From Deconstruction to Reconstruction: Marc Gafni and the ‘Unique Self’ – A White Paper by Kathy Brownback

In her recent white paper from January 2014 Kathy Brownback, Instructor in Religion and Philosophy at the highly respected Phillips Exeter Academy, discusses how the Unique Self teaching goes to the heart of the deepest questions that students have asked her throughout the years. In her words:

Most likely you’ve asked yourself some of the same questions I’ve been asked by […] students:

  • “People keep telling me to be myself, but I don’t really know who that is. I feel pulled in so many directions.”
  • Do we have free will, at all? Or are we totally determined by our genes, and conditioned by our environment?”
  • “Why, in the midst of all they have, are so many people angry and dissatisfied? Can I hope to avoid this? Why is there so much addiction? Why depression, among people who have so much to offer?”
  • “I haven’t found any kind of God I can believe in, yet I somehow feel there is something more to life. Your thoughts?”
  • “Are science and religion looking at the same world? They seem so contradictory. Your husband is a physicist. Do you argue about this?”
  • “Is there such a thing as truth? Is there anything I can be certain of?”
  • “Do you think life has some kind of point, or meaning? Or is it, as Shakespeare said, ‘a tale told by an idiot’? It really feels that way. Then all of sudden, even though I have no real answers, the feeling goes away.”

She also asks what role contemplative practices should play in education and academic life and what they might have to do with the study of science, or the humanities and the arts. Should they have a place in the curriculum?

Contemplative practice can encourage the ability to focus and enter into a subject with minimal distraction and interruption. It can help a great deal with stress reduction.

Moving more deeply, it can foster the capacity to hold apparent contradictions in tension with each other without immediate dismissal of one side. It can encourage you to listen to and help develop the ideas of others from a less egoic perspective—and to see connections between disciplines that infuse their understanding of each other. It helps provide the space for deeper creativity and inspiration.

At its most profound level, contemplative practice has the potential to help you reconnect with a deeper sense of purpose, meaning, and value in your life.

This spring term Kathy Brownback taught a class in Mysticism for uppers and seniors.

From the course description:

It has been said that all religions converge in the contemplative tradition—the great world illuminated by the swamis and yogis of Hinduism, the core meditation practices of the Buddha, the Kabbalist teachers of Judaism, the Sufis of Islam, and the Christian mystics. What can we learn by reflecting on their teachings and their practices? How do they connect with current research on the mind-body connection? How do these make possible a deeper sense of self, or what we might call the “unique self”? What does it mean to speak of wisdom as a kind of knowledge? We will consider selections from all the major faiths, from the ancient texts of the Upanishads to the poets Rumi and Meister Eckhart to modern writers such as Marc Gafni and Pema Chodron.

Read the White Paper HERE
From Deconstruction to Reconstruction: Marc Gafni and the ‘Unique Self’ – A White Paper by Kathy Brownback2023-06-20T11:53:35-07:00

Unique Self Health & Medicine by Drs. Venu & Vinay Julapalli

Read this White Paper by Board Members Venodhar Rao Julapalli, M.D. and Vinay Rao Julapalli, M.D., F.A.C.C.

There is a dire need for the integration of the art, science, and morality of medicine. This paper explores the deep implications of the Unique Self in integrating medicine. Co-authors and physicians Venu and Vinay Julapalli call on their extensive understanding of the promises and pitfalls of modern health care to reconceive the practice of medicine. The paper provides the framework to evolve medicine through the emergent Unique Self insight. At stake is no less than the future of how we care for ourselves and each other.

Unique Self and the Future of Medicine


Medicine is at a critical crossroads in its evolution from antiquity to our modern age. This article aims to reconceive the future of medicine. Key to this conception is an understanding of the evolution of individual development. To this end, the discussion will first outline the stations of the selves, on the path to what has been termed the Unique Self by spiritual thinker Marc Gafni. Next, the discussion will distinguish between two poles of development and outlook, in order to understand how the insight of Unique Self integrates these dualities. It will then view the Unique Self from three perspectives, or four quadrants, of reality and also illustrate how Unique Self appreciates the balance between part and whole. The discussion will subsequently correlate the stations of the selves with the history of medicine and further examine dualities in medicine that parallel those of the self . It will then elucidate how an understanding of Unique Self fundamentally shifts our envisioning of the practice of medicine. This shift renews the unique calling that is the art and science of healing.


Universal to the human experience is care of our health. Medicine is defined as “the science and art dealing with the maintenance of health and the prevention, alleviation, or cure of disease.” The topic of medicine is therefore relevant to all of humanity.In the United States, the practice of medicine has reached a critical crossroads. National spending on health care has been estimated to total $2.8 trillion in 2012, which is 18% of the gross domestic product (GDP). It is projected to increase to about 25% of GDP and 40% of total federal spending by 2037. Few dispute that this trajectory is unsustainable.

The dispute begins in how to alter this trajectory. The debate has raged on from multiple perspectives. Some have focused on the structures of payment for health care, while others have investigated the sources of health care pricing. Some have proposed the standardization of health care delivery with an emphasis on maximizing value through evidence-based medicine, while others have highlighted the role of the social determinants of health in influencing the rising costs of medical care. The Affordable Care Act, signed into law in March 2010, expanded health insurance coverage for Americans and introduced programs designed to slow spending on health care. However, there is no clear consensus on its ultimate effect in bending the health care cost curve down.

Most of the recent discussions on the practice of medicine have preferentially approached health care as an object. Evidence-based guidelines, quality measures, value-based metrics, and pay-for-performance programs presuppose an objective perspective on medicine. The increasingly acknowledged urgency of controlling spiraling health care costs has certainly advantaged this perspective, along with desires to improve patient safety and even out regional variations in health care delivery.

Somewhat drowned out in the recent movements in medicine is the voice of medical humanism. This voice presents medicine from a subjective perspective, as it highlights the individual values, goals, and preferences of a patient with respect to clinical decision making. From this perspective, paramount are factors such as honoring the dignity of patients and their families, acknowledging their cultural and ethical sensitivities, sharing clinical decision making between the patient and the physician, and upholding the autonomy of the patient in making medical decisions. Physicians voicing humanism in medicine feel that the subjective aspect is crucial in maintaining medical professionalism, demonstrating good clinical judgment, and caring for patients near the end of life. They question the effectiveness of health care based merely on utilitarian medical decision analyses, rather than nuanced conversations between the patient and physician on the patient’s perception of his/her illness and its treatment.

The two perspectives, medicine as an objective science and medicine as a subjective art, are often diametrically opposed to each other. Health care objectivists regret that “Our current health care system is essentially a cottage industry of noninteg rated, dedicated artisans who eschew standardization.” They criticize the current system as one that “overvalues local autonomy and undervalues disciplined science.” In subjective medicine, “‘Good doctors’ are celebrated for their unwavering dedication to doing whatever it takes to care for their individual patients.” In their view, this leads to excessive tests and procedures, a fragmentation of care, limited oversight of such care, and ultimately wasteful and unreliable medicine.

Health care subjectivists, on the other hand, lament that “Reducing medicine to economics makes a mockery of the bond between the healer and the sick.” They eschew the replacement of terms such as “doctors” and “nurses” with “providers,” and “patients” with “customers” or “consumers.” They feel these terms are “reductionist; they ignore the essential psychological, spiritual, and humanistic dimens ions of the relationship – the aspects that traditionally made medicine a ‘calling,’ in which altruism overshadowed personal gain.” In objective medicine, the “discourse shifts the focus from the good of the individual to the exigencies of the system and its costs.” In their view, this results in diminished independent and creative decision making, dehumanization of the patient and professional, destruction of the trust so crucial to the patient-doctor relationship, and ultimately a demeaning of medicine.

How best can we reconcile these two positions in a way that includes and transcends them both? Is there another perspective that honors medicine both as a science and as an art, without congealing the two sides into a muddled compromise that satisfies neither?

Acknowledging the instability of the current system, can we evolve medicine to a practice of greater value, efficiency, meaning, and purpose?

In the rest of this discussion, we aim to reconceive the future of medicine. Key to this conception is an understanding of the evolution of individual development. To this end, we will first outline the stations of the selves, on the path to what has been termed the Unique Self by spiritual thinker Marc Gafni. Next, we will distinguish between two poles of development and outlook, in order to understand how the insight of Unique Self integrates these dualities. We will then discuss the Unique Self from three perspectives, or four quadrants, of reality and also see how Unique Self appreciates the balance between part and whole. We will subsequently correlate the stations of the selves with the history of medicine and further examine dualities in medicine that parallel those of the self. We will finally outline how an understanding of Unique Self fundamentally shifts our envisioning of the practice of medicine. Our discussion will highlight the physician as the exemplar of the medical professional but can apply to any professional involved in caring for patients. All are included in the future of medicine.

Unique Self Health & Medicine by Drs. Venu & Vinay Julapalli2023-09-12T10:00:41-07:00

The God of the Encounter: The Glory of the Personal, Part 6

by Dr. Marc Gafni | (part 6)

Two Faces of All That Is

This is the animating impulse that moved eastern spiritual teaching, motivated by love, to seek to free you from the illusion of separate self. Their great mistake was to jettison Uniqueness along with separateness by conflating the two in a way that was both unnecessary and wrong. This confusion of separateness and uniqueness forgot that you could be both part of the whole and a distinct part at the same time. The recovering of that memory is essential to healing the fractured and broken self. The dignity of the part can be held even as your are connected to the whole. You are part of the seamless coat of the universe. Seamless, but not featureless.  You can transcend your exclusive identification with your part nature, the ego, even as you identify with the larger whole. But that does not mean that your unique part nature is absorbed in the whole. Rather, it is integrated in the seamless coat of reality without compromising its unique features.

Funny thing is that the ego busting school of spiritual teaching seems to have lost touch with its otherwise finely tuned sense of paradox. The ego busters have adopted an either/or position in regard to ego/separate self.  The choice is stark in their presentation of things. Either you realize that you are not separate, you realize that you are one with all that is, or you’re separate and alienated from all that is. Either you are identified with the whole, or you are disconnected from the whole–deluded by your identification with your part nature. This presentation of things demands that a false choice be made which undermines most contemporary spiritual teaching. Genuine realization yields a deeper and more paradoxical wholeness as the truth of how things are. You are both a unique part and part of the whole at the very same time.  You have disidentified with ego and realized some genuine enlightenment in your felt identity with the larger whole, even as you delight in your post-egoic Unique Self.

At this point, you can open your heart to a second huge space of insight.  The same bad set of choices is offered by popular spiritual teaching in relationship to God. The East rejected the idea that God might be beyond the world. For much of the East and for many Western mystics, divinity is the ground of being. God, if that term means anything all, is the animating substance and energy of all that is. This is a great realization and insight that wells up from intensive spiritual practice and contemplation. But it is not the whole story. The second great realization and insight of spiritual practice is that there is a divine, which you encounter from beyond world and nature and self. All that is has a personal face that loves, cares, and holds you with infinite intimacy, tenderness, and grace.

Clearly this is not a different divine. Rather these two mystical realizations reflect the two faces of God. Two faces of all that is.

To force a person to make an either or choice between a divine force within or beyond world/self/nature is a bad choice and a wrong choice. The God of the encounter is revealed by the eye of the spirit through the deepest of spiritual practices and meditation. This face of God is no less real than the god within. Both are revealed by different sets of profound spiritual practices and meditations.

For more of this essay, see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, or Part 5.

You can also join Dr. Marc Gafni’s contacts on LinkedIn.

The God of the Encounter: The Glory of the Personal, Part 62023-06-20T13:53:52-07:00

The God of the Encounter: The Glory of the Personal, Part 5

by Dr. Marc Gafni | (part 5)

God in the First Person:

“All at once I found myself wrapped in a flame-colored cloud. For an instant, I thought of fire and immense conflagration somewhere close by in that great city; the next I knew that the fire was in myself. Directly afterward there came upon me as sense of exultation, of immense joyousness accompanied or immediately followed by an intellectual illumination impossible to describe. Among other things, I did not merely come to believe, but I saw that the universe is not composed of dead matter, but is on the contrary, a living presence; I became conscious in myself of eternal life. It was not a conviction that I would have an eternal life, but a consciousness that I possessed eternal life then; I saw that all men are immortal, that the cosmic order is such that without any peradventure all things work together for the good of each and all; that the foundation principle of the world, of all worlds, is what we call love, and that the happiness of each and all is in the long run absolutely certain.”

~R.M. Bucke

God in the Second Person addressing man:

I will be united with you in marriage forever

I will be united to you in marriage through justice and righteousness

I will be united with you in marriage through overflowing love and compassion

I will be united with you in marriage in complete trust

And you will erotically know the divine

Hosea the Prophet: 2: 21- 23

Only someone who lacks both of these realizations can identify all that is as merely a process or impulse. Realization teaches that the all that is expresses as a process or an evolutionary impulse, but that God is process plus personal, not process minus personal.

Entry Five: Love and the Encounter

What emerges from the encounter in love is the affirmation of the infinite adequacy worth and dignity of the separate self. What emerges from the encounter in love is the embrace of the separate self as an essential station  on evolutionary road, Up from Eden.* You ascend up from the pre-personal consciousness of Eden to the dignity and glory of being God’s beloved. You are  affirmed in your infinite adequacy and charged with genuine responsibility for the good.  The ego separate self or what is often called the individual is a great triumph. To fully understand the gifts of ego, we need to look at it’s alternative, the bad death of the ego.

Before looking at the bad death of the ego, it is worth mentioning that there is a way to kill the ego without suffering all the horrendous consequences that I am about to outline. This is the good death of the ego. To accomplish the good death of the ego, you have to distinguish between separateness and uniqueness. We saw earlier that the evolution of Eastern teaching required the discernment of this distinction in order to transcend ego and separate self even while embracing Unique Self. We saw as well that  the West needs to make the same distinction between separateness and uniqueness, which would allow the West to retain the goods of individuality through Unique Self and thereby let go of its grasp of separate self. But at this point too, we need to turn to the bad death of the ego in order to see why the ego separate self is so important to man’s healthy evolution towards enlightenment.

Really Bad results of the Bad death of the Ego:

Below are highly influential contemporary American spiritual writers talking in glowing terms about the death of the ego. The source is Aldous Huxley and some of the leaders of his circle. Huxley is particularly important because he was one of the most influential voices in bringing eastern mysticism to American shores. Huxley’s most famous book in this vein was the  classic little tome The Doors of Perception, which shows Eastern mysticism’s direct influence on Huxley. In Doors of Perception, he   passionately preaches the virtues of No-Self. The goal in many passages is to dissolve individual consciousness and replace it with cosmic consciousness. According to Huxley, with Ego death comes blissful passivity. Man gives up all of his ambitions. There is no more desire to act. Aggressions disappear and tolerances increase. Knowledge of the meaning of life is no longer dependent on the unreliable tools of logic and rational thought. One is blissfully freed from “the world of selves.” In this state, according to Huxley, one finds true enlightenment and love. Huxley and his circle write compelling verse:

“All the harsh, dry, brittle angularity is gone, is melted….Merged with all life. Your individuality and anatomy of movement are moistly disappearing. You control is surrendered to the total organism…. When controls dissolve in a milieu of trust, the world within is glowing serene and meaningful.”

“The ego is dead
Killed during its last hysterical ravings
To become we”

The problem with all of this is straightforward and simple. If you are a non-self, there is no possibility of love between me and you. What is love without an I and a Thou? We is the Union between two individuals. If there is no individuality, there is no love. As one writer critiqued Huxley, Once the I is killed and the Thou is dead too, there can be no We either. A herd of non-egos is not a We. What can brotherhood or sisterhood mean among non-selves.

One influential teacher from Huxley’s circle tells his students to the use the moment of egolessness for the attainment of love. But we know that love is between individuals. So love is not a possibility without two.

For the non-ego and non-self  there can be no freedom either. It can be neither oppressed nor liberated. Freedom for a non-self can only mean freedom from having to be a self. In that sense, the dead might also delight in their freedom. In this formula, the dignity of the personal is effaced in order to heal alienation. The problem is that alienation is healed by man losing himself through the dissolution of his separate self-ego sense.  With the death of the ego go all the goods of individuality–including love, freedom, ethical judgment, obligation, and responsibility.

All of these goods of spirit are attained by the evolution of the human ego. It is in the experience of the egoic separate self that man  discovers responsibility and love in the encounter with other and the encounter with the loving ground of all being incarnate in the personal face of God.

This, however, is not the end of the story. It is true that without the experience of a self, there is no possibility of genuine love and responsibility. But it is no less true that without the separate self – ego, there is also no fear and suffering. With the emergence of the experience of a separate self, what has been called the birth of the ego, comes fear. The more you experiences your selfhood as an independent expression of life, cut off from the larger currents, the more you fear your own extinction

You realize very clearly that your body will not sustain you forever even as you realize its frailty and vulnerability right now. You seek to protect yourself against death.  You feel like you should not die. You sense that you are part of the quality of infinite existence, which does not die. It is for this reason that the thought of your own death terrifies you. You mistakenly think that the part of you that is immortal is your separate self. So you seek ways to make your separate self immortal.

An animal that is rooted in the natural world lacks both the awareness of his own selfhood and the death terror that comes with it. With your new-found awareness as a separate self comes not only love, but also raw terror. As a result of your terror of non-existence, you engage in the most elaborate strategies to cover up your fear of death and to give you a sense of belonging in the world.

Your feeling is that if you belong to the world, you are safe from death. This is not a logical or rational feeling. But then neither is your terror of death. So, you begin the great competition for status, belonging, money, and goods. You think, this will give you a sense that you belong in this world, that you will live forever. The entire project of culture, including the murder, destruction, war, and competition that lies at its heart, is at a very elemental level, a desperate struggle to overcome the terror of your own non-existence.

Your experience of being a separate isolated ego puts you in direct competition with the rest of the human race. It also puts you in the position of constantly needing to protect your existence. It forces you to compete with the rest of the world for every form of resource from money, to shelter, to love. The great mystical teachers were not at all wrong in pointing to your illusion of being a separate isolated ego as the root source of your suffering.

You must evolve beyond the ego. You must deconstruct the illusion of the separate self. This is the key to your spiritual evolution. This is the path that can free you from most of your suffering. Most people of the world are afraid to go down this road because they are afraid that if they do, they will lose themselves. This is a fear based on a a gigantic misunderstanding. The core false assumption is that your uniqueness is identical with your separate self. Therefore, if you transcend your separate self, you are leaving your individuality, uniqueness, and specialness behind. That is precisely what is not true. As you transcend your separate self into the spaciousness that is the ground of all being, something absolutely radical in its delight takes place. Your personal Uniqueness rises out of the ground of your impersonal enlightenment.

You seem to leave behind the personal by moving beyond the illusion that you are a separate self. But after you have transcended your identity with your separate self-ego, the personal comes back online as your Unique Self. But this time, your Uniqueness is genuine. It  is more evolved, powerful, and pure. It is true that your separate self-ego already held the great goods of individuality. But those goods were compromised by all of the grasping delusion of the ego. With the emergence of the ego, Other became enemy; greed, jealousy, horrendous stress, anguish, and murder became part of man’s everyday experience.

Before the separate self-ego emerged, we had no record in the world of people talking about their suffering.*

The emergence of separate self–ego created, at the same time, the emergence of Other. Put simply, the emergence of me creates in its wake the emergence of you. If I am I, then you are you. The Upanishads, great spiritual teachings of the East, say where there is other, there is fear. Where there is fear, there is suspicion, anxiety, and stress, which in turn, creates more fear.  What then follows is doubt and defense, which gives birth to projection. I project my hostility onto you. I then move to protect myself against your hostility.   And then, before you know it, the entire cycle of death destruction is in full bloom.

If you want to bypass this entire process, you must go to the source of the trauma. The source of the trauma is the original error of perception. This was the error of self-perception. When you emerged as a self, you thought that you were alone, separated from everyone else. You felt that you needed to develop deep defenses and armor to protect yourself from all the other selves. I am not talking about skillful means you deployed to take care of yourself in the world. That was necessary and important. Rather, I refer to your entire core stance in the world which was one of fear. Every move you made was to protect yourself from one person and win approval from another person, usually by pretending to be someone that you are not. This is the source of all of your anxiety and fear.

If you could just move beyond the fear which comes from your experience of being a separate isolated self–ego in an unfriendly world, everything would shift. This is the shift that changes everything. If you could but experience the true reality of being fully interconnected in a friendly universe which supports your existence, loves you, and desires your presence, it would all be different. If you could break free of the illusion of your being a disconnected isolated monad called an ego and perceive reality clearly, then your whole story would turn.

*See Ken Wilber’s book Up from Eden.

For more of this essay, see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 6.

You can also join Dr. Marc Gafni’s contacts on LinkedIn.

The God of the Encounter: The Glory of the Personal, Part 52023-06-20T13:54:01-07:00

The God of the Encounter: The Glory of the Personal, Part 4

by Dr. Marc Gafni | (part 4)

It is precisely this fellowship of prayer and prophecy, which we might refer to as the second face of God. In this pointing out instruction, God in the first person would be the face of god you feel flowing through you in meditation. God in the third person would be the face of God reflected in your radical amazement at the wonder and infinite intelligence displayed in every nook and cranny of existence. God in the second person is in the mystery of the encounter between God and Man. A relationship of intimacy is revealed between the finite and the infinite.  All of the infinite power, glory, and intelligence of the first person and third person of the divine were felt and revealed as relationship in the second encounter between the prophet and God. The precise flip side of prophecy is prayer. In their essence, they are the same. Both are expressions of the fellowship between man and God. The difference is simply this. In prophecy, God initiates and God invokes. In prayer, man initiates and man invokes.

What is key to grasp here is that the second person of God is not a primitive metaphor for the simple people who cannot quite grasp the depth of god as principle or Tao or spirit or the evolutionary impulse. God in the second person is not, as so many American spiritual teachers have suggested, a left over touching trinket of the old religion. Not in the slightest. The full integral realization of enlightenment feels in the core of it’s being all three faces of God. Central is the face of God the lover and beloved. This is God for whom we yearn. This is God of whom we know that wherever we fall, we fall into God’s hands. This is not a product of projection, childish fantasy, or immature imagination.

This is a knowing of the presence, which emerges directly from enlightened realization.

The personal, caring, compassionate embrace of the divine is a profound realization of the eye of spirit.  If a teacher has not realized the personal embrace of God as part of their realization, they would do well to bow their head in humility and yearning instead of dismissing that of with which they have no direct contact or realization.

None of this means that God is your grandfather in the heaven  waiting to give you candy. Your realization of God in the second person has little to do with a cosmic vending machine dressed as your favorite uncle.  Rather, God is the transpersonal nature of all that is.

The transpersonal is not pre-personal. God is more than personal, not less than personal.

God is Personal-Plus not Personal-Minus. It is somewhat like saying God is not physical. That does not mean that God is less real or less concrete than the physical. It means that the flatland of the merely physical cannot even begin to express the absolute sensual pulsating realness that manifests in the direct first-person experience of the divine.

God is not merely impersonal.  When you say impersonal, we think of a person with whom we cannot make contact. Impersonal means without the possibility of love and intimacy. In both the experience of  God in your first person as cosmic consciousness or your experience of God in the second person Encounter, you will realize that radical love, intimacy, and contact is the very quality of the experience.

For more of this essay, see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, or Part 5.

You can also join Dr. Marc Gafni’s contacts on LinkedIn.

The God of the Encounter: The Glory of the Personal, Part 42023-06-20T13:54:12-07:00

The God of the Encounter: The Glory of the Personal, Part 3

by Dr. Marc Gafni | (part 3)

The sense of peril resulting from direct contact with the divine ground has nothing to do with any ideas that the people are sinful or the god wrathful. It is more like the famous question of the Bhagavad Gita: “Suppose a thousand suns should rise together in the sky,” what would happen to our reality? How can the individual hope to survive contact with Source? Source incarnates all the energy and power in the Cosmos and infinitely beyond.

Presence by its very nature overwhelms all individual existence.

This strange and awesome paradox is resolved not by theory, but in the very experience of the encounter itself. The living presence of the divine “which is the suchness and substance of all that is” not only IS but is also FOR man. The person experiences an overpowering concern, in which they are held, cared for, recognized, and loved–within the very encounter itself. So the paradox of the encounter is that it is, on one hand, overwhelming and at the same time radically affirming. The individual is rendered powerless, almost lifeless before the divine, even as the individual is enlivened and empowered.

The core of the encounter is three fold. The revelation of love and concern for man, the calling of man to responsibility and action, and a radical affirmation of the dignity and meaning of personhood and individuality.

To sense this more deeply, hear directly the description of the encounter by of one of the great master prophets Ezekiel, “I fell on my face, then the spirit entered me and set me on my feet and spoke with me.” Ezekiel is overpowered and yet retains his personal identity. In all of the reports of the encounter, the same paradoxical quality is apparent. The divine reveals itself as all consuming energy, and at the same moment, hides the full intensity of infinity, holding the prophet in the protective embrace of divine love. Overwhelmed by the presence in the encounter, man finds himself affirmed. There can be no encounter with nothing. If human individuality is overwhelmed into nothingness, there can be no encounter. God invests with man the evolutionary impulse to stand up again and unfold his individuality. Even as he experiences his nothingness, he is affirmed as dignified, adequate, responsible, and beloved. Man is granted a measure of independence. He is free to be himself because God cares for and affirms him. God hides in his revelation in order to preserve the personality of man. The Wholly other reveals itself as friend, sustainer, preserver. This is what the prophets used to call the Humility of God.

So we see that the divine self-revelation in the encounter is dual. Radical presence, which is overwhelming, coupled with radical love, which is affirming of human dignity and preserving of human individuality.

The encounter invites man into fellowship with God. Communion and even Union are the divine invitation. But for the prophet and the Western spirituality that he birthed, there can be no identity between man and God, for in identity man is absorbed and the fellowship is lost.

For more of this essay, see Part 1, Part 2, or Part 4.

You can also join Dr. Marc Gafni’s contacts on LinkedIn.

The God of the Encounter: The Glory of the Personal, Part 32023-06-20T13:54:21-07:00

The God of the Encounter: The Glory of the Personal, Part 2

by Dr. Marc Gafni | (part 2)

The most powerful expression of this realization is in the prophetic encounter with the divine mystery. This encounter runs like a thread from Abraham and Sarah to Moses, Miriam, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and the larger legions of prophecy. As America’s second president John Adams has already noted, the best of everything Western man knows about freedom, love, ethics, and responsibility emerges from the great encounter between the finite and the infinite.

The Encounter with other marks the emergence of the pre-personal slumber. The baby encounters other even as the emergent human being who experiences his separate self turns to other. The  encounter–relationship–is born as the central dynamic of human existence.

In the encounter between separate selves, love is born.

In the encounter, the infinite creative intelligence, which is the underlying ground of the kosmos, reveals itself to you with compassionate face. Full of care, challenge, and concern.

The encounter is an actual experience, which engages all the sense of man. At the same time, it is well beyond any limited material apparition of deity.

The knowledge of the presence is conveyed with irresistible force even as the presence remains invisible to the naked eye. The encounter is not philosophical abstraction or metaphysical speculation. The knowing is not derivative.  It is immediate. The presence is directly felt and recognized. The nature of the experience is induced as an absolute certainty. Not certainty of dogma, not certainty that it is true, that you are true. You are fully affirmed in the encounter.

The experience combines two very different qualities. Radical love and radical danger. The presence by the very fact of its overwhelming power seems to threaten the very life of the person to whom it is addressed. Moses hears the voice and hides his face. Face means his singular individuality, which feels threatened by the encounter itself. We have scripture on this. “Did ever people hear the voice, speaking from the midst of the fire and live?”

For more of this essay, see Part 1 or Part 3.

You can also join Dr. Marc Gafni’s contacts on LinkedIn.

The God of the Encounter: The Glory of the Personal, Part 22023-06-20T13:54:31-07:00

Dr. Marc Gafni: The God of the Encounter: The Glory of the Personal, Part 1

by Dr. Marc Gafni | (part 1 of 6)

The realization of the personal which has been derided as the separate self or ego is so important that I want to ask you to enter this even more deeply with me. You need to feel a sense of this realization in your own being. You need to feel the love and care implicit and explicit in the loving personal address of the Cosmos.

There is clear a moment in where you will need to move beyond separate self and realize the underlying unity of all that is as the seamless coat of the universe. You will need to trance-end the merely personal to realize the next station on the road to your  enlightenment. This will engender in you a profound love. It will open your heart in a radical and unconditional way. It will move you beyond alienation into full integration and power.

However, and this is a huge caveat, you will have to not merely transcend but to transcend and include the personal. That means that when you enter into the realm of the transpersonal space in which we are  all expression of the one, you will need to realize in joy that you are a distinctive unique expression of the one . You must transcend your separateness even as you must retain your Uniqueness. The ego, when purified of its grasping and freed of its fixations, is harbinger of  your Unique Self.  The personal  is essential to your full enlightenment as your Unique Self. Enlightenment always has a personal perspective. Enlightenment according to the Sufis and the Kabbalists is an expression of purified personal essence.  Anything less will make you insane. Remember, Insanity means a loss connection with reality. Sanity means a full joyful embrace of reality. Enlightenment is no more or less than sanity. Reality is not only impersonal. It is also profoundly personal.

In order to be able to realize the personal plus–not personal minus–nature of your enlightenment, you need a deeper feeling and understanding of the realization of the personal.  Remember that the personal is achieved both in the life of the individual and the life of humanity with the evolutionary achievement of the experience of separate self.

It is a transmission of  something of this realization that I wish to share with you in these pages…

For more of this essay, see Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6.

You can also join Dr. Marc Gafni’s contacts on LinkedIn.

Download the PDF Version of the Whole Paper HERE
Download the PDF Version of the Whole Paper HERE
Dr. Marc Gafni: The God of the Encounter: The Glory of the Personal, Part 12023-06-20T13:54:40-07:00

Malice: The Denial of the Unique Self Encounter

An Excerpt from Your Unique Self by Dr. Marc Gafni

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The opposite of a Unique Self encounter is an encounter motivated by malice. Malice manifests as both the denial of, and the attempt to destroy, the Unique Self of the other. The desperate attempt to destroy the Unique Self of an other is based, paradoxically, on a primal recognition of the other’s Unique Self, and a feeling that somehow the other’s self makes one less, or not enough.

Most of the literature of the human potential movement and its daughter, the new age movement, ignores or even denies malice. But you cannot skip malice if you want to truly understand and practice love. Love is a Unique Self perception that creates pleasure and joy in its wake. Malice is a Unique Self distortion that creates envy and hatred in its wake.

Malice is a verb in the same way that love is a verb. however, it is essential to remind you that being aroused to malice does not mean that you let yourself be seduced by the arousal. You have every ability to clarify your arousal and transmute it into goodness and love. The kinds of people that might arouse you to malice are:

  • People who remind you that you are not living your Unique Self.
  • People who you think, by their very existence, are taking away your ability to let the radiance of your Unique Self shine in the world.
  • People you believe stand in the way of you fulfilling your Unique Self.

In these situations you will be sorely tempted—if you think you can get away with it—to seek to destroy their Unique Self in order to cover up the inchoate yet agonizing pain of your disconnection from your personal essence.

Know in advance that you will experience great resistance to this teaching. Your  primal,  desperate  desire  is  to  deny  any  connection  between yourself and malice. it may be that you have never acted it out. This is good. or you may be one of the people that M. Scott peck describes in his book People of the Lie. I have called them people of malice. people of malice are people whose own early pain has made them evil in the way that they act in the world. The core expression of people of malice is that they attack, undermine, or demonize others, instead of facing their own failure. The attack may be subtle or overt. However, it is always covered by the sophisticated fig leaf of respectability, or even by noble motives.

You may know someone like this; they seem respectable, even noble, yet underneath the veneer, they have wreaked brutal destruction—often on those who were or are in their closest circles of intimacy. This might include parents driven by malice toward their children, an employer toward an employee or the converse, friends and colleagues, a teacher toward a student, or a student or group of students toward a powerful teacher. Their malice is almost always covert. Echoing Milan Kundera, it would be correct to say, “Since malice can never reveal its true motivation, it must plead false ones.” Leading British psychoanalyst Joseph Berke informs us that malice is to moderns what sex was to Victorians. It is to be repressed at any price. it is an obsession, best denied, avoided, or forgotten. The perpetrators of malice often claim to be “protecting” some imagined victim from harm. If you even suggest they might have any other motivation that is less than the pure mask they don in the world, they are outraged. There is nothing the people of malice fear more than having the lie of their motivation or the ugliness of their hidden machinations exposed. There is a ferocity to malice. This makes it intuitively frightening for people to confront. so most people withdraw into the shade of their own cowardice, covering their coward’s tracks with well-reasoned and plausible disclaimers.

Often the coward finds it easier to energetically join with the movement of malice than to oppose it. This is the worst and most deplorable form of laziness, albeit one of the most common, even if hidden from the public eye. It might take the form of blaming the victim or exaggerating their responsibility. If in some sense “he had it coming,” it is easier to rationalize joining the executors of malice than it is to arouse the discernment and courage necessary to oppose them.

In the great spiritual traditions, much of the judgment after our death about who we were in this world, as well as the greatest creator of karma, is related to how we behaved when confronted with malice that was disguised as a righteous cause. Did we speak truth to power? Or did we cleverly disguise our cowardice with a thousand rationalizations, even as the Unique Self of your friend, colleague, or teacher was thrown under a bus?

Malice Is Painfully Private, Publicly Dangerous

Let’s look more closely now at the phenomenon of malice, so you will be able to identify it clearly. It is absolutely necessary to liberate the world from malice. As you read, keep in your heart that malice is a poison that threatens the blooming of Unique Self more than anything.

Malice operates through a simple four-stage process: Malice (1) Per- ceives genuine flaws, (2) Exaggerates or distorts them, (3) Minimizes the good in the attacked person’s character, and (4) Absurdly and insidiously identifies the person with their distorted caricatures, painted by the purveyors of malice themselves.

The internal perception of malice operating in you or your friend is the same as love, for malice is love’s opposite. Just as love is Unique Self perception, malice is Unique Self distortion. The malice-motivated distortion happens in two ways. First, you might see the Unique Self of the other, but since that image provokes the pain of your own lack, you try to tear it down. Or second, distortion might mean that you cannot see—you see only distorted images of the other—you have lost the ability to see with God’s eyes.

In malice you sense the awareness of something provoking you as either an unbearable feeling of intense pleasure or as a “grenvious” vexation. “Grenvy,” a term coined by Joseph Berke, is the ill-fated brew of greed and envy that produces the potion of malice.

Malice elicits forceful attacking and even what psychologists in the field have called annihilating behavior. Malice is not connected with legitimate causes at its core—it always hides behind them. it is painfully private, yet when it bursts out of control, it is publicly dangerous in the extreme. It is fed by what Berke calls a distorted “inner world of fact and fantasy, brought about by the confused interplay of perception, memory, and imagination.” “There is bad intent that arises in the world; there is intent to hurt and do evil to other people—we have to confront that.” This sadly correct truth was spoken by my beloved friend Ken Wilber several years back in a public dialogue we did on the topic of evil in the world. Ken was responding to a questioner who made the all-too-common argument that all the tragedy that befalls us is ultimately our own creation, and thus we must take 100 percent responsibility for everything that occurs. The new age narcissists cannot bring themselves to bow before the mystery, so they claim all power to themselves.

Of course, more often than not, the hidden agenda is that the victim has no right to be outraged or demand justice. Since the victim is the creator of their own reality, the ones who have been hurt should be taking responsibility. This cleverly lets the inflictor of pain off the hook. The moral context of justice and injustice, right and wrong, and good and evil is undermined by a subtle relativism in which no ethical discernments are genuinely possible. Or, in a related scenario, the abuser themselves claim to have been abused, thus legitimizing the pain inflicted by them on the true victim. This type of claim is one of the most aggressive and insidious disguises of malice.

This new age view has found a strange bedfellow in distorted American presentations of Theravada Buddhism. since everything is the result of cause and effect, you must be the creator of everything in your reality. If you take total, 100 percent responsibility for everything, you will find your way to spiritual depth and maturity. so the popular dharma goes.

This view is not all wrong. It is in fact a powerful and desperately needed  antidote  to  the  victim  culture  that  so  pervades  much  of  the american spiritual scene. We have been ushered into a new world where any hurt party claims victimhood and uses the claim to inflict all manner of abuse. This often comes together with an abdication of responsibility and often the filing of some sort of suit or complaint. The filing of a complaint gains the ostensible victim a long list of goods, far beyond finances. attention, focus, community, love, and a feeling of power and aliveness are high on the list. Those who encourage and even instigate false complaints are often driven by hidden or disowned malice.

Often, the true predator is the victim who inflicts cruelty and pain on their alleged tormentor to a degree far greater than whatever imagined or even genuine hurt the victim themselves may have felt. Disguised as the victim, the true predator receives the communal love and support. The true victim, cast as the predator, is debased, dehumanized, and ostracized in a thousand cruel ways.

In this context, it needs to be said that while the Buddhist teaching, with its demand for self-responsibility, is a desperately needed and crucial counterweight to the abdication of responsibility through the false claim to victim status, it is only part of the story. At the same time, what is clear from the scenario of false complaints is that self-responsibility is no more than a partial truth. Whenever something happens, you must identify what part you played in creating the conditions that allowed for suffering to occur. You may have contributed 5 or 50 percent to the system. even if you have only 5 percent responsibility, you must take 100 percent responsibility for your 5 percent. But not more. The other part of the story is often the malice of other players in the situation.

Taking total responsibility is actually a disguised form of hubris. it is a refusal to give up control. in this case, the control is maintained precisely through “taking responsibility.” But your insistence on being the sole creator of your reality ignores the larger creative field of which you are but one small part. it ignores the greater evolutionary intelligence at work in and through your life. it ignores the mystery, and blithely dismisses all other people in the story as but supporting actors in your narcissistic control drama.

Total control of your life in the form of total responsibility is not an expression of spirit—quite the opposite. it is one of the more clever disguises of the narcissistic ego.

What is appropriate is for you to identify your contribution, if any, to creating the conditions that led to your suffering. You can and must take 100 percent responsibility for your part. This, however, is a more nuanced, sacred, and humble posture than 100 percent responsibility for everything.

This posture bows before the mystery, even as it recognizes the possibility of malice.

The Murder of Christ

Humans seek the death and destruction of others, even as we seek their happiness. Both drives and both voices exist in every person who lives in the separate self of the ego. We think that malice only appears “out there,” that it does not show up in respectable or polite society. Sadly, this is completely untrue. lynch mobs manifest in many and varied ways. The prime movers in lynch mobs are energetically attracted to each other. They find each other. They move in unison, almost always hiding their own malice, even from each other. They are drawn to the lynch party to partner in destroying the common energetic emotional threat.

Freud’s brilliant student and colleague, Wilhelm Reich, called this not-uncommon phenomenon “the murder of Christ.” The  murder of Christ is the attempt to murder life force. All sorts of reasons justify the crucifixion. A thousand demonizations build the cross. The murderers support each other, often outdoing one another in their maligning of Christ. “see, he is calling himself Christ,” they say, in order to give evidence of his narcissism.

Remember that  malice  is  sourced  in  Unique  self  distortion.  This  is the matrix of the endless cycle of demonizing by those disconnected from their daemon and incapable of owning their demon. They lack the spiritual courage to name what moves them in their breast, which is that “he,” the always-flawed Christ they seek to destroy, has a light that threatens their light. He has an appeal, a draw, that is different from theirs. They cannot explain it. so they seek out his imperfections, magnify them a hundredfold, distort and add some major dose of lies for good measure, and the necessary mix for murder is set. hidden envy, jealousy, and greed are the basic ingredients necessary to conjure the witches’ brew.

This is the source of the “Foul Whisp’rings . . . abroad” that Shakespeare saw as the source of villainy and even murder. as author Philip Roth describes it:

The  whispering  campaign  that  cannot  be  stopped,  rumors it’s impossible to quash . . . slanderous stories to belittle your professional qualifications, derisive reports of your business deceptions and your perverse aberrations, outraged polemics denouncing your moral failings, misdeeds, and faulty character traits—your shallowness, your vulgarity, your cowardice . . . your falseness, your selfishness, your treachery. Derogatory information. Defamatory statements. insulting witticisms. Disparaging anecdotes. idle mockery. Bitchy chatter. Galling wisecracks.

It is in this regard that Geoffrey Chaucer wrote, “It is certain that envy is the worst sin that is: for all others sin against one virtue, whereas envy is against all virtue and all goodness.”

The Evil Eye

Envy, as we saw earlier, is often the envy of an other’s Unique Self, which reminds you of your own unlived life. Envy that motivates malice is directly related to what has been called through history the evil eye. The evil eye is not a superstition, but an inner trait of black character. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that “the evil eye is affected by strong imagination of the soul and corrupts and poisons the atmosphere so that tender bodies that come within its range may be injuriously affected.” Envy then partners with greed, which is an “insatiable desire to take for him what another possesses.” It is motivated by a ruthless acquisitiveness, which is publicly denied.

A greedy person is concerned with possessing. An envious person is obsessed with that which they do not possess. Often greed and envy come together in “grenvy.” Berke’s work remains the most insightful analysis of the inner dynamics that animate people of malice. According to Berke, for the envious person, the “goodness must not be preserved, only attacked, spoiled, and destroyed.”

The first stage of envy is often idealization. The idealization, however, cannot last. it arouses too much anguish in the heart of the envier. Therefore, the reverse process sets in. Denigration, equally extreme and unrealistic, follows idealization. This is done to mitigate the anguish of the previous perception. So the elephant becomes a midge, the palm tree becomes a toadstool, and a cloth coat turns into a rag. A kind of hysteria sets in, and there is a refusal to see any goodness at all in the person attacked.

The distorting impact on awareness shows up not only in the envier, but also in the envied. The envied often engages in two forms of self-deception: the envied person idealizes their envier, which is not that hard because often they were once loved by their envier; or they shut down in order to avoid the pain engendered by the awareness of the envy.

One of the demarcating characteristics of malice is its intense cruelty. King David writes in Psalms, “Many have risen against me,” and he goes on to describe in exquisitely accurate detail the dynamics of deception and self-deception that guide the ostensibly respectable lynch mob disguised by the fig leaf of the “noble cause.” In Joseph Berke’s incisive formulation, “The politics of envy culminates in the effective disguise of individual or collective enmity and its expression through political relationships or institutional decisions that are ostensibly virtuous.”

When an individual in the mob is confronted, they refer to “all of us,” or say, “There are many people throughout this life who say this,” and the like, ignoring the fact that the righteous and disgruntled always attract each other.

The philosopher Socrates is perhaps the most notable victim of the “slander and envy of the many,” including, of course, the political and religious establishment of his day. all of them nodded knowingly to each other, demonizing Socrates even as they—in their collective pathology—denied any suggestion of their own envy being a motivating force, discounting this as an absurd and malevolent suggestion that did not deserve serious rebuttal.

The envy of the “successful one” by students, teachers, and colleagues was much more forthrightly recognized in older cultures. among the Khoikhoi people of South Africa, if a hunter has scored a great kill, he is sent to his hut until the village elder calls on him. he is then placed in the center of the circle surrounded by his fellow hunters, who literally piss on him. In this way, a legitimate outlet is created for the enviers to express their discontent and even rage.

If this seems culturally hard to grasp, just note the same custom in Western culture. On Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year in the Jewish tradition, when the priest offers sacrifice to the divine in the temple, a sacrifice to the “other side” is offered as well. The psychological premise is that shadow must first be owned in the person of the individual and the community before it can be transmuted and atoned for.

Envy  corrupts  and  corrodes  love.  It  turns  good  into  bad.  in Shakespeare’s Othello, Iago accomplishes this by a lethal mixture of slander and duplicity, a process of bad-mouthing and backstabbing. Envious revenge is fueled by hidden arrogance, unyielding aggression, and pride. It is based on distorted or exaggerated hurts rather than significant injury. The envier, in their internal self, considers only their accomplishments in comparison to the one envied. Envy, at its core, is grasping for Unique Self. Envious destructiveness is deliberate. The envious person denies goodwill or love toward the object of their ire. What they want to do is remove the bilious anger and bitter vindictiveness that lurks just beneath their surface self. Their surface self appears more often than not as spiritual, and filled with ostensible good intention and light. it is also possible that the surface good intention and light are real. Envy is often a vicious streak in an otherwise decent and even good personality. This is precisely why the malice of seemingly good people is so persuasive. The envious person wants to get rid of the feelings that they vaguely know exist right beneath their surface personality. They violate their own sense of goodness and even righteousness. since he (unconsciously) blames the one he envies for how he feels, he sets out to make him feel bad or appear bad. It is no accident that “evil” is “live” spelled backward. Evil stands against life force. And life force is nowhere more powerful than in the full bloom of Unique Self.

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Malice: The Denial of the Unique Self Encounter2023-09-12T10:01:01-07:00

Marc Gafni on Post-Postmodern Art: A New Article in Parabola Magazine

By Marc Gafni

Artist Claudia Kleefeld is not the first person to see the symbol of the spiral as being a portal to a vision of a coherent cosmos. She is original in that she is a first-rate, old-master-style artist with thirty years of training, who paints the spiral as an expression of an Eros of certainty that asserts the utter meaningfulness, depth, and order of the cosmos. Kleefeld’s paintings emerge from her own opened eye of the spirit and speak directly to the higher spiritual intuition of her viewers. Finally, Kleefeld is unusual in that she is part of an emergent form of art, which seeks to reveal the enchantment of a cosmos ”” a cosmos that is good, true, and beautiful.

I am delighted to present an article which celebrates the work of Claudia Kleefeld, one of the brightest shining lights in the universe of art today. My new article, “Post-postmodern Art: A Return to Belonging,” is now published in the latest issue of Parabola Magazine.


Marc Gafni on Post-Postmodern Art: A New Article in Parabola Magazine2023-06-21T08:36:24-07:00

Marc Gafni’s “The Future of the Holy: From Sex to Eros” Appearing in Spanda Journal

Marc Gafni was recently featured in Spanda Journal, the peer-reviewed biannual publication of the Spanda Foundation.

The Spanda Foundation offers publications related to “sustainable advancement of peace, knowledge, and understanding.”

Marc’s article, entitled “The Future of the Holy: From Sex to Eros,” begins like this:

“Sex. Is there anything else that so grabs our rapt attention, inessantly pursues us, occupies our daydreams, fantasies, and yearnings? The kabbalists state the obvious: God is trying to get our attention. Now I am not talking about the God who sends good people to burn in hell because they slipped up on one of his impossible demands. nor even the Grandfather in heaven who hands out chocolate to do-gooders. Forget that God. The God you don’t believe in doesn’t exist. Rather, the God that exists for us is the personal erotic life force that courses through reality. The God we believe in is the vitality of eros. The God we believe in is the force for healing and transformation in the world. The God who knows our name. That is the God who so clearly calls out to us that sex is the answer.”

For the entire article, click: SPANDAJOURNAL_C&D2.0_Marc_Gafni.

See: Gafni, M. (2012). “The Future of the Holy: from Sex to Eros”, Spanda Journal, ed. S. Momo, III,1: 131-139.

Download the PDF Version of the Paper
Marc Gafni’s “The Future of the Holy: From Sex to Eros” Appearing in Spanda Journal2023-06-21T08:44:36-07:00

Foundations for World Spirituality: Learning the Language of God (Part 5 of 5)

Editor’s note: The following essay is published as a white paper of the Center for Integral Wisdom think tank. Our Spirit’s Next Move blog is pleased to announce the paper’s availability.

Implications: A Great Voice Which Does Not Cease

Some teachers have taught that revelation heard long ago at Mount Sinai when God spoke to human beings was an event occurring once in the lifetime of the universe, calling it according to its biblical phrasing, “A great voice which did not continue.” Again, the mystics insist that another reading is possible. In the original Hebrew, the phrase “did not continue” can paradoxically be read as “did not cease.” The voice of Sinai is accessible even after the echoes of the original revelation are long since lost in the wind. The voice of revelation has never ended.

So if the voice still continues, in what form does it live on?

It thrives in the voice of the human being who speaks from the silence. This is what I have termed Silence of Presence. When we listen deeply, we are able to uncover the God-voice within us. We become present in the silence. We are called by the presence–the God-voice within us–that wells up from the silence.

Indeed the entire cultural –spiritual enterprise of the Judaic spirit in the post biblical age is to hear the voice, even in – some would say especially in – the silence. The Biblical age ended when God stopped talking. For the Buddhist, even if one were to assume some notion of divinity – there is clearly no such absurdity as a talking God. For the Hebrew however, the essence of divinity is a talking God. Indeed the Hebrew God of the Bible talks almost endlessly, pouring out 24 books of divinely spoken or inspired word – the Hebrew Canon. What to do then when God stops talking and retreats into silence? In the interpretive reaction to this silence Judaism and early Christianity parted ways. For Christianity the cessation of speech by a talking God could only be a portent of divine withdrawal of favor. They interpreted the silence as a silence of absence. God no longer talked to the Hebrews for he had chosen a New Israel. The post prophetic Hebrews however refused to accept this understanding of God’s silence. This is the silence, not of abandonment they insisted – but of mature love. It is not silence of absence but silence of presence. Imbued with intense and profound religious passion they listened to the silence and insisted that they heard God talking. That speech is the Halachic enterprise, which insists on the radical presence of the divine in every facet of existence. It is only in this sense that we understand the Rabbinic comment after the temple’s destruction, “God’s presence in this world now rests in the four cubits of Halacha”. It is not a statement of dejection or resignation – it is rather the confident commitment of the lover.

The word Prophet in Hebrew is Navi – meaning literally – speech. Divine speech will no longer be channeled through a prophetic elite. The temple – symbol of the prophetic period – is no more. The divine voice – presence in absence – silence of presence – can be heard by all lovers who long and listen. All speech is potentially prophetic.

Learning the Language of God

Moses is the prophet par excellence and yet the Zohar suggests that Moses lives in every generation. For Moses is the model of the called human being. Indeed as the Kabbalists point out, the word Moses spelled backwards is Ha Shem, meaning “the name.” Importantly, Ha-shem in biblical Hebrew also is the most common reference to God’s name. When you respond to your call and realize your soul print, fully becoming your name, you become one with God. When Moses did this, he found his voice, he became a prophet.

In the beginning of the book of Exodus, Moses is described as stuttering, unable to speak clearly. He says, “Who am I to go to Pharaoh, I am not a man of words.” And yet by the end of the five books, Moses gives great and powerful speeches to Pharaoh, to the people, even to God. The beginning of the last biblical book, called Deuteronomy (which in Hebrew is Devarim, meaning “words”) opens with the sentence, “And these are the words that Moses spoke.” Moses, who in the book of Exodus says, “I am not a man of words,” has become the ultimate man of words. He now speaks the word of God. When we find our voice, when we connect with our inner soul print, then divine energy courses through us and we are able, each in our own way, to speak the word of God.

One of the great questions of biblical myth is how one can claim that there are five books of the bible. “Isn’t the bible the word of God?” ask the masters. “And isn’t the fifth book of biblical myth, Deuteronomy, actually comprised of the words of Moses, for does not the book begin, “These are the words which Moses spoke’”? The answer is clear: When Moses finds voice, finds vocation, then he hears God speaking through him. In the language of the myth masters, “The shechina” — divine presence ”–speaks through the throat of Moses.” The voice of God and the voice of Moses are one.

The artist, writer, creator, business man, doctor, and gardener, will all tell you that at the times when they feel merged with their calling, when they’re no longer standing on the outside performing a task but standing on the inside, flowing with their action, something higher speaking through them. I know that when I teach, often I get lost and I feel the words flowing by themselves, shaping and forming sentences almost magically before me. It is in these moments that we access our soul print and realize fully our unique voice in this world. At those moments of actualized soul print, our words are the words of God. We have learned to speak the language of God.

This post is part of a series of posts “Foundations for World Spirituality: Learning the Language of God” which begins with Part 1. For Part 2Part 3, and Part 4,  follow the links.

Foundations for World Spirituality: Learning the Language of God (Part 5 of 5)2023-06-21T09:05:46-07:00

Foundations for World Spirituality: Learning the Language of God (Part 4 of 5)

Editor’s note: The following essay by Marc Gafni is published as a white paper of the Center for Integral Wisdom think tank. Our Spirit’s Next Move blog is pleased to announce the paper’s availability.

Ten Words to Live By

The second biblical myth word symbol of freedom is actually mistranslated into English as the Ten Commandments. The people, so the story goes, having fled Egypt, gather at the foot of Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments. Of course, nowhere in the biblical myth is there any mention of Ten Commandments. Here is where the old witty maxim, “Reading the bible in translation is like kissing a woman through a veil,” becomes not altogether untrue. In the original Hebrew, the people receive at Sinai not Ten Commandments but “Ten Words.” Here Voice becomes Word, the articulation of speech. It is the beginning of the vision that follows revolution.

The third word symbol is no less than the word “Messiah.” “Messiah” in the original Hebrew is understood by the Kabbalists, quite astoundingly, to mean “conversation.” Master Nachum of Chernobyl, mystic and philosopher, points out that the Hebrew word for messiah, Mashiach, can be understood as the Hebrew word Ma-siach – meaning “from dialogue” or “of conversation.” His assertion radically implies that the Messiah is potentially present in every human conversation””every mutual act of voice-giving.

All authentic conversation is sacred conversation. The ability to have an honest face-to-face talk in which both sides are true to themselves, vulnerable and powerful at the same time, is Messianic.

Simply put, sacred conversation is the vessel that receives the light of Messiah.

Sounds of Silence

The soul print of the emancipated storyteller is not entirely realized with the move from mute silence to sacred speech. It goes one rung higher, for soul print journeys are not only linear but circular, taking us spiraling upward and beyond. The path takes us from silence to speech and then back–to a higher silence that will birth a higher speech.

We return to the most famous biblical myth image of speech–the “Ten Words” spoken at Sinai. The Kabbalists, as you by now expect, have a different interpretation. In fact, according to the Kabbalists, God had nothing special to say that particular morning. God said what God says every day! “I am here,” he said. “I am present. The world is meaningful. Every human being is created in my image and therefore has infinite value and dignity.” In the language of the Kabbalists, “A voice issues forth daily from Sinai saying, ”˜I am the Lord your God.’” This is not a statement of theology but an affirmation of meaning and relationship based on voices in sacred conversation.

On that auspicious day at Sinai, we heard a voice not so much because God spoke, but because we listened. We got quiet. So did the whole world. In the wonderful imagery of the third century myth masters, “On the day of revelation a bird did not chirp, an angel did not sing, an ox did not bellow, the sea did not rage – the entire world fell silent”¦and the voice at Sinai was heard.”
The voice can be heard only from the silence.

This post is part of a series of posts “Foundations for World Spirituality: Learning the Language of God” which begins with Part 1. For Part 2Part 3, and Part 5, follow the links.

Foundations for World Spirituality: Learning the Language of God (Part 4 of 5)2023-06-21T09:06:24-07:00

Foundations for World Spirituality: Learning the Language of God (Part 3 of 5)

By Marc Gafni

Editor’s note: The following essay is published as a white paper of the Center for World Spirituality think tank. Our Spirit’s Next Move blog is pleased to announce the paper’s availability.

The Second Stage: from Silence to Sound

The beginning of freedom is the emergence of voice. This stage is expressed both by the initial cry of the Israelite slaves that broke their silence, as well as by Moses’ arrival on the scene. “When Moses came, voice came,” writes the Zohar. Moses does what the charismatic revolutionary always does: he gives voice to the people. Indeed, biblical myth text records the beginning of redemption with the following words: “”It came to pass in the course of many days that the King of Egypt died and the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage and they cried out and their cry came up unto God.” The enslaved Israelites are received by the presence of God at the point when they move from the dumb silence of the slave to sound which is the beginning of speech, the characteristic of a free people. This “cry” is not an elegantly articulated protest – it is a cry as in the cry of a wolf, or the cry of an infant. It is primal, impassioned, pre-civilized, a howl of protest that makes it into the halls of heaven, heard by God himself.

For the first time the enslaved can express distress. They seek to articulate words that are not yet ready to form themselves on their lips. At this stage of moving toward freedom, we do not yet know how to tell our story. We do not know what we would do with the world if it were given over to our stewardship. We just know that we must protest.

The biblical myth symbol (Leviticus 25) for the transition from slavery to freedom is the primal blast of a ram’s horn. No trumpet of gold, it is rather the rawness of the ram’s horn that captures the slave’s first fitful sounds. The first thing a revolutionary movement must do is sound its ram horn–start a newspaper, set up a radio station, build an internet site. It is not by accident that the fundamentalist and totalitarian states are trying to disallow or severely limit internet access. Freedom’s beginnings are expressed in the first shouts of protest.

The sixties and seventies were such second-stage revolutionary generations. This helps explain why so many sixties hippies became late seventies and early eighties yuppies and then transformed again into the establishment of the nineties. The feeling of distress generated protest – sound and even the first glimmerings of voice–but there was no alternative vision of society to generate “speech.” Similarly, many third world revolutionaries reflect such second stage thinking. Consequently, as we all know, that not a few third world revolutionaries became the leaders of far more repressive regimes than the ones they overthrew. Because they lacked speech to articulate the primal manifestations of voice, they needed to repress all of their own pain, the very distress and disease that initially led to the revolution.

What can they do when the revolution has happened and the dis-ease remains? Only two choices are available. The revolutionary can choose to look inside personal and societal soul in a very profound way, attempting to wrestle with the dis-ease at its source and not merely on a symptomatic level. This would involve addressing the ills of society that provoked revolution–through the creation of a new society with just laws and a conceptual framework to insure the continued freedom of the people. This is the move from primal voice to speech. Or the revolutionary can lash out to avoid the necessity of confronting his own emptiness. Lashing out is always easier but not a stage of growth. It continues and repeats the stage-two voice of protest. The repression it produces is often brutal and animalistic.

Like all stages of growth – stage two is necessary and positive when it is part of a process. Arrested growth, however, always produces some form of pathology.

The Third Stage: From Sound to Word

In the third stage, voice gives birth to word. Now we are able to tell our story – to speak authentically with each other, to articulate clearly both our needs and our visions of a better world. A rebel newspaper is no longer sufficient. Only in the writing of a constitution or a Declaration of Independence is the next stage of freedom achieved. Or in the case of the sixties, a spiritual movement needed to be born which attempts, however imperfectly, to write the books of a New Age.

Three biblical myth word symbols capture this third stage in mystical consciousness.

The first word symbol is called in Hebrew the haggadah””literally, “the story telling.” This is the very name of the myth text we read from at Pe-Sach, when we reclaim our story. By assuming authorship of our stories, we assert spiritual authority over our lives. We are no longer subject to will and directive of the taskmaster, priest, or rabbi. By becoming authors of our own haggadah, we progress past the protest and actually become free.

The master Kalonymous Kalman explains that the demarcating characteristic of messianic times is that every person will be his or her own spiritual master. This is his radical reading of the biblical myth vision expressed by prophet Jeremiah “And no man will anymore learn from his fellow to know God, for everyone will know Me from the wise to the simple.” Every person will find voice and articulate speech and those words will be his or her spiritual guide. In the end, we will discover that we are the sacred book and the sacred book is us. In fact, there is a tradition in Jewish prayer to take the Torah scrolls adorned with crowns of silver and fine cloth and carry them around the prayer room, allowing everyone to touch and kiss them. Where I pray, we started a tradition of also kissing the person chosen to carry the scrolls, recognizing that she too is a sacred scroll.

This post is part of a series of posts “Foundations for World Spirituality: Learning the Language of God” which begins with Part 1. For Part 2, Part 4, and Part 5, follow the links.

Foundations for World Spirituality: Learning the Language of God (Part 3 of 5)2023-06-21T09:07:07-07:00

Foundations for World Spirituality: Learning the Language of God (Part 2 of 5)

Editor’s note: The following essay is published as a white paper of the Center for Integral Wisdom think tank. Our Spirit’s Next Move blog is pleased to announce the paper’s availability.

The First Stage: The Silence of Absence

The aforementioned passage in the Zohar (Exodus 25a) suggests that there are three distinct stages in the continuum from slavery to freedom. The first stage is silence. The second stage involves moving from silence to sound without speech. And the third stage is speech–voice and articulated word.

In the first stage, slavery, we are mute and dumb. We live our lives without ever really crying out. The routines of the everyday deaden our sense of injustice, and our passions atrophy amid the narrowness of Egypt, when all sounds are smothered in our throats. In the biblical myth, the people were silent in the first stage of exile in Egypt. The pain broke their spirits and they became mute–no longer able to even cry out, much less to express the injustices with the eloquence of speech. We all have touched a fraction of that experience when, after a protracted argument, we are so worn down that we lack the strength to protest even the most blatant offenses of those who oppose or oppress us.

In a less familiar reading of the biblical story, Talmudic masters suggest that the slavery in Egypt was not of the usual kind. In fact, the Israelites were successful and prosperous. However, the deadening quality and comfort of their routine had anesthetized the sensitivity to their own wounds of alienation. How many of us suffer and hurt, yet remain fundamentally unaware of our suffering, deadened by the soma pills of the expected, and the narrow straits of success?

The disease of leprosy in the ancient world was considered so horrible not just because it caused extreme disfigurement. That was only a side effect. The agent of the disease itself was a bacteria called Hansen’s Bacillus, which destroyed the nerve fibers carrying the sensation of pain. In this painless state, a person could continue walking on a broken leg, thus causing irreparable damage and further disfigurement–and even greater estrangement from the world at large.

To be numb to pain is to be prone to a deeper damage. The anesthetizing effect of unbearable agony (or apathy) can be the most devastating enemy of all. The biblical slaves were broken bones being pressed with burdens they could not hold””and their nerve endings went numb to the weight. Their enslavement was complete when they “lost their nerve” to act up, and to cry out.

Biblical myth writer Y. L. Peretz, writing at the turn of the last century, tells the story of Bonsche the Silent.

All the heavens were in an uproar. Bonsche the Silent, the most righteous man, had died. Bonsche, who never complained and always accepted his fate with graceful silence, was coming to heaven– what a day! The angels exuberantly recounted the tales of humility of this silent saintly man–how he never asked for anything, was always simple, accepting, and sublimely silent! The angels rolled out the reddest celestial carpet they could conjure; the other celestial hosts were eager to honor their celebrity; and even God was getting involved.

On his arrival to heaven, Bonsche was granted a meeting with God. This was more than unusual – it was never done–but for holy Bonsche an exception was made. He came before the throne and heard the divine voice say, “Ask for anything. Anything you want is yours.”

Never had the celestial hosts heard anything like it. Every ear strained to hear – what would Bonsche say?

Bonsche was a little overwhelmed by all the attention. After all, he viewed himself as a simple man. He responded to God,. “It would be wonderful if I could have a roll and butter every day.”

When my Buddhist brothers heard this story, they went wild. What a Satori story, they said, what an example of total detachment and simplicity, the reduction of all expectations, the giving up of desire even when God offers you everything! Yet the biblical myth perspective reads this story differently. We say”–What a shmuck”! God offered Bonsche everything and all he could think to ask for is a bagel and butter? If he wanted nothing for himself, then what of a world which suffers so? For them as well he could think of nothing to ask? Master or not, was he so absent from himself that he also no longer feel the joy or pain of other?

Indeed, we biblical myth readers look at his life of silence and view it as a tragedy. Bonsche is totally disconnected from his own needs–from his own story. He is called Bonsche the Silent one because he has no voice. His silence is a Silence of Absence. It emmanates from the void and is a violation of divine presence.

The Disguises of Silence

How does this first level of slavery-silence play in our lives? Where do we hear the sounds of silence? One of the subtlest disguises of silence can be speech.

All of us, through fear or habit, create boxes of clarity for ourselves that reassure yet limit us. Mendel of Kutzk pleads with us to remember that the hebrew world for ”˜letter’ – the basic building block of speech is Teivah- not accidentally precisely the same hebrew word which means enclosure or box.

The loss of meaning that comes with the familiarity of speech is one of the subtler and therefore more insidious boxes of the human spirit. Words, with all of their power to reveal, can become hiding places through overuse. Once words and turns-of-phrase become familiar, they lose their associative depth and their power to lead us to the experience they represent. How many twentieth-century tired cliches were the dazzling wordplays of the Elizabethans? When it first appeared in Hamlet, Shakespeare’s coining of a term like the “mind’s eye” was an original, compact, and evocative condensation of a more internal form of perception. Now the phrase is the stuff of hack journalists and junk novelists. Speech can be nothing more than a noisy kind of silence.

Too often speech about emotions becomes the way to move away from feeling. We can define and redefine vulnerability through words until the truth of what we describe fades away. Too often we get lost in routine speak which, in the language of the mystics, has the quality of noise but lacks the quality of sound. In essence, it is silence”silence of absence.

This post is part of a series of posts “Foundations for World Spirituality: Learning the Language of God” which begins with Part 1.  For Part 3Part 4, and Part 5, follow the links.

Foundations for World Spirituality: Learning the Language of God (Part 2 of 5)2023-06-21T09:07:42-07:00

Dr. Marc Gafni: Foundations for World Spirituality: Learning the Language of God (Part 1 of 5)

Editor’s note: This is the first part of 5-part essay, published as a white paper of the Center for Integral Wisdom think tank. For Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5, follow the links.

“As the Kabbalists point out, the word Moses spelled backwards is Ha Shem, meaning ‘the name.’ Importantly, Ha-shem in biblical Hebrew also is the most common reference to God’s name. When you respond to your call and realize your soul print, fully becoming your name, you become one with God. When Moses did this, he found his voice, he became a prophet.”

By Marc Gafni

To live your story is to move from a state of slavery to freedom. Slavery is not limited to our old image of the oppressed Hebrew or black slave being whipped by the cruel master. We are all potentially free, just as we are all potentially slaves. Our intent in this brief essay is to at least begin to unpack a core intuition of the Zohar that a free person is a person who has found voice. As we shall see in the very last paragraphs of this discussion the implications of freedom are wondrous indeed!

The Hebrew name for the Passover Storytelling Ritual, which celebrates and reenacts the dynamic movement from slavery to freedom, is Pe-Sach. Renaissance mystic Isaac Luria reminded us that Pe-Sach is a combination of two words Peh, meaning “mouth,” and Sach, meaning “talk.” Pe- Sach, therefore, means the mouth that talks.

One school of Hasidic masters unpacks this idea by defining redemption as the emergence of speech. To move from a dumb and mute existence to a communal storytelling existence is to undergo redemptive transformation. “To be redeemed,” writes one mystic, “is to lead a history-making, storytelling, communing, free existence.” To be in exile is to lack history, tell no story, fail to commune, and exist as a slave, silent.

The most oft cited source for this idea is a stunning passage in the Zohar which describes the Egyptian slavery as the “exile of speech.” In Kabbalah, every biblical nation represents a different organ of the body; Egypt represents the throat. The mystics read the Hebrew word “Egypt” literally as meaning narrowness. The throat is, of course, the narrow, constricted passage between the wide spaces of the heart and mind. The narrow throat, Egypt, is thus the ideal symbol for the exile of speech. Speech remains caught in the throat, in the dark passage, and can’t make it to freedom’s gateway, the mouth. Redemption comes in the birth of the word. In the actual process of your retelling, you reclaim your story. But to be capable of retelling your story you need voice. Redemption then is the process of finding voice.

The Greatest Persecution

In the Nazi concentration camps, certain people were referred to as mules. They were so broken that, although not physically impaired, they could no longer speak. Among animals, mules are the hybrid of a horse and donkey, unable to reproduce themselves. These human, muted mules were so traumatized, their souls so mangled, that they too were unable to “reproduce themselves”–to express themselves in speech.

The great master Kalonymous Kalman of Piacezna wrote from the flames of the Warsaw ghetto that the torture of the exile is not only in the physical suffering but in the inability to cry out – the loss of voice. “The people have become mute,” he cried out in a teaching given in 1940, just weeks after his son and daughter in law and many of his disciples were brutally killed. The teaching was on the story of Joseph and his brothers in the book of Genesis. In a dream, Joseph sees “the binding of sheaves in the midst of the field. And behold my [Joseph’s] sheave, rose up.” In the simple reading of the text, this is a dream of Joseph’s future power. The bound sheaves represent the servility of his brothers while the rising of his sheave is an expression of his potency. Joseph is predicting he will be lord over his brothers. Kalonimus Kalman uses the classical interpretive method of the mystic–reading the text independent of its context (here, Joseph and his brothers) and focusing on subtle wordplays and dual meanings–to extract a deeper spiritual meaning. For Kalman, the sheaves represent his disciples. The word for sheave in Hebrew also means “mute”: “My disciples are mute in the field of the spirit.” They have lost voice. Their suffering is so intense that it defies and destroys all expression. “However,” continues the master, “my sheave–that is, my muteness–must rise.” By this he means, “I must find voice.”

Kalman sees the role of the mystic leader, himself, as retaining voice, holding on at all costs to the ability to talk. He does not mean speech in the technical sense, of which even the slave is usually capable. He refers rather to the ability to have the voice that allows you to remain the storyteller of your own tale””even in the face of Nazi horror.

Kalonymous Kalman took on this role by continuing to teach even when he couldn’t be certain anyone survived to hear him. He risked all to record his teachings and hide them in the hope they would be found by some future generation. He was continuing to tell the story. In an act of heroic protest, he refused to allow the Nazis to claim “his-story.”

Kalman’s book, along with his voice, was lost in the war. He died in the Treblinka concentration camp and his book disappeared. Although he left word that he had buried his writings before being deported, they were not to be found. That is, until almost fifteen years after the Nazi defeat when a Polish worker miraculously discovered them in a pile of rubble and somehow understood their importance. The work has since been published. Treblinka may have succeeded in killing the Master of Piacezna, but it could not kill his voice. He died but his words did not. His voice triumphed.

Voices can indeed triumph even when the storyteller dies. For a version of Kalman’s story that is completely different yet exactly the same, we turn to Alice Walker’s classic work, The Color Purple. The novel focuses on two sisters, abandoned by their father to the custody of a man referred to as Mistah. One sister gets away. The other remains behind. What keeps the captive sister from losing her soul? The letters she sends to her sister. By telling her story she avoids be sucked into the slavery’s dark and deadly vortex.

In Blaise Pascal’s words, silence is “the greatest persecution.” Silence can forge the bonds of slavery even if you have not been sold by Dad to a man named Mistah or suffered the brutality of Nazism. Whenever you give up the belief that you are special and deserve to have a voice, you become a slave. Whenever you work in a place that instills fear, whenever you are afraid to speak up and ask for what is your due, you are a slave.

This post is the first in a five-part series of posts, “Foundations for World Spirituality: Learning the Language of God.” For Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5, follow the links.

Dr. Marc Gafni: Foundations for World Spirituality: Learning the Language of God (Part 1 of 5)2023-06-21T08:53:13-07:00

Dr. Marc Gafni: Interiors, Face, and the Reconstruction of Eros

By Dr. Marc Gafni

Summary: The four faces of eros, described by Marc Gafni in this excerpt from Mystery of Love (2003), are 1.) being on the inside, 2.) fullness of presence, 3.) desire, and 4.) interconnectivity of being.  As Marc describes, with its mystical role in these four expressions, the face itself is the truest reflection of the erotic.  In the flow of eros, we access the experience of being on the inside of God’s face, which Marc explores here through the Temple mystery of the sexually entwined cherubs atop the Ark who are positioned face to face; the Hebrew word “panim,” which means “inside, face, and before;” and the erotic experience of having a true face-to-face conversation. This significant passage from Mystery of Love invites you to embody the erotic which is modeled but not exhausted by the sexual more deeply in your own life.

Eros has many expressions. Each expression is hinted at in the temple mysteries.  There are four faces of eros which, when taken together, form the essence of the Shechina experience. In this essay, we will explore the erotic understanding which forms the matrix of the secret of the cherubs and informs every arena of our existence. As we shall see, at the very heart of Hebrew tantra was a very precise and provocative understanding of the relationship between love, sex, and eros. This will open us up to a whole new understanding of our sexuality and will show us the way to erotically reweave the very fabric of our lives in more vivid patterns, sensual textures, and brilliant hues.

The First Face of Eros: On the Inside

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

The cherubs in the magical mystery of Temple myth were not stationary fixtures. No, these statues were expressive, emotive. They moved. When integrity and goodness ruled the land, the cherubs were face to face. In these times, the focal point of Shechina energy rested erotically, ecstatically, between the cherubs. When discord and evil held sway in the kingdom, the cherubs turned from each other, appearing back to back instead of face to face.1  Back to back, the world was amiss, alienated, ruptured. Face to face, the world was harmonized, hopeful, embraced. Thus, face to face in biblical myth2 is the most highly desirable state. It is the gem stone state of being, the jeweled summit of all creation.  Face to face, to be fully explicit, is a state of eros.


Dr. Marc Gafni: Interiors, Face, and the Reconstruction of Eros2023-12-21T13:56:19-08:00

Dr. Marc Gafni: Protest as Prayer (Part 1): A Response to Tragedy the World Over

God = The Infinity of Intimacy: From the Infinity of Power to the Infinity of Intimacy

Part 1:

By Marc Gafni

The mandate of biblical consciousness demands that the human being enter into partnership with God in the task of perfecting the world. The classical expression of this in the lineage of Kabbalah is the obligation of Tikkun. Tikkun means not merely to hear or to fix but to be co-creative evolutionary partners with the divine.

This evolutionary mandate to co-create and to heal the world with and as divinity emerges, paradoxically, not out of answers but out of questions. The fact that the human being can challenge and that God accepts the human challenge implies a covenantal partnership between the human being and God. Both the human being and God share an understanding of the good, and thus God can turn to the human being and say: “I invite you, nay, I demand that you be my partner, my co-creator in the perfection of the world. I began the process of creation; I established the moral fabric of the world. It is up to you to take that cloth and to weave it fully. It is up to you to complete the tapestry, it is up to you to risk to grow and to create a world in which good, love, justice and human dignity flourish and are affirmed.’ A human being who cannot be trusted enough to challenge evil can also not be a partner in fostering the good.

It is true that God very often seems silent in response to our challenge. Yet Jewish consciousness, expressed through biblical text and tradition, affirms that God accepts the validity of the question. In doing so God affirms our role as God’s partner in history. If I am able to recognize evil for what it is, then I am ipso facto obligated in tikkun olam – the obligation to act for and with God in the healing of the world. Man is the language of God. We are God’s adjectives, God’s adverbs, God’s nouns and sometimes even God’s dangling modifiers. We are God’s vocabulary in the world. When I love, when I am able to be truly vulnerable and intimate with another human being, when I am able to share the pain of another and to rejoice in their deep joy, I am acting for God. I become God’s chariot in the world.

More than this: if I can wrestle with God, if I can express my uncertainty with God in the intimacy of challenging relationship, then paradoxically, I convert my doubt into the core certainty of divine relationship.

Note: This post is part of a 15-part paper.

Download the PDF Version of the Whole Paper HERE

Read More Parts Here:

Part 1
Part 4
Part 7
Part 10
Part 13
Part 2
Part 5
Part 8
Part 11
Part 14
Part 3
Part 6
Part 9
Part 12
Part 15
Dr. Marc Gafni: Protest as Prayer (Part 1): A Response to Tragedy the World Over2023-06-21T10:22:40-07:00

Dr. Marc Gafni: The Seven Levels of Certainty and Uncertainty

Standing StoneBy Marc Gafni

The following are notes from Marc Gafni’s dharma talk given in March 2012 at Shalom Mountain Wisdom School, where Gafni serves as the World Spirituality Teacher in Residence.


The seven levels of certainty and uncertainty tells the story of how the great religious traditions came into being and how they were challenged first by science, and then by modern and post-modern mindsets.

This is a rough sketch of a map of certainty and uncertainty.

We have forgotten what we know. Indeed we do not know whether we know or not at all. We do not know whether we know or what we know or even how to know. The general impression today is that anyone who claims to know something is lost in dogma or regressive fundamentalism. Indeed almost the definition of a fundamentalist is someone who claims to know something with is totally “true” about Ultimate issues.

A person cannot survive and certainly cannot thrive without knowing.

A generation cannot survive without its knowing. A generation certainly cannot participate in the evolution of consciousness, which is the evolution of love, without knowing what it knows.

The public teachings of the great traditions were not about enlightenment. Enlightenment teachings in virtually all of the great traditions were esoteric. The great traditions taught the masses of people by leading them to believe a set of dogmas. Whether it was Christians professing, “Jesus is a saving grace,” Tibetan Buddhists or Jews professing, “We are the chosen people,” or Hindu doctrine, there was always a set of dogmas.

In each of the great traditions, a belief in a set of dogmas leads to a set of actions. The great traditions motivated people by infusing their daily lives with the belief that these actions were ultimately right. What motivated the actions was the belief that the actions were in alignment with the core constructs of the cosmos. Failing to do these aligned actions was sin, punishable not only in this world but in the next. Some of the dogma reflected deep reflection on the nature of the cosmos. Other doctrines emerge from the surface structures of that particular religion’s journey in history.

The goal was almost always a complex mixture of ethics and a sense that these teachings led the most possible people to lead lives that were most right in accordance with an ultimate knowing of the nature of reality.

Almost every system has a strong sense that is was the best system of human living. Other systems were thought to be inferior is some substantive way.

In all the great religions, to be in alignment with the beliefs and actions of “my system” meant public membership, the obligation to perpetuate my system, to be in alignment with the Gods, to be obedient to the Gods, to be responsive to the Gods.

So the story begins with each of the religions holding absolute certainty in regard to right action, right belief and the essential structure of the cosmos.

Post-modern naturally moves to reject these certainties for any number of compelling reasons. One of the most powerful is that virtually every religion claims to have an exclusive truth that competes with and contradicts the exclusive truth of another religion. So it seems that since not everyone can be right, everyone is probably all wrong. And we are left – after all the great postmodern deconstructions of knowing — with a painful and gaping uncertainty. The only certainty of post-modernity seems to be that you cannot be certain of anything. And any sort of claim to true knowing or certainty of any kind is in many circles mocked or worse. It is thought to be dangerous — as we said earlier — a sure sign of fundamentalist thinking.

But the true relation of certainty and uncertainty, knowing and unknowing, is far more nuanced and interesting. And to understand it is essential. We absolutely move beyond the post-modern dogmatic certainty which deconstructs all knowing and bows only to the ultimate and all pervasive claim of radical uncertainty. So let’s reconstruct some of the stages in spiral dance between certainty and uncertainty and let this be the beginning of our post-postmodern reconstructive project in which we are able to reclaim the Eros of knowing even as we hold the Eros of not knowing.

We begin with a simple reconstruction of seven levels of certainty and uncertainty.


Dr. Marc Gafni: The Seven Levels of Certainty and Uncertainty2023-06-21T10:26:05-07:00
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