Freedom from religion? Social media, and often times, our press is rife with posts clamouring for so-called “religious rights” — often a thinly veiled justification for a group’s desire to discriminate against others. And while the false claim that this country was founded upon the idea of freedom of religion continues to be embraced by the superstitious, the uneducated and the fundamentalist alike; history reveals that the real bedrock of a progressive society remains those who recognise the importance of freedom from religion.
I have recently come under renewed attack by those who feel that I have somehow betrayed my vocation, by formally renouncing all forms of organised religion. I’ve been called heretic, despicable, evil and my personal favourite, the antichrist by some, and an embarrassment, bad example, and disgrace by others. Most recently, a man who pretends to be a “Catholic priest” (despite having had no proper formation, and highly irregular “holy orders” at best), admonished me that I should “prayerfully consider” the vows I took, fourteen years ago today, when I was consecrated as an archbishop, and sworn to live a life exemplary of our roles as “priest, prophet and king”.
Why is it that my insistence that freedom from religion is an evolutionary leap forward represents such a threat to those who cling to their superstitions, dogma and beliefs so tightly that anyone whose path differs threatens them?
As we begin a new year, we’ve begun to contemplate once more what it is that our community strives to bring to the world.
A recent discussion yielded some interesting insights. Before we were able to really unpack our purpose, most of us were very clear in our minds about what we did not wish to represent, and who we were not:
Our purpose is not to represent religion or other forms of superstition, no matter how popular and profitable those things might appear.
We are not interested in hierarchical structure or governance.
We do not seek to draw more lines in the sand.
We do not consider ourselves as belonging to any one country, state or nation.
We fundamentally believe that every moment can lead to value. And that the discovery of value within ourselves and others is one of the highest purposes to which we can subscribe as a society. We hold that each of us can transform society, by living in the world as peaceful revolutionaries — who serve the needs of those less fortunate, and who bring value to one another in every transactional encounter.
Our purpose, as secular humanists and New Thought practitioners, is to free ourselves from those things which divide us, and to embrace that which recognises our essential unity. For us, it’s not about freedom of religion, which we see as an important right for all persons… it’s about freedom from religion, that we devote our efforts and resources to creating.
We believe that a truly purpose-driven life is one that is informed by its past, not hostage to it. As Rick Warren puts it, “Experience is not what happens to you. It is what you do with what happens to you. Don’t waste your pain; use it to help others.” (The Purpose Driven Life)
We do not need to pretend that we are healers, because no one has ever healed another, and no one ever will. Healing arises from within, and is an organic process of becoming more aware of the innate balance that is our True Nature (homeostasis). We do not need to be priests or prophets, for the world needs no more professional hypocrites, predators or charlatans. It’s had more than enough of those over the past several millennia. We do not need to be in the spotlight, because the most important work is always done in secret and quietude.
We choose to be decentralised… fluid… post-denominational… rebels and revolutionaries of Love Itself.
On the Formal Practice, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche writes:
You can experience that dreamlike quality by relating with sitting meditation practice. When you are reflecting on the breath, suddenly discursive thoughts begin to arise; you begin to see things, to hear things, and to feel things. But all those perceptions are none other than your own mental creation. In the same way, you can see that your hate for your enemy, your love for your friends, and your attitude toward money, food, and wealth are all part of discursive thought.
In Buddhism, we recognise that this aggregate of systems and senses we imagine is our “self” is merely an illusion. One of the principal benefits of this practice is that it restores a sort of gentleness… a soft, comforting reminder of what our True Nature, which is Consciousness, or Śunyata, or Love, or if you prefer the primitive metaphors, God(dess), etc., already knows. It’s about the process of rediscovering truths that we already possess, which might have been obscured by the dreamlike state.
Everything that appears in your experience is a manifestation of your mind. And it is also a reflection of something within you that needs your attention.
While we dream, the events in our dreams seem really to be happening: we find ourselves in another location, conversations takes place, we experience pain or pleasure, fear or calm. Anything can happen in your dreams. All the appearances are there. But despite these appearances, no such events have really occurred while you slept. And so it is with what we imagine to be our “waking state”, which is but another level of dream-consciousness.
The first instruction is very simple, yet profound. We should not lay the blame for anything on others. Now, as simple as it sounds, I know that there will be, for many of my readers, a momentary rolling of the eyes, because this sounds rather absurd on the surface. After all, if someone attacks us on the street, why would we not say that they were to blame?
We must recognise that every experience begins in our minds. And if that is true, and if our perception of this “self”, which is really nothing more than an aggregate of senses and systems, then it is also true that we are responsible for bringing forth the misery in samsara from beginning was time. To the degree that we continue this self-cherishing, self-cleaning attitude we will experience suffering and harm in this lifetime.
Now it’s also very important, to understand that we don’t mean instead of blaming other people, we blame ourselves. Our objective, is to take a closer look at what blame feels like altogether, and then to guard ourselves against the temptation to engage in that hurtful, meaningless, and immature practice.
When you really think about it, it takes so much energy to place blame. I believe that most occurrences of placing blame have their roots in fear. When we are afraid that someone is taking something from us, doing something that will hurt us, making us look less important, less honorable, less “good”, then the ego self, begins the process of pointing fingers.
The very moment that we begin to take 100% responsibility, when we begin to say, “I have chosen this experience, these are the seeds I planted, and now I am reaping the crop at harvest time,”everything changes. When we realise that the ordinary mind throws responsibility on someone else, and that the perception of the other is an illusion, we return to the point of power within ourselves. Pure Awareness.
I like to end this section of the commentary by sharing something Albert Einstein wrote, which might have just as easily been written by a great Dharma master:
A human being is a part of the whole, called by us, “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.
This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.
Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security.
Nothing exists independently of consciousness or mental designation, therefore it becomes easier, and in fact, essential, that we release the need to place blame.
This is the time of year, where humanity experiences the transformative power, when light and darkness meet and become unified, leading up to what my teachers called, “The Twelve Nights of Transformation”.
The process of releasing toxic anger is essential if we are going to find peace and forgiveness within ourselves. At times, we might resist doing so, because we somehow feel “justified” in our anger. After all, the indignity with which we believe we were treated was unfair and perhaps even inhumane.
I get it. Having been savagely raped and beaten for more than an hour by four assailants, in 1983, certainly left me feeling violated and angry for many years. But there came a time when that anger no longer served me or any other purpose.
“What is anger?” an enlightened Teacher was once asked. His poignant and powerful response was, “Anger is a punishment we inflict upon ourselves for someone else’s mistake.”
Next to my Root Teacher, Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati, there has likely been no one else in my life who has had a more profound impact on my personal and spiritual growth than my friend and teacher of eleven years, Dr. Louise L. Hay.
I first met Louise in 1987, shortly after being released from the hospital with a rare form of pneumonia for the second time. Four years earlier, I was brutally attacked, raped and beaten by four men in South Florida.
At the time, I was a young Franciscan-Buddhist contemplative, walking back to the monastery, when these men, who themselves had endured unthinkable discrimination and abuse at the hands of the police, since immigrating to this country, left me for dead on the streets of Hollywood, Florida.
But it would be in another Hollywood… this time West Hollywood, California, that my friend (and major crush) Louis Nassany, would take me and my boyfriend, Ronn, to a beautiful, poised and unassuming woman’s apartment on Santa Monica Boulevard, where about 20-30 other men were sitting, standing, and hanging on her every word, as she talked about our capacity for healing our lives.
Two weeks later, we were in a community centre in West Hollywood, and there were over 75 guys, then 90, and then more than 100 of us gathered for what had become known as “the Hay Rides”.
We were most men living with the dis-ease that had become known AIDS, and we were fighting for our lives.
Soon, the eighteen months in which doctors said I would be dead had come and gone. I’d begun healing my relationship with my family, with my spiritual tradition, and for the first time in my life, began unapologetically living a more authentic, loving and vibrant life as an openly-gay man.
Everything in my life began to become more “whole” during the eleven years that Louise was my teacher. Her monthly cards and letters encouraged me, inspired me, and resulted in my being privileged to become the founder of the Zenkondo Centre, and host of a weekly radio show, “Inner Alchemy – the Science of Spiritual Living”.
This morning, August 30th, 2017, my beloved friend, teacher and inspiration to millions, Louise L. Hay transitioned from this life in her sleep, at the age of ninety.
She will be missed, and her legacy will live on for generations.
What effect does our perception and sense of separateness have upon our day-to-day experience of life? In this installment of Inner Alchemy, we’ll begin unpacking our entanglements, and look at how understanding the quantum and physical universe can have a dramatic impact on our lives.
One of the central tenets of the Buddhist philosophy is the concept of interdependence.
The philosophical dimension of this concept focuses on the recognition that nothing has value in and of itself. Everything is composite, and everything is impermanent or transient. Everything undergoes a process of change, most easily evidenced in our own human lives.
We are not today the person we were physically, emotionally or psychologically, five or ten or twenty years ago. Why? Because the notion of “self” is a delusion. “We” are really nothing more than a composite or amalgam of systems and conditions. The “self” that we cherished when we were twelve no longer exists. Therefore, we can say that it had no essential value, since it was actually nothing more than an idea we had.