St. Teresa of Avila and the Interior Castle

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There was a time in my life when I would have described prayer as boring. A time when talking to God definitively felt like a one-way conversation. When prayer had a simple formula learned from childhood and repeated without awareness: close your eyes, bow your head and when you’re done, end with “Amen.” Back then, when others talked about spending hours in prayer, I could not understand it. What would prompt someone to do that? Wouldn’t they run out of things to say? Wouldn’t they fall asleep? I related well to the Psalmist when he cries out, “Don’t turn a deaf ear when I call you, God,” (Ps 23:1), because I had no way of knowing if he heard anything I said.

But this was before my Abba, by his grace, enkindled in me the burning flame of his Spirit. This was before his love for me was not only something I had faith in, but something I had directly experienced. Before he made the simple act of being with him a thing filled with joy and mystery. Before, quite suddenly, prayer gave me a glimpse of how unfathomable and kind he was.

It was before I found the entrance to the interior castle of my soul:

“It came to me that the soul is like a castle made exclusively of diamond or some other very clear crystal. In this castle are a multitude of dwellings, just as in heaven there are many mansions,” (First Dwelling, Ch. 1, Interior Castle, St. Teresa of Avila).

Once invited to enter, I found that the deeper into myself I traveled, the closer to God I came:

“At the center is the most important dwelling of them all where the most secret things unfold between the soul and her Beloved,” (First Dwelling, Ch. 1).

But the going has not always been easy. I have encountered trials within and without. Looking back, I see the Good Shepherd had used them bring me to greater maturity. Indeed, every manifestation of our Lord’s love that I have experienced has only inspired me to pursue him more, including those very trials. And now, every bit of me is invested in the task.

Interior-CastleIt is this prayer journey towards divine union that is the focus of the book Interior Castle by St. Teresa of Avila. She begins speaking about those unaccustomed to prayer and unable to discern the voice of God, that “still small whisper” (1 Kings 19:12) that I started out incapable of hearing. She then explains how a desire grows within the soul for God and it begins to journey inward.

From there, the book follows the development of the soul’s relationship with it’s Creator, taking the reader on a mystical journey through seven different “mansions” or “dwellings”, all leading to the very center of the soul, where the Living God is pleased to dwell. In each mansion, she describes the kinds of prayers that the soul experiences, which have more to do with the action of God within it than the action of the soul itself. At the end of the book, the soul reaches the center and is united to its Beloved.

Throughout the book, the overriding theme is humility:

“I was once pondering why it is that our Beloved is so fond of the virtue of humility. Without it ever having occurred to me before, this thought suddenly came to me: It’s because God is supreme truth. To be humble is to walk in truth. It is true to say that we ourselves are nothing. Whoever does not understand this walks a lie. Whoever does understand this is more pleasing to supreme truth, because she is walking in truth,” (Sixth Dwelling, Ch. 11).

A devotional soul whose love of God knew no bounds, St. Teresa freely expresses herself in Interior Castle, often going off topic to praise her King for several paragraphs before returning. Her language is rich and lavish, using countless superlatives. The imagery she paints for the reader makes the shrouded, intangible topic much easier to grasp.

St. Teresa was a nun of the Carmelite order living in the sixteenth century. Seeing the disintegration of the rule and the insidious entrance of sin into her convent, she longed for a pure, ascetic life. Finally, in 1562, she resolved to begin a reformed Carmelite order which later became the Discalced (barefoot) Carmelites. Through the course of her life, she founded sixteen convents. She was a contemporary and friend of St. John of the Cross, who helped her bring her stricter rule to the male side of the order. She died at the age of 67 on Oct 4, 1582.

The Interior Castle, written in 1577, is counted as one of her most important works. It is a huge encouragement to those who may not see the point of prayer but inwardly long for a deeper relationship with the Lord, as well as a guide for those further down the path. In it, she not only covers a great variety of weaknesses common in souls, but she shows how God’s grace progressively moves the soul towards Christlikeness. This demonstrates the verse, “…he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus,” (Phil 1:6).

This progression leads to more and more profound types of prayer which begin with internal discourse and meditation and move through contemplation, spiritual sweetness, the prayer of recollection and beyond. The soul encounters many trials along the way, including but not limited to aridities (being unable to feel God’s presence), loss of stature among men, spiritual counselors who give unhealthy advice, the purifying fire of the Spirit, self-doubt, physical ailments, gossip and the constant temptation to fall into sin.

In our modern, fast-paced world, the contemplative life is increasingly rare. When someone does begin down that illumined path, it is easy to fear that the things they are experiencing may not come from God. It is also easy to loose hope when encountering trials and aridities, because they fear they have lost the love of the Holy One that they desire. Not only are there a multitude of misunderstandings and misgivings that could occur, but there is no one around them to guide them along.

For me, my saving grace was found in the spiritual writers I have read from ages past like St. Teresa. I can read their works and get an idea of where I am and where I am going; I can keep my pride in check by seeing how much of a spiritual giant I am not. The Lover of My Soul has not left me bereft and bewildered by his affections for me, floating adrift at sea. Rather, he has given me a rudder for this little boat by helping me to discover the Interior Castle and other mystical treasures.

“Remember: if you want to make progress on the path and ascend to the places you have longed for, the important thing is not to think much but to love much, and so to do whatever best awakens you to love,” (Fourth Dwelling, Ch. 1).

Christian Yoga and the Dark Night of the Soul

April 13, 2013 by  
Filed under Meditation

candle

St. John of the Cross was a Christian mystic and friar from sixteenth century Spain. As a mystic, he strived for union with God by the surrender of the soul to the inner workings of the Spirit. Such surrender allows for the soul to be tempered like metal in a furnace — the result being the death of the ego or false self. Unencumbered then by the world, the devil and the flesh, the soul is free to enjoy loving union with God.

When St. John wrote the above poem, Songs of the Soul, he was in prison for his attempts to reform the Carmelite order. While in prison, he was treated so poorly that he was near death by the time he managed to escape. Unbeknownst to his captors, however, he spent his time in his cell in communion with the Spirit of God. His jailor, recognizing his holiness, gave him the means to express himself on paper. The result is the above poem, an outpouring of unhindered love and yearning of the soul for God.

4.2.7Later, John was asked to explain what the poem meant, since it could easily be misinterpreted as a poem about two lovers having a secret rendezvous in the night. The Dark Night of the Soul was then composed to explain, line by line, what the poem intended.

The Dark Night is a careful examination of what it is like to experience the death of the ego. Many people of the modern era have misinterpreted the work to be an encouragement for someone going through hard times. This renders the work to have too restricted a scope. St. John is attempting to explain how the Holy Spirit goes about perfecting the soul after it has accepted the gift of salvation through Christ Jesus. It is a painful annihilation of the individual will in favor of the will of God and the purging of every desire until the only thing the soul longs for is God. The book encompasses the darkest, most painful parts of the Christian journey towards maturity in Christ.

Given this backdrop, it is important to mention that he breaks the process into two “Dark Nights.” The first he calls the purgation of sense, where the soul is purified of its attachments to the pleasures of the world. In it, the soul feels separated from the Spirit whose consolations it has come to adore. God seems distant, and the pleasures of the world no longer appeal to it. The soul is taught how to follow God for God’s sake, instead of for “What God can do for me.” The first night cleanses the soul of the vices associated with attachments to sense, including pride, self-condemnation, greed, lust, anger, gluttony, envy and laziness.

The second night, a much darker, more painful night, is the purgation of the spirit. Here, God gets to the root of the problem, the infiltration of sin and corruption deep within the soul. The second night seems unbearable and the soul feels abandoned by God: “Loving God so intensely that nothing else matters, she sees herself as so wretched that God could not possibly love her back” (Book II, Chap. 7).

St. John describes this second night like a purging fire:
“Let’s look at this loving knowledge and divine light like fire. Fire transforms wood into fire. When fire touches wood, the first thing it does is that it begins to dry the wood out. It drives away moisture, causing the wood to shed the tears it has held inside itself. Then the wood blackens, turning dark and ugly; it may even give off a bad odor. Little by little, the fire desiccates the wood, bringing out and driving away all those dark and unsavory accidents that are contrary to the nature of fire. Finally, heating up and enkindling the wood from the outside, the fire transforms the wood into itself, rendering the wood as beautiful as the fire is”(Book II, Chap. 10).

Dark Night of the Soul is a heavy work, not to be read lightly. For sure, the holiness St. John reached in his lifetime is a gift few receive. There is a tendency for the reader to wonder where on the path to Godly union they can be found; to try and find themselves in the book. Perhaps the best route for us all is to abandon ourselves into the care of the Spirit; to be at peace first with where we are and next with wherever he will take us. If union with God is our goal, we are on the right path.

“For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Jesus Christ, Mat 16:25).

Songs of the Soul

On a dark night,

Inflamed by love-longing–

O exquisite risk!–

Undetected I slipped away.

My house, at last, grown still.

Secure in the darkness,

I climbed the secret ladder in disguise–

O exquisite risk!–

Concealed by the darkness.

My house, at last, grown still.

 

That sweet night: a secret.

Nobody saw me;

I did not see a thing.

No other light, no other guide

Than the one burning in my heart.

 

This light led the way

More clearly than the risen sun

To where he was waiting for me

–The one I knew so intimately–

In a place where no one could find us.

 

O night, that guided me!

O night, sweeter than sunrise!

O night, that joined lover with Beloved!

Lover transformed in Beloved!

 

Upon my blossoming breast,

Which I cultivated just for him,

He drifted into sleep,

And while I caressed him,

A cedar breeze touched the air.

 

Wind blew down from the tower,

Parting the locks of his hair.

With his gentle hand

He wounded my neck

And all my senses were suspended.

I lost myself. Forgot myself.

I lay my face against the Beloved’s face.

Everything fell away and I left myself behind,

Abandoning my cares

Among the lilies, forgotten.

John of the Cross, translated by Mirabai Starr

 

Lost Jesus Sutras Reveal Ancient Chinese Christianity

November 12, 2012 by  
Filed under Meditation, Spirituality

It’s an amazing story, one only now being told. More than 1,300 years ago, a Persian Christian monk named Aleben traveled 3,000 miles along the ancient caravan route known as the Silk Road all the way to China, carrying precious copies of the New Testament writings (probably in Syriac). Aleben and his fellow Christian monks stopped in the Chinese city of Chang-au (Xian), where, under the protection of the Tang Dynasty Emperor Taizong, he founded a CHristian monastery and began the arduous task of translating the Christian texts into Chinese. It was the year A.D. 635. When the Italian explorer Marco Polo arrived in China nearly 600 years later, he was astonished to discover that a tiny Christian community had existed there for centuries.

We know about this amazing Christian evangelist and his genial Chinese hosts because in 1623 graver diggers working outside of Xian dug up a stele weighing two tons and carved with 2,000 Chinese characters. Now known as the Monument Stele and residing in a museum in Xian, It was created in A.D. 781 and tells the tale Aleben and what the Chinese writers called “the Luminous Religion” because it taught of light. Here is what the Stele proclaimed:

The Emperor Taizong was a champion of culture. He created prosperity and encouraged illustrious sages to bestow their wisdom on the people. There was a saint of great virtue named Aleben, who came from the Qin Empire carrying the true scriptures. He had read the azure clouds and divined that he should journey to the East. Along the way, Aleben avoided danger and calamity by observing the rhythm of the wind.

In the ninth year of the Zhenguan reign [A.D. 635], Aleben reaching Chang-an [Zian]. The Emperor sent his minister, Duke Xuanling, together with a contingent of the palace guard, to the western outskirts to accompany Aleben to the palace.

The translation work on his scriptures took place in the Imperial Library and the Emperor studied them in his Private Chambers. After the Emperor became familiar with the True Teachings, he issued a decree and ordered that it be propagated…

… the Emperor issued a proclamation, saying:

“We have studied these scriptures and found them otherworldly, profound and full of mystery.

We found their words lucid and direct.

We have contemplated the birth and growth of the tradition from which these teachings sprang.

These teachings will save all creatures and benefit mankind, and it is on ly proper that they be practiced throughout the world.”

Following the Emperor’s orders, the Greater Qin Monastery was built in the I-ning section of the Capital. Twenty-one ordained monks of the Luminous Religion were allowed to live there…

The Emperor Gaozong [A.D. 650-683] reverently continued the tradition of his ancestor and enhanced the Luminous Religion by building temples in every province. He bestowed honors upon Aleben, declarin ghim the Great Dharma Lord of the Empire. The Luminous Religion spread throughout all ten provinces, the Empire prospered and peace prevailed. Temples were built in 100 cities and countless families received the blessings of the Luminous Religion.

Christianity flourished in China for at least two hundred years. But then, around A.D. 850, Chinese leaders began a purge of foreign religions, including Buddhism. Buddhist temples were destroyed and, according to one source, more than 3,000 monks of the “Luminious Religion” were ordered to return to lay life.

For more than 1,300 years, scholars and missionaries have searched for the lost scriptures that Aleben translated into Chinese — and for his monastery. A breakthrough finally occurred in the late 1880s when a lonely Taoist monk named Wang Yuanlu discovered 50,000 lost Chinese manuscripts hidden away in more than 500 caves in Dunhuang. Amazingly enough, it wasn’t until about a decade ago, in 1998, that the full story was told. The Dunhuang manuscripts are sort of the Dead Sea Scrolls of ancient China, a cache of long-buried treasures that reveal a tremendous amount about life in ancient China — including the strange story of how the “Luminous Religion” took root there and blended with Taoist and Confucian elements to create a uniquely Chinese form of Christianity. The discovery of these ancient Chinese texts by western scholars — and their dissemination to museums in France and Britain — along with the many decades it took to get them translated and published — very much resembles the story of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Of the 50,000 manuscripts discovered at Dunhuang, only eight comprise what are now known as the Jesus Sutras. Nevertheless, they clearly show Christian influence. They paraphrase passages from the New Testament and thus provide direct evidence that the ancient Chinese writers of these texts clearly knew the Gospel accounts:

“Do not pile up treasures on the ground where they will rot or be stolen. Treasures must be stored in Heaven where they will not decay or rot.”

“Always tell the truth. Do not give pearls to swine; they will trample and destroy them. You will only be blamed by them for your actions and incur their anger. Why don’t you realize this yourself.”

“Knock on the door and it will be opened for you. Whatever you seek, you will obtain from the One Spirit. Know on the door and it will be opened for you.”

“Look at the birds in the air. They don’t plant or harvest, they have no barns or cellars. In the wilderness the One Spirit provided for the people and will also provide for you. You are more important than the birds and should not worry.”

The Jesus Sutra texts clearly are attempting to translate Christian ideas and ideals into an idiom that the Chinese people — steeped in Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian concepts — can understand. Thus, the Jesus Sutras speak of the “Higher Dharma” that leads to Peace and Joy. “It is the Sutras of the Luminous Religion that enable us to cross the sea of birth and death to the other shore, a land fragrant with the treasured aroma of Peace and Joy,” the Sutras proclaim. “The Sutras are like a great fire burning upon a high mountain. The light from that fire shines upon all.”

Here is how the Jesus Sutras relate the story of Jesus:

The Lord of Heaven sent the Cool Wind to a girl named Mo Yen. It entered her womb and at the moment she conceived. The Lord of Heaven did this to show that conception could take place without a husband. He knew there was no man near her and that people who saw it would say, “How great is the power of the Lord of Heaven.”…

… Mo Yen became pregnant and gave birth to a son named Jesus, whose father is the Cool Wind.

… When Jesus Messiah was born, the world saw clear signs in heaven and earth. A new star that could be seen everywhere appeared in heaven above. The star was as big as a cart wheel and shown brightly. At about that time, the One was born in the country of Ephrath in the city of Jerusalem. He was born the Messiah and after five years he began to preach the dharma.

… From the time the Messiah was 12 until he was 32 years old, he sought out people with bad karma and directed them to turn around and create good karma by following a wholesome path. After the Messiah had gathered 12 disciples, he concerned himself with the suffering of others. Those who had died were made to live. The blind were made to see. The deformed were healed and the sick were cured.

… For the sake of all living beings and to show us that a human life is as frail as a candle flame, the Messiah gave his body to these people of unwholesome karma. For the sake of the living in this world, he gave up his life.

… After the Messiah had accepted death, his enemies seized the Messiah and took him to a secluded spot, washed his hair and climbed to “the place of skulls,” which was called golgotha. They bound him to a pole and placed two highway robbers to the right and left of him. They bound the Messiah to the pole at the time of the fifth watch of the sixth day of fasting. They bound him at dawn and when the sun set in the west the sky became black in all four directions, the earth quaked and the hills trembled. tombs all over the world opened and the dead came to life. What person can see such a thing and not have faith in the teaching of the scriptures? To give one’s life like the Messiah is a mark of great faith.

Fascinating stuff, no? To see this early form of Christianity — delivered by means of a Nestorian monk in the 6th century — through the eyes of the poetic, Taoist-influenced Chinese translators and scribes is to go back in time. It is yet another reminder of the universality of the Gospel message, how it transcends all culture and language and philosophical concepts. Christian yogis, above all, who seek wisdom from the East as well as from our own traditions, should appreciate this.

As the Apostle Peter tells the righteous Roman centurian Cornelius, following his vision: “I see clearly now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him (Acts 10: 34-5).” We Christians who seek wisdom from the East.

If you’re interested in this topic, you can discover more in The Lost Sutras of Jesus: Unlocking the Ancient Wisdom of the Xian Monks, edited by Ray Riegert and Thomas Moore (Berkeley: Seastone, 2003). A much more scholarly work, and without the frequently anti-Christian tone of Riegert and Moore, is Martin Palmer’s The Jesus Sutras: Rediscovering the Lost Scrolls of Taoist Christianity (Wellspring/Ballantine, 2001).


10 Ways Meditation Can Change Your Life

November 11, 2012 by  
Filed under Health Benefits, Meditation

Many people see meditation as something that is ‘new age’ or ‘alternative.’ Nothing could be further from the truth. Meditation, which has become more and more popular in recent years, is actually a lost art form, which has been practiced for thousands and thousands of years. So, how can the lost art of meditation improve your life?

1.Through meditation, you can build confidence. The best way to build confidence with meditation is through guided meditation, which means that you use a recording to lead you through the meditation process. While this is happening, the recorded messages are actually building up your self confidence. It’s absolutely amazing.

2.With meditation, you can seriously increase your energy and your strength.
Because stress has so many profound effects on us mentally and physically, when we use meditation to eliminate or better control stress, we almost instantly have more energy – because our minds aren’t weighed down with problems, and more strength, because stress can literally affect your immune system, which affects everything else.

3.Meditation has proven to reduce stress, and many find that they experience less instances of stress when they practice meditation on a regular basis. It’s a proven tension reliever.

4.Meditation helps to keep you in a positive frame of mind, by actually increasing the levels of serotonin produced by the brain.
This will alleviate headaches, tension, depression, and numerous other problems, and give you a great sense of well-being as well.

5.With regular meditation, your blood pressure will remain normal.
This is largely due to the stress relief that meditation provides, but there is also an impact on how blood moves through the body, and how the blood vessels react in such a positive way to meditation. So, in this sense, the result of normal blood pressure has both mental and physical origins.

6.Through regular meditation, you will find that you are better able to focus, that your memory is better, and that your mind simply ‘feels’ stronger and better able to handle the trials of everyday life.

7.Meditation helps you to reach a higher plane, where you are able to see things much clearer. No matter what problems you may have, when you meditate, solutions for those problems simply become clearer in your mind, and then you are able to take action to clear away the problems.

8.Studies have shown that meditation helps you to lose weight. Those who diet and exercise, in an effort to lose weight find that they get greater results faster, and with permanent results, when they throw regular meditation into the mix. Stress has always been a hindrance to losing weight, which is probably why meditation does indeed help.

9.Other studies have also shown that meditation lowers the risk of heart disease. The research done at the Georgia Prevention Institute found that the blood vessel lining was better able to relax in subjects who included meditation on a regular basis. This relaxation of the blood vessel lining can be achieved with medication as well, which is how heart disease patients are currently treated.

10.People who start out the day with fifteen to thirty minutes of meditation find that they statistically have a better, happier day.
They are able to handle anything that comes up with ease, with no stress – or at the very least minimal short term stress, and move easily from task to task, with complete focus.

The numerous mental and physical benefits of meditation should be enough to convince everyone that meditation is one of the elements of a healthy, happy, peaceful life. Unfortunately, there are many people who feel that they are too busy to learn meditation, much less to practice it. The good news is that meditation isn’t at all hard to learn – and if you really take a look at the benefits, the real question should be how can you afford not to make time for daily – or at least weekly – meditation?

Eckhart Tolle and The Power of Now for Christians

“Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” — Matthew 6: 34

I’m a big fan of Eckhart Tolle and his groundbreaking book, The Power of Now. Some people find it a little New Agey but I think it’s a modern spiritual classic well worth a close look.It helped me a lot during a crisis I faced in my own life. I wasn’t a bit surprised when the socialite Parris Hilton was photographed clutching a copy of The Power of Now (along with the Bible) when she was preparing to spend three weeks in jail for what amounted to a traffic ticket.

For Christian yogis, there are many similarities between The Power of Now and such spiritual classics as my personal favorite, Jean-Pierre de Caussade’s Abandonment to Divine Providence – and many important differences as well.

Unlike many “New Age” authors, Eckhart Tolle is very much a part of the “reality based community.”

Aside from his admittedly weird concept of the “pain body,” there are no grand theosophical speculations from him. The Power of Now rings out with the power of common sense. Also, Tolle is remarkably deferential to the western Christian spiritual traditions and few practicing Christians will find much to be offended about in The Power of Now.

What I like about the book is Tolle’s willingness to think through the entire enlightenment process from scratch – and, in a sense, provide a new overview of the human situation outside of traditional (either Eastern or Western) spiritual categories. In a sense, he invents his own synthesis and his own vocabulary. That is probably why people find it such a powerful book. (Tolle does make references to other spiritual traditions, such as Avaita Vedanta and A Course in Miracles, but mostly as a point of reference.)

Another thing I like about it is the radical way Tolle presents his ideas.This makes them very clear and they hit you with incredible force – even if, when you think about things a bit, you’ll probably end up wanting to qualify Tolle’s ideas.

Let me give you an example. For Tolle, time is an “illusion.”He says that over and over again, almost like a mantra.The past no longer exists. The future is not yet. The only thing that actually exists is the Now, the present moment .His entire book is centered around this idea. But of course, even if the past doesn’t exist in the present, that doesn’t make it an “illusion.” An “illusion” is something that appears to exist but doesn’t and never did. The past impacts the present and shapes it – as does the present.But Tolle knows all this. He isn’t speaking philosophically but pedagogically.

Another one of his extreme declarations is that the thinking is a form of mental illness. Like Gurdjieff, Tolle believes that the human mind is almost literally deranged. It spends most of its time dwelling on the past or imagining the future, to the detriment, in Tolle’s opinion, of life in the present. That’s why Tolle can say that, strictly speaking, there are no problems. Most of what people spend all their time worrying about are imagined possibilities for events that may, or may not, occur sometime in the future. In the actual here and now – life as it is lived at the present moment – there are no problems.

One tip: I listened to The Power of Now on CD and I highly recommend it in that way. (I also bought the book to follow along and look things up after listening to the CDs.)Tolle’s gentle, eerie voice – with a tinge of a German accent – is mesmerizing.

For those of you who want a taste of his approach, I am posting a VIDEO of his now-famous talks he gave at the New Age retreat center of Findhorn, in Scotland. It’s really worth listening to.

Lost Jesus Sutras Reveal Ancient Chinese Christianity

It’s an amazing story, one only now being told. More than 1,300 years ago, a Persian Christian monk named Aleben traveled 3,000 miles along the ancient caravan route known as the Silk Road all the way to China, carrying precious copies of the New Testament writings (probably in Syriac). Aleben and his fellow Christian monks stopped in the Chinese city of Chang-au (Xian), where, under the protection of the Tang Dynasty Emperor Taizong, he founded a CHristian monastery and began the arduous task of translating the Christian texts into Chinese. It was the year A.D. 635. When the Italian explorer Marco Polo arrived in China nearly 600 years later, he was astonished to discover that a tiny Christian community had existed there for centuries.


We know about this amazing Christian evangelist and his genial Chinese hosts because in 1623 graver diggers working outside of Xian dug up a stele weighing two tons and carved with 2,000 Chinese characters. Now known as the Monument Stele and residing in a museum in Xian, It was created in A.D. 781 and tells the tale Aleben and what the Chinese writers called “the Luminous Religion” because it taught of light. Here is what the Stele proclaimed:

The Emperor Taizong was a champion of culture. He created prosperity and encouraged illustrious sages to bestow their wisdom on the people. There was a saint of great virtue named Aleben, who came from the Qin Empire carrying the true scriptures. He had read the azure clouds and divined that he should journey to the East. Along the way, Aleben avoided danger and calamity by observing the rhythm of the wind.

In the ninth year of the Zhenguan reign [A.D. 635], Aleben reaching Chang-an [Zian]. The Emperor sent his minister, Duke Xuanling, together with a contingent of the palace guard, to the western outskirts to accompany Aleben to the palace.

The translation work on his scriptures took place in the Imperial Library and the Emperor studied them in his Private Chambers. After the Emperor became familiar with the True Teachings, he issued a decree and ordered that it be propagated…

… the Emperor issued a proclamation, saying:

“We have studied these scriptures and found them otherworldly, profound and full of mystery.

We found their words lucid and direct.

We have contemplated the birth and growth of the tradition from which these teachings sprang.

These teachings will save all creatures and benefit mankind, and it is on ly proper that they be practiced throughout the world.”

Following the Emperor’s orders, the Greater Qin Monastery was built in the I-ning section of the Capital. Twenty-one ordained monks of the Luminous Religion were allowed to live there…

The Emperor Gaozong [A.D. 650-683] reverently continued the tradition of his ancestor and enhanced the Luminous Religion by building temples in every province. He bestowed honors upon Aleben, declarin ghim the Great Dharma Lord of the Empire. The Luminous Religion spread throughout all ten provinces, the Empire prospered and peace prevailed. Temples were built in 100 cities and countless families received the blessings of the Luminous Religion.

Christianity flourished in China for at least two hundred years. But then, around A.D. 850, Chinese leaders began a purge of foreign religions, including Buddhism. Buddhist temples were destroyed and, according to one source, more than 3,000 monks of the “Luminious Religion” were ordered to return to lay life.

For more than 1,300 years, scholars and missionaries have searched for the lost scriptures that Aleben translated into Chinese — and for his monastery. A breakthrough finally occurred in the late 1880s when a lonely Taoist monk named Wang Yuanlu discovered 50,000 lost Chinese manuscripts hidden away in more than 500 caves in Dunhuang. Amazingly enough, it wasn’t until about a decade ago, in 1998, that the full story was told. The Dunhuang manuscripts are sort of the Dead Sea Scrolls of ancient China, a cache of long-buried treasures that reveal a tremendous amount about life in ancient China — including the strange story of how the “Luminous Religion” took root there and blended with Taoist and Confucian elements to create a uniquely Chinese form of Christianity. The discovery of these ancient Chinese texts by western scholars — and their dissemination to museums in France and Britain — along with the many decades it took to get them translated and published — very much resembles the story of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Of the 50,000 manuscripts discovered at Dunhuang, only eight comprise what are now known as the Jesus Sutras. Nevertheless, they clearly show Christian influence. They paraphrase passages from the New Testament and thus provide direct evidence that the ancient Chinese writers of these texts clearly knew the Gospel accounts:

“Do not pile up treasures on the ground where they will rot or be stolen. Treasures must be stored in Heaven where they will not decay or rot.”

“Always tell the truth. Do not give pearls to swine; they will trample and destroy them. You will only be blamed by them for your actions and incur their anger. Why don’t you realize this yourself.”

“Knock on the door and it will be opened for you. Whatever you seek, you will obtain from the One Spirit. Know on the door and it will be opened for you.”

“Look at the birds in the air. They don’t plant or harvest, they have no barns or cellars. In the wilderness the One Spirit provided for the people and will also provide for you. You are more important than the birds and should not worry.”

The Jesus Sutra texts clearly are attempting to translate Christian ideas and ideals into an idiom that the Chinese people — steeped in Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian concepts — can understand. Thus, the Jesus Sutras speak of the “Higher Dharma” that leads to Peace and Joy. “It is the Sutras of the Luminous Religion that enable us to cross the sea of birth and death to the other shore, a land fragrant with the treasured aroma of Peace and Joy,” the Sutras proclaim. “The Sutras are like a great fire burning upon a high mountain. The light from that fire shines upon all.”

Here is how the Jesus Sutras relate the story of Jesus:

The Lord of Heaven sent the Cool Wind to a girl named Mo Yen. It entered her womb and at the moment she conceived. The Lord of Heaven did this to show that conception could take place without a husband. He knew there was no man near her and that people who saw it would say, “How great is the power of the Lord of Heaven.”…

… Mo Yen became pregnant and gave birth to a son named Jesus, whose father is the Cool Wind.

… When Jesus Messiah was born, the world saw clear signs in heaven and earth. A new star that could be seen everywhere appeared in heaven above. The star was as big as a cart wheel and shown brightly. At about that time, the One was born in the country of Ephrath in the city of Jerusalem. He was born the Messiah and after five years he began to preach the dharma.

… From the time the Messiah was 12 until he was 32 years old, he sought out people with bad karma and directed them to turn around and create good karma by following a wholesome path. After the Messiah had gathered 12 disciples, he concerned himself with the suffering of others. Those who had died were made to live. The blind were made to see. The deformed were healed and the sick were cured.

… For the sake of all living beings and to show us that a human life is as frail as a candle flame, the Messiah gave his body to these people of unwholesome karma. For the sake of the living in this world, he gave up his life.

… After the Messiah had accepted death, his enemies seized the Messiah and took him to a secluded spot, washed his hair and climbed to “the place of skulls,” which was called golgotha. They bound him to a pole and placed two highway robbers to the right and left of him. They bound the Messiah to the pole at the time of the fifth watch of the sixth day of fasting. They bound him at dawn and when the sun set in the west the sky became black in all four directions, the earth quaked and the hills trembled. tombs all over the world opened and the dead came to life. What person can see such a thing and not have faith in the teaching of the scriptures? To give one’s life like the Messiah is a mark of great faith.

Fascinating stuff, no? To see this early form of Christianity — delivered by means of a Nestorian monk in the 6th century — through the eyes of the poetic, Taoist-influenced Chinese translators and scribes is to go back in time. It is yet another reminder of the universality of the Gospel message, how it transcends all culture and language and philosophical concepts. Christian yogis, above all, who seek wisdom from the East as well as from our own traditions, should appreciate this.

As the Apostle Peter tells the righteous Roman centurian Cornelius, following his vision: “I see clearly now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him (Acts 10: 34-5).” We Christians who seek wisdom from the East.

If you’re interested in this topic, you can discover more in The Lost Sutras of Jesus: Unlocking the Ancient Wisdom of the Xian Monks, edited by Ray Riegert and Thomas Moore (Berkeley: Seastone, 2003).   A much more scholarly work, and without the frequently anti-Christian tone of Riegert and Moore, is Martin Palmer’s The Jesus Sutras: Rediscovering the Lost Scrolls of Taoist Christianity (Wellspring/Ballantine, 2001).


Kundalini Yoga

May 26, 2009 by  
Filed under Kundalini

Kundalini Yoga is a very misunderstood phenomenon especially among Christians. However, one of the best websites for learning about Kundalini, InnerExplorations.com, is run by a Catholic couple and features articles on the Kundalini “process” by Christians who have experienced it first-hand.

Here is a taste…

Should a person desire the activation of kundalini energy? It would be a mistake to read the following account of kundalini experience and the philosophical reflections about it, and imagine that this question must be answered in the affirmative.

The story of a man who underwent a full-scale kundalini awakening illustrates this. He grew up as a Catholic, went to Catholic schools for his higher education, thought about becoming a priest, and eventually became a lawyer. He lost touch with his Catholic faith and experimented with various spiritual traditions, the last of which had some teachings about chakras. Rather quickly he began to experience various phenomena associated with the activation of kundalini energy: movements of energy around the body, tingling and pressure in the head, the opening of the “third eye,” etc., all phenomena that could be documented in one fashion or another in the kundalini literature either ancient or modern.

But these kundalini phenomena began to act strangely. The energies took the form of invisible hands that touched him, and amorphous animals that would attach themselves to him and bite him or lick his face. At first he accepted these things as part of some sort of spiritual journey, but he eventually became concerned about them and sought psychiatric help. But this was no psychosis in the ordinary sense of the term. Rather, what appears to have happened is that this powerful kundalini awakening activated the psychological unconscious, which produced a whole halo of images and experiences. It clothed itself in the contents of the unconscious, and so created a highly visible and tangible kundalini drama. But the activation of the unconscious was so strong that it began to flood the ego in a manner akin, but not the same, to what happens in psychosis.

Finally, rather battered, he began to emerge from these experiences, regain his ordinary life, and reconnect with his spiritual roots, and tried to live a life in relationship to Mystery. He writes: “I mostly just want to live a natural, engaged, moderate life and to relate to Him. I am a human being. That’s all.” In this regard he composed the following haiku:

“My heart beats, not I,
and as new centers throb, why
grasp or meddle now?”

And he comments: “If there is one thing I’ve learned, it is that “experiences” only serve to show that reductionistic scientism is incorrect. If they have any other purpose (and they well may), I don’t know what that is, and I don’t care to speculate. My profound intuition is that life itself – all the events of our lives, especially the small and ordinary – is ultimately the best, most growth-enhancing “experience”.”

Kundalini may well, indeed, be an inner movement towards enlightenment, but this does not mean we should seek it in a highly visible and dramatic form. This kind of search for “experiences” can be dangerous to both our psychological and spiritual health.

InnerExplorations.com has a number of articles on the Kundalini experience — some positive, some more cautious. None has the “it’s all devil worship” tone typical of evangelical and fundamentalist sites. Here are a few articles:

Kundalini: The Hindu Perspective by Phillip St. Romain…

Some Psychological and Philosophical Reflections on Kundalini Energy by James Araj…

The Chakra System: A Christian Understanding by Phillip St. Romain…

The Kundalini Support webpage…

Why You Don’t Have to Change Your Religion to Practice Transcendental Meditate

You need not change your religion, philosophical or ethical beliefs. Or your lifestyle, for that matter. Transcendental Meditation (TM) does not involve any religion, philosophy or any particular lifestyle. It does not prescribe any kind of codes of conduct, ethical or moral guidelines. Nor does it ask you to perform any kind of worship.

TM, in fact, is a simple technique that will enhance your religious well-being, no matter which faith you belong to. Millions of people of all religions, including priests, practice TM. They say they can follow the tenets of their religion better as TM eliminates their stress and fatigue and increases energy and intelligence.

Here’s what TM is not:

It’s not a religion.TM is a meditation technique. Millions of people of all religions, including priests, practice TM and reap its benefits. It releases stress and purifies the mind, body, and emotions of the person who practices it, thus helping him/her to be more faithful to his/her religion. Meditation itself was a technique religiously followed by the Buddhists and later spread throughout the world as a popular medium to relieve stress and find all the benefits one may want to find and acquire in his life. The results are very encouraging for those who follow and meditation is followed by people of all faiths.

It’s not a philosophy. While philosophical thoughts mainly dwell on theories, transcendental meditation is almost a science. We have seen people actively following it in their daily lifestyles and several cases of incredible benefits have been observed.TM is a simple, mechanical technique, like switching on a TV or computer. The technique is scientific too, because it is universally applicable, repeatable, and verifiable by anyone, anywhere.Scientific research on the Transcendental Meditation program proves that the technique works. Positive reports from people who practice the technique show that anyone can learn and enjoy it.

It’s not a lifestyle. You don’t need to change your lifestyle to start practicing TM. All you have to do is just learn it, practice it, and enjoy the benefits .You can have better memory, clearer and more orderly thinking, greater creativity and ability to focus, use of your whole brain and its full potential, sharper intellect, higher IQ, better grades, more alertness, expanded consciousness. Students following these techniques regularly have found out that they perform better at schools, get better grades and show their true potentials.

The best proof of the Transcendental Meditation program is in learning it yourself. The benefits come naturally and spontaneously.

Article Source:http://www.wearticles.com

Zen Meditation for Non-Buddhists

January 17, 2009 by  
Filed under Christian Zen, Meditation, Zazen, Zen

Zen meditation is a Japanese technique of focusing on a specific thing or thought. The tradition has been passing on from one generation to the other for almost many centuries now. Buddhists used to practice this unique type of meditation. In fact, Zen Buddhists are often referred to as ‘Meditation Buddhists?

The amount of time devoted by Zen mediators varies widely. Experts recommend a minimum period of about five minutes on a daily basis. This is sufficient for householders to benefit from the immense benefits of Zen meditation.

The main thing one needs to focus on is daily practice. Daily practice of Zen meditation for a small period of time is more than enough to benefit from its effects than spending about half an hour once in a week.

Zen meditation has evolved as a boon to people across the globe who are really stressed out due to the irregularity, chaos and tensions existing in their daily life.


Zen meditation involves sitting in a prescribed position, closing your mind to the thoughts and images for a certain period of time. Here, your heart rate will gradually decrease and breathing becomes shallow. Slowly, you will get in to a state of deep reflective meditation.

With the help of Zen meditation, you can easily create a synergy that would further assist you in connecting to all aspects of your existence such as the body, the soul and the mind. The energy that’s required to strengthen the synergy that you have collected comes from practicing Zen meditation.

When practicing Zen meditation, your mind will only be involved. You will not be engrossing your thoughts in to what happened in the past or what will happen in the future.

You will reach a moment where you will only be reacting to what is happening to you at the present.

Zen meditation is a technique that helps you to awaken your true nature. Here, you don’t need to subscribe any of the religious teaching. You just need to realize that there is a ‘Buddha?inside you. Awaken the Buddha inside you and you will be able get a deep insight of yourself.

Zen meditation was actually meant to awaken the real person inside you.

A) Here are some of the benefits followed in Zen meditation:

1. Zen meditation lets the practitioner to relax

2. It helps you to keep one stress free.

3. It helps you to find the real you.

B) Nine steps to achieve Zen meditation:

a) Name your breaths: for instance; in and out.

b) Pay close attention to when your breath gets deep and you feel more at peace.

c) Think of your body when you breathe in and when you breathe out try to relax each part of your body. You need to focus on one part at a time. Initiate with the shoulders.

d) Calm your body parts when you breathe in feel the compassion when you breathe out.

e) Relax your facial muscles one by one and send a half smile to all parts of the body.

f) Relax all the muscles that are still tense.

g) Think of joy when you breathe in.

h) Get back to your breathe in and breathe out position.

i) Sit in the position relax.

Article Source:http://www.wearticles.com


A Beginner’s Guide to Christian Yoga

January 17, 2009 by  
Filed under Christian yoga, Relaxation, Yoga

Many people are crazy about yoga. The reason most people practice yoga is that it makes them feel better and feel more in shape. The different poses and postures make their body flexible and healthy. Yoga for most is the best natural way to relax and unwind. If you are interested in keeping your body
in shape, this might be the best exercise for you.

Did you know that yoga could help fight certain illness that may come your way? There has been research that proved yoga helps you to control anxiety, reduces asthma, arthritis, blood pressure, back pain, multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue, epilepsy, diabetes, headaches, stress, and more.

Yoga has a lot of benefits and advantages. All in a day’s work, it can reduce tension and stress. Of course, after a heavy day, you will feel that your muscles have been stuck up and you will feel wasted.

If you do practice yoga, you may see an increase in your self-esteem. It is important to gain confidence so that you may face people without worry. Yoga is good for the body in increasing your muscle tone, strength, stamina, and flexibility. If you are too heavy, or conscious about your body shape, yoga can help you lower your body fat and help you stay in shape.

Yoga exercises can also burn excess fat and give you the desired figure that you want.

If you need time to relax and forget your responsibilities, then yoga will be good for improving your concentration and can enhance your creativity. Yoga helps you to think positively because it can help keep you free of your anxieties. If you have a fresh mind, you can easily think good thoughts.

Your body needs to relax often. Sometimes, at the end of the workday, you an feel exhausted. After some of the hardest days, we may not find time to unwind because troubles at work are still on our mind. Yoga helps you to clear your mind and create a sense of calmness and well-being.

Yoga exercises help you improve your blood circulation. Your organs and veins need to be exercised for them to function properly. Yoga can help stimulate your immune system, which can help keep you free from diseases.

Some people practice yoga to get enlightened. They believe that yoga will help them lift their spirit and keep them relieved. Yoga works differently for people, be it spiritual, emotional, psychological, mental, or physical.

Many people think that yoga is only for spiritual, or religious, people. But that myth is wrong. Even if you are not religious, you can do yoga. You will see and feel the difference, and at the same time find out how it works for you.

Due to the pressure and demands of life, we are stressed out and forget the essences of our lives. We tend to lose touch with the ones we used to spend time with, even ourselves.

We find ourselves rushing most of the time with deadlines and hassles at our jobs. This leaves us little time for our minds to wander and have that physical awareness.

These are a few things that yoga can provide. Occasionally, dedicate some time to relax and unwind, which only yoga can do.

Article Source:http://www.wearticles.com

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