Radically Receptive


  Marco Pallis asks: “Could anyone really look on the paintings to be found in countless Japanese or Tibetan temples and still believe that the impulse behind these things stemmed from a basic error?” (A Fateful Meeting of Minds: A.K. Coomaraswamy and Rene Guenon, The Essential Ananda K. Coomaraswamy)

 Pallis is, I think, challenging a certain narrow, censorious mentality that is better at detecting error than at perceiving truth - the sort of mentality that, incidentally, we find on display throughout the pages of the New Testament. 

 There, it is said repeatedly, the religious officials, having, we may presume, nothing better to do, constantly watched for Jesus to trip up in some way. 

 These error detectors were on the watch to see where Jesus went, who he spent time with, (not the right kind of people - prostitutes, tax collectors and sinners of all kinds) whether he adhered to established rituals, procedures and practices, and whether his thinking was 'orthodox.' 

 They odiously played the ‘gotcha game.’ 

 Thus, just as there is a circumscribed mind that fails to apprehend the beauty of a Japanese temple, (as above) that same kind of mind fails to see the beauty of Jesus Christ and instead sees only errors.

 That capacity to behold beauty, to stretch beyond limiting horizons, may be blocked by a kind of constipated mentality.

 The great 19th century, English preacher, Joseph Parker, describes such a contracted mind in this way: "Here is a man who will slander his neighbour by the hour, and calls himself a Christian, and never doubts his own Christianity; he sends heterodox thinkers to hell by the thousand, he whips the Unitarians into the very hottest perdition.”

 "All he himself does is to slander his neighbour, and then engage in prayer. It never occurs to him that slander is a deadlier sin than mere intellectual error.” (Joseph Parker, Preaching Through the Bible, Vol 9, Hosea to Mathew 7, p. 210) 

 The answer therefore to the question posed by Marco Pallis concerning whether the beauty of Eastern paintings and temples can be apprehended, has to do with whether one is radically receptive, that is, an open-hearted seeker, who lives on the tip-toes of expectancy in her quest for truth, beauty and goodness. 

 Such a one beholds beauty wherever and whenever it presents itself. 

 Which I think, corresponds to the barrier shattering teaching of Jesus Christ who, when he advised an expert-in-the-law on how to live the spiritual life, brought his point alive with reference to a man, who had been robbed, beaten up, and left to die. (Luke 10:25-37)

 Jesus told a story that featured the radical openness of a Samaritan towards the wounded man as an example of an exemplary spirituality. 

 The Samaritans were disdained by Jews as dogs who didn't know or understand anything. But, of course, the feelings were mutual. Neither discerned beauty in each other’s respective camps and the barriers were up between them.

 But in the story Jesus told, the Samaritan shattered all preconceived notions by stooping down to help the suffering man, after a priest and a Levite had walked past him.  

 The advise of Jesus Christ therefore was that if you want to live the spiritual life fully that you need to learn how to stoop like the Samaritan instead of to walk stiffly like the priest.

 It was the so-called dog, the despised Samaritan, who defined the nature of true spirituality, which is to break down barriers without any hesitancy

 Such a one does not think of 'I and mine,' or 'us and them.’ Or even of his or her own safety.

 Like the lawyer/medical assistant, Barbara Winter, who, upon hearing gun fire at the War Memorial in Ottawa, did not flee for cover, but headed towards the scene and got involved in the effort to save the life of our dying Canadian hero, the 24 year old, Corporal Nathan Cirillo. 

 In a CBC interview, Barbara, said: "I told him: “You are loved. You are brave. You are good.”

 The point here is the emphasis upon being a beauty-seekingbarrier-breaking, radically receptive, human being.

  Similarly, the philosopher/theologican, Raimon Panikkar, was asked in an  interview for a Hindu-Christian journal about his stance after thirty-five books, three Doctorates in chemistry, philosophy and theology, and an intense study of the world religions, especially Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism.

 "Where do I now stand?” His answer was the theme of this article, that he was attempting to practice a radically receptive mode of life and being.

 "Ultimately, all my writings are autobiographic, says Panikkar, "not about myself, but trying to give voice to the Self.” (Raimon Panikkar, The Methodic of Hindu-Christian Studies.) 

 Which is the attempt to give expression to what is beyond the ego and hidden in a transcendent dimension. He’s making a contrast to 'falling into the classical trap of the philosophers' - where "merely mental appreciation for knowledge” is emphasized and instead focusing on the awakening of a deeper faculty of perception. (Marco Pallis, Discovering the Interior LifeThe Sword of Gnosis, Metaphysics, Cosmology, Tradition, Symbolism, p. 183 Ed. Jacob Needleman)

 Thus, says, Raimon Panikkar: “Philosophy is the opening of our purified conscious being.” It is "an ardent aspiration for liberating truth.” It is the practice of radical receptivity.

 As was discovered, in another instance, by Borghild Baldauf, who had grown up in an atheistic-agnostic family, but who, nevertheless, had always felt a call, an inner attraction to God. 

 As a child, 'her first communion had been an intense event where she had devoted herself to her Lord. Later she studied theology and for ten years had worked as a lecturer in a department of Old Testament studies.' 

 The experience left her feeling cold and empty: "I rubbed myself sore on the limits of Christian theology and exegesis and the arrogance of a mostly smug and boring academic society which had itself cut-off from the source and thereby lost its credibility, dynamism and creativity.” 

 She therefore longed for more. Thus she was sitting in 1997 in the "small quiet backroom of my home listening to a monthly radio program on different world religions.”

 One evening, she heard about the life-changing experience of Dr. Sarla Kumar who had experienced a radically opened spirit, through the teacher of Kashmir Shaivism, Lakshman Joo. (Borghild Baldauf, Samvidullasaha centenary tribute to Swami Lakshman Joo, ed. Betinna Baumer)  

 Something in Sarla Kumar's experience - her evident "sincerity, simplicity, devotion and joy" resonated with Borghild's own searching heart.

 Over the next several years, Borghild attended meditation sessions and retreats.

 One day she was shown a photograph of the sage, Lakshman Joo. He was sitting in samadhi (a 'God-intoxicated’ state) and "something indescribable radiated from his appearance."

 On her birthday, she was given a framed picture of the Indian saint saying: "It is an icon." 

 Now, Borghild, who had studied iconography already understood that icons are "windows on eternity” or, "windows on the Absolute.” She knew that an icon can be a vehicle of grace-bestowing power.  

 But she had not realized just how great the power could be. One day she had an ephipany of the saint and felt overwhelmed.

 She felt shocked and fearful, but immediately, Lakshman Joo, was transformed into Light and "the Light dissolved into something indescribable which was beyond Light. I felt stunned."

 She compared her experience to that of the three disciples on Mount Tabor who caught a glimpse of a transfigured Jesus. They, too, were similarly startled, shocked and fearful.

 This experience was followed by a deepening practice of meditation until on one particular day "a strange thing occurred. I started weeping and for hours there was no end of my tears."

 "Fortunately I was alone that day because it was as if - for the first time in my life - I had lost control of myself.”

 "Completely helpless, I was unable to form a clear idea, lost in the welter of disparate emotions and the vain attempt to get the rudder back into my hands again."  

 "There was nothing I could do except to go to the meditation room, prostrate myself there and let go of everything. In the evening, a long and heavy thunderstorm broke off, like the cosmic counterpart to my explosive inner state."

 "What had happened?" Borghild asked. Her answer was: "During the night my former life had passed by like in a flash."

 It was some kind of miracle. There, on the other side of the world, on foreign territory, she was meditating and weeping in the meditation room of an ashram.

 Her discovery, however, was that that foreign world turned out to be her world.   

 She was then experiencing a grief that was somehow purifying and cleansing. It had the effect of making of her soul into a vessel which was completely and radically receptive.

 I would like to share with my readers a chant that has the power to uplift into the barrier breaking stance of radical receptivity that I have written about.

 Take the time, if you will, to become absorbed for 18 minutes in a chant that is of the nature of a pure and powerful grace. 

 The chant is sung in several languages until finally you hear the English version.


 Divine Jesus, Swami Nirvanananda