Sunday, April 07, 2013

Ordinary Mystics 8: The Way of Godliness

Chapter Six: The Way of Godliness

The Nazirite removes the blinders that keep her from seeing the relative world from the perspective of the absolute. She abstains from those things that feed mochin d’katnut, narrow mind, and focus on those things that cultivate mochin d’gadlut, spacious mind. The more spacious we are in our seeing the relative world, the more gracious we are in our dealings with the relative world. This is what is meant by being godly.

The Hebrew Bible lists seven principles of godliness revealed by God to Moses in Exodus 34:7: compassion, grace, patience, love, trustworthiness, forgiveness, and justice. The three abstentions of the Nazirite Vow remove the blocks that prevent us from living these seven principles more powerfully. We will explore this more carefully when we look at each aspect of the Vow separately. For now it is important to note that the larger aim of the Nazirite is not simply to experience God as a momentary state of awakening, but to manifest godliness as a permanent trait of character.

These seven virtues are not cultivated or grown, they are liberated. In Leviticus God challenges us saying, “Be holy, as I, God, am holy,” (Leviticus 19:2). On the face of it, from the perspective of mochin d’katnut, narrow mind, this statement is absurd. How can we be holy like God?

 The statement makes perfect sense, however, from the perspective of mochin d’gadlut, spacious mind. We are God in our unique time and place. Just as the knot shares the qualities of rope, and the wave shares the qualities of ocean, so you and I share the qualities of godliness: compassion, grace, patience, love, trustworthiness, forgiveness, and justice.

The rope is the knot, the ocean is the wave, God is you. To be godly all you need do is be yourself, the Self you when you see the relative world of mochin d’katnut from the absolute perspective of mochin d’gadlut.

There is nothing you have to change; nothing you have to grow; nothing you have to do but allows yourself to be your Self. And you do this by removing the blocks to being that Self.

When God says you are to be holy as God is holy, and when He goes on to define holiness as compassion, grace, patience, love, trustworthiness, forgiveness, and justice, God is telling you that these traits are intrinsic to your very nature. This is not to say that you cannot be cruel, brutal, and the rest, but that you do not have to overcome these in order to be holy.

This is an important point to understand. If you think you have to root out the capacity for evil before you can do good, you will never get around to doing good. The Bible says simply, “Turn from evil and do good,” (Psalm 34:14). The capacity for doing evil is always with you. So is the capacity for doing good. There is no way to remove one from the other, for they, like the poles of our magnet, go together.

Your capacity for evil is called Yetzer haRah. Your capacity for good is called Yetzer haTov. They relate to your two types of consciousness, mochin d’katnut and mochin d’gadlut. When you operate from narrow mind you focus on self. When you do so exclusively you become selfish. When you become selfish you are easily manipulated into doing evil by the Yetzer haRah.

When you operate from mochin d’gadlut you include the self in a great transcendent whole. You act in a way that honors both self and other, and are guided in this by the wisdom of Yetzer haTov. It isn’t that the Yetzer haTov eliminates the Yetzer haRah, but rather than the Yetzer haTov directs the Yetzer haRah to act in a manner that honors the self in the greater unity of self and other.

The first century sage Rabbi Hillel put this very neatly when he taught, “If I am not for myself who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”

If you are not for yourself, that is to say, if you do not take care of yourself, no one will take care of you. This is the healthy role of Yetzer haRah: taking care of self in the narrow sense revealed by mochin d’katnut. But if this is all you do, that is to say if you care for no one other than yourself, then you are isolated, alienated, unloved, and most likely defined by the opposite of those traits we called holy. So it is not enough to be for yourself alone, for the self is never alone, but rather part of the all-one that is God.

And if you don’t do this now, when will you do it? Never, for now is all there is. Yet doing it now and doing it continuously are two very different things. Given the nature of the relative world with its competing selves and zero-sum mentality, being for self and other all the time is nearly impossible. That is why you choose to set aside time to focus on this way of living through the Nazirite Vow.

As a Nazirite you focus on now. I will be for self and other now. I will remove the blocks of addictive talk, actions, and thinking now—today, one day at a time throughout the period of my Vow.

You have everything you need to be holy. You also have everything you need to be horrible. If you focus on the negative you will succumb to the negative. Own it; admit that the Yetzer haRah is a part of you; and even take its advice when doing so makes sense in the greater context of mochin d’gadlut and Yetzer haTov. But do not argue with it, wrestle with it, or seek to root it out. Simply acknowledge it, turn from it, and do good.

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