“Gate, Gate, Paragate…”

“Gate, Gate, Paragate…”
“Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone utterly beyond…”

We used to chant this ancient Hindu Chant in our small contemplative circle in Snowmass, Colorado, back in the early 1990s, during the “Advaita” phase of our work. I hadn’t thought of it for years, but it suddenly popped back into my mind this morning as the following exchange with a student suddenly flowed out of me, from where I do not know. I think I may actually have just encapsulated in about 800 words everything I really wanted to say in my next book, currently (and a little too Sisyphusfully) on the drawing boards. Anyway, for what it’s worth….
Happy formlessness, Cynthia


The question…

Dear Cynthia,

I have very much appreciated your teachings and approach to the spiritual life. I’m writing because I’ve been increasingly bothered for the last several months with the doubt that there is an actual spiritual, supernatural realm beyond our human experience. I truly believe we human beings have deep spiritual experience, even a mystical sense of union with God. But how can we know that this experience is connected to anything real beyond the perceptions of our brains? I just have this nagging doubt that once our brains die, everything goes dark. It makes less and less sense to me how we could retain, or regain, consciousness and personhood after death as the doctrine of the resurrection promises.

These questions have become an obstacle to my prayer. I feel like I need to know (or have better-understood intellectual reasons for wagering) that there is an objectively real spiritual realm beyond earth and the human brain, in order to pray with motivation and hope.

Could you let me know how you know? Or the reasons you come back to for trusting in the reality of a spiritual realm that transcends the experiences (however profound) of our bodies and minds?

Liquid Sky

And my response…

Thank you for sharing with me this profound and delicate transition point in your own journey. Both the clarity and the honesty with which you reveal your struggle suggest you’re really standing at the edge of a major paradigm shift. I’d almost be inclined to say the one that ushers you through the gate into the authentic nondual.

It’s clear that your old cosmology of God— and the prayers emerging from it—is crumbling before your eyes, And that’s good. But what replaces it?

One way to go, certainly, is to simply replace your previous theological/metaphysical castle with a new one, generated by the same mechanisms of the brain, only this time more spacious. The whole metaphysical postulation of a supernatural or “imaginal” realm speaks directly to that strategy.

Desert growthThroughout the spiritual ages, across all the sacred traditions, there has been a cloud of witnesses who can validate that personhood beyond the physical realm does indeed exist. I have had the perhaps questionable privilege of being able to travel in this realm a bit over these past twenty years on the eagle’s wings of my spiritual teacher Rafe. So I know that there is indeed water in this well, and that the well does indeed water the earth and materially help it through the recurring drought times and deserts of the human spirit. Yet I know also that even this well ultimately proves to be a construction. Just as everything in this all-too-perishable realm ultimately reveals itself to be.

But this doesn’t mean it’s false–only impermanent, as the Buddhists would say. In his recent book Waking, Dreaming, Being philosopher Evan Thompson has a brilliant one-liner: “All illusions are constructions, but not all constructions are illusions.” The impermanent, intermediate, and ultimately mirage-like nature of the surrounding imaginal/supernatural world is indeed a construction. But so is the cosmos itself (and the word “cosmos” in Greek means “ornament”): a beautiful, construction through which the otherwise inaccessible white light of the divine heart becomes manifest. We all participate in that illusion, each to our own degree, to our own level of clarity and toughmindedness. And good is done here– as well as some degree of harm. In the words of the old koranic maxim, God speaks and says, “I was a hidden treasure and I longed to be known, so I created the worlds, visible and invisible.” All of us, in our temporarily separated individual conscious viewing platforms are pixels participating in that grand construction, the revelation of the divine heart. It is all fiction. And it is all real.

Down from the treeBut another way of moving through this impasse—and the way I think you’re actually intuiting here—is not to build another cosmic Prospero’s castle using the same old mental methodology, but to question the nature of the mind itself in its seemingly unbreakable addiction to mentally constructed meaning. What would it mean to live “bare,” without that whole mental castle?

A scary threshold, to be sure. Few reach it, and the few who do generally get scared shitless and go running back as quickly as possible to the world of constructed meaning. But it IS possible to stand there and to stand well. Beyond the cloud of constructed meaning, there IS such a thing as direct perception. And you can get there if you wish. If you can stand it.

As Thomas Merton observed, shortly before the close of his life, in his own devastating moment of final clairvoyance (which I can almost but not quite quote from memory): “I was jerked out of my habitual, half-tied way of looking at things …having seen through every question without trying to discredit anyone or anything–without refutation, without establishing some other argument.” The constructive principle drops out, and what remains is simply bare seeing.

And it’s just here that one discovers the remarkable, elusive secret: that meaning and explanation are not the same thing. Explanation is of the mind. Meaning is of the heart, a felt-sense of belongingness that needs neither justification nor further action. It is simply its own fullness. Prayer does not reach it, for it is the SOURCE of prayer, the source of everything.

Rest assured that consciousness does not go dark when your individual pixel of it departs from its individual body container. The only thing that goes dark—that is to say, if you decide to forego a side trip through the imaginal or boddhisattva bardos and proceed direct to the heart of the infinite—is your individual RELATIONSHIP to consciousness. Consciousness is the stuff of the universe, undivided and whole. It will never go dark. It will simply enfold “you,” and the exile will be over…

I’m not sure this helps. But hopefully it at least affirms that you’re standing on sacred ground, and that cynicism is not the only option. The other is to deepen the wonder.



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8 thoughts on ““Gate, Gate, Paragate…”

    1. I just want noted that the answer provided on “Ask Cynthia” is for my very last question and while it’s enough to reveal that Cynthia’s views are certainly not Christian she has failed to answer the question in context of my full previous comment and continues to avoid an adequate defence of her claims to be a Christian wisdom teacher.

  1. It looks to me as if there is a celebration taking place of a kind of return to the “Golden Age” of evolution before the ego came to be and the human species lived in a unitive unconsciousness (the Garden of Eden mythology, healthy early childhood, etc.). At that time the identity of the human species was no doubt rooted not in the mind (free of conceptualization and constructs for they didn’t have the capacity for it) but in the body. So according to you they were somehow freer than we are for they didn’t even have mental constructs to get in the way of their bare seeing. There was no sense of separation to be overcome and therefore no consciousness of the union they enjoyed directly… But that ship has so obviously sailed. There is no going back.
    The ego developed through form, right? It arose out of the universe and is therefore the next stage of evolution after the “Golden Age”. The human species developed a sense of separation from each other and the universe itself because the universe evolved that way irrespective of the insanity it produces. The evolution of ego consciousness, the separate self, happened. It seems as if this is being described by implication as some kind of a mistake and that the goal is to return to a unitive unconsciousness mislabelled as unitive consciousness hence the celebration of a return to formless pure consciousness (for form and separation go hand in hand. Without it there is no differentiation). Yet here we are.
    As “one” with the universe (or God) as you may be, it is I who am writing this particular comment and you who are reading it. As much as it is true that this very discussion is the universe conversing with itself, in, through and as us, it is equally true that there is a separation required in order for that to occur. In other words, the development of the separate self is required for a higher, more complex form of unity to evolve. When two or more separate selves achieve unitive consciousness (not unitive unconsciousness, as if that’s possible after the development of the ego) there is a higher oneness, a higher expression of Teilhard’s love energy both driving and directing the evolution of the universe. There could be no crueller nor thoughtless act (no matter how blissful its dressed up to be) than to create separated beings who know it (For we all do, no matter how much we spiritualize it and claim that unitive consciousness has freed us from that illusion) only to swallow them back up into the ocean of consciousness once their “job” is done. It makes far more sense that unitive separation (not unitive unconsciousness) is part of what’s coming. At least then we can all be a little more honest.
    Not only is form required for the development of the ego but also required for the higher expression of love in the next stage of evolution, hence Jesus’ physical (though different physicality) resurrection. If more spiritual teachers came back down to earth maybe material reality would once again regain its utter mystery. Nobody can even define what the hell a simple leaf is let alone consciousness itself. To say that the leaf IS consciousness as if you actually know what that means is tantamount to saying with a straight face “that orange is an orange.” Very helpful. You can have unitive unconsciousness in the absence of form but certainly not unitive consciousness. In order to be conscious (egoic or unitive) the self is required and in order to be a self, form is required. There are no heavens that exist in some “conceptualized” place apart from the universe (or multiverse) of material reality. That’s a form of dualism. I can only know that I am the universe become conscious of itself once I have a self to be conscious of it, which requires the initial development of the ego, which requires form. I think a recognition of this would cut through a whole lot of spiritualized mumbo-jumbo because there’s really no need for it once you see that the material universe of form IS all the evidence you need for it IS the only true realm in, through and as which we experience the spiritual. As C.S. Lewis put it, “Miracles are the retelling in small letters of the very same story written across the entire universe in letters too big for most of us to see.” When you see that truth the idea of physical resurrection is a walk in the park and you don’t have to through it out because being separate is actually ok, in fact, really, really good. It’s only a leap because we’ve been convinced by people who should know better that a leaf has actually been explained! The leaf, the grass, dog’s, brains… everything is utter mystery. We’re literally living in THE Fairy Tale of which all fairy tales tickle a deep distant recognition.
    The very reason I can know that my true self and God are one and the same is because I am a separate self that can know it and the reason I am a separate self is because I have form. In other words, I can only be one with the formless God because I have form. Unitive separation IS the higher unity. The Formless came to tell us that. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gy5VtDc3fc8

    Rather than continue waiting for these supposed “conversations” to take place, out of the numerable questions I’ve posed I’ll settle for one answer to one question: In your view, was the historical Jesus of Nazareth physically resurrected from the dead three days after his death on the cross?

  2. The mind can be quite deceitful, so much care must be taken here. One can believe one is immersed in the “felt sense” of the heart, free of verbal dialog, yet fully englobed in a non-verbal conceptual structure.

    It is deeply illuminating to see how this works with physical pain. It’s possible to pull back layers and layers on non-verbal conceptualizing, feel one has reached the end, and discover yet more layers.

    As long as there is suffering, there is conceptualization, even of the subtlest kind.

  3. “Explanation is of the mind. Meaning is of the heart, a felt-sense of belongingness that needs neither justification nor further action. It is simply its own fullness. ” THANK you for this. I often have times of no internal monolog, feeling the regularly ping of body constriction that is Self-ing in the body. From a Buddhist base, there is just hanging out there. But it’s confusing, wearying, and one still has to get on with the day, navigating your life.
    Which tends to prompt the old explanations to come back onto the scene. Resting in the heart, sensing into felt meaning – now that is another way to navigate the border zone. Deep bow of thanks – Meg

  4. A very sweet note. Particularly fascinating in that Cynthia has channeled here the traditional illusionist philosophy.

    One can construct any ideas with the mind, but there is a direct “knowledge by identity” which is at the core of genuine evolutionary spirituality.

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