Genuine Contemplation

‘More than other believers, the contemplative ought to be an “expert in atheism.” Does he believe? Perhaps, yet without believing, it seems to him. He no longer understands anything except this one thing: that the God in whom he thought he believed is nothing but an idol invented by himself or fashioned by a culture still vaguely imprinted by Christianity; that the true God, the God of Jesus Christ, is a wholly Other who will surge forth elsewhere than where one expected him, and that one must above all abandon the attempt to reach him by one’s own efforts. And yet it suffices to let him remain unattainable and to let oneself be seized by him at the hour of his own good pleasure.’ 

Andre Louf: In the School of Contemplation, Cistercian, (2004), Page 12 

Author’s Note: Education can take many forms. Different experiences in life (such as travelling and encountering other cultures and situations) broadens the mind, whilst conventional education fills the mind with facts and figures. Monastic education – which is certainly not the sole domain of the cloistered monastic – gives us yet another task which is just as important. Whilst disciplining the body and reducing its needs and curtailing its desires, the mind becomes the doorway to a greater spiritual understanding. The term ‘spiritual’ as used here, can mean anything the reader wants it to mean, simply because we all approach this subject from our current level (and manifestation) of psychological and physical conditioning. An atheist is just as valid as a ‘theist’, or a ‘non-theist’, etc. For genuine inner turning, there is no need to alter one’s basic views or opinions – we simply allow for the experience of ‘becoming more’ without any fabricated barriers of resistance. Pure consciousness cannot be described by (or ‘limited’) to conventional modes of expression. Indeed, learning to be without those concepts that give us the greatest comfort, often proves to be a pivotal moment in self-cultivation. ACW (11.3.2020) 

As all human-beings possess a brain and a mind, and given that conscious awareness permeates the body and is historically associated with the loving feelings that emanate from around the heart, it follows that all human-beings are potentially able to ‘realise’ the essence of this conscious awareness by deliberately ‘looking within’. As this process is thought of as a striving to ‘become one’ with conscious awareness, it may be termed ’monastic’ in its truest sense. This type of monasticism is fundamental and should be confused with cultural interpretations of monasticism which are conflated with rich Churches or grand monastic establishments. Where you happen to be ‘now’, as you ‘read’ this text must be transformed into your personal ‘temple’ – a doorway from the mundane world to the supramundane reality. It makes no difference if you are homeless, sat in a Livingroom, a rich Church or an old monastery – the opportunity for ‘breaking through’ into a new spiritualised reality is all equally obtainable – with those suffering more definitely having the advantage. Social injustice and equality, although the product of the political and economic realm, can be transformed for the individual ‘here and now’ so that the tremendous suffering associated with poverty is ennobled and directed into strength of spirit and the purity of wisdom. Once this personal freedom has been discovered, the pull toward a ‘collective freedom’ is inescapable, as this type emancipation cannot be reduced or artificially maintained as a ‘personal property’. As all property is theft – it must be communally owned and the same is true of spiritual attainment. Sharing being is not the same as proselytising or seeking superficial converts, but evolves around the radical re-distribution of all material goods and spiritual attainments. This is the perennial (pristine) state that the Buddhist monastics inhabit, as do the genuine Christian monks. Once, when walking through the gardens near St Mary’s Church situated in Cockington Meadow (in Torquay), it was Springtime and the pure odours of the budding flowers and the freshly cut grass enveloped me. I was instantly ‘uplifted’ and placed in a ‘transcendent’ reality as the truthfulness of the teachings of Plotinus became self-evident to me: 

‘All things are transparent, and there is nothing dark or resistant, but each Form is clear for all others right down to its innermost parts, for light is clear to light. Indeed, each has everything within it, and again sees all things in any other, so that all things are everywhere, everything is everything, each individual is all things, and the splendour is without end.‘ 

Plotinus: V8,44-8) 

Abbot Andre Louf (quoted above) talks about ‘uprooting’ the common notions of religion which are obstructive, common, vulgar and have nothing to do with genuine spirituality. If he were a Bolshevik many might well shout ‘typical atheism’ from a godless regime, but he is a serious Christian monastic and what we might properly call a true ‘master’. This being the case, why does this deeply religious man sound very similar to Karl Marx? Could it be that the work of Karl Marx in this area – which seeks to disinvest a highly politicised Church from all political power – has been profoundly misunderstood? It seems to me that those who follow genuine monastic pathways eventually end-up with viewpoints very similar to those held by Karl Marx. In reality Marx is talking about mainstream religions which employ inverted thinking to mislead the masses, and which in so doing also support predatory capitalism. He is not discussing the realisation of a deep spiritual reality as such a concept is irrelevant to the economic theory he is developing and explaining. Weight is added to this argument when the sheer depth of compassion in the words of Marx is taken into account. He can make the most aggressive of materialist concepts sound like the most beautiful of Gregorian chants! Why? Because we intuitively understand that he has our best interests at heart. As Abbot Louf teachings – as monastics we must ‘uproot’ all the false notions and concepts we possess in our own minds, before we can truly understand the essence of our own being, or indeed the depth of the works of Karl Marx. 

‘Thus having been addressed, the venerable Sariputra answered the Buddha, “Lord, I am indeed reluctant to go to ask the Licchavi Vimalakirti about his illness. Why? I remember one day, when I was sitting at the foot of a tree in the forest, absorbed in contemplation, the Licchavi Vimalakirti came to the foot of that tree and said to me, Reverend Sariputra, this is not the way to absorb yourself in contemplation. You should absorb yourself in contemplation so that neither body nor mind appear anywhere in the triple world. You should absorb yourself in contemplation in such a way that you can manifest all ordinary behaviour without forsaking cessation. You should absorb yourself in contemplation in such a way that you can manifest the nature of an ordinary person without abandoning your cultivated spiritual nature. You should absorb yourself in contemplation so that the mind neither settles within nor moves without toward external forms. You should absorb yourself in contemplation in such a way that the thirty-seven aids to enlightenment are manifest in such a way that you are released in liberation without abandoning the passions that are the province of the world.’ 

Robert Thurman: The Holy Teaching of Vimalakirti – A Mahayana Scripture, PSUP, (1990), Page 24 

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