Presentation Oxford 2017

THEME: the centrality of the mystical in Bahá'í life - TOPIC Attaining ‘His Presence’ via Transcending self - Google SITE

Attaining ‘His Presencevia Transcending self                                                   

Roger - Dr Roger E Prentice - Email: - onesummit AT gmail DOT COM

‘Newcastle Seminar’ held at Kellogg College Oxford - Sunday 16th July 2017

INTRODUCTION: This paper presents a model of ‘Attaining ‘His Presence’ via Transcending self.  It  combines meditation, mystical experience & the ‘dual-Nondual paradigm’ - as found in Bahá'í Writings, & in other Traditions. It is written from within the field of ‘interfaith as inter-spiritual living’, the focus for unity being mystical experience.

The model aims to answer 4 questions that I see facing us in the Bahá'í community.

i)  Why for many Bahá'ís is the mystical peripheral, ‘not even on the radar’?  Should it be front & centre?

ii) Meditation, especially Unitive Meditation, is also not front & centre, yet it is the key to preparing for, and ‘reading’ mystical experience.  Should it also be front & centre?

iii) Is realizing the ‘dual-Nondual paradigm’, as evident in all great faiths, the key to transcendence ?

iv) I suggest that the unifier for interfaith dialogue lies in mystical core teachings. Should we then centre on the mystical as the preeminent way to be at one with, and show genuine respect for, other traditions?

So is the Faith being presented wrongly - at least in the West? In response to the questions the paper has four sections A) What, or Who, Are We? B) Our God-given purpose,  C) How we transform  &  D) Why we should deepen in the dual-Nondual paradigm.

A) What or Who are we?   Bahá'u'lláh says that we are  “... the stars of the heaven of understanding, the breeze that stirreth at the break of day, the soft-flowing waters upon which must depend the very life of all men,” A crass view says; “We are each a hairy bag of sea-soup.”  NOTE 1  

B) Our purpose: In addition to an elevated view of what it is to be human God, via  Bahá'u'lláh, has given us our purpose which is to know our Creator & attain His Presence via “He hath known God who hath known himself.” We can know our manifest Lord but not the Godhead. We cannot know even the essence of our self or another - because the absolute essence of our self is the unknowable God.  Logically if All that exists is God; (AB), we cannot not be God. In peace-making, or simply living, there’s only one place, or state of being, in which we can be at-one, with our self, or God, or, ‘externally’, with others. That transcendent state of being is wordless, still, silent.  But such bliss would have no meaning, no existence for us if it were not for the pain & freneticism of the dual world. It’s vital to enable us to develop motivation to transform. The best portal to Nonduality is conscious breathing. It quietens the frenetic self, the Zen ‘chattering monkey’, & we can enter “Silence as God's first language; everything else being  a poor translation.”  Zen master Thích Nhất Hạnh says; “Conscious breathing is my anchor.”

As with older Traditions we have three ‘eyes’; the physical eye, the intellectual eye and the mystical eye. Our choice is whether to reflect divine virtues and thereby open the mystical eye and soar and make progress in the divine world. `Abdu'l-Bahá  says Body, mind and spirit are three manifestations of  the same human reality. By digging down into direct method we come to realize that I = Awareness. Tat tvam asi - "You Are That"  Or correspondingly as `Abdu'l-Bahá  said All that exists is God….” &  “…all parts of the creational world are of one whole.”, BWF p.364. - “God contains all….The whole is greater than its parts…” PT 23 27  &  Bahá'u'lláh says; Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty, powerful & self-subsisting.”

C)  How do we transform in order to attain His Presence?  The short answer is to stop selfing by which I mean become detached from our egoic self and thereby progressively become our true Self. Ultimately when we realize I = Awareness we attain His Presence. More fully there are 3 main ways to transform.

Ci: Recognising encounters of a mystical nature: We all have mystical experiences - they are what lift us out of our egoic self. Probably some Bahá'ís are chary of the mystical because they don’t recognize particular experiences as mystical. When we are lifted out of our egoic self - by meditation, prayer, a young child’s eyes, the beauty of a smile, the goodness of a kind person or an exhilarating insight - all are mystical experiences, because they help us to transcend the egoic self. Stop selfing & God can get in! Meditation & prayer are vital in preparing for the mystical - to have our ‘self’ dissolve like a drop into the Ocean of His Presence.  Prayer conditions: meditation opens.  Shoghi Effendi, of course, says The Bahá'í Faith is mystical, all Divine religions are mystical & it is the soul of man that has first to be fed, & “the core of religious faith (is) that mystic feeling which unites Man with God”.    

Cii: There are two broad classes of Meditation - the Unitive & the dualistic: Shoghi Effendi says we must commune with the souls of the Manifestations. What does it mean to commune? It means to be at-one, & to be in a state of intimate, heightened sensitivity & receptivity.  Why do such communing? Shoghi Effendi says that through such communion the Spirit of God reaches us. In our 350+ ‘One Garden: interfaith as interspiritual living’ seminars we have combined  two classes of meditation 1) the Nondual Unitive Meditation, that leads to at-one-ment & 2) ‘Dualistic Meditation’, a key form of thinking, that prepares us for the insights that through Grace can be ‘breathed into us’. Insights are the jigsaw pieces of enlightenment or salvation, or satori. God is only not present in our selfing - as in the Zen; ‘No-self, no problem’. With ‘no-self’ the Buddha is. Dualistic thought-based meditation, along with study, is the way to prepare for, & process, & apply the mystical experience of Unitive Meditation.

Ciii: Meditation - is not an optional extra: It is, I suggest, a Covenantal obligation. Without it  we can be less than human & lower than the beasts. We have the right to chose a form of meditation, but do we choose wisely & creatively & with rigor? Ultimately of course if you are ‘in the experience’ it isn’t the Nondual. The Nondual is just isness without any form of me-ness!

There are 2 vital main conditions, for Unitive Meditation 1) Silence, & stillness & 2) ‘freedom from thought, words & concepts’ & from emotions & sensations. Silence is the state of being for contemplation  Bahá'u'lláh says there is a sign (from God) in every phenomenon: the sign of the intellect is contemplation & the sign of contemplation is silence, because it is impossible for a man to do two things at one time—he cannot both speak & meditate   (AB PT  p. 174)  Notice ‘`Abdu'l-Bahá  here says ‘state’ 3 times - he is not referring to a kind of thinking.  Our challenge is to Be still & know God, & thereby enter the wordless Nondual state of His Presence, the realization of our true Self - as ‘I = Awareness’?

D) We need to go deeper in realizing that we are, in this earthly life, citizens of two worlds. The first we have no control over, we simply get born into it, the second is a matter of will & choice & effort - or Knowledge, Volition and Action as `Abdu'l-Bahá  said - or it comes via God’s Grace. The two are the dual world, called by  Bahá'u'lláh the contingent or illusory world, & Nonduality is, I suggest, the state of attainment of ‘the Presence of God’.  God is always present when we manage to commune with the Manifestations of God. This dual-Nondual paradigm is evident in all major Traditions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam & Taoism. It is I suggest integral to Bahá'í Revelation & evident in Bahá'í Writings. In Hinduism of course it is called Advaita Vedanta. Amongst the 5 Advaita schools, see HERE, Vishishtadvaita, identity of individual self as a part of the whole which is 'tat', Brahman, looks closest to my reading of Baha’i teachings in this regard.

In the dual world we experience self as ‘subject’ - in it we have to pay the mortgage, look after loved ones & take the rubbish out. The Nondual is the (relatively) no-self state of being in which we have attained His Presence. This need not involve 40 years meditation in a monastery! We can shift from the dual to the Nondual in the twinkling of an eye’ - because God is closer to us than our life-vein, as is the ‘fathomless & surging Ocean’. We can traverse the Seven Valleys in a single breath.  Even as an amateur academic I had to realize that academic study can be a prison if I don’t cultivate the other, Nondual, realm.  Accepting that thought is internalised speech we mistake the illusory self for what we really are. A key teaching in Advaita Vedanta or Nondual teaching, is what  Bahá'u'lláh calls ‘the world’, the non-awareness that displaces the Presence of God.   When any & all self-defining attachments, including ideas, emotions, sensations, status, roles etc are removed we are left with - awareness.  ‘I’ in its deepest sense = Awareness. Without the relief of coming home to our true Self, of being subsumed into His Presence, we suffer increasing degrees of ego-generated pain. We develop as Eckhart Tolle says a pain body & we, and consequently, others suffer. Even  though The Reality of Divinity is holy above all understanding, we can immerse our self in the manifest Ocean by shifting our state of being to go ‘beyond mind, beyond thought, beyond words & concepts & beyond sensations i.e beyond ‘the world’’ which Bahá'u'lláh defines as unawareness of our maker.  Awareness therefore must be of our Maker. Perhaps it might be more accurate to say awareness within, not of our Maker, the divine realm of true Self, since Abdu'l’-Baha says “All is God’. We are known & unknowable as is God; “Man is My mystery, & I am his mystery.”  We are ‘aware’ even to claim we are not aware. (Ken Wilber)  Awareness is not elemental, not composed - it is here a synonym of spiritual consciousness. The expansion of consciousness is of our eternal being - and a pillar of Bahá'í-ness says Abdu'l’-Baha.

Two reasons God is closer to us than our own life-vein: 1) Resting in Awareness is, when self isn’t.  Awareness is because, ultimately we are God, or at least a being within His perpetual Creativity and His Ulitimate Being. See the 22 times Son of Being is mentioned in the Hidden Words. 2) God is Awareness, at least in any realm to which we have access i.e. any realm that is not the Godhead. Perhaps Deikman’s I= Awareness, should read ‘I = no-self Awareness’ which = ‘all God & no self = our true Self’. This is relative because only the Manifestation is the perfect mirror. Whenever we stop selfing God reappears, a true resurrection - but the remaining dust on our mirror still creates distortion. By God’s Grace we each are ‘a being within Being’, destined in this world, or the next, to rest in or as His Presence. But the dual is not a mistake. Duality creates the consciousness with which we eventually realize the Nondual. It is one wing of the self-transformation method given us by God in this world, where we have will, & can strive to transcend selfishness.  The contingent world is there to be transcended. No duality = no ego & no illusory world to transcend. But always we have to return to the other ‘wing’ the dual realm. Ironically we move in space & time in order to re-locate in the Nondual, which is; heaven, satori, eternity, bliss - & is beyond time & space.

E) Why deepen in the paradigm of mystical experience, Meditation & the dual-Nondual?

The Bahá'í Faith is making little progress in the West because it is not giving the deep spiritual food to those that are spiritually hungry, e.g. the 20% who identify as SBNR, Spiritual But Not Religious. Instead we still give them lists of social teachings that they already accept, plus ‘Adminology’. Instead of attraction to the Ocean of Bahá'í Teachings they buy books of Rumi’s poetry & follow a vast range of spiritual teachers, some good, some time-wasting, a few perhaps evil. We however aren’t laying aside the important in favour of the most important. The mystical, meditation & the dual-Nondual paradigm are not front & centre but are almost off  the radar. We can properly show respect to other Traditions, & the Oneness they point to, by engaging with them in celebration of mystic Oneness. Pointers become insights when the ‘penny drops’. We need a nation-wide program to nurture, meditation, & understanding of the mystical & the Nonduality of His Presence. Something like the Christian Alpha program I suggest - but in the spirit of service not of proselytization.

Humans need at-one-ment (that’s what the illusion of ‘sex, drugs and rock and roll’ is all about!): Being in the presence of God, is our true God-given purpose. We realize the at-0ne-ment, communion with the ‘Mystery of God manifest’, mirrored by the Manifestation. In that state we can take heavenly rest subsumed into His Presence. Our ‘bread’ is breaths, insights, from the Holy Spirit. ‘Breath Nowness’ is the primary portal for  Unitive meditation - the key for us to lose our ‘droplet self’ within the Ocean of His Presence.

Teaching & interfaith dialogue should focus on that which is the same, or very similar, in the great Traditions; the mystical, the dual-Nondual paradigm & the humble acknowledgement that we are only fully united in Mystery.  Mystics (in the main) agree; Theologians bicker. To really show respect we Bahá'ís should be issuing this stream of mystic holiness from (His) sugar-shedding lips. Instead we have left it to fine contemporary teachers; Joan Tollifson, Wilber, Thich Nhat Hanh, Heschel, Eknath Easwaran, Tolle, a wide range of women & men.  They are doing our work for us. Behind them are the Nondual traditions stretching back in time in which the changeless faith of God has always been mirrored by the Manifestations of God - those blessed souls with whom we should be communing.

IN CONCLUSION: We now have an experiential ‘model of self transcendence’ that combines meditation, mystical experience and & the ‘dual-Nondual paradigm’. No-self (relatively) means we can attain His Presence. The key is to combine 1) Unitive meditation + dual contemplative meditation, to 2) take us mystically from the egoic, illusory dual realm to 3)  the Nondual state - ‘I = Awareness’.  It might be useful to say ‘I = (no-self) Awareness’. Awareness I suggest is the accessible level of the Ocean of God’s effulgence.  This is within the limitations imposed on us i.e. 1) we are  finite cf God’s Infinity, & unknowableness, as Godhead, & 2) the limitation of ‘non-self-subsisting’ i.e. in being this side of the Sadratu'l Muntahá. However we can, in moments of self-less-ness, be in communion with the Mirror of God, & through Him receive insights & inspiration - breaths from the Holy Spirit. Our conscious breathing always brings us back to the Now, to His Presence. Perhaps one eternal moment in His Presence is better than five million of the best ordered words?  Li Po, 8thC Chinese poet, shows spirituality, as simple experience, in which we surrender self;  “The birds have vanished from the sky  /  and now the last clouds slip away  /  We sit alone, the mountain and I  /  until only the mountain remains.”  Words must surrender to the experience of at-One-ment.

We don’t have to find God: because He is never not present. We do need to dissipate the self-created veils that obscure Him. We create the veils through ‘selfing’, which in Bahá'u'lláh’s terms is attachment to ‘the world’, i.e.Unawareness of our Maker’. Insofar as we die to the world we stop selfing. The ‘stranger’, see PHW 26 & 27, is the shadow of our illusory egoic self in its selfing. When we cast out the stranger, ... the Friend enters His home,  our heart-mind-awareness, see PHW 26 & 27.  We are not self subsisting; God is. But ‘we interbeing are’, 1) in that we are connected with all others, and 2) in the Ultimate Oneness of the two realms.  In ‘I = Awareness’ our separate being becomes the Ocean. Starting with a single breath we can via meditation gradually expand consciousness to transcend self, toward attaining His eternal Presence. The station of life in God’  is I = (no-self) Awareness. God is life-vein close, even though we continue to be limited in our ability to reflect Him.  

A working Definition of a Baha’i-inspired model of ‘Attaining ‘His Presence’ via Transcending self ’;

The self-subsisting, (Nondual) God manifests His Presence (via the Manifestations), and we attain that Presence, when we stop selfing sufficiently, to rest, in Him. That is when we have sufficiently gone beyond the egoic self and beyond all those aspects of the ‘world, which Baha’u’llah calls ‘unawareness of our Maker’.  Those aspects include being ‘beyond mind, beyond thought, beyond words & concepts & beyond sensations - any and all attachments that give boundaries to the illusory egoic self - thereby we arrive home to our true Self.  We can, through will, surrender the egoic self as does the drop that is subsumed within the Ocean.  Our story is that we emanate from His Wholeness, develop ego that enables consciousness that in turn, with will, enables us to realize I = Awareness.  Resting as Awareness is, I suggest, to attain His Presence.

This definition brings together meditation, mystical experience & the ‘dual - Nondual paradigm’.

“They who soar in the heaven of singleness & reach to the sea of the Absolute, reckon this city—which is the station of life in God as the furthermost state of mystic knowers ”

‘When the pen set to picturing this station, / It broke in pieces and the page was torn’.

-0- END -0-


NOTE 1 Carl Sagan’s view is that, “the cosmos is also within us. We're made of star-stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.”   The great Rebbe Heschel is sublime in his answers to the question, preferring Who (not what) is Man?  Hinduism teachings show us as  we two birds on the self-same tree - an egoic ‘self’ and our true ‘Self’. The former creates endless suffering. The latter is heaven, nirvana, bliss, and enables the gaining of His Presence. The answer to ‘What or Who is Man’, needs to be profound, otherwise we come to see humans as things.

NB This is Paper 3 of 3.  Paper 2 (2016) is HERE, Paper 1 (2015) is HERE - videoed HERE  NB Please contact me for supporting Supplementary Materials, e.g. ‘Bahá'í Teachings and Advaita Vedanta’, etc plus Bibliography and References, Compilations of key words & Teachings etc. I have a truck-load of resources if you want to take these topics further - CONTACT Roger: onesummit AT gmail DOT COM