Posts Tagged ‘mantra’

His name is Nicholas: a man who was known in his times for having given his own wealth to those in need, and to be a tenacious protector of children. Under Diocletian, Nicholas was imprisoned for his faith and then served as an attendee at the Council of Nicaea after his release. Legends swirl around Nicholas as a kindly and generous man with a fervent and unyielding faith. Many of these legends speak of miracles performed both before and after his death ( e.g., raising young murdered adolescents back to life, and restoring a kidnapped child to his parents).

In time, Nicholas would become almost synonymous with the mythic Santa Claus ( Father Christmas, the Nordic Tomte or Nisse, Pere Noel, Sinterklass, Pere Fouettard, and Kris Kringle). What is the basis for this enduring image that has been so emblematic of the Season? The good and kindly St.Nicholas represents the best of humanity. He had a large heart, placed others first, and sacrificed for the needs of a greater good based in faith and principles. Often rendered as corpulent, I am reminded of Budai, the laughing Buddha.

The Fat Buddha, as he is known in the West, or the Buddha Maitreya and Phra Sanghachai in Thailand, carries a cloth sack and, though poor, is totally content. He is revered as the enlightened embodiment of true contentment, wisdom, a generous and open heart, and the very meaning of Zen. In Zen Buddhism, Budai is himself a Koan: Asked, “what is the meaning of Zen?” Budai put down his bag. When then asked,”How does one realize it?” He picked it up again.

St. Nicholas, Santa Claus, and Budai set the imagination ablaze with wonder at enduring simple truths that are, as always is the case, harder to reliably demonstrate than to extol, sing praises about, and capture in verse, story, and Seasonal trappings:

  1. All that we need to become we already are.
  2. The laughter of a kind heart heals deep wounds.
  3. One’s bag is full when it is empty.
  4. Openness to all means no stereotyping, no intolerance, all loving and spacious regard for all sentient beings.
  5. A smile is a salve for injury, pain, and disappointment.
  6. The child’s imagination is our first and truest state of being – the state of amazement.
  7. Heaven is now. If not now, most definitely not later. Make it so.
  8. Give of yourself. All else is a proxy for that.

It is said that if you rub the Budai’s belly, it brings good luck. His girth is large not from over-eating, but as a result of taking into himself the poison and darkness and evil all around, and he laughs them into oblivion. So, our greatest act of engaged spirituality is to be the inverse of the three monkeys – i.e., see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. Instead, we are called to see it and dissolve it in compassion, hear it and make music where there is only rude, discordant noise, and speak of it so that the evil is named and can then be “called out.”

The Spirit of Nicholas/ Sinterklaas and Budai are celebrated with special vigor in these next 12 days. The archetype of the Healer will certainly be in my mind throughout the season.

May you and yours know deep and enduring peace, true contentment, laughter that ends suffering, and the full measure of being close to those who are richer for the fact that you have shared yourself with them.

Merry ( & Happy) Christmas!

© Brother Anthony Thomas and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Read Full Post »

December 8th is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in the Western church. The “Immaculata” emerged early in the history of the Church.

Among certain ancient Christian sects, the “Mother of God” was, from the outset, given a very high spiritual station, as there are arguably none more intimate with a son’s soul than his mother.

So great was the Spirit of Christ, that she who bore the Anointed One would naturally be set apart as especially blessed. The universe brought forth a soter (or savior) from the womb of a common woman of Jewish faith.

She bore him, bathed him with unconditional regard and support, and, in the end, bore the unimaginable pain of his passing.

In the Orthodox tradition, they refer to her Ascension as “the Dormition of the Virgin,” or the “Going to Sleep”. The Divine Mother archetype is the soft blue image of infinite patience, attention, and conscious silence. She is eternally alive within us.

Lutheran theologian Rudolf Bultmann revealed that the sacred mysteries documented in the Gospels are in no way diminished when we cut away the mythic story-telling appended by later writers.

He insisted that instead of the super-naturalizing that was grafted onto the texts,  an existential reading, in the way of philosopher Martin Heidegger, was truer to the essential kernel of the teaching.

In doing so, the intersections of the teachings with those of other Eastern religious systems become more visible. In both Buddhism and Christianity, at a mystical level, there is an androgynous quality in experiencing the Divine Presence.

There is an implicit marriage of male and female forming a new alchemical union (e.g., the trinity and the rise of Mariology, yin and yang, Buddha & Kwan Yin).


Read Full Post »

Russian Orthodoxy was a nursery for remarkable and controversial mystical practices. One sect, later declared heretical by the Russian Orthodox Church, is known as the “Name Worshippers”.

Their adherents, with early prominent members also making significant contributions to the mathematics of infinity and set theory, held to a discipline of continuously repeating aloud, or inwardly, the name of Jesus. This has connections to the Hesychast tradition and the “Prayer of the Heart” of the Philokalia: ” Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”

The Western manifestation of such a practice is the Rosary, albeit the prayers recited are greater in number and the process more involved. Hesychasm was bound to run afoul of the Orthodox Church.

Many mystical movements and the mystics themselves have historically been punished or censored in one fashion or another. Meister Eckhart, and extraordinary mystical preacher, was misunderstood and found himself in trouble with the Church. The list is fairly lengthy and includes teachers and adepts among us today.

The rejection is, however, understandable, as the mystic speaks a transcendent language that goes underneath and beyond canonical interpretations, formalisms, and dogma. They speak from a direct lived experience of the scared. Their language is consequentially more often richly metaphorical and visual, sensual, and appears to cut through the many distinctions and debates of exotericism.

There is great value in Hesychasm fro us today in the practice of continuous repetition of simple mantra. It is also a matter of spiritual taste whether this approach will bear fruit for you, but I, for one, find it remarkable in its effects.

Having practiced the “Prayer of the Heart” for many years, I find myself reciting it automatically as a centering prayer, and especially in times of great trouble or stress. In undergoing medical procedures, I catch myself reciting it, or, more correctly, I find it being recited within me.

Some object to the prayer as it appears to place emphasis on one’s identity as a sinner. It’s important to discriminate between the Eastern Orthodox and western meanings of “sin.” In the west, sin is all about mistakes for which one needs to seek forgiveness and attached to which there is a piper to pay. The attributions of sin are more judgmental, and punitive in character.

Here, again the East excels in seeing farther and in more nuanced ways. Sin, for Orthodoxy, is illness. It is recognition that one is in need of re-balancing, healing, and the restoration of a wholesome spirit by the Grace of the Beloved.

How wonderful is that?

It doesn’t surprise me that the Russian mystics of the Name Worshippers would also be tied to the mathematics of the Infinite. The two speak to each other in intimate ways. In these instances, their math was an outer sign of an inner spiritual grace.

© Brother Anthony Thomas and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Read Full Post »

Earlier today, I began to recite the word “beauty” repetitively, and the word did indeed stay with me all day. A small variation on the practice is what I am calling “the next good phrase I read or hear.” Simply, as I read or have conversation with people from this moment forward tonight, I will pay attention to the next phrase I come across that inspires reflections about encountering the sacred. I will then allow the word to seep into my thinking as before in a 5 minute meditation awaiting whatever random or quasi-random connections take place. After that, I will look for the next word and then the next. While there is no magic to how many times to do it, I will elect three as the number of repetitions for the exercise.

To get started, I have been meaning to begin reading the bestselling novel by the late Stieg Larsson, “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.” So, opening to the prologue, I begin reading ………………………….

In the last section of the third paragraph, I read: “… and the exchange between the two men seemed like a ritual attaching to a mystery…” What a beautifully crafted and intriguing phrase. Removing it from the context of this novel, with all due respect to the novel’s author and with full intent to come back and continue reading ( now, even more-so, having discovered such elegant prose), I let my mind wander over this phrase to form patterns of  its own accord:

“A ritual attaching to a mystery.”

So much of spiritual life involves ritual of one form or another: acts of preparation, vesting, the use of incense, song, liturgy, readings and a very definite cadence. In encountering the sacred, we always need to shift gears and, as distractable creatures of sense, mood and memory, the process is essential. Each of us has to find his or her own approach, but it always involves a process: preparation – some ritual action, and then hopefully an opening  to the miraculous.

Whether or not we get to the miraculous largely depends upon the depth and quality of the first two stages: preparation and ritual action. When I arrive at the local ashram for yoga class, we begin by kneeling and then collectively bowing to one another, followed by all saying aloud – “namaste”. We then are guided to the asanas, one by one very slowly, from the “corpse” posture of deep relaxation to a sequence that seems to follow in a very orderly fashion. In Tai Chi, (using the Yang family long form) the sequence of movements are prescribed and the goal is to smoothly execute each move and then just as smoothly to transition to the next posture. The smoothness or lack thereof is the critical issue and is the chief difference between the novice and the master. At Mass, the opening prayers and call to worship are followed by readings and then the Gospel, and only then the Eucharist. Whatever the spiritual practice, there is some manifest form of the three step process.

So, the ritual, as Larsson eloquently expresses it, attaches to a mystery.

The ritual involves a clearing, a time to make room for the indwelling and the opening up of the Spirit Within. So it is with all forms of prayer. Sacraments demand sacramentals ( the appurtenances and trappings, the table settings) just as mystery stories demand first the full development of place, time, and character development as the context for the main event that rivets the reader, and draws her ever nearer, until the story and the reader ( ideally) are one. We experience what key characters experience and we enter into a special time with no regard to the movement of the hands of the clock.

I find myself recalling the differences made by theologians between ordinary time ( Chronos)  and sacred time (Kairos). Symbol, ritual movement, and ritual word and chant (as well as dance) are all merely the stage setting, though indispensable, making way for the arrival of the Holy, the mysterium tremendum, the feeling of integral communion with the One.

Now, back to this fascinating novel.

© Brother Anthony Thomas and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Read Full Post »

One of my idiosyncrasies on greeting someone for the first time on any given day is to ask: “What’s the good word?” Not a phrase or a sentence but just a single word. Usually, the one I ask draws a blank. The idea of the mantra is a spiritual practice with considerable history. John Main has institutionalized it into Christian contemplative practice asking those meditating to repeat a single word over and over again as they quietly empty themselves of all the other cluttered thought.

So, today, I open by asking  myself this same question. “What’s the good word?” .. and I commit to its repeated recitation throughout the day ( “pray without ceasing”) noticing any thoughts or images that it attracts.

The word that springs to mind now is “beauty”. My mind immediately starts associating things to it as it acts as if exerting a gravitational pull on all other incidental thoughts: for starters – potpourri, my daughter’s face, my wife’s touch, the Sun, the night sky, the fragile rose, the feeling of warm water in a shower, the sound of rain, the sound of crickets after dark, the laughter of children, the smile of an elder, that feeling one gets immediately after solving a mystery or problem on which a lot of time has been spent in search of a solution, sitting quietly in my office, puttering in my library.

I read last evening that recent research published by the American Psychological Association has produced evidence that anger does not offer release or catharsis but only feeds the anger and produces more of it. Thoughts that associate to anger or anything depressing or dark should logically have the effect of adding further pitch to the darkness. The word for the day should act as antidote. Also, logically, if anger feeds anger and makes for heightened distress and acrimony, one should be on safe ground expecting that joyful thoughts and words of Light should have the counter effect of making for more Light.

Beauty: In Koine Greek, the word for beautiful is horaios, derived from the word hora, or hour. At its root, horaios means “being of one’s hour” or, in other words, being true to one’s time, one’s nature, one’s true character without pretense or delusion, or forcing.

© Brother Anthony Thomas and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Read Full Post »