Question: What is God?
Answer: God cannot be defined, but God can be experienced. Just as there is no answer to the Zen koan "what is the sound of one hand clapping?", there is no answer to the God question either. The object of the koan is to test the student's ability to speak from a particular state of consciousness, not to articulate a "correct" answer. The Zen student can say anything or nothing at all and still be "correct", as long as he or she speaks (or remains silent) from the Zen state of mind. The teacher is trained to look for whether the student's mind has come to a complete stop in the state of pure awareness, and whether his or her consciousness is centered in the now. If it is, then anything that the student does or does not do will be correct. Similarly, the only "correct" answer to "what is God?" is a reply made from the state of God-consciousness. Anything else is a fabrication, not the truth.
Question:Is God in church?
Answer: God is inside you; your church is your community. And while ultimately God is only within you, i.e., that is the only "place" you can experience God, it is through communion with others that God is realized in the world. The physical church, the building, symbolizes the physical human body; the altar symbolizes the heart. By partaking of the fruits of the altar together as a spiritual community, we acknowlege the one source of life, both spiritual and material - we need each other in order to survive. We are a "communal" species. The word communion comes from communication, which by definition is reciprocal; there is a giver and a receiver; there is love. God is the giver; we are the receiver. I receive from the God in you, and you receive from the God in me. When I speak to you, I speak to the God within you, the real you. When you listen, you put your thinking mind aside and let God commune with God. This is the essence of spiritual community, and it is the very definition of "church".
see Where is Within?
Question: How can I have an experience of God?
Answer: Again, language does not serve us well in this inquiry. The answer is not a "how". The answer is more like, "You must be the experience of God." In spiritual work, one does not move from point A to point B. There is no movement. To experience something on the spiritual plane, you must become it. You must alter your vibration until it resonates with the thing you want to experience. This is why in Zen practice there is so much emphasis on "nothingness", because nothingness has a very high rate of vibration. A mind that is busy thinking will have a low rate of vibration, because thoughts slow the mind. When I think about what my fingers are doing on the keyboard, my typing slows way down. This is where the saying "let go and let God" applies - when relaxation and attentiveness are both at their maximum, the God experience comes easily and naturally.
see How to Induce an Inner Light Experience
Question: I have a hard time believing in God. It seems irrational to think that there's a bearded, gray-haired old man in a heaven up there somewhere who is just waiting to punish me if I make a mistake. Is there such a God?
Answer: As humans, we naturally want God to be just like us, only perfect, so we create "him" the way we want him to be. Giving God a fatherly image is simply a way for us to defer to a higher authority any time we want others to do things our way. Whoever claims God first is the beneficiary of that authority.
The reality is that there IS a higher being, and by that I mean that we live within a larger, more intelligent, more conscious, and more ALIVE "body/mind/soul" than we are capable of imagining - not a body that is physically identical to ours, but identical in principle.
This, to me, is a supremely more rational approach to the cosmos than thinking that the universe and all of its splendor came about by chance. Any rational person would have to admit that we live in the midst of an extraordinary intelligence, the depth and complexity of which we simply do not understand.
So, while the odds are strongly against an anthropoJoe "up there" somewhere, I think we can safely say (and discover by trying it) that we can speak into that intelligence and be heard.
As for the punishment thing: does electricity "punish" us when we accidentally touch a hot wire? No. Just as our bodies function automatically according to natural laws, the "body" of God functions according to laws also. There is no punishment, no vindictiveness, and no "wrath" - only consequences.
Question: I want to live a spiritual life, but I find that I just cannot bring myself to like certain people, much less love them. What should I do?
Answer:It's a mistake to think that you have to like someone in order to love them. You don't have to like them, but you must know the truth about them. This is eternally important.
What is the truth about them? It is the same as the truth about you. You are an expression of God. The one thing we all have in common with each other is that we only allow a portion of that expression out into the visible world. God lives in us mostly as a potential, as though we were all "pregnant" with God.
In the Bible, Mary, while pregnant with Jesus, visits her cousin Elisabeth, who is pregnant with John the Baptist. The narrator tells us that John "leapt in his mother's womb" when he heard the voice of the mother of his Lord. When we recognize the divinity within another person, that divinity suddenly springs to life, both in that person and in ourselves, and God comes face to face with God.
We might not like the other person, but seeing God in them makes it possible for us to respect them in the most profound way.
Question: I want to do the "right thing", but how do I know what that is? Sometimes, even when it feels right at the outset, my decision can turn out to be a big mistake.
Answer: Knowing is automatic. We cannot decide what we know. It comes out of who we are, the choices we've made, and what we have done. We can't always see it because our attachments and desires get in the way. Sometimes, we have to base our decisions on what we understand about the situation, which is intellectual. But if intuition is temporarily blocked, this is the most responsible thing we can do - our "best shot".
If we are in doubt, and time allows, it is always better to back away, to "sleep on it", to detach from the desired outcome, and to hand it over to God. The solutions to our problems are ALWAYS right under our nose - the universe knows what the best course of action is in every case. It's our job to take off our blindfolds and to see the obvious. Always remember that the Will of the Life Spirit is to seek out and do the right thing. It always works for the good of the whole, because it IS the whole. The inmost part of us, that which chooses, is never devious, never ill-intentioned. It is always straight-forward and to the point.
Incidentally, we don't have to like doing the right thing - we just need to do it. We do it simply as an act of will. If necessary, we do it over the objections of others, and sometimes even over our own objections. We have to give ourselves the freedom to hate having to do it, if that's how we feel, but we have to do it nonetheless.
"Liking it" is of the ego, so what does it matter if we like it or not?
Jesus' story about the servant who said no, but then repented and did what his master ordered, demonstrates that action is the bottom line, not how we feel about it. We usually do what we like to do. The more we do what we don't like to do, the more we grow. It goes against our grain. If it didn't , it wouldn't make us uncomfortable, would it.
Question: Must we disregard the religion of our ancestors in order to grow spirtually?
Answer: While we shouldn't worship our religion, we shouldn't abandon it either. Whether we simply pray everyday or engage in a rigorous routine of meditation and spiritual exercises, we need to put our strivings into concrete action. Otherwise, we can't expect to grow spiritually. The challenge set before us is to be in action with our religion everyday,
while always keeping our eyes on the ultimate destination. "The Sabbath [religion] was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath."
Question: Why is creativity in our spiritual lives important, and is it more important than simply obeying God's will or following the rules?
Answer: Being thrives on creativity. We must
extend outward into our possibility if we are to live. The greatest mystery is our ability to create, and not merely to choose.
We are endogenous, which means that we come out from the center of ourselves. If we fail to do this, and we let the beliefs of others rule our lives, then entropy will prevail, and we will die - not just physically, but spiritually also.
To live is to risk, to intend from within, and not according to an external standard. This is the test that Life gives us. Can we be life? Can we step into it and take it on? This is true evolution.
"God's will" is dangerous when we think we know it, and even more dangerous when we think we don't. This is the paradox, the razor's edge. We must step forward into areas where no one has stepped before, where the ground is invisible, and there are no guideposts, both in our living and in our praying.
Without the possibility for mistake, there is no possibility.
Want to know
more about the will of God?
Question: Do you believe in the Virgin Birth of Christ?
Answer: This is a theological question based on opinion - what one thinks or prefers to believe, or what one wants or does not want to be true. It says nothing about the principle of the Virgin Birth.
Every World Teacher had some form of "virgin birth". Buddha was born out of his mother's side, at the level of the heart chakra and not the pelvis. Isis gave birth to Horus, the sun-god, by conceiving with her dead husband Osiris. Moses was "born" out of the sacred waters of the river Nile, and Jesus was "reborn" out of the River Jordan, through the baptism of John. These are all variations of the theme of the Virgin Birth.
Thinking about the principle of the Virgin Birth takes the emphasis off of its doctrinal aspect, what we're "supposed" to believe, and lets us look at it scientifically, which is to say, in terms of principle.
When we look at the principle of a teaching, we begin to draw corollaries with similar teachings in other religions. We find points of agreement, and we begin to see HOW the story applies to us.
We don't want to de-emphasize the Virgin Birth or say that Jesus and Mary weren't actually born of virgin mothers, but we should be willing to admit to ourselves that we don't really know much about this phenomenon or how it works. In other words, what constitutes a virgin birth?
Is there something wrong with the natural procreative process, or is it our consciousness and our approach to sex that's at fault? It's one thing to say that God created sex and that sex is a holy thing - its quite another to believe it. Judging by the way sex tends to be problematic in our lives, it's safe to say that we don't really understand it yet, nor see it as being "of God".
Some believe that matters of faith should not be questioned, that it's wrong to analyze spiritual doctrines. They say that it's only necessary to believe and to obey the rules of the organization. This, however, is a rank-and-file attitude born of the desire to let someone else shoulder the responsibility for our spiritual wellbeing. It's time to grow up and take on that responsibility for ourselves.
We must acknowledge that there is a deeper meaning to the spiritual teachings that we have come to know and love. The Virgin Birth finds its extraordinary significance when it occurs within us.
"Of what use, O Gabriel, thy message to Marie, if thou canst not also say the same thing to me?" - Angelus Silesius
Want to know
more about the Virgin Birth?
Question: Why is the number forty used so often in the Bible?
Answer: The number forty is a symbolic number. Whenever it's used in scripture, it's intended to reveal a deeper, more complex message.
Numbers are used in the Bible as spiritual/scientific notations. Each number has a specific symbolic meaning. The ancient writers understood numbers in this way, and they assumed that their readers did too.
Jesus' forty days in the wilderness, Noah's forty days of rain, Moses's forty years in the house of pharaoh and his subsequent forty years of wandering all share a common theme represented by the number forty.
Other commonly used numbers have symbolic meaning too: 144,000 (the number of the elect in the Book of Revelations), the seven churches (also in Revelations), and the Ten Commandments.
The spiritual message in these stories is hidden within the symbology of the number as it relates to the elements of the narrative.
Want to know more about this method of Bible interpretation?
Question: Which has the better description of reality, science or religion?
Answer: As scientists and religionists, our best hope of finding the truth is to 1) remain true to our calling and 2) occasionally step out of it, so that we can look at the large questions afresh. To defend either science or religion is a kind of intellectual nationalism that can only produce disagreement. We need to take a more cosmopolitan stance in the world of ideas if we are to get the big picture.
At present, the dialogue between science and religion is like that of a bad marriage. Neither appreciates the other, even though they are "soulmates", in that they represent the two halves of us, the logical and intuitive minds. To deny one is to afflict the other.
A good marriage would find us intuitively rational and rationally intuitive, but this can only work if both parties can remain true to their own nature. Mutual respect is the order of the day, and, if it can be accomplished, will advance the causes of both camps. But both must relinquish its claim to exclusivity in the domain of truth.
St. Paul, believe it or not, has the best formula. I believe that he was no dummy and that he wrote in layers of meaning. When he said that women should remain silent in the church and that they should let their hair grow long, he was using symbolic language: woman = subconscious (intuitive) mind, which should not be controlled but allowed to develop naturally. At the same time, it should not be allowed to set policy. That is the domain of the conscious (rational) mind, which is symbolized by the male, and which should cut its hair, signifying the winnowing of thought - the control of mind. Our rational aspect (represented by science) needs to listen to our intuitive aspect (represented by religion). In so doing, it will find direction, value, and wisdom in the exercise of its knowledge. Our intuitive nature, on the other hand, needs the freedom to explore - to shop - the full range of experience and not be obliged to follow the rules of logic.
A scientist says:
The nature of anything outside physical reality is beyond the scope of the scientific method. Certainly there are ideas science can dispel, (the seven-day creation, the world-wide flood, the reliability of numerology, astrology, and the tarot, to name but a few), but any statement that cannot be tested ("Is this beautiful?") cannot be addressed by science. So I would not say that science is blind to perceived reality, but that it cannot comment on that which is untestable. The existence of a god, a "super-material", or a "spirit-system" are not testable assertions, and therefore cannot be answered scientifically.
Answer: The subtext in our discussion so far suggests that we all know what the word "God" means and that we agree on a meaning. One need only look at the history of religion to know that that can't be the case. The real question here, as put forth by many experts in both science and religion, is not whether a God exists, but whether there is an underlying intelligence to nature, whether the complex comes from the simple, or the simple from the complex. Is nature striving towards an ideal, or is it merely a mind-less machine?
The problem with this question is our joint tendency to place a meaning on the word "intelligence". Religionists want to anthropomorphize it, to give it human qualities and values, and scientists want to strip it of conscious intention, or even subconscious intention. In their zeal to outdo each other, both scientists and religionists have invented their own brands of dogma, and both claim to be the final authority on the nature of intelligence.
It is , of course, ludicrous to think that there is no intelligence in nature, given what we know about it. It is equally ludicrous to think that that intelligence even remotely resembles our own, displaying favoritism, wrath, veangeance, etc. If it came down to choosing between believing in a God that favored one people over another, or one that occasionally throws fits, or believing in a totally mechanistic universe, I would choose the latter. But the former concept of God is an undeveloped one not held by those who have delved deeply into the mysteries of religion, and the idea of a "dumb" cosmos is simply naieve - no intelligent scientist would bet the farm on it.
The point is that statements of blind certainty are really no different from the blind faith of religious fundamentalists, and they are equally as dangerous to freedom of thought. The most rational (and the most faithful) stance any of us can take is "I could be wrong". We should all have this tattooed on our foreheads. It makes for better science and better religion.
How important is it to take protective measures (shielding) when you meditate? I've read entire books on meditation without a mention of it, yet in other areas it sounds as if we shouldn't meditate (open ourselves) without doing it. If you do shield yourself, what method do you use?
Shielding is most effective when it is natural. By this I mean that if you approach it the way you do in your day to day life, it is most authentic and therefore most effective. Example: I'm sure you wouldn't give out your social security number to an unsolicited sales caller, nor would you act on the advice of a complete stranger in matters of life and death without first doing some research.
Put yourself in the role of the negative influence that you are seeking to shield yourself against. If you were on the prowl for some hapless sojourner on the spiritual path, who would you most likely go after? The person whose motive is mostly curiosity, whose intention is either weak or tinged with fear, or whose boundaries are shot full of holes from drugs and/or alcohol - this guy would be your target.
Get clear about your intention, know what you are about, and don't let your natural sense of caution degenerate into irrational fear. At the same time, don't wander into psychic neighborhoods that feel wierd, and "never accept candy from strangers".
see The Phone Call
Question: I recently joined a new church. The people are very nice, and I've made many new friends, but I can't help feeling like the odd duck. I know that this feeling will surely disappear over time, but I'm worried that the feeling I'm having might be coming from things that I'm sensing on a deeper level that aren't quite right - things that will surface later as serious differences in matters of faith. I would hate to find myself at the end of a long road wishing that I had picked a different denomination. Do you have any suggestions?
Answer: When we become a new member of a group, we try to
establish our position in the pecking order by evaluating
ourselves in relation to the other members. This is the ego's way to ensure it's own survival - it is resisting being
absorbed into the group by identifying itself as a separate
entity. Our lack of faith keeps us from letting go, because we
think that we will disappear. But Jesus said, "Unless a seed
dies and falls into the earth, it will not bear fruit." This is a universal principle. It means that we must
allow ourselves to be absorbed into our life, trusting that
the power of the Spirit will raise us up, along with everyone
else. Membership in a new group need not frighten us when we know that
God will work through us to resurrect us. If you do this with the right motive, namely trusting your life with God, you will move mountains in your church, or wherever you might be.
see Bloom Where You Are Planted
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