Enlightenment and knowledge: the spirituality of awe: mystery of existence
A book excerpt from the spiritandflesh.com religion and spirituality online library.
All is magnificent. All is marvelous. All is mysterious.
We live in a world of impossibility, implausibility, and awe. We look, we see, we wonder. We experience the sudden opening to the inexplicable vastness, the weirdness, the overwhelming profundity, the utter miracle and magic of life, of ourselves, and of all that is.
These are the numinous moments when the monumental impossibility and spaciousness of existence opens up before and within us, granting us the rare and spectacular interruptions of our day-to-day consciousness. Call it what you will: wonder, awe, satori, samadhi, newness of mind, ignorance, innocence, original mind, or childlike perception- it is the hallmark of a mind which has come to know the incomprehensible magnitude of all and everything, and from which the individual is 'opened up' and therefore reunited with the Great Mystery which is our birthright.
"Is there a pure feeling which fails to betray the mixture of grace and imbecility, a blissful admiration without an eclipse of the intelligence?"
'Wonder' is the open freedom of the pure mind- the first and last pillar upon which the castle of the Spirit is built. It is the beginning and the end, the home and the journey there.
Such rapture, then, is arguably the highest expression of our intimacy (or completeness) with the mystery of life. It is the point where the mind and heart merge in the overwhelming grace and splendor of Being. It is the shattering of all lesser realities, the divination of the profane, and the apotheosis of the damned. It is the soul's remembrance of Paradise, the mind's remembrance of innocence, and the heart's remembrance of infinite love.
That is, we fall into wonder and begin to dwell in the inexhaustible state of creation's majesty, not when we try to build up understandings and perspectives, but, instead, when we become exhausted of all logic, reason, ideas, and profane perceptions.
In fact, we grasp onto static ideas, perspectives, and preconceptions about what life is to our own detriment. For, to not wonder, to not see the miracle of life at every moment, to not continually open ourselves, completely embracing the ever-present beauty and implausibility of all that is, is to exist within the prison of a limiting context.
"What is bad? What is good? What does one live for?
Who am I? What is life and What is death?"
What is it to be? Why are we here? What are we? Who are you? Where shall we ground ourselves and find footing in the blessed, miracle of life? How could it be that we, who are life itself, can find life such a peculiar happening?
"All day I think about it, then at night I say it.
Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing?
I have no idea.
...who is it now in my ear, who hears my voice?
Who says words with my mouth?
Who looks out with my eyes? What is the soul?
I cannot stop asking."
And the crazy mystic, Osho, makes it quite obvious what the real question is, as he relentlessly queries: "Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I?"
There now, everything has been condensed down to its most purified essence; in a great, bewildering universe- the dimensions, characteristics, and complexities of which cannot help but create limitless inquiry for anyone who takes honest account of such an unfathomable existence- there remains yet one mystery which stands out above all else as the essential conundrum: Who am I? What am I? Why am I? In short, what is this 'I' that I am?
This 'question of questions' was addressed by Thomas Carlyle, who stated: "With men of a speculative turn, there come seasons, meditative, sweet, yet awful hours, when in wonder and fear you ask yourself that unanswerable question: Who am I; The thing that can say 'I'? ...[Your] sight reaches forth into the void Deep, and you are alone with the Universe, and silently commune with it, as one mysterious Presence with another. ...Who am I; what is ME? A voice, a Motion, an Appearance- some embodied visualized Idea in the Eternal Mind? ...but whence? How? Where to?"
The mystery of self and the universe is astounding, the questioning is limitless, yet what we are seeking is an answer- that is all we want. And, in fact, there is an answer. But the beautiful and tragic aspect of the response is that the answer is not really an answer at all- it is merely a recapitulation of the questions.
"I've told you time and again that the world is unfathomable. And so are we, and so is everything that exists in this world."
Don Juan to Carlos Castaneda
There it is- our 'answer'; an answer which has not solved the questions, but has instead merely magnified them.
Life is an unknowable, inexplicable miracle; there is no solution, and ...there is not supposed to be a solution. It is all an unsolvable mystery, and is unreachably far beyond the mind's ken. And that includes the self, like it or not.
In fact, "Truth is known in such a way", declared Osho, "that by knowing it the mystery does not disappear; in fact it becomes very, very deep, infinitely deep, ultimately deep. By knowing the truth, nothing is solved. In fact for the first time you are facing the insoluble. This is the paradox, the dilemma!"
Now, have we solved anything with such simple, circular logic? No, we have solved nothing. And yet ...that is the solution- a solution which was described by William James as such: "Existence then will be a brute fact to which as a whole the emotion of ontological wonder shall rightfully cleave, but remain eternally unsatisfied. Then wonderfulness or mysteriousness will be an essential attribute of the nature of things, and the exhibition and emphasizing of it will continue to be an ingredient in the philosophic industry of the race."
That is, to fully accept the ontological ramifications of this epistemological realization- that life is an inexplicable enigma, that everything we have called knowledge is false, that everything we have thought we are is wrong, that nothing is what we think it is, and that the entirety of life is impressively implausible- is to have come to the state of innocent wondering, of rapture.
"Understanding is not a piercing of the mystery, but an acceptance of it, a living blissfully with it,
in it, through and by it."
'Wonder', then, is the moment when the answerless questions of the universe become not only fully obvious, but electrifying; it is the point where the individual is released from the limiting possibility that life is knowable, and the mind is cut free from the cognitive fetters which enclose it.
To embrace the feeling of exasperation, of incomprehension- to enter into the feeling of rapture, which is the mind's purest state- is to ground ourselves nowhere, find no footing, and forget everything we have ever been told, and so to return to the sense of intoxicating awe. We must, as it is said- become as children. And that means to look without labels, knowledge, or expectation, and instead to see and be new at every moment; to forget what we think life is, and to allow ourselves not to know what it is- that is exaltation.
Sam Keen describes the experience as such: "Wonder begins with the element of surprise. The now almost obsolete word 'wonderstruck' suggests that wonder breaks into consciousness with a dramatic suddenness that produces amazement or astonishment. …Because of the suddenness with which it appears, wonder reduces us momentarily to silence. We associate gaping, breathlessness, bewilderment, and even stupor with wonder, because it jolts us out of the world of common sense in which our language is at home. The language and categories we customarily use to deal with experience are inadequate to the encounter, and hence we are initially immobilized and dumbfounded. We are silent before some new dimension of meaning which is being revealed."
It is this essential recognition- accepting that all life is inconceivable- that would cause Nikos Kazantzakis, in his book, The Last Temptation of Christ, to have Jesus, after being requested to perform a miracle, disdainfully proclaim, "Everything is a miracle... What further miracles do you want? Look below you: even the humblest blade of grass has its guardian angel who stands by and helps it grow. Look above you: what a miracle is the star-filled sky! And if you close your eyes...what a miracle the world within us!"
What a miracle life is indeed.
"All is doubtful, all is mysterious, all is intoxicating."
It is this vision of 'wonder'- a vision which looks with no facts, myths, theories, or words to ground us, and decontextualizes the entire event of being- that allows us to see life as magical and new, over and over again, so that there is no end to novelty and awe.
Osho claimed, "...the absurd is the beautiful and the beautiful is always absurd. ...Each moment is so precious, and each moment brings such precious rewards, you just enjoy it. Get lost in it. Be drunk with life..."
"The most beautiful thing we can experience
is the mysterious."
Beauty and mystery are seen when we have the tenacity to look at the world without the hindrance of anything we have ever been told, nor of anything we believe we know, for isn't a flower more beautiful without the word flower containing it? Is it not, in fact, our truest nature to look so deeply into the heart of things that the words we hide them behind vaporize from our minds and we are left with naught but the naked miracle in everything we see, and everything we do?
Henry Miller expounded upon this doctrine when he wrote: "The task of genius, and man is nothing if not genius, is to keep the miracle alive, to live always in the miracle, to make the miracle more and more miraculous, to swear allegiance to nothing, but live only miraculously, think only miraculously, die miraculously."
To live in the moment always conscious of the mystery of existence, of the fact that whatever this life is, it is a momentous imponderability, and that we also are this same incredible profundity, is to accept this sense of marvel as the essence of our very core.
"If you study life deeply, its profundity will seize you
suddenly with dizziness."
The rapture of wonderment is its own reward, its own validation, its own argument against all else, for the authenticity of absolute ignorance washes the world so unimaginably clean, that no logic, nor polemic, nor art can ever again match, dispel, or compete with the reality of such a moving occurrence.
Swami Premgeet declared: "Life is full of wonder. We taste it in our childhood, lose it as we grow up, and if we are lucky catch the magic again in those precious moments which make life a joy. The echo may return in the eyes of a beloved, in the first burst of morning light, or in a thousand unexpected forms. When it comes we are suddenly in the presence of the miraculous, we are taken by that elusive sense of being part of a great whole. These are the moments when our energy expands to encompass something beyond ourselves."
Similarly, Walt Whitman poetically wrote:
"I believe a leaf of grass is not less than the journey-
work of the stars,
And the pismire is equally perfect, and a grain
of sand, and the egg of the wren,
And the tree-toad is a chef-d'oeuvre for the highest,
And the running blackberry would adorn the
And the narrowest hinge in my hands puts to scorn
surpasses any statue,
And a mouse is miracle enough to stagger sextillions
This last passage is reminiscent of the enviable vision of a child or a fool, sitting on the ground in rapt attention at the simplest things which we pass by every day obliviously because our minds have gotten in the way and have thus made the miracle of life a commonplace event.
Dropping everything out of the mind leads us back to infinity, for the vision of wonder is not limited. We must simply have no walls of fear or interpretation, and dismiss our useless cares, so as to stop, to breathe, to smile, to exalt.
"That mystic baffling wonder alone completes all."
And how does the exaltation of wonder 'complete all'? Carl Jung explains: "It is important to have a secret, a premonition of things unknown. It fills life with something impersonal, a numinosum. A man who has never experienced that has missed something important. He must sense that he lives in a world which in some respects is mysterious; that things happen and can be experienced which remain inexplicable; that not everything which happens can be anticipated. The unexpected and the incredible belong in this world. Only then is life whole. For me the world has from the beginning been infinite and ungraspable."
This is the world in which we truly live, if only we would leave the land of exile- the exile called 'knowing'- and take up conscious residence in bliss and rapture within the Great Mystery itself.
"The sense of wonder, that is our sixth sense.
And it is the natural religious sense."
Of this sense, the Reverend John Claypool sermonized rhapsodically: "...ecstasy- the experience of 'rising up with wings as eagles.' Here is an utterly authentic way for the life of God to come into our lives, and the experience of such moments of exuberance and abandon and celebration has always been a part of biblical religion. There is a hint from the very beginning that this is part of the nature of God himself. Do you recall how one of the Genesis accounts depicts God as looking out over all he had been creating and finding it 'very good'? He promptly proceeded to take a day off simply to celebrate the wonder of 'isness'. This is ecstasy. ...[And so] to lose one's self in wonder, awe, and praise, to forget one's self before the mystery of God- I would have defined that as the highest spiritual achievement."
The way in which wonder and mystery have been the cornerstones of many different spiritual and secular paths will be exposed as we move through the following chapters. The important thing, however, is not to have notions about rapture, but to experience rapture itself.
As such, the incredibly idiosyncratic, iconoclastic, and obscure Tibetan Buddhist text, the kun byed rgyal po'i mdo (or, The Sovereign All-Creating Mind, The Motherly Buddha), states: "It is worthwhile to rejoice in the way the sentient beings appear as to their form, appearance, and color. ...One rejoices in them due to a method of not-at-all thinking. ...[Then] whatever comes into existence is My wonder. ...This miraculous and wonderful joy rests like the sky in the deedless. ...If you do not perceive 'That' as being different from ignorance, instantly, That comes forth by itself. ...I tell you, do not try to intellectualize this! I recommend that you, oh great bodhisattva, will teach the hosts of retinues in the same way as I taught you."
Let us go now, down the forgotten labyrinths of our infinite selves, where, at every turn, if we are open, and honest, and innocent enough we shall discover more mystery, madness, miracle, and magic. Limitations are of the mind. Incomprehension is our freedom. Let us go.
(excerpted from THE WAY OF WONDER: a return to the mystery of ourselves, by Jack Haas)