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The "holiness" Of God


tariki
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Derek,

 

In a biblical sense, i see the word "holiness" is often defined as ....

 

an idea of greatness. One of the meanings of holiness is the idea of being "set apart" or in a class by itself or in the case of God in a class by Himself. When the Bible speaks of holy objects or holy people or holy time, it refers to things that have been set apart, consecrated, or made different by the touch of God upon them. In essence the nearness of the divine making the ordinary extraordinary or uncommon.

 

A second aspect of the "holiness" of God is the idea of purity. God as goodness. God always acting in a righteous manner because of that purity.

 

That's how i understand the traditional meaning of the "holiness" of God. Most of that is based on (in Christianity) as seeing God as a separate "Supreme being" or deity in a theistic way. Having said all this, i do not share that traditional Christian view or understanding of the "holiness" of God. I see God as neither separate from creation nor as limited to any concept of our idea of purity or goodness.

 

Just my own view for what its worth,

Joseph

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Thanks Joseph. Much like you, I've found that I need to get away from Theism as such, theism as a "relationship with a personal God". The whole idea of "a" being among other beings, only greater, seems to complicate what increasingly appears to be simple.

 

As I see it, this is all primarily a confusion of words. A confusion created by Hebrew into Greek or into Latin, Latin into Greek or English, and so on and so on. Until we end in the 20th Century with the word "holy" being spoken of by various Christians without recognition of its actual genesis.

Often the word seems now to be used to denote a God totally above and separate from ourselves, untouchable.....a living, throbbing entity that repulses all that is imperfect and tainted by sin......

In other words, a picture that does its very best to repel every single meaning of the Incarnation that is life-giving.

 

Christianity - at least to me - seems always to have been tainted by the dualism of "spirit" and "matter", "body" and "soul". And so it is with the more Conservative wing today. Reference to the "holiness" of God seems to tear apart the sheer simplicity of living by grace and instead places the Divine "up there", or "out there", pure and untouchable......and by implication, condemning of all the perfectly natural functions of ourselves as human beings.

Edited by tariki
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Holiness is synonymous with sacred to me. God is not bound by the world but actively in it. That's a dichotomy but it works for me. I don't think holiness is seperateness so much as a seperateness is a false belief. The world is about division, fragmentation and otherness. The reality is that there is only One. There is no me/you/God. We of nor perceive that we are holy as Godvis due to our false belief. All religions have this idea in their own way of expressing it. God as seem in the Bible is always ready willing and able to engage us in an intimate relationship that can be expressed in many forms (child/parent, master/slave, lover/beloved). All that we perceive as negative aspects or attributes of God is his holiness being poured out onto us.

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Derek,

 

I am not closed to being in a relationship with "God" but of course not with the traditional definition. One could say i am in relationship with "Reality" or "Creation" and i would not object. From a human standpoint (the creature, the created), one might also say we are separate and i also would not object yet i would not also object to one who says we are One with God.

 

To me, that which is created gets its essence from that which is unmanifested and appears as separate yet cannot be. It is a conundrum. Words are, as you know, always lacking when it comes to the formless.

 

Joseph

 

PS. It seems to me, the word "holiness", separates where on a deeper level there is no separation to be found. All names given to things seem to me to do the same.

Edited by JosephM
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I remember seeing a series called “The Cosmos” narrated by Carl Sagan, in which he stated that we are all made of the same “stuff” as the rest of the universe. In that sense we actually ARE the universe, as well as that part of the universe where conscious awareness of itself has been generated.

 

The thought of that is actually pretty staggering to me. We are all separated from everything else by time and space, a unique property of the universe, but we still share its fundamental elements.

 

I suspect that the universe has always had the ability to generate life and conscious awareness of itself. Apparently, all that is required is the right combination of elements and its formation by evolutionary processes.

 

For me, to posit a “God” or other “outside” entity and label it “holy” or “sacred” to account for this ability somehow lessens its magnificence. I think I’m content to just let it be.

 

Peace.

Steve

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Good thing I don't posit that idea of God then. But no one religion really does. You have to look at scripture in terms of a relationship with the Divine. Christianity is not the only religion that posits a personal relationship. Even the non-theism of Buddhism still involves a relationship with immanence on a non-dual basis (tantra, Dzogchen). There is also the awareness of rigpa in Tibetan Buddhism which is a self- perfected state of all beings. Some Buddhist think the Busdha was an incarnation of Indra. Whatever floats your boat I say. I am a panentheist with pantheistic leanings. I do feel sometimes that materiality and non-materiality is God.

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Just to clarify, I see "relationship" as being very much at the heart of Reality-as-is. As is often said (if various Buddhist forums are consulted...... :) ) non-duality means "not two" but does not mean "One". Perhaps Merton can explain better........

 

The self is not its own center and does not orbit around itself; it is centered on God, the one center of all, which is everywhere and nowhere, in whom all are encountered, from whom all proceed. Thus from the very start this consciousness is disposed to encounter the 'the other' with whom it is already united anyway 'in God'

 

At least, I see it as explaining it better............... :D

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I have absolutely no quarrel with anyone positing a “God” as the architect, or underlying divine principle (Logos) of the universe, or even that they believe they have a personal relationship with that God. We are in the relative realm of words and semantics, and therefore this is the only way we can make ourselves and our experiences understood.

 

It doesn’t get much more “personal” than being the thing itself that we are trying to identify and explain. But, I’m afraid it doesn’t work, because we are too close to it. We are either “it” and leave it at that, or we look for something else as the cause of “it”. Most people choose to call that cause “God”. While I don’t necessarily agree, I certainly can respect their opinion.

 

Peace.

Steve

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Steve

 

I also see things the way you see them, too, and wasn't trying to be glib about my last comment. I can't even really conceive of using language like "quarrel". Was it Democritus or Socrates who is reported to say that we don't really know anything but only have belief? So, I would use the term "subjective" rather than relative, but is it all semantics. Postmodern christianity opens the whole gospel up for me but allows me to retain a lot of what orthodox theology too. But God is not a "thing" that is something other than how I self-identify. The only analogy I can make is I liken God to the ocean to a fish, or air to us. Fish swim in the ocean. The ocean gets in the fish. The water that is the ocean is in the fish. The water that is in the fish's cells is the water too. I move through air, it is in me, in my cells, but I am not the air at the same time. Like the lyric goes, we are all stardust.

 

The personal aspect comes into it when I interact with others in that recognition of my one-ness with others. I come to know Christ through the scripture, through my meditation, and through my interaction. Taking it further, though, from images, I should say that I can identify with the non-self, or Brahman. I think this is the "holiness" that is inherent in everything. It's not even an "it". There isn't any language I can use to describe "it."

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As I see it there can be a movement in experience from an "I-Thou" relationship to one of "Not I, but Christ lives in me". Merton - again..... :D - captures another side of this movement..........

 

 

The innocence and purity of heart which belong to paradise are a complete emptiness of self in which all is the work of God, the free and unpredictable expression of His love, the work of grace. In the purity of original innocence, all is done in us but without us, in nobis et sine nobis. But before we reach that level, we must also learn to work on the other level of 'knowledge' - scientia - where grace works in us but 'not without us' - in nobis sed non sine nobis."

 

(From a dialogue between Merton and D T Suzuki, "Wisdom in Emptiness" from the book of essays "Zen and the Birds of Appetite")

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I’d like to follow up a bit on that statement by Merton. I’ve always enjoyed reading Thomas Merton. I think I’ve read most of his books, including the one you reference here, Tariki.

 

My issue is with the Christian understanding of “self”. I don’t think it is well defined; actually it is quite vague. Within Christianity, I have read quite a few authors (Merton included) who claim that we must “empty the self”. Without a solid understanding of self to begin with, I don’t think any Christian can make that claim. It sounds virtually meaningless to me.

 

I suppose I am more inclined toward the Buddhist point of view regarding self. In Buddhism, as some of you know, the self is considered lacking in inherent existence. As I understand it, the aspect of our consciousness that we refer to as our “self” is transient and impermanent, and the “I” we refer to in order to distinguish ourselves from others is merely imputed on the basis of the individual’s constituent parts (aggregates, which I won’t go into). The self does not “follow” us after the death of the body. It is mutable and impermanent.

 

It seems to me that in Christianity, the self is conceptually linked to a permanent “soul” capable of surviving the death of the body; an Aristotelian notion. If I’m not mistaken the use of Aristotle’s explanation of the soul was reinvigorated by the Scholastic movement within the Church. Prior to that, Plato was apparently a more popular Greek philosopher. I’m not sure poor Aristotle would have approved, but there you have it.

 

As conscious beings, we become aware very early in life that we are individuals, separate from everything else. I would say this is inherent and necessary for our continued existence. But, there is also the issue of “memory”, and how that impacts our “self-image”. Every experience we have, everything we learn, and every relationship we enter into imprints itself in our minds to create a concept of self, unique from everyone else. These are physiological processes over which we have no control. But, they all leave us with a very real sense of a permanent and enduring self.

 

Assuming my reflections are correct (and they may very well not be correct), it seems to me that any concept we hold of a “self” is merely an accumulation of past knowledge and experience, overlaying an inherent individual identity common to all conscious beings. Our image of self as something substantial then, is flawed. To “empty the self” would mean to lose all memory of conscious experience, which I don’t think Merton meant when he made his statement.

 

So, what exactly is meant by Christians when they say one must “empty the self”? I suppose I am searching for reconciliation between the Christian notion of “losing the self” and the Buddhist notion of the “emptiness of self”. They are two very different ideas, and perhaps no reconciliation is possible.

 

Peace.

Steve

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Hi Steve,

 

As far as Merton is concerned, I tend to like his Journals and Letters rather than his books (with some exceptions) Though his books are never didactic in the extreme sense of the word, nevertheless I love more the more haphazard freedom of the Journals and letters.

 

Which in a way points to my own approach to ideas of the self and any attempt to reconcile one thing with another..........haphazard... :D

 

Having said that, it does seem to me that more often than not Christianity seems to address the redemption of the self. And as I understand it, Buddhism does not so much claim that there is no self to redeem, and certainly not that "it" must be got rid of, but that what is must needs be clarified by "wisdom/insight".

 

I accept that the whole subject is complex, far too much so for my own poor brain at times, which is why I gravitate towards the Pure land tradition where much of this brain searching is left to Amida (or, as a Christian would say, grace)

 

Thanks

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Greetings Steve,

 

I think Christianity speaks , both in Jesus metaphors (of dieing and being born again and in a seed dieing to bring forth the new and of the differences between flesh and spirit) and in Paul's writings of the self as a "nature" a "carnal nature" that in a sense is "enmity against God" or our true nature (spirit). Not that God has any real enemies! That "creature" as Paul speaks must die or be extinguished daily so that God might be all in all (or One Spirit come alive). That self or nature so to speak is difficult to accurately describe in words but to me not so difficult to see within what we consider our "self".

 

To me, the things that are fleshly and temporal, i see ending somewhere in time, whether in this life or the next or the nexr etc. if there is one, who can prove for certain to another? To empty self, i believe in Christianity is to recognize this nature within us all and by recognizing and observing it without judgement, we see it for the illusion (temporal nature) it is. We are then transformed by a renewing of mind that comes from the ever-present observing Spirit within or without, (who can say) not by work but by the grace that may appear to others as work. (But how can it be by work as there is found no self doing the work.)

 

It seems to me we make difficult that which is in essence simple and requires only simple non-judgmental observation to reveal itself. This of course to me involves more of being an observer rather than a follower of thoughts and incessant thinking.

 

Just some thoughts for consideration,

Joseph

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I suspect these notions of “self” will haunt me for some time to come. Now that I’m in my sixties, I would have thought I might have a greater degree of certitude about the nature of things. Just the opposite is true for me. I seem to “know” less and less. But, maybe that’s how “emptying of self” presents to me.

 

Like many others, I must content myself with vague understandings of “grace” and “karma”, using them as temporary “fudge factors”, like some complex mathematical equation that needs a constant to work. They seem to explain many results, but it is impossible to grasp their nature.

 

Peace.

Steve

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I suspect these notions of “self” will haunt me for some time to come. Now that I’m in my sixties, I would have thought I might have a greater degree of certitude about the nature of things. Just the opposite is true for me. I seem to “know” less and less. But, maybe that’s how “emptying of self” presents to me.

Steve

It seems to me you hit the nail on the head. From an intellectual standpoint we cannot really "know" these things. We can think we do but emptiness knows better. Experience isn't the same as word concepts. Both certainty and doubt is of the carnal mind. Without "self" there seems to me to be no need for either.

 

Joseph

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Depending on which tradition you practice there is always the notion of self-knowledge being closely linked to or identical with God, Brahman or whatever it is. I see all these ancient traditions as touching in human psychology and getting to allow your unconscious to become conscious. That discovery of self is not always fun but very helpful once you "discover" it and it frees you to move onto another level of potentiality.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I feel holiness is mis-spelled and should be whole-y-ness. When I waver between the opposite poles of the personal temporary world, as I know it and the non-personal timeless world, I miss the simple most vital aspect of life, its ultimate wholeness. Embracing the earth, sun, wind, rain, plants and animals as one, I experience a greater identity in the mystery of time and space and become a part of the whole. I can call this realization holiness.

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I don't think that holiness is a descriptor one could assign an entity such as the Prime Mover, or Creator. I think, as other have stated in this thread, that to make that claim creates a dualism that does more harm to creation than good.

 

By making G-d holy, it sets up a classification of "things that are holy and things that are not," or "persons who are holy and persons who are unholy." I don't think that helps anyone.

 

NORM

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