wanted to share this from a friend. you’ll probably tell me it’s long for a blog post. i’ll say i know but you know what, i think it’s worth it. what do you think?
Cosmic Tradition by Bill Isaacs
Recently I had the opportunity to visit Gandhi’s home and ashram in India. It is located in a town called Ahmedebad and is in a very beautiful setting on the banks of the Sabarmati River. It was in this place that Gandhi lived and from which he initiated the famous Salt March, an effort that proved to be a major step along the path to Indian independence from British Colonial rule.
The ashram’s great simplicity makes it a very striking place. It is located in the midst of a very busy city, and yet the minute you walk onto the grounds you feel a beautiful stillness and quietness. Gandhiji, as he’s sometimes spoken of – a term of respect — carried a very gentle focus of leadership. The humility of his way of living becomes very evident as you walk through. The ashram is now a museum but once welcomed people from all over the Indian subcontinent and beyond. Today there are posters and photographs on the walls depicting its history.
One exhibit in particular stood out to me. It consisted of a blown up image of Gandhi’s handwriting with these words: “My life is my message.” The quality of our living experience makes the largest point in whatever it is we are doing. Gandhi certainly understood this and endeavored to embody it. His example clearly made an enormous impact on many millions of people.
There is a very concerted effort in India and across South Asia today towards modernization and the dissolution of limiting traditions. Gandhi himself worked at this. He invited people of so-called lower castes, including the “untouchables”, into the ashram. At the time this created an enormous stir. We could say we don’t have any such divisions or judgments in our consciousness about different classes of people, our own inherited traditions, but I suspect if we looked we might discover that that is not entirely the case.
The Indian subcontinent has held a rich spiritual tradition for many thousands of years. Many people, particularly Westerners, have journeyed there seeking to find sacredness, and enlightenment. There are legends in that part of the world about mysterious places hidden in the Himalayas where spiritual insight was protected and cultivated over the centuries.
There are indeed some magical places. The tiny kingdom of Bhutan, which has no more than 800,000 people, is home to a remarkable place called Tiger’s Nest monastery. Perched at over 10,000 feet on a mountain cliff, it seems to be an apparition invented by Hollywood, except that it is real and was built by hand over 300 years ago. In other words, in the heart of human experience, and down through the ages, people have quietly sought to protect the sacred dimensions of life. At the same time, there have of course also been many rigidities and limiting beliefs imprisoning human beings, there and in every other part of the world.
There is today in South Asia a concerted endeavor to shuck off many of these bonds. India has a new prime minister who is keen to bring his country into the so-called modern age. This loosening of human tradition is part of a wave, a rising tide moving through the whole of the region, that while in focus in a certain way there, is certainly also evident and necessary in many other places. To move beyond tradition can lead people to feel a bit disloyal, like they’re leaving something behind or losing something important — their rootedness or even their identity. We see efforts to cling even more fervently to patterns of familiar function in the world as pressure mounts on all of these patterns to be transformed into something new and unknown.
The word “tradition” comes from roots that mean to give or to hand over. Much of what is been handed over down through the ages has been confined to the limits of human memory. We do what we were taught and often are bound by that, sometimes in more ways than we might realize. Yet human tradition is under pressure to dissolve. This is certainly not just limited to what goes on around us in the external sense but is also applicable within ourselves.
A well-known individual who some years ago went to India was greatly impacted by his experience there. His experience exemplifies the personal liberation from tradition that seems to come from such visits. This is what Steve Jobs had to say, years later, about his realizations (source: http://news.stanford.edu/news/2005/june15/jobs-061505.html):
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it by living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. Most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary to this.”
This yearning to find what is beneath the façade, beneath what has been handed down opens us to experience the reality of ourselves.
There is something beyond human tradition, something being handed over and handed down, moment by moment, throughout the whole of the cosmos. We could refer to this as cosmic tradition. While the experience of this remains yet dim, it can gradually dawn on us and emerge into awareness. In this are intimations of the grandeur and Patterns of Life, in the great Halls of Being. Here we become aware of our own true stature, something far larger than the narrow parochial focus we typically carry. There is nobility in cosmic tradition, and an intimacy, a familiarity. We know one another in this place. Here there is a vast creative flow of life.
Substitutes for this reality have been accepted by human beings for many centuries, often in the form of human tradition. It is not that all these elements of human experience are entirely misplaced, but they are partial, an echo of something more. What is being pressed into our experience now is the compulsion to loosen our grip on all of these things so that we have the space to discover something fundamentally new. This is the central focus of true leadership.
I heard an example along these lines from a colleague of mine who grew up within the core of the American Civil Rights movement. He was noting the other day that he couldn’t recall anyone at that time speaking of their focus as “fighting racism.” Now, he is in position to know because he grew up with and knew the great leaders of the movement – Martin Luther King, Howard Thurman, and many others. It was very striking to him as he reflected on it, that this was never what they thought they were doing – even though today it is the story many people looking back would imagine was the case.
They felt they were building what they called the “Beloved Community” and sometimes, the “Beloved Kingdom.” In other words they were interested in calling forth an entirely different order and way of being that had nothing whatsoever to do with ridding the country of what many deemed to be an unjust pattern of legal and enforced segregation of the races. They were endeavoring to create something entirely new — not in reaction to what was present – but listening instead for something much larger and more inclusive. The degree to which this was the case was certainly the source of the power present in that movement.
What is required for us is not actually to fight with human tradition (our own or
others) but to listen to, and participate in, the rhythms and patterns of cosmic tradition. This of course, works very directly from within one’s own mind and heart – one’s own micro- movements, one’s own intimate attitudes. It is here that everything is proved out. It certainly is the case that we are continually given opportunities to let something new emerge.
There is a poem by D.H. Lawrence that speaks to this. It is called “Phoenix”:
Are you willing to be sponged out, erased, cancelled, made nothing?
Are you willing to be made nothing?
Dipped into oblivion?
If not you will never really change.
The phoenix renews her youth
only when she is burnt, burnt alive, burnt down to hot and flocculent ash.
Then the small stirring of a new small bub in the nest with strands of down like floating ash
shows that she is renewing her youth like the eagle, immortal bird.
At every age and stage, Life invariably presents us with opportunities to allow that which remains in us of human tradition to be sponged out, erased, cancelled, let go of. This is how we make room for that which truly is new.
One emerging aspect of cosmic tradition is the experience of meeting and finding agreement with other people moving with this same spirit. The expansive and collaborative energy that subsequently moves is one of the essential ingredients in the release of creative power. Long ago this was spoken of as the “greater works” – greater in the sense that as each one endeavors to allow a new reality to be present for him or herself, the possibility emerges for the amplification of collective experience that could never be reached by one great individual on his or her own. Through the ages there have been great individual points of spiritual focus. Some of these ones have been evident and visible to human consciousness, and some have been hidden away, protected in the sacred mountains of the Himalayas and other places.
We today live in a different age, where meeting one another and functioning together in a finer pattern of being is what is being called forth. The price of entry to this experience lies in the willingness to be made nothing. The door is the door of humility and simplicity, and going through it one starts to see many creative possibilities.
The room where Gandhi received his visitors is the picture of simplicity. In it is a spinning wheel, a mat for sitting, and little else. We have been conditioned to imagine that great undertakings, and great leadership, require a megaphone, or volumes of written works, overt acts of courage. But in fact the great traditions of the cosmos emerge in the simplest of ways. The power of character does not require fanfare. To the unaided human eye it might appear as if nothing is happening, or that things are simply falling apart. But it becomes very evident that this is not the case, if one has eyes to see. One has eyes to see as one participates in expressing the character of life, and in so doing, experiences the integrative and restorative power of life. This is the opportunity that has been given to me, to us, and to anyone who endeavors to reveal the cosmic tradition of which they are already in fact an essential part.
There is much to discover, many new forms of association, new thoughts, and new feelings that have yet to appear, many opportunities for creative interaction and the movement of creative power. We are crossing a very exciting threshold. As familiar ways are moved aside there can be cause for concern or trepidation. But it is also very exciting to begin to experience and welcome something new. The intensification of cosmic tradition and the release of human clutter through our own humility allows internal ease. As I become less interested in outcomes, more power moves. Of course the human desire to control results lurks in the background. We need vigilance to sustain a focus of awareness moment by moment in what is real.
To be together in the great Halls of Being, to let the memory of that experience flood our minds and hearts, is an immense joy and an open door of invitation for everyone. Our lives are our message. It is a great pleasure to recall the reality of our own heritage and to let the authority of that be present moment by moment.
November 23, 2014
Bill Isaacs: firstname.lastname@example.org