“Love is not restricted by limitations. For love does not have any bounds, being as aspect of the Infinite Love. If one has love for something physical, then this physical thing becomes a vessel for love. But when one has love for the Infinite Being, then her love is clothed in the Infinite. Both the love and its vessel are then boundless.”
(Imrei Tzaddikim, trans. Ayeh Kaplan)
At our last meeting a dear friend related how in her experience she found an initial bit of psychic friction when doing an openly devotional practice, which dissolved as the practice took hold. Her words struck a chord, saying at one point that the whole thing started out hokey, but soon became profoundly “non-hokey.”
Openly, unabashedly devotional practices, as found in many of the world’s religions, often appear infantile to us, especially those of us initially drawn to the meditational and rational systems within Buddhism.
Devotion can be frankly embarrassing from these perspectives.
But I would we suggest we not be so quick to judge.
On the surface, the prayer enterprise seems utterly preposterous. Prayer seems absurd, and it is. Yes, it imagines a God and seemingly asks for favors, at least in some popular forms.
Yes, devotion implies a devoted to, and with it we seem to cement duality. And duality, of course, is implicated as the metaphysical culprit behind our very human malaise, the stunning conundrum of being human.
Yes, prayer is based not only on weak metaphysics and pre-rational thought, it’s also, well, hokey.
Yes, but when was the last time you prayed?
Not since I was a kid, you might quickly, and exasperatedly, reply.
Yes, prayer is preposterous, but so is the heart. The heart speaks a language which the mind often rebukes. And in the end, heart trumps mind.
Much of the refinement of certain seemingly rational philosophical and meditative systems has been the product of this split, with the mind wrestling with the heart, and winning a sort of victory.
But as Jay Michaelson observes, after many years of study, the principles which he found the most transformative have been the most banal –they could fit on a bumper sticker. And Jay has been there and done that (mystical Judaism, and elite nondual Hinduism and Buddhism).
The capstone of any deep transformation is the full engagement of the heart: a naked heart completely unashamed of itself.
Nonduality is not quite the adversary of prayer we often imagine it be; it’s quite the opposite. I think it is because of nonduality that we can even begin to pray, and pray meaningfully.
It starts out hokey, then turns utterly, stunningly, non-hokey (thanks to Gloria for the line) precisely because of nonduality. As we allow the insights of nonduality to sink in, the stubborn veils of the ego are lifted, the self is seen as a construct, and the pretensions of knowledge drop away.
It turns out we don’t have a clue, and that’s perfectly, brilliant fine!
This is the birth of the great I don’t know, the liberating trumpet blast of the text we looked at earlier—the sublime negative treasure of The Cloud of Unknowing, the blessings of negative theology.
We relax when we finally get it that we don’t get and maybe never will get it.
This grand unknowingness gives the heart permission to express itself, and that expression is often one of yearning. A yearning we have often silenced through rational, systematic deconstructionist meditation.
Let me leave you with a few thoughts from Raymond Sigrist. He charts the path of what he calls “pragmatic apophatic mysticism” in his brilliant book “In Love With Everything: Apophatic Mysticism. The Benefits and Dangers of Love without Reason.”
Sigrist explains that “it does not matter that you have prayed to a god that does not exist. This is probably because in praying to a perceived external power you have implicitly recognized that what you want will require that you engage and collaborate with a complex of unidentifiable forces located both within and far beyond your own psyche.”
Prayer, aided by the fragmentation bombing of nonduality, encourages a deeper and fuller surrender of the ego.
Sigrist, I think, agrees with me on this last point, and adds that “this psychological and neurological surrender resets and optimizes the resonance among the forces that are coming to the fore, enhancing the resonance between your psyche and the world it inhabits … Whether or not the prayer phenomenon demonstrates the existence of a god is of no interest to the apophaticist. He is only interested in the quality of the fruit, not the correct identification of the tree.”
Thank you Raymond. Thank you Gloria. Thank you Sangha. Thank you everything and everybody!