On Parmenides

‘The School of Athens’ – by Raphael, 1509 (fresco at the Vatican City) – Wikimedia

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There is nothing,
and there will never be anything,
outside of being
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~ Parmenides (trans. Francis Lucille)

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The Oxford Dictionary wrote this very concise description of Parmenides: “Greek philosopher. Born in Elea in south-western Italy, he founded the Eleatic school of philosophers. In his work ‘On Nature’, written in hexameter verse, he maintained that the apparent motion and changing forms of the universe are in fact manifestations of an unchanging and indivisible reality.” This statement is a quintessential definition of non-duality, and a summary of Parmenides’ work expressed as far as the early fifth century BC, in the cradle of western civilisation. The depth of understanding and vision required to make such statement has puzzled and influenced many a philosopher since, and has aroused the interest of countless spiritual seekers. This spiritual message is worth a good attention here.

Parmenides is the author of one single work, a poem of which only fragments have remained over the years. It survived because the around 800-verse original poem was abundantly quoted by his pairs, and could be re-formed in a shorter version, as known today, of 160 verses. His poem, today translated as ‘On Nature’, ‘On Reality’, or simply ‘Fragments’, is comprised of three parts of which the second and most important has survived in its almost entirety.

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A study of Parmenides’ statement of truth in his poem ‘On Nature’… (READ MORE…)

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The Mystical Doctor

‘View of Toledo’ – El Greco, 1596 (Metropolitan Museum of Art) – Wikimedia

.During the night of 2 December 1577, in the city of Toledo in central Spain, a priest was imprisoned by a group of Carmelites who were refusing Teresa of Ávila’s reformation projects for their Order. He was jailed for 9 months in a monastery under brutal conditions. He was publicly beaten at least weekly, confined in a cell of barely 10 by 6 feet, with only a little light passing through a hole during the day, with bread and scraps of salt fish for a meal, and no change of clothes. But his burning love of god, along with his unfailing devotion and clarity of mind, allowed the 35 years old friar to compose, along with other shorter poems, the greater part of a sumptuous poem — ‘The Spiritual Canticle’ — about a bride’s search for her beloved. The poem, symbolising the soul seeking union with god, and inspired by the ‘Songs of Songs’ of the Bible, starts with these eloquent lines:.

Where have You hidden Yourself,
And abandoned me in my groaning, O my Beloved?
You have fled like the hart,
Having wounded me.
I ran after You, crying; but You were gone
.”
~ ‘The Spiritual Canticle’

The name of this priest and poet was John of the Cross, a Spanish Catholic mystic born in 1542 near Ávila, to whom we owe some of the brightest exposition of truth in the Christian world. Thomas Merton, who held him in very high esteem, presented him as “one of the greatest as well as the safest mystical theologians God has given to His Church.” John of the Cross was born in a poor family of Jewish converts to Catholicism, and received a simple education. He entered the Carmelite Order, made his First Profession when 21, and met Teresa of Ávila a few years later, of whom he remained a faithful associate all his life. Although not a scholar, his studies in theology and philosophy allowed him to quote abundantly from the Bible, and be acquainted with the work of St. Thomas Aquinas.

Although I have chosen to quote here only from the poem ‘The Spiritual Canticle’, John of the Cross is the author of many other poems, among which the renowned ‘The Dark Night’ — better known as ‘The Dark Night of the Soul’ — and ‘The Ascent of Mount Carmel’. His poems have a rich and powerful imagery and are considered to be masterpieces of Spanish poetry. Although they transpire with beauty and meaning, they are not to be readily understood. This is why John of the Cross wrote precise and extensive commentaries on them, some soaring pieces of teaching whose beauty and profundity is sometimes breathtaking. The most exquisite poetry is here going hand in hand with both a great depth of understanding, and the sweetest accents of devotion. The commentaries were written in prose but are here occasionally presented in a free verse form when they lent themselves to it. I am sharing the 1909 translation made by David Lewis, with corrections by Benedict Zimmerman. Listen with what tender accents of poetry and longing the bride is here conversing with her bridegroom, and how a suffering soul who has tasted of the divine is longing for “the secret chamber of God”, which is nothing but the pure consciousness that is hiding in our innermost being:

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O you soul, then, most beautiful of creatures,
who so long to know the place where your Beloved is,
that you may seek Him, and be united to Him,
you know now that you are yourself
that very tabernacle where He dwells,
the secret chamber of His retreat where He is hidden.
Rejoice, therefore, and exult, because all your good
and all your hope is so near you as to be within you;
or, to speak more accurately, that you can not be without it.”
~ ‘The Spiritual Canticle’, 1.8 (Commentaries)

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Wei Wu Wei

‘Hotei in a Boat’ – Hakuin Ekaku (1686-1769) – Yale University Art Gallery – Wikimedia

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When could I have been born,
I who am the conceiver of time itself?
Where could I live,
I who conceive the space wherein all things extend?
How could I die,
I who conceive the birth, life, and death of all things,
I who, conceiving, cannot be conceived?

~ Wei Wu Wei (Posthumous Pieces)

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You may have sometime come across the name ‘Wei Wu Wei’ while reading or researching, and you have thought that it referred to an exotic and remote Zen master of ancient China. Well, you couldn’t have been more wrong. For this is the pen name of a British aristocrat and writer of the last century. His name: Terence James Stannus Gray, who was born in 1895 and died in 1986, the very same years as J. Krishnamurti. ‘Wu Wei’ is nevertheless a Taoist term which literally means ‘effortless action’ or ‘action that is non-action’, and was chosen by the author for the meaning it carries. Regarding his name, the writer explains in the preface of his book ‘Fingers Pointing Towards The Moon’: “What is a name? […] Is not a name essentially — the name of an ego? But the Self, the Principal, the I-Reality has no name. […] If the nameless builders of the Taj Mahal, of Chartres, of Rheims, of a hundred cathedral symphonies, knew that — and avoided the solecism of attributing to their own egos the works that were created through their instrumentality — may not even a jotter-down of passing metaphysical notions know it also?” He continued: “But in case you should still wonder who is responsible for this book I do not know how to do better than to inscribe the words

WEI WU WEI

為無為

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Why are you unhappy?
Because 99.9 per cent
Of everything you think,
And of everything you do,
Is for yourself —
And there isn’t one
.”
~ (‘Ask The Awakened’)

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Discover the rich and insightful nondual writing of Wei Wu Wei… (READ MORE…)

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Sayings of the Church Fathers

‘St. Anthony the Abbot and St. Paul the First Hermit’ – Diego Velazquez, 1635 – WikiArt

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The whole earth is a living icon of the face of God.”
~ John of Damascus

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The birth of a religion is always a time of effervescence. This was the case with Christianity, when appeared many monks, hermits, writers and theologians who contributed to build what would become the foundations of this religion. They were later called the Church Fathers, for they were the first Christians, who cleared the grounds. They took the teaching of Jesus and put it to the test, to the fire of experimentation. They explored it in Greek, in Latin, in Syriac, in silence, in poverty, in the desert, in knowledge. They were the first commentators, the first bishops, popes, exegetes, monks, martyrs of a religion that was still under construction. They came to it with fresh minds. They popped up from Syria, Egypt, Arabia, Turkey, Algeria, Italy, Spain, France, some of them still hungry to find out in their body and mind the traces of truth. They bore the evocative names of a distant time: Anthony the great, Moses the Black, Augustine of hippo, Papias of Hierapolis, Polycarp of Smyrna, Isaac of Nineveh, Maximus the confessor, and many more. Some of the oldest ones had been the direct students of the apostles. Others went to the desert where they lived in reclusion, as was the case with Anthony the Great.

Anthony the Great was born in 251 in Egypt. He was one of these Desert Fathers, and amongst the very first ones to live the hardships of a solitary life in the wilderness. For decades, he remained a strict ascetic. His purpose for doing so was clear enough: “The person who abides in solitude and quiet is delivered from fighting three battles: hearing, speech, and sight. Then there remains one battle to fight — the battle of the heart.” Towards the end of his life, he organised the many people who had finally gathered around him into the first body of monks in history, which is why he was later known as the ‘Father of All Monks’. He died in 356, leaving to his companions this very touching message: “Be earnest to keep your strong purpose, as though you were but now beginning. You know the demons who plot against you, you know how savage they are and how powerless; therefore, fear them not. Let Christ be as the breath you breathe; in Him put your trust. Live as dying daily, heeding yourselves and remembering the counsels you have heard from me. […] And now God save you, children, for Anthony departs and is with you no more.”

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To one whose mind is sound, letters are needless.”

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To say that God turns away from the sinful
is like saying that the sun hides from the blind
.”

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The Practice of the Presence of God

The monk at prayer’ (detail) – Edouard Manet, 1865 – WikiArt

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A little lifting up of the heart suffices.
A little remembrance of GOD, 
one act of inward worship
.”
~ Brother Lawrence

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From the remote time of the seventeenth century in Paris has come a voice whose freshness and intimacy struck a chord in many a spiritual seeker throughout the generations. The man behind it was a lay brother working in the kitchen of a Carmelite monastery in the French capital. He was born Nicolas Herman in 1614 in the region of Lorraine, but took the religious name of Lawrence of the Resurrection. What a miracle that the writing of this simple lay brother found its way down to us. But although a remarkable journey, it is understandable that it did so. For the words of this humble, hardworking man, all occupied to his cooking activities, show a mountain of dedication to God. His simplicity and softness, combined to an undefeatable and spontaneously joyful practice, is a deeply valuable gift passed down to us.

Sometimes I consider myself there as a stone before a carver, whereof he is to make a statue; presenting myself thus before GOD, I desire Him to form His perfect image in my soul, and make me entirely like Himself. At other times, when I apply myself to prayer, I feel all my spirit and all my soul lift itself up without any care or effort of mine, and it continues as it were suspended and firmly fixed in GOD, as in its centre and place of rest.”
~ Brother Lawrence

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Rejoice in the illuminating life and practice of Brother Lawrence… (READ MORE…)

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The Flowers of St. Francis

Brother Nazario Gerardi – ‘The Flowers of St. Francis’

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Praise be to you, O Lord, and to all your creatures. 
Especially Brother Sun, through whom you light our days. 
He is beautiful and radiant and resplendent, 
and derives all meaning from you
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~ Canticle to the Sun

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The deepest realisations and expressions of truth in Christianity have sometimes come from words and understanding, as was the case with Meister Eckhart, but it is, by far, not the most common path. Many a man or a woman have come to embrace God’s being through the expression of profound love and surrender. Such a path was trodden by Francis of Assisi, and has been splendidly shown in Roberto Rossellini’s 1950 film ‘The Flowers of St. Francis’. And if all one knew of Francis of Assisi was through watching this supremely elegant film, one would know what needs to be known, one would meet the essential — the essence — of this man’s life, of anybody’s life when it is lived from love and humility. One would know of the pure joy of being, of trust in life’s bounty, of care and attention for every beings on earth.

Showing only a moment of Francis’ life, the film is more a parable on the qualities that were emphasised throughout his life and teachings, than the real description of his life’s journey. Through a succession of simple vignettes, we are exposed to a panoply of Francis’ various expressions of love. We are shown a man who lived with his heart, and a life that has been made into a prayer to god. We are shown that prayer is but an act of love. We are shown people coming together around a common faith in God, their daily life and turmoils, their behaviours. Francis of Assisi encouraged his disciples to access or express god’s being by being oneself an example of the presence of god. And by making this presence shine in all their daily activities, so that the brightness of god can be harvested by everybody around. These expressions are in the film like the little flowers of St. Francis. A whole bouquet of them.

Praise be to you, O Lord, 
for Sister Moon and all the stars, 
which you cause to shine clear and bright
.”
~ Canticle to the Sun

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A homage to Francis of Assisi through Roberto Rossellini’s movie… (READ MORE…)

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The Householder Sage

Photo by lensnmatter on Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

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Objectivity, in any form, is the only obstacle to Truth.”
~ Atmananda Krishna Menon

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It really is a remarkable thing that some of the clearest expressions of modern day non-duality have come from simple Indian men who lived simple lives in society. Atmananda Krishna Menon, married and a father of three children, a police inspector, was one such man. He became, along with Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta Maharaj, an essential pillar of the non-dual understanding in India, giving voice to a new approach called the Direct Path, and becoming a guiding light for many seekers of truth in the West. 

Krishna Menon was born in 1883 in Kerala. He grew up in a well educated Brahmin family — some of his relatives were poets or scholars — and had a happy childhood. He was endowed with a good and curious mind, that allowed him to find pathways towards understanding that are clear, simple and effective. Krishna Menon had the highest respect for the function of a true guru. His encounter with his teacher was simple and eloquent. Walking by the roadside, he met in 1919 a swami and sannyasin from Calcutta named Yogananda. It was a short, transforming and unforgettable meeting that lasted only one night but touched him to his very soul. “This paralyzed my ego.” did he say. He realised his true self in just a few years and began teaching. His impeccable logic and clarity drew many a student around him. 

The Truth goes into you undressed,
not through language at all
.”
~ Atmananda Krishna Menon

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