contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Tag: Nisargadatta Maharaj

THE SATSANG TEACHER STORY

In the story below (1), Greg Goode explores what he calls literal and non-literal meaning – though I would frame it as a tension between verbal and non-verbal communication. The context is the teaching style of the Direct Path some years ago. Greg himself is a successful student and teacher of the Direct Path and models a demystified and dialogical style of presentation in his own work. I find this type of reflection as a welcome sign of democratization in spiritual inquiry and teaching.

“Back then [in the early 1990’s] satsang was taught by a chosen few, who never got up in front of people without reporting their membership in a spiritual lineage stretching back in a lineage to Ramana Maharsi or Nisargadatta Maharaj. Among satsang students, the most valued goal was to become a teacher. The process of becoming a teacher was surrounded by mystery, celebrity and excitement.

“Imagine attending a satsang the way they were back in the 1990’s: the teacher sits in a plush armchair at the front of the room, while audience members sit on hard folding chairs. On the table next to the teacher is a row of three or four framed photos, showing a progression of spiritual teachers starting with Ramana Maharsi and ending with the very person sitting in the armchair. Imagine the satsang beginning with the teacher saying the following:

“’This is not about me. You may look at me sitting up here in this chair in front and wonder why I am here and you are not. I am just like you. Even though I am up here, and you are not, it doesn’t mean that I am special.

“’I don’t even consider myself to be a teacher. I never wanted to teach. It was my teacher who asked me to teach. He gave me the gift of satsang, and I am here giving it to you.

“’The gift of freedom in satsang is the highest that can be given. It is the most intense form of love and the profoundest happiness imaginable. I wish to share it with you. ‘”

“This is a classic example of non-literal meaning contradicting literal meaning in a way that rhetoricians call apophasis, or ‘affirming by denying (illustrated by the popular phrase ‘if you deny it, you supply it’). When a candidate for political offices says, ‘and I won’t mention my opponent’s financial problems’, you know what’s coming next!

“In our example of the satsang monologue, the literal interpretation of the teacher’s opening statements is that he’s just like his audience members. “But everything else about the situation, from the seating arrangements, to the row of photos, to the teacher’s self-consciousness as a giver of satsang, to his disavowal of teacher status -tells a different story. The teacher’s very first sentence isn’t about the audience or about the official satsang topics of consciousness or enlightenment. It’s about him. He goes on to mention himself a total of thirteen times in eleven sentences. This focus is squarely on him, and, according to the non-literal meaning of his speech, he emerges not the same as the others, but very different indeed. He becomes the teacher who has been specially selected to bear the most precious gift of all. This is a case in which being open to non-literal meaning provides access to a deeper and more subtle understanding of a situation.”

(1) Greg Goode After Awareness: The End of the Path Oakland, CA: Non-Duality Press, 2016 (Non-Duality Press is an imprint of New Harbinger Publications, Inc.)

HUMAN

Some people, having vaguely heard of non-dual traditions, get a notion that they turn us away from our messy human lives. Nothing could be further from the truth. Here are two brief passages by (respectively) a mid-twentieth century and a current non-dual teacher.

BEING AND BECOMING

“To be, to exist with a name and form is painful, yet I love it …. It is the instinct of exploration, the love of the unknown, that brings me into existence. It is in the nature of being to seek adventure in becoming, as it is in the very nature of becoming to seek peace in being.” Nisargadatta Maharaj.

 

SACRED WORK

Cherish your doubts. They are the seeds of Mystery.

Embrace your sadness. Great joy lies within.

Turn to face your fears. At their core lies peace beyond words.

Celebrate your boredom. It is radically alive.

Hold your grief. Let it break your heart wide open.

Befriend your anger. Know it intimately as the life power that burns suns.

Acknowledge your pain. It is the body’s plea for attention.

All feelings are deeply intelligent. Get out of their way.

Let them do their sacred, universal work.”

Jeff Foster Falling in love with where you are: a year of prose and poetry on radically opening up to the pain and joy of life Salisbury: Non-Duality Press, 2013

ROSE, PEWTER & NATURE MYSTICISM

In my introduction to Contemplative Druidry (1) I describe “a wholly unexpected and not at all dramatic epiphany … triggered simply by noticing and contemplating a wild rose”. Although the experience lasted for only a few moments, “for some weeks I woke up every day with a sense of joy and connection”. It was a shift in my spiritual centre of gravity.

This happened on a midsummer morning in 2007, just outside the Scottish Border town of Melrose on the bank of the Tweed. It is a place loaded with religious and mythic reference – Melrose Abbey with its Green Man carvings and the heart of Robert the Bruce; the Eildon Hills, those hollow hills where the Queen of Efland took True Thomas, making it clear to him that she was not the Queen of heaven.

I had chosen to walk away from those, and towards a riverside path. My experience of the rose was entirely natural, in this legend laden land. In that sense I can call it an instance of nature mysticism, and a nudge towards a contemplative Druidry largely shorn of mythic narrative for the sake of a clearer eye. Looking back, I understood my experience as a lesser form of the one reported by the German mystic Jacob Boehme, who “fell into a trance upon looking into a burnished pewter plate that reflected the sun. In his ecstasy he saw into the very heart of nature itself and felt totally at harmony with creation” (2). Unusually for a seventeenth century Protestant, Boehme had a sense of the Divine feminine, and thought of Sophia as “the visibility of God”. He went on to be a key inspiration in a growing movement for a kinder, gentler version of the reformed faith despite the trials and trauma of his time. Boehme’s work finally appeared in English in 1662 and gave rise to a group called the Philadelphians, less known or numerous than the home grown Quakers.

Now I have entered another, different, phase. It is marked by a demystification of mysticism itself. It involves a deeper, more conscious inquiry into what I mean by ‘nature’ – the nature I see, the nature I am, and the relationship between them. On 23 May 2014 I scribbled down some words attributed to the 20th. Century teacher and sage Nisargadatta Maharaj and posted on the Science and Nonduality website. I thought of working them into the text of Contemplative Druidry. But though I found them inspirational, I hadn’t tested them or assimilated them into my experience, and so I left them out. These words are: “Love says ‘I am everything’, Wisdom says ‘I am nothing’. Between the two, my life flows. Since at any point of time and space I can be both the subject and the object of experience, I express it by saying that I am both, and neither, and beyond both”.

My new connection with the Headless Way, with its simple, transparent processes, provides a framework for doing the work I had not done two years ago. My readiness to do it owes much to my experience of contemplative Druidry during the intervening time, just as my earlier work with contemplative Druidry probably helped me to recognize the value of Nisargadatta’s words in 2014. As I move forward, I increasingly see the threads of continuity in my overall inquiry, and this gives me confidence and energy for the work itself.

  • James Nichol Contemplative Druidry: People, Practice and Potential Amazon/KPD, 2014 (Foreword by Philip Carr-Gomm)
  • Caitlin Mathews Sophia Goddess of Wisdom, Bride of God Wheaton IL: Quest Books, 2001
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