Try this Spiritual Practice: People Watching from Eckhart Tolle

For esotericists, clergy and ancient wisdom practitioners, PRAXIS (spiritual practice) is everything. Here’s a quick lesson from Eckhart Tolle teaching the spiritual practice of people watching. Fun.Ordained clergy often fear public speaking

Tolle addresses people looking back at us. As ordained clergy, teachers and/or public speakers we sometimes flip out when we think “all those people” will be “staring” at us. (laugh)
Tolle explains how to eliminate that fear by realizing — convincing your fraidy-cat brain — that “even the attention of 100 people doesn’t add [or detract] anything to who you are in truth.”
Who you are in truth. Right.
I also liked Tolle’s point about dogs being easier to trust / love than humans because there is no big fat ego — human mind — in the way to clash with our own big fat ego!

The Practice of People-Watching 

A little spiritual practice I recommend is to go to a public place where you can sit and watch human beings, perhaps at a café or in the park. I call it “people-watching.” The only difference between ordinary people-watching and this kind of people-watching is that your practice is not to attach any label or judgment on any human that you watch; you allow them to be as they are as they walk along or do whatever they do, and enjoy the incredible spectacle of the multiplicity of human forms.People Watching as Praxis or Spiritual Practice
There is no judging as good or bad; just allow them to be, so the mind does not call them anything. You’re there as an innocent observer. It’s a beautiful thing; it even does something to the energy field where you are, where you’re sitting. You bring in a different frequency, but that’s a secondary thing. Don’t start thinking, “I am here to bring in a different frequency…”; just be there an alert watcher.
As you do this, something amazing can happen: you begin to love other humans, which for some people is a difficult thing. It’s easier to love a dog, for example, than a human, usually, because there’s no mind to get in the way: a dog doesn’t judge you; a dog has unconditional love. It’s easy to love a creature like that.
But humans are different because they’re often burdened by mental activity and thoughts, conscious or otherwise, like, “Who are you? What do you want? What does he want from me?”
So, the next step up, of course, is to watch people that you know very well in the same way—at home or wherever there’s a lot of past that you share. And then be present, even with people with whom you share a lot of past. But at first I recommend limiting your practice to observing strangers, with whom you don’t share any past. Next step up is you practice with relatives, friends, and family; just in little moments when you watch them without wanting anything.
Do it with your children, without saying, “you should be doing this; why are you doing that?” Just watch. You can also say, “yes, brush your teeth;” it’s fine, but just watching is beautiful.
So, that’s an enjoyable method for incorporating awareness practice into everyday life. I’ve been practicing people-watching for many years. And after a time, you begin to love everybody, no matter what they look like, because it’s all the human form expressing itself in so many different ways.
You very rarely actually attract attention to yourself—which to the ego may not be such a great thing. There are two egoic states that could arise while people-watching: one is to want to be seen and the other is to be afraid of being seen. The purpose is going beyond both, and if people are looking, if you’re not there as a thinking person—in other words, if you’re there as presence—it doesn’t matter if they’re looking. It doesn’t add anything to who you are nor does it detract anything from who you are; even the attention of 100 people doesn’t add anything to who you are in truth.
To the ego it could be a great thing; many egos love attention, except for those who fear attention. So, if you are in a position where people are looking at you, again, to be still and present, you go beyond both the timidity of not wanting to be seen or the pride of, “oh, they’re all looking at me.” In ancient Greek mythology, Narcissus was a young man who saw a reflection of himself in a pool of water and became obsessed with his own reflection. That story speaks of the arising of the human ego. It’s the image of who you are in your mind, which gets reinforced by others. It’s ultimately a phantom. People-watching can help us go beyond the ego in everyday life.

Instead of telling kids to “be good!”….howabout “use your good!”

I recently found this quote by Eckhart Tolle.

“You do not become good by trying to be good, but by finding the goodness that is already within you, and allowing that goodness to emerge.” (Eckhart Tolle, Oneness With All Life)

Maybe we should tell kids, “Find your good! Access your good! Dig out your good and use it please!” instead of the tired old, “Be good, be good! Be GOOD!”  Christianity and Judaism (Islam, too I guess) have always been basically guilt-mongering religions with so much emphasis on sin, sin, SIN and how “bad” we all are. I like this positive way of flipping things around.

I have heard mothers say to their children things like, “don’t let your ugly out” and “sorry my ugly came out.”   I’ve heard ministers say that last to their congregations actually…hee hee.  So we can refer to our inner good the same way.  DO let your “good” out. A whole new tactic to use on the kiddos…. I am going to employ it right away…


Saying Hello Saying Goodbye & a breathing practice

And here’s another fine post from our exceedingly wise alumnus, Jack Campitelli.




Jack Campitelli

© 2012 Jack Campitelli LLC  Revised July 17, 2012   All Rights Reserved

At the very fundament of life, at the core of conscious existence, saying “Hello” and saying “Good-bye” is all that there is.  Those simple words that form much of the social “form” of how we interact with each other without thinking, are a massive foundation for spirituality as soon as one is mindful of the meaning each time one says it out loud or to oneself.  And as one learns to say the words internally, without even pronouncing them in your mind, it fundamentally changes your wakefulness to “that which is.”

“Hello” – is an almost unthinking courteous greeting to another person.  But it is also can be a greeting, spoken or unspoken, to all that captures our attention.  A person across the street, an animal whose eyes capture our attention, a flowering plant that would have called out a cheery “Hello” if it had a voice.  Even if the flower was saying “Look at me!  Look at me!”  Of course you would respond with an equally cheery “Hello!”

“Hello” is a first cousin to “Welcome.”  An embrace of what you just greeted.  “Hello” and “Welcome” are not just things one says to people.  You can certainly say them to animals and to plants.  And even to a new pair of socks.  As soon as you say “Hello and Welcome” with true intention, the socks are now part of you.  They are no longer “just socks” even though they might look like it to a stranger.   And every time you see the socks, if you say “Hello” to them as you go to use them, they are, again, brought into your awareness.  And it wouldn’t hurt you to say “Thanks” for their use.

“Hello” is also a first cousin of “wonder” – perhaps the single most important human calling we have.  To live in a state of wonder means you are always “at one” with what is going on in your life and keenly aware.  As a result, you remain a constant beginner.  Each moment is a new moment to savor.  If you live in a state of wonder, you cannot be jaded.  You can be sad, but you cannot be depressed.  Wonder seems to call forth “gratitude,” “thankfulness” for being able to have this moment of wonder.  And perhaps for that to whom we say “Hello.”

And then you are gone from that moment of “Hello.”  Your life-walk continues.  The “Hello” recedes into the too soon past and you are ready to say “Good-bye” to someone or something to which you’ve never formally been introduced.  And, there is perhaps some sadness in the “Good-bye” for that moment just leaving will not return in your life or that of the stranger’s, the animal’s or the plant’s, or the rock’s.

In “Good-bye” (God be with you) we can surely find a place of “thanks” of “gratitude” for the “Hello” – the sharing of “being” for an instant, the moment of wonder.

As we look at “real” hello and goodbyes, we think of loved ones.  Our children off to school, our children home from school.  Both of you there to greet each other with another “Hello” or “Goodbye”.   If you are aware of your words, is there not a sense of thankfulness and of gratefulness as you say the words?  And as you say either “Hello” or “Goodbye” can you not feel the innate sense of sadness that such moments are never to be again?

It is this awareness, this consciousness, of the wonderment and gratitude of “Hello” and both gratitude for the “Hello” and the sadness contained in “Goodbye” that forms the true conditions under which we live.  “Goodbye” usually contains a silent prayer for the chance of another “Hello” but we never truly know and, even if it is granted, we know time has passed and change has happened and every encounter is always a new “Hello” because what or whom you are greeting has changed from the time you last said “Hello.”  And your “Goodbye” is again hopeful for another chance at greeting and, at the same time, sadness that it may not happen at all but certainly that it will be not the same, and gratefulness and thanks that you were given one more chance at “Hello.”



The ancient Greek philospher Simplicius, characterizing the philosophy of Heraclitus, is claimed to have said, “Ta panta rei” – “everything changes” or “everything flows” (1)  Nothing remains the same.  Plato later says: Heraclitus is famous for his insistence on ever-present change in the universe, as stated in his famous saying, “No man ever steps in the same river twice.” (1)

Yet, if we think about it for a moment, is not as simple as if the river just flows past us as we watch safely from the shores; it is we who ride precariously on a sinking raft floating on the moving river.  We will never see the same shore again in our life once we pass it and there is no map of where the river is taking us.  Not only does the river pass our raft but we and our raft continually pass the ever-changing shore.  We will never know what dangerous rapids or tranquil pools are before us.  The raft on which we ride is slowly disintegrating and destined to sink, even if the dangers of the unknown voyage do not take our life before our raft naturally disintegrates.

Each moment, each instant of now, is equally a saying goodbye to what preceded it and almost demands a welcome to the new moment.   Life is only “now” but now has three aspects.  And each aspect is a chance for spiritual awakening – of deepening our own life journey.  Each successive instance contains the inseparable aspects of now: before-now-after; before-now-after; before-now-after.   These aspects of “now” are an inseparable trinity.  In the realm of existence, that is, in the realm of “what is,” there is no way to separate before not-now; now; after not-now.  It is words that allow us to make this distinction and it is our mind that allows us to separate the three elements by lingering mentally in the past; imagining the future; or staying “at one” in the ever-changing moment as we imagine animals do.

If you separate before-now-after in your mind, then there is little now – there is remembrance of things past or longing for things in the future – both eliminate your ability to be one with the moment you are actually in.  This is, in fact, how most of us spend our lives: in the past or in the future but rarely in the moment of “now”.  If you linger too long in the past or spend too much time planning the future, you nonetheless are remaining in “now” as you do this.  But you are not aware of “now” because you are not there.  You might ponder who is living the “now” of your life if it’s not you?


The challenge is to be in the state of being conscious of all three aspects of now  simultaneously.  Now contains the sadness of the forever past and calls upon us to instantly say “goodbye” to it.  And it calls us to bring into our consciousness the newness that is the new now.  The “Hello” if you will.  It is only in this manner that one can live life fully and constantly.

A Zen priest told the story one day of her love for her favorite coffee cup that she had used for years.  Each time she picked up the handmade cup she relished its beauty and she said goodbye to it because she knew what someday either she or the cup would no longer be.  “And today,” she said, “was that day.  It shattered in my hand and was gone.  But for years I had joyfully welcomed it every morning and, as I held it, I always said goodbye to it with sadness and gratitude for it sharing itself with me.”

It is that way for all of life, actually for all that is, including you and all you care about.  Life is about welcoming each moment we are given and saying goodbye to all that we care about in the very same moment.  Our family, friends, pets, cherished objects; our hearing, sight, movement, our lives are all going away.  In time, in their season, or suddenly without warning.  We must grab each moment with glee for its very being there at all and at the same time take heed of the sadness that it will never be back.

The sad fact is that almost none of us know this.  And, sadder, few of us acknowledge it as a way of being alive.  And a way to a sense of oneness with all that is.  All too few of us use this practice as a spiritual path.

Life is nothing if not ironic or even twisted.  Sometimes the “Hello” is to something terrible and the “Goodbye” rather than sad, is to a welcome relief – even if that is death.

But there is always an “Hello” and always a “Goodbye” in the same instant.



As we lay in bed, there is not much to say Hello and Goodbye to except what you bring into your imagination and you might think about this as a time for a bit of housekeeping.  To go over the missed opportunities and extend greetings and farewells to people or things in your debt.  But after that, there remains the ultimate spiritual practice: attentive breathing.

At the most basic level, each intake of breath is an hello and each exhalation a goodbye.  Captured in the hello should well be a sense of wonder and of gratitude.  Captured in the exhalation should well be a sense of thanks and sadness and hope for another breath.   If you begin this practice by actually saying hello and goodbye with each breath, soon you will be able to breathe without the words but the feelings of welcome and thanks will remain.  This practice can continue your whole life; and not just in bed.  This is a perfect exercise to practice during all the hours of our lives we spend waiting.  Instead of allowing the reverie of your imagination to keep you unbored as you wait, you can learn to immediately revert to concentrating on your breathing in the hello and goodbye mode.

While there are many variations on breathing practices, some designed to transport you to other states of being, the most important one is just to notice your breathing.  Not to try and control it for other purposes, but just to be aware of your breathing.  Adding the unspoken overlay of hello and goodbye, of welcome and thanks, which soon becomes voiceless, may increases the depth of the practice.  It becomes your most basic way of being.

If you decide to try the “Hello Goodbye” breathing practice, feel free to experiment with variations.  For instance, I find I naturally use “Hi” on intake and “Bye” on exhalation.  I also find “Hi” and “Thanks” works well, too.  You can find your own simple “code words” for “Welcome” and “Gratefulness” that lend themselves to your breathing patterns.

Zen often starts out with counting.  One upon inhalation.  Two upon exhalation.  Three inhalation, four exhalation, etc.  Up to ten.  Then start over.  When you can do that for five minutes, which is nigh impossible for a beginner, you can try just holding the one of inhalation through exhalation.  Then two through both inhalation and exhalation, et seq.  You can then switch to just counting exhalations up to ten before starting over. Eventually you will just “follow your breath” in the sense that your attention is directed to the sensation of breathing in and breathing out and nothing else.

When you lose count or lose where you are or find yourself in mental fancy, you simply re-direct your thoughts to counting or following your breath or saying “hi” and “bye” in your mind as you breathe.  Saying “Hi” and “Bye” or “Hi” and “Thanks” is transitional but if you do it for a few weeks or months, then when you follow your breath or follow another aspect of breathing, without internal words, you’ll still associate the “Hello” and “Goodbye” sentiment with breathing – when you are attentive to your breathing – without actually using any words.



Since so much of “what is” has no voice that we can hear, it is impossible to imagine how many hellos are shouted at us each moment, each hour, each day, from all that is, that we do not hear.  In fact, for many of us, it is as if we have become deaf to even listening to “what is” with strong attentiveness.  And in order for us call out a cheery “Hello” in return we have to notice what or whom we are calling out to.  But how many things are there that want to say “Hello!”  Even our tiny yard is so full of unheard-unvoiced voices that great us that we could never find enough time to say “Hello” to them all!  If you try, you can hear the bright flowers shout “Hello” and then the simple weeds spouting weed-flowers atop them wave a silent hello to you.  And then the beings that move – from birds to chipmunks to bees to flies to pesky things.  And even dangerous things.  A serpent or poison oak.  An “Oh-oh!” is also an “Hello!”

Saying a silent “Hello” to all the unheard voices is slightly different than just noticing as many of the things filling our lives as you can, but noticing is almost like giving a nod or tipping your hat.  In Zen practice, you will sometimes notice someone taking a moment to  gasho  (bow) to something they notice and the gesture is a sign of reverence.   Noticing is big even if you don’t say “Hello.”  “Seeing,” as in noticing as much as we can, may be our most important human mission.  So much calls for us to be seen.  You will notice how much easier it is to notice and even say “Hello” if you know the name of what you are seeing.  You may notice it is almost impossible to see something whose name you don’t know.  And in a moment you realize that you don’t know the names of almost everything that surrounds your life.  There are modern philosophers who claim that consciousness is a direct result of language.  The more limited the language, the more limited the consciousness.  More words equals more consciousness.  And yet we all know that all words are metaphors for reality, not real reality, so that no words truly describe the reality of anything.  But experiment for yourself.  Does your awareness increase as you know more names of the things that you notice?  Even if you know that “to name it is to shame it,” perhaps you’ll find that things almost call out to be named – it is as if you do not really notice strangers you pass on the street but can say “Hello” to people whose names you know or whom you recognize – even if it’s just a smile.



When I find I have been inattentive for a period of time, which is common, it is not cause to beat myself up.  It’s quite human to “wander” and not be one with “now.”  It really takes practice to be mindful of your life.  Once you realize you’ve drifted, just smile and return to your patterns of welcome and wonder followed by gratefulness and a bit of sadness.  A child, not yet with words, nonetheless has a remarkable relationship to all that is seen and touched and smelled.  As a child grows, all to soon, his ego develops and his sense of “self” as different from “other” soon separates him from “not-self” and re-enforces his sense of a distinct self.



In countries of affluence, sometimes storage units and deep closets hold objects we have not seen in years.  Even our homes are sometimes thick with nick-knacks that we never say “Hello” to any longer.  They have lost their place in our lives – and yet they remain taking up space.

What if we were to limit the amount of our “stuff” to things we actually said “Hello” to pretty often?

As we throw out an old pair of socks, do we say “Good bye”?  Do we thank them for their faithful service?  It is not as if you expect the socks to speak back to you.  It is your soul that expresses gratitude for the socks themselves, the materials who gave their existence to make the socks and the people who gave portions of their lives to produce them.  And it may be that you never even said “Hello” to the socks when they first came into your life.  Feeling their texture and appreciating their pattern or color.  And do you say hello and goodbye to them every time you wear them?

Things are not just things.  A chair is a tree who gave its life plus labor and transportation and storage and sales and a pork chop is an animal who gave its life plus the people who gave parts of their lives to raise it, those who killed it, those who cut it up, those who stored it, shipped it, sold it, and those who prepared it for your dinner.



To whom are we grateful?  Ah, that is the question, is it not?  I suppose one could say God or Christ or the universe.  But do you or I really know to whom we are grateful?  No, we don’t.  The only correct answer to most spiritual questions is “I don’t know.”  This is likely true on many levels but one that is for sure true is that “I” (which translates as my sense of self) is about “ego” which actually is Latin for “I”.  Ego is one of those things that gives us our sense of self.  It is miraculous in its own right.  However, as you suspect, the ego is also the font of most suffering that comes into our lives.  The Buddha was adamant about this.  The ego thinks it knows everything about us.  But as you grow in wisdom, you will undoubtedly find that there exists in you a voiceless “inner self” that has amazing awareness that we are largely unconscious of.  Whenever we notice it, it is something to say “Hello” to and thank it for its unconscious awareness.  Thus, if you accept that we have a portion of “us” about which we are largely unaware, then “I don’t know” is really saying that “My ego from whom I get my sense of individual self has no clue.”  Nor should it.  “I don’t know” really means “My ego has no idea”.  This is another way of saying that whatever I am, there is something about me that I am not.   And, in a spiritual sense, you can rightly say, “In death it is only “I” who die.”

Think about breathing.  We breathe automatically.  Without thought.  We can concentrate on our breath and be aware of it.  It’s a good meditation.  But, in the end, you might come to the conclusion after pondering breath that “I do not breathe,” instead “I am breathed.”  “Who or what breathes me?”  And that should give you much pause for mediation.  If you use words, you’ll not find the answer.

The emperor, who was a devout Buddhist, invited a great Zen master to the Palace in order to ask him questions about Buddhism.

“What is the highest truth of the holy Buddhist doctrine?” the emperor inquired.

“Vast emptiness… and not a trace of holiness,” the master replied.

“If there is no holiness,” the emperor said, “then who or what are you?”

“I do not know,” the master replied.


The standard Catholic blessing of “Bless us O Lord in these thy gifts which we are about to receive from Thy bounty, through Christ our Lord.  Amen” is at least some acknowledgement to the “Lord” but it leaves out our gratitude to the plants and animals that gave their being to feed us and the persons who prepared the food for our nourishment and our pleasure.  Meal blessings are a good time to re-focus our gratefulness.  All meals are an hello and goodbye that is very sacred and fleeting.  Meals are also a communion of sorts.  If you think of meals, or even some meals, as a sacrament, then they are a sacrament.  They are a gathering together.  But even if you are alone, or at a restaurant, taking a moment to be grateful not just to “the Lord” but to each element that went in to your meal is good spiritual practice.



Another opportunity for “Hello” and “Goodbye” happens at special meals.  It is a chance for a prayer with or without words as you look at each person and realize you will never see that same person again.  If you see them at all, they will be different and so will you.  But there is another version of this: oftentimes, unknown to you, a meal is the last meal, just as every breath may be the last breath.  As you feed your pet, take a moment to look at him or her and relish their presence and say Goodbye.  There is almost always a moment when a pet without much warning refuses to eat and is soon gone.  Enjoying the awareness of the “Hello” and saying “Goodbye” with a hug or a pat is good meditation.  It works on family, too.



This is a polite way of saying that things are used up and pass into garbage.  Living food things are digested to allow us to live and then are flushed into sewage.  Other refuse from our lives is hauled to dumps or incinerated like bodies in a crematorium and reduced to ashes that are returned to the earth in some fashion.  Or the refuse, the discarded, are just abandoned like old shoes or old people or old animals.  Interred in municipal dumps or just allowed to rot along the roadway.  As if things and people were not special after a certain usefulness had passed.  When you notice this, it is something to bring into your mind and take into you.  This, too, is life.  We can think of it as “the cycle of life” and dismiss it, but there was a time when what is being discarded was new and maybe someone said “Hello” to it.  And perhaps no one said “Goodbye” in gratitude for its service.  And when you notice, it is ok for you to say “Goodbye” for all of us and feel grateful for all of us.  You can almost hear the graveside eulogy: dust to dust – after a brief sojourn as something that exists.



The eternal question of “Why am I here?  What is my purpose in life?” perhaps has many true answers.  But one that carries great spiritual significance is learning to be awake to the wonder of “what is” and to learn to say “Hello” and say “Goodbye” as an acknowledgement of and gratitude for our fragile existence, of the innate sadness of life, and the chance at a moment of happiness.  Perhaps, as our hands are also the hands of God, so is our mind and heart.  Our gratitude, whether spoken in our minds or out loud or just felt, becomes the prayer.



Final goodbyes are always filled with sadness, sometimes regret that we never said “Hello” often enough.  But in life, so many goodbyes go by without us remembering to actually say “Goodbye.”  In life, every instant is a “Goodbye” and we surely miss most of those chances.  But often we miss milepost “Goodbyes,” too.  Or, more to the point, we often say the words to others but never reflect that this in fact is a final goodbye: this moment, this interaction, this moment of happiness or sorrow, will never return.  And it carries with it the real possibility that we shall never even see the person or animal again to whom we say goodbye – meaning that we rarely bring this into our awareness when we say the words.  I think that’s a spiritual tragedy.

There are truly hundreds of “things” that come and go in our lives each day that truly deserve for us to have been grateful for them being a small part of our lives, or an essential part of our lives, and who deserve a heart-felt and grateful “Goodbye”

Just as “Hello” carries the sense of “Welcome” and wonder and gives to us a chance to awake to another instant in our lives, “Goodbye” gives us a chance to again feel gratitude for the person or thing that has given us a moment of happiness or usefulness.  The solely human ability to have self-aware consciousness carries, I feel, some spiritual responsibility to be awake to what has come into and what is leaving our lives.

While it is easy and somehow comforting to read about “Hellos” and “Goodbyes” it is actually more difficult that you might think to make this simple spiritual exercise part of your daily life.  In fact, you may find it easier to be aware that you are saying “Hello” to people and animals and plants and things as you greet them.  And it’s ok to just try and say “Hello” for awhile.  “Goodbyes” are tougher.  They are certainly more emotion-filled and always bring to mind the briefness of it all.  While you try to cultivate this path to spiritual awakening, you may find that you realize you didn’t say “Goodbye” to something or someone by bringing to mind the finality of the instant as well as a sense of gratitude.  When you realize you missed an opportunity, it’s really ok to take an instant and say your goodbyes in your mind with gratitude.  Eventually, your post-event “Goodbyes” will become synonymous with the actual event “Goodbye”.   You may find that this is a very comforting spiritual exercise – even though it is just an expression of your true humanness.

There are literally thousands of times a day to say “Goodbye” and be grateful or say “Thanks.”  From the waste at toilet to the waste at table to the dead flowers you throw from a vase to scraps of this and that that we dispose of, to people and pets, to birds we spot – everything that makes up our day gives us pause to say “Goodbye” with gratitude and thanks.  If you do this for a bit, you’ll notice that you are lot more aware of the many “things” that make up your life and you will start to have respect for many more of them.

Saying “Hello” and “Goodbye” in a heartfelt manner is an amazingly powerful spiritual practice and it will fundamentally change you.  After awhile, you will do it largely without words, but you cannot do it without attentiveness, awareness, wonder and gratitude.  In order to truly say “Hello” and “Goodbye” you must be at one with your life.  Whatever it is that we are, we carry with us the ability not just to “do” but to “be aware that we are doing.”  This awareness, which we can manifest in “Saying Hello” and “Saying Goodbye,” is our sacred calling.

Goodbye.  And thanks.


1. “rhei,” also anglicized “rei,” can also be translated as the verb “streams” or “flows” which is even more poetic.  But the idea that nothing stays the same is the point.  “All is streaming” seems quite a contemporary translation.


Zen and Christianity


By Jack Campitelli

© 2012 Jack Campitelli LLC



For many of us who transact between the worlds of Christianity and Zen Buddhism, there is little reason or need to explain how seamlessly the metaphysical/mystical elements of Zen and Christianity fit together.




Christianity has such a broad spectrum of religions that claim to be Christian that the common denominator can only be the name Christ in the religion.  Christian religions can span a New Testament Christ of various exegeses to a New Age Christ of the cosmos.  There is also an ontological Christ that represents God’s presence in being and time.  This Christ could probably after painful discussion be roughly comparable with Buddha nature or even Lord Krishna dancing in the universe.


Buddhism started 600 years before Christ in India.  As Christ was plying the shores of Galilee, Buddhism was heading into China.  And 600 years later written evidence of Zen Buddhism started coming to notice.  As Thomas Aquinas was finishing Summa Theologica, Zen was entering Japan.  It if from Japan, rather than China, that Europe and North America received Zen priests and masters.


Zen is supposedly a non-religion that starts with the premise that God both exists and does not exist and neither exists nor does not exist.  The foundational element is a “suchness” that carries various names that roughly is comparable to Christ in the universe.  You can’t push the analogy because Buddhism, although full of rich texts, is not dogmatic in the sense that traditional mainstream Christianity is.  Zen is about “practice” by which they mean mindful attention to all that goes on in our lives.  The starting place of this in Zen is often “zazen” or sitting Zen where the student concentrates on breath.  In a monastic setting this is a twice daily practice.  Officially there is no “aim” since “striving” is the start of much karmic trouble in sacred texts.  Unofficially, the aim is “kensho” or a state of oneness with all that is followed by “satori” or awakening into emptiness.  There are explanations of why such states are possible due to the posture of sitting Zen but, for Buddhists, that is not up for discussion.  I believe that would say that “zazen” is enlightenment.  The fact that you are not yet aware is another issue.  In between formal mediation sessions students work – whether cooking, cleaning, or working in fields – or even Buddhist enterprises.   Zen has weekend “services” for visitors that can look like scenes from a Tibetan monastery or sometimes sparse liturgy from a Quaker meeting hall.  Services often have a “lecture” from the presiding priest on some aspect of Buddhism.  Services are followed by a Sunday-school of sorts for adults where Zen practice is discussed.


Zen represents a direct path to mystical/metaphysical experiences that is now quite mainstream for Benedictins, Trappists, and even Jesuits.  However, for Sunday-Christians, Zen Buddhism remains largely unknown and, if known, suspect and competitive with their current religion.  Besides the barrier of the “mysterious Orient” that cloaks the practice of Zen, there is the fact that no major religions preach “how to” for mystical experiences from the pulpit.  In marketing terms, mystical experiences are wholesale goods as far as religion goes whereas sermons and Sunday worship services are retail.  The problem with all forms of mysticism is that it tends to cut out the middleman: the priests, the church, the authoritarian hierarchy that customarily forms the traditional bridge between God/Christ and the faithful.  There is just no way to have an indirect mystical experience.  The path to “awakening,” no matter the twists and turns of methodology, are always personal.


Nevertheless, an increasing number of Christians around the world are finding their way to Zen Buddhism as additive to their Christian practice, not to supplant it.  Unlike parts of Christendom that are rigid with orthodoxy, Zen Buddhism has remained “flexible”.  As it moved into China from India, its practice was influenced by Taoism and Confucianism.  As it moved to Japan, its practice adopted many of classic elements of Japanese architecture and customs: of sabi (untranslatable but full of simplicity; quietude; rustic beauty) and wabi (untranslatable but things “fresh and simple; natural; accidental happenstance; uniqueness” approximate).  There is nothing about a phrase like “Christian Zen” that is going to upset Buddhists.




Early Christian mystics from Origen to the Desert Fathers, led ascetic lives, perhaps masochistically ascetic: when their regular ascetic practices failed to deliver the goods, they turned to increasing harsher levels of mortification.  They produced writings that are similar to a stage of the Buddha’s passage in Hermann Hesse ’s Siddhartha when Siddhartha spends years with ascetic practitioners who were searching for “the way” but leaves them behind on his quest.  The writings that survive show that the Desert Fathers and their like were truly embedded in the metaphor and dogma of early Christianity and, while I can find “Zen-like” passages, I find no attempts to describe “pure” kensho experiences, even in stories.


What we know of Jesus from the New Testament Gospels does not exactly fit into the non-dogma of Buddhism, especially Zen Buddhism, which hadn’t yet begun.  Zen didn’t emerge into written history until about 600AD.  However, what is interesting in examining the historical fragments of early Zen Buddhism, is that, like Jesus and his disciples, mendicant Buddhist monks, travelled and taught for decades, perhaps a century, before written records and commentary and stories about Zen began to emerge.  And, perhaps like instances in the Gospels, apocryphal stories of early Buddhism were penned to create legitimacy and credibility – once a foundation had been established.  Meaning, given the difficulty of widely disseminated communication from the time of Buddha about 600BC through the time of the emergence of Zen Buddhism in 600AD, and thus overlapping the period when Jesus taught, it was common for stories to emerge at some point to cover origins when it became necessary to have stories.  Stories were a way to set roots deep into past or present popular religions – including politically powerful pagan “religions” in the case of Christianity. The stories of both early Buddhism and early Christianity were likely more expedient than factual as was the custom.  And stories, such as Revelations, could easily have been both well meaning and, like all good marketing sales letters, designed to create a sense of urgency in “signing up.”  Revelations seems at once poetic, mysterious, symbolic and scary as hell.  It seems an accepted fact these days that early Christians were awaiting the imminent return of Jesus and undoubtedly wanted to be on the right team when he returned.

The Gospel of Thomas, though not an official New Testament gospel, has some Buddhist-like elements.  But it’s not Buddhist.

What we do know is that for centuries, and not too long after historic Jesus walked the Holy Lands, there is evidence of efforts to connect his teachings with Hinduism and Buddhism.  Since the Gospel birth stories and the time-line of Jesus parallel those of a host of religions that pre-date Jesus (most originating to the west of Galilee), there’s a case to be made that narratives were created that fit the early Christian efforts to connect Jesus to other and earlier religions, perhaps to enhance Christianity’s fledgling credibility and legitimacy.   It’s not inconceivable that stories also arose to link him to religions to the east of Galilee.

Somewhere in the 1100’s a story about a St. Buddha began to surface that supposedly found a path from India and may have happened, if at all, in the 7th century AD.   St. Josaphat of the story was a Catholic martyr and “the Buddha.”  The exact details of his life are lost to history but his name was removed in recent times from the official roll of Catholic martyrs.  In fact, there is a whole body of legend about Jesus himself traveling to India as a young man and adopting Hindu/Buddhist beliefs and returning them to the Holy Land.  Or maybe never returning.  Or maybe leaving Galilee and traveling to Kashmir where he preached until his death.  There is a tomb for him in Kashmir, India.

A woman, St. Hildegard de Bingen (1098 – 1179), is currently being honored as the 35th “Doctor of the Church” in 2012.  She was a renowned herbalist of her day, prolific composer and mystic/visionary.  Her long-term monastic companion was also a visionary.  St. Hildegard’s mystical experiences manifested themselves as visions and voices from God urging her to write about her visions.  Her narrative claims she had visions from an early age (3) and is perhaps why her parents confined her to a monastic enclosure a few years later.

Meister Eckhart (c.1260 – c1327), theologian, philosopher and mystic, is often thought as an entry place for Christians to explore mysticism.  And perhaps he is.  Even though he was tried and convicted as a heretic, his thought and metaphor remained clearly in the Christendom box of dogma and he considered himself a Thomist (St. Thomas Aquinas).  What he is not is a common denominator between Zen and Christianity.  Meister Eckhart comes complete with his own arcane pathways – but they are not the way of Zen.




However, historically, there is one very unlikely, almost totally unknown, taste of Zen to touch orthodox Christianity — and that is from the most rational and prolific mind that Christendom has ever produced and whose massive works form the very foundations of Christianity: St. Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274) of the encyclopedic Summa Theologica fame.


Nearly seven hundred forty years ago, Friar Thomas Aquinas, aged 49, died on his way to the Council of Lyons. His death, then unexpected, is still unexplained.  However, the age was full of unexpected and unexplained deaths.  The sole fact that seems historically sure is that, following four years of incredibly productive intellectual work during his second professional stay at the University of Paris, Thomas underwent “an intense personal experience” on December 6, 1273, which caused him to cease writing forever. That experience may have been a stroke, some form of physical or nervous breakdown, or a mystical experience. (In his important new study Friar Thomas d’Aquino, Father James A. Weisheipl rather puzzlingly suggests that it was a combination of all three.)

One proffered explanation is that Aquinas had what the Buddhists would call a “kensho” or “awakening” experience while saying Mass.  In a “kensho” experience one realizes that there are no inherently existing ‘things,’ that the world we experience is empty.  More precisely that there is no distinction between me and thee.  Kensho also implies an experience of one’s inner nature, the originally pure mind.  Whatever its explanation, the fact is that Thomas never wrote again after his “experience.” When his several admirers asked him why, he supposedly replied, “I cannot,  for all that I have written seems like straw to me.”  (as quoted by James Arraj Christian Philosophy, Vol. III found on his website: from a book by Jaques Martain)

The reason this experience is quite Buddhist is perhaps found in a Zen story.


In modern times a great deal of nonsense is talked about masters and disciples, and about the inheritance of a master’s teaching by favorite pupils, entitling them to pass the truth on to their adherents. Of course Zen should be imparted in this way, from heart to heart, and in the past it was really accomplished. Silence and humility reigned rather than profession and assertion. The one who received such a teaching kept the matter hidden even after twenty years. Not until another discovered through his own need that a real master was at hand was it learned that the teaching had been imparted, and even then the occasion arose quite naturally and the teaching made its way in its own right. Under no circumstance did the teacher even claim “I am the successor of So-and-so.” Such a claim would prove quite the contrary.


The Zen master Mu-nan had only one successor. His name was Shoju. After Shoju had completed his study of Zen, Mu-nan called him into his room. “I am getting old,” he said, “and as far as I know, Shoju, you are the only one who will carry on this teaching. Here is a book. It has been passed down from master to master for seven generations. I have also added many points according to my understanding. The book is very valuable, and I am giving it to you to represent your successorship.”


“If the book is such an important thing, you had better keep it,” Shoju replied. “I received your Zen without writing and am satisfied with it as it is.”


“I know that,” said Mu-nan. “Even so, this work has been carried from master to master for seven generations, so you may keep it as a symbol of having received the teaching. Here.”


They happened to be talking before a brazier. The instant Shoju felt the book in his hands he thrust it into the flaming coals. He had no lust for possessions.

Mu-nan, who never had been angry before, yelled: “What are you doing!”

Shoju shouted back: “What are you saying!” (quoted from



In the 1500’s St. John of the Cross and St. Theresa of Avilla were Christian mystics and wrote from and about that state.  There was great interest around Europe in their writings but their mystical experiences lacked easy, understandable “pathway practices.”  Thus widespread interest was short lived.




Christian mystics may well have rooted their mystical experiences in the ecstatic rapture of being totally immersed in thinking about or praying to Christ in one manner or another.   Whether St. Hildegard, St. John of the Cross or St. Theresa, the mystics of the middle ages seemed to produce very talkative and proselytizing interpretations of their experiences — not to diminish their experiences, just to distinguish them from what we know of Buddhist experiences.  In all of Buddhist literature, as far as I know, there are no reported visions of God/Buddha or voices urging them to write about the visions.  In fact, Buddhist “kensho” experiences don’t really have words or call for words.

The visions/voices of Christian mystics set them apart from the general populace and their mystical visions are used to proselytize to or mystify the uninitiated with the standard dogma of the Church during their time.  And there’s a case to be made that some of these souls were neurologically or psychologically impaired rather than just predisposed.

In my limited experience, the first thing someone does after a “kensho” experience is nothing.  The last thing one does is run around and tell folks about it.  Or create interpretation for it.  How an awakening experience manifests to others is by a change in visage and a change in attitude and behavior; rarely in

Here’s an interesting excerpt from

In reference to early Christian mystics or the Desert Fathers, [v]isions were practically non-existent in the mystical theology of the Eastern Orthodox Church! Distractions to prayer, whether voluntary or involuntary, were to be deplored and dismissed with whenever possible, and visions and ecstasies were considered to be involuntary distractions to prayer! Those experiences which later mystics sought after and prized so highly were considered by the earlier Christians as little more than nuisances to be suspiciously examined and barely tolerated.

Simply focusing on the idea of Christ relentlessly could quite possibly lead to a “kensho” experience.  If you can do it by attentive breathing (zazen) or attentive archery or tea ceremony, then it seems quite possible that persons could experience “kensho” by focusing on certain repetitious prayers (like the rosary), plain song chants, or long litanies producing similar sounds to those of chanting Tibetan monks and perhaps inducing semi-hypnotic states.  This could explain how some Christian mystics attained “kensho” but without pathways that they could pass on easily.

In contrast to the quietude of Buddhism mystics, the Christian mystics that find their way to history seem to have an agenda.  Their visions hold not just meaning for themselves but with it comes an urgency to interpret and share the “meaning” of their visions with others.  And since they survived history, one can assume that the interpretations of their visions fell within the bounds of approved dogma and reaffirmed the legitimacy of the Church and even Christ.


Using Zen meditative practice does not immediately put the novitiate outside any mainstream religions.  Writing about various Buddhist pathways to metaphysical/mystical experiences rarely gets anyone in Dutch with the precepts of their current religion.  Where things go awry is trying to put words to the wordless Zen experiences you might have and then trying to fit them into the dogma of a particular religion.  The first victim of awakening is almost everything you think you knew about God and certainly most of the dogma of your current religion.  It is not as if your new state is antagonistic, because it’s not.  It’s that you have moved beyond the world of words.  I suspect this is precisely what happened to St. Thomas Aquinas.  Perhaps he became Christianity’s first “Zen victim” due to his intensely focused attention into the nature and existence of God.

In a broad sweeping conclusion (and thus suspect), I have the feeling that Christ of the Gospels and Zen Buddhism are not a close match.  The metaphysical parables of Jesus are not Zen koans.  (A koan is a short question or story that undermines all attempts to explain it using words.  The idea is you noodle on the koan until your brain gives up.  And then the answer might appear.)  Zen casts a would-be student adrift into mindful-doing and mindless-emptiness so that the student is forced to quit using words as his way of knowing or to stay away from words long enough to find his own wordless knowing out of mindfulness and mindlessness.

The New Testament Jesus on the other hand gets right to a Confucian-like set of behavioral principals that define Christianity, such as “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”  (Mathew 22:35)  The “Lord’s Prayer (Mathew 6:9-13 et al) is very Christian-like and little Zen-like.  The most Christ-like part of the “Our Father” is an amazing concept that is not found in Buddhisn:  “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  This is seemingly an anti-karma pathway.  The quid pro quo to getting your own transgressions forgiven unto eternity is that you must forgive the transgressions of others against you.  This prayer is directed to “Our Father in heaven” which seems like an “external God above us” (Latin “qui es in caelis”) and “heaven” certainly carried the notion at the time of 1) a real place and 2) located in or beyond the sky.  It is pushing the definitions of “heaven” as understood then to translate this as an “internal space” or heaven as a “oneness with Christ.”  The “Lord’s Prayer” is not Zen-like.

Jesus’s use of short “parables” as a mode of teaching doesn’t seem to have parallels in other religions.  Like koans, they are a clever way of conveying a lesson without coming right out and saying it.  Parables are open to interpretation as to meaning and the wrong people hearing them cannot really get a good purchase for attacking them as unorthodox teaching.  Like Zen koans, parables are sort of “coded” and useless to someone who has not “eaten” them.

While Christianity, like Zen, is about “doing” and “doing good,” the Christian foundational element of “love” is not a part of the Zen tradition.  The Buddhist concept of “Right livelihood” is not exactly the same thing.  On the other hand, if one finds enlightenment in Buddhism, past sins become irrelevant.  That is just not who you are any longer.  In fact, for the most part, there is no you any longer!  But there is a subtle difference between growing beyond the karma cycle of good and evil via “enlightenment” and being forgiven by a deity upon request.  Perhaps it amounts to the same thing in the end, but it is not the same exactly.

Metaphysical/Mystical experiences in the Sufi, Judaic, Buddhist, Hindu and Christian traditions are remarkably the same and remarkably produce the same behaviors “on the other side” of “awakening.”  What is not common to all these religions is the historic figure of Jesus as the be all and end all.

As you enter the world of Zen Buddhism many Christians wonder if they need to set Christ aside to enter.  The answer is, “No” — on many counts.  A more important question is, are you still a Christian after you have “awakened” using Zen practices?  Or, maybe phrased more articulately, how does Christ fit into your experience of no-self and awakened-self after plying the depths of Zen?  The easy answer is that the idea of Christ is not necessary to successfully reach a state of wakefulness in Buddhism any more, according to Buddhism principles, than you need “Buddha” to reach the same state.

In recent Christendom, stern religions like the Quakers, Shakers, Amish and even Mennonites offered very sparse Zen-like religions that involved “right livelihood” and “doing.”  As they would say, “Hands to work; hearts to God.”  Their aim was perfection in everything.  Such striving for perfection is not Buddhist.  What is Buddhist is the extraordinary mindfulness it takes to create perfect work.  Mindfulness is a very powerful spiritual path.  The Christian aspects of their religions revolved around “loving your neighbor” – and even though they were rough on their own members, they were historically open hearted to strangers.  Their “rules” of in-house conduct made sparse monasteries look like pleasure palaces.

However, there is a case to be made that the essence of Buddha, the historic figure, and Christ, the historic figure, are remarkably similar.  That is, each historic figure shares the same “what is-ness”.  It may be a matter of sophistry, but if we define Christ as “that part of God that is one with time and space (being and time)” and further that Christ has always been one with all that is and thus is one with us, whether we know it or not, then Buddha, Christ, and us all share the same “oneness.”

This concept of Christ makes Christ part of all that is from the very onset of “what is” and will continue until the end of time – the end of evolution or the collapse or fulfillment of the cosmos.  From Alpha to Omega.  According to this view of the nature of Christ, Christ already is part of all that is Buddhist.  Just as Buddhists believe Buddha is part of everything “that is” and thus part of Christ and us – whether we know it or not.

A more important question for Christians to ponder is, do Christ’s New Testament teachings actually add something to Buddhism that is not there?  For me, the answer is, “Yes.”  The metaphysical Christ is one with us no matter what or no matter the name we use to describe “God with us.”   However, the historic Christ of the New Testament introduces a few new ideas not found in Buddhism in a straight-forward manner: proactive “love” as the ultimate state of being; and breaking the karmic wheel with “forgiveness” of ourselves and everyone else.  To me these ideas are “evolutionary” – they go beyond the rubric of Buddhism; they seem to move consciousness to a higher level.

However, these concepts are irrelevant on your path to spiritual awakening – no matter what path you take.  As Buddhists would say, you are already on the path.  And you become enlightened just by realizing you are on the path.  On this path, at some point you may get to a place of oneness with all that is – I mean before you die.  If you look at the New Testament’s testimony about the thoughts of historic Jesus, you may find that Christ brings something to your life that might take your Zen practice to another dimension.

Perhaps, before setting out on your journey, you may wish to examine what is essential to you of Christ’s New Testament teachings.  All “new” religions of sincerity are trying to find new descriptors, new metaphors, for interacting with God.  To gain admission to the new religion it will be necessary to learn its argot, such as L. Ron Hubbard’s.  To understand anything well, you must eat it.  I am becoming much more careful, as I age, about what passes as metaphysical food.

Forming accessible pathways to an awakened state may be the greatest gift of Zen to all religions and all persons with spiritual curiosity.  It is one of the intrinsic wonderments of Buddhism that you really do not need to learn a new dogma or a new language (in the sense of coded metaphors) to plumb its depths.  To my way of thinking, it would be a mistake to try and cram the New Testament into Buddhism.  It won’t fit.  But, if you are Christian, on the other side of Buddhism, you will undoubtedly find Christ in a new light.


Online resources:

This is an amazing site:

Meister Eckhart, Medieval heretic who taught Zen & influenced Tolle

MeisterEckhartTreeThe Now-moment in which God made the first man and the Now-moment in which the last man will disappear, and the Now-moment in which I am speaking are all one in God, in whom there is only one Now. Look! The person who lives in the light of God is conscious neither of time past nor of time to come but only of one eternity….Therefore he gets nothing new out of future events, nor from chance, for he lives in the Now-moment that is, unfailingly, “in verdure newly clad.” — MEISTER ECKHART 1260-1328

Now we know why Tolle changed his first name from Ulrich to Eckhart. He says he greatly admired and identified with the work of Meister Eckhart, the famous Christian mystic (tried by the Inquisition as a heretic). Meister Eckhart is a voice from the past speaking to us today, or now. And Tolle rocks.

Wow, the now. …  awesome and ancient.

Found the Meister Eckhart quote above in an old book written during the World War II London Blitz by the not-yet-famous still-quite-young Anglican-priest-turned Zen writer, Alan Watts. (Link below). Tolle says he read Alan Watts and Joel Goldsmith, two sort of Zen Christians. The harmony between Zen, the Gospel of Thomas, their work and Tolle’s is cool.


Click on “See Inside This Book” and you can see the other quotes Watts scribed in the front cover along with the Meister Eckhart quote about the Now-moment.

In college we studied Medieval Philosophy where Meister Eckhart got much attention. We pondered over his Now-moment and had no idea how Zen it was. And what’s his most famous quote of all…oh yeah, here it is: “the eye that I see God with, is the same eye that God sees me with..” or something like that. Yeah, he’s dangerous dontcha know, might wake up some people. The “authorities” had to drag him before the Pope, put him on trial and brand him heretic. I think Eckhart died mysteriously before the verdict was reached. They never even found his body. But his disciples carried on his teachings, though very quietly and carefully. Here’s to them and…

Here’s to the NOW,


Five Things Religion-Haters Should Know

In the article below, I liked the “Buddhism is the highest form of Christianity” joke.  Hee hee. And I am glad the author says “sick religion is dehumanizing”, not healthy religion.  Not all religion should be thrown out with the bath water. I inserted little comments as I read along, mostly because the author kept messing up his own article (in my opinion!) with his personal bias by allowing politics to constantly intrude into his arguments and conclusions.

See the end of the article for more comments from yours truly and also for +Christian-Thomas’ sapient comment…



By Stuart Davis
August 9, 2009

I just finished reading God is not Great by Christopher Hitchens. He’s given us another powerful work in the vein of Sam Harris (The End of Faith), Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion), and Bill Maher (Religulous). Team Rationality is ushering in a long-overdue examination of religion in the modern world. They make a strong case that religion is sick and dehumanizing. I would say more specifically, sick religion is dehumanizing.

And we do have a global pandemic of sick religion: billions of believers stuck in low levels of consciousness, riddled with pathologies — called Samsara where I’m from.

However, reading these best-sellers has inspired me to make a wish-list.

Here are five things rational religion-haters should know:

1. There are levels of religion.

I keep noticing that what many rational types detest is not religion per se, but its least-evolved expressions. Over and over I hear atheists say “religion” when they are actually describing low levels of religion. That confusion is not helping. Eliminating religion will not eliminate low levels of development. And that’s the real threat to humanity: Low levels of development in high positions of power. Saying “Religion” is the problem doesn’t mean anything. What level of Religion is being referred to? For example, here are five distinct levels of religious expression, from lowest to highest:

Magical-Animistic: Recently in Tanzania, religious figures have murdered over fifty innocent human beings because they happened to be albino. The victims are killed so that their organs can be used in religious rituals that are supposed to create wealth. That’s one of the things we get from a Magical mode of religion. Blood sacrifice.

Mythic: After the massacre of 3,000 Americans on 9/11, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell claimed it was god taking revenge on our society for homosexuality and abortion. Mythic religion is that old-school religion of supra-natural allegory. Virgin births, raising the dead, walking on water, and the rapture. Except mythic believers don’t consider their stories to be metaphoric symbols, they regard them as literal and real. Mythic religion guided George Bush through eight years as President of the United States, [Katia inserts: so you say, but you have no evidence for this rather snobbish claim. Perhaps POLITICS guided him. Or power-lust? Or whatever…but religion? If so, seems to me he would have been obsessed with sending missionaries and trying to convert people to Christianity. We can’t read minds. It is arrogant in the extreme to announce one knows another person’s inner spiritual life, to claim exact knowledge of what level of religion intimately guided that human being for eight years. Pat Robertson’s and Falwell’s remarks are clear evidence they were at this level — at least at the moment in time when they made their god-is-punishing-us remarks. But to judge eight years of someone’s spiritual life without any evidence of mythical Christian mindset (sick or healthy) seems unduly biased.]

…coincidentally also guided the terrorists to commit mass murder.

[I agree with you there. That is a single provable event. They left letters saying their mythic level of religion did indeed guide them to commit that repulsive crime against innocent humans.]

Rational: Francis Collins, one of the World’s most accomplished Scientists, calls his faith BioLogos, or theistic evolution. He sees Science, and the empirical method, as a form of worship. He rejects intelligent design.

Believe it or not, there are plenty of rational people who believe in a Divinity of some kind.

Pluralistic: For a taste of pluralistic Christianity, check out The Christian Pluralist by William C. Buffie, M.D. and John R. Charles. They even incorporate psychology in their faith, exploring shadow / projection in the realm of religion. They embrace the Bible “as a story, not a weapon.” Jimmy Carter has also demonstrated a strong pluralistic Christianity. He even taught Sunday School in a Southern Baptist church while President. [Southern Baptists are actually more fundamentalist by far than Methodists–George Bush’s church. Not that we know how fundamentalist or evolved either ex-president is/was because again, we cannot read minds nor souls.  To actually be teaching Southern Baptist Sunday school while president…Now that might indeed imply being guided by fundamentalist Christianity during a presidency. Yet you place Carter at a more spiritually evolved level than Bush and don’t claim he was “guided” during his presidency. It appears you are allowing political bias and/or spiritual arrogance to creep in to your otherwise good piece.]

Integrative: In my opinion one of the most spiritually evolved Christians on the planet, Father Thomas Keating teaches a form of contemplative practice called Centering Prayer, which he describes as

“. . . a journey into the unknown. It is a call to follow Jesus out of all the structures, security blankets, and even spiritual practices that serve as props. They are all left behind insofar as they are part of the false self system . . . The false self is an illusion. Humility is the forgetfulness of self.”

These are five very distinct levels of the same religion, in this case Christianity, but it applies to any religion. (I forgot to list the highest level of Christianity, which is Buddhism. Kidding!). The point is, religion should not be regarded as horizontal and homogenous. All belief systems include a vertical chain of development.

The ‘answer’ to fundamentalism is not to get rid of Religion, but to get religion to evolve. How can we help Pat Robertson discover his hidden Father Thomas Keating? Will Francis Collins agree to mentor Sarah Palin? [Maybe you should ask will he mentor YOU. And read Matthew 7:5 ]

I’m kidding. But I’m not. The answer to low levels of religion is higher levels of religion. The real work ahead of us is religious development, not just embarrassing people into forfeiting their belief system (they will just trade it for an equivalent one anyway). If tomorrow, all the religions in the World magically vanished, we’d face the same dangers of low levels of consciousness in high positions of power.

2. There are healthy and pathological versions of every level.

A religious person can be healthy or sick at any stage of development. The answer to sick religion is healthy religion. While Pat Robertson told us 9/11 was God’s revenge for homosexuality [sick], millions of other Christians — at the same mythic developmental level [but healthy] — were organizing their communities to offer help and healing. Because that is what healthy mythic Christians do (and they do it better than just about anybody). For every sick fundamentalist there are many healthy believers contributing to society in a positive way.

3. The more people evolve, the less religious (fundamentalist) they are.

One definition of ‘religion’ is a partition between the saved and the damned, a boundary that separates ‘us’ and ‘them’. When people grow, they include more and exclude less. As we live into higher development levels, our circle gets bigger. Evolving means a bigger experience of ‘We’. Also known as Love 😉 As the self evolves, it recognizes more people (and plants, and animals, and things) as part of its own identity. That’s why development creates security for everyone, it transforms ‘them’ into ‘us’.

4. At its higher levels, Religion resonates with science and rationality.

That’s because at its higher levels, religion becomes spiritual. I define religion as a belief system used to interpret Reality. I define spirituality as the direct experience of Reality. No beliefs are required for spiritual practice. (In Zen there is a saying: All beliefs are false.) Spiritual experience can often undo religious belief. Religion provides filters, and depends upon intermediaries and externally located salvation. Spirituality removes (or improves) filters through direct access to our intrinsic nature.

Spiritual practices are empirical in this sense: You want to know something (like, what is Reality) so you conduct an experiment. For instance, you may spend a few decades making your Subject an Object of awareness. You share your data (gathered through direct experience) to a group of qualified peers who have repeated that same experiment for centuries. They verify or falsify your findings, and you proceed with further experimentation. You don’t have to ‘believe’ anything about it, before, during, or after. In this way, the contemplative traditions have evolved over millennia. They are in harmony with rationality and science, and generally welcome any methodology that might increase our knowledge of the visible and invisible Kosmos.

5. Everybody starts at the bottom.

Even if everyone in the World became Mensa-level enlightened today, every baby born tomorrow would have to begin at square one, and develop the old fashioned way. So far, we haven’t figured out a way to skip developmental levels. However, we move through them faster than we used to. For instance,

John Ashcroft may be a poster child for the low-level of Mythic religion, but a mere 100,000 years ago there WAS NO Mythic level of religion. It hadn’t even emerged yet. Even 3,000 years ago, George Bush Jr. would have been one of the most evolved people on the planet. Not so much now.

[There you go again messing up an otherwise good article and causing us to question YOUR level of development because you can’t resist getting in petty jibes, and are bringing politics and sarcasm into the topic at hand].

Now Mythic Religion is like, totally a crappy low level of consciousness, and most nine year olds or U.S. Presidents have access to it, thanks to recapitulation. Recapitulation? When we’re born, we basically get a free pass to evolve up to the prevailing center of consciousness in the population. The level of consciousness we are immersed in (in the family we are born into, in the culture we live in, etc) exerts a developmental gravity. And that gravity pulls us up to it. But, when you try to evolve beyond it, to higher altitudes of consciousness, then that same center of gravity drags you back down to it. If you are below it, it lifts you up.

Rise above, it will try to pull you back down.

That’s why Mythic religious peeps are freaking out. Their World (view) is vanishing like millions of species God gave them Reign over [And in the Islamic worldview it’s even worse: they believe strongly that God gave them “reign” over all females of the human species].

Eventually (if they don’t destroy humanity first, with their lust for an apocalypse), mythic religion will become about as important to future generations as magic is to us. Magic should be used in Harry Potter movies, not for the religious murder of Tanzanian Albinos. Mythic religion should be a history lesson, not the guiding belief of a U.S. President. [He isn’t in office anymore, can you get over it?]

That’s why Bill Maher’s movie Religulous is funny: It’s pointing out the fact that there are a LOT of people living with a World View that went out of style in 1637 (thanks, Descartes!). Bill Maher is hilariously pointing out the fact that religion is literally retarded, because it is developmentally arrested. I mean, it would be hilarious, if it weren’t so appallingly true. Evidence indicates 70% of the world is at a Mythic (or lower) level of development. And they are religious!

If we get these five simple points into the debate about religion, I think it would help eliminate some confusion.

* * * * * * * *

Katia wishes to add:  And if you read Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth: Awakening to your Life’s Purpose it would eliminate even more of that confusion.

Seriously, A New Earth is one of the most life-changing books I have ever read. I am currently working on memorizing its table of contents, just like people memorize the Bible’s “layout”, so that I can find passages more easily. If you still haven’t read it, email me and I will send you a copy. I have extras laying around and I believe it should be in every motel room’s bedside drawer…  A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose original non-Oprah hardback version at Amazon.

The author of this article, Stuart Davis, is a primary disciple of Ken Wilber. I have read Wilber extensively and like his teachings very much.  Wilber is very much in harmony with Eckhart Tolle. But his student Stuart Davis has a tendency toward dragging politics into spirituality (yikes!) and making smug assessments as to what level specific humans (i.e. Bush, Palin, etc.) are in their spiritual development.

He also tends to assume the lower levels are “bad” and the higher levels are “good” as evidenced in this particular article when he calls the mythic level “crappy”. What he fails to realize even while admitting that everybody goes thru all these levels is that there is no good or bad and we shouldn’t say to a kid or a teen during their mythic phase that they are at a “crappy lower” level. Again, smug. No more than we say a child who can’t yet do times tables but is learning to add and subtract, is at a crappy level. I mean, really. It is vital and healthy to work up thru the levels, that’s why they call it spiritual evolution. The lower levels are required, so let us not judge each other for spending time in them just as we are or did. The only thing that becomes “crappy” is the behavior of the person if they are expressing an UNHEALTHY version of any particular level, be it magical, mythical, rational, pluralistic etc.  Ken Wilber himself says that it’s better to be a healthy lower level than an unhealthy higher level. So the behavior of an unhealthy pluralist is less crappy than a healthy mythical levelist (fundamentalist). Davis even points out how the healthy mythical levelists are the best charity organizers, donators in the world. Yet he doesn’t make clear their behavior is only “sick” or their level “crappy” when they deliberately harm others. Leave ’em alone, they’re evolving up the spiral (of Spiral Dynamics) at their own pace. Sheesh to calling their level crappy, since we know what word crappy is a euphemism for. Not to mention you run the risk of falling into the good-or-bad labeling habit: evaluating everything that comes across your desk as either “good” or “bad”, seeing everything as either black or white, sweet-to-me or crappy-to-me.  This polarized mindset is characteristic of the very mythical level you are criticizing! Tolle teaches three ways to react to everything that comes across our desk: with acceptance (never resistance nor judgement as “bad”), enjoyment or enthusiasm. He calls these the 3 Modalities of Awakened Doing and they are described in the final chapter of A New Earth.

I sometimes sense almost a holier-than-thou mindset when reading Stuart Davis. Still, his re-cap of the Spiral Dynamics levels of religion teaching and Wilber’s interpretation thereof, is nicely described in this article — and his hypothesis is spot-on. Yes, please let those religion-haters take note! So overall I enjoyed this article, Dear God…Five Things Religion-Haters Should Know, and wanted to pass it on.  Hope I didn’t ruin it with all my interrupting comments. <grin>

* * * * * * * *

Gnostic Bishop Christian-Thomas writes:

Dear +Katia:

Perhaps I’m biased, but I believe that Judaeo-Christian Gnosticism is the highest developed and evolved expression of both orthodox Judaism and fundamentalist Christianity.  Too bad that most commentators, such as this one, did not cite Gnosticism, in his fascinating hypotheses.




The day they/we & negativity killed our god

Be sure to follow along on our Easter Cycle page…
Templars especially should treat this day with solemnity, fasting if possible, the wearing of black, the keeping of silence as far as possible.  I like to stop and hold silence when the 9th hour comes along — 3 p.m.
Remember the god they killed today, he’s ours.   And remember how our egos kill our god-self every day, every hour when we let them take over our consciousness, rule our mind.
Because of this holiday, freedom is at hand, freedom from the “little death” as the scriptures say! (the many little deaths we suffer as we navigate thru this maze of life with this chattering in our head “killing off” our consciousness and direct uplink to the Divine).  
In Memory of Him (& the Higher us),

Honoring the Sacred Feminine on Int’l Women’s Day

Welcome to our first online Sunday Sermon. Please click on the .Mp3 audio file and when you are finished listening to it (20 min.) click on the YouTube video below to sing with us this week’s hymn.

If you have three candles, any color, any size, you may want to get them and something to light ’em with before you hit the Play button for the audio file.

Click to Hear Sermon Audio – 20 Minutes


Then watch the YouTube video below for the closing hymn, She Is Near

Items Mentioned in Sermon you may wish to track down for further study or inspiration:

Triune of the Lights candlelighting ritual we did today is from The Holy Book of Mary Magdalene: The Path of the Grail Steward, a new inspiring book by our friend Jennifer Reif.

Jennifer also wrote the lovely Prayer to the Black Madonna we prayed for our Invocation above. It is from her earlier work,  Morgan Le Fay’s Book Of Spells

For the actual “sermon” portion, see pages 154 – 157 in Eckhart Tolle’s, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose.  

And don’t forget to check out the beautiful singing voices from our special hymn today (video above), the Sacred Feminine inspired musicians of Aurora.  Margaret Starbird told me several times their music is her favorite CD’s!

For the story of Allat, the wife of Allah, as briefly mentioned in today’s audio sermon above, see my own slideshow, God Has a Wife! starting with this slide.

Join us next week when we will experience selections from Margaret Starbird and Joan Norton‘s brand new book, 14 Steps to Awaken the Sacred Feminine: Women in the Circle of Mary Magdalene.

We will also “randomly open” Magdalene scripture from the inspired / channeled writings of both Jennifer Reif and Joan Norton to see Magdalene’s special message for us.

Hope to see you then!

–Rev. Katia

NOW by Peter Marjason



The past is a present idea


The present doesn’t slip

Into the past at all

It remains totally present

Because there is no past

There was no past


There is no time to waste


This now moment that you seek

Has you in its jaws

Why wait for enlightenment?

Why not go off half-cocked

Which is now

And already out of your control


This is all space right here

Where could you get leverage

To affect this?

This is all time right now

When could you even attempt

To change this?


When you comment on life

It’s already too late

And also too late to withdraw

The above comment

And this one also

And so on

The present moment is not

Just a moment

Among other moments


The present moment is as subtle

As an express train


It was already over

Before you started

That which you want to improve

Is happening now


Thought does never move

From the present


This moment is smooth

And continuous

And eternal

The past is also now


To think you have to remind yourself

To be in the now

Is absurd


When observed closely

Nothing lingers at allIn the present moment

No time exists


The absolute power of this now

Is completely overlooked


It’s too late to do anything

About now

There is no cause and effect

Because this is it

There is nothing else to cause this

And nothing else for this to affect


Truth is before you think about it

Behind this present clear moment

Is not even a trail of ashesEverything changes

Except now



The present isn’t an instant

It’s everything


The result of change is always nowAny attempt to

Change what occurs

Is what occurs


You will never learn from experience

Because experience is

Only now


There is only what is occurring

Right now

Change does happen

But there is no past

  To cause it

Every attempt to reach oneness

Is oneness already attempting


By Peter Marjason



If the poem above “clicked” and you have not yet read Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth, well then NOW is the time!  And/or give it as a gift, it is like giving a Bible, that’s how profound Eckhart’s teaching is:

Are Evil People Born Without souls?

Are evil people born without souls?  One of our long-time Seminarians, a smart fella, played Anne Frank’s father in a dramatic production recently.  He wrote me today with a theory that maybe Hitler was born without a soul.

Rev. Randy wrote:

As to the Holocaust, I truly believe there are those out there who are born without a soul.  My Priest always said “even Hitler could be forgiven since all our tickets were already punched,” (spoken like a true Episcopalian).  But I don’t buy it, I think the SOB was born without a soul.  It’s the only explanation how anyone could be that unfeeling.  Of course there are those who would say I could say the same things of slave owners, but to me it’s still different. Charles Manson falls in that category also. How’s that for Esoterica LOL.  Yeah, I know your Right Reverendness is cringing.

I wrote back:

Oh, not cringing at all!  I spend a lot of time pondering what as you know, philosophy and theology dub, “The Problem of Evil”.  See earlier blog posts like this one for such ponderings and gripings.  Well.   The theory that some are born without souls does speak to the Problem of Evil.   Hmmmm.  Will have to ponder that…  I already chew on the way people get souls in the first place.  Are they reincarnated? Or are they newly stirred clumps of drops of soul-stuff — like everytime you pour a glass of water you get drops that may not have yet been together in the same place before.  So much water has been thru the atoms-created-in-stars, evaporation/rain back down system.  Maybe souls are made of soul-stuff and we are a hodgepodge of a bunch of other people, I sometimes wonder, not the same exact soul passed down.  Maybe reincarnation doesn’t happen, but we have ancestral memories in our DNA and therefore we have all kinds of “flashes” of DNA memory of people in “past lives”.  Okay, so if a person is born without a soul…. how does that happen, how does he live, etc.  Wow.  Food for thought.

Eckhart Tolle, whose work we are now requiring for our most advanced Seminarians (those in the Holy Orders program) says evil people are buried in layers and layers of dark unconscious ego.  Their false mind-made self (the ego) is running their body and resorts to violence and perversion to keep its control.  When such a one gets in power like Saddam Hussein, Pol Pot, Hitler, Stalin, heads roll.  Unconsciousness, complete lack of awareness, complete lack of sensing the Presence, causes this crap. I am currently designing a study course of his book, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose.  This book is chock full of our type of alternative, esoteric “Zen” Christianity. Love it, love it.

Tolle’s earlier book is The Power of Now, but I recommend reading A New Earth first and then The Power of Now.  The goal of a Seminary student is to become a spiritual teacher, A New Earth is truly a manual for spiritual teachers.