Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Discrimination of the Mahavakyas‘Consciousness is Brahman’
There are four Mahavakyas, or great statements in the Upanishads, which have a profound significance as pointers to Reality. They are: (1) Prajnanam Brahma - Consciousness is Brahman; (2) Aham Brahmasmi - I am Brahman: (3) Tat Tvam Asi - That Thou Art; (4) Ayam Atma Brahma - This Self is Brahman.

Consciousnes is Brahma
These Mahavakyas convey the essential teaching of the Upanishads, namely, Reality is one, and the individual is essentially identical with it. In the sentence, ‘ Prajnanam Brahma’ or Consciousness is Brahman, a definition of Reality is given. The best definition of Brahman would be to give expression to its supra-essential essence, and not to describe it with reference to accidental attributes, such as creatorship etc. That which is ultimately responsible for all our sensory activities, as seeing, hearing, etc., is Consciousness. Though Consciousness does not directly see or hear, it is impossible to have these sensory operations without it. Hence it should be considered as the final meaning of our mental and physical activities. Brahman is that which is Absolute, fills all space, is complete in itself, to which there is no second, and which is continuously present in everything, from the creator down to the lowest of matter. It, being everywhere, is also in each and every individual. This is the meaning of Prajnanam Brahma occurring in the Aitareya Upanishad.

‘I Am Brahman’
In the sentence, ‘ Aham Brahmasmi,’ or I am Brahman, the ‘I’ is that which is the One Witnessing Consciousness, standing apart form even the intellect, different from the ego-principle, and shining through every act of thinking, feeling, etc. This Witness-Consciousness, being the same in all, is universal, and cannot be distinguished from Brahman, which is the Absolute. Hence the essential ‘I’ which is full, super-rational and resplendent, should be the same as Brahman. This is not the identification of the limited individual ‘I’ with Brahman, but it is the Universal Substratum of individuality that is asserted to be what it is. The copula ‘am’ does not signify any empirical relation between two entities, but affirms the non-duality of essence. This dictum is from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad.

‘That Thou Art’
In the Chhandogya Upanishad occurs the Mahavakya, ‘ Tat Tvam Asi’ or ‘That thou art’. Sage Uddalaka mentions this nine times, while instructing his disciple Svetaketu in the nature of Reality. That which is one alone without a second, without name and form, and which existed before creation, as well as after creation, as pure Existence alone, is what is referred to as Tat or That, in this sentence. The term Tvam stands for that which is in the innermost recesses of the student or the aspirant, but which is transcendent to the intellect, mind, senses, etc., and is the real ‘I’ of the student addressed in the teaching. The union of Tat and Tvam is by the term Asi or are. That Reality is remote is a misconception, which is removed by the instruction that it is within one’s own self. The erroneous notion that the Self is limited is dispelled by the instruction that it is the same as Reality.

‘This Self is Brahman’
The Mahavakya, ‘Ayam Atma Brahma’ or ‘This Self is Brahman’, occurs in the Mandukya Upanishad. ‘ Ayam’ means ‘this’, and here ‘thisness’ refers to the self-luminous and non-mediate nature of the Self, which is internal to everything, from the Ahamkara or ego down to the physical body. This Self is Brahman, which is the substance out of which all things are really made. That which is everywhere, is also within us, and what is within us is everywhere. This is called ‘Brahman’, because it is plenum, fills all space, expands into all existence, and is vast beyond all measure of perception or knowledge. On account of self-luminosity, non-relativity and universality, Atman and Brahman are the same. This identification of the Self with Absolute is not any act of bringing together two differing natures, but is an affirmation that absoluteness or universality includes everything, and there is nothing outside it.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


A poem from Ibn al- Arabi who lived in the 12th/13th century and was perhaps the greatest Sufi sheikh and writer ever. The world can learn a lot from his teachings

There was a time when I took it amiss in my companion if his
Religion was not near to mine;
But now my heart takes on every form; it is
A pasture for the gazelles,
A monastery for monks,
A temple for the tables of the Torah,
A Ka'bah for the pilgrims and
The Holy Book of the Quran.
Love is my religion, and whichever way its riding beasts turn,
that way lies my religion and belief

Inayat Khan

Most gracious Lord, Master and saviour of humanity,
We greet thee with all humility.
Thou art the First Cause and the Last Effect, the Divine Light
and the Spirit of Guidance, Alpha and Omega.
Thy Light is in all forms, Thy Love in all beings: in a loving
mother, a kind father, in an innocent child, in a helpful
friend, in an inspiring teacher.
Allow us to recognise Thee in all Thy holy names and forms:
as Rama, as Krishna, as Shiva, as Buddha.
Let us know Thee as Abraham, as Solomon, as Zarathustra, as
Moses, as Jesus, as Muhammad, and in many other names
and forms, known and unknown to the world.

Inayat Khan

Thursday, September 9, 2010


by Poggemann

This story is meant to be an exoteric metaphor for an esoteric transformation.
` Exclusive fundamentalism can be Protestant, Muslim, Secular Humanist, or even with the politically correct. This story is about the Catholic version. A man, trapped in that legalism, fear, and ubiquitous guilt so common in pre-Vatican 11Catholicism, stumbles on a method that sets him free by painfully opening his understanding and teaching him that revelation is not exclusive but Cosmic.
Hearst Castle overlooks the beach a mile north of San Simeon where Arroyo Laguna Creek empties into the ocean. Because the wind blows parallel to the shore most afternoons, it gives power to windsurfers both with and against the waves. Board sailors migrate from all over the world to this spot, the best windsurfing beach on the West Coast.
Charles was ready to go. A steady twenty-knot wind pushed a two-foot chop over big seas rolling in from a distant storm. The ominous rollers kept less experienced sailors on the beach.
George at six feet two is a little taller than Charles and has the same dark hair. They look like brothers, but George is lankier with longer legs and distinctively long fingers. He also loves sports, but lacks Charles’s wild streak. He takes things as they come, while Charles charges ahead

George eyed the surf nervously as he rocked back and forth on the sand, his third beer of the day gracefully gimbaled between his thumb and index finger. “That’s a dangerous break Charlie,” he warned. “You better wait this one out till it levels off a bit.”
Charles laughed in mock contempt. “Sometimes you have to go out there to feel alive and wake up to reality.”
“You have to keep breathing if you want to feel alive,” said George. “Hang gliding over the cliffs, extreme skiing, you can’t get away with this stuff forever.”
Charles smiled with a shrug, took hold of the boom and pushed his board off the beach into the surf, the adrenalin he loved pumped into his system.
The wind in the sail gave him balance as he stepped onto the board and into the straps. He leaned hard on the wind gathering speed to meet the next wave before it broke. He caught air off the top, flew six feet over the water and streaked out several hundred yards before jibing. The big waves were manageable in open water, but became dangerous when they broke near the shore.
After a few more speed runs he wove in and out of the waves just before they broke, using the crests to lift off into spectacular jumps. Then he got too close.
He slipped over the edge. The board caught in the curl. The breaking wave turned Charles upside down with one foot snuck in the strap. The board twisted his leg with the full force of the rolling sea. The fall knocked the wind out of him. Immediate need for air must have overshadowed the pain from his mangled leg. Locked head down in the water, his lungs filled with water. The next wave spit him out on the beach, his foot still in the strap, his knee bent as far backward as it used to go forward.
George and a stranger were the first to reach Charles. They pulled him up on the dry sand. The stranger grimaced, “Look at that leg,” he said.
“My God, he’s not breathing,” George wailed.
They yelled over the sound of the surf for someone to go for help. George started what he could remember of CPR. He forced his breath into Charles and pumped his chest, over and over. Minutes went by. Then, suddenly, Charles violently twitched and coughed, spurting water. He started to breathe on his own. George shed tears of relief.
“He’ll make it,” the stranger said.
“He’d better,” said George.
Charles moaned as he regained consciousness. They could see he was in intense pain. Unable to help, George suffered with him. The ambulance arrived and the medics stabilized Charles during the long ride to the hospital in San Luis Obispo. George stayed with him until the doctors took over.
. The accident that was bound to happen had happened. Charles was lucky to be alive and fortunate that his leg was saved from amputation. Surgery lasted five hours and he was in pain for months. From this day on he had to be careful.
* * * *
Charles Lamers and George Bickel grew up together north of Golden Gate Bridge in Mill Valley. From grade school on they were close friends. They played football, went skating, had fights and chased girls together. At age sixteen when, as George puts it, boys have a hard-on for a brain, they both left the Catholic Church. It wasn’t exactly rebellion, they literally flunked out. They just couldn’t find any way to obey the rules of chastity and rather than stick around and pick themselves to pieces with examinations of conscience and feelings of guilt, they went the way of human nature. George continued that way. So did Charles until this accident.
This brush with death changed Charles’s attitude. Because of fear of death, he became aware of the possibility of suffering eternal punishment and he took another route. That was the surprise. Religion and morality obsessed him. He returned to his “one true” church with a raging scrupulous conscience driven by haunting fear and Catholic guilt. From George’s point of view, Charles became a dedicated compulsive fanatic. Eventually he became a priest and was appointed pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church.
Spiritually George went the other way. He became critical of religion. Criticism became cynicism. After a few years of reflection he concluded that religion is a man-made concoction to mask the terror of the realization that we don’t have a clue why we are here or what comes next. He figured facing that fact was just too much for most people so they copped out and joined a church. The continuing dispute between a cynical agnosticism and strict, exclusive, moralistic faith has been a chronic piece of unfinished business that continues to energize George and Charles’s relationship.
* * * * *
One rainy San Francisco morning, Charles calls George. Their friendship had persisted through the years and when Charles needs contact with the outside world he turns to George.
“I need your opinion on something, George,” he says. “Could you stop over sometime soon?”
It sounded urgent so George says he will leave for the church immediately. He turns on a light visible from outside, sets the house alarm and sets off in the rain to the church. George drives downtown through Union Square to the edge of China Town till he sees little Saint Mary’s among the high-rise buildings. The red brick exterior shows its age by the deep penetration of dirt from the city. He parks a block away and hurries through a heavy downpour up to the rectory.
“You’re looking sloppy,” says Charles.
George grunts.
Charles takes George’s umbrella and stuffs it into a stand made from an elephant’s foot.
“Come in the kitchen. I made coffee.”
“I could use a jump start.” Charlie looks thin. Wet weather makes his knee stiffen.
George looks around at the old building. The house is heavily constructed with oversized beams and thick walls. The cabinets inside are made of oak and the high ceilings have wood crown molding. Windows framed in wood with curved tops give an elegant feeling to each room. The furniture is sparse. The squeaky floor is more noticeable in the kitchen where the wood is not covered with carpet. One can detect a faint odor of San Francisco mold.
“I tried to call you yesterday but got no answer,” Charles mumbles while pouring the coffee.
“I was sailing.”
“That’s what I figured.”
“I wish you’d go with us, Charlie, you’d like it and it would do you good to get out on The Bay.”
“Was Robert with you?”
“That’s still a problem, eh? You should get over it. Straight guys are creatively challenged. They aren’t as entertaining.”
“I like Robert. But you know in my position I have to avoid looking like I condone that life style. Besides, sailing in The Bay is dull. That floating cocktail lounge of yours is too slow to race without a handicap and you’re too timid to go through the Golden Gate. You’d feel more alive if you went outside to the Farallon Islands or to the Potato Patch. Forty-knot winds and ten-foot waves would wake you up to reality.”
“You’re still married to adrenalin,” replies George.
They sit at the kitchen table and ramble on about old adventures until Charles feels ready to get to the point. “I’ve got a situation I’d like to bounce off of you and see what you can suggest. It’s in your field of expertise, money.”
“I know how to spend it,” says George.
Charles squirms a little looking for a way to start. “You see --- ah, well you know how the diocese has been shrinking these last fifteen years. The Bishop had to consolidate by closing many parishes to make the situation more manageable with the priest shortage and all. On top of that we’ve had this pedophile priest thing that has cost the church an enormous amount of money. And what I think is even worse, the Catholics and most of the clergy in this city have become so liberal I think they are on the verge of schism from Rome.”
“I look at that part as progress.”
“Most of this has left me and my parish untouched. Almost untouched that is. We are right in line with the papal teachings you and I grew up with. My parishioners accept the authority of the Pope. This gay town has not infiltrated us and those other scandals didn’t happen in this parish. But our attendance is down and we strained financially.”
“Why not close the place down and consolidate with another parish? That’s what others have done without any problem, right?” asked George, slowly sipping his coffee.
“That’s what the Bishop wants me to do. We sit on very valuable real estate. If the place were sold the profit would be enormous. Bishop Jennings would pay bills and look good politically. His main concern is church politics but I want this parish to continue. It’s a part of me I don’t want to change. He would probably ship me off to a liberal parish. That new age stuff isn’t for me. It would be like becoming a Protestant.”
“I think a liberal change would be the best thing for everyone,” says George, knowing he was irritating Charles and enjoying it.
“Don’t pull that junk on me. This new age stuff is all so very nice, not good, mind you, nice. You know darn well it’s as shallow as a coat of paint.”
“It’s better than this fanaticism. Why can’t you mellow out?”
“Because I think I have the truth here.”
“Jesus, Charlie, most people these days take the whole thing as light entertainment. I tell you I’m glad to be free of the whole thing.”
“Trying to fake it with me is a waste of time. Don’t you think I know you? You’re hardly an indifferent, politically correct snob who holds all religion in contempt from a tower of arrogance. Your pretence of freedom is a crock. You’re angry. You’re involved. Hate and love aren’t very far apart.”
“Okay, okay. Let’s get off it. I realize how important this is for you. What can I do?”
“Well, I was thinking, you have money and know how to handle it. You have contacts and know how things work. I would like to know how you would go about trying to resolve this situation.”
“What is the situation?”
“The mortgage is fourteen months in arrears. We get a lot of leeway because it isn’t popular to repossess a church. The Bishop has a buyer for this property who would save us from foreclosure and at the same time give the diocese a big profit. The buyer is ready to act at any time. If we want the parish to survive we have to, at minimum, come up with the money to get current on the mortgage. I may be a little paranoid but I think the Bishop wants me out of here. Even if we somehow got the money, I believe he will still sell the land. I need a strategy for both problems.”
“So you have a clearly financial problem at the parish level, and a primarily political problem with the bishop.”
“That’s about it.”
“If I were you, I’d throw in the towel and go to a liberal parish. Take it as it comes. The hell with it.”
“It is very important to me that I stay here. What can I do?”
“If you had the financial problem resolved, I could work with you on the Bishop. With these power-seeking political people there are two things that work, fait accompli and social pressure. The fait accompli would be to pay off the debt. Then I could help you raise social pressure through my friends in the media to create sympathy for those poor parishioners who would be losing their place to beg the God of this one true church for forgiveness and salvation. The Bishop probably would back off. But the mortgage is another thing. Have you tried getting help from rich parishioners? How about asking Catholic business owners looking for a tax deduction and a chance to feel holy?”
“I’ve tried that and everything else I can think of.”
“Well don’t look at me. I spend what I make, and a little more. I may even have to sell my boat to keep up and you know how much I love that boat and I’ve got two college tuitions to keep up with.”
“We are running out of time. That buyer is ready and so is the Bishop.”
“I’m sorry, but except for putting pressure on the Bishop nothing comes to mind that would help. I’ll continue to think about it.” George gets up to leave. “It seems to me that this God of yours should take better care of His ‘one true’ church.”
“He takes care of us in more important ways”
“It doesn’t look that way to me. If I were of your conviction and left in your predicament I’d tell God to put up or shut up. Why don’t you give Him an ultimatum and a time limit? Loyalty should go both ways.”
“I’ll consider it,” replies the priest patiently.
George takes his umbrella out of the big foot.
“By the way,” says Charles. “You should think about how it’s possible for you to be so angry with someone you don’t believe exists.”
“I’ll consider it,” George replies impatiently
. George walks out in the rain without opening his umbrella. He mutters aloud, “That fanatic is just trying to drown out his own doubts by criticizing the rest of us.” He drives to the marina, climbs in the cabin of his boat and sits there caressing the teak tabletop.
George remembers the warm fuzzy feeling of being in the one true church. It was wonderfully secure to believe that he was one of the special few God had chosen. But that feeling dissolved at adolescence. From that time on his religion filled him with overwhelming fear and guilt, the very things religion is supposed to cure. It had become an intolerable encyclopedia of sins. He had to let it go.
He marvels at how Catholicism seems to inject guilt into one’s bones, guilt like a free radical that is perpetually searching for something to attach to. Even now he feels it hovering in the background.
George remembers how serious he had been about his religion, making his separation from it painful. Most people he knew were not serious and if they had a problem with something they were taught, they either skipped it and practiced the faith a la Carte or walked away from the church without concern. It wasn’t that easy for him.
George eventually adopted the view that the fear, guilt, and the “one true” thing is a pack of lies. Now he knows half a dozen guys who think theirs is the “one true” church although each one of them is in a different church. He can’t understand how they blind themselves to the paradox.
Poor Charlie is stuck, he thinks. At this stage of life he will never be able to break free. He’s incapable of change. He tries to think of scenarios that would bail out Charles both psychologically and financially.
* * * *
Father Charles, as he said to George, is “considering it”. The conversation had hit a sensitive spot. Charles considers how he had tried everything except demanding support from God to resolve this problem. Perhaps this Catholic guilt and fear cause me to take too much responsibility, he thinks. Perhaps it’s God’s turn.
Though he has his share of questions about Catholicism they don’t quite add up to a doubt of faith. Instead they produce energy touched with anger.
Since the rain has stopped, Charles decides to walk over to the bank and use up some of that energy. He has a short conference with Jim Stevenson who represents the insurance company that holds the mortgage. The mortgage holder isn’t worried about the payments because of the value of the equity in the land. Their approach is to keep adding interest and charges, knowing they can’t lose. The meeting is cordial. There are no surprises. The deadline isn’t imminent.
Charles feels better walking back to the rectory. Henry Lombardi is waiting for him when he arrives. Henry, a stocky good-looking Italian, is a devout parishioner and he is Charles’s most trustworthy helper. Henry’s solid traditional support is important to Charles and gives him a more secure feeling of legitimacy.
“Good afternoon, Father. I came down to do some of the bookkeeping. The bishop’s secretary called. He wants you to make an appointment.”
“Oh!” says Charles with a grimace. “I’ll give him a call. Any other news?”
“Beulah was here. She wanted to talk to you about the women’s prayer group. She’s in the church. You might want to wait a while before you go there. She’s in one of her excitable moods. Flower arranging usually calms her down”
“Thanks. I’ll take care of things,” says Charles. He calls the Bishop’s office immediately. He wants to see just where the whole situation stands. Because the Bishop is going out of town for a week the appointment is made for right after his return. “I wish we could meet sooner to get it over with,” mutters Charles to himself.
When Charles finds her, Beulah Fischer is decorating the altar with flowers. She is admiring her last arrangement. She is helpful and loyal but holds some strange ideas. Once he heard her say that if you had proper faith you wouldn’t have to put gas in your car anymore. Her less reasonable side is balanced by her devotion and leadership ability.
“Beulah, you wanted to see me?”
“Yes Father. I wanted to know if you were going to have the devotions Monday evening. I want to notify the women’s prayer group.”
“Don’t do anything yet, Beulah. I have a major change in plans that I’ll announce Sunday morning to everyone. I would like to see you and Henry, Sunday after the ten thirty Mass, in the rectory.”
“I’ll be there,” she says. “Can you give me a little hint what it’s all about?”
“Not yet, I’ve got some thinking to do. I’ll see you Sunday.”
Outside he stands on the church steps and gazes out over the busy street. Charles had surprised himself. He didn’t know he had made a decision until he spontaneously told Beulah. He thinks of the great sacrifices his faith demands and the tremendous self-control needed for his celibate life. He had lived the faith. If this wasn’t the one true faith then there wasn’t a one true faith.
* * * *
“That’s one beautiful boat,” says George as he and his girl Shirley stand in admiration of the Beneteau Oceanus 370. “Remember when I bought her from that Indian fellow and we changed her name from Ganesha to Shirley? You never cared.”
“I never cared about sailing either. For five years you have been bringing that up. Now what’s this meeting about this morning?”
” I asked to meet with Bill because I have some hesitation about the commitment I made to Charlie. I want to be sure I can depend on the media for help to influence Bishop Jennings. Bill has been with the newspaper for many years, earning a great deal of freedom in his choice of material for his articles. He should be able to do it.”
They stroll along The Marina toward the Saint Francis Yacht Club for the breakfast meeting with Bill Crowley. Bill is a club member. Membership is way too expensive for George
The yacht club dining room and bar is full of enthusiastic sailors revving up for the Sunday races. George and Shirley take a table with a marvelous view of San Francisco Bay. They slowly peruse the menu while waiting for Bill.
“Oh oh, here they come, all prim and proper, straight from the service.” George contemptuously indicates a group arriving at the next table.
“There you go again,” says Shirley. “I wonder if you’ll change the script.”
“Suits and ties, dresses and jewelry, and they’re all so very, very proper’.”
“They are just showing self respect and respect for each other,”
“A good Protestant is staunch. A good Catholic is devout. This is the staunch group. The devout ones are eating at home.”
“Always your traditional pecking order, prejudice neither dies nor fades away.”
George ignores her and continues, “They know they are soooo right, like Charlie. That huge repression is a high price to pay to feel legitimate. There is no progress when you’re locked in like that. Stuffy legitimacy is a dead end street.”
Shirley raises her eyebrows. “So they have their faith and you have your neurosis.”
“Neurosis eh? Last month when Bill was sailing with us, he said my agnosticism was a neurotic half way house to his atheism. He said I should try atheism, it’s very comforting.”
“So I told him proselytizing is not allowed on my boat. Anyway, of the two options I want a third.”
“The third choice for me is two eggs over easy, sausage and pancakes.”
“I’ll have the same,” says George. The waitress pours coffee. “Here comes Bill and his zaftig wife now. How Irish can a guy look?”
“And that red hair, does he comb it with an egg beater?” Shirley asks.
The group gets comfortable and George explains Charlie’s’ situation and asks how possible it would be to gain public sympathy for Charles.
“Father Charles Lamers,” Bill pauses thoughtfully as he sips his Bloody Mary. “I don’t know Father Lamers but I know of him and his strictly conservative parish. I believe that popular opinion in this town might not be for him. In fact, I think it might be very much against him. You know how liberal this community is. If you want to be successful in politics here you had better be pro choice and pro gay rights. The best a traditional Catholic can do is shut up. Father Lamers has developed a reputation for outspoken orthodox condemnation of homosexual activity. I think he would lose any political confrontation.”
“Do you think it’s worth a try?” asks George.
“I can’t see the paper willing to risk supporting it, George. I’d like to help, but this time I don’t think I can.”
After breakfast George and Shirley wander slowly back toward the boat.
“There’s Fort Mason,” says George pointing up the hill south of the marina. “I’ll bet Robert is already at work up there. Now that he’s the head chef we should eat at Green’s once in a while. The Zen Center and their restaurant dominate his life lately,”
“Well, he certainly is a sweet human being,” says Shirley.
Back at the dock they again stand in silent admiration of the boat.
“You look concerned,” says Shirley.
“I am. I made what could be called a promise to Charlie and now it’s obvious I can’t keep it.”
“Well, I don’t see what’s so bad about going to a liberal church,” Shirley says. “What’s all the fuss about anyway?”
“Charlie is serious. To him liberal Catholics are dilettantes. He sees them as non-Catholics or at best ex-Catholics.”
“Well, I think they’re okay. Sometimes I go to Communion at Saint Cecilia’s. It’s a good place. I feel welcome there.”
“I didn’t know you still went to Communion,” says George, startled. “Charlie would call that a sacrilege.”
“Well, he’s wrong. I feel good about it. It must be all right.”
“So now you’re out of the closet. No wonder you don’t mind liberal Catholics, you are one.”
“That causes no conflict in my heart and that church is my home, it’s where I come from. Where else can I go? There may be something better but I don’t know what it is. And besides, I find all this quibbling about rules irritating,” says Shirley with finality.
After a long silence George says, “There’s no need to tell Charlie the bad news. It’s not going to come up. He’ll never get the money anyway so there will be no need to confront the Bishop.”
After an evening of reflection and a good night’s sleep, Charles awakens with a clear mind. He sis up in bed and with resolve he says aloud, “I know what I am going to do. “
When under especial stress, Charles uses a method of contemplative prayer he learned from a biography of Saint Ignatius. He sits comfortably mentally reciting the Our Father, thinking one word with each exhaled breath. The effect is amazing. It brings him to a state deeper than quiet or calm, more like peace, a settled and harmonious rest with deliverance. He prepares himself for today’s Mass with half an hour of this practice.
He begins his sermon with a description of the financial crisis the parish faces, the efforts he has made to meet that crisis and he requests his parishioners to tell all their friends about this predicament no matter what their religious affiliation. He tells them that the church property might have to be sold and the parish absorbed by one or more nearby parishes. He feels the concern of his loyal and devout flock in their hushed attention to his words.
“Tomorrow I will begin an intense period of prayer for nine days, a novena. I ask those of you who are willing, to join me. There will be no requests for the intercession of saints, Mary, or even Jesus. This is a novena to the Father only. We have been loyal to Him and we can be confident that He will be loyal to us. We have upheld the one true faith while others have diluted it with laxness and disobedience. We ask that He show His support by removing obstacles that threaten the continuation of this parish and to strengthen our faith in the unique truth of His church.
Those of you who wish to participate please contact either Henry Lombardi or Beulah Fischer for instructions on how to proceed. You can call anytime this afternoon or evening. Their phone numbers are in the bulletin. Daily Mass and confessions will continue but all other activities will be postponed for the next two weeks.”
After Mass Charles meets with Henry and Beulah and explains his plan for the novena. He dismisses the possibility of failure from his mind. The implications are too threatening. To recognize doubts could exacerbate into a serious threat to his faith.
The prayer of petition he writes is consistent with his morning sermon. Next is a period of prayer using the Our Father, one word with each exhaled breath. The instructions are to do it for whatever period of time you feel comfortable. At the end of each session conclude with a prayer of thanksgiving for God’s intercession as though it has already occurred.
Charles makes sure that Beulah and Henry understand thoroughly. They type the novena instructions; make copies; and explain it to each participant, scheduling the time of visits. An effort is made to have someone in the church as many daytime hours as possible.
The novena begins on Monday. Attendance is adequate but many hours are still available for more participation. Charles’s personal approach is the same as he recommends for the others, but for longer periods of time. After a few days he is almost constantly in the prayer of contemplation, practicing it far into the night. After long sessions felling physically uncomfortable, he walks around the city, avoiding attracting attention by wearing “civilian” street clothes. He finds this a good balance. The walks smooth everything out.
The parishioners tell everyone near and far of the parish problem. The practice is pleasant and by Thursday there is a significant increase in participation. At the end of the week the schedule is full.
* * * *
Late Saturday afternoon George, Shirley, and Robert return from a cruise to Sausalito. They enter the marina as the sun is setting behind the city. The wind is light. Fog drifts in. In the gloaming they ghost through the light air toward the boat slip where a still figure awaits them on the dock. It’s Charles.
“How was the sail?” asks Charles, climbing aboard.
“Dry and mild,” Robert replies.
“I came because I need company,” says Charles. “I’ve been so isolated all week that I was getting my own kind of cabin fever.”
Robert folds the main and organizes the deck and cockpit. They all enter the cabin to get out of the mist. Charles tells them about the novena and describes the method used and how positive the parishioners have responded to contemplative prayer.
George opens a bottle of wine. “I’m surprised you took my suggestion seriously,” he says.
“Most people don’t know how powerful meditation is,” says Robert. “It will take them to more advanced spiritual levels.”
“Whatever that means,” mumbles George.
“Well, the novena is working,” Shirley asserts. “I can feel it.”
“I guess word about our financial problems is getting around. When I picked up the mail there was an unusual donation. It was from the Vedanta Society over on Vallejo Street. Maybe you could convince your Buddhist friends to donate a few dollars Robert,” says Charles laughing.
“They might. They and everyone else seem to know about your predicament. Meditation will bring the support of nature,” Robert says softly.
His words cause the others to look at him with condescending sympathy. Then talk returns to sailing The Bay on a beautiful day.
After Charles leaves, George finishes the wine himself. “I’m, worried about Charlie with this one true thing. He’s too serious about it.”
Shirley agrees.
“These one truers pay much too much for their illusion of security,” George continues. “They shut off half their brains to hang on to it.”
“Don’t we all shut parts down one way or another?” Robert asks. “Sex, drugs, and even this wine create illusions of security and may be even more destructive than the one true way.”
“The way I see it,” says George, “if we believe the 'one truers' we will all go to hell. Each believes that only those in his particular religion are saved, all the rest go to hell. There are many different ‘one true’ faiths and each excludes the others. You can’t be a member of more than one at a time so at any given time all the rest are condemning you.”
“Well,” says Shirley. “That’s as cynical as that prayer you quote. ‘ Oh God, if there is a God, save my soul, if I have a soul’.”
“That nearly makes you a Buddhist,” says Robert.
“I’m close,” George responds, “but I still like meat. Oh, but I thought Buddhists didn’t believe in God”
“We don’t believe in beliefs. But about Charlie, I am amazed that he put his faith on the line with this challenge.”
“He’s a miracle monger,” George replies. “If he had a statue that shed tears he’d be ecstatic. If I had one I’d figure something was wrong with it, throw it away, and get a new one.”
“But how did he reach such desperation?”
“He became fanatic about his faith after having a serious accident and now with another crisis he’s doing it again.”
“He doesn’t really seem like a fanatic to me, at least he hasn’t got the holy man syndrome,” says Robert. “He doesn’t think he’s Jesus or a prophet. He’s just a normal person, but one who takes his faith very seriously.”
George ignores him and continues, “You can’t talk these fundamentalists out of the exclusiveness of their myths. They have to see through them for themselves. I wonder if Charlie’s eyes will be opened when the answer to this prayer is the usual ‘no’.”
* * * *
Back at Saint Mary’s, Charles returns to his novena with intense dedication. He does his contemplative prayer until late that night. The experience becomes more profound each day. This time his consciousness expands into unbounded bright light to the limits of his tolerance. The overwhelming experience both delights and terrifies him. He recovers his normal consciousness feeling enveloped in peace. When he finally sleeps he experiences his dreams and his deep sleep as a formless witness. He rests well but remains aware all night.
Saturday morning Henry returns from the post office with the mail. There is more than usual, some of it from overseas. “There was a note in the box that said to go to the window for excess mail,” says Henry. “But the window’s closed on Saturday.”
Charles opens the mail. Each piece contains a small check and a note explaining it was for the removal of the parish obstacle. How can they even know about it, he thinks? Excited, he goes through the stack. He thinks, are our prayers being answered? Afterward, he returns to his contemplation until late in the evening.
The sermon is brief on Sunday as is his meeting with Henry and Beulah. Charles maintains his novena most of the day and again into the late hours. He is becoming nervous and edgy, but he excuses it as anticipatory anxiety over the pending visit with the Bishop in the morning. He continues contemplation most of the night and when he finally retires, he again retains consciousness all night, witnessing his sleep and dreams. He finds it strange and most pleasant.
* * * *
Nervous about his meeting, Charles arrives early at the Bishop’s house. Father Lewis, the bishop’s secretary, escorts him into a plush sitting room and informs him it would be a few minutes. The few minutes pass and a few more. After a full half-hour Father Lewis invites him into the bishop’s office.
Charles admires the elegant office; the wood paneled walls, thick carpeting and expensive furniture. Bishop Jennings is tall and thin with the look of a patrician. The room fits the man, he thinks.
The bishop greets Charles with courteous but condescending formality. “I’ve heard good things about you and your congregation, Charles. You have been a good shepherd to your flock. Have the finances improved?”
“Not yet,” Charles tries to sound optimistic. “I’m leading the parish in a novena for Our Lord’s direct help with our problem.”
Bishop Jennings frowns. “I wish you had discussed this with me before you started it. Don’t you realize what effect the failure of this novena would have on the faith of your parishioners? It would be good to prepare them for it now.”
Charles chooses not to say that part of the novena is the assumption of success with prayers of anticipatory gratitude.
“The unfortunate financial situation of your parish is a concern,” the Bishop continues. “I’m sorry the diocese is unable to help you but you know our financial condition.”
“Yes I do,” says Charles, “but we still have hope that we’ll raise the funds.”
Charles realizes that the Bishop seems to suck strength from Charles fear like a bully. .
Bishop Jennings rambles on with self-serving platitudes and finally comes to his main point. “As the number of parishes dwindles here in San Francisco, our clerical needs dwindle with them. San Jose and Sacramento are in the opposite position. Also, they are more conservative areas, and you might be happier there.”
“This is my home,” says Charles, “close to where I grew up. All my friends are near by. I prefer to stay here.”
“Well that’s understandable. Perhaps the Lord will see to the survival of Saint Mary’s, but I would like you to think about it anyway. In any case I send my blessings with you to your parish.”
Charles’s fear turns to anger as he leaves the building. The Bishop’s lack of faith in the novena is offensive coming from a high-ranking churchman. It certainly is not faith supporting. “I can see why he wants the parish to be sold,” he mutters. “Being a big shot requires money. But why do I get the impression he is trying to run me out of town?”
Charles gets in the car, slams the door and abruptly pulls away from the curb. He hears a horn blast as he cuts off another car. The meeting had been discouraging. Charles is worse off than he was before. It bothers him a lot, in fact too much. He knows his reaction is excessive, feeling more and more sensitive and irritable. Doing his best to control the irrational anger he goes to get the mail.
At the post office he finds the card Henry mentioned. It has the box number on it and the message, “Bring this card to the window to pick up excess mail.” He gives it to a sullen clerk who mumbles the box number and disappears. When he returns he says, “Please bring the box back next time you come in.” He places a huge box full of letters on the counter and walks away. Charles looks at it, bewildered.
Back at the rectory the distraction of so much mail interrupts Charles’s routine. He abruptly stops his contemplative prayer to feverishly sort the mail. It takes most of the day to record checks for deposit. He reads some of the notes and where they are from. He expects that if donations come they should be from Catholics or at least Christians. These don’t. Did the devil answer my prayers, he thinks? Thoughts beyond the parameters of faith struggle for his attention but he rejects them. Speculation can be doubt. Feeling guilty without knowing why, he searches his conscience for what he might have done wrong.
Upsurges of emotion again disturb him. ‘Strange,’ he thinks, ‘the meeting with the Bishop is over. Why do I have this distress?’
He calls Henry and asks him to make the bank deposit. He feels too upset to go himself. When Henry arrives, he gives him the bulky envelope and says, “I think the Lord is answering our prayers.”
Henry is curious about the comment but when he sees how disturbed Father Charles is, he doesn’t inquire about it. With humility and obedience he simply comments, “That’s good Father,” and does what he was asked.
That evening Charles reads more of the letters that came with the donations. They are a problem. In his feelings of guilt and fear he questions whether he should keep the money. Might this be supporting idolatry, he asks himself? Relieved by the donations but confused by the messages, Charles continues to feel emotional and upset. He sits in frustration and confusion wondering how all these people could have known about his predicament. He walks the busy streets. This helps for a while. But later he returns to contemplation until after midnight.
The next morning at eight o’clock Charles celebrates Mass, changes into street clothes and goes to the post office. He is not completely surprised to find the box is full and that there is another excess-mail card. The clerk brings a box of mail even bigger than the day before.
Charles hurries back and opens the letters. They come from all over the world and contain donations and notes. He concentrates on the donations with gratitude and tries to ignore their suspicious origins. Charles works on the bank deposit, struggling with his emotions, alternately becoming irritable, then angry, and then bursting into tears. It takes hours to finish preparing the deposit. In the midst of apparent success he is dismayed because the donations come from suspicious sources. He makes out a check, puts it in an envelope for Jim Stephenson and hurries off to the bank with the deposit and the payment.
The teller looks at him strangely. Charles doesn’t know if it’s because of the big deposit or due to his obvious impatience and irritability. Too upset to talk to Jim Stephenson he puts the envelope on his desk and rushes outside. He is barely out the door when he again bursts into tears. Do I have to ask for help? Am I going nuts, he thinks? At times his skin tingles over his whole body. He sees inner lights and hears high-pitched ringing in his ears. He realizes that the more profound the satisfaction he receives from contemplation, the more disruptive the following emotional upset becomes. He decides to stop the contemplation.
More mail with money arrives the next day along with greater turmoil. After another bank deposit, he walks. Walking has helped before. He walks vigorously through the familiar neighborhoods. He climbs steep hills and looks out at The Bay, the bridges, and the islands. His obsession with real and imagined problems continues. Charles struggles for control.
He thinks about his life before the accident, how different he had been. He re-experiences the accident, the surgery, and the continuous pain for months afterwards. He recalls how the suffering and fear of hell drove him back to the church with a compelling scrupulous conscience. It had changed him.
Thoughts charged with emotion, he vividly relives the events. He feels as if he is finishing unfinished business. Images pass through his mind like daydreams, so obsessive, so intense that he isn’t conscious of where he is going or how much time has passed. Only after it begins to rain does he realize how far he has traveled. Unprepared for this weather, he turns back toward the rectory, alternately running and walking.
He stumbles in his fatigue, aggravating his painful knee. He waits on a corner for a chance to limp across the street. Clothes and hair drenched, he shakes his head and mutters to himself like one more street bum. At that moment an enormous fountain of fear erupts from inside him. He leans over and retches into the gutter.
“Father Charles, is that you?”
Through bleary eyes Charles sees Robert in his car, holding its door open.
“Get in. You’re soaked. I hardly recognized you. What’s happened to you?”
Charles climbs in with a sigh of relief. “I’m sure glad to see you,” he says. “I took a long walk to settle down and lost track of time. Then the rain started. Now here I am, far from home.”
“Do you feel all right? You poor thing, you look terrible.”
As Charles answers, another wave of emotion takes over and he cries. Embarrassed he starts again. “I’ve been having some trouble that’s hard to explain.”
“What’s going on? You’ve always been the most stable person I know.”
“I thought it was from anxiety over a meeting with the bishop. I’d been worried about it. But before the meeting it wasn’t this bad.”
“It got worse after?”
“Yes. After the meeting with the bishop on Monday, I received a bushel of mail with donations. The next day it happened again. I stopped the contemplative prayer completely and spent the rest of the day working on the mail and the banking. Since then I have just crumbled. First I’d feel irritated, then angry, and then I’d cry like a baby. When I sleep I watch myself sleeping and dreaming. It’s very....”
“You witness your sleep?” interrupts Robert.
“Yes, and images of the past come, emotionally charged images.”
Robert pulls into a no parking zone and stops the car. “I think I know what’s going on, Father.”
Charles again breaks into tears. “This is so humiliating.”
“Don’t be embarrassed with me,” says Robert. “Humiliation is my middle name. I was born this way, so obviously gay. When I grew up on the south side of Milwaukee I was a contemptible joke. Can you imagine my predicament among a bunch of tough rednecks?”
“I can’t imagine,” Charles responds softly. He senses the depth of Robert’s sincerity. He feels a bond of empathy forming.
“This problem might be a result of your long periods of contemplation and the abrupt stopping of the practice,” says Robert. “If I’m correct, it would be good to resume the practice with moderation, and over the next few days cut back on your time each day.”
“Why? How will that help?”
“It has to do with the mechanics of meditation. Witnessing your sleep indicates you have made serious progress in spiritual development. Bill Rogers at Green Gulch could explain it all much better than I. He’s our meditation guide an expert in these things. I was going there for a retreat when I found you.”
“I’d like to meet him.”
“Then come with me. We’d be back Saturday. Break loose for a few days. You’ll be back to normal by the weekend.”
“Normal,” Charles says with a sigh. “What a wonderful thought.” He knows such an impulsive decision is completely foreign to him, yet he immediately nods assent.
Robert drives on to Saint Mary’s and parks in the alley behind the church next to the rectory to get Charles some clothes and toiletries. Charles tries to call Henry to post a notification of Mass being suspended till Sunday but the line is busy, he decides to call later.
As they walk back to the car, Beulah comes out the back door of the church. She is about to call out when she becomes aware of Father Charles’s companion’s effeminate voice and movements. She hesitates, aghast, and silently watches them drive off.
Beulah goes home and calls Henry, who listens patiently to her semi-hysterical description of the event. When she calms down, he tells her there was probably a reasonable explanation and they will find out in the morning after Mass. To encourage her, he tells her about the contributions coming in and the message Father Lamers had given him that their prayers might be answered. This calms her. Afterwards, Henry puts Beulah’s concern out of his mind and goes to bed.
The next morning Henry opens the church for the eight o’clock Mass. Father Lamers never appears. He isn’t in the rectory. He doesn’t call. This has never, ever happened before. With this, and Beulah’s story, Henry decides it is serious so he calls the Bishop.
The Bishop immediately sends Father Lewis to Saint Mary’s. He listens to Henry’s story of the donations and Beulah’s story of Father Lamers leaving with a suspicious character. Father Lewis takes the most negative view and decides to go to the bank and see if the donation funds are still there.
At the bank, Mr. Stevenson rises to meet them. “Henry, good to see you. I’m so happy for your good fortune. Congratulations.”
“What do you mean?” asks Henry.
“Why the mortgage payment of course.”
“You mean Father Lamers caught up on the payments?”
“The payments,” says Mr. Stevenson, “I’ve got a check here that covers principal, interest, payments, and penalties. I didn’t get a chance to tell Father Lamers that I have to hold it until some of these checks written on foreign banks clear. I’m surprised you didn’t know.”
“Were there any withdrawals?” asks Father Lewis.
“No, and there’s still a very sizable balance in the account.”
As they leave the bank Henry says, “Why all the secrecy? Why didn’t he just tell us? You would think he would have been proud to do so.”
“It’s a mystery,” says Father Lewis. “We’ll just have to remain patient and see what develops. Now I’ve got to report to the bishop. If you learn anything new, please call me without delay.”
* * * *
Charles and Robert check in at Green Gulch Farms and settle into modest accommodations. Robert and others on the retreat live dormitory-style, sleeping on floor mats. Charles stays in a comfortable room in an octagon-shaped guest building. The food, all vegetarian, is excellent of course. After all, this is not only the source of the food for Green’s restaurant but is the training ground for its chefs.
The next morning the sun shines. The farm looks clean and green from the rain. Robert goes to the group meditation called a sesshin. Charles does his contemplation for a while and then explores the center grounds. As he wanders down a path toward the ocean he notices that, except for an occasional belch of emotion, he has new clarity of mind and a relaxed feeling. His point of view transcends but includes his previous thinking. Concern over the sources of the money is over.
At noon Robert brings Bill Rogers to meet Charles. Bill, about five nine and slightly overweight, is dressed in a black top with buttons on the side and broad-legged black pants. He nods his shaved head in greeting as he and Charles sit down on a bench carved from a huge log.
“Robert told me about your contemplation and your problem,” says Bill. “In Zen we call it meditation sickness. We are experienced with such problems here. The worst is probably over. Just take it easy. When you go home, you will be better than you were before all this started.”
“Robert said you could explain what this has to do with the mechanics of meditation,” Charles asks. “What does that mean?”
“The type of practice you have been doing is similar to mantra meditation. It’s non-discursive which means that the method, not the meaning, makes it effective. It allows your mind to ride the sound of your words through the crude outer crust of your consciousness to deeper, subtler levels where the mind experiences deep rest. On the way in, you avoid the damaged parts of your consciousness, little secrets encapsulated with fear. We all have them. The capsules protect you from having to face those secrets. The practice allows you to sneak past them without disturbance. We used to call it tiptoeing through the sleeping elephants.”
“When you come out of meditation you feel more at peace and deeply rested. This dissolves some of the fear, releasing a few elephants. This is a useful side effect, allowing resolution of psychological blocks. Usually it is easily handled unless you overdo the practice or suddenly stop, like you did after doing it for ten or twelve hours a day for a week. A few elephants can be managed, but it’s hard to handle a whole parade.”
“I guess it would have helped to know more of what I was doing,” says Charles. “I didn’t know the power of this type of practice. This whole thing is beyond my previous experience?”
“Witnessing shows you have made significant progress. Accept it. You will be different after this experience and for the better.”
“I’m surprised it could be so upsetting.”
“In order to transform to a higher level, you have to surrender the security of the present level. That can be uncomfortable. Your suffering is the destruction of the rigid crust that prevents the expansion of your understanding.” Bill pauses thoughtfully. “Strange isn’t it. It’s hard to let go, even when it’s misery that we are giving up. Some who have refused to let go have gone insane. I came close myself many years ago using a similar method of meditation. On a three-month retreat I got to a point where I couldn’t talk. I only went to the edge, but one fellow on that retreat dove off a balcony onto a marble floor. You do have to accept a little hell, but with knowledge, you can avoid a lot of trouble. You’ve heard the path of meditation referred to as the razor’s edge haven’t you? This is serious business.”
“Would I have adjusted automatically?”
“Mostly yes, but the will is involved. You have to let go of those obsolete feelings and ideas. Then the capsule of exclusiveness will dissolve into the larger, more inclusive whole. No values will be lost but they will no longer be idols of worship. A Zen master once said, ‘Do not strive to seek the truth, only cease to cherish opinions.’ Of course you could argue that this is an opinion we cherish. But I linger. I must go back to the sesshin.”
“I look forward to talking with you again,” says Charles.
Oh my God, I forgot to call Henry. Unbelievable. I’ve never been this negligent. Charles frantically searches for a phone so he can place the call.
Henry’s wife answers the phone. “Henry left this morning to go to Mass,” she says. “He came home, made a phone call, and went back to meet someone. He said no one knew where you were.”
“When you see him, tell him I’m at Green Gulch Farms and I won’t …
“What’s that? You’re in a gulch?”
“No, no, just tell him I’m fine, but I won’t be home until Saturday.”
“Ok I’ll tell him, Father. I hope you are all right.”
Charles calls George at work and tells him what is going on. He can depend on George to get the story straight.
“What the hell are you doing out there,” says George, “and with Robert of all people?”
“Just do me a favor.” Charles makes no effort to explain. He asks him to go over to the church and find Henry. “Be sure to convey my abundant apologies.”
George finds Henry and Beulah discussing the problem on the church steps.
“The bishop’s secretary wants me to call him immediately with any information,” says Henry.
“Father Lamers went to the Zen center at Green Gulch Farms with a man named Robert Diegel,” says George. “He will be back at one o’clock Saturday afternoon. Add that he was profusely apologetic over this lapse.”
“What about Mass?”
“He wants you to put a notice on the door that Mass will not resume until Sunday.”
“I’ll make the notice,” says Beulah.
* * * *
Saturday morning Charles and Robert have an early lunch and set off for home, refreshed. “I feel better than I can remember,” says Charles. “It’s funny that some problems that chronically bothered me in the past not only are resolved, but I can’t remember what they were. And I slept well last night but without witnessing. Bill didn’t tell me much about the witness.”
Well, the witness isn’t ultimate, but it is an important step toward the real you,” says Robert. “It shows what you are not, so you can see what you are. You are the subject that witnesses the objects. You have hands but they are not you. You have thoughts and an ego but they are not you. Anything you can name is not you, yet with some things we falsely identify. Only this choice-less awareness, this witness, remains as the real you.”
“Is that the end of the line?”
“Hardly,” Robert replies. “When you become continually established in the witness while awake, dreaming and sleeping, you will develop finer and finer perception which, way down the line, will lead to enlightenment.”
“And the person I thought I was?”
“There is an Irishman, whose real name escapes me, who calls himself Wei Wu Wei. He wrote this thing I always liked. It goes:
‘Why are you unhappy?
Because 99.9 per cent
Of everything you think
And everything you do,
Is for yourself –
And there isn’t one.’”
Charles laughs and says, “I give up. No comment.”
In a comfortable silence, they travel the rest of the way while Charles plans his meeting with the bishop.
As they drive into the alley behind the church, Charlie observes an anxious group awaiting them. George and Shirley appear glad to see him. Henry looks relieved but curious. Beulah, seeing Robert, is visibly disturbed. The bishop’s secretary appears composed and businesslike.
“Our financial problem is solved,” announces Charles. “Our prayers have been answered.”
“Well, I told you so,” says Shirley.
“Where did all that money come from?” asks George.
“And why all the secrecy?” asks Henry.
“The bishop wants to see you immediately,” says Father Lewis.
“First come inside, “says Charles. “I want to show you something.”
Everyone goes into the rectory. Letters cover the table, the desk, the sofa and most of the floor.
“I want you to see the sources of these letters and the messages that came with the donations,” Charles explains. “It took me some time to come to terms with this.”
Everyone sorts through the mail. Spontaneously they begin to read the messages aloud.
“’My spiritual guide on the inner planes instructed me to send this assistance.’
Inner planes?” says Henry.
“Lord Shiva asked me to send help to his friends. Om Namah Sivaya.”
“Best wishes from the Self Realization Fellowship.”
“This one says I hope this small donation from the Radha Soami Satsang will help you with your problem. What is Radha Soami Satsang?” asks Father Lewis.
“Donations from both Sufi Muslims and Hasidic Jews, that’s an interesting combination,” says George. “How did they all know about the problem in the first place, Charlie?”
“Well, here’s one from a Catholic in Sheboygan, Wisconsin,” says Shirley laughing.
“Here’s a strange one from Jamaica,” says Robert. “It’s signed ‘Babalooka of Santorini’. What’s a Babalooka?”
The variety of sources seemed endless. The most common message is; “My Lord Ganesha, Lord of obstacles, requested his followers to remove your obstacle with these donations. Om Gam Ganapathaye Namaha.” Some included Ganesha’s picture. He has a man’s body but with four arms, a jovial attitude, and the head of an elephant.
It is too much for Beulah. She explodes shouting, “It’s evil. It’s the devils money.”
“It’s all right Beulah,” says Charles. “Please trust me. It was a problem for me at first but now I understand.”
Beulah runs out crying.
“Well who cares where it came from?” says Shirley. “You’ve got the money, that’s what counts.”
“I’ve got to admit this is more practical than a weeping statue,” says George. “But there must be a reasonable explanation for all this. Someone solicited all these people and they did a damn good job.”
“Please everyone, accept God’s generosity,” says Charles. “A lot has happened and I know it’s confusing, but it will be all right in the end. Einstein said something like you can move through life seeing nothing as a miracle or seeing everything as a miracle. Instead, let’s just take things as they come,”
“Let’s go visit the Bishop,” says Father Lewis.
* * * *
Charles is confident and relaxed on the way to see the bishop. He decides he does not need the political clout that he imagines George would give him.
As Charles enters, Bishop Jennings rises and shakes hands enthusiastically welcoming him. The Bishop’s authoritarian power seems to be disarmed. “Congratulations on the good news.” he says. “It’s wonderful that your parish is no longer threatened. I’m so happy for you.”
What’s this? Charles thinks. The bishop’s attitude has completely changed. Charles, expecting to wage war, encounters only encouragement and support. Bishop Jennings’s behavior had the appearance of fear-driven obsequiousness. What happened to the patrician? What’s going on? What happened to San Jose and Sacramento? Charles watches the bishop with detachment, relief, and curiosity. The meeting is almost funny.
The next day Charles confidently announces the good news to his parishioners. He changes his teaching emphasis and with the new Charles, the parish grows and flourishes.
George believes the people at the Vedanta Society solicited the money. They were the first to respond and have the worldwide organization to do it. He is pleased to see how happy Charles has become, but finally George’s curiosity surfaces. “All right, what have you found?” He asks. “You have something. Aren’t you going to share it with me? Come on now, I ‘m your old buddy.”
“What you see is the best explanation,” says Charles with a bit of a smirk.
“What I see is that you’re more easy now, none of the old hard edge. It’s not as much fun when I can’t irritate you.”
“I know,” says Charles. “It began when I turned some elephants loose. I needed some psychological fresh air. I may never find a way to explain it to you. Contemplation allowed me to see things differently. The side effects made it possible for me to accept those differences. It’s not a willful change. The knowledge gained cannot be communicated in words. It’s more like a deep feeling … Ah, here comes Robert. We’re going to visit the Zen Center today.”
* * * *
Charles and Robert drive through heavy downtown traffic on the way to visit the Roshi at the Zen center.
“It was amazing,” says Charles. “I went in to my meeting with the Bishop ready for war, but he was nothing but compliments, congratulations and good will. Whatever I suggested he enthusiastically supported. I used to think he was trying to run me out of town.”
“Your naive innocence is frightening. You think like a nun,” says Robert. “I want to tell you something.”
“There isn’t a delicate way to put this. You were a legalistic, traditional Catholic. The Bishop thought that if you found out about him you would be a threat. He did want you out of town. Now, because you are my friend he assumes you already know and he’s afraid you’ll blow the whistle. He’s a good man but vulnerable. If I thought that you couldn’t be trusted, I wouldn’t tell you this. The fact is that it’s known, but not well known, that he’s a member of my community. ”
* * * *
“I feel the excitement.” says George. “Today we’re going out of The Bay to the open ocean, maybe even to the Potato Patch. Robert, you take the foredeck, Charlie you have the jib and main sheets and I’m on the helm. By the way, Charlie, when Robert offered to buy a half interest in the boat he insisted that the name be changed back to Ganesha, in honor of the demise of your elephants and, I might add, to your umbrella stand. Shirley doesn’t care anyway so we’re changing it. I appreciate the financial relief, Robert.”
As they maneuver out of the marina, George, who’s still curious about the new Charles, asks, “About this trip to Japan next week visiting Zen monasteries, how did you ever get the Bishop to agree to a sabbatical without limit?”
“Bishop Jennings is a very cooperative and understanding man,” Charles replies.
“My how sincere you sound,” George replies sarcastically. “I don’t get it.”
As the boat reaches the open water of The Bay, George cuts the engine. Robert sets the main and the jib and Charles sheets in. A breeze fills the sails, heeling the boat as it brings her up to speed. George heads her up wind on a port tack toward the Golden Gate.
“Maybe you’ll answer this,” George continues. “How about this one true church thing, what have you learned about that?”
“Most people join a church simply to feel legitimate.” says Charles. “Others want to actually grow spiritually. They actually seek the Truth. But Truth is beyond the mind, beyond description.”
“So does that mean there is no true religion?”
“All religions, speculations, or myths, my own as well as those of everyone else, are only approaches to the Truth, not the Truth itself.”
George persists. “Come on now. Does that mean they are all fairy tales? This is a straight yes or no question. Is there a one true church?”
Charles gazes thoughtfully out on the open ocean as they sail under the Golden Gate Bridge. He breathes deeply and replies: “Yes there are, George, yes there are. And even if you believe in nothing at all, nature will take care of you”

Monday, September 6, 2010


The greatest achievement is selflessness.
The greatest worth is self-mastery.
The greatest quality is seeking to serve others.
The greatest precept is continual awareness.
The greatest medicine is the emptiness of everything.
The greatest action is not conforming with the worlds ways.
The greatest magic is transmuting the passions.
The greatest generosity is non-attachment.
The greatest goodness is a peaceful mind.
The greatest patience is humility.
The greatest effort is not concerned with results.
The greatest meditation is a mind that lets go.
The greatest wisdom is seeing through appearances.

Atisha, 11th century Tibetan Master