December 8, 2008

Naked Reflections: Overcoming Poverty of the Spirit

Eknath Easwaram

In a post titled "Overcoming Poverty of the Spirit,” in his blog Naked Reflections, my pal [in both electron-space and meatspace] Nagarjuna [also known as Steve] offered up a quote from his favorite philosopher, Eknath Easwaram, that talks about the “fleeting taste of joy of union” with whom St. Augustine identifies as “God,” but whom Easwaram cites [after quoting Augustine] as “the Lord – the Self within.”

What is this union? and with whom, exactly, are we having it?

Easwaran writes, “Once we taste this joy, all we want is to be permanently aware of him in everyone, everywhere, every minute. This intense longing is the mark of genuine spiritual experience.”

Steve asks in his post “How can I, and how do I [taste this joy]? By meditating and contemplating enough? How much is enough? And how does one do enough without the inspiration of which Easwaran writes? Just as one needs money or other resources in order to earn more money, doesn't one also need to feel inspired in order to make an enduring effort to make big spiritual gains? I often feel like a man who is too poor to become rich.”

I think a terrific example of this joy, found “in everyone, everywhere, every minute” must be Thomas Merton’s “Vision in Louisville,” which I quoted in this blog last August. In his vision, Merton tells us he sees “the invisible light of heaven” blazing in everyone and that “it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed …I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other. But this cannot be seen, only believed and “understood” by a peculiar gift.

Merton ends his essay, writing, “I have no program for this seeing. It is only given. But the gate of heaven is everywhere.”

In his vision, Merton also mentions “le point vierge,” which comes from the writing of Louis Massignon, a distinguished professor and scholar who was deeply inspired by the life of a tenth-century Muslim mystic known as al-Hallaj, who was crucified in Baghdad for having loved God. Literally, le point vierge means “the virgin point,” I think, but I find it translated as The Virgin Heart in an essay on point vierge by Dorothy Buck. There, I find le point vierge is described by Massignon: “The Virgin Heart refers to the secret place in the center of the human soul where God alone has access. al-Hallaj envisions the core of all human hearts as one, where the human and the Divine meet, unified and untouched by anything except the seed planted by God's love.”

Quoting Buck:
It was Massignon's character to be deeply moved by life and particularly by the stories of human beings. He seems to have understood his own religious vocation as profoundly connected to human relationships. As his scholarly research plumbed the depths of these connecting themes and images his views of the world expanded, leading him to live out his convictions through social action. Imaging God as the stranger who comes to our door begging for food and shelter, or the refugee who struggles to speak our language, or the poor and marginalized in our society Massignon envisions Mary, who was also an outcast in her society. She represents the sacred hospitality in the center of every human soul that welcomes the stranger, God.

Merton, inspired by Massignon, corresponded with him, and gave this definition of le point vierge: “At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes of our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will.”

This "fleeting taste of joy of union" is also central to Plotinus's The Enneads. "Think of the ONE as Mind or God, you think too narrowly.... For This is also a self-existent, with no concomitant, whatever. This self-sufficing is the essense of its unity. Something there must be supremely adequate, autonomous, all-transcending, most utterly without need."

Quoting a short paper on The Enneads: "ONE is inviolable. It is also infinite. It is self-awake. It radiates. Finite intellect cannot put these descriptions together. We must find these meanings in our heart. The leap we hope to take is not into a foreign good, but our own Nature as Good."

Does this post offer any hard answers to Steve's or my questions? No. But it does find a few fingers pointing at the moon, maybe.

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