Understanding Emptiness

Having discovered a central role for women of grace through my interpretation of Revelation, I was hungry for more insight. It arrived for me at Thunderbolt Books in Santa Monica, in the form of Judith Simmer-Brown’s Dakini’s Warm Breath: The Feminine Principle in Tibetan Buddhism.

As I explained at Love Returns, Unconditional Love cannot judge, for to judge would be to reject experience that must be understood to bring healing. This is the central tenet of Buddhism: the acolyte must avoid attachment to phenomena, seeing them clearly without judgment, and use compassion to transform experience. This principle is called “emptiness.”

Christianity struggles with this wisdom, for it foretells of an era of universal love guided by Christ. When people hurt others, Christians categorize them as “fallen,” as among the goats the Jesus separates from the lambs in the Last Judgment.

Being the least subjective of our great religious traditions, in my reading of Dakini’s Warm Breath, it appears to me that Buddhism has advanced most closely to the underlying nature of reality.

Dakinis originated in Indian Buddhism as carnal demons that protected nature from exploitation. Perhaps understanding that Humanity was going to place itself in opposition to nature, they originally sought to stifle spiritual development. In Tibetan Buddhism, this changed when enlightened persons projected their commitment to compassion and honor for all aspects of reality. Discovering a partner in those practitioners, many dakinis took cause with them, becoming defenders of the wisdom teachings from corruption. Having removed this impediment to relation with the divine feminine, Tibetan masters then encountered the Great Queen Prajnaparamita.

The parallels with the Book of Revelation are too obvious to ignore. The carnal dakinis would be Whore of Babylon; Prajnaparamita would be the Sacred Mother. Indeed, Simmer-Brown explains:

So, she who manifests as Prajnaparamita is the Great Mother of all the buddhas of the past, present and future.

Parjnaparamita has specific characteristics that allow her to serve in this role. She is space. She “shows the world for what it is.” and she “reveals the thoughts and actions of other beings.”

In Love Works, I advanced a model of spirit that explains these characteristics. The primary duality of existence is self and other. To have compassion, we must preserve our self. That is the gift of space, without which all phenomena would collapse into a single point. Space is not empty, but a lattice framework that supports the evolution of spirit.

When an event occurs, space does not transform the event – it does not seek to interpret or change the event. Those that seek the truth are given access to that history, while those that serve the self must fight against the resistance marshalled by the truth.

All events unfold into spirit. To those that do not impose themselves upon the world, instead choosing to negotiate win-win outcomes for all beings, those thoughts are freely available. Those that work for selfish ends trap themselves in their materiality, and so are cut off from this source of wisdom.

As Simmer-Brown explains, the Buddhist knows this through experience, but has no answer to “Why?” The Christian relies upon the promises of Christ, and answers “Why?” with “Because God loves us.”

In the first hundred pages of Simmer-Brown’s beautiful, wise and compassionate treatise, her teachers emphasize that the dakini is the root of Buddhist practice. The bodhisattva is a practitioner of “skillful means” that propagate the dakini’s wisdom. This seems to deprecate the masculine role.

At Love Returns, I offer this: Love seeks to create marvelous relationships. In a wounded world, to do so it must divide into two parts: a masculine part that changes and a feminine part that preserves what is good. Neither is superior or subordinate. Eventually, they unite, and our division from love is healed. Masculine virtues will continually invent new experiences, but only under the guidance of feminine virtues that prepare space to receive those manifestations.

The Trust Mind

Hundreds of years before the life of Jesus of Nazareth, the mystics of Greek Hellenismos understood Humanity’s spiritual development as a growth into engagement with certain fundamental natural forces. Aphrodite, for example, was represented as a beautiful woman, but as a god mediated between humanity and the force of attraction, which manifests as much in gravitation as it does in sensual desire. Following the era of the Titans and Olympians, the aim of the mystics was to usher in the age of Dionysius, allowing men to interact directly with the principles. In other words, for us to become gods.

When this truth was first revealed to me, the speaker admitted that in the modern era, we view Dionysius, the “party god”, as an unlikely avatar. We view alcohol as a vice, but the Greeks saw it as a tool. When we are drunk, we “lose our inhibitions.” That may manifest itself in a tendency to orgy, but at a deep spiritual level reflects the loosening of the protective barriers around our souls. We surrender ourselves to trust, and so relate more freely and deeply than we would otherwise. (See this post by Irwin Osbourne for more on this experience.)

The power of this relation can be abused. Megalomania is one pathology. In “Ray”, the film biography of Ray Charles, one scene reconstructs a set in which a horn player stands up to take an impromptu solo in the middle of a number. The man was dismissed, not because he violated the integrity of the rendition, but because Ray recognized intuitively that the man was on heroin. Accused of hypocrisy, Charles’s retort was that he had to be the only one. A second pathology is dependency. In graduate school, a friend shared his experience of a teacher who drank incessantly, and actually could do chemistry well only in that state. It took me a while to figure out how to suggest that maybe the teacher wasn’t doing the thinking at all – that the alcohol enabled him to inject himself into a community of minds that tolerated his needs.

There are other methods to achieve this integration. A young woman can be almost suicidal in her disposition to trust the men that she desires, and when that is manifested in sexual license, she may serve as the pool in which men join. Junger’s book “War” documents the characteristics of men that survive constant threat only by surrendering themselves to trust in each other.

There is enormous power in such melding, but the methods listed above cannot be sustained by our physiology. The licentious woman becomes corrupted by masculine demons, and loses her beauty. Substance abuse drives our metabolism into pathways that destroy our health. And war is a process that no one escapes without harm, even if it is hidden deep in the soul behind a stoic mask.

It is for this reason that everdeepening.org opens with this statement:

Love dissolves the barriers of time and space, allowing wisdom, energy and understanding to flow between us, and embracing us with the courage, clarity and calm that overcomes obstacles and creates opportunities. When we open our hearts to one another, there is no truth that is not revealed, and to those that love themselves, no impulse to harm that cannot be turned to the purposes of healing and creation.

As a Christian, I see the ultimate human manifestation of this truth in the march of Jesus of Nazareth to the cross. And behind that sacrifice, I must see the yearnings of a perfect and unconditional love that invests itself in the realization of that truth in our lives.

But when picking up the Bible, it doesn’t take long to reach contradictory evidence. Taking Eden as a metaphor for a relationship of trust between the source of love and humanity, that trust is corrupted by the serpent, which appeals fundamentally to human selfishness. In God, we were gods, but Eve is encouraged [NIV Gen. 3:5] to “be like God, knowing good an evil.” For this breach of trust, Adam and Eve are dismissed from the garden, and punishments are heaped upon them.

What was so heinous about their crime? Was it worse than the slaying of Abel, for which Cain was allowed a lifetime of repentance? And what is so important about us that God would give Jesus as a sacrifice to the goal of our redemption?

To understand this, we have to understand the nature of thought. We have succumbed in the modern age to scientific materialism, and so hold that thought occurs in the brain. I know this not to be true: I relate frequently to thinking beings that have no bodies and no brains, and so must recognize that my brain is merely an interface to my soul. To facilitate the expression of will through my body, the operation of the brain must correlate completely with the thinking done by my spirit.

Thus I interpret “In the image of God he created them” [NIV Gen. 1:27] in this way: our bodies are a tool through which we manifest the will of our souls and – given the quote above – they operate most effectively when used to express love.

The problem is that every interface is a two-way street. While through our commitment to creative expression, we can bring truth and beauty into the world, the opposite can occur. In the experience of pain and suffering, we project thoughts back into God. In the expression of greed and lust, we corrupt the purity of love. This is articulated many times in the Bible: consider Noah, Exodus and Ezekiel. Rather than being remote and impervious, God suffers from our wrong-doing. The flood is thus a desperate move to rid himself of the irritation, as is the destruction of the Holy City through the witness of Ezekiel. While horrifying to us as humans, we might imagine that so must the bacterium feel when confronting the operation of the immune system.

The error of the Law is to interpret these actions as a judgment, as an evidence of sin. They are not. The effect is to destroy the material manifestations of the success of selfishness, revealing its sterility. They are actions taken to frustrate selfish personalities that attempt to prevent love from liberating and healing their abused captives.

This is “The Knowledge of Good and Evil” that brings death into the world. Lacking appreciation of the virtues of love, we chose not to trust in love. We demanded understanding. But understanding is gained only through experience, and experience requires expression of both good and evil. We are educating ourselves.

In the end, Christ gathers those that chose good into the fold of the perfect love that originates from the divine source. We join our shared memory and wisdom into a single holy mind, and heal the world of the disease of selfishness. Thus I do not interpret the Crucifixion as atonement for our sins. Rather, I believe it should be seen as a surrender to trust in love, a struggle waged most fiercely in the Garden of Gethsemane, and redeemed by the proof of the power of love in the Resurrection. Rather than an indictment of our frailty, it is meant to be an exhortation to manifest our own forms of greatness.

Trust in yourselves. Trust in love. Welcome yourselves into the Holy Spirit, the mind formed when that trust is perfected in us.