“Many Paths One Truth” is out! Compelling me to use exclamation points! Not surprisingly, we who worked on the issue find it beautiful and fascinating, and we hope you do! Seriously, please support us by buying a copy and letting us know what you think.
As we worked on the issue, this question came up again and again: How can a person find a good or right way? Especially now, when so many teachings are available and in increasingly user-friendly forms. Just the other day, Parabola publisher Jeff Zaleski and I interviewed an avowed reincarnated Tibetan Buddhist lama in his borrowed apartment on Central Park West, before he attended a premier of a movie about his life. Next, we taxied down to the Parabola offices where we picked up the weekly bale of books and dvds from other lamas and teachers from other major traditions and paths and ways. And now there are so many on-line options! How can we possibly go beyond the endless stream of inspiring thoughts and quotes and images (and Parabola in our various forms provides plenty of those)—to actually make contact with a way that will lead inward to our own deepest experience—and outward, to the truth we share?
Carlos Castaneda writes: “The only question is: Does this path have a heart? If it does, then it is a good path. If it doesn’t, then it is of no use.” I’ve been mentioning certain famous literary kids in this space lately—kids who found their way by trusting their own hearts and capacity to know and to feel. Kids can’t help but trust their hearts. Over the years, we build up dense layers of thoughts, memories, and images that take us away from what is really happening in the moment. A real path helps us cut through the fog, leading us back to the roots of perception and feeling, re-introducing us to our innate capacity to see clearly and feel and care about what we see. When we were little kids, we could see very clearly that life has a magical quality. We understood the power of an act of kindness or generosity; we felt different qualities of presence in different people and animals.
And contrary to what many adults think about children we thought about death a great deal. Death had dark magic. Ghost stories and contemplation of scary ways to die brought us intensely alive. Death had a dark magnetism that called out our best energy and courage and spirit to move in the opposite direction. Thinking about dying and/or being visited by beings from the underworld made us discover how intensely we wanted to be alive.
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama: “Awareness of death is the very bedrock of the path. Until you have developed this awareness, all other practices are obstructed.” Real paths are like the ghosts who came to Scrooge: they show us who we once were and they remind us that we will die.
Top of Form
Bottom of Form
Halloween is coming and my thoughts are naturally turning to ghosts and haunting. As I mentioned before, I co-lead a meditation group in a yoga studio called Yoga Shivaya, in Tarrytown, near Sleepy Hollow. The are is now dominated by images of the Headless Horseman all dressed in black, scooping up poor Ichabod Crane and taking him on the ride of his life. I can’t help thinking of him as an early American version of the young Buddha, being shown the basic facts of sickness, old age, and death—and the possible way out, the monk, who embodied conscious seeing.
Most people believe that Halloween derives from the ancient Celtic holiday of Samhain. The ancient Celts believed that the border between this world and the Otherworld became thin on Samhain, allowing spirits (both harmless and harmful) to pass through. The family’s ancestors were honored and invited home while harmful spirits were warded off. It is believed that the need to ward off harmful spirits led to the wearing of costumes and masks. The point was to disguise oneself as a harmful spirit and thus avoid harm. Samhain was also a time to take stock of food supplies and slaughter livestock for winter stores. Bonfires were lit. All other fires were doused and each home lit their hearth from the bonfire. The bones of slaughtered livestock were cast into its flames (such an ancient gesture of offering to the unknown). Sometimes two bonfires would be built side-by-side, and people and their livestock would walk between them as a cleansing ritual. Taking stock of what you have stored up. Allow yourself to feel the weight of the tensions, the images of you are and what really matters to you that you carry around—allow yourself to really touch and see it without judgment or adding or turning away. This is purification by fire.
A path with heart leads inward to the root of perception and feeling. We purify our seeing and our way of relating to what is as we learn to not turn away from what we don’t wish to see, or what we think is not important or desirable. It is seeing itself that is important, not what is seen. When we remember that we will die, we suddenly remember who we really are—and it turns out that we are not our bodies or positions or points of view, but a flowing state of inner being. Staring at the Ghost of Christmas Future (and most of us have had this kind of scary shock in one guise or another) we realize that in our inmost essence we don’t have a particular outer shape at all: we are vessels for a common fire. As Madame de Salzmann once taught: “I begin to realize that what I am trying to approach is not only mine, not only in me, but immense and much more essential. In front of this, my tensions let go one after the other until the moment I feel, as a gift of unity, a collected Presence.” Be like Scrooge waking up on Christmas morning and realizing it is not too late. Follow a path with heart.