CENTER COMMUNITY NEWS
Newsletter of the Center for Sacred Sciences
Vol. 30, No. 4 • Fall 2017
Light of Truth Celebration
Matt congratulates graduating students of the 2016-2017 Foundation Studies class
The CSS community gathered on the evening of Saturday, August 12th, for its annual Light of Truth Celebration, which included a potluck dinner and a graduation ceremony for the students in the 2016-2017 Foundation Studies class. At the graduation ceremony, many of the students shared their experiences and appreciation for this year's Foundation Studies teacher, Matt Sieradski. There was a record number of new students in the class.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Center for Sacred Sciences. To celebrate this milestone, Joel and several other members shared memories of the early years of the Center. Some of the CSS traditions and teachings were present from the beginning, including Sunday meetings with meditation and teachings followed by tea and conversation, as well as video potlucks once a month. The teachings of the first CSS retreat in August 1987 focused on the Four Principles of the Path: Attention, Commitment, Detachment, and Surrender. Just a handfull of people attended the early meetings and retreats. Joel emphasized that CSS has grown organically over the years in response to the needs and interests of our community. From the beginning, though, the intention has always been to foster a new sacred worldview compatible with modern science, share the universal teachings of the mystics from all the major religious traditions, and support a community of spiritual practitioners.
As is the tradition, the celebration also included music and dance.
Video of Tom's talk
Tom's Sunday talk on Subject and Object in Science and Mysticism
In this Sunday talk, given 18 June 2017, Tom McFarlane compares the scientific approach of investigating reality through objectivity with the mystical approach of investigating reality through subjectivity.
Although both approaches are based on different views of reality, both proceed by discrimination between subjective and objective, through progressively more subtle views of reality. If taken to their ultimate end, both lead to the point where the distinction between subject and object itself drops away.
credit: Carla Crow
Sacred Art at CSS: Ken Paul
The walls of the CSS meeting space are typically adorned with sacred art shared by CSS members. In May and June, 2017, sketches by CSS member Ken Paul were on display. Ken was an Associate Professor of printmaking at the University of Oregon from 1970 to 2003. His works have been represented in collections of Portland Art Museum, Coos Art Museum, Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, Art Gallery of South Australia, Art Gallery of Tasmania, University of Adelaide, Whitman College, Ucross Foundation, Cheney Cowles Museum (Spokane) and many more.
Following is a sample of Ken's work, and his reflections on his artistic experience.
Making images is an activity scarcely distinguishable from dreaming. “Originality” is more an expression of origins than uniqueness.
These pieces are not depictions of dreams, but rather 'dreams’ in themselves. Their source remains obscure, even to me. They just happened. None were undertaken with specific planning or agenda. Titles and other insights always come after a piece seems resolved.
When creative “flow” takes over, the artist just disappears into the moment (aka: The Zone). The process feels like a dialogue between the known (prior experience, accumulated knowledge) and the unknown (curiosity, inquiry, experimentation). Mystics insist that the Subject is ultimately One with the Object—i.e., the thing perceived. For me, creative activity is the field where this is most noticeable.
Our culture usually thinks of artistic productions as works. But for me it's more like play, even when rather serious things arise during the process.
No moment can be repeated; no two creative situations are alike. Everyone experiences art differently. This small collection of mixed images may look more like a group show than an effort by one person. If it lacks consistent “brand,” I've come to accept that. My approach may sound random, but it isn't, really. If viewers could somehow leave their expectations (personal taste) on the doorstep, their experience might resonate more with what I was feeling while the images unfolded for “me" during the process. But that’s neither necessary nor very likely.
Art doesn't reproduce the visible; it MAKES visible. — Paul Klee
Computers are useless; they can only give you answers. — Picasso
The Five Fundamentals
Soon after the Center for Sacred Sciences was founded in 1987, the core teachings of the Center were distilled into the following five fundamental teachings, which express in generic terms the most essential common teachings of the mystics of the world's religious traditions:
- Consciousness Alone is Absolutely Real.
The appearance of an objective world distinguishable from a subjective self is but the imaginary form in which Consciousness Perfectly Realizes Itself.
- Ignorance of the Real is the root of suffering.
From ignorance is born the delusion of self; from the delusion of self, desire for the world; from desire for the world, attachment to worldly forms; from attachment to worldly forms, all forms of suffering.
- The end of suffering comes by way of Gnosis,
or the Sacrifice of ignorance through the Grace of a Perfect Realization that Consciousness Alone is Absolutely Real.
- The Way of Gnosis is the Way of Selflessness,
cultivated on the basis of Love (boundless compassion) and Truth (profound insight).
It may be seen as unfolding in Seven Stages: Awakening of faith, Investigation of teachings, Unification of self, Purification of mind, Illumination of heart, Exhaustion of will (Kenosis), Sacrifice of ignorance (Gnosis);
governed by Four Principles: Attention, Commitment, Detachment, Surrender;
reflecting Seven Virtues: Courage, Humility, Justice, Patience, Gratitude, Mercy, Joy;
embodied in Four Disciplines: Inquiry, Meditation, Morality, Devotion.
- The Way of Selflessness is the very way in which Consciousness Perfectly Realizes Itself.
Thus, the Way of Selflessness constitutes not only the Perfection of human life, but of the entire world as well.
Common Teachings of the Mystics
If we compare the testimonies of the mystics from the major religious traditions about the Nature of Reality, we find that — despite vast separations in time, place, language, and culture — they are strikingly similar. One of the primary goals of the Center for Sacred Sciences is to preserve and promote the teachings of these mystics and to show exactly what it is they have in common.
For example, all mystics agree that Ultimate Reality—whether It is called Allah, Brahman, Buddha-nature, En-sof, God, or the Tao—cannot be grasped by thought or expressed in words. (In fact, the word mystic is related to the word mute, both of which derive from the Greek root mustes, meaning "close-mouthed.")
The Tao which can be named is not the true Tao. —Lao Tzu (Taoist)
The Spirit supreme is immeasurable, inapprehensible, beyond conception, never-born, beyond reasoning, beyond thought. —Upanishads (Hindu)
Words and sentences are produced by the law of causation and are mutually conditioning—they cannot express highest Reality. —The Lankavatara Sutra (Buddhist)
That One which is beyond all thought is inconceivable by all thought. —Dionysius the Areopagite (Christian)
The gnostics know, but what they know cannot be communicated. It is not in the power of the possessors of this most delightful station...to coin a word which would denote what they know. —Ibn 'Arabi (Muslim)
A Platform at the London Underground
Mind the Gap
A warning message on railway platforms of the London Tube alerts passengers to "Mind the Gap" (between the train and the platform). To the typical passenger, this is a mere safety advisory. But to those who see the world as a teaching mandala, this is also a spiritual teaching, to be mindful of the gap between thoughts (and other phenomena).
As Gendun Rinpoche explains,
"This perception of the essence of mind takes place when all previous thoughts have come to a stop and the next thought has not yet appeared. The mind is in the spontaneous present, its own reality. It is the mind which sees its own essence, and this is what we call primordial wisdom."
Another message on the wall in a London Tube station reads "Way Out."
What teachings have you seen in otherwise worldly signs?
Library CornerThe Center maintains a lending library containing thousands of books, audio CDs, video DVDs, magazines, and journals for patrons to explore the classical teachings of the mystics from all the world's religious traditions. Here we feature reviews of a few items in the collection. See the Library Blog for reviews and new additions to the library. The library also has a book club that meets monthly.
The Practice of the Presence of God
by Brother Lawrence
First written down and compiled in 1666, this tiny volume of 63 pages recounts Brother Lawrence’s simple approach to remaining continually in God’s presence. His is a self-effacing, if not self-negating, attitude. It expresses a selflessness created by God, as God fills this humble and empty self with his love and grace: “…when I fail in my duty, I readily acknowledge it, saying, I am used to do so: I shall never do otherwise if I am left to myself. If I fail not, then I give God thanks, acknowledging that the strength comes from Him.” (p.19)
This book is a classic must-read for those who recognize the devotional aspect of their path. Readers who can see past Brother Lawrence’s somewhat ornate sentences will find a gem of the devotional life, the same message of humble love shining from many facets.
— reviewed by Wesley Lachman
A Year to Live: How to Live This Year As If It Were Your Last
by Stephen Levine
At age 58 the Dalai Lama said it was time for him to prepare for his death. The author, being the same age, decided to follow his example. Having decades of experience working with dying people as well as with meditation practice, he had some awareness of the types of problems that arise and ways to pursue completion. With the start of a new year, he began a year of dying practice, refining as he went and discovering benefits together with complications (such as the necessity of planning his schedule a minimum of a year in advance while living as if he would not be in the body by then).
In this volume, Stephen Levine offers meditations, mindfulness practice, journaling approaches, methods for finishing business, and living ever more in the present. From his experience he describes emotions that arise and dissolve — holdings and releases — and the softening into life that can develop when entering fully into these practices. Ultimately, A Year to Live is about living and releasing one moment at a time — being with whatever arises. Good advice for anyone.
— reviewed by Dawn Kurzka
Every Man Heart Lay Down
by Lorenz Graham, with Colleen Browning illust.
This innocent-looking little book breathes new life into the ancient nativity stories. In fact it has so much life of its own that it will make you forget the old well-worn versions altogether. In an African setting, the story is narrated in beautiful, brief, broken English with a surprising power to communicate true depth. The simple illustrations splash preconceptions out of your head, leaving wonder in their wake. When I first read this book I almost fell out of my chair when I reached the last page. It is glory, beauty, and a five-word description of the mystical experience.
— reviewed by Wesley Lachman
Mission and Programs of the Center for Sacred Sciences
The Center for Sacred Sciences is dedicated to the study, practice, and dissemination of the spiritual teachings of the mystics, saints, and sages of the major religious traditions. The Center endeavors to present these teachings in forms appropriate to our contemporary scientific culture. The Center also works to create and disseminate a sacred worldview which expresses the compatibility between universal mystical truths and the evidence of modern science.
Among the Center’s ongoing events are Sunday public services with meditations and talks given by the Center’s spiritual teachers; monthly Sunday video presentations; and — for committed spiritual seekers — weekly practitioners groups and periodic meditation retreats. The Center is accessible. We are a welcoming and inclusive community.
The Center maintains an extensive lending library of books, audios, videos, and periodicals covering spiritual, psychological, philosophical, and scientific subjects. In addition, the Center provides a website containing a great deal of information and resources related to the teachings of the world’s mystics, the universality of mystical truth, and the relationship between science and mysticism. The Center publishes this newsletter providing community news, upcoming programs, book reviews, and other contributions and resources related to the Center’s mission.
The Center for Sacred Sciences is a non-profit, tax-exempt church based in Eugene, Oregon, USA. We rely chiefly on volunteer staff to support our programs, and on donations to meet our operating expenses. Our spiritual teachers give their teachings freely as a labor of love, and receive no financial compensation from the Center.
About the Center Community News
The Center Community News is published on the CSS website several times a year. Its primary purpose is to help foster a community of spiritual practitioners by sharing original teachings, experiences, reflections, artistic expressions, and reports among members of our community.
To submit your original spiritual reflection, report, poetry or art to the newsletter for publication, please use the newsletter submission form.
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