a veritable laugh fest, but where's the punchline? quote "Go forth to every part of the world and proclaim the goods news to the whole of creation. Those who believe it and receive baptism will find salvation; those who do not believe will be condemned. Mark 16:15.

Stephen said...

Hey Yo...the ending you are looking at was a later addition. The original enda with the women being aftaid. That is where it ends. Afraid, just as they should have been. And so should we. And don;t forget the Canon was put togetheer by bishops three centuries after the events and two after Mark wrote his account.Ciao, S

Tyson said...

When exactly do you sense the existance of perfect balance, harmony, and resolution? I feel that this world is very much screwed up so if there is a God he didn't do such a good job.

Stuart said...

Tyson said...
When exactly do you sense the existance of perfect balance, harmony, and resolution? I feel that this world is very much screwed up so if there is a God he didn't do such a good job.

Hi, Tyson. Many thanks for reading the blog and for commenting.

This sense of perfect balance, etc, appears whenever the thinking "I want something" disappears.

Whenever I hold any sort of "I want," then the world does seem very much screwed up. There's all this suffering, because sometimes I don't get what I want, or I get what I don't want. Even when I do get what I want, it's always temporary; everything's changing, so eventually I lose what I've gotten.

So this makes it seem that God didn't do a good job.

On the other hand, when "I want something" disappears, or is revealed as nothing but insubstantial thinking... then the sky is blue, sugar is sweet, and a dog says "woof." Everything is just what it is. Moment to moment, I just do my job: when I'm hungry I eat; when someone else is hungry I give them food.

When there's no "I want," then there's no need to make good and bad. There's no sense that God's doing a bad job. Actually, there's no reason to make "God" at all!