Hold It All

Category: Wisdom Traditions

Hold It All

In [Proust’s] work we come across an absolute absence of bias, a willingness to know and to understand as many opposing states of the human soul as possible, a capacity for discovering in the lowest sort of man such nobility as to appear sublime, and in the seemingly purest of beings, the basest instincts. His work acts on us like life, filtered and illuminated by a consciousness whose soundness is infinitely greater than our own.

–Josef Czapski, Lost Time: Lectures on Proust in a Soviet Prison Camp
Translated by Eric Karpeles

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The Irresistible Power of Natural Powers

Having recently perused Jim Forest’s biography and memoir of Dan Berrigan (Playing in the Lions’ Den), I returned to Berrigan’s collection of poems, And the Risen Bread. If I can find five poems in such a collection that speak to me (and which I can pass along), I’m pleased.

The poem that still stands out for me, above all the others, is his “Zen Poem,” which I cannot help but think was influenced by his time with Nhat Hanh in France after the Vietnam War. However many times I read it, it remains fresh, like Book 6 of The Brothers Karamazov.

The early poems in the book are Christocentric, abstract, Latinate. The middle poems are still mostly pre-political. Like Vatican II brought the Church into the modern world, in the Sixties Berrigan, like so many others, finally got with it. “Certain Occult Utterances from the Under Ground and Its Guardian Sphinx” retains its spiritual relevance after fifty years. The Georgetown Series includes “The Trouble with Our State,” which also speaks to what is called the Age of Trump. (It would be pertinent if Ms. Clinton was president.) Read the rest of this entry »

Share the Wealth with Maggie Needham: From Treating Harry Potter as Sacred to Treating Each Other as Sacred

Last January, I started a discussion group based on one of my favorite podcasts, Harry Potter and the Sacred Text. This January, I was hired on by the podcast to help manage dozens of local reading groups similarly inspired by the show. (The world is weird.)

Harry Potter and the Sacred Text aims to treat a secular book series as if it were sacred, using traditional religious reading practices and applying them not to the Bible or the Torah, but to J. K. Rowling’s fantasy series. The hosts, Harvard Divinity School grads, say that treating a text as sacred requires three things: trusting the text, rigor and ritual, and reading in community. I loved the podcast, but listening to others do sacred reading wasn’t the same thing as doing it in community, so I gathered other listeners and we began using the podcast’s methodology ourselves.

The weekly discussion group has bridged so much for me: the sacred and secular, my love for fantasy novels and my love for justice, inner spirituality and community growth. In this Share the Wealth, I’ll share what I’ve learned from a year and a half of intentional, rigorous sacred reading, connect some dots between Harry Potter and religion, and maybe try out some spiritual practices with you all.

Me, second from the left, with friends from my discussion group and the hosts of the podcast.

I’m a SLU grad (‘15) currently working at a literacy nonprofit in Chicago and working for Harry Potter and the Sacred Text on the side. I drink lots of earl grey tea and bake sourdough bread.

Join us
Sunday 28 April
Potluck dinner begins at 6:00 p.m.
Maggie begins sharing at 6:45 p.m.
At the home of Chris Wallach
5 E. Lake Road
Fenton, MO
63026

From Chris: Directions from Google will take you to the mailbox at the end of my gravel road. Follow the gravel. When you see a three car garage (my mother’s house) look to the right for a right turn. Follow that down to the bottom of the hill and you will arrive at my house.

Text me if you get lost–314-807-8769 (Mark)

Finding One’s Lost Mind

Julia Ching, The Philosophical Letters of Wang Yang-ming
University of South Carolina Press, 1972

I previously studied with delight Julia Ching’s To Acquire Wisdom: The Way of Wang Yang-ming. Wang was the towering philosophical figure in the Ming Dynasty, one whose teachings and poems I took to heart. In this collection of letters, I am reminded of the simplicity of his way—the “extension of liang-zhi.”

Useful Phrases
“our firm determination to become sages” 6-7

having a single purpose, being undivided 41

recover your original determination 43

Mean: Keep always to the Mean; practice discernment and single-mindedness. 49

“the stimulation of the mind, the strengthening of human nature, the practice of polishing and perfecting oneself” 51

“to have a humble mind and to maintain a constant sagacity” 60

“conquer yourself and recover propriety [li]” 74

Confucius recommended, “learning with constant perseverance and application” 89 Analects 1:1

“unfolding, energetic, firm, and enduring” —Doctrine of the Mean 31, 110

 

Major Themes
Learning: the gentleman can find himself in no situation in which he is not himself, since whatever he does is, for him, learning. 105

Liang-chi: To develop the innate moral knowledge in the mind is, for WYM, the only thing necessary in the pursuit of sagehood, while Chu Hsi and said that one ought to investigate the principles of all things. 31

Liang-chi: l-c contains all truth 48

Liang-chi: All [people] have this moral ability to judge between right and wrong. This is what we call l-c. 68

Liang-chi: True spontaneity refers to the substance of mind not being hindered by unruly desire, so that she finds herself in no situation in which she is not herself. 79

Liang-chi: For this l-c, to eliminate carelessness and pride is to investigate things. The extension of this knowledge is the secret transmission of the ancient learning of the school of sages. 83

Liang-chi: l-c is mindfulness 88

Liang-chi: The only effort required is to learn constantly, and the essential of learning constantly is to watch over ourselves when we are alone, and this vigilance in solitude is precisely the extension of l-c, while l-c is nothing other than joy-in-itself. 90

Liang-chi: A scholar who has already determined to become a sage in order to gain insight needs merely to extend his l-c, in its intelligent and conscious aspects, to the uttermost, proceeding gradually and naturally day by day. 94

Liang-chi: To accumulate righteousness is only to extend the l-c. 96

Liang-chi: When l-c awakens, it is as though the bright sun has arisen, and ghosts and spirits naturally disperse. 117

Mindfulness: If we only guard this mind and not allow it to become dispersed, the principles of reason will mature themselves. 8

Mindfulness: Mengzi said, ‘There is naught else in learning outside of finding one’s lost mind.’ 87. Mencius, 6A:11

Mindfulness: sweep your hearts clean of the bandits inside .. and restore inner clarity and peace and calm 45

Mindfulness: The mind’s substance is tranquility; the mind’s function is activity, 58

Path: “abandon the path of honors and reputation, purify your mind and your desires, concentrate on the learning of the sages” 65

Polishing: See Platform Sutra on polishing 10

Sages: [they need to ] have the sincere determination to becomes sages, and to devote themselves to being ‘discerning and single-minded’ 102

Sages: The l-c of hsin is sagehood. 113

 

Vocabulary
hsin = the heart of mind, the seat of consciousness

T’ien-li = heavenly reason, principle of Heaven

Ch’i = breath, ether, force, temperament

Liang-chi = knowing the good, knowledge of the good.

Jen = literally, kindness, benevolence, humanity, goodness, love

Shen-tu = watching over self when one is alone 121

Tao = the Way, for Confucians, virtue, authentic doctrine of the sages. 125

Four Analects, Five Translations

1.1

The Master said, “To learn, and at due times to practice what one has learned, is that not also a pleasure? To have friends come from afar, is that not also a joy? To go unrecognized, yet without being embittered, is that not also to be a noble person?”
—Irene Bloom

The Master said, To learn and rehearse it constantly, is this indeed not a pleasure? To have friends come from afar, is this indeed not a delight? Others do not know him, yet he feels no resentment, is he indeed not a superior man?
—Daniel K. Gardner

The Master said: “To learn, and then, in its due season, put what you have learned into practice—isn’t that still great pleasure? And to have a friend visit from somewhere far away—isn’t that still a great joy? When you’re ignored by the world like this, and yet bear no resentment—isn’t that great nobility?
—David Hinton

He said: Study with the seasons winging past, is not this pleasant?
To have friends coming in from far quarters, not a delight?
Unruffled by men’s ignoring him, also indicative of high breed.
—Ezra Pound

The Master said, To learn and at due times to repeat what one has learnt, is that not after all a pleasure? That friend should come to one from afar, is this not after all delightful? To remain unsoured even though one’s merits are unrecognized by others, is that not after all what is expected of a gentleman?
—Arthur Waley

Read the rest of this entry »

An Introduction to Simone Weil: Concentration Is Consecration–Spring Class 2019

Humanity is divided into two categories—the people who count for something and the people who count for nothing.

To believe in God is not a decision that we can make. All we can do is to decide not to give our love to false gods.

Today it is not nearly enough to be a saint, but we must have the saintliness demanded by the present moment, a new saintliness, itself also without precedent.

_______________________________

French philosopher Simone Weil has been described variously as a “utopian pessimist,” a “mystic of passion and compassion,” a “cross between Pascal and Orwell,” a “Catholic Jewess,” and, by French writer Albert Camus, “the only great spirit of our time.”

In this spring class, we will learn about Weil’s life and work, and let these interrogate our own. We will explore selections from Weil’s classics books, Waiting for God and Gravity and Grace, which will serve as promptings for examining our own spiritual path through journaling and correspondence.

Essentials:
Simone Weil, Love in the Void: Where God Finds Us
Notebook and pen
Curiosity, attention, openness Read the rest of this entry »

Concentration Is Consecration

Sri Eknath Easwaran distinguishes two kinds of spiritual reading: that of instruction and that of inspiration.  Simone Weil’s book, Waiting for God, is an example of the latter, as  it is fecund with material for examining one’s life and path. Reading her brought to mind  the  Buddhists Thich  Nhat Hanh and Chan Khong, Hindu Sri Anandamayi Ma,  and  Catholics Dom Pedro Casaldáliga and José María Vigil who espoused “political holiness.” Her essay “Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God” is superb.

I offer a short selection  in what follows…

Method of investigation— as soon as one has arrived at any position, try to find in what sense the contrary is true.

Except for those whose whole soul is inhabited by Christ, everybody despises the afflicted to some extent, although practically no one is conscious of it.  

I love the saints through their writings and what is told of their lives … I love the six or seven Catholics of genuine spirituality whom chance has led me to meet in the course of my life. I love the Catholic liturgy, hymns, architecture, rites and ceremonies.

I fell in love with Saint Francis of Assisi as soon as I came to know about him. Read the rest of this entry »

“Show Me Your American Buddha”

Thich Nhat Hanh’s Being Peace was published  31 years years ago, and it remains fresh, challenging, and practical.  While there are thousands of books on Buddhism,  this short  text of 115 pages, graced with the illustrations by Mayumi Oda, can be a sage guide for  personal and social transformation.  

Being Peace long predates Thich Nhat Hanh becoming an American, even global, spiritual phenomenon.  The  seven chapters are based on talks he gave in 1985 to U.S. to peace activists and meditation practitioners, not exactly mainstream America.  The chapter “Interbeing” gives an inspiring introduction to his community that seeks to practice mindful social action through 14 exacting precepts. Another chapter gives an illuminating,  contemporary take on the three traditional refuges in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. There is much here to orient a new student  and remind an experienced one of the essentials.

May the following short excerpts prompt you  to go to your library and check out this book from a man Daniel Berrigan once described as “foam-rubber dynamite.”

_________________

“In Vietnam, there are many people, called boat people, who leave the country in small boats. Often the boats are caught in rough seas or storms, the people may panic, and boats can sink. But if even one person aboard can remain calm, lucid, knowing what to do and what not to do, hr or she can help the beat survive. His or her expression—face, voice—communicates clarity and calmness, and people have trust in that person. They will lsiten to what he or she says. One suc person can save the lives of many.”  11-12 Read the rest of this entry »

Old, Learned, Respectable Bald Heads

I saw this book on my shelf, opened to a page, and found this–

But that is the sort of thing we can expect from the Abstract Owl, the dried-up Western descendant of the Confucianist Dedicated Scholar, who, unlike his Noble but rather unimaginative ancestor, thinks he has some sort of monopoly on—-

“What’s that?” Pooh interrupted.

“What’s what?” I asked.

“What you just said—the Confusionist, Desiccated Scholar.”

“Well, let’s see. The Confusionist, Desiccated Scholar is one who studies Knowledge for the sake of Knowledge, and who keeps what he learns to himself or to his small group, writing pompous and pretentious papers that no one else can understand, rather than working for the enlightenment of others. How’s that?”

“Much better,” said Pooh.

–Benjamin Hoff, The Tao of Pooh

Title above is line 2 from W. B. Yeats’s poem, “The Scholars”

Be Here Now: American Sadhana and the Search for the Real

If you’ve ever …

put your faith in a guru
traveled to India and were blown away and never took a single drug

recited a mantra throughout the day
met your future wife at  a retreat in north India

had a mid-Seventies practice of TM
acknowledged 1970 seed planted from radio frequent playing of My Sweet Lord

engaged in a conversations where such words as Atman, samadhi, and sattva were common
quoted often one of your Gujarati-American students who told her classmates, “I look at you and see God”

went “off-script” after having read Be Here Now
smiled with a Namaste and palms together several hundred times

underwent 190+ hours for Yoga Teacher Training
learned how to play the sitar Read the rest of this entry »