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Spiritual Apathy
Notes from a conversation held on Nonduality Salon in 2001


"Spiritual apathy is called the monk's vice by Aquinas, as it was first recognized in monastic situations and continues to be prevalent in them. It is a failure to pursue the goals that you really want to pursue, a kind of lassitude about seeking the most important things you want. This vice's character is, I believe, very hard to understand, but I see it in myself and others all the time. That is, you love something good but you just cannot bring yourself to do what it is necessary to obtain it -for instance, to practice meditation consistently or to write the book you want to write. Spiritual apathy is also a very good example of the way some vices (as well as virtues) can lie so deep within a person that they are never manifested clearly. That is, people who suffer from spiritual apathy may be very active, but their frantic activity covers up the fact that they cannot pursue the goals they most want to obtain." Quote from Healing Emotions, Conversations with the Dalai Lama on Mindfulness, Emotions and Health, a Lee Yearly article on Virtues in Christian and Buddhist Traditions.

I have had some experience with this in my own spiritual practice. An example - after I teach a meditation class is a great time for me to sit. My meditation at that time is usually deep and effortless as the vrittis are relatively settled and my awareness is already focused internally. I've observed that I often come home and eat something instead. Then I go to bed without meditating.

I think it's root is fear. Of what? Taking responsibility maybe. Of success? As we learn to observe the thoughts, it's relatively easy to observe the ego working on an obvious level. Is this a subtle way to undermine our spiritual search? To keep us stuck? Why when we yearn for something do we sometimes get in our own way?

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What is interpreted as apathy could be the result of de-conditioning: If so, it will just continue and nothing has to be undermined.

What is a "search" or "practice" without expectation? Pastime? Even from a pastime there is expectation... Undermining the practice, different expectation?


First, welcome. Who cares? (couldn't resist) But seriously, where are you going? Perhaps the apathy is a relaxation of seeking... and being as the present. The vrittis are relatively settled, awareness is internally focused, is there a need at that point for formal meditation? The physical entity responds to its own requirement for sustenance and rest. I question the reality of any goal that is forever just around the corner. But at the same time there is always the rushing towards. So there it is, the real rushing towards the unreal and the unreal towards the real. A matter of points of view, one real, one projected. Which is happening now, and forever. 'Now' being real. 'Forever' being unreal. You write of fear, of success or of taking responsibility. But you are already perfect. There is no choice. Failure is impossible so is success. Tick tock is the clock responsible or not or neither or both. Now there is no such thing. If it is truly seen that there is no choice fear has no place to take hold. What is the root of fear?

ps... there is a feeling of being on an edge, on the brink, in your post. Of what?


"To keep us stuck? Why when we yearn for something do we sometimes get in our own way?"

Maybe you have to step even further back in your analysis. Why do you yearn for "something"? If there was no yearning, there would be no getting in the way?


One could remark that a stone doesn't yearn either... Yearning could be interpreted as a sign of feeling separated, that separation disappearing when the object of yearning has been attained. And it is obvious that intellectual knowledge like "there is nothing to attain" won't evaporate that yearning... When yearner, yearning and the object of yearning become one, who is left to yearn?


Lynn is suggesting that the root of spiritual apathy is fear and that we may undermine our own spiritual search.

I think this is correct, and ask, Why is it not desirable to undermine the spiritual search?

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Seems to me like you are asking a real question. Spirituality is about the human condition and the problem of existence. It is ALL ABOUT VOLITION. The ONE that does not have volition, that does not yearn, etc. is not the one who turns to NDS for direction, comfort, maybe a little light and hope in their dark night.

Is anyone trying to say that the Love which abides in the absolute ALL of its own beingness (or whatever jargon you want to use) is somehow not "adaptable" enough, not actually loving enough to simultaneously meet the human need--to comfort, heal, guide? Of course divine Love never leaves heaven for earth (metaphorically speaking) of course divine Love doesn't yearn and have need or experience self-division, but human consciousness does. And the miracle of grace is that this the dispersing of that darkened consciousness perceives this infinite Love (in St. Paul's words) "through a dark mirror"---as love meeting the human need.

The fact that we often confuse our human wants for our human need, or that our idea of "need" the divine reality of it are often miles apart, does not annul the existence of need.

Or are we going to get stuck at the abstract level of "Whose to say what that need is?"

Intelligence tells us what the need is. Love tells us what that need is.

Theory is great but it doesn't help us change the flat tire beautifully, get up and feed the baby at 2:00 a.m. I gotta go with William Blake: "Eternity is in love with the productions of time." That's the truly non-dual and the mysterious.

The problem of being is existential. Anyone who is oblivious of the problem or has somehow managed to encase themselves in a surrealistic bubble that they mistake for "clarity" is confused. The question first posed re: spiritual apathy and self-division is a real question and a real problem.

There is the other possibility of course---that the person who hasn't or doesn't face the issue of what I call the "divided will / divided love" in their own life, the person who no longer struggles with the problem articulated by St. Paul as "The good that I do I would not and that which I would not do, I do."--this person has somehow and joyfully managed to surpass Jesus himself, who on the Cross cried out from this same place of anguish---"Why hast thou forsaken me O Lord?" In that case, all I can do is congratulate them, or bow at their feet.

Keep asking. Keep seeking. Keep yearning. Keep loving. Sincerity will invite much more clarity for all of us than does doctrine, no matter how ND that doctrinal "correctness" might articulate itself.

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Your inquiry, Lynn, seems to have called forth the usual replies from this space.. from those (guys mostly) who speak from the One dimension.. eschewing any credibility of the multidimensionality of our human existence.

I often wonder.. should I go elsewhere to speak of the human face? Elsewhere to know the fellowship of others who are living in the Venn overlap of both the human face, and the Heart of Being, which embraces and dissolves it? Elsewhere to speak and learn from the ways we are being taught to mature in the stream, through releasing of ideas which no longer fit. To be asked "who speaks?; who learns? and how can perfection mature?" are useful as examining levers of the focal point of bound identity; but also can elicit contraction as well as expansion.

It seems to me, there is a certain imbalance in the righteousness of only speaking from the monotone voice of the 'Self realized'. Though I have no doubt that there are, amongst this list, those who have realized Self, the tenor of the absolute is not always absolution (eg reconciliation) for those of us seeking nothing, knowing nothing, just simply living the vagaries of a life of attention... flowing, more or less encumbered, with what shows up. The reconciliation which leads to dissolution seems always, for me, through bringing all to the altar of the living heart.

So.. I'll risk being wrong here and speak with you as a friend.. as one who might sit with you over a cup of tea and look (by your side) at what is presenting as inquiry for you.

Lynn said,

"I think it's root is fear. Of what? Taking responsibility maybe. Of success? As we learn to observe the thoughts, it's relatively easy to observe the ego working on an obvious level. Is this a subtle way to undermine our spiritual search? To keep us stuck? Why when we yearn for something do we sometimes get in our own way?"

You ask about apathy. I can't speak to "spiritual apathy", as I no longer know what that might mean. But I do know apathy and stuckness and the host of other ways the tricksters mind and emotions can obfuscate an essential current of clarity. I ask myself, what is it that I Am response-able for? "Success" as a Being benchmark no longer applies here. How could we presume to know what success would look like? As do you, I observe the thought patterns, and the measurements of success are always ones socially given, based on learned values. They have value in the world we buy our groceries, but hold no resonance in the expanse of living stream.

Your question "is this a subtle way to undermine our spiritual search?" reads here as essentially the opposite of what this list is about. If I am reading you incorrectly, please let me know. I hear this question as spoken from a lens position of a self, intent upon a spiritual practice towards a goal of moving closer to whatever "spirit" means to you. And your inquiry is whether ego is undermining the essential intent, as laid out. The direction of those on this list, is to examine the very self which thinks it has anywhere to go to know 'spirit'. And furthermore.. to gradually or suddenly recognize the, rather radical, possibility that there is no self here at all.. merely an infrastructure of ideas/thoughts/emotions woven with such exquisitely subtle intricacy that it never occurs to pause and examine it's own realism. Once this turn, this pause, this (as Jan says) de-conditioning begins, infrastructures begin collapsing. As Tim says to Susan:

"I 'hear you'... suffering is real enough to the sufferer. The sufferer may begin to question its own reality. The presence of the *sufferer* is the problem, not the suffering.

Until the sufferer realizes its own fundamental nonexistence (not doctrinally, not conceptually, but directly and experientially), there are only band-aids to slap over wounds that never heal."

While I recognize the truth spoken in this statement, I'd also like to suggest that there is a way of being with each other, through the transition (of de-construction) which can be compassionate The band-aids can also mature and need not be toxic to the process. We can be present in the fullness of heart, or space; as aid to the bands still contracting. We can meet the contraction of our selves or each other and listen to it's atonality in such a way that we surrender and allow it to be ingested into the spaciousness of the living heart. The foreground is subsumed by the Background of love, present Now. Gradually "the presence of the *sufferer*" is seen, not as "problem" to be obliterated, but merely as inanimate flotsam, no longer magnetically drawing forth animation.

The ebbing of need for animation is what I am learning here. What is spoken rarer here is expression of the heart of containment. Tim says:

"'Divine love' is what we *are*, not what we need."

And while I wholeheartedly agree.. there is still here a human who is graced when this is met in living presence of another.

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Excerpt from Zen In the Art of Archery by Eugene Herrigel, tr. R.F.C. Hull

Master- "You must hold the drawn bowstring, like a little child holding the proffered finger. It grips it so firmly that one marvels at the strength of the tiny fist. And when it lets the finger go, there is not the slightest jerk. Do you know why? Because a child doesn't think: 'I will now let go of the finger in order to grasp this other thing'. Completely unself-consciously, without purpose, it turns from one to the other, and we would say that it was playing with the things, were it not equally true that the things are playing with the child?"

"Do you know why you can not wait for the shot and why you get out of breath before it has come? The right shot at the right moment does not come because you do not let go of yourself. You do not wait for fulfillment, but brace yourself for failure. So long as that is so, you have no choice but to call forth something yourself that ought to happen independently of you, and so long as you call it forth your hand will not open in the right way - like the hand of a child."

Herrigel- "For ultimately, I draw the bow and loose the shot in order to hit the target. The drawing is thus a means to an end, and I cannot lose sight of this connection. The child knows nothing of this, but for me the two things cannot be disconnected"

Master- "The right art, is purposeless, aimless! The more obstinately you try to learn how to shoot the arrow for the sake of hitting the goal, the less you will succeed in the one and the further the other will recede. What stands in your way is that you have a much too willful will. You think that what you do not do yourself does not happen."

Herrigel- "So I must become purposeless...on purpose?"


I have found this book to be helpful re: goals and undermining them...etc... At the same time I am aware that there is some controversy around Herrigel.

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apathetically spiritual: been there, done that - hooie!

It's a trick. Yup! A trick!

god/universe/conciousness/brahma/totality by whatever name has tricked itself into being. Being what? Just being. Why? Just because.

Pardon the silly language. But, the other day god itself came knocking on my front door. I let it in and offered it coffee. It said thanks but no thanks. What it wanted me to do was to stop telling people that everybody is already god.

Well! I just told it to kiss my lily white ass! Now as you may well imagine, it started to get more that a little huffy!

When I reminded it of the .0001% solution. It said, "Damn! The escape clause. Oh very well, go ahead."

There you have it folks. We are already god.

Have a good eternity!



Apathy comes from being caught between two fears:

One, that you will never reach the self-realization you long for.

The other, that you will.

The fear that your conditioned identity is dissolving in the truth of you is very strong. It seems as if there is an entity called *I* which fights for its life.

In actuality though, it is just the tendency of forms to maintain themselves and to resist change... including the form made up of ideas and memories called "myself".

Looking into the fear directly... more closely... leads to seeing through to what is beyond all fear.

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Nonduality: The Varieties of Expression Home

Jerry Katz
photography & writings

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