Excerpt from Elizabeth’s next book, The Logic of Faith

All the great spiritual traditions have emerged from human experiences of awe. It is this experience that creates an opening to a deeper understanding of the interconnectedness we as humans seek in our spiritual lives.
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    Recently, Scott Kelley came home from a year in space. His magical photographs inspired me to share this excerpt from my upcoming book, The Logic of Faith from Shambhala Publications.





    In 1968 the United States sent its first manned spacecraft into orbit. Although the focus of the mission was to circumnavigate the moon and explore the mysteries of the cosmos, no one had anticipated the transformative effect that looking back at the earth from space would have on us as a global culture. So impactful was the experience that those involved in the initial journey have wondered in retrospect if it may not have been the most important reason we went.

    Since 1968 many astronauts have described their experience of seeing earth from space as a sudden and unexpected recognition of interconnectedness; a de-centering of the strong self-focused tendency we all have to put our self or our nation, at the center of the universe. Astronaut Edgar Mitchell, who traveled to the moon in 1971, has written books on his experience of this phenomenon, in which he chronicles not only his venture into space but also how it served as an entranceway into his personal exploration of human consciousness, and the nature of self and its relationship to the universe. Mitchell describes the effects of gazing out the window of the spacecraft at planet earth as an alteration of human perspective, “…a kind of self awareness that was not something new but important to how we humans are put together.”

    All the great spiritual traditions have emerged from human experiences of awe. As Mitchell suggests, this experience of self- awareness is not something new, nor is it exclusively for astronauts. And although we can’t capture such encounters in words, we put name to them: the grace of God, The Divine, Buddha Nature, or The Tao. We have developed sophisticated systems of philosophy in an attempt to describe these experiences, and have designed various methods of meditations and ritual to cultivate them. And all of this creative expression all the iconography, poetry, hymns, sacred architecture, and language beautifies our world…well, that is of course, until we declare our particular tradition as “rightThis never fails to dampen the sense of wonder that initially inspired this creative expression in the first place. We must take care not to loose sight of the original purpose of our wisdom traditions by protecting them from rightness and remembering that we cherish them because – if even for a moment – they release us from our constant struggle to find sanity in a world we can’t secure.

    There are those who, from the core of their being, dedicate themselves to awe. We may have detected this spirit of amazement and humility in Pope Francis when he replied in response to a question on gay marriage: “Who am I to judge?” This is a bold proclamation, especially coming from a pope, upon whom millions rely as the arbiter of truth. His statement echoes the spirit of the old Christian mystics found in such texts as, the medieval classic, “The Cloud of Unknowing”, whose underlying message proposes that the only way to truly ‘know’ God requires that we abandon all preconceived notions and beliefs or ‘knowledge’ about God. This demands we surrender what we know and enter the realm of ‘unknowingness.’

    To me this quality of openness and humility defines the fully ripened effect of genuine spiritual practice. When I was in my early twenties I remember vividly my first meeting with Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, an accomplished Tibetan teacher of the lineage of the Buddha. He had an impressive history. In his teenage years, driven by his own longing, he left home to practice meditation alone in a cave for many years. He mastered all the lineages of Tibetan Buddhism – protecting and cherishing each of them according to their unique qualities while emphasizing their essential likenesses. He escaped Tibet with his family during the Cultural Revolution and settled in India. In time he assumed the position of spiritual advisor to the Royal family of Bhutan and became the father of hundreds of young monks whom he tenderly raised in his monasteries in Nepal and Tibet.

    Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche Nepal

    Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche
    Nepal photo by Matthieu Ricard

    He had a grand and elegant physical presence and although he was in his early seventies when I first met him, he didn’t seem confined by time, age or even gender. Before entering his room I had pictured him as a wise old man from whom I would receive spiritual advice. But to my astonishment, as I entered his quarters, what struck me most – and how I remember him to this day – was how he embodied, more than anyone I had ever met, the spirit of amazement. He did not live in some distant state of meditative absorption and the natural confidence he exuded didn’t come from clinging to truths. Rather, he seemed touched and delighted by everything and everyone around him and he responded to it all with curiosity, playfulness and gentleness.

    In that moment I thought: “This must be where the spiritual path leads.” 

    from Elizabeth Mattis Namgyel’s upcoming book The Logic of Faith, from Shambhala Publications, to be released in February, 2018.


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