Everything is receiving compassion

The Kiss,
by Dom Sylvester Houédard

From the talk to know yourself, p. 219

The perpetualness of this gift of God – its continuity, its unceasingness – is therefore the basis of the remembrance of God. Those who are able to be aware of their emptiness, of the emptiness of everything as a dependent reality, thereby maintain perpetual recollection or remembrance of God, dhikr. St Benedict says that this is through understanding and achieving our own humility. Humilitas is St Benedict’s word for the nothingness, the emptiness. He says that after the twelfth step on the ladder to God – which we ascend by descending in the same way as the angels did with Jacob – we perform through love what formerly we performed through fear. And he goes on to say that we do this sine ullo labore velut naturaliter – without any effort and as it were naturally. It is curious, perhaps, that this same phrase is common to all the Tibetan schools, especially Dzogchen, which talks of performing things naturally and effortlessly. The Dalai Lama says that things done with the mind are done with difficulty, but with the centre of the mind, the naked mind, they are done effortlessly and naturally.

St Benedict adds: this is so in prayer, in choir, in the oratory (that is in Divine Office) and whether you are alone, on the road, in the garden, in the field or anywhere, sitting or standing, coming in or going out. This, of course, is a quotation from the shema, the Jewish prayer, which includes verses from the Old Testament in which God says that we are to remember this whether standing up or sitting down, walking or standing still, and so on. This perpetual remembrance is the remembrance of our own emptiness, which gives us awareness of the emptiness of everything. This form of awareness is not exactly the same as knowledge; it is not the knowledge of an object. In Tibetan, there is a special word for it, rigpa. ‘Naked mind’ is the word which most medieval English writers used for this; it is mind as mere possibility.

It is at this centre that contemplation takes place. There is contemplation going on whatever we are thinking or doing, and that is habitual contemplation. To some extent it exists in everybody, even if we are completely unaware of it, but it is the becoming aware of contemplation that we normally call contemplation. We all have some awareness, however obscure it is, but because the light by which we see cannot itself be seen, it is referred to always in Christian or Arabic tradition as the ‘bright darkness’ or ‘the dark light’. That phrase goes back to Philo of Alexandria, who I think was the first to use it: the obscurity of the light or the brightness of the obscurity, or, as Abu Bakr, the first caliph of Islam, put it, the comprehension that God cannot be comprehended is in itself comprehendible. We know that we cannot know the essence of God.

The essence of religion is the union of wisdom and compassion, of knowledge and love. So, on this fourth journey of mind, we not only become aware that everything is in the same position as ourselves; we are also aware that we receive compassion, and as St Bernard says, ‘the monk who is aware of receiving compassion shows that same compassion for others.’ So with the knowledge that everything is in the same state of being created as ourselves – especially other humans and in general with the knowledge that everything is receiving compassion as another possibility being actualised – then we have compassion not only for the whole human race, but without exception. As soon as we make an exception, then we are asserting ourselves, our own preference. If we say, I have compassion for everybody except Mrs So-and-So, that is an injection of selfishness into the world, creating something that God has not created.

The only spiritual basis for conservation and our attitude for the whole of ecology – for the whole of the universe – is to treat it as we are treated with the compassion that we receive. In Genesis, we are told that we are created in ‘the image and the likeness of God’. The image, according to most commentators, is something that we cannot lose. This is the obedience to the command kun, ‘Be’ – ‘Let us create man in our image and likeness.’ But the likeness of the image can be greater or lesser. The likeness is becoming like God, and, as Clement of Alexandria said in the quotation we started with: ‘the more we know God, the more we become like Him’. And also, the more we know God, the more we have compassion on others – the more we treat others as we want to be treated ourselves and the more we show others the compassion we receive, or to know yourself love others with the love that we receive. Knowing that God loved us before we loved Him, therefore we love others and we forgive others as we are forgiven.  (pp 223-235)

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