by Nilus StrykerTO ΙΔΙΟ, ΕΛΛΗΝΙΚΑ
Webmasters Note: Nilus' story is one of many similar stories that I have heard in the last few years - it is a particular phenomenon of our times. I knew Nilus back when he was a Buddhist. I was struggling to assimilate the same teachings under the same teacher. I did not get as far as Nilus did, because when the teacher told me that to go further would require ceasing all other spiritual investigations, my conscience awoke and forbade it, also eventually directing me back to Christ and the Orthodox Church. The common denomenator in all of these stories seems to be that if a person has had meaningful contact with the Gospel of Christ, then spiritual progress will be blocked at some level until that person returns to Christ.
I had been a Buddhist for ten years. I was ordained after seven years of study with my teacher in a small family line of the Nyingma Lineage of Vajarayana (Tibetan ) Buddhism. I had a Spiritual Master in that lineage whom I loved and still love. He was, and continues to be an example of kindness in my life. It was through his instruction that I began to see the world with wider eyes and heart. I was ordained as a Ngakpa in the Nyingma Lineage. A Ngakpa is a tantric (priest) ordination that, though there are vows (damsig), those vows are not based on celibacy nor abstention from meat and alcohol. Our sangha were not renunciates but followed basic instruction in tantra and dzogchen; both based on transformation rather than renunciation and sudden moments of insight that flicker in duration and intensity leading to rigpa (a state of mind and perception based on relaxing into the natural state of enlightenment). Those moments were engendered by the energetic intervention of our teacher or our ability to "relax" into the fabric and texture of our experience of being and non being brought about by the practices we were taught. Over the years those moments seem to manifest in seeing the world more and more in kindness, gratitude and compassion. My teacher used to say that Buddhism was ninety nine per cent method and one percent truth. The practices in Buddhism are used to develop a clarity and sense of awareness that enable you to discern a reality not skewed by neurotic mind and habits of response.
We were a non liturgical lineage and had silent sitting and yogic song, mantra, and sets of psycho-spiritual physical exercises as the core of our practice. I made pilgrimages to sacred sites in Nepal and attended retreats with my teacher and vajra sisters and brothers both in the United States and in Wales. Those retreats, both joint and individual, were very meaningful in my life. And, I can definitely say that I had some "openings" of view, widenings of perspective and experience that I attribute to my teacher and the practices I was given.
One afternoon in late January of l999 I went to my altar for my regular daily practice. Usually I began with yogic song and mantra and then did silent sitting. I lit the candles on my altar and after finishing my song and mantras began my silent practice. I cant say exactly how long I had been sitting when I hear my voice say in my own words aloud, "I miss Jesus." I said this aloud. It seemed like it came through me rather than me saying it but there were no external voices. Clearly I was saying it.
When I said "I miss Jesus" I filled with this longing. I don't know what else to call it. I ached. I hurt inside. I felt this absolute longing and I couldn't believe it. I tried to regroup my attention and awareness to continue my meditation. Often in meditation one experiences extra ordinary perceptions, smells, visual illusions, sounds perhaps, psycho-spiritual anomalies that throw one off the track and distract you from the coming and going of thoughts which one is trained to let rise and fall without attachment.
Thoughts come and go but the method I was using tried not to attach to any thought so that one avoid following a thought into an internal narrative or story. . So I tried to see this experience as a nyam (meditational experience) and not put much stock in it. I could not regroup, nor relax and got up. I thought , well that's early childhood stuff I'm projecting onto my mediation. It's mommy-daddy stuff about love I didn't get and wanted and must be about my early childhood Christianity. Though my parents were nominal Christians I had been raised as a Presbyterian mainly because that was the church close to our house. My parents certainly were not Bible Thumpers.
I ended my practice session and went to the kitchen and began doing dishes. I did my household chores and didn't think about it very much except for the continued sense of longing which did not seem to dissipate. I couldn't seem to shake the experience no matter how I tried. There was this terrible longing in me that I couldn't ignore nor explain. I didn't mention it to my wife yet I couldn't stop thinking about it nor find relief from the ache and hurt. We had an ordinary evening, watched television for awhile, chatted and then I went into my studio to paint. I am an artist and my studio is attached to our cottage and I sleep there most nights if painting late. After a few restless attempts at working on a canvas I had started I went to sleep.
That night at three in the morning I was awakened by a "presence" in my room . It was a Longing. I don't know what else to call it. I felt a "presence of Longing" in the room. I was worried that someone had broken into the house. I got out of bed and checked all the rooms.. There was no one (other than my wife) in the house and she was still sound asleep. I decided since I was awake to do some practice and went to my altar in my studio. I mediated for probably thirty to forty five minutes and returned to sleep. The next morning I made sure all the doors were locked and kind of looked around the house uneasily to see if I could find anything that would explain the "presence." We have no pets and I asked Diane if she had gotten up during the night for any reason. She had slept soundly and asked if there was anything wrong. I told her I had gotten up and couldn't sleep for awhile. I hesitated to say anything about a sense of a "presence". I didn't want to scare her and I didn't want her to think I was crazy.
The next night I was again "called" awake. I cant tell you exactly what it felt like other than this "presence" was in the room. No lights, no hallucinations, no sounds, no fanfare, no schizo stuff (as far as I understand it), yet most certainly a feeling that I was being called awake by a presence. I can only say in was a "presence of Longing." I ached inside and hurt and longed for something I couldn't express. . I felt a million miles from home.
You must understand that my life was pretty happy. My wife, of twenty five years, and I loved each other. We are both artists and had a good business in that field. We had a small cottage and garden in a small Northern California coastal town near San Francisco which we loved. I had a wonderful spiritual teacher and I had taken vows and was committed to my Buddhist Lineage and path. And I was pretty healthy for a fifty some year old fat man. Everything was generally ok. No major crisis. Nothing that seemed to speak to the experiences that I was having nor the incredible sense of longing that I was feeling. I felt like I was in love but I didn't know with whom or what. I was like a teenage boy in love. I couldn't stop feeling this ache and longing and confusion. It had all begun when I said "I miss Jesus" yet I couldn't believe that was really the source of this hurting. It had to be something else. But I didn't know what. I had tried to sort it out rationally, making an inventory of possible sources, motives, events, that would engender this longing. I was stuck. Nothing I listed seemed to be a reason for the experience of longing, and not certainly the feeling of a presence in my room at night.
Every night for a week I was called awake at three o'clock. I was beginning to get a bit scared. I had no explanation of what was happening nor any idea how I should deal with it. I realized it was beyond anything I had ever experienced and hoped my teacher could help me both to understand and cope with the experiences. If anyone knew what was happening it was him. I finally contacted my teacher in Wales and explained the entire sequence of experiences.. He gave me the name of a Tibetan "deity" to call upon and a mantra associated with that "Awareness Being" (our sangha used the term Awareness Being as opposed to the traditional term deity). He said if the experiences continued do the practice and recite the mantra he had given me.
That night I was awakened again by the sense of a "presence"., I went to my altar and lit the candles. I sat in silent mediation for a while before using the mantra and calling on the Buddhist deity that I had been instructed to use. It was a powerful mediation. There was a deep quiet and I felt a calm and stillness that seemed to penetrate the room. I called out the name of the Awareness Being as instructed by Rinpoche (an honorific term for a Vajrayana teacher which literally means Precious Jewel). To my surprise I heard a voice say "I am not that." I can't tell you where the voice came from. It sounded like my voice even though I have no recollection of actually speaking the words. I cannot tell you exactly if the voice was interior or exterior but it was a voice which clearly and distinctively said, "I am not that."
I was completely shaken. I sat dumbfounded and in silence. I got up and went out side. It was probably three thirty in the morning and there was a pale moon just visible over the ocean. I sat on our front steps and began to cry. The longing and ache inside had not lessened but seemed to have increased. I was at my wits end and knew something was happening. I just didn't know what. I cried my heart out. I sobbed. Finally I lifted my head and asked, "Who are you?"
When I said those words something incredible happened. Please understand I have no sense of appropriateness about this. I have no way to even explain how or why it happened. I am the stupidest one. I have no right to even attempt to explain what happened nor to try and say, I, in anyway, comprehend nor deserve what happened. But when I spoke those words, I filled with a soft Light. I know that is hard to understand but I filled with this Light. It wasn't visible in the ordinary sense. It was a luminosity that filled me. I cannot describe the Light nor describe how light could bring a "knowing." But I knew that a Light had come inside me and knew me personally. I know that seems impossible but it happened. The Light not only knew me, Νiles, a screw up and quick tempered crumudgen, but loved me, actually loved me. Forgive my presumption but it is what I felt. I have no way to tell you how I knew that but I did. I didn't know what to call it. I felt awkward trying to say God or Christ, yet I felt it had something to do with God and The Christ Logos. I couldn't bring myself to say that ,however. It seemed too impossible and so loaded with everything I had rejected in Christianity (the Protestant Christianity of my childhood). It was impossible to say the words though I felt like a piece of God had broken off in me and that it was Love. I felt Love. I felt a Divine Love. I felt a Love that came to me personally, like it had called my name as it came inside me. Yet it seemed to be always inside me but I had not known it. It came inside and burst forth at the same time. I know that is hard to even imagine and I have no other words that I can use to try and explain that. If there were any way for me to tell you this in a clearer way I would.
I got on my knees and prostrated myself on the ground. I can't tell how long I was there but I eventually sat back up on the stairs and again cried. I have no way to explain what I felt. It may be wrong to say but I felt words fall away as the Light entered and I felt a "knowing" in me that seemed to be born with Love. I knew that God loved me yet I couldn't say the word God. I knew that Christ called me though I couldn't say the word Christ.
I had come to some realizations in my Buddhism, some small flickers of understanding the Big Picture, through my teacher and my practice but nothing like this.. I was glowing inside with Love and a knowing of Light. It wasn't a real glow, visible, nor tangible yet I felt like I was shinning inside. I couldn't tell if God was longing for me or I was longing for God. It seemed almost like we met in the longing. For the first time the Longing seemed to be the experience of the presence of God and my relation to Him. In Buddhism we often talked about finding the presence of our awareness in a life circumstance. In tantra all that is experienced presents the possibility of experiencing enlightenment in that moment. Our practices were often based on finding the presence of awareness in the emotion or life situations we were experiencing. I seem to have found the presence of my awareness in the longing of and by God as Light and Love.
For the first time in my life there was Divine Love, a Love that knew my name. I don't know how long I sat on the steps. The sky seemed to lighten but I cant say when I went inside. I'm sure I eventually went to sleep but I don't remember exactly when that was even though I woke up in bed with my clothes on.
The next morning when I told my wife what had happened I said that A Light That Is Not Light That Knows My Name had come inside me. I didn't know what else to call it. I described the experience but I still couldn't bring myself to say the word God nor could I use the name Christ.
I called it a Light That Is Not Light That Knows My Name.
Of course my wife, being a good Californian , asked if I was stoned. We both laughed. It had been a long time since that had been a possibility (no smoking of anything allowed in our sangha) but she listened and I told her the details. I knew at that point that everything was different. Somehow Love had entered the picture and life as I knew it had come crashing down. My teacher was an atheist and the Buddhism that I had learned certainly did not present the idea of a creator God nor a divinity that was a source of Love. We spoke of compassion and wisdom, kindness and awareness but rarely was the word love ever mentioned, and certainly not within the context of a Divine Love. My wife was scared I could tell. No matter how much we joked about it she felt that everything was up for grabs. She didn't know where it would lead me. I didn't know either. Everything had become pretty stable in our lives. That night everything was shaken to the core and my wife sensed it.
When The Light That Is Not Light That Knows My Name infused me with itself I knew things I could not explain. I experienced a personal Love from a Source that was beyond anything I had experienced before. It was wonderful and terrible at the same time.
Why couldn't I use the word God nor Christ? What held me back.? It seemed too chilling to even think that this was either, yet for the first time it seemed possible. It was possible that his was God's Love. It was possible that this was an experience of The Christ. I guess in some ways that was too uncool to say. I certainly didn't want to be a Christian. I had castigated Christians as hypocrites and idiots for years. As a Buddhist I was a bit kinder in that regard but I still had no intention of being a Christian nor any desire to explore that path. I never really could get rid of a concept of a God even though Rinpoche said I had to deal with my idea of God in relationship to blame. I blamed God for a lot of stuff in my life and he said to grow spiritually I had to let go of the concept of blame. He was right.
One world was opening and another was falling away. The vows I had made in becoming a Ngakpa were taken as lifelong vows. The commitment I had made were seen as "lives long" commitments both to my teacher and my lineage. Now I faced the fact that there was a Creator of Love, a Source of Love and a Spirit of Love that was unexplainable in my Buddhism, and from my experience, a reality that could not be denied. I struggled with what to do. I had no context to help sort out the experience. My teacher's atheism seemed to preclude the possibility of him understanding the reality that had just come alive in my life. I had had an experience that seemed to turn my Buddhism inside out. The structure of our practice and the instruction of my teacher seemed limited and I must admit incomplete. I knew my teacher was wrong about God. What was I going to do?
Pantelemon David Walker is my acupuncturist and a member of the Orthodox Church in America . We had discussed Buddhism and Christianity for months as he treated me. The next week I had an appointment with him. After we greeted each other he said, " I have a book for you I think you will enjoy." It was Christ The Eternal Tao by Hieromonk Damascene. That night I poured through the book. I have no idea when I went to sleep but I read for days and it gave me a base for sorting out the experiences that I had been having in relation to The Light That Is Not Light That Knows My Name.
I knew there was a Source of Love and an Energy of Love yet I hesitated to call it The Holy Spirit. I had left my childhood Christianity far behind. The words still stuck in my throat.
David suggested I try and attend an Orthodox church and mentioned an OCA Church in San Francisco. Yet that seemed too weird, too much of a commitment to a religion I had left. I wanted something that wasn't based on an institutional setting. The last thing I wanted to do was get involved in a church. After all I was a Buddhist. Why was I being drawn into another religion, especially Christianity.? I had made a commitment to my teacher and lineage. I shouldn't be exploring at this late date any other form of worship. But my Buddhism didn't address or acknowledge the experiences I had just had in relation to the Divine. I knew as certainly as I knew anything else that the experiences I had of A Light That Is Not Light That Knows My Name were real and true. My teacher said there was no God and I knew that I had experienced Divine Love personally.
I resisted the idea of a church yet Orthodoxy had an ancient contemplative tradition and a way of working in deepening and widening a personal sense of transformation of self in relation to the Divine. Fr. Damascene's book opened me to the possibility of at least exploring (without) commitment a tradition in Christianity that was far beyond any Christian tradition I had ever heard of. I called the Holy Trinity Cathedral (an OCA church in San Francisco.) A man answered the phone and I asked if the services were in English. He said in a thick Russian accent "broken." I cracked up laughing. I already liked his deadpan sense of humor. I got times for Liturgy and thanked him,
On Sunday February the seventh I woke and dressed and told my wife I was going to find a church. She was shocked. What? she shouted.
"I know, don't ask. I'll be back in awhile."
It was pouring down rain and the streets were pretty empty. I drove into San Francisco and had a vague notion of a Russian church with blue domes downtown. The listing for Holy Trinity Cathedral was on Green street and I thought I was headed in that direction. I finally saw the dome and cross. There is never any parking around that area so as I approached I said to myself. "If there's parking I'll stop, if not I'll go to Burger King." The minute I said it a person pulls out of a space across from the church. "Ok, ok I'll go." I walked into the church on February the seventh, l999. I didn't know it at that time but it was Prodigal Son Sunday. [...]
OUR TALENT OF FREEDOM & SOME PITFALLS
Ancient Faith Radio The Stories of the Saints of North America