Religion offers a practical approach to approaching God. Religion or the ancient path of wisdom has been paved by the feet of our ancestors. Illuminated men and women or saints light the way up the sacred mountain of life. The paths the saints took are diverse, but they all meet on the same summit. Some – the masters of wisdom – were trail blazers but most committed their life’s work to the maintenance of the well-travelled trail and took recourse to its merciful markers, posts, and maps stating “you are here” and “here is a shelter” “here is a stream” “you have this far to go” “turn left” “turn right” “the incline is steep before you reach the summit.” Along the way there may even be carved names telling us that so and so was in that very same spot encouraging us to keep going or offering us warnings along the way – you may even decide to carve your own name and offer your own wisdom for those behind. You may think of yourself as a single ring within the trunk of a tree. We can honor the wisdom of the rings that came before us and imprint our own knowledge on the trunk of the tree of life.
We sleep walk through life aimlessly until something or someone in us wakes up and yearns for the divine vision waiting for us at the summit. The catalyst of our awakening makes us aware that “the person I thought I was is not really me to the core.” “Who am I?” we ask. We begin to hunger and thirst to know our essence (the permanent and changeless being) covered by our personality (the impermanent and changing doer). We become desperate to throw off all the garments of our personality or personalities and aspire to walk naked and unashamed in our essence. Disillusioned by the outer and inner divisions of duality and otherness, we long to satiate and quench our desire to be undivided in oneness and integrated in wholeness – “I want to be real,” “I want to be authentic,” “I want to think, say, and do the same no matter where I am or who I am with,” “I don’t want to be afraid to be me,” we say. And, yet again, we ask, “Who exactly am I outside of what I think, say, or do?” Can being be done? How can we practically come to know the essence of our being?
Already – here and now – we are being lulled back to sleep. Already the catalyst that brought us to this awakened state is fading to the back of our memory as our senses are distracted and enticed by the lust of power and pride, wealth and sensuality, glory and vanity. We need reminders to keep us on the straight path – we need alarm clocks to wake us up when we fall asleep. We need the mercy and compassion of holy guidance from holy families, holy teachers, holy books, holy friends, holy communities. This radiating and illuminating guidance that draws us to holy wholeness is to be found first on the outer planes but then on the inner planes – at some point we start to look within for the spirit of guidance.
God by analogy is like the sun manifesting rays, i.e. you and me and everything we see with our inner and outer eyes above and below, before and behind. We come from the reality of oneness and enter into the illusion of duality (night and day, male and female, right and wrong) to learn something specific about the mystery of life, death and resurrection as we move back toward the One. Entering into this plane of duality manifests in our own human make up as we are both physical and spiritual beings. Thus, a practical human approach toward the One needs to embrace this marriage of the finite body (which includes the mental, emotional, and physical life) and the infinite soul (the spiritual life). The flesh alludes to the One just as sex reveals theology. Through the oneness of the sexual embrace, the lovers are made priest and priestess by offering their own body upon the altar of the marriage bed as they open the portal to the divine for new life to come through. The lovers are also made prophet and prophetess by revealing the spirit through the language of the body and prophesizing eternal oneness and infinite euphoria; and, finally, they are made king and queen of the Kingdom of God through the kiss of heaven and earth.
The human is the vessel of the Kingdom of God – the marriage of heaven and earth – the harmonious and alchemical union of the angelic and the animal with descent and ascent to meet in the purified heart of the servant of God and master of the world. Your very own body expresses its source and its destiny – your are made from and for oneness. We want to be one with everyone and everything we consider to be true, good, and beautiful. Take a moment now to experience yourself as a ripple on an otherwise still lake. Feel this outer ripple drown and allow the vibrations of the inner ripples draw you to the center. You are nearing the source of all vibration. You long for this still and constant source. In fact, all the struggles of your flesh (including your thoughts, feelings, and appetites) in this intermediary plane of time, limitation, and division are born out of the yearning to be one with the Source.
The success of the practical approach to approaching the Real and coming to oneness necessitates our integrity and authenticity. Luke warmness on the path will only produce a weak inner kingdom – a person divided within himself of herself. To not be fully committed to the pursuit of the Real, to the pursuit of wisdom, will only lead to disintegration, forgetfulness, slumber, and dis-memberment of a self who is divorced from the Real. Only an honest and humble commitment to the Real and to wise guidance can grant us a strong kingdom united within ourselves – an integrated, re-membered, awake, whole self who is married to the Real.
Can the flesh (our thoughts, emotions, and appetites) serve the spirit harmoniously for the sake of spiritual liberation toward the One? Or will the spirit be at war with the untamed flesh? Will the spirit and the flesh be married and in love or will they be constantly bickering, breaking up and getting back together, separating, and, finally, divorcing? Beyond the right or the wrong way to live is an invitation of inner liberation of the spirit from the enslavement of the flesh. This is not to say that the flesh is evil. No, rather, the flesh is sacred. But to not raise the flesh to its divine calling is sacrilegious. The flesh is wild (our thoughts, feelings, and appetites are chaotic) until it is tamed by the spirit. Either the flesh will be the master and the spirit the slave of lust drawn down by the denseness of vice, lies, of forgetfulness of the Real, or the spirit will be the master and the flesh will be the slave of love lifted up by the lightness of a pure heart with outstretched wings ready to embrace virtue, truth, and remembrance of the Real.
The untamed flesh is an unsatisfied and ungrateful master. The flesh can only learn satisfaction and gratitude in the school of love where the spirit is the teacher. The spirit tames the flesh through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Prayer, fasting, almsgiving – this is the wise way of our ancestors for the spirit to majestically ride on the tamed royal horse of the flesh toward liberation, toward the One. This prayer is ceaseless with its adoration, repentance, thanksgiving, and supplication. The spirit prays through each breath the flesh consumes from the ocean of the one holy breath in which it moves and lives and has its being. Fasting is equally feasting, and abstinence is for the sake of making room for the divine banquet. Fasting is a fasting of not just the taste of the tongue but also its speech. The eyes and ears fast as well from seeing or hearing what does not reflect the Real. The hands learn to receive and not grasp and the feet learn to be still and not walk where they do not belong. Prayer and fasting purify the heart which outpours is gratitude through generous almsgiving. The feeling of completeness through giving and receiving gives us glimpses of our marriage and consummation with the One.
To be human is to endeavor on a path of remembrance of and return to the One being and the dissolution of the illusion of multiplicity. Fear not. This path is not an annihilation of your being, rather, it is an annihilation of your limited concept of your being. This path breaks through all your limited, finite, bounded constructs (mental, emotional, and physical) and awakens your spirit to the reality of your unlimited, infinite, and unbounded Being. And how can you and I practically approach approaching the Real – the unlimited, infinite, and unbounded Being?
The Latin word religare means “to bind.” When you bind yourself to religion you are binding yourself to the pursuit of the Real – the ultimate truth, the ultimate beauty, the ultimate goodness, i.e. God within. We make our pilgrimage toward the One with the help of an ideal (e.g. Christ, your guardian angel), a method (e.g. the rubrics of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving), and a community offer us guidance. Guidance is a mercy. Guidance keeps us on the straight path away from slavery and duality and toward liberation and unity. Guidance keeps us awake.
To bind ourselves to this guidance given by the teacher, the method, and the community is what being religious mean – to be devoted to binding your flesh for the sake of unbinding your spirit. Even though the spirit is willing to take on this quest of return, the flesh is weak, the flesh wants to sleep. It is a delusion to think that the flesh can be unbounded and unlimited. The flesh faces injury, illness, and death. Religion sets boundaries and limits for the flesh so that its denseness may be lessened to allow the spirit to soar to the unbounded and limitless. Religion binds our flesh in order to unbind the spirit.
The first step on the path of wisdom is purification. It is the realization that there is a mirror before you wanting to reflect your true, good, and beautiful countenance, but it is dirty. Cleaning the mirror of the heart is the first step. The second step is illumination – to be a clean mirror ready to receive and reflect the light of the Real. The third step is unity -to shatter the mirror and realize your oneness with the illuminator. In this final step, we see with divine vision that our being and his and her being is one with Being and that the Real is the One.
Practically, this human approach to the Real begins with the purification of the flesh (the mental, the emotional, and the physical life). We begin with the purification of the physical life by purifying and detoxifying our body – hygiene, diet, sleep, exercise, etc. We purify our senses and set gatekeepers before their gates – the eyes, the ears, the nose, the tongue, the hands, the feet. We fight for the freedom of the inner kingdom (the spirit) by protecting it with an outer wall (setting boundaries for the flesh). Then, we clean our physical environment – our house, our office, our gathering spaces. We clean with attention and intention. We clean with love and tenderness and with a spirit of service. We understand that missing a spot or rushing through the duty of the moment will reflect upon our heart. This purification of our environment lends itself to the purification of the relationships that color these sacred spaces. We strive to fulfil our obligations to family and society responsibly and lovingly with pure attention and intention. We then take on the purification of the mental and emotional. We may see our mind as a garden and our spirit (God, our divine ideal or true self) as the gardener, who sows, toils, plants, reaps, and harvests on the fertile soil of the mind. The gardener only plants and cultivates seeds that will blossom into a beautiful garden. And we gaze upon ourselves with compassion as we observe, process, and digest our emotions. The aim of all this purification is to lighten the flesh for the liberation of the spirit.
Religion not only guides you but your entire community of brothers and sisters who have walked, are walking now, or will walk on this earth. You are walking together with them all. What a consolation. Religion is the appropriate wedding garment to enter into the marital chamber. Religion is the exoteric / the external / the outer / the garment. Religion is the path to the summit. It is the protection. It is within the merciful shelter of religion that the spirit is unveiled and lover and beloved enter the marriage chamber to become one with love. Spirituality is the esoteric / the internal / the inner / the naked. Lover, your nakedness is for the Beloved in the chamber of Love in your heart. We strive in this path with the guidance of a teacher, a method, and a community in order to live and die in the state of remembering that behind the veils of polarity is the consummation of duality in oneness. This path is the path of love. This path is the path of awakening as Lover to the Beloved in your heart. This path is a path of marriage and consummation. This path is the path of falling in love.
And, more than anything, this path is not the angelic or the animal path, but the human path. Liberation of the spirit in the Spirit depends on molding the flesh into a salvific vehicle. The illuminated men and women gift us the path toward the One. This path is the school of wisdom, compassion, purity, faithfulness, self-sacrifice, unity, love, dignity, and service. This path spreads far and wide for all of humanity as the illuminated masters lay out the carpet of love and light. This path illuminates our souls with the divine light. Religion cultivates the garden of the flesh so that the spirit may blossom and unfold into oneness. The ancient path of wisdom is the practical approach to approaching the Real.