THURSDAY OF LENT WEEK 4
Jesus disturbs us by saying the rich cannot enter the kingdom. Ramana Maharshi says the same - and similarly disturbs our sense of values - about learning.
By yoga, in these words of his that follow, he doesn’t mean just physical yoga but the integral life-science embracing body, mind and spirit, morals and insights:
For the practice of yoga, academic learning is as much a hindrance to a scholar as family attachments are to a layman. Mere academic learning reduces a person to the status of a reproductive machine, if he does not seek to transcend karma. Those not learned are saved from many an ill to which the learned become victims.
The Taliban might selectively quote this to justify their refusal to educate girls. Those who think clerical celibacy is a higher state than marriage could also misuse his reference to family attachments. This is not his meaning. To seek to transcend karma, to burn through the web of the past controlling the present and the future means to have a contemplative practice. Without that the business of ordinary life and intellectual knowledge become obstacles to the path to unified consciousness.
He is showing how much learning and an essentially intellectual approach to the spiritual path become hindrances just as material wealth can. A big fortune can isolate you by making you suspicious and fearful. Book-learning and ideas can deceive you into thinking that you know more of the truth than you actually do. They can even build an erudite cathedral of thought which is in reality just another look-alike of true knowledge blown down one day by the wind of expereince.
You don’t have to empty your bank account each time before you meditate. You will come to think differently about your assets if you do invest everything in poverty of spirit twice a day. Yet we are called to ‘renounce all the riches of thought of imagination’ (John Cassian) every time we meditate. The mantra is like the pebble in David’s sling that overcame the Goliath of the ego.
This is why poverty of spirit – radical detachment from our selves – is a deeper and fuller process of transformation than anything we can do on the material level. This is the heart of Lent. Know nothing and your relationship to what you possess or to your social status will be transformed.
I have nothing. I want nothing. I know nothing. So sang the English itinerant mystic Richard Rolle in the 14th century. How many highly-defended centres of power in the world, political or intellectual, can this song penetrate?
Lenten Reflections 2022