Intersect 9-24-15

Universal Consciousness, part 2: Jesus
The stories we read about Jesus in The Bible draw from a variety of sources: The historical Jesus, stories about Adam and Moses, and even the life of Buddha. It may surprise you to think that anything in the Bible is related to Buddha since we tend to think of it as a Jewish text. Indeed, the Bible is a product of Jewish culture, but no people develop their ideas about anything in a vacuum. Other cultures always surround us and influence our ideas–both intentionally and subconsciously. The Jewish people who authored every story and epistle in the Bible were constantly surrounded by (and often subjugated by) other cultures.

The archeological evidence is also incontrovertible: The first Israelites were an amalgamation of Canaanites and Amorites who migrated into what is now Egypt and Syria in the early second millennium BCE. They were multicultural and henotheistic from the beginning (Henotheism is the belief in many gods with Yahweh as the Supreme Being–references to the “Divine Council” in Job and other stories prove this). A dazzling variety of ideas influenced their beliefs about God and our human relationship to God. It is highly likely the early Jewish culture developed their ideas about monotheism from Akhenaten, an Egyptian Pharaoh who was, for all intents and purposes, the first monotheist. Ancient texts inform us that true monotheism–the belief in only one God likely didn’t evolve until the Babylonian exile in the early 600s, BCE. This was a full century after Buddhism had already taken root in the Ancient Near East.

It is my opinion that the inherent Jewish willingness to think deeply about God based on new ideas and input from other cultures would have been both enculturated and epigenetic by the time of Jesus. Since Buddhism was already a well-established school by his time (it was 500 years old), it doesn’t surprise me at all that what Jesus and Buddha taught is so similar.

Jesus’ life as told in scripture is remarkably similar to Buddha’s: Prophets foretell of their births as great spiritual leaders. In both cases, they are “kings.” Buddha is born a prince who would be king, Jesus is called the “prince of peace,” and “King of the Jews.” Both have a choice to make about their royalty: accept it and rule over a nation, or reject it and reveal deeper spiritual truths to people. Both reject any earthly kingship and change the world by revealing God as Universal Consciousness. Importantly, they both reveal that we are made to connect to the Universe in a profound and meaningful, life-changing way.

In both the Jesus and Buddha cycle of stories, the teachers die and are resurrected. This idea of resurrection is perhaps the most powerful metaphor in either story because after death they are transfigured into new, spiritual beings. Buddha becomes enlightened, and Jesus literally becomes en-lightened, described as a radiant figure clad in flowing white gowns, surrounded by a blinding light (Matthew 17:1–9, Mark 9:2-8, Luke 9:28–3, 2 Peter 1:16–18). This is exactly how people described the Buddha when they saw him meditating (Buddhacharita 8:8, “Like a second form of the lord of the gods, like the personified glory of the universe, he lighted up the entire wood like the sun come down of his own accord”).

Rescued. Another metaphor found in both the Buddha and Jesus cycles. We are rescued by a power higher than ourselves from the things that drown us. Sometimes that power appears in the form of a little girl; sometimes it’s Jesus. In whatever form God appears, the idea that we can be rescued from this life that has hypnotized us into believing we are less than we are, is the main theme in Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. We all have much more in common than we are allowing ourselves to understand.

Both men make it their life’s work to end human suffering by teaching spiritual practices that make us more compassionate and empathetic human beings, and detach us from our reliance on material goods. They and their disciples feed the hungry, heal the afflicted, and fight systemic evil by first connecting deeply and personally with God. Now, Buddha didn’t use the word “God” the way Jesus did (although in truth, Jesus never used the word “God” either, instead referring to Universal consciousness as “father,” a word that for him implied the intimacy Buddha found in the Universe).

Jesus and Buddha understood that when we connect deeply with Universal Consciousness, we are forever changed–resurrected. Both the gospel stories about Jesus and the “biographies” of Buddha are dripping with metaphorical meaning and were written with the intention of revealing spiritual truths, not historical facts. They are strikingly similar stories intended to reveal to us a better way to live by connecting with the creative, loving energy of the cosmos. This idea is in part why Jesus refers to God as the father. In his time, the father was the head of the household. Without question, you did what your father told you to do. In the same way, Jesus wants us to understand that we should trust in our experiences with God and just go with the flow.

At this point, it shouldn’t surprise you to know that this is very much what Buddha taught as well. By rejecting the material world, we end the suffering that keeps us disconnected from a higher state of consciousness–suffering that literally makes it difficult for us to keep our heads above water.

Jesus was a monotheistic Jew, who believed in a personal relationship with God, not a micro-managing, judgmental, punitive God. His language and actions reflect this to the point that even when bloodied, beaten, and hanging from the cross, Jesus forgives.

The henotheistic Hindu culture surrounded Buddha, who flatly rejected the concept that there were any deities controlling human life or the universe in general. He strove to end suffering by teaching detachment from this world of cruelty and torture. Buddha points to Nirvana in much the same way Jesus points to God. Both ask us to think more deeply about life, the universe, relationships, and the way we structure human cultures. In fact, both ask us to be revolutionaries by rejecting the status quo and exemplifying the righteous Noble Eightfold Path.

Meditation: Enlighten me.

Intersect 9-22-15

Universal Consciousness, part 1: Buddha
If the creative muses are willing, over the next couple of days I want to compare the stories of Buddha and Jesus. While both stories can be read as historical accounts, they are only revelatory if we read them as allegory. This is not to discount the historicity of either Buddha or Jesus. Their lives on the historical stage continue to be influential. Yet, focusing on them as people from the past has also sidetracked the greater meaning in their stories and made them both objects of worship, rather than gateways to enlightenment. By focusing on Jesus and Buddha as historical characters—and often becoming obsessed with proving they were historical figures, we, especially in the West, have lost much of the important meaning in the allegory of their tales.

Let’s begin with Buddha (born 500 years before Jesus, it is impossible to look at the teachings of Jesus and not see Buddha’s influence). At the time of his birth, a prophet revealed that Prince Siddhartha would grow up to be either a brilliant monarch or an enlightened being. Either/or is our first clue as to the meaning of the story. Because his father wanted him to grow up as a monarch, he kept Siddhartha trapped within the palace walls, surrounded by lavish luxury. For many years (about 29 according to tradition—notice how close that number is to Jesus’ 30), all Siddhartha knew of reality was within the palace walls. His life was purely material.
One day, while out for a ride to meet his subjects, he noticed a sickly old man. The story is that Siddhartha had never seen anything like that before, because he was sheltered from people who were diseased or dying. Curious, Siddhartha asked his charioteer to press on. Taking journeys farther and farther away from the palace, Siddhartha encountered a people dying of starvation, living impoverished lives full of suffering. After encountering a decaying corpse in the middle of the street, Siddhartha was thrown into a state of despair. He left the palace and pursued the life of a mendicant (someone who relies on the charity of others to survive; often considered beggars in the ancient world, but more similar to monks).
Over a period of several years, Siddhartha worked his way through the many diverse ascetic schools in India at the time. He practiced yoga and ever higher forms of meditation. Eventually, he decided to take the austere practices of the ascetic schools to the extreme and tried to find enlightenment by depriving himself of all worldly goods, including food. It is said he survived on a single nut a day. This, of course, is not enough to sustain a body, and he eventually collapsed and drowned in a river. He was rescued (some would say resurrected) by a young village girl who nursed him back to health.
Not long after this, Siddhartha has a spiritual awakening and attains enlightenment, becoming the Buddha (which simply means “enlightened one” in much the same way Christ simply means “anointed”). This is a very similar allegory to Jesus’ transfiguration after his resurrection. They are similar because they are attempting to convey similar meaning: One must die to the material entrapments of this world to fully live into a higher state of consciousness. Neither story is exclusively about physical death and resurrection. On a deeper level, they are stories about the sort of profound spiritual transformation every single one of us can achieve.

Looking beyond the historical constructs and literal aspects of this story, it’s fairly easy to see this is a parable! The story of Siddhartha, like the story of Jesus, is about our spiritual awakening to Universal Consciousness—God within. Siddhartha breaks free from the prison of the material world (the palace in which he was raised) and discovers a deeper, more connected universe. He begins to understand that duality–the either/or state, is also an illusion. There isn either/or, there is only Oneness. Buddha sees that all people are trapped in an artificial prison caused by suffering, which itself is caused by duality and dualistic thinking. He realizes that attachment to dualistic thinking is the root cause of suffering and evil in the world. By finding “The Middle Way” he shatters the illusion of materialism.
Buddha realized that extremes are never good, that the middle ground, which is narrow and as difficult to follow as a razor’s edge, is the path to an enlightened state of consciousness. How do we walk this middle ground? Moderation. Avoid the extremes of self-indulgence. Buddha developed the Noble Eightfold Path, which is extremely similar to the idea of “righteousness”:

  1. Right View
  2. Right Intention
  3. Right Speech
  4. Right Action
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right Concentration

These are sometimes subdivided into three general groupings. The first two are Wisdom, the middle three are Ethical Conduct, and the last three are Concentration. Taken together, they form a way of life that helps us achieve a higher state of consciousness. Following the “right” way does not imply that we are to moralize or demand the world conform to our moral ideology–that’s attachment to the material world! Being “righteous” is not about shutting down Planned Parenthood (don’t even get me started). Rather, being righteous, following the Noble Eightfold Path, is about living a life that connects us more deeply with Universal Consciousness—with God. It is about practices for ourselves that awaken us to a completely different way of seeing and being in the world. It makes us more compassionate to the suffering we become ever more painfully aware of. Following the Noble Eightfold path, I daresay, makes us a lot more like Jesus.
Meditation: Make me mindful so that I might live more consciously aware of your presence.

Intersect 9-20-15

Guided Meditation & Centering Prayer
Today is International Day of Peace. In order to bring a true, lasting peace to the world, we need to become more peaceful as individuals. I do not believe that can happen without a significant change to our spiritual being. We must be people grounded in the mystery and healing love of The Universe if the systems of our planet are to change significantly.

Toward that goal, in church yesterday I showed a short, 10-minute guided meditation. So many of you have asked for the video that I’ve linked it here for everyone. While we often associate meditation with Eastern religions/philosophical systems, centering prayer is a very ancient Judeo-Christian practice. From Moses to Jesus, from the Benedictine monks to Teresa of Avila and Pope Francis, spiritual sojourners have practiced (and encouraged the practice of) centering prayer and meditation for thousands of years.

Centering prayer roots us in God. It’s a form of silent meditation in which we prepare to experience God within us. It’s a way for us to connect consciously with God and understand we are One. In centering prayer, we open our mind, our heart, our whole being to the mystery and love of God. We are taken to a place beyond thoughts and emotions, beyond logic, to a state of pure emotion, a place of ultimate knowing.

In centering prayer, we feel we are One with God, and through that connection, one with everything in the universe. It is an experience of enlightenment that affects us emotionally and physically.

It was my hope yesterday that through this short introduction to centering prayer, some of us would feel a little “click,” a little tug at our hearts. Apparently, many of you felt just that. Hooray! That tug is God, awakening us from within and filling us with the loving energy we need to be followers of Christ, agents of change, and people of love in this busy, distracted, too-often heartless world.
Guided Meditation:

Intersect 9-17-15

Rebuilding Our Spiritual Foundation, part 2
In our church, we talk a lot about the idea of “spiritual oneness” with God. The idea is that we are not beings separated from God, but rather, are created from the very being of God. There is no duality, no “us” and “God,” no physical body and separate soul. Rather, we are one being, created from and always part of the consciousness of God. This relationship is the foundation of our existence: We are One.

Oneness isn’t a new or even particularly revolutionary idea. The concept is found all over Scripture: “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13). “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deut. 6:4). “Then God said, ‘Let us make humans in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth'” (Genesis 1:26). “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call” (Ephesians 4:4). “I pray they will be one, Father, just as you are in me, and I am in you. I pray that they also will be in us” (John 17:21).

Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism and other spiritual practices also emphasize Oneness. Part of my spiritual philosophy has always been that if there is an underlying similarity in several religious practices, it’s probably something I want to examine more deeply. The universal thread that weaves all religious and spiritual ideologies together is the idea of Oneness. Every religious system also has practices, usually taught by the founder of said system, for us to use as tools with which to connect to God and experience Oneness. These spiritual practices become the building blocks of our spiritual foundations.

One of the most effective Oneness methods, and one that’s making a comeback in Christian circles, is Centering Prayer. When we think about centering prayer or meditation, most of us probably think of Yoga and Buddhism. The Buddha was known to meditate for extended periods of time, and many of us in the West were introduced to meditation/centering prayer through Buddhism or other Eastern practices. However, this deep form of prayer was also prevalent in the early, pre-institutionalized days of Christianity, when the church still had a profound connection to Judaism. The Benedictine monks, among others, are known for their amazing centering prayer studies.

Centering prayer is a form of silent meditation in which we prepare to experience God within us. It’s a way for us to connect consciously with God and understand we are One. In centering prayer, we open our mind, our heart, our whole being to the mystery and love of God. We are taken to a place beyond thoughts and emotions, beyond logic, to a state of pure emotion, a place of ultimate knowing. In centering prayer, we feel we are One with God, and through that connection, one with everything in the universe. It is an experience of enlightenment that affects us emotionally and physically.

Soon at The Current, we’re going to be running some Centering Prayer classes with several different teachers. Until those classes start, here are some techniques to help you on your way to a powerful centering prayer experience:

1. Find a comfortable place to sit. Don’t lay down so you don’t fall asleep. It’s best to sit upright.

2. Keep your meditation and prayer centered on God. Don’t think about anything that’s worrying you. You might want to repeat silently the mantra “God is closer than my own breath.” You might not want to repeat anything. Just try to be quiet for a few minutes (20 is usually best)—that’s difficult enough for Americans!

3. That’s it. Just try that for a little bit. As thoughts enter your mind, let them fall away by internally chanting “God and I are one.”

The great Christian mystic Joel Goldsmith once wrote, “God in the midst of me is my life, and the bread on my table, the meat and the wine and the water. I do not have to go anywhere; I do not have to think anything. ‘Be still and know that I am God’ (Psalm 46:10). The eternal ‘I’ is God. I is infinite. I is all-inclusive. In the presence of the I there is fulfillment. Where the spirit of the I is, there is peace, joy, completeness and harmony. I do not have to deserve it: God’s rain falls alike on all creation. I only have to be still because it is ‘not by might, nor by power’ (Zechariah 4:6) that Oneness is realized: It is ‘in quietness and confidence’ (Isaiah 30:15).”

Meditation: In quietness and confidence, I know the presence of God is here with me.

Intersect 9-15-15

Rebuilding our Spiritual Foundation, part 1
One of the things I love most about reading The Bible and other ancient literature is the sense of connectedness I get from our ancient ancestors. They were connected to the land they farmed and developed through the use of hand-made and hand-operated tools. They were connected to each other by trade routes that required human interaction. They were connected to God by a deep sense of awe and mystery in every rainstorm; in every gently blinking star. They were people filled with wonder, open to the idea of mystical experiences that simply couldn’t be explained.

We have lost much of that sense of awe and mystery. We understand most of the processes of nature, and what we don’t understand we’re analyzing in a way and with tools that would themselves inspire awe and mystery amongst our ancestors. The scanning tunneling microscope, the internal combustion engine, jets, rockets, the Large Hadron Collider, inoculations—these would be the stuff of magic to our ancestors.
Unfortunately, in our constant quest to learn more and develop better technology, we’ve lost our connection. We have these vast, global social networks, yet we never really talk to each other. International trade is handled by huge multinational conglomerates, and almost all of it is done electronically with very little human intervention. The art of two people negotiating a deal is largely lost. The art of interpersonal communication is almost nonexistent. Nobody shares stories or flirts around the community’s water well these days. Our sense of awe and mystery at the universe has been reduced to mathematical formulas that strive to prove one theory or another. Math is beautiful and awe-inspiring in its own right, but it attempts to unravel mystery, rather than encouraging mystical experiences. We constantly attempt to define things that simply defy definition, rather than trying to understand the life- and world-changing power of stepping more deeply into the mystery for its own sake.
Perhaps our world is a mess at least in part because we no longer feel connected to our land, our tools, our communities, each other and God. Even talking about God in this postmodern, post-enlightenment world is less philosophical than it was for our ancestors. Discussions about God in the ancient world almost always ended with “it’s a mystery,” and that was more than okay—it was the point. To experience the mystery of God is transcendent. It gets us out of and over our individual self importance. The foundation of our spiritual selves is crumbling, because we no longer even think of ourselves as spiritual beings.
Fortunately, I believe there is a new awakening happening. Most of this is being accomplished through our children, who are being born into the world with an innate knowledge of the Great Mystery of being. They will help many of us remember what it means to be humans in community with each other and with God. We are all invited to participate in the Great Mystery. We are all intended to rebuild our cracked spiritual foundations to serve the world more effectively. Our world is broken at a foundational level, and the way we’re going about repairing it now is akin to having a broken arm and trying to heal it with a box of Band-Aids. The broken arm can only be healed by working from within–on the structure itself.
The structures of our world need complete foundational repair, and for that to happen, we all need to repair our spiritual foundations first. There are many, many ways to do that, and we’ll explore some of them this week.
Meditation: Heal me so I can more effectively heal others.

Intersect 9-9-15

Filled With the Power of Love, cialis part 2
How do we uncover a deeper-than-surface reality? How do we find the goodness in humanity, ask when all we are told is that we are worthless sinners? We find what I think is a “more real” reality through an intentional process of awakening. We intentionally awaken by finding (and using) spiritual practices that slowly peel away the surface of this artificial reality and reveal the truth about our Oneness with everything that exists on this planet and every planet. In this universe and every universe. The truth is that there is only One, click and we are all emanations of The One.

You can call this God, enlightenment, nirvana, or Fred the Orange. You can consider yourself Buddhist, Catholic, Protestant, Mormon, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, or Pastafarian. It doesn’t matter. Every system we create is simply a way for us to awaken to Oneness. There are many paths, but only One Universal Energy, One Universal Mind, One God. Again, different people use different names to describe the same thing. What’s important to remember—what’s important to awaken to—is that we are all after the same thing: a more enlightened way of being with each other in this time and place. I believe that can only happen as we find more intimate ways to be with Infinite Consciousness. We need spiritual grounding before real, permanent systematic social change occurs.

I don’t believe anyone in the world truly wants war—even the military industrial complex. If somehow tomorrow, every war ended, the brilliant minds at Lockheed Martin and the other Military-Industrial corporations would turn their impressive resources to other things. Perhaps the invention of a real food replicator to end hunger once and for all. Perhaps the invention of real warp drive engines, which would solve not only our desire for deep space travel, but also create a new energy source for our homes, cities and nations.

We are locked into an unhealthy way of being, and like any addict, we fail to see there is a way out. The same was true for our ancestors who put their thoughts, hopes, struggles, dreams and desires in writing. The desire to see through this artificial reality is evident in the many texts and letters that eventually became “sacred” writings such as The Bible, The Qu’ran , The Dhammapada, The I Ching, The Vedas, and on and on. Humans have intrinsically always known there is more depth to reality than we have ever been able to grasp. At this moment, we might finally have the tools—both scientifically and spiritually—to achieve a breakthrough in human consciousness. Now is the time to change reality—and the way we perceive it—forever.

This breakthrough begins one person at a time. We are all the instruments through which a deeper meaning peels away the artifices of this world we have manufactured. There is a deeper truth just under the surface, and to experience it we need to go deeper ourselves. We can do this any number of ways: through study—of just about anything because knowledge always leads to enlightenment. We can do it through prayer and meditation, practices designed to help us physically, mentally and spiritually center in the universal oneness that is all creation. We begin to break the hard outer surface of this reality by serving others, by putting the needs of the many over the wants of the one, by working to bring everyone who has been marginalized in from the cold.

Whatever our method (and we will ultimately use many different methods), our goal is the same: A spiritual awakening to our true selves, people who operate from love, in community, for the common good.

Meditation: Reality appears in the cracks and margins. Mind the margins.

Intersect 9-8-15

Filled With the Power of Love, thumb part 1
Humans have done a good job of designing a world that keeps the truth hidden from us. Whether we’re surfing TV channels or the Web, we’re flooded with images and stories about how atrocious we are to each other. Constant war in the Middle East is causing a flood of immigration to Europe, in numbers so massive and in waves so fast and furious, that even the countries doing their best to shelter everyone simply cannot keep up. Then, of course, there are the countries that are completely disinterested in sheltering victims of wars they likely had a hand in starting.

In the United States, politics is about self-preservation and special interests. This country, once considered the best place on the planet to achieve your dreams; this country, built on the blood, sweat and tears of immigrants; this country, stolen from its indigenous people, is now building walls to keep everyone else out, even though none of us actually belong here.

Indeed, if an intergalactic traveler were to stumble across our planet, or even one of our broadcasts, she might think twice before stopping in to say hello. I would.

What I find most unfortunate about this current state of affairs is that it masks the truth. We are stuck in a reality that is unreal, and we’ve become so convinced that this is the way things are (and that this is the way things have always been), we can no longer see the layers of truth that underlie our existence. It’s like looking at an onion, only seeing the skin, and presuming the onion is worthless. It’s only after the skin is peeled back that the delicious layers of the onion are revealed—layer after layer of oniony goodness.

That’s humanity. We are, in truth, layer after layer of goodness. The problem is that we don’t look deeply enough. We look around the world and see only the outer layer. We have created economic, political, social and entertainment systems that keep us convinced we are cruel, mean-spirited, heartless—and worthless. We have perverted our religions, so they do the same. Whereas all the spiritual masters throughout history have shown and reminded us, we are love, the religious systems that have developed around them have somehow done just the opposite. Most of this has been done for self-preservation.

It’s time for us to start looking deeper, to start peeling back the surface layers, to see past what we are told is reality. Reality is a lie. The truth is much, much deeper, and is only discovered by releasing self-preservation and taking up selfless concern for community. It’s time—beyond time, to realize we are beings of love, and that the power of love is astounding and world-changing. Love is, in fact, the only power that can change the world, and we are created from it to be in constant communion with it.

All we have to do is look past the surface to discover the truth.

Meditation: Fill me with love so I will fill the world with love.