Thoughts for Reflection

Three Silences               Shiviti Adonai L'Negdi Tamid

Three Silences

"The more that you know God,
the more you shall confess
that you are able to know less of what he is."

-Angelus Silesius, The Cherubic Pilgrim

Let us turn to the three silences we mentioned earlier:

The silence of the intellect (mems), means, the tranquilization of our reason in such a way that ideas no longer dominate our lives.  We often act as if human existence were the conclusion of a syllogism that began with first principles.  The intelligence maintains silence when it remains respectfully quiet as it confronts the ultimate questions of nothingness that the mind itself undoubtedly presents.  To account for this, to be aware that we cannot understand everything, liberates the mind from a weight that is often oppressive.  The Latin liturgy does not speak of vivere secundum rationem, "living according to reason," but of "living in accordance with you" (secundum te), through Christ and in the Spirit.  This in no way implies that the mind possesses neither rights nor a domain of its own, but only that is not our ultimate guide, even though it does have the right to veto every irrational action.  "It is neither through great instruction nor by means of mental effort nor by study of Scriptures that we obtain atman," repeats the Katha Upanishad (I, 2,23).

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Shiviti Adonai L'Negdi Tamid

Stormy Lighthouse"I have set YHVH before me always" (Psalms 16:8) is one among thousands of lines of psalms, but it is a core teaching of nondual Judaism.  If the Shema conveys the intellectual core of nondual Judaism, perhaps Shiviti expresses the emotional center: that What Is/Who Is/Is-Ing is always before us.

This is particularly true at those times, which do not seem to merit the word.  It's easy to be a mystic on warm, summer days, when one is well fed and rested.  It's more profound to maintain enlightened consciousness when one is heartbroken, or ill, or confronting delusion in its destructive power.  Likewise, it's quite easy to say, "all is God" in the comfort of a retreat center, or at a Shabbat dinner; can it be said in a hospital ward?  In a prisoner-of-war camp?  Or even in our homes, when love is suddenly absent?  Can we say that God is both light and darkness then?  (Cf. Isaiah 45:7)

Shiviti Adonai l'negdi tamid ought not be an infantile, Panglossian attitude that all is for the best.  Denial of darkness, stiff upper lips in the face of it, spiritual bromides, the self-fulfilling prophecies of rationale—these are but fideism and timidity.  The courageous religious life is one which does not deny a thing: not science, nor war, nor the capacity of humans to do evil.  Often, religion explains What Is in terms of what is desired; it puts a happy ending on everything.  But to truly say shiviti is to invert the hierarchy, to insist that What Is simply is, whether I want it to be so or not.  We do not accept What Is because it is acceptable; we accept it because it Is.

WavesSo the nondual shiviti is a kind of challenge.  There are so many things I have wanted over the years, and so many I want still.  But do I have the courage to see these desires merely as conditioned phenomena, and not as the standard of goodness in the world?  Is it possible to look at the present moment in the eye, as it were, and see it looking back?  To at once maintain the truth of my own experience and yearnings, and acknowledge that What Is, Is—tamid, always?  And perhaps even to address it as "You"?

Jay Michaelson, Everything is God, The Radical Path of Nondual Judaism. Boston: Trumpeter, 2009, pp. 49-50.  (ISBN 978-1-59030-671-0)

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