Saturday, December 6, 2008

St. John of the Cross

For those of who take note of such things, December 14th is the Feast of St. John of the Cross, the great Carmelite mystic. He died in 1591, aged 49 years. He is considered by many the greatest mystic and spiritual master the Roman Catholic church has ever produced. That he developed in this regard while being imprisoned by the Church for "canonical offenses" has special appeal to this writer, as I too hold many beliefs that are no doubt "offensive" to the hierarchy. He has been called "El Doctor de la Nada" The Doctor of Nothing. This refers to his understanding, espressed best in his book's "The Ascent of Mount Carmel", "The Dark Night of the Soul", and "The Spiritual Canticle", that one must be stripped of all images, no matter how beautiful, pious or profound, if one is going to penetrate into the very heart of existence. As one who has studied eastern philosophies, particularly Zen Buddhism, the analogies are readily apparent. He also sounds very much like a Quaker at times.

The essence of John's teaching is that ideologies, beliefs, creeds, religions, are all steps along the way that must be ultimately abandoned. Or, more prescisely, the "attachment" to these things must be abandoned. This is tough medicine for many people to swallow. Especially those in power. And of course it is much easier said than done. But just imagine how much less bloody and twisted religious history would have been if only this teaching had flowered widely!

I cannot help but reflect how our lives, society, and even planet have been negatively affected by all our various "attachments". In Buddhist terms it has been stated that all of our suffering is caused by our attachments. It is then broken down into two components: Craving and Aversion. Either we want something we don't have, or we want to get rid of something we have, but don't want. Thus if you stop "wanting" your life gets better. It's as simple that. You will find this very same thing in St. John of the Cross.

And if you want to read someone who is currently on the scene and who carries on these ideas in an accessible and jargon free way, you may want to pick up something by Eckhart Tolle. (As featured on Oprah!)

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