Concentration: One of Three Powers in Karma Yoga by Fashi Lao Yue

Buddha in the Garden by Fashi Lao Yue

A Request: Before you begin to read take some time to find your attention and concentrate on what you read. Ask for an intuitive approach, giving you some help to receive what is important to your practice, to your life.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10 NIV

Keep the quote in mind in this sense: all bondage (the thief) is in the mind and all freedom (the True Self) is in the mind.

As I start the day I write a word on a slip of paper and place it on Sweety who now sits on the kitchen counter. (see image)

Today’s word is concentrate. To concentrate. Here is what the dictionary tells us….

focus one’s attention or mental effort on a particular object or activity.
gather (people or things) together in numbers or in a mass.
a substance made by removing water or other diluting agent; a concentrated form of something, especially food.

I see this definition as applicable to the quote. Keep this in mind.

To concentrate is something to do. To concentrate we find and gather our attention and place it on a particular object or activity. Undiluted. Fully present.

It is clear at least in this definition that to concentrate, is a two-step process. Fully focus on and remove what dilutes the focus. We focus our attention fully by gathering and remove whatever waters down our ability to focus.

This morning I focused on John’s quote above. On the surface it looks two-sided. On one side there is a thief who steals, kills and destroys. I ask, “who is this thief?” On the other side,  a giver of life and a form of giving that lacks nothing. I ask, “where is this giver of life?” If we focus and concentrate further the teaching opens and in opening is clearer.

Jesus knew the scoop. The thief is name and form (otherwise known as the ego, the me) and it is this conditioned side of us that comes to realize that something is lacking, something is missing which may result in stealing, killing and destruction. The ego is hungry, thirsty, needy, striving, searching for something that will satisfy it. The True Self beyond name and form (the Transcendent) is a life free of lack. It is a life that is able to meet what comes in life in the form of myriad things (name and form) as coming to awaken and avoids clinging and grasping after them because it knows they lead to dissatisfaction, ultimately.

As the quote suggests, the True Self knows that conditioned things will steal your peace of mind and happiness and will never bring about the fullness of life. It is a warning, a cautionary revelation of the ugly power of the thief.

Who is the brutal thief that comes to steal, kill and destroy in your life? And what gets destroyed? This is one side. What is giving life to the fullest? And what does it mean to have life to the full? This is the other side.

We need to surrender enough in order to be able to see the thief and to make no deals with it. The thief is a condtioned mental state not to be taken as real or believed to be true.

The mind who takes its own confusion as real….(fooled by the thief)

does not know that this confused reality (delusion)

is the origin of pain and suffering.

The thief is an obscuration which more often than not comes in the form of an emotion (both positive & negative). Surrender and willingness without analysis to look at the mental confusion and stop believing it is a doorway to the giver of life in its fullness. The thief comes in myriad names and forms and if taken as reality causes havoc in the mind and life.

Most emotions obscure a full life. The only ones that don’t arise from the ego (name and form) are forms of selflessness in the form of lovingkindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity with an emphasis on the no self. Even these emotions can co-opted by the thief.  Nothing in it for me is the watchward when it comes to emotion.

At first, it may be difficult to see. Our emotions blind us from knowing our True Self. If we have gotten into an emotion, we must learn to ride it out until it dies without taking action on it. If we see the confusion before it gets emotional we can STOP! When we identify with emotions, we are caught by the thief, whether it is the love-thief or the hate-thief. In this conditioned state, we need greater effort to get free. Our heaps of form, feelings, impusles, consciousness, and mental images have been swamped by the emotion.

How many times have we defended our feelings by saying, “THAT’S how I feel!” which is often accompanied by “THAT”S who I am!”

We lose our spiritual life to our feelings because our feelings generally arise from one of the poisons. (greed, hate, delusion) Emotions often arise from a lack of something in our life and we claim we have found it (positive) or lost it (hate). They sometimes give us a false sense of control as well as a false sense of being out of control. What is actually happening is that we have given up control to well-established patterns and habits that we have reified as a thief in order to survive. The highs and lows of these emotions lead to disappointment and disenchantment. It is at this low ebb that the thief is at its weakest. Because we have experienced the gamut of the thief’s power and found it wanting, in other words we learn not to believe the thief….that is, if we are willing to learn. The possibility of deliverance increases when disappointment and disenchantment shows up when we learn the thief is not to be trusted and believed.

The thief (name and form, ego, emotions) obscures our True Self. John in his quote lays out the truth if we are willing to see it. Concentration helps us gather the mind (the skandas) and dilute the thief.

All bondage is in the mind, all freedom is in the mind.


Humming Bird

Image credits in order: Yao Xiang Shakya.


Theophagy: The Communion Ritual by Ming Zen Shakya

Theophagy: The Communion Ritual

It certainly sounds bizarre: the ritual consumption of food or drink that symbolizes or transmutes into the body and blood of a god. Atheists love to mock the ritual and inexperienced theologians try to find rational explanations for it, but the answer to this seemingly barbaric practice is best answered by endocrinologists and perhaps a few priests who have witnessed the exclamations of mothers and the confessions and orations of lovers.

First, there can be no historical beginning for the ritual. Communion celebrations are surely as old as man’s capacity to feel and to demonstrate love. For as long as the parasympathetic nervous system has provided an undeniable connection between adoration and eating, there has been an innate desire to assimilate the beloved, to have him or her in every cell in the lover’s body. Nobody screams “cannibal” when a new mother cuddles her baby and nibbles playfully on the baby’s foot, cooing, “I’m gonna eat you up!” If there are six billion people in the world, they each have a mother and it would be nothing short of sensational to find even one of these mothers who did not make raspberries on her baby’s belly and say “Momma’s eat her little peachy cake all up! Yes, she is!” or something equally sinister.

In the mammalian world, the first post-partum meal is the exchange of flesh: the baby drinks its mother’s milk and the mother consumes the nutrient-rich placenta, raw, cooked or dried. While the practice was mostly discontinued a few hundred years ago, human placentophagy was revived during the 1970s. On Google’s pages and in YouTube, information about preparing the placenta for consumption can readily be found.

Likewise, in the first overwhelming stages of sexual infatuation, cannibalistic terms of endearment are used. A female will gush, “Oh, he’s so cute I could just eat him up!” and a male will start to call his beloved delicious food names… “Sugar,” “Sweetheart,” “Honey,” or even, in a return to the original, “Babe.” Putting one’s salivating mouth upon the beloved’s body, biting, sucking, licking, and nibbling – it’s all part of the parasympathetic nervous system’s accommodation of love and nutrition, the hormones of ecstasy and feeding. The verbs we use for eating are also used for love making.

Additionally, in the delirium of this infatuation, we find cases of urophagia as an expression of adoration – of merging substantive identities with the beloved by taking the beloved into oneself – actually digesting and assimilating what had been part of the adored body. The links between sex, food, and urine consumption are most clearly seen in the ancient holiday practice of drinking the urine of anyone who was brash enough to eat Amanita Muscaria (a.k.a. fly agaric, the toxic, red and white Santa Claus mushroom) – in order to appreciate its wild, maenadic erotogenic properties.

Throughout much of the world, wherever we find birch and pine forests, we find frenzied religious rituals associated with this mushroom. Sometimes the mushroom would be boiled or fed to a deer so that the animal’s kidneys would filter out much of the toxic ingredients; but often the shaman would consume the mushroom and then, using his own kidneys to process the substance, he would urinate for his congregation who in turn would pass on their urine to others. It is an elixir of this hallucinogenic mushroom that is claimed to be the “Divine Soma” imbibed in Vedic India. Robert Graves, an authority on Greek myths who had steadfastly believed that the wild celebrations of Dionysus and other gods were alcoholic but otherwise drug-free orgies, re-evaluated the evidence and now acknowledges that mushrooms had indeed made their hallucinogenic way into Hellenic rituals. Further, as Wikipedia notes, “The Dead Sea Scrolls scholar John Marco Allegro also proposed that early Christianity sprang from cultic use of the fly agaric in Second Temple Judaism and that the mushroom itself was used by the Essenes as an allegory for Jesus Christ.” There is virtually no civilization in the northern hemisphere that does not have in its ancient history religious rituals that involve the consumption of mushrooms and sacred urine. The fly agaric high was, sexually speaking, stratospheric and quite beyond the reach of mundane socio-religious law.

Set against this practice, the Last Supper request to consume bread as the body and wine as the blood of the Savior seems a distinct refinement in the practice of theophagy.

In Southern School Zen Buddhism, the Communion ritual follows the early Christian practice of “dismissing the catechumens.” While confirmed Christians were permitted to participate in the ritual, the newer members of the congregation were dismissed (hence, calling the Mass “the Missa” in many European countries). In Zen Buddhism only ordained members may participate. Lay members of the congregation are dismissed and the temple doors are shut. Altar boys pour water into a goblet and the officiating priest, after reciting the required mantras and making the required mudras – and often slapping the water with a small willow branch – consecrates the water which becomes the amniotic fluid that nourishes the Future Buddha – which was the ancient supposition regarding the function of amniotic fluid. The ritual, then, unites the priest with the gestation of Mithras-Maitreya-Miroku, the Future Buddha. However, for the ritual to be a valid communion and not just a liturgical drama, the participants must respond emotionally, and this requires gratitude and love for the hero-savior who did, in fact, save them from a life that had become unendurable.

Especially in Zen Buddhism, where participants are usually not raised in the religion, the ceremonies and rituals are not followed as a matter of custom. Most of us are converts to Zen, and our conversion comes as a rescue. We found ourselves depressed and agitated, disappointed in our relationships with family, friends, and work. We felt either unwanted or used, betrayed or ignored, filled with both regrets and accusations, and grudgingly tolerated by those who had become increasingly intolerable to us. Like Yudhisthira in the Mahabharata, we found ourselves standing amid the smoking ruins of our life and could not see a way to escape the desolation. And then we turned to Zen and the Bodhisattva’s great mercy filled us with new life. Rescued? You bet. Grateful? More than we can ever express. This new life, this rebirth, is of the Future Buddha now gestating within each of us.

Christians who assert that they have been reborn in the spirit claim also that they feel the same gratitude and love when they consume the sacramental bread, and whether or not they believe that it becomes the living body of their hero-savior who was sacrificed specifically for their redemption, the ritual accomplishes its purpose.

In Sir James Frazer’s overview of such universally observed rituals, The Golden Bough, we find under the heading, “Eating the God,” many examples of the sacramental regard of flesh and bodily fluids. The ritual is known among the more obviously primitive societies among us, as well as those who are the most religiously refined.

Frazer asserts that one motive for these rituals is simply the belief that the food source itself, “is animated by a conscious and more or less powerful spirit, who must be propitiated before the people can safely partake of the fruits or roots which are supposed to be part of his body.”

Breatharians notwithstanding, another motive is the obvious fact that we are made of whatever it is we eat and drink. Extending this into a spiritual realm, it becomes unassailable to some of us that feeding upon the flesh of a hero-savior imparts whatever spiritual property there was within him or her. The question then concerns the manner in which we consume the heroic savior or the divine inhabitant of grains or animals upon which we depend for survival. It may be a symbolic theophagy achieved by a special preparation of certain foods, or in ancient practices by the actual flesh of a sacrificed person who has been chosen to represent the divinity, or through a miracle of Transubstantiation of foodstuff into flesh.

Our atheistic friends always seem to confuse Communion rituals, which are, by definition, expressions of gratitude and love made by those who have been saved from sin, starvation or a deplorable existence, with cannibalism as a menu choice. There have been instances, probably many more than we know about, in which under conditions of extreme hunger people have resorted to consuming the flesh of the dead. The most publicized instance of such an event was the 1972 airline crash two miles high in the Andes mountains. Sixteen people survived the crash and during the two months they were stranded in the barren snow and ice, they subsisted on the flesh of the crash victims. All Roman Catholics, the men decided to consume the flesh ritualistically. Survivor Nando Parrado wrote, “Shortly after our rescue, officials of the Catholic Church announced that according to church doctrine we had committed no sin by eating the flesh of the dead. They told the world – as Roberto [Canessa] had argued on the mountain – that the sin would have been to allow ourselves to die.”

The attempts by atheists to link such extraordinary acts of spiritual exaltation with vampirism or cannibalistic lust fail because those of us who know better also know that those who disparage the rite are simply unlucky souls who have so far been excluded from the joy and peace of redemption. They have denied themselves the beauty of Michelangelo’s Pietá and Dali’s Corpus Hypercubus; they have limited their appreciation of the Parthenon, Hagia Sophia, Tikal, and Notre Dame to architectural considerations. They are deaf to Mozart’s Requiem and Bach’s B Minor Mass. Against their sophomoric arrogance stand mankind’s most wonderful accomplishments. Were we to eliminate all the religiously inspired art, architecture, music, and literature from all the world’s civilizations – from the caves of Lascaux to the stage of La Scala – we would not have a brave, new world of clever atheists but a world that lacked awe and was more than a little dreary.

Maybe someday they will understand. It is devoutly to be wished.

Humming Bird

Image credits in order: Yao Xiang Shakya.