To condemn is stupid and easy, but to understand is arduous.
– J. Krishnamurti
Last night I awoke in a state of physical and spiritual bliss. All borders of the self had totally dissolved, yet still there was an “I” to experience this state. But the “I” was porous, a dream-like manifestation of pure play, a vehicle for play, a thing to allow love to pour through it and from which to pour love into something else.
-Me, this morning
I am a Buddhist because I have chosen the vehicle of Buddhist teachings as my path, but I do not “believe” in Buddhism as “The Thing.” It is my thing, but not The Thing. The Thing lies beyond all words and concepts. In order for it to be the thing, it must. If it can be named, you know, well….
it’s probably not The Thing.
This is pretty straightforward. And this state I awakened to, this blissful state of union, of non-dual experience, is a familiar one to me. It is very much like being in love- when you’re experiencing it, there’s nothing more real and never has been and never will be, and it’s impossible to imagine not always feeling exactly like that forever. But once you’re thrown out of love, it becomes a foreign country that you can’t quite remember. Oh, you can recall a street name, or the facade of a building, but you cannot recapture the experience of it.
For me, this numinous, blissful sense of union arises most frequently just like this, in the middle of the night, unanticipated and unsought. I simply awaken in this pure bliss, completely loved, completely dissolved, still myself, but everything else as well. My teachers flow through me, my loved ones flow through me, my life in all of its particulars is revealed to be perfect, flawless, as intended, as the most serious play, as the dance of everything but made small, made particular in space and time- both of which are only the stage for love to reveal itself upon.
Blah, blah, blah.
So I was in this state and enjoying it like a dog rolling in grass, in ecstasy, and feeling that I was home again after a long exile in the wilderness. I was graced. And when I said this to myself in my silent mind, the face of Christ, the image of Christ, the experience of an embodied Christ, was in me. Before me. Dissolved in me.
Present, somehow, but not in that way. Not real, not even really imagined. Impossible to describe, I guess. But there. Unquestioningly there.
And there was this kind of unfolding in my understanding, in my mind, in my interior landscape. I came to Christ as a child, I remember it so clearly, not five years old yet, up early on a Sunday morning watching the black and white television set in the living room of a home I have forgotten, and listening to some television evangelist exhorting us to accept Christ as our personal savior. And I did. I longed for it, longed for his love, craved it.
And I did it again and again as a child. Baptized at eleven in the Southern Baptist Church under my Grandmother’s watchful and hopeful eye. Again at sixteen, a fervent and devout appeal to Christ, to God, for faith, for belief. For his love.
And I grew out of it very quickly, left it behind. Cursed the small-mindedness of the Church, and its error, and its hypocrisy. The bodies of those killed in the name of God’s love choking the doorway to the church, preventing my access. And then I left even that disappointment and judgment behind. The Church, God, Jesus Christ, all of it was simply a myth for children and not even worth getting worked up over. I mean, it’s not like I got mad at Santa Clause or the Easter Bunny, right? Why bother?
But there’s this woman I know who is devout, who loves God and loves Christ and who has anchored her soul in the Christian faith, and we are friends. We give each other support and encouragement in our struggles to live in love and service and in genuine connection to what we each believe to be holy, to be the ultimate truth. And she tolerates my Buddhist view, and I tolerate her Christian faith, and we muddle along, we try to help each other.
And for me, it’s easier, I think, because, well, Buddhism is more capacious, less rigid in many ways. There isn’t a god, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t something like a god, that there isn’t some benefit in relating to an idea of God- after all, Tibetan Buddhism is rife with images of god like-beings. So I can say God and mean something like that- and it’s easy to speak of compassion and love and service and to really be talking of the same things. I think it’s a bigger reach for her, who can have only one true God, and who sees the faiths of others as sinful, as error, as irrevocable loss.
Still, her heart is big enough, her kindness large enough, to include me and my odd beliefs.
It’s a nice thing.
Anyway, so I’ve been engaging in this kind of approach with her, kind of holding up a puppet figure of Christ in front of my face as I talk to her about faith and what’s asked for us on the path- like I’m using any terminology of hers that I can that correlates to some Buddhist thought just so I don’t keep hitting her over the head with terminology that might interfere with the message I’m trying to get across. I don’t know if that makes any sense at all. But that’s what I’ve been doing. Saying God’s love, meaning the ground of being. Etc. Not all the time, only occasionally- lots of times I use the buddhist term, the buddhist idea, the buddhist approach directly- I’m not trying to disguise anything, but to use terms that are understandable.
Kind of lying, kind of hiding, but kind of also trying to use familiar language to get at the same thing that is in her experience. And back and forth we go, holding this ongoing conversation from a place of love and tolerance and acceptance.
So, now here I am, awake in the middle of the night, all spiritually creamy and non-dual and blissed out, and there’s this Christ figure in my mind, just right there, kind of insistently being there. And he’s silently conveying to me the image of this woman I know, and I have this experience of seeing her through Christ’s eyes.
This is some kind of experience.
I can see her as a child, as a young woman, as an adult, as an old woman. All of her struggles and triumphs and loss and longing and despair, joy, everything, I can see it all at once, and I can experience this overwhelming rush of love for her, of protectiveness, of deepest compassion for all of her confusion. Cheering her on all the way, holding her up in her darkest hours, all of her life seen as though I am looking through Christ’s eyes and feeling whatever he feels for her, what he feels for all of us all the time.
And this sense of his body, of his actual physical heart, his bones and sinews. His embodied self. How that embodied knowledge makes his love for us real in a way that no other god has experienced. Except, for me, in my mind, immediately, there was this twinned experience of the Buddha Shakyamuni, and his physical, earthly body. The cells in the bodies of Christ and of Buddha were the cells in my own body. Their hearts were my heart, we were a mixed being, a superimposition of beings in one space and time. And all of us were looking on this one woman, her life, her entire experience, and of course she was only the representation of all of us.
So what unfolded in this experience for me was this relationship with Christ and Christianity. I went from believing like a child believes, to believing like an adult tries to believe, to disbelieving, to appropriating the language and image of Christ to carry a different, a more universal message, to having that prop come back to life, to assert itself as a real imaginary symbol.
And I had this allegory or metaphor of the whole Christian creation myth rearrange itself for me in that state as well. I imagined that God created the world, but the heavens and the earth, the dirt which he formed and into which he blew the breath of life- all of this was made necessarily from his own being- he did not create something separate from himself as I’d always imagined- he made everything out of himself, which of course is everything. So everything there is contains God himself, herself, itself. There isn’t, and can’t be, anything that isn’t everything, anything that isn’t all of God or all of the dharmakaya- the point is that everything is everything else in all ways. There isn’t anything that isn’t everything.
And Christ is made of God and you are made of God and I am God and God is me and yet also God loves us and also the Son of God loves us and also we love- back and forth and around and around and around. And what is asked of us is not to do it right, not to be good, not to be perfect, not to figure everything out, not to not fail, not to not know despair and longing and loss and terror and unholiness and all the garbage and error- but to learn to love. Learn to love, to light our lamp of love and let it burn in exactly the same way that the light of love burns in the heart of Christ himself.
If you believe in such a creature.
We are asked to ignite ourselves in love and burn for the world. We are asked to take up the words and the puppets and the path and the teachings and then we are asked to burn them up as well. We are asked to burn and to burn and to burn, to step into the flames and give ourselves to them- not with resignation or sorrow but with joy.
Anyway, that’s what happened to me last night.
I’m pretty sure I’m not very sane.
Namaste, you fire-starters, you lamp-lighters, you lost and serious children.
May you be at peace in every cell in your body. Especially the ones in your head.
Big love to you, to each of you, to all of you, all the time.