Saturday, February 3, 2018

Unencumbered


I was invited to answer a question on Quora:  "How is consumerism related to the lack of spirituality?"  Good question!  I replied thus:

You may have heard the expression, “There’s a God-shaped hole in our heart” or, as St. Augustine put it, “You have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.”

Blaise Pascal said, “What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.”

C.S. Lewis expressed it thus:  "Your soul has a curious shape because it is a hollow made to fit a particular swelling in the infinite contours of the divine substance, or a key to unlock one of the doors in the house with many mansions.  Your place in heaven will seem to be made for you and you alone, because you were made for it -- made for it stitch by stitch as a glove is made for a hand.”

This concept is by no means limited to the Christian religion. Nearly all faith traditions have some variation thereof, the idea being that we exist for Divine Love and have a natural yearning to fill that void in our heart that nothing else can satisfy.

Consumerism reflects our attempts to obtain fulfillment by purchasing material goods. Advertisers exploit the emptiness by assuring us, “You will finally be happy once you own that car, big-screen t.v. or other electronic device, etc.,” and also by addressing our insecurities: “You’re not good enough the way you are. You need these fancy new clothes, shoes, jewelry, makeup, a makeover, plastic surgery…” But it’s never enough. Nothing is an adequate substitute for Love.

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Fellow Quora participant Johnny Dee offered some very insightful commentary about incompleteness, wholeness, being, time and death, which brought to mind Heideggar's "Being and Time."  The discussion (the entire thread of which can be found here) then took an interesting tangent, however, into the realm of gnostic dualism when he said: 

I still maintain, though, we are not complete until we die. If we were complete, or Whole, there would be no reason to learn, to grow, to realize even more of our potential here as physical beings. At death, we remain One with all creation, or Whole, only we’re no longer encumbered by flesh.

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I'm glad Mr. Dee brought this up, because it is an important topic worthy of revisiting.

"Encumbered by flesh"?!  Ah, once again that insidious old gnostic dualism, which has managed to infect nearly every spiritual tradition on earth, rears its ugly head.  As I've discussed in previous posts, this is the philosophy that spirit is good, matter is bad; the flesh is a prison from which the soul yearns to escape; physicality was a mistake, or maybe the creation of a demonic being intended to trap and enslave us in the material world.

All yoga traditions teach that taking birth as a human is a blessing because it is our opportunity to know God and/or attain enlightenment.  But paradoxically, many yogis regard the flesh as an obstacle to achieving that end despite being practitioners of a system which, especially in modern times, is centered around bodily physical activity (asana or poses).  They may even view yogic manipulations of the body and breath, including tantric sex, as the means of escape from the body, desiring to transcend the flesh so as to become "more spiritual" or "enlightened."

We in the classical tantric tradition as represented by Heart of Yoga do not, however, share that view.  In fact, just the opposite.

Many people, if they have heard of "tantric yoga" at all, are aware of it as "tantric sex," but that's only one aspect of this tradition.  In the broader sense tantra, literally "weaving together," is about integration of the physical and spiritual.

There are several possible approaches to Yoga - Union - depending on personality, philosophy and religious background, if any.  As a bhakti-tantrika and an Episcopalian, I'm really into devotion and therefore use the "God" language.  If that doesn't work for you, you can substitute "the Universe," "Consciousness," "Oneness" or whatever.

From my perspective, the physical world is a manifestation of divine consciousness where God experiences everything in and through us.  Therefore we present our body, breath, soul and all sensual pleasures - food, drink, beautiful fragrant flowers, the kiss of sunshine, the caress of the breeze, music, art, dance, sex, everything! - as an offering to the Divine.

Wiccans have a similar philosophy in which the Goddess says:  "For behold, all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals.  And therefore let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honour and humility, mirth and reverence within you."

The Christian parallel to this is, "I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship." (Romans 12:1-2)

As Krishna says in Chapter 9 of the Gita, "I am the oblation and the flame into which it is offered...  For I am the only enjoyer and the only God of all sacrifices."

The Vaishnava bhakti tradition as represented by ISKCON, whose meetings I attended in college, "gets" this concept to an extent, in that they offer their delicious vegetarian food and devotional songs, as well as any kind of labor or charitable service performed, to Krishna.  Tantrikas take it further.

Whereas ISKCON recognizes in theory the different relationships devotees can have with the Divine - as master, parent, best friend, child or lover - their doctrine teaches that we on earth are too impure to dare approach God, unworthy of real intimacy with Him.  Instead,  in the hope of improving our karma, we must follow a list of very strict rules having a good deal of overlap with fundy evangelical Christianity except for diet, which the latter religion lacks.  We can only pine for Him from afar, hoping someday to become worthy of incarnation as gopis (his girlfriends) in Krishna Loka.  This "longing" for the Lord is considered the highest possible spiritual experience for sinful earth-bound beings like us.

The Christian parallel to Krishna Loka is the heavenly Wedding Feast of the Lamb, the Bridegroom Christ.  This awaits us after death, whether immediately or following a stay in purgatory, which serves much the same function as reincarnation in the eastern tradition.  We need a clean wedding garment.

Bhakti-tantrikas are not content to yearn for God from afar and we don't want to wait for the wedding.   Madly in love, God-intoxicated, we will sneak out to meet the Beloved in the forest at night if that's what it takes.  We don't care if Swami Prabhupartypooper, the Fun Police or anybody else says it is forbidden and/or impossible, or if our reputation is ruined.  We are not worried about unworthiness because we trust the Beloved and throw ourselves utterly on His mercy.  Longing for the Lord is itself purifying, and in His embrace all dross is consumed in the holy fire of Divine Love.  We exist for this Love.  We do not believe that embodiment is an obstacle to Divine intimacy; rather it is the vehicle!  

Far from being an "encumberment," the flesh is a mountaintop temple where earth meets sky and heaven unites with creation.  In this holy place we consort with Divinity.  Our spouse is literally God's Love for us in the flesh.  That is why the tantra yoga that we practice, whether solo or with a partner, is called "whole body prayer."  Through pranayama, asana and bandha, we offer ourselves body and soul to the Lord, the Enjoyer, who created us for Love and whose touch takes away all sin, pain and sorrow.

The God-shaped hole in our heart is not a design flaw; it is the design.  And the material creation was not a mistake or a demonic trap; it was supposed to be a paradise.  That paradise still exists untarnished in our heart, in the center of our being: heaven, eternal, outside of time, nearer than our own heartbeat.

We don't need to wait until some distant future incarnation when we will finally be "enlightened" or "pure" enough.  As our teacher Mark Whitwell says, "It is not enlightenment that we need, but intimacy."  It is possible right here and now, and forever after.  We don't have to become a better person first; it's the other way around.  The more quality time we spend in Divine Communion, we will be purified by it, transformed into a clear channel for Love, light, peace, grace and Holy Wisdom to flow through us into the world and bless all beings.  And our communion while still here on earth prepares us to better appreciate whatever comes next.

In the event the atheists are correct that consciousness is just a function of the brain and death brings only oblivion, which cannot be ruled out empirically, all the more reason to make the most of the opportunity for Holy Communion here and now.  Ideally at the moment of death, being so prepared, we will step into that timeless, eternal dimension which we first explored while still embodied.  Love beckons.  Why wait?