Dharma Topic: Mindfulness: The Middle Way in the Modern World

Dharma Topic: Mindfulness: The Middle Way in the Modern World

Discussion date: Thu, Apr 21, 2005 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Dear Still Water Friends,

This Thursday, April 21, our topic for our discussionwill be "Mindfulness: The Middle Way in the Modern World."

For the past several weeks an awareness have been growing inme of how much the modern world is explicitly or implicitly committed to one oftwo world views. On one side are the secularists, scientists, and "peopleof modernity" who believe that what is most real is what can be measured orpublicly observed — a philosophical shorthand for this position is materialrealism. Unleavened by a higher power or spiritual energy (neither of which canbe measured), material realism often leads to consumerism, hedonism, andalienation from self and others.

On the other side are people who believe that the deepesttruths have been revealed in sacred documents by a higher power. If we havefaith and follow precisely the directives of the documents, and the religiousleaders who are charged with interpreting the documents, we will be better andthe world will be better. This is the basic position of fundamentalists (thoughthe details of what one believes dramatically change depending what kind offundamentalist one is).

In the middle, between the positions, are people I think ofas spiritual progressives. They believe absolutely in energies which cannot bemeasured or publicly observed and, at the same time, believe that maturespirituality concerns the truths one is able to experience and embody and notthe creed to which one adheres.

In my mind, Thich Nhat Hanh is the quintessential spiritualprogressive. The five mindfulness trainings, and even more so, the fourteenmindfulness trainings are spiritual progressive statements of faith.

They events of the past week, however, have brought to mindanother spiritual progressive: Father Anthony de Mello. He was a spiritual guideand teacher. Born in Bombay, he became a Jesuit priest and psychotherapist andfounded the Sadhana Institute of Pastoral Counseling near Poona, India. Throughwidely-read books and workshops for Catholic clergy and laypeople, he taughtmany people Sadhana, a Sanskrit word meaning "the way to God." Hisemphasis was on direct experience, awareness:

Come home yourself! Come back to your senses! Do you hear that bird sing? How can you hear the song and not hear the singer? How can you see the wave and not see the ocean? How can you see the dance and not see the dancer?

In The Song of the Bird, de Mello critiqued thefundamentalist position:

One man spoke of going to the fair. The World Fair of Religions. Not a trade fair. But the competition was as fierce, the propaganda loud.

At the Jewish stall we were given handouts that said that God was all-compassionate and the Jews were his Chosen People. The Jews. No other people were as chosen as they.

At the Moslem stall we learned that God was all-merciful and Mohammed is his only Prophet. Salvation comes from listening to God’s Prophet.

At the Christian stall we discovered the God is love and there is no salvation outside the Church. Join the Church or risk eternal damnation.

On the way out I asked my friend, "What do you think of God?" He replied, "He is bigoted, fanatical, and cruel."

Back home, I said to God, "How do you put up with this sort of thing, Lord? Don’t you see they have been giving you a bad name for centuries?"

God said, "It wasn’t I who organized the fair. In fact, I’d be too ashamed to visit it."

Eleven years after de Mello’s death in 1987, in an officialNotification from the Vatican, Joseph Cardinal. Ratzinger, the head of theCongregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, summarized and then condemned deMello’s beliefs:

Father de Mello demonstrates an appreciation for Jesus, of whom he declares himself to be a "disciple." But he considers Jesus as a master alongside others. The only difference from other men is that Jesus is "awake" and fully free, while others are not. Jesus is not recognized as the Son of God, but simply as the one who teaches us that all people are children of God. In addition, the author’s statements on the final destiny of man give rise to perplexity. At one point, he speaks of a "dissolving" into the impersonal God, as salt dissolves in water. On various occasions, the question of destiny after death is declared to be irrelevant; only the present life should be of interest. With respect to this life, since evil is simply ignorance, there are no objective rules of morality. Good and evil are simply mental evaluations imposed upon reality.

Consistent with what has been presented, one can understand how, according to the author, any belief or profession of faith whether in God or in Christ cannot but impede one’s personal access to truth. The Church, making the word of God in Holy Scripture into an idol, has ended up banishing God from the temple. She has consequently lost the authority to teach in the name of Christ.

With the present Notification, in order to protect the good of the Christian faithful, this Congregation declares that the above-mentioned positions are incompatible with the Catholic faith and can cause grave harm.

(The complete statement is available from the Vatican at http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19980624_demello_en.html)

You are invited to join us this Thursday evening for ourmeditation period (from 7 to 8) and for our discussion (from 8 to 9:15). Anothershort reading from de Mello is below.

Warm wishes,

Mitchell Ratner 
Senior Teacher

 (From One Minute Wisdom by Anthony de Mello)


"Don’t look for God," the Master said. "Justlook-and all will be revealed."

"But how is one to look?"

"Each time you look at anything, see only what is thereand nothing else."

The disciples were bewildered, so the Master made itsimpler: "For instance: When you look at the moon, see the moon and nothingelse."

"What else could one see except the moon when one looksat the moon?"

"A hungry person could see a ball of cheese. A lover,the face of his beloved."

in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Apr 21, 2005


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Mon, March 4

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Tue, March 5

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Fri, March 8

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Sat, March 9