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Oneness and The Heart of the World: Questions with Fr. Thomas Keating and Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

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Oneness and the Heart of the World: Questions with Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee and Father Thomas Keating Why has the truth of oneness never reached mass consciousness? I would actually disagree. I think there've been civilizations in the past, that lived that oneness, whether in a simple ecological way, or as a community, just as there have been whole civilizations that lived with a symbolic consciousness. I think that we are the odd civilization. We are the odd civilization because this culture is not rooted in the sacred. The Oneness in the Many Isn't it confusing when we say, "You are all one"? Would it be helpful if we said to another person or to ourselves,"You are many"? Yes, it actually reminded me of the second part of the talk I didn't give, because I got carried away. Because I had two approaches to Oneness, and I never got to the second, because I got carried away. And the other is, there is a Oneness in which we see the connections, and how we are all connected, and how we are all part of this interconnected web of life. And that is a oneness in the many. And it is like this experience when you see the unique note you have to play in the symphony of life. And the symphony of life needs that note, needs your unique oneness to create this bigger oneness. And it's this, I suppose you call it unity in diversity, which is this other aspect that Father Keating was talking about, of the oneness expressing itself through the many, which is one the extraordinary mysteries of creation, that everything is unique. My teacher, she used to say that you can see that everything is one, because everything is different. Only a great artist, a great artist never repeats himself or herself. And so you can see in the uniqueness of everything that there is a great artist at work, and that is the oneness of which we are an expression. And it is this extraordinary uniqueness that, as Father Keating was saying, the Sufi says, "He never repeats Himself in the same form twice." And everything is different, and everything is unique. And in that uniqueness, there is the oneness. What I feel is that we have taken this individuality, in a way, to its extreme. And the next step is to realize that our uniqueness is an expression of the uniqueness of God. And that is the true, from the Sufi point, the true realization of one's humanity, is in relation to God. So that's the uniqueness, one's complete individuality, which in a way, in our culture we are taken to realize our own uniqueness, but it only has significance either in relationship to God or in relationship to the whole, which is the same. Oh, it is a divine paradox. Yes, mystical truth can only be understood by paradox. We are one and we are many. That's one of the extraordinary paradoxes of creation, I think. Well, there's no doubt that language is certainly a problem. When you say, oneness, it can be not only 'onenesses', but it can also be different levels of oneness or different aspects. But without getting into the ultimate oneness, which is something perhaps special and involves the total transformation into God, there are ways in which things are equal, that are not numerically equal. There's an equality that is not by any means numerical in the sense that we become God in every way, but rather, by participation in God. Life, which is the definition of what Grace really means, take for instance, the genetic nature of human birth and generation, we share the genes of our parents. So, there's something of our parents that is continued or expressed in us, maybe we also inherit other characteristics that are yet to be identified. But we remain equally human but distinct. We remain members of the family, though we have our unique status in the family as children. So when it comes to speaking of oneness with God, we perhaps should start with the realization that oneness also means, sharing in the Divine life, without being numerically identified with the Godhead or with the Divine. So one participates in the Divine, as a gratuitous gift. And this is a little different from saying, "Everything is just one." It also, is infinitely diverse at the same time. And this is why the Buddhists prefer not to talk about these things, because you can never say two things that are opposite yet true, at the same time, and make sense, to yourself or to others. So, perhaps it would help to think of God as the womb of creation. This would add a welcome note of femininity to His otherwise, rather masculine reputation. But actually, Scripture hints that God is a mother, in several places. Remember the text in Isaiah, "Can the mother forget the child of her womb?" Well, God says through Isaiah, "If she could, I will never forget you." He is speaking to Israel. So, in other places it speaks of God picking up the people of Israel as a mother picks up her child, and cuddles her or him at her breast, and so on. So, when you are trying to discuss the Infinite, you better shut up fairly soon, or you get into trouble that you deserve! And I acknowledge my adventurous spirit in getting into oneness... But here again, the science offers us a few things that are worth trying to grasp, an expanded view of God, not to think of Him as a box, or having a form, or other things that are rather pedestrian. But here, God, in some anthropologists, and certainly in Ken Wilber, we hear about the "holon". A "holon" is a unique reality that's complete in itself, but is present within a higher reality or in a further development. It's totally present there, but it's totally itself in that broader presence. So we could say, that a particle is present in an atom, and an atom is present in a molecule, a molecule is present in a cell, and a cell is present in an organ, or flesh, nervous system, and the cell is present in a whole body or the organs are present as part of the body, and the body has a spirit, so the body is present in that, at least at conception. And so, everything is itself and present, but it's also present within a 'presences', all of which are in continuity. So it's the continuity of creation, the interdependence, the interconnectedness of everything, that a holon, that concept may help us to see, that we are both distinct from all the other holons, and yet ourselves, and yet we're sharing in a greater oneness, which is the ultimate source of everything that is, that we call the Ultimate Mystery or God in the Judeo-Christian tradition. So, the advantage of thinking of God as a womb and not just any old holon, is that is emphasizes that everything is growing and has a purpose, it's meant to come, at least in the perspective of people interested in the transformative process, where we are being developed like an embryo in this divine womb of creation, to be born, not to die, but to be born into the higher kind or the fullest kind of life, which is the union with God. And of course that developing embryo becomes a full body and so on. The main thing we should remember is that it's a good idea to get on well with all the other people in the womb. Conflict is not suitable for that environment. So, maybe it's a little fantastic for some of you, but it's to realize that always one is 'in' God, and that all our suffering is not just ours but it's in God. In virtue of creation as the body of God, then everybody else is suffering, or ours' are contributing to the healing or the balancing or the equilibrium of this dynamic balance between health and un-evolved states, into further integration of the human adventure. So, the project seems to be to integrate our vegetated and animal instincts that are necessary to live in this world, into the higher vision of rational consciousness, and then to move beyond that, having experienced the limitations of that kind of consciousness, to the levels of oneness that are much more interesting. Well, now when you get into accessing some of those of levels of intuitive and unitive consciousness, then the oneness appears automatically, you don't have to cultivate it. Your inner eye of faith, that I spoke of earlier, is opened, so that you perceive this oneness, not in a way that you could define it, or that does away with diversity once and for all. But for instance, here is what you would see in unity in diversity, you'd see that diversity is divisive if there is not unity in its roots. On the other hand, diversity becomes enrichment if there is a basic unity. And so, this is not a change in reality, but a change in us, which is able to see that now, that differences don't have to be disastrous, or lead to a fight, or a war, or something else that is basically sub-human. It can lead to an acceptance of the enrichment of the universe, as it's expressed differently by different people. And so, oneness therefore is the most simple of concepts, and yet, it's a simplicity that is the result of almost infinite diversity and complexification, once it's completely ordered and integrated into a interdependent and basically into a supportive environment. When is this going to happen? It's up to you, and us, and I, because it's this vision of the human family, of reality, that can change the horrors of the present social mix-ups and the possible harm of globalization that is not based on a sense of human unity and appreciation. One other example, if we have time? Llewellyn: Yes, we have time, it's fine, lots of time... You'll have to pay more for the hall! But just an example of what I mean, and I am only talking around something. I'm not giving any answer, really. But one time when Mother Teresa and I think Jean Vanier, the founder of L'Arche, a community for handicapped people, Henry Nouwen was a member for a while, they were visiting hovels in India, and they went into this one little hut. And they saw that the mother and the children were on the verge of starvation, and they gave her some money. She immediately went next door and gave half of it to her neighbor. When she came back, I guess Jean Vanier, couldn't help but say, "How could you do that? Your children are starving." And she said, "well, so are my neighbors'!" In other words, she did that without thinking. Certainly, she never thought this was a great virtue or heroic. It was natural and spontaneous for her because through poverty and their difficulties together, she had identified with those other people as herself. And so, her particular problem was not separate, it was distinct but not separate. It's this kind of attitude that arises in the transformative process. And that process involves our change, seeing reality, so that every time you make a new leap of faith, hope, or love, or a new stage of consciousness, everything in your life is affected and changes, and then you have to spend some years working that insight, into all your relationships and ways of thinking, and so on. And then you probably will be invited to have a crisis, and then move on to the next level. But the crisis is only in us. It's not God's will. He wants us to be happy. But to negotiate this journey regards situations where you have to let go of the false self, self-identity, any possessive attitude at all, it's not appropriate for transformation or heaven. There's no possessions there. So if we go there with that, we'll feel very out of place. Like if you go to a party and you don't know any people there, you know? So, I think that's the meaning of Jesus' parable about how hard it is for rich to get into the kingdom. "The eye of the needle" is clearly a ridiculous image, that involves a certain amount of humor but what Jesus is saying is: anyone with a possessive attitude that they are attached to, is rich in the sense of this, and it makes it hard for the transformative process to continue. And so, we have to let go of desires when God asks for them, or any over-identification with anything at all, including ourselves, in order to enter into this idea of oneness to the point of 'being' the Other. Let alone, seeing that God, as Paul puts it, "Is all in all," or that Christ, as God, is everything in everyone. Again, it's both, yes and no. It's both true and not quite complete. So, all we can do is wait for death. Solves all problems, death. The Process of Becoming Awake The first step we need to achieve before becoming awake, is to realize we've been asleep. I used to believe that it was a one time process. As I get older I realize, it's a minute by minute process. Could you just share with us some of your insight about the process of becoming aware? It's kind of a long question. (Fr. Keating: That's for you!) There are two parts of this. I remember when I was young and I read about early Sufis, and they never slept because they were praying all the time, and there is this whole thing of the heart and prayer, and being constantly awake. And I tried that, because I was young and very enthusiastic, and I found out, you know, after four nights of not sleeping at all, it's hard going. And then years later, I actually had the experience. There comes the time... I have a Sufi friend called Lynn Baron, who has a different Sufi teacher, she had a similar experience. There comes the time when the heart is continuously awake, when the heart is continuously praying. And, it is all the time, and... and then if you like, then something else takes over. There is this inner wakefulness; there is this inner awareness. One can call it Divine presence if you like, that is awake within one. But, until that happens, one has to have this minute by minute, the Sufis call it, 'remembrance.' You continually put your attention back to this remembrance of the heart. And you forget and then, you go back to this remembrance. and you forget and you go back to this remembrance. And it is actually quite hard work and it's a long process. What I am saying is that there does come a time, when something then awakens within you. It is not that you are awake, I don't think as a human being with an ego and a mind, we can be continually awake, but something then wakes up, for the Sufis is called, 'the awakened heart.' And, it then remains like that for the rest of the incarnation. Then it is like the next stage on the journey. Is is, I suppose, in Sufism, what we call 'baqâ', abiding in God. But there is this stage when one is continually awake, but yes, until that happens it is a process that requires a lot of diligence, and for the Sufi, remembrance, which is remembrance of God, because it is God in oneself that then becomes awake. Yes? Let me just suggest, the importance in this context that the question was raised in, a fidelity to silent meditation. By that I don't mean absolute silence. That's not something we can produce on our own. We can prepare ourselves for it, by faithfully giving a certain period of time each day and hopefully twice a day. Just to be in God's presence, and to be intentionally not thinking. By not thinking I don't mean there won't be thoughts, but one has the intention of not thinking about the thoughts, because that's when one is engaged, and one begins to withdraw from the attitude of total self-surrender. Centering Prayer, for instance, begins with emptiness, or as the Greeks put it, 'kenosis,' which means you sit down with the intention of consenting in self-surrender, so it predisposes one to what is fundamental in contemplation, which is to let go of the false self, and to be, and to let the true self come forward. But the consoling thing about regular practice of non-conceptual, at least intentional, opening to God or prayer, or whatever you want to call it, sitting with the Ultimate Reality. Listening to God is another good way of putting it, because when you listen, you are not doing anything. but you are alert and you are eager to hear, if the music or the speaker is good. In any case, silence is cumulative. And as it grows within us, automatically just by doing it, whether your psychological experience is positive or not so positive, whether you are bored to tears at times, or whether you are flooded with the nonsense and thoughts you can't get rid of: It's working! If you do it, it will do you, because as the silence spreads by osmosis you become God-like, or as we say in Christianity, you develop the dispositions of the Head of the mystical body. You develop the spirit of Christ, which is spontaneously all of the fruits of the spirit, and notice what they are: charity, joy, peace, gentleness. They arise not by effort, but by being still and letting them express themselves as one let's go of the false self, and our over-identification with programs of happiness that can't work, based on our instinctual needs. So, what I would suggest as a further development of Llewellyn's answer: that at least one of the surest ways of proceeding--there are always some mistakes we make along the way-- is to commit ourselves to at least two-20 minutes or half an hour periods a day. As I've grown older and busier, I try to do 2 or 3 hours a day of silent prayer. And of course, I know that I couldn't even survive with the work that I do, without that amount of emptying of myself, the best I can, and sometimes I'm not too good at it. But the silence grows, just by hanging out in it. And the silence and God, in some mysterious way, I can't in any way explain, are the same thing. Silence and God, as God is, not as you think He is, of course. Silence enables one, or enables God, I should say, to introduce Himself as He actually is. And no words can do that.

Video Details

Duration: 27 minutes and 5 seconds
Country: United States
Language: English
Genre: None
Producer: Seana Quinn
Views: 2,115
Posted by: oneness on Aug 22, 2008

From the event with Fr. Thomas Keating and Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee. A unique meeting of two mystical traditions which explores the oneness that is at the heart of all spiritual traditions.

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