HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated October 09, 2011
When I was a young man, there was only one kind of beer on the market — San Miguel Pale Pilsen. Today, there are so many variations of beer out there and so many competing brands to enjoy.
And if you want a soda, there is the classic soda as you know it, then there’s “lite,” or “zero,” or other sugar-free versions. Even when you download applications for your phone or laptop, you can get a free “lite” version to try before deciding to pay for the regular or full app with all the bells and whistles.
It seems offering variations of things has become the norm. People want to feel that they have a choice.
In matters of love, one can also find the “full-on” version, and the lite version. Like all things, there are levels and stages of love and commitment, in varying degrees. You can be seeing someone but not be committed, or maybe just be slightly committed, or somewhat committed — or “it’s complicated,” as the Facebook status goes. Or you can be completely and irrevocably committed to love however and whatever unfolds between you and the person you love. That’s the “classic” version.
Religion has a somewhat similar approach. It offers more or less two types of experiences, but unlike the examples above, they are almost alien to each other in function, approach and effect on one’s life.
Think of religion the way 99.99 percent of us have experienced it, especially when we were young. It was introduced in our lives through ceremonies that made us feel good. It gave us a sense of order about both the seen and unseen worlds and the dimensions of human experience. It mapped out the heavens and the earth. It introduced us to a code of conduct, a morality that gave us a sense of affirmation when we were on the right path, and a discomfort or guilt when we strayed. It gifted us with a relationship that was personal between an Almighty God and each of us individually. This grace imbued in us a sense of importance, an identity as children, followers and loved beings of a special, unique God.
Religion has given us a clear and separate identity, a sense of comfort brought about by membership in the Church and allegiance to God and the dogmas that are to guide us in all our relationships with the world and people, and yes, even with our inner selves. It keeps us circling around its orbit through rites and rituals, communal prayers, stories and myths found in religious texts that have been passed on from hundreds, even thousands of years back.
The function of religion is clear: in exchange for our faith, the divine will fortify us. It will heal and save us. It will restore us from brokenness. And for quite a number of people, that is somewhat close to their religious experience.
From another point of view, the writer Ken Wilber says that organized religion can do all that, not unlike a balm that eases pain, or alcohol that dulls the loneliness, or drugs that induce temporary forgetfulness. But it will not stop the incessant existential itch that makes us crave, want, desire or grasp at things and people. Neither will it give us the feeling of true oneness with the universe. This is because religion does not go to the heart of the problem, which lies in the very nature of the separateness of self.
Religion, in Wilber’s view, does two things: it is either “translative” (more common) or “transformative” (very rare). When it is translative, religion simply entices one into a comfortable, simplified, pre-chewed experience of the Divine. Religion will not rock your boat; far from it. Religion will comfort you and save you from ever meeting or knowing the deep, unsettling and even disturbing aspects of yourself. But it will alleviate suffering by providing you with new ways of dealing with emotions and problems, or looking at yourself and others. It will protect you from the horrible, shield you from what may be a great, mortal blow to the ego, and content you with some peak experiences that will not deeply alter your consciousness. It may ease your pain but will keep you enslaved by an insatiable ego. In short, it will not transform you.
On the other hand, there are the extremely few people in the history of all religions who have experienced religion in a radical, transformative way. For them, God did not appear as a gentle, calming, even polite presence that made them feel good. The Divine was not embodied as a calm, patient, reassuring presence or experience but more like an incarnated tough drill sergeant who made life hell. Religion did not console them but tormented or devastated them. It did not save them, but shattered them completely into tiny unrecognizable pieces. It did not protect their ego but crushed it. In short, it went for the jugular to transform them by killing their made-up identity to get to who they really were.
Think of Gautama Buddha, Saul who became Paul, St. Teresa of Avila, Eckhart, Maimonides, Sri Ramana Maharshi, some Zen masters like Bodhidharma, etc. You can find a few from every religion. They all went through the wringer and came out with a boundless enlightened consciousness.
This is not saying that the translative is not a valid religious experience. It is a comforting realm that works for the many and has a vital role in society. But among the many, there are the few who will first go through the translative phase but will tire of it because it can only take them so far until it ceases to console their restless spirit.
The translative religious experience gifts the many with legitimacy. Numbers can console and give one an assurance of being on the right path. But for those who forge beyond the beaten path to answer a fearsome call and traverse at the forest’s edge of what lies beyond even death, or anything familiar or comfortable, the gift or the promise dangled before them by the transformative is authenticity.
And it is authenticity that strikes at one’s core. It is “meeting” the Divine without anyone present, most of all a “you” standing in the way. As Wilber describes it, the self is blown to smithereens and made into “toast” by the radiance it encounters. And the space the ego self used to occupy is taken over completely by the One.
The Christian mystic Meister Eckart once said, “God likes to visit when no one is home.” Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a Tibetan teacher said, “There is only ati (spirit).” They are talking of the same thing.
The transformative therefore is the true revolution of the spirit. It does not accommodate or legitimize the world but, in a way, subverts it in order to transform it. Jesus was a transformative figure more than a translative one.
The world has seen very few individuals who have lived transformative lives, and yet these few have brought humanity to levels of consciousness higher than ever before. And just like in the past, truly transformational figures will pay a heavy burden for it since that is the price of authenticity.
It carries both a demand and a duty. You will meet the Divine but hardly anyone will believe you when you talk about it. But you must proclaim it anyway. You will speak of it but your words will be misunderstood, but you must still say them anyway. Your life will be an enigma to others and to yourself, but you must live it with conviction. Authenticity means boldly venturing out and doing a David to a vulgar Goliath world.
There is no “lite” way to live transformatively. The experience is full-on, classic!
* * *
1) The Art of the Nude — A photography workshop on Oct. 15 (Saturday) from 1 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org for questions and reservations. Limited class.
2) Walking Photography Class — Explore a place and learn to capture light, tell a story, frame a photo, and more under different lighting conditions and settings. Class is on Oct. 22. Venue to be announced.
3) Basic Photography — Oct. 30 from 1 to 6:30. This will be at 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, QC. Call 0916-8554303, 426-5375 or e-mail.