Benedict's Dharma 2

Day 5 - Saturday - May 3, 2003
Questions & Answers


JO: Who did the Buddha believe his scriptures and wisdom were coming from? Most of us will say it all came from God. But where did his wisdom come from? Where did he claim the source of his wisdom and his Buddhahood?

REV. KUSALA: From his personal experience and insight.

JO: Only experience and insight?

REV. KUSALA: Through his effort, wisdom, and compassion.

JO: Effort, yes.

REV. KUSALA: There is no rest when your freedom is dependent on effort, wisdom, and compassion. The Buddha was a remarkable man. He never gave up.

It's said that Mara -- Mara is sort of like your devil, but Mara is not ultimately evil. Mara is more like a little rascal who comes and steals your wisdom and you end up doing stupid things and suffering. The Buddha was, sitting under the Bodhi tree, and Mara, the great tempter, came and said, "I'll give you my daughters."

To gain the strength necessary to deal with Mara, the Buddha touched the earth, and the earth became his witness. He was able to sidestep the temptation that Mara tried to seduce him with. Mara, the great tempter, failed.

Well, Mara looks at the world now and says, Well, if one person can do it, gosh, maybe everybody can do it, so I'm going to have to work that much harder to prevent people from reaching nirvana.

Mara comes and visits me all the time. I was down at the little store in New Harmony, and Mara told me to buy a Hershey's with almonds, and I did. That wasn't very wise, but it sure tasted good. Mara is always sitting on my shoulder. Mara's on one side, the Dharma on the other. I'm right in the middle, struggling away. It's my choice, the Dharma or the Drama.

___It's my, choice the Dharma or the Drama.___

JO: I see a very distinct difference. I feel that I cannot do it alone; that I must have a power higher than mine. That's a big difference.

REV. KUSALA: Yes. I feel I can do it with the help of the Buddha, Dharma, and sangha.

JO: Wouldn't you say that's a cardinal difference? Oh, my, help me. I am nothing. I am weak without you. Help me. All your angels, get them lined up and help me.

REV. KUSALA: Well the big paradox is, we also realize we can't do it through self, because there is no one there to do it. Self cannot attain nirvana, in the end it happens because of conditions. Self can set up the conditions, but then it has to walk away.

SR. MEG: You were going to ask me a question.

REV. KUSALA: Yes. Sr. Meg, yesterday we had many questions about the pitfalls of Christian meditation, and I was wondering if you could share with us your experiences and your insights on that subject.

SR. MEG: Okay, I knew that this time would be very brief, so I'm going to ask you to indulge me, I need to be very direct. If we were starting, or you were a group of spiritual directors or even my own community, I'd be a little bit softer. I'm going to be just as direct as I can.

First I'd like to say Jane's question at the end was a critical question for the Christian tradition. She even had a pointing to this higher power; that she lifts up her humble self to God, and then in humility would receive. She kept asking Kusala, what's the source of the Buddha's wisdom; and Kusala kept saying, "His own effort, wisdom, and compassion," you know. And then she said, "Well, who's home?" And he said, "There's nobody home." So, notice the two parts there. There is nobody there, and there is nobody here.

Now, in the Christian tradition, Jane also said with astute perception, that's exactly the opposite of the way we come at this. It's not wrong, but there are two truths here. He starts with the unitive; that there is only emptiness, and in the emptiness, there is really nothing.

REV. KUSALA: Yes, exactly.

SR. MEG: So, there is an emptiness. That's hard for us to grasp. We start with God being our creator, and we are a creature, so we start with duality. Well then, who brings us to this unity is Christ, and Christ for Christians is not negotiable. Jesus the Christ is not negotiable. If Jesus was human, who was the Christ, brings us to this, through the Holy Spirit, brings us to this same place or the same experience, this unity.

Now, meditation leads us to this experience of unity, even the experience of unitive consciousness, so sometimes we feel this oneness. But our training is lacking in emptiness training. So the danger for us is in the oneness, you think you are God. It feels like God is in the center, and then you start acting out of your center. The question is: Is it God, is it me, or is it emptiness?

___The danger for us is in the oneness.___

The training is to be empty so that God works through us, which is a very advanced level of meditation practice. But if you do it to quickly, it can become big problem.

Now, that's the whole story, but let me go through the steps.

When you start meditating, there is an introduction to the practice, and you start feeling, and you get your practice, maybe Christian meditation, maybe a centering prayer, maybe a Jesus prayer. There are Christians that go to Hindu practice, a lot of body practice, yoga practices that also does the same thing.

The most skillful Catholic priest I know that does a Hindu practices through Christianity is Tom Ryan, he's at St. Paul Church in New York. He is very skillful.

All right, you start your practice. You feel body and mind as being one. You have the sense of mind slowing down and clearing up. These are just side effects: You are more balanced. Your health improves. Your body is more limber. You renounce your sins. Some people give up smoking. Your sex life gets ordered. Your food intake is moderate. There are lots of good side effects to meditation.

But then very soon, after about three months the difficulties start rising. The first difficulty is, it takes a lot of strength to practice, you start to see how much strength it takes to get started every day, to wake up an hour earlier. It's hard to practice when you're sick, to stay in a posture, to get your room set up so that it's quiet. The strength needed to practice is enormous, you might even need a meditation group to help you practice.

The second difficulty that arises when you're doing your practice is, it is no longer as sweet. Difficulties start rising. The afflictions rise stronger and harder. You become more grouchy, not less in your home life, and you start saying, "Wow, what's happening?" Your practice is breaking up levels of your subconscious, this newly released energy floats up from your unconscious to your conscious. Sometimes when you sit in meditation you might break down crying or start laughing, you can't seem to control yourself-- stuff just happens, and your thoughts become wild.

The third stage is when there is the unloading of the unconscious. Thomas Keating has a lot of training with the false self system breaking up, you just continue to unload and all that. It's normal in meditation. It just happens. But sometimes there are problems.

Now I'm going to stop here for a moment, and go through six problems with meditation , and then I'll get back to the difficulties.

The first problem I see is, if you've ever done drugs or too much alcohol, the brain is not ready to meditate. It may be never be ready.

Usually, when I have somebody coming to me, and I hear what their problems are in meditation, and I find out that they've done drugs, even just marijuana, they probably shouldn't meditate. There are other ways in the Christian tradition to come to that very same place, not through the door of meditation practice, because we believe in just this one lifetime.

There are other practices, meditation may be too powerful for some people. You don't need to meditate. There are other ways. And I can share with you what those other ways are, but I'm going to stay with meditation this morning. So drugs are an impediment to meditation.

___There are some people who still do drugs and meditate.___

There are some people who still do drugs and meditate, but to be honest, they don't meditate very deeply. That's just how they cope. They either use a consciousness meditation with music, or they do visualization, but they don't go down to this very deep place of emptiness.

Number two, about women, I'm trusting that we are all friends here, abortion. Any woman who has had an abortion, will find it very difficult to go to a deep level in their meditation practice. You might say, "Well, aren't they the ones that need it the most?" Well, again, I'd say there are other ways.

An abortion is a very serious breach of life. Now, you can come to peace after an abortion, with reconciliation and love. A counselor that I worked with, and a psychiatrist I worked with, and my own practice of listening to women, lead me to believe that three out of five Catholic women have had abortions. High. Higher than you might think. It's just part of our culture, and it's okay. It's okay.

Well, let's deal with it. Let's be up front with it, and let's just pick up where we really are. There are ways through the abortion experience that you can come to this experience of unity with God and feel fine. I've recommended the Rachel program. I recommend the true confession of sin, and then moving on. It's not an obstruction to your spiritual life; it's a way through. I recommend reading the book, Harlots of the Desert.

You know, when you get to the desert fathers and mothers, the 200 women and men, who did they go to, to lay out their thoughts?

Yes, Ruth?

RC: Women.

SR. MEG: Yes, the harlots, they had great humility. There is a marvelous book translated by Benedicta Ward, "The Harlots of the Desert." I'd give that to every woman who has had an abortion experience.

LH: Meg, if somebody has gone through the abortion process, maybe the programs that you've talked about, and maybe they have gone through the process of healing, could they then perhaps be involved in meditation, or do you think it's a closed door?

SR. MEG: Well, I'll just say my experience is that they'll go back to meditation, but I've never seen them do the type of meditation that is closer to the Buddhist type of meditation, in either the concentration or the receptivity. I think it's healthier for them not too meditate.

They might do the relationship practice of relating to a mate and being open then to a healthy sexuality, or even a celibate practice, they have a lot they can do, without meditating.

There is no sense of opening too deeply to the emptiness that brings back the terrible depth of pain that they've had through the abortion. Now, I would never say it directly, but usually they are not called to meditate. That's more the point.

Okay. The next level is mental illness. People that have had serious mental breakdowns or are taking medication because of schizophrenia or bipolar or multiple personalities. They always seem to end up on retreats because they are in a lot of pain, and they seek the benefit of the interior world. They can be very wise, and usually extremely intelligent.

Should they meditate? The answer is no. Really, no. There are other ways, again, through mindfulness above the river, staying faithful to their medication, being at one with the pain and sorrow they've had.

___The risk of meditation practice is too high for them.___

So mental illness is -- and they also -- we've had suicides. The risk of meditation practice is too high for them. Your risk as a teacher or a spiritual director is too high.

It's very hard with the mentally healthy to go this deeply under the river stuff, let alone people that are mentally unhealthy. We don't know what other forces might be working inside of them.

Okay, moving right along, the next group is the psychic phenomena folks. Some people are very open. They receive psychic phenomena. They are just paraspiritual.

I directed a retreat not too long ago with five or six Santa Domingo women as part of the group. They had a strong sense of the dead, the unliving. These cultures have much more of that kind of thing than we do in United States. They needed a very strong mental state to enter into the zones where that phenomena lives, they need a lot more training. That's another interesting level.

The fifth group are the people that overdo everything, they might access kundalini energy quickly -- lights, bells, whistles, and sexual energies rising. They need to disqualify themselves, because it needs to be a slow practice, so that your whole inner level of energies can accept it when kundalini rises.

Kundalini is an energy that once it opens, can never be put to sleep again, it's very serious. None of the people I know are advanced enough to guide people once the kundalini opens. It can be pretty scary stuff.

The sixth area is false teachers. False teachers are people who at some level take the disciple, and become the need, rather than servicing the need. It usually shows up as sex, I have story after story about this.

Whenever there is touching, physical touching with a disciple or a student, it is always a bad sign. Not sometimes. Always.

There are these advanced spiritual folks that run around hugging people. The point is, they can give you these energies, yes, but it really would be better for somebody else to do it. You really should get your physical contact from friends, a mate, or a partner. Not through a spiritual teacher. We don't have enough walls to defend ourselves from that.

That leads me to the next domain, and then we'll have to get -- oh, gosh, it's time for Mass already.

We have to be very cautious in the spiritual domain of Reiki energy massage, all that touching manipulates spiritual energies, but what you might get is the practitioners spiritual energy.

The problem is as I see it , and Reiki does work, and it can heal. But the Reiki practitioners may mix whatever they have, any afflictive emotional programs that they have, with your energy. Just saying a little mantra isn't strong enough to purify everything. You really have to have a pure life.

The problem isn't the Reiki practice. The problem is who's doing the practice, and in my opinion most are not far enough along, to be doing what they're doing. For instance, they should be able to fast for 30 days before they do any Reiki body work on you.

To become a Reiki practitioner, it may only take two or three weekends to become certified, they look at it as, it's what they do, not who they are. It's the energies of the unseen you have to be really careful of.

You might come back a week or two later, and you've got all these phantoms living in your head. Stuff you've never had before, and what happened is, they just moved from the Reiki practitioner to you.

I'm moving to the last thing. We go down below the river to the dark forces, and there are a lot of them, the dark forces. They are demonic and they do have form, they do have force.

First you get the gifts, the forces of light. If they can't get to you through food, sex, things, and anger, they'll get you through pride or the angels of light. They have powers.

It's possible to see into people's hearts. You can see ahead in time or behind in time; the gifts of light, they are not that hard to get. They come sometimes through angels of light, which means they are really dark forces getting at you, through light forces.

___You have to be very careful of people that have powers.___

It's the pride. You have to be very careful of people that have powers, anybody that has powers. What you want in a teacher is humility, not powers, because those powers, where do they come from?

Then there are the dark powers. People talk about dark nights of the soul. All right, a dark night of the soul is someone not going through just normal afflictions of food, sex, anger, you know, death and all that. That's normal, they are afflictions.

A dark night of the soul is when you've experienced light, and then the darkness follows. It's all about God. God is missing. What happens in those dark nights is, light forces come and give you light, but they could be lights of evil, not lights of good. That is where you need direction, sorting out good lights from dark lights.

There are really dark forces. People really do hand themselves over to dark forces, and they end up needing an exorcism. As often as three times a year, I find somebody full of darkness, just full of darkness. I don't see halo's, usually, but you can just about see them. They are usually red, or they are gray and smoky.

I know people that can see spirits, they come in through doors and run around rooms and all of that. I'll ask them, well, what do they look like, and they always give me the same description. They are kind of smoky in the light. They have little red eyes, and they've got little -- like that picture on the wall, like that picture of Pan in Kusala's room.

JO: Yeats says it best: Where holy Dionysus once stood, a staring virgin stands. She took his heart from out his breast and held it in her hand. This is the transition from paganism to Christianity. Yeats said it best.

SR. MEG: Do you want to say it again?

JO: I'm paraphrasing, I'm sorry.

Once where holy Dionysus stood, a holy virgin stands, and took his heart from out his breast and held it in her hand.

It was a transition. St. Oren was a druid in Iona who worshiped the sun, and then Columba came and said, we worship the son behind the sun, and he was converted.

But we must always remember those moments of transition from where we first came, and how far we've come.

SR. MEG: And yet it's baptized, it's handed over to our hearts.

JO: Took his heart and held it in her hand. Yeats said it best.

SR. MEG: See, again, we are part of the cosmos, we believe that God through us is continuing creation, and we through God. Christ has already canceled out all evil, so we don't have to worry about that.

But meditation practice, especially if you go into too much emptiness, certain forces fill the emptiness. We don't have the strength, we don't have the teachers, and we don't have the teachings.

In my book "Tools Matter," the last chapter on discernment, I pulled together the teachings on the demonic from Cassian. You can find it there in John Cassian, who again Benedict presumed we knew, which we don't. So, in our tradition we have to be to be aware of, but not afraid of it.

That's the reason for holy water. That's the reason for the crucifix. That's the reason for the Jesus prayer, "Lord Jesus, have mercy on me a sinner." So, we let God do it through us.

The emptiness of Buddhism, is Christ to the Christian, not no-self. There is nobody home.

If it's us, that's self effort, with a big scoop of ego self, and it could even be the fallen self, it could be evil. That's the biggest battle, good and evil. Meditation is a very serious way in which we are more vulnerable to those forces. It's good, but it also has the danger of evil.

That's why it was canceled out many times by the church, because often the demonic arose instead of the goodness. In our tradition, when you do have phenomena that rises, you must dash it on the foot of Christ, or get it verified by a wise director.

___Anything that rises in meditation, we let go of.___

So, here is the guideline: Anything that rises in meditation, we let go of. Anything! Good, evil, anything. We are just dwelling in front of our Lord; so, anything that rises, we lay aside.

Now, in our consciousness what rises, let's say to speak to our Lord, depending on what your path is. Above the river we can be more confident, yes, that is our Lord asking us to have a dialogue with him. But in our unconsciousness, under the river, usually nothing should be held on to. But sometimes we can't let go, because we are out of our domain.

If you are above the river, you know, through prayers and devotion and imaging, you can use your mind there. But below, we need to let go of everything that rises. Those things may not authentic.

JO: Jung would disagree with you. Our subconscious is full of everything, of course, but it's also an energy, our shadow side. The shadow is not necessarily bad; it's the unacknowledged side.

SR. MEG: Right, but don't you deal with it above the river instead of under the river?

JO: You can bring it up and deal with it in the light.

SR. MEG: I wouldn't bring it up. I would let it rise, and then deal with it.

JO: Then deal with it after it comes up.

SR. MEG: Jung is a good example of somebody who is not Christian. He is not Christian. He is self-effort. He is Hindu in his philosophy.

That is where we differ. We would let it rise, and then it's -- see, in other words, God isn't the center for Jung. The self is the center. It's functional transcendent, not transcendent functional. The transcendent is not at the center. That is where we would really differ.

That's why it's very dangerous for us to uncritically go to these places, which is what he did. He went to Hinduism to bring his marvelous stuff together, but it isn't the Christian tradition, and we really have to be careful.

I thought it was marvelous the way you got Kusala to talk about, "Isn't there somebody up there?" And he said, "No." And then you said, "Well, then who is doing this?" And he said, "Nobody."

We would say there is somebody, because we are a creature, and it's through Christ that we do this dynamic, because of Jesus being human. There is nothing like that in the Hindu or the Buddhist tradition. In the Asian tradition, they have no Christ who is also God.

Yesterday was the feast of Athanasius, and he combated the Arian heresy. The Arian heresy is basically the Hindu idea that we would all become gurus through many lifetimes, and that we are really god from the get-go.

Whereas, we don't think so. We say we are creatures from the get-go, and through Christ we become God. So, there is a basic fundamental difference there. It comes to the same point, but you could see our humility is different, and our training is different.

That's the way I understand it, anyway. Does it go down well?

Well It's time for Mass. But can see, if you have a teacher that is either a Hindu or Buddhist, you miss the Christian message. So, as Christians, we must continue this dialogue to stay faithful to our path, but we can use some of the teachings we've learned from the East.

JO: We have the portrait of Jung with the message: God is there present whether called or not.

SR. MEG: Yes, we don't make God.

JO: He's present.

SR. MEG: He did believe in God. See, the Hindus believe in God.

JO: I am different from the self. The stumbling block is the self.

SR. MEG: You are marvelous.

Thank you all.


_Day 5_

Sister Meg  |  Rev. Kusala   | Q & A