Why are we not like that wise old owl?

Buddhist of the Kwan Um School.
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Your problem is you are too busy holding on to your unworthiness.
Ram Dass
The five points of yama, together with the five points of niyama, remind us of the Ten Commandments of the Christtian and Jewish faiths, as well as of the ten virtues of Buddhism. In fact, there is no religion without these moral or ethical codes. All spiritual life should be based on these things. They are the foundation stones without which we can never build anything lasting.
Swami Satchidananda
From the Hindu point of view each soul is divine. All religions are branches of one big tree. It doesn’t matter what you call Him just as long as you call. Just as cinematic images appear to be real but are only combinations of light and shade, so is the universal variety a delusion. The planetary spheres, with their countless forms of life, are naught but figures in a cosmic motion picture. One’s values are profoundly changed when he is finally convinced that creation is only a vast motion picture and that not in, but beyond, lies his own ultimate reality.
George Harrison (via lovely-moonchild)

(via joyfulbhikkhu)

The brahman, Uddalaka explained, was the sap that was in every part of the tree and gave it life. It was, therefore, the atman of the tree, as it was the atman of every single human being; all things shared the same essence. But most people did not understand this. They imagined that they were special and unique, different from every other being on the face of the earth. Instead of appreciating the deepest truth about themselves, they clung to those particularities that, they thought, made them so precious and interesting. But in reality, these distinguishing characteristics were no more durable or significant than rivers that flowed into the same sea.
Karen Armstrong
The most important aspect of love is not in giving or the receiving: it’s in the being. When I need love from others, or need to give love to others, I’m caught in an unstable situation. Being in love, rather than giving or taking love, is the only thing that provides stability. Being in love means seeing the Beloved all around me.
Ram Dass
To be united with the Lord of Love,
Imperishable, changeless, beyond cause
And effect, is to find infinite joy.
Brahman is beyond all duality,
Beyond the reach of thinker and of thought.
Tejobindu Upanishad
Everybody understands the single drop merging into the ocean. One in a million comprehends the ocean merging into a single drop.

I’ve only opened four out of 7 3:


I’ve only opened four out of 7 3:

(via harelquin8)

     The life of the spirit is a very abstract and understated experience for many. We are continually exposed to teachings about the spirit and how it is interconnected with the nature of our very identity and existence. We question whether this physical existence is all that comprises our being, or if there is more to our very essence. These questions seem to focus on whether there is more to our physical reality than meets the eye, and what that means for the possibilities that reside within us. When we ponder these questions of man’s spiritual nature, we wonder if there is a way to understand and comprehend such possibilities if they truly do exist. If we want an answer specifically within a spiritual or religious context, then we may be able to find some answers in teachings that may seem archaic, but still have proven valuable today.

            Spiritual disciplines have not only been apt vehicles in disseminating philosophical and ethical teachings, but have also been useful in answering significant questions of how to understand our intrinsic nature, or “inner self”. Yet, even though we are made aware of the spiritual nature of our existence, how are we then to properly understand and access it? There are many different ways that the answer to this question has been characterized through unique methodologies. Taoism developed the system of meridian points that specifies certain points of spiritual energy which map out the flow of a body’s life force. Kabbalah, or Jewish mysticism, sets up a system of ten sefirot, which are emanations of God, through which man can come to closer knowledge of the divine presence and seek to reach the ultimate source of God and His holy presence.

            While these have their place within certain spiritual traditions, they are not the primary spiritual methodologies that will be focused on. Within the context of our comparative study between Hinduism and Greek Orthodox spirituality, these two religious traditions also have certain spiritual methodologies that explain certain spiritual processes of physical practice and coming to know the inner self. While Hinduism has yoga and other forms of meditation, the Orthodox tradition has also put forth a number of meditative teachings. There are certain processes and concepts of Orthodox spiritual practice that seem to have parallels within the chakra system of Hinduism. Looked at side by side, the chakra methodology and the synthesis of certain Eastern Orthodox spiritual practices and thought can show a similarity between the two that transcends the confines of their defined religious parameters and find common ground within the soul of man itself.


            The chakra system plays an integral part in certain types of yoga by helping a person integrate the mental, emotional, and physical aspects of spiritual practice. There are many ways that this system is represented, but the most general representation involves seven circles of different colors that are based at specific points from the crown of the skull down to the base of the spinal column. These are usually viewed as small centers of swirling spiritual energy that help people access their intimate emotional and spiritual potential, but can also be used to access the energy of the universe. While this may all sound somewhat esoteric, it is all used for the sake of expressing our emotional and mental relationship with ourselves and the world, and how we can ultimately express that through a physical manner[1].

            Thus, the way we act and are able to find balance within our lives has a lot to do with how we are able to understand and manifest our chakras. If we express attachment or possessiveness towards people or things, we are radiating the root chakra’s survival drive in our lives. If we express creativity and uniqueness, the throat chakra is a dominant force in whatever endeavor we may be caught in at a particular moment. Other chakras focus on love, ego, desire, and intuition, all expressing what are usually regular human traits and conditions. These all play a larger role than we normally understand them to though when it comes to the process of spiritual maturation that is a part of us “opening” our chakras[2]. By opening our chakras, we fulfill the potential we have of fully manifesting the certain powers and traits that the chakras are able to provide us, coming to fully understand what we are capable of and the nature of our own character[3].

            If we are to understand chakras as a methodology of spiritual discipline, we have to be made aware that this methodology also requires discipline and balancing if we are ever to fully grasp the serious side of it. The discipline that goes hand in hand with the methodology is very much like that which the early Hindu teacher, Patanjali, described through his moral principles of yoga. The moral principles are not only precepts that the yogin is expected to follow his life by for the sake of his practice, but are a way that we balance out our own mind and body for the sake of our emotional welfare[4]. To be angry throws our power of transformation into disarray, causing havoc with our self-esteem and power to affect change (e.g. navel chakra). Violence would harm our natural sense of empathy and compassion that the heart chakra provides[5]. As such, the moral principles and the chakra methodology are systems that implore that we become aware of what to do and what not to do in the way we live and act. If a practitioner takes the process of spiritual genesis seriously, they must understand that there are extremes they must avoid for the sake of finding balance in their lives.

Once a practitioner is aware of how to properly approach chakras and the traits and certain powers that each manifest, then the crucial step is to understand the part they play in the process of spiritual realization that is related to Hinduism and yoga. The process of realization the chakras are a part of is one of the many methods that exist within Hinduism which helps a person realize the Oneness of the Universe they are a part of, as exemplified by the merging of atman, or personal self, with the universal and ineffable divine power termed Brahman. This is achieved within the context of the chakra system and yoga by the rising of the kundalini energy to the crown chakra.

Within the yogic mystical tradition, kundalini energy is psychospiritual potential latent within the root chakra. By “snaking” its way up the spine, it acts as an active process of spiritual consciousness along the way, focusing the life force along a stream of spiritual awakening. Where the chakras lie in this process of awakening is as the rhythm that the life force follows along the path towards unity with the divine. The latent potential that is the kundalini uses these foci of spiritual energy as stepping stones, fully experiencing the power of each until the kundalini finds its way to the storehouse of spirituality. By fully experiencing each chakra and the emotions and traits that are identified with it, the kundalini prepares itself for the next stage of the process so that it is not overwhelmed. The practitioner may not be able to handle the power of the ego if they do not first understand the aspects of pleasure and rootedness that are core to our being for example. Once each and every chakra is fully understood, opened, and balanced, the kundalini is able to reach the crown chakra, where the spiritual doorway is open and a “bright illumination” is said to be experienced[6].

Yogic discipline through focus on the chakras is not the only effective method to come to a sort of illumined union with the divine. Eastern Orthodox Christianity may not have a spiritual methodology that exactly mirrors the chakras, nor does it place focus on the same traits and emotional states that the chakras focus on, though there may be a bit of overlap. Whereas the chakra system and the kundalini are somewhat symbolic representations of the spiritual process and power that is within an individual, the Eastern Orthodox tradition puts more emphasis on the work, learning, and devotion that is worked out by the faithful practitioners. These lead to an elucidation upon the interior realm of the spirit as it progresses along the path that is termed as Hesychia.

Hesychia, or hesychasm as it is usually called, is a process of spiritual growth that “signifies concentration combined with tranquility”[7]. The practice is seen as a quest for inner growth, much how like those who undergo the practice of yoga are seen as practitioners that are on a process of spiritual realization. Hesychasm then becomes a journey of the soul and the body together, the practitioner using the Jesus or Mercy Prayer[8] as a way to keep their attention of the spiritual path and God. The intense focus on prayer that is expected of the practitioner ultimately becomes a way they integrate themselves with the prayer, so that they come to forget individual ego. The focusing of their attention on the presence and mystery of God becomes a way to delve deeper into their inner nature. This is very similar to the way a yoga practitioner can become engrossed in the kundalini process and delve into the many aspects of the chakra energies.

This intense focus on the relationship that one has to Christ and the internal spiritual journey that it begins becomes a deeper process of understanding and maturation that along the way leads to a genuine sense of spirituality that is engendered within the individual by directing one’s whole mind and energy towards God[9].  Whereas in the chakra methodology this begins a process of balancing within the different chakras by a steady ascension up from the root to the crown, the process of hesychasm can be said to include a process that can be expressed more as purification. This is because the process begins by confronting our amartia, or sin. By overcoming this distancing from God that we ourselves have caused out of our own misunderstandings and fears, we start metanoia or repentance. This is a purging of our materialistic ways that were/are not in line with the ways of the spirit[10]. This transition from a sinful life into the embrace of a new spirituality brings about nepsis, known as the watchfulness of the present moment. Through this, we perceive all that is going on around us, tapping into more of an intuitive way of processing our environment and ourselves[11]. Much like how opening the chakras leads to a healthier and more balanced spirit, the same can also be said of how this threefold process leads to a more perceptive and inherently spiritual attitude.

This growing affinity towards a way of life that is characterized by the practitioner’s inner focus and devotion slowly moves away from the repetition of prayer to the simple understanding of spiritual feeling. We go from having to rely on the words and the process of repentance to a slow realization of the spiritual power that lies within our own conscience, which is very similar to how one moves from the earthly chakras (root, sacral, navel) to the chakras that manifest our more spiritual aspects (heart, throat, third eye). This process is understood as “bringing the mind down into the heart”. This term signifies a letting go of our intellectual and physical capacities to bring forth the power of intuition and deeper devotion to God. This is a focused watchfulness on our part of the prayer and mental power that we can focus on God, acting as a process corresponding to that of the inner illumination the kundalini is said to provide. As our process of repentance deepens and we become more spiritually attuned to our relationship with God, we start to perceive the inherent nature of divine creation that lies within all and ourselves.[12]

This focus on the internal spiritual matter and make-up of the practitioner, consisting of mind and spirit, comes into direct contact and alignment with the body when the nepsis seems to be focused on the whole divine nature of creation from outside and within. This leads to the directing of one’s spiritual energy to God, which is more similar to how the chakra energies of the yogic practitioner seem to ascend to the uppermost crown chakra. For the practitioner of hesychasm, this leads to the realm of nous or spiritual intellect. Nous is the intuitive and mystical mind and vision that the practitioner is able to access through the process of the forgetting of one’s self for the matter of coming into a deeper relationship with God. From nous, the only step then is theosis, or union with the divine. In this state, the practitioner finally achieves their personal relationship and revelation of God. We finally fully experience God as he has been communicated through the Scriptures and teachings by participating in God’s love and truth with our whole being.[13]

Understanding the certain specifics the Hesychia process involves, would there a comparable methodology or form of teaching that can be applied to it as was possible for the chakras? There in fact seems to be examples that suffice for both. Theophan the Recluse, an Orthodox saint, gives a number of precepts, teachings and suggestions throughout The Art of Prayer anthology that are somewhat in line with those of Patanjali. Where Patanjali calls for observance and concentration in meditation, Theophan also instructs those in prayer to concentrate on the heart and God, as well as observing and studying the teachings that accompany their progression as practitioners. Theophan also makes it clear that the process of prayer means that one has to leave behind the realm of self-importance and ego, encouraging us to free ourselves from the perception of our self as a separate entity. This is due to the fact that we need to increase in humility and sympathy to access the deeper powers of prayer that lead us on an ascent towards God.[14]

These teachings give a clear picture of what the path of hesychasm expects out of those who seek union with God, but is there a framework that can neatly summarize and organize the process of spiritual progression within hesychasm as is seen in the chakra system? The answer to this can be found within a poem authored by someone called Theophanis the Monk titled “The Ladder of Divine Graces”. Put simply, this ladder delineates a methodical and step-by-step process whereby spiritual discipline and the act of prayer become integrated into a journey that leads from the words of prayer, to the domain of peace, to the ending of perfection with the divine[15]. This is a change in consciousness that is enacted by divesting ourselves from emotions and attachments that only block the path we journey on. It is a comeuppance that is a continuous pondering of our place in the universe and the way that we use hesychasm to forgo the thoughts and understanding of ourselves that we accepted[16].

This readies us to delve into the mysteries that are present within the heart of the light that is the presence of God within the practitioner and as the direct reality that we come to comprehend as we peel away the layers of ego and mind. This is akin to the chakra system and the rising of the kundalini energy in that we seek to progress through the understanding of our spiritual character. The chakra system differs though in that it involves a process whereby we can fully integrate and balance our emotions, but in a way that we understand the more subtle aspects of each. The framework of Theophanis contrasts from this in that it seems to be more a denial that regards the yielding of our human nature to a sort of inner divine metamorphosis as the way that brings us closer to understanding. Whether it is through ways of purging or integration, the spiritual paths and methodologies within each tradition are apt outlines and guides to understanding the spiritual journey that practitioners from either tradition may seek to undertake.


We have seen that there are traditions, practices, and spiritual moments of maturation and realization from Hesychia that coincide with the chakra system, but there are two points that can be specifically highlighted that further illustrate their comparative mystical nature. This has to do with two certain areas that the two seem to overlap in terms of understanding: the heart and the idea of divine light. Within “The Art of Prayer”, the heart is seen as a seat of spiritual consciousness and an important aspect of prayer. It is seen as a seat of intuitive spiritual power that helps rewire our connection with the divine. The heart is the place that brings about humility and compassion and defeats the ignorance of the ego, allowing us to access a sense of freedom that comes from knowing our “inner man”[17].

This Eastern Orthodox view of the heart aligns with the characteristics and emotions that are assigned to the heart chakra. The heart chakra is seen as repository of empathy and compassion that can be tapped into when we have properly overcome our attachments and feelings of possessiveness which our passions and ego can create. When we have properly balanced this chakra and found the freedom that our compassion affords us, the heart chakra acts as the gateway chakra to the upper chakras that connect more directly with the spirit than the lower three. In both, we find that that the heart is a starting point of where we can purge the focus on ourselves and begin a more thorough relationship with the divine and those around us, recognizing our interconnectedness with all of creation[18].

The light that the heart is able to provide along these paths of mindful development is what will ultimately lead to the divine light that is at the end of each tradition’s spiritual path. This has already been explained somewhat through the process of the kundalini. When the kundalini reached the uppermost chakra, the crown chakra, the practitioner experiences an illuminating light that is usually expressed as a blinding and dazzling pure light that totally consumes the individual. This is an experience that correlates with the common explanation of the light in Eastern Orthodox spirituality, but is perceived in a decidedly specific way. While we assume that the divine light in the chakra system is an apprehension of the higher spiritual energies of the universe, the divine light is expressed within the Orthodox tradition as the manifestation and perception of the raw energies of God Himself. We are permeated by this divine light as we continue to perceive it, our humanity becoming one with the power of God[19].


The journey that results from the questions of what our inner nature consists of is an arduous and somewhat complicated process due to the mental, emotional, and physical challenges along the way. The methodologies of hesychasm and chakras though are two ways that this journey can be comprehended and carried out. Both leading the practitioner down a path of self-discovery, they each implore us to put aside the ego and directly confront the inner self that lies dormant within us and fully come to comprehend or upend the traits and characteristics of ourselves that hinder us from experiencing the illuminating warmth of the presence of the divine. They each set out different ways to begin, but the different paths that each seem to take crisscross from time to time. The opening of the heart to true compassion, the focus on the energies and emotions within us, and the raising of our spiritual energy from the base of our nature to the highest potential possible are all highlights that display two comprehensive methodologies that, whether they are put side by side or not, continue to give seekers a meaningful experience that allows us sight of a higher goal and an enrichment of man’s soul.

[1] Joanna Crosse, Chakras and Meridians, Encyclopedia of Mind, Body, Spirit, and Earth (Boston: Element Children’s Books, 1998) 52

[2] Mary Jo Meadow, “Yogic Chakra Symbols: Mirrors of the Human Mind/Heart”, Journal of Religion and Health, Vol.32, No.1, pp. 67-78 (New York: Springer, 1993)

[3] For an explanation of chakras, refer to Appendix A  before the Works Cited page

[4] “1) When one perseveres in nonviolence, hostility vanishes in its presence…”– Barbara Stoler Miller, Part Two: The Practice of Yoga, Yoga: The Discipline of Freedom, (New York: Bantam Books, 1998) 54

[5] Barbara Kaplan Herring. April 18 2012.  http://www.yogajournal.com/basics/898, pp.4-5

[6] Georg Feuerstein, The Serpent Power: Kundalini-Shakti, The Shambala Guide to Yoga (Boston: Shambala Publications, Inc., 1996) 113-123

[7] Bishop Kallistos Ware, God as Prayer, The Orthodox Way, (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1995)  122

[8]Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.”

[9] Kyriacos C Markides, The Mountain of Silence, (New York: Random House Inc., 2002) 195-197

[10] Ibid. pp. 196-197

[11] Bishop Kallistos Ware, God as Prayer, The Orthodox Way, (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1995)  114

[12] Igumen Chariton, The Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology, (Boston: Faber and Faber, 2002) 180-191

[13] Dr. Milica Bakic-Hayden, Lecture on March 29th, 2012, Mysticism East and East (University of Pittsburgh Religious Studies Department, 2012)

[14] Igumen Chariton, The Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology, (Boston: Faber and Faber, 2002) 180-199

[15] “The journey passes through the several stages of prayer, heart, energy, tears, peace, purging, vision, light, illumination, and perfection.” - James S. Cutsinger, “The Yoga of Hesychasm”, Merton and Hesychasm: The Prayer of the Heart of the Eastern Church, (Sandpoint: Morning Light Press, 2007)

[16] Ibid. 6-7

[17] Igumen Chariton, The Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology, (Boston: Faber and Faber, 2002) 186-191

[18] Barbara Kaplan Herring. April 18 2012.  http://www.yogajournal.com/basics/898, pg. 5

[19] Bishop Kallistos Ware, God as Prayer, The Orthodox Way, (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1995)  127

            There have been numerous instances within the flow of history of great shifts in the way that people think and live. These changes have stemmed from a drive for progress and the determination to bring to the realm of reality what one has dreamed of for so long. Yet, while these two factors are important, a lack of complacency also plays its part. When people have found that they can no longer be complacent with the way that society operates, they seek a way to change the status quo, of fomenting the possibilities that abound. These possibilities become the seeds that provoke revolution, bringing with it radical new ways of thinking and of approaching the world and the way we operate in it. In doing so, revolution finds its meaning by tearing down the barriers that were erected in ages past, making it so that the mind of man is not inhibited by the limitations that were previously thought to be permanent.

            This is the same spirit that the reformers of Vedic Hinduism embodied around two thousand five hundred years ago. Mostly a religion which was ruled by rite and ritual that was overseen by a priestly class, there were many that found Vedic Hinduism to be lacking. Not only did these people believe that the system was broken, but they wanted to see if there was more to religion than worship and moral codes. In trying to find a new path towards religion, they found new paths in how to approach the divine in the spirit of Hinduism. There were others that found answers outside of the confines of the Hindu way and preached new and radical notions of coming to truth and liberation. Such teachings are represented by the Upanishads and the religions of Buddhism and Jainism. These new teachings encapsulated new notions of what it meant to be spiritual and how to live life fully and meaningfully.

            Within this historical context of revolutionizing spiritual teaching, the teachings of Dogen, the founder of the Soto Zen School in Japan, will be put side to side with these earlier religious teachings. On his own quest to restore what he saw as the original teaching of Buddhism, Dogen sought to counteract what he saw as the perverted teachings and practices which he encountered in Japan. He elaborated and expanded on certain concepts that had been put forth by the spiritual radicals of India centuries before; even approaching them in new ways, sometimes to complement the way that he saw his own spiritual path. With this in mind, it could be said that Dogen even helped the revolutionary teachings of ages past “evolve” in a manner to meet the needs of the time and of the people he was teaching. In this spirit, Dogen was not only a torch-bearer of the revolutionary traditions, but he was a radical in his own right in that he brought about innovation within Buddhism through his teachings.


            Vedic Hinduism was a system built on acts of sacrifice and supplication to the gods. That was the main driving force of the belief system worked and how it viewed the world. Even though there was no doctrine of immortal gods held by Vedic Hinduism, they still held onto a certain primacy and power that humans did not have. Gods helped keep this universe in balance and ruled over certain aspects of it. The Bhagavad Gita illustrates this point through the figure of Krishna, an incarnation of the sustaining god of the universe, Vishnu. In the middle of battle with his ally Arjuna, Krishna reveals his divine nature and the best way to approach the godly. While Krishna does express the fact that there is a greater and more transcendent aspect of the divine than himself, he says that the best way would be to worship him. Those who focus mostly on him are declared to be the best practitioners of yoga and to have their hearts set in the right place. Even when practitioners are not able to focus their undivided attention on Krishna, he says that it is just as well that they consecrate all they do towards him. This path of worship makes it so that we as humans ultimately find the possibility of spiritual growth and salvation through devotion to Krishna.[1]

            Buddhism never hid the fact that it did not adhere to this view of the world; the Buddha never had a doctrine concerning divine beings or how we should rely on them. The Buddha instead advocated for an intense practice that centered on self-reliance, finding spiritual growth through our own efforts. The Buddha solidified this teaching on his death bed, saying to his disciple Ananda to “look not for a refuge in anyone besides yourselves”.[2] In its time, this teaching was revolutionary: a doctrine without gods was not a spiritual path that was easily acceptable to Vedic Hinduism. Ritual, rite, and worship were not what were important to Buddha. What was important was the practitioner’s penetration into his original nature. Dogen understood this to be an important aspect of Buddhist practice and elucidated on the nature of self-reliant practice within his own teaching.

            The way that Zen Buddhism had attested to this adherence on self-reliance for generations was through the practice of sitting meditation, or zazen. Zazen was more than an affirmation of our own effort to Dogen. Dogen saw zazen as inseparable from the act of perceiving our true enlightened nature. The fact of our own presence, the self that stands still in the act of meditation, becomes the focus of our practice, along with all that we experience and surround ourselves with in the present moment – the truth of things not as we talk about or abstract them, but as they are. Dogen takes the Buddhist focus on self-reliance and makes it only one factor in the ontological series of the Shinjindatsuraku process. This process is the shedding of our dualistic notion regarding our physical and mental existence, and hence leads to perceiving the pure experience that is the building blocks of our sense of self. Once this misplaced sense of self (the “ego” or “I” that is thought to be a substantiated reality) is discarded, we come to realize the truth of what our “real” self is, or our originally enlightened nature in other words. Through this philosophical schema, Dogen has taken the act of self-reliant meditation and truly made it an antithesis to the submission to the divine that was an integral part of Vedic philosophy. Instead of looking outside of ourselves for true salvation, it is by the act of looking inward through which we come to look upon the truth of the universe.[3]

            There was more to Vedic Hinduism than reliance on the gods and the rituals worshipping them. The Vedic way permeated more aspects of Indian society than the religious. One of the areas that saw the most influence from the Vedic system was the class structure. This has come to be known as the Varna system, which categorizes Indian society into four classes: Brahmans (priests), Kshatriyas (warriors), Vaishyas (merchants), and Shudras (laborers).[4] These classes were granted to a person if they had done righteous deeds in a past life. More importantly, each class came with its set of duties which they could not ignore and were expected to meet. Not only does this mean that a person must do his duty in the role of his class, but he must also do the duty the gods ask of him. The act of duty is not performed out of any sense of compassion, but is done as part of a divine mandate. In the Bhagavad Gita, when Arjuna is faltering at the fact that he will have to kill his kin, Krishna urges him to fight, for it is Arjuna’s duty to do so.[5] To not fight would come into conflict with the order of things as they are currently unfolding. Arjuna’s duty is to do what the universe at that very moment demands of him; it is the will of the divine that comes before his own.[6]

 Buddhism rejected this class structure, and the motives behind action were later instilled with a radical notion of compassion. Class did not matter to Buddhism because whoever diligently applied themselves to the practice, no matter where they were from, had a chance of attaining enlightenment. The spiritual practice of Buddhism divorced itself from any notion of class and with it any notion of accompanying duty. There was no divine mandate that one had to follow; it was for their own sake and the sake of others that they performed acts. Buddhists did not perform certain acts because of sacrificial duty; they did it out of a sense of universal compassion.[7] The Buddha taught that all things are interconnected, and with this knowledge we are to act for the good of all things, because our original nature reveals that all things are us and we are all things. This ideal became known as the way of the bodhisattva, who is a person who works to help other beings attain enlightenment.[8] Those who walked the way of the bodhisattva did not do so out of any sense of duty to the divine or because of their place in society – they did it so as to manifest the depths of compassion and kindness in their hearts so that all could benefit from such feeling.

This notion of the bodhisattva made it so that practitioners can divorce themselves from the sense that what they are doing is an obligation, or duty, and that the compassion that they are striving to bring about through their practice is something that they can naturally manifest without any sort of incentive or ulterior motive. This “naturalness” that seemed to be inherent within the moral character of the bodhisattva was something that Dogen has seemed to integrate into his philosophy on the moral nature of man. Earlier on, it was said that Dogen’s elaboration on where the self-reliant practice of Buddhism naturally leads to is one where we are able to peer into a fundamental oneness of existence. With this in mind, the dualities that are created then can be said to be nothing more than superficial. If this is the case, what is the discrepancy between good and bad, if there is any? Dogen’s answer is that there is none, and the earlier Buddhist notion of the bodhisattva’s compassion can provide a key to the answer. Where we may earlier see a distinction of good or bad actions, Dogen posits that when we finally peer into our original nature, our action is then purified, cleansed of any notion of doing anything other than the compassionate and mindful work that is the action of the bodhisattva. Our intention itself becomes the universal essence of Buddhahood, expressing enlightened action in any way it can.[9]

This notion of morality that Dogen puts forth helps the concept of the bodhisattva evolve from a path that a few may take, to a path everyone can realize in the essence of their nature. Instead of being bound by the mandate of duty and a certain role that we are supposed to fulfill in our life, we fulfill our lives by expressing the true potential for unswervingly unselfish action. This is part of the steadfastness of original nature amid the demarcations and concepts of the material world. Indeed, it is the material world itself that we must learn to transcend in order to find our original sense of oneness with the universe. While early Buddhism and Dogen were apt at making sense of this view, the original pioneers in this way of thinking were themselves Hindus.


Though Vedic Hinduism had a strong grasp on certain aspects of Indian life and society, it did not have as tight of a stranglehold on Hinduism that I may have been suggesting. The teachings of Hinduism left much to be explored and questioned, but the Vedic rituals did not explore all those questions to their fullest. Where the rituals and rites were completed with simple acts of songs and worship, the spiritual thirst of man was not satisfied. Thus, there were great seekers and spiritualists within early Hinduism that heeded the call of this spiritual thirst. Their journeys were not focused on any notion of a material end, but to penetrate into and thus perceive the highest truth and reality of life and man’s inner self.[10] These seekers sought to pierce into the mystery of the essence of the universe and experience the world of phenomena head on without any interference from ritual. They wanted to perceive what possibly was above and beyond the way that even we experience reality. They asked these burning questions earnestly, and for all their searching they found sense of oneness in the universe.[11]

The answers these sages found in their quest for spiritual enlightenment were collected and put under the umbrella term of The Upanishads, though each Upanishad retained a unique character. As such, each one has their own particular lesson to teach, but finds a common theme in that it teaches about how to rise above the plane of everyday existence and come to know the “supreme reality”. One of the Upanishads that provides a good introduction and explanation of the process and goal of this way of thinking is encapsulated in the Mandukya Upanishad. This text states particular stages in the practice of meditation and concentration that one must go through if they seek to attain an understanding of the more ineffable and subtle aspects of reality that not only surround them but are also part of their consciousness. It is not a practice that seeks any outward source or means of knowledge, but it is a process where one turns their focus inward. Once inward, the practitioner ventures through the different stages that are said to be within consciousness, such as dreams and experience impressions. This journey through the nature of one’s own mind produces wisdom and ultimate insight into the source and goal of life that is the union between us and the higher reality known as “Brahman”, the inscrutable and universal state of God.[12]
            While this unitive state with the essence of the totality of the universe was something that Buddhism would also incorporate into its own psycho-spiritual philosophy, the acknowledgment of Godhead as the ultimate end of the practice was not something that Buddhism agreed upon. The essence of original nature, of the truth beyond our tainted view of the world, was something more impersonal. While this had its expression through the concept of nirvana in early Buddhism, Zen’s interaction with Taoism in China gave it the notion of the formless Tao to work with. The Tao was a more impersonal concept than that of Brahman the Godhead, being an indefinable “ground of all existence”.[13] Where Brahman found its unity with the individual aspects of its own essence within each person, called the atman, each aspect of the Tao was actualized and expressed through each bit of creation.[14] It was the fact that one had to learn to understand and come back to the source of the true nature of his own origin interrelated with that of the Tao’s place in emptiness, devoid of concepts and ego.[15]

Dogen used this to paint the Zen notion of the direct experience of reality and the vastness that was contained within each second of the present moment. The inner realization through the different aspects of consciousness that we see in the Mandukya becomes something that lies even before dreams and the conceptualization of experience. The universal essence of oneness becomes something more reachable, in that it is understood with clarity of mind that we possess in each instant of reality.[16] The oneness of reality has to be grasped before the turnings of consciousness. Thus it becomes intertwined with enlightenment, our realization lending to us insight into our own place within this uniformity that we can presently experience. We take a step back from the thousand things that the Tao created and view that the error within divisions is something we are now beyond.

Yet the view of oneness that we have now obtained is not peered through a lens apart from the phenomenal world, as Brahman seems to be. While the unity of Brahman does include in it all things, there seems to be a clear division between Brahman as it actualized within us and Brahman as it is by itself. We as the individual atman have to once again go back to the source. This seems to coincide with the explanation given before about how we have to step back from the multiplicity of the Tao within creation to grasp its original unity, but it is important to reiterate that no inherent division is really ever alluded to. Creation may be referred to as a multiplicity that the Tao engenders; it is still seen as an aspect of the Tao, participating in the emptiness of it by virtue of its always being in harmony with the principle of Tao by fulfilling its part in a natural order.[17] Thus it is on the plane of everyday existence. Dogen wholeheartedly uses this view to his advantage, making the oneness of reality something that is not only experience through the inward reflection of our being, but by using the direct experience of reality of all that is around us to state that “this inexhaustible store is present not only all around us, it is present right beneath our feet within a single drop of water.”[18]

Thus the evolution and departure from Vedic ritual seems to find a certain fulfillment. The sages of the Upanishads began the process by seeking to peer into the wholeness of reality without an intermediary – by their own practice and insight did they commune with the ineffable Godhead. Yet we have to ascend to a higher state to finally comprehend this Godhead within the “spiritual home in the changeless.”[19] It is not unlike the ascension of Moses described within the Book of Exodus. He must go up onto a higher plane, a place that is closer to the abode of the divine so that he may commune with Yahweh, the Abrahamic Godhead. Only when Moses is at the top does he have any access to the divine. When his communion with the divine is finally finished, he goes back down to the realm of mundane and phenomenal existence, the carrier of a message that those on the mundane plane were not able to hear.

This is still the inherent division that is found within the creed of oneness found in the Upanishads: we must transcend our current gross physical state to ever come to the transcendent principle. Yet the principle of Tao and the way that Dogen relates to it takes it a step further in that it places the ineffable principle within the here and now. No longer do we have to climb a spiritual staircase to find our footing among the divine. The realization of our enlightened original nature melts the staircase beneath our feet and brings us crashing down to where we always were, helping us realize the wholeness of our existence was before our eyes this whole time. For Dogen, our understanding of the essence of life not only requires contemplation, but it demands of us that we break out of the shell of our inner nature and directly experience each bit of our existence just as it is. Within such an experience, every small animal and blade of grass equally radiates divinity and enlightenment.[20]

This doctrine of the direct experience of reality for Dogen and the direct experience of Brahman by the sages of the Upanishads does find a middle ground in the fact that practice is key to finding the answers that a person is searching for. As stated before, the Vedic rites and rituals were not sufficient anymore to a growing number of spiritual seekers. The act of sacrificing animals and food to the gods did not seem like a fitting expression of spiritual discipline anymore. Surely, one can give something greater than the blood of innocent animals, right? To this question the sages had an answer within the form of a method: that of meditation. In the Shvetashvatara Upanishad, the author states that if one wants to come to know the infinity of Brahman, the practitioner must harness the mental and physical aspects of his being and do so in a disciplined manner. For within the concentrated mind of meditation, the practitioner finds freedom from material existence and is well on the way of directly connecting to Brahman’s oneness.[21]

In this adherence to meditation, we can find a direct correlation between Dogen and the earlier Indian spiritual masters. Dogen and the author of the Shvetashvatara both think in a likewise manner in that they both seek to give instructions in the appropriate environment in which it is suitable to conduct meditation. This correct environment contains not only quietude to it, but Dogen also seeks for the practitioner to conduct discipline and the process of the shedding of material concepts and existence so that the true nature of one’s existence can finally be perceived by their very mind.[22] The goal is different though. Where the sages of the Upanishads conduct meditation for the sake of experiencing the nature and wholeness of the ineffable and transcendent divine principle, for Dogen the aspect of the direct experience and importance of the here and now once again plays a major factor in developing a view of zazen that shifts it from being a means to an end to being the end within itself.

For Dogen, meditation was not about attaining to anything other than oneself. Meditation was an act that was not meant to garner for us enlightenment, but was the enlightenment itself that we had thought we were searching for. If the situation of confronting the present moment was to see the fact of enlightenment within each and every phenomenon, then zazen was the way that we once again came to realize that the flow of life, and the stillness inherent within the practice, is a manifestation of that enlightenment. Thus meditation is itself direct experience embodied in a physical posture. This shikantaza, or just sitting, becomes the direct and spontaneous moment itself. No longer is meditation the path we follow to rise and meet the eternal Brahman, but is itself the eternal principle materialized in the moments that comprise each and every day of existence.[23]

This departure from meditation as a form of ascendancy puts Buddhist meditation in a realm entirely divorced from a sense of ritual and searching directed towards an ineffable Godhead. While the principle of oneness may be indeed of a transcendent nature, what matters to Dogen is the fact that enlightenment is not something that simply exists within some far off ethereal plane. Each and every aspect of Buddhahood must be felt and touched, experienced spontaneously and fully in the here and now of our present lives. Thus Dogen’s zazen sees the fulfillment of the total departure from the Vedic rituals and rites that have been mentioned throughout this analysis. No longer does there have to be an altar that the sacrifice is put upon and hymns sung over. Life itself becomes the altar and the sacrifice becomes our effort. The bodhisattva’s loving-kindness that we seek to engender through it becomes the hymn that we sing over all of the creation that we experience.

There is a realization that meditation in both instances is able to afford the practitioner an understanding of, and that is the impermanence of our existence. The Upanishads directly deal with the impermanence of life as we experience it. Our material form is subject to the processes of growth, decay, and death, and thus we will experience each when the time comes. Indeed, all in this material realm that we experience and hold onto is transient, and if we do not become aware of this, we will go on being reincarnated, experiencing the suffering that such attachments create. If a practitioner stays steadfastly on the path towards Brahman though, they will access a part of themselves that is beyond the concepts of “I” and “Thou” and come to participate in the unborn essence of the oneness of Brahman. The bonds to materiality are transcended and the gateway towards immortality is opened.[24]

The realization of Brahman is still not in line with how Buddhists such as Dogen see the world, but he too realizes that material existence contains transiency, that everything that we experience within the phenomenal realm is impermanent. This is meant to include the sense of self as well. The person that we think we are, the changeless and permanent personality that we regard ourselves to be, is itself an illusion of the material world that we are attached to, and this too must be overcome. This realization of impermanence becomes a continuation of the direct experience of reality, and in this teachings of Dogen, we find that to experience the impermanence of reality is to be face to face with the undeniable truth of it all. To understand truth then is to see the enlightenment that all things contain, for to be enlightened is to come to terms with the way things are in the flow of existence. When the realization of impermanence comes into contact with the fact of life and death, Dogen’s doctrine of direct experience and the sages’ point of view find common ground. The life and death that we experience on the physical realm are seen through the eternal flow of life that produces within itself the rising and becoming of countless beings. Whether this flow be called Brahman or “the sublime life”, both Dogen and the sages before him understood that to experience the truth of reality was to find that the immortal essence in all.[25]


The revolution that we have perceived throughout this paper is a revolution borne out of a sense of yearning for an experience that was truer to what a person experienced, felt, and grasped of the world around them on a spiritual level. These seekers and thinkers wanted more than elaborate rituals; they wanted to touch the source of whatever it was that the Brahmins claimed they were giving access too. No longer were the words of a few sufficient, people wanted to experience the totality of the truth. We have seen that this search has led to many different ways of thought, but most importantly, the new ideas that it did create changed the way that people believed in the reality around them and the way they approached it. Buddhists sought to find a new path where they could penetrate deeply into the mysteries of original nature and the sages of the Upanishads sought to create a practice that went beyond material means of supplication and worship and sought to feel God with every fiber of their being.

Dogen himself was of a revolutionary mindset. He was tired of the inconsistencies and materialism that was arising in Japanese Buddhism. He sought to get back to the roots and redefine what the practice of his day meant for people. In doing so, he came face to face with the spiritual teachings and insights of the past, and not only did he take these teachings to heart, but he sought to bring about an evolution in the mind of the practitioner through them. So he took the teachings and yearnings of the past sages and expanded upon them, helping to fully utilize the potential of each and every ounce of past insights.

In doing so, we see not only an evolution of Buddhist thoughts and concepts, but we see a culmination of the dissatisfaction these spiritual elders had towards Vedic Hinduism and how it was able to lead to a whole new understanding of truth and enlightenment. The divine and enlightened nature of the universe was taken from something that we could not understand or directly access, to being present throughout each and every moment of reality. Dogen reached up towards the skies and brought the lofty teachings and hymns of the Vedic system down to the ground where they became reality itself. The original nature of the universe became something that could only be accessed upon the Vedic altar to something that could be actualized within our bodies and minds. Dogen helped the revolution started centuries ago evolve into a truth that was within every human, the wholeness of the universe residing in the hearts of each and every person.

[1] “Those who set their hearts on me and ever in love worship me, and who have unshakeable faith, these I hold as the best Yogis…Set thy heart on me alone, and give to me thy understanding: thou shalt in truth live in me hereafter.” – Juan Mascaro, Chapter 12, The Bhagavad Gita, (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 2003) 59-60

[2] Jack Kornfield, A Lamp unto Yourself, Teachings of the Buddha, (Boston: Shambala Publications, Inc., 2004) 124 

[3] T.P. Kasulis, Dogen: Person As Presence, Zen Action, Zen Person, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1981) 87-93

[4] Arvind Sharma, Classical Hindu Thought: An Introduction, (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2000)

[5] “Action is greater than inaction: perform therefore they task in life…the world is in the bonds of action, unless the action is [sacrifice]…by sacrifice shalt thou honor the gods and the gods will love thee.” – Juan Mascaro, Chapter 3, The Bhagavad Gita, (London: Penguin Books, 2003) 18

[6] Dr. Milica Bakic-Hayden, Lecture on February 16th, 2012, Mysticism East and East, (University of Pittsburgh Religious Studies Department, 2012)

[7] S.N. Dasgupta, Buddhist Mysticism, Hindu Mysticism, (New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited, 2003) 98-102

[8] “Sentient beings are numberless; we vow to save them all…” – The Kwam Um School of Zen, The Four Great Vows, Precepts Ceremony, (Cumberland: Kwan Um School of Zen, 2005) 16

[9] T.P. Kasulis, Dogen: Person As Presence, Zen Action, Zen Person, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1981) 93-96

[10] S.N. Dasgupta, In The Upanishads, Hindu Mysticism, (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited, 2003) 34-38

[11] Eknath Easwaran, Introduction, The Upanishads, (Tomales: The Blue Mountain Center of Meditation, 2007) 20-22

[12] “Beyond the senses and the intellect, in which there is none other than the Lord.” - Eknath Easwaran, The Mandukya Upanishad, The Upanishads, (Tomales: The Blue Mountain Center of Meditation, 2007) 203-205

[13] T.P. Kasulis, Chinese Taoism: The Pre-ontology of Nonbeing , Zen Action, Zen Person, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1981) 30

[14] “From the Tao, one is created; From one, two; From two, three; From three, ten thousand things.” – Ibid. p.31

[15] “Pervading everywhere, inexhaustible, It might be called the mother of the world…I simply call it Tao.” – Ibid. p. 30

[16] “Do not suppose that what you realize becomes your knowledge and is grasped by your consciousness…Its appearance is beyond your knowledge.” – Addiss, Lombardo, Roitman, Dogen, Actualizing the Fundamental Point, Zen Sourcebook, (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2008) 154

[17] “The Way (tao) is not only the way the world functions, but also the way to lead one’s life…just as Nonbeing is the source of Being, so there is an inner, iondeterminate core of creativity within the person as well…The Taoist’s activity, like the operation of the Tao itself, arises naturally in accordance with that which is.” - T.P. Kasulis, Chinese Taoism: The Pre-ontology of Nonbeing , Zen Action, Zen Person, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1981) 36

[18] Waddell and Abe, The Heart of Dogen’s Shobogenzo, (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002) 43

[19] Eknath Easwaran, The Mandukya Upanishad, The Upanishads, (Tomales: The Blue Mountain Center of Meditation, 2007) 201

[20] “The true person is not anyone in particular; but like the deep blue color of the limitless sky, it is everyone, everywhere in the world.” – Brad Warner, “Genjo Koan”, Sit Down and Shut Up, (Novato: New World Library, 2007) 27

[21] Eknath Easwaran, The Shvetashvatara Upanishad, The Upanishads, (Tomales: The Blue Mountain Center of Meditation, 2007) 162-164

[22] Waddell and Abe, The Heart of Dogen’s Shobogenzo, (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002) 110

[23] “The zazen I speak of is not learning meditation…It is the presence of things as they are.” - T.P. Kasulis, Phenomenology of Zazen , Zen Action, Zen Person, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1981) 71

[24] Eknath Easwaran, The Katha Upanishad, The Upanishads, (Tomales: The Blue Mountain Center of Meditation, 2007) 69-91

[25] Heinrich Dumoulin, Dogen’s Religious Metaphysics, Zen Enlightenment: Origins and Meaning, (Boston: Shambala Publications, Inc., 1979) 122-123