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True religion is always about love. Love is the ultimate reality. We can probably see this only through real prayer, for love can be hidden. We don’t see it unless we learn how to see, unless we clean the lens. The Zen masters call it wiping the mirror. In a clean mirror, we can see exactly what’s there without distortion—not what I’m afraid of, nor what I need to be there, but what is really there.
Some have called Buddhism the religion of mirror-wiping. It is the inner discipline of constantly observing my own patterns—what I pay attention to and what I don’t pay attention to—in order to get my own ego out of the way. But lest you think this is only a Buddhist preoccupation, remember St. Teresa of Ávila’s stark admonition: “For the most part, all our trials and disturbances come from our not understanding ourselves” (Interior Castle,IV, 1, 9). We must learn to observe our own stream of consciousness.
What is my agenda? What is my predisposition? What are my prejudices? What are my angers? This discernment process is often called the development of our “third eye” or maybe third ear. It refers to the ability to stand away from ourselves and listen and look with some kind of calm, nonjudgmental objectivity. This process is normally quite difficult at first (thus most people never go there), but it is absolutely necessary for truth and freedom. Otherwise the “I” that I am cannot separate from its identification with its own thoughts and feelings. Most people become their thoughts. They do not have thoughts and feelings; the thoughts and feelings have them! It’s what the Scriptures rightly called “being possessed by a demon.” In that sense, it seems to me most people are possessed by demons!
Prayer, however, is not finally self-observation, but rather to “fall into the hands of the living God” which is initially and indeed a quite “dreadful thing” (Hebrews 10:31) for one who has always tried to control everything himself or herself. When the small self knows that it has no meaning, no foundation apart from who it is in God, that’s radical transformation. When “I live no longer, not I” (Galatians 2:20), that is a completely different experience of the self. I think it is the very goal of all religion, to know our radical union with God which cannot be taken away from us. Most people just do not know about it.
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