There is a famous Zen quote, “Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water, after enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.”
It is very tempting here to make a go at what would no doubt prove to be a long and somewhat confusing explanation as to what enlightenment might mean in Zen. However, that would just prove to be an arduous task with little benefit to the subject at hand. Not to mention the fact, that trying to explain Zen is in itself, so very, not Zen. Let's just say this, it is not quite what it sounds like to the western mind. It can be a full experience of reality, but it almost always means a small one along the path.
I have been dealing with mysticism in this series, how it relates to art or art relates to it, and how it can change our whole life. I am departing from talking about art or photography to relate more to understanding the experience itself. However, know that art is definitely one way to approach the experience in question. Also, I will be speaking about Jesus now and again. How could I not? While art is one way in which I approach this experience, my relationship with Jesus is the ground upon which it is built. It may not be yours and that is fine, however, we speak from what we know. It is not religion I am interested in here but direct and immediate experience.
I have been studying and practicing this fascinating subject for over thirty years now, and I am little closer to understanding it than in the beginning. That is the point, isn't it? Mysticism is not something to be understood nor studied, at least if one wants to enter into the experience, and that is what it is about, a direct and immediate experience.
This experience with Reality is at the heart of Mysticism.
This connection, this experience of being united with Ultimate Reality, "if you are a philosopher", the Ground of Being or Ultimate Being, "if you are a metaphysician", and among others, God, "if you are religious", is the ultimate aim of our endeavors.
There is one thing that I have found over the years while studying many different philosophies and religions, and it is that the mystics in each tradition or discipline while using different words to explain the encounter, are referring to primarily the same experience. It is afterward that they interpret this experience in unique ways. I am not writing about religion itself or such concepts as salvation and other aspects that religion concerns itself with. Our interest here is simply a direct and immediate encounter with Reality, and the life-changing effect it has upon the one who comes into contact with it.
All of us, most likely, have had fleeting experiences of this nature. This is not unusual, because we are all united to this Reality whether we know it or not. For some, that fleeting experience beckons them to go deeper, to find a way to sustain the awareness of the unity of being, that state of connection with Ultimate Being, in which or whom all creation lives and moves and has its being. And as one learns the way, and disciplines his or her self in the appropriate manner, the experience will become more and more available to them.
This requires the breaking down and letting go of idols that we have created or appropriated as we learned to exist in this world of multiplicity. These have no connection to Reality. It is interesting that religion, which is supposed to bring us to God, has created idols which in themselves are barriers to this experience, and hindered the progress of its adherents.
What is important is to understanding that this experience is available to all who would seek it. If you do seek it and you, at some point, come to find this unfiltered connection with Reality it will change your life.
Now, we are back to chopping wood and carrying water. That means living your life. Before you enter into this life-changing experience, as after, you live your life. Yet, while nothing changes, everything changes.
Jesus said that he does nothing except that which he sees his father doing. What he sees his father doing is giving life and existence to all. His father is the one we call God. But, the moment we reference God, our preconceptions are activated, and we form some sort of an image. Some think of God as portrayed by Michelangelo in his painting of a white-haired man reaching down to touch Adam coming just short of making contact with him. While I understand what Michelangelo was trying to convey, this image is misleading. This painting and Jesus' term, Father, has caused people to cause people to anthropomorphize their image God for centuries. When we impose human qualities on God we get into all kinds of trouble. This has been either the cause or excuse for so many horrible human acts that have been perpetrated in the name of religion.
When a person experiences Reality, or God if you will, Jesus' words takes on a fresh meaning. One's life is transformed. One sees with the heart as well as the eyes, and entire universe perceived in a new way. Afterward one still chops wood and carries water. Get up, go to work, go home and whatever else, all stays the same and yet it has all changed. I think in modern western society we have been conditioned to think that enlightenment should be followed by fame, wealth or other trappings related to the world of multiplicity and material acquisition.
This life altering experience is available to all no matter their religion, non-religion, philosophy, etc. It is there for those who seek it and do the work it takes to find it. Mere curiosity will get you nowhere. Jesus said seek and you shall find.
I found this quote years ago and kept it, not sure who wrote it. It is probably out of Eugen Herrigal’s Zen in the Art of Archery.
Dhyana Buddhism, which is known in Japan as “Zen” and is not speculation at all but the immediate experience of what, at the bottomless ground of Being, cannot be apprehended by intellectual means.
The quote speaks of immediate or direct experience and lets us know the folly of trying to talk or write about it. I think many of the true Christian Mystics got into theological trouble when they attempted to write about something that it is not possible to intellectualize and it is that very aspect that makes mysticism seem like folly or worse to the practical person.
The one thing I will write of my experience at this point is of the understanding that filled me through and through. And that is, Everything is going to be okay. That for all of humanity's foibles, anger, politics, wars, inhumanity, you name it, and as bad and horrific as it is, it has no more effect on the ultimate direction of Being, Reality, God, and the overall design, than that of a few fleas riding on the back of an elephant, fighting among themselves over the direction the elephant is traveling.
And yet this image breaks down because the elephant takes no cognizance of the flea beyond a light irritation, if at all where God is concerned. For God is perpetually providing for creation.
To the extent we let go of our idols and preconceptions we become free to experience Reality. Then how could we be possibly be influenced by the preconceptions that others have of us, and are so fond of sharing.
God/Reality created and is creating and sustaining all out of nothing. The uncreated or uncreate, is manifesting its nature by the act of creation, and in this act is one overall reality, love. Love is the purpose and power behind, under, within, through all, and it gives us existence, life, and in our limited way, the ability to love.
This is where I believe Judaism and Christianity are correct in relation to a supreme being. If the universe is created out of nothing by love, and held together by love, and life is given by love, then we are speaking of a self-determining being, for unless there is the possibility of making the choice of not love, love cannot exist. Therefore it takes a personality, a consciousness to be able to love. In Being's case, love perfectly.
This Being is more like the ultimate mind than anything we can conceive. The Father is a spirit. The thinking mind wants to explain this, the mystic heart wants to experience it.
The first four words of the Bible are translated from one word in Hebrew. This word is translated in most Bibles as, “In the beginning, God.” Another translation is just as correct, I checked with a "Hebrew professor and he agreed". It is interesting how culture can influence translation.
Those first four words can just as correctly be, “In His mind, God,” followed by the rest of the sentence, "created the heavens and the earth."
In His mind, God created the heavens and the earth. This is definitely food for thought.