Detail from the Darius krater
Metropolitan Museum, NY
Much is shared openly; and of that, much is well meant but ill conceived. We all share responsibility for this issue.
The heart of inner practice beats inside a body of Grace and compassion from which it cannot be separated or removed, because like the ordinary physical heart—which cannot be removed from the body and continue to function—it requires and depends on the entire body of inner practice in order to fulfill its functions.
In this way even the most esoteric work has a hidden heart that beats inside the practice: that is to say, an inner heart composed of work that is not discussed even among initiates. This work is invisible to mankind as a whole and will always remain so; not just because it must remain forever separate, sacred and pure—virginal—in order to perform its appointed tasks, but also because the work it does is impossible to describe with words.
This practice carries with it demands that cannot be described or circumscribed by glib proclamations and commonplace statements. We too often use such and thereby impose the fragile limitations of our ordinary minds and experience on what we share amongst one another. We're creatures of habit; and we all—good folk, indifferent, and bad—repeatedly trudge across the same ground and make the same grand statements (which we've learned by listening to and imitating others) about how there are many paths, one truth, all masters are at the heart teaching the same things, etc.
This stuff is rich spiritual bullshit. All such statements are false: not in and of themselves.
Not simply because we've learned them by rote and repeat them to one another like parrots (who, by the way, are remarkably intelligent birds.)
No, the heart of the lie here is a much more complicated matter that begins within our inattention, and our assumptions that we understand.
We too often use the ideas of love and compassion to reassure ourselves and keep ourselves asleep, because we do not realize—or, for that matter, want to realize—how much a real understanding of these terms costs. Everyone wants to suffer selfishly as much as possible, but no one understands what it is to suffer unselfishly. Find yourself one instant in exchange with another person where you organically understand this term— to suffer unselfishly—and very much will become clear, even only in that one instant.
The soil this understanding grows in takes years to prepare and till, but the seedling only takes a single moment to sprout. All that while the seed lies dormant while we admire the beautiful qualities of its symmetry and its shining shell, never realizing that all that has to crack apart and be destroyed—at which point something quite green and living and entirely unpredictable bursts forth, changing everything.
So we can't speak truly of such truths. They're too sacred— and too religiously sexual, that is, intimately procreative—to belong outside the closed doors of the personal inner experience. Christ had Himself nailed to a cross to illustrate how much a spiritual life costs, and we still don't understand. We want the warm fuzzy version.
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.