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Passage to Truth

How to contemplate a sacred text or poem.

By Sally Kempton

I recommend studying short passages from the writings of great beings, enlightened teachers, or poets, perhaps on a theme. You might choose a passage from the Bhagavad Gita, a teaching of Ramana Maharshi or one of the Buddhist teachers like Shantideva, or even an insight from a contemporary master.

I like to work with sutras, or short passages, like this one from the Yoga Vasistha: Consciousness with thoughts is the mind; consciousness without thoughts is God.

Or you might start with this powerfully suggestive sentence, sometimes attributed to St. Francis: "The one you are looking for is the one that is looking." He is speaking to a seeker of God, or whatever you like to call the subtlest level of being. (This same thought can be found in the Yoga Sutra as well as the texts of Buddhism, Vedanta, Taoism, mystical Judaism, and many other religious traditions.)

Read the line over several times. Ask, "Who or what is the one I am looking for? How would I understand that? What do I know about the one I am looking for? What comes to mind?

What have I read or heard from reliable teachers that might be relevant? How have I experienced or conceived of the one I am looking for—as a person? a state of being? a deity?"

Write down everything that comes up.

Now ask yourself, "Who or what is the one that is looking?" Here, you might want to close your eyes and ask the question inwardly, paying attention to whatever arises in answer.

Finally, forget about words. Focus on the breath or use whatever concentration method you prefer to become quiet. Then ask the question, Who or what is looking? Expect not an answer in words, but an inner feeling-space, an experience of wordlessness or timelessness, or maybe just nothingness.

From this space, do some automatic writing. See what that inner space has to say, if anything, about the meaning of the passage.

Then, have your satsang or discussion from this place. You can share your insights about the passage on every level. Then, see if you can come to some sort of shared understanding about the text. Ask yourselves, "What does it 'mean'? What do we get from working with it? What is the experience that arises when we do?"

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