Today's Saying: As no one can see with her eyes for you, no one can see the truth for you. Either you see, or you do not see. Truth is not up for adoption. And truth is not a pass-me-down, like a family heirloom. Truth is ever-fresh, not a left-over from the past.
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We have an idea of happiness. We believe that only certain conditions will make us happy. But it is often our very idea of happiness that prevents us from being happy. We have to look deeply into our perceptions in order to become free of them. Then, what has been a perception becomes an insight, a realization of the path. This is neither perception nor nonperception. It is a clear vision, seeing things as they are.
*Thich Nhat Hanh. The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching.
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The Gospel of John has a story relating a point key to any wisdom path. Of this wisdom, we can ask two questions: (1) "What is this wisdom we call spiritual?" (2) "How do we receive this sacred insight?" In this writing, we will seek to arrive at an answer to these questions. First, the story...
Philip found Nathanael and said to him, "We have found him about whom Moses in the law [Torah] and also the prophets [Nebi'im] wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth." Nathanael said to him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see." When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, "Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!" Nathanael asked him, "Where did you get to know me?" Jesus answered, "I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you." Nathanael replied, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel [the Messiah]!" Jesus answered, "Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these." And he said to him, "Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man [Jesus]."
*Gospel of John 1.45-51 (NRSV)
*Note: In Jesus' time, two of the three sections of the Jew's Bible had been closed: the Law, the Prophets. Hence, Phillip's joining of these two connotes the Hebrew Bible. Later, the third section was closed, the final part.
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Philip takes a practical approach when faced with Nathanael's skepticism. The latter expresses what Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche (1939-1987) refers to, in Cynicism and Magic, as "cynicism." This cynicism is a skeptical openness, not a denial. Nathanael expresses this by keeping open the dialogue, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Nazareth was a small town located in the middle of nowhere, so to speak, distant from any socially significant location. Nathanael's reply is, "Can any remarkable person come from a small, off-the-beaten-path town of country bumpkins?"
Still, Nathanael's inquiry does not shut the door on the possibility Philip offers him. The skepticism invites further dialogue. Nathanael demonstrates "beginner's mind," coined by Shunryu Suzuki Roshi (1904-1971). Here, we welcome the gap between yes and no, not closing off in one or the other. We remain receptive. We may conclude yes, no, or yes and no; we may decide to wait for more information or to contemplate the matter. Keeping the situation open is essential to listening.
Assumptions shut off the freshness of the question and exploration. Assumptions cut short dialogue. Rather than assume, we remain open. We become the openness.
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Philip says, "Come and see." So, we have the two movements of insight.
1) "Come." Philip does not enter a debate or choose to argue with Nathanael. He likely is aware of the futility of seeking to convince his friend. The word "Come" invites the closing of the gap between Nathanael and the place of the answer - Jesus. The word, also, implies Philip has been to that place. So, it is not "go," but "come." "Nathaniel, I have experienced the answer; so, come to that place I am." "I am" for revelation lingers with us. We never leave it behind us. It and we are oneed. That seen becomes part of us.
If we are going to receive spiritual insight, we must do something. We must be practical. Spiritual understanding is not just going to show up. Truth is already present. Yet, we do not see it. We need efficient means to prepare ourselves to see. So, these have been called by various names: spiritual disciplines, spiritual practices, tools of the trade, means of grace, ...
In Buddhism, is it said there are 84,000 Dharma doors. "Dharma" (Sanskrit; Pali, Dhamma) is "truth, teaching" and, more specifically, "Buddhist teaching, wisdom; Buddha's teaching, wisdom." "Door" connotes something that opens. Anything we mindfully experience is a door opening to wisdom. Yet, again, if we do not engage the door, it is not there for us. The door appears by taking action. Meditation, as a case, can be a door, but only if we do meditation. Singing can be a door, but only if we sing. Reading scriptures can be a door, but only if we read scriptures. Gathered worship can be a door, but only if we gather with others for worship. If Nathanael does not act, he remains stuck outside the revelation Philip has spoken of and experienced himself.
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In I Corinthians 3.1-3, the Christian writer addresses the spiritual immaturity of the Corinthian fellowship. To grow up, we must engage the path to grow up. And we never cease growing spiritually; otherwise, we remain spiritual babes, and some do not even reach spiritual infancy.
And I, brothers and sisters, could not speak with you as spiritual men and women. I talked with you like babies in Christ. I gave you milk. I did not feed you solid food. You could not take it. You still cannot take it, for you are still sensual [or, carnal, fleshly, worldly].
"See" is another action word. "See" is to experience, for wisdom arises as experience. Often, the term "realization" appears for this seeing. We cannot find an abstract truth. Truth is living. Wisdom is alive. We are already one with truth. Do we know it experientially?
Philip cannot give this living truth he had met in Jesus to anyone. Nathanael had to apply, like a scientist, a particular praxis.
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If we follow a wisdom path, wisdom will arise from the path. The path, understanding, and the practitioner, at first, seem separate. This separation is not so. The three are one. We can say rightfully, "To experience the path is to experience wisdom." Or, "To experience the wisdom is to experience oneself." Wisdom unifies everything, for wisdom is unitive and the Unity.
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In verse 40, Nathanael speaks forth his experience in meeting Jesus, as did Philip prior. He previously spoke forth his skepticism, not now. He acknowledges he sees. Jesus represents the immediacy of revelation. Again, wisdom is not abstract. Revelation is intimate.
So, insight can be powerful, so much so we might have trouble embracing it. See, we have been conditioned to ascribe to beliefs. Yet, truth is alive - powerfully so. No wonder many hide from this meeting.
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So, today, we conclude with this practical, straightforward passageway to spiritual understanding, whatever particular tradition one follows. The two key elements of action and realization are universal. First, we engage a path through action. Second, we see through a direct, immediate encounter with understanding. We move from being sensual - the life of the body-mind - to being spiritual - the life of the Spirit, or spirit. This movement, like all growth, is developmental. We return again and again to the space of unknowing. We sink into the gap between no answer and an answer. In the space between, we listen and explore before claiming to see something. Another key is always to be beginning anew.
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*© Brian K. Wilcox, 2021
*Brian's book, An Ache for Union: Poems on Oneness with God through Love, can be ordered through major online booksellers or the publisher AuthorHouse. The book consists of poems based on wisdom traditions, predominantly Christian, Buddhist, and Sufi, with extensive notes on the poetry's teachings and imagery.