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Pondering the Vows

Pondering the Vow of poverty

Those entering religious orders take the vow of poverty.  The virtue of poverty is explained clearly in the Gospel of Luke.  From Luke 12: 22-30:

And he said unto his disciples, Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on.

“Riches, values, are not necessarily money.  We see this as time goes along very often in the brother house or sister house, as we see the amount of things that people accumulate which they don’t need.  Now they may have the necessities of life, because they can’t hardly travel around in their birthday suit.  But they don’t need three suits of clothes, and they don’t need fifteen pair of socks, and they don’t need a lot of other things that they accumulate.  This accumulation shows a distinct set of values on material things and when you have the values on the material things and you have not tried to share what you do not need with others, then you have not fulfilled that vow of poverty…”  Father Paul

 The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment.  Consider the ravens; for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them:  how much more are ye better than the fowls?  And which of you with taking thought can add to his stature one cubit?  If ye then be not able to do that thing which is least, why take ye thought for the rest?”

“Poverty, like all other vows, are not just related to the physical world.  The Master said and spoke about those “poor in spirit.”  We talk about poverty as a matter of a dollar that we have, or a dollar that we give to the church or the Order in which we belong.  Now you can have no dollars at all and still not have poverty.  Poverty is the capacity to know that you have nothing; to be conscious that nothing belongs to you totally; and that all things in the world, God’s world, He created and that they are purely here for your use, and that you are conscious that none of these things can be taken across with you…”Father Paul

“Consider the lilies how they grow:  they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

If then God so clothe the grass, which is to day in the field, and tomorrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith?

And seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind.

For all these things do the nations of the world seek after:  and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things.

But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you.”

“How can people make good use of their riches and spend them generously if they don’t even realize that they are rich?  In my opinion, it is impossible , given human nature, for anyone to have the courage to do great things if he is unaware that he is favored by God.  We are pathetically attached to worldly things.  Unless we realize that we already have divine things in our possession, how can we succeed in detaching ourselves and walking away from the attractions of the world?  By pledging heavenly gifts to us, the Beloved replenishes the strength we ourselves have drained through our transgressions.”  Teresa of Avila

The voice that beautifies the soil!

The voice on earth, the voice of the grasshopper, Among the flowers and grasses

Again and again it is heard,

The voice that beautifies the soil!   -Navaho chant

 Grandfather, Great Spirit, you have always been, and before you nothing has been.  There is no one to pray to but you.  The star nations all over the heavens are yours and yours are the grasses of the earth.  You are older than all need, older than all pain and prayer.

Grandfather, Great Spirit, all over the world the faces of the living ones are alike.  With tenderness they have come up out of the ground.  Look upon your children, with children in their arms, that they may face the winds and walk the good road to the day of quiet.

Grandfather, Great Spirit, fill us with the light.  Give us the strength to understand and the eyes to see.  Teach us to walk the soft earth as relatives to all that live.

Help us, for without you we are nothing.

-Black Elk, Lakota


Pondering the Vow of Purity

“No man, when he hath lighted a candle, putteth it in a secret place, either under a bushel, but on a candlestick, that they which come in may see the light.

The Light of the body is the eye:  therefore when thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light; but when thine eye is evil, thy body also is full of darkness.

Take heed therefore that the light which is in thee be not darkness.

If thy whole body therefore be full of light, having no part dark, the whole shall be full of light, as when the bright shining of a candle doth give thee light.” –Luke 11:33-36

“People don’t realize what the vow of purity really is.  Purity is a case of getting your mind stripped down of all the cockeyed ideas that you have and your mind slowed down to where you hardly think at all.  And then you can get to the place where you can begin to understand Jesus, because then you can listen to him and feel his presence.  And then you can really begin to understand what love is, because you will know what it is.

Purity here does not mean being celibate, purity is not being a loner, and it is not being “holier-than-thou.”  Purity is giving to the other person the unadulterated, unopinionated reality of what Jesus Christ told us and gave to us.  Now, no church, no organization, no matter who they are, that has changed one dot of Jesus’ teaching has any purity.  They can’t, because when you change Jesus’ teaching or the laws of creation it won’t work.  You cannot exemplify this facet of reality when you put your opinion in, because when you put your opinion in, it then becomes yours, not Jesus’ teaching.  And when it is yours, it is no longer the Master’s, and it is no longer the unadulterated truth.  It is not pure.”             -Father Paul

“What is our experience when we start to dismantle the false self and refuse to act out of our emotional programs?  God seems to come closer.  Since God is always preset, it might be better to say he turns up the voltage in our interior world.  A room that is well appointed and cleaned every day looks pretty clean.  We are happy to sit in it.  If, however, fifty ten-thousand-watt bulbs are turned on and the floor is put under a magnifying glass, the whole room would be crawling with little creatures.  We would leave as fast as possible.

God responds to our generosity as if saying, ‘This person is serious about the spiritual journey.  Let’s go to work and clean out the junk’ God turns up the voltage and, as a consequence, our inner world begins to crawl, so to speak; the damage that our emotional programs for happiness are doing to us and to our relationships becomes apparent.  From this perspective our good deeds look like piles of dirty dishrags…”                                      Thomas Keating in Invitation to Love

  “Just as, brethren, a dark blue lotus or a white lotus, born in the water, comes to full growth in the water, rises to the surface and stands unspotted by the water, even so, brethren, the Buddha, having come to full growth in the world, passing beyond the world, abides unspotted by the world.”                                     – Gautama Buddha

  “Life of my life, I shall ever try to keep my body pure, knowing that thy living touch is upon my limbs .I shall ever try to keep all untruths out from my thoughts, knowing that you art that truth which has kindled the light of reason in my mind.

I shall ever try to drive all evils away from my heart and keep my love in flower, knowing that thou hast thy seat in the inmost shrine of my heart.

And it shall be my endeavour to reveal thee in my actions, knowing it is thy power gives me strength to act”.                        -Tagore

Pondering the Vow of Humility

 “But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.  And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.”  Matthew 23:  11-12

“When thou art bidden of any man to a wedding, sit not down in the highest room; lest a more honourable man than thou be bidden of him; And he that bade thee and him come and say to thee, Give this man place; and thou begin with shame to take the lowest room.  But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher; then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee.  For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”  Luke 14:  8-11

[Humility] “is to give completely over of yourself to the service, to the chastity of our Lord’s way and life, and to really recognize and declare our imperfection of the ability to do it, you see.  To have no personal desire except one thing:  as it used to be declared at one time in the lower orders; and that was to return with the Son of the Father.  It still is in some of the Eastern Orders; and this is still held with them in many ways.”                                      Father Paul

“The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof:  but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed.

            Matthew 8:8

“[Prayer] should be something that is heartfelt and within the individual himself.  This is something that he should say and he should really mean.  But if I was to use something which was already, as a criteria; what should I say?  “O Father, I am unworthy.”  And it’s probably one of the oldest prayers in the written book.  It is what is called the prayer of true humility.”                                      –Father Paul

Most of the world’s religions serve only to strengthen attachments to false concepts such as self and other, life and death, heaven and earth, and so on.  Those who become entangled in these false ideas are prevented from perceiving the Integral Oneness.

The highest virtue one can exercise is to accept the responsibility of discovering and transmitting the whole truth.

Some help others in order to receive blessings and admiration.  This is simply meaningless.  Some cultivate themselves in part to serve others, in part to serve their own pride.  They will understand, at best, half of the truth.  But those who improve themselves for the sake of the world—to these, the whole truth of the universe will be revealed.

So seek this whole truth, practice it in your daily life, and humbly share it with others.

You will enter the realm of the divine.  Lao Tsu

Whoever humbles himself like this child is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”  Now humility, of course, is necessary to some degree in order to have obedience.  I’ve said, “You be obedient and I will take you there.”  Because I know that if they are obedient, they have some degree of humility; there has to be.  When you have that degree of humility, it is possible for it to grow, unless you stop it.  And of course, you stop it when you try to figure it out.

If we are to hear the instruction of the Self, or our guardian angel—and we seek to have soul purity as the first attribute—we should keep the thing which is most essential and the key to all development, and that is humility.  Humility is not punitiveness, it is not hang-dog, it is not the person who allows other people to step on him:  this is not humility at all.  For in humility there is power, and all of the great teachers, the great ones, have learned this lesson, getting themselves out of the way.  Because it is in their humility that they have the authority and the power to do things.  –Father Paul

“The essence of serving God and all of all the mitsvot [תרי”ג מצוות‎], or Commandments, is to attain the state of humility, that is, to understand that all your physical and mental powers and your essential being depend on the divine elements within.  You are simply a channel for the divine attributes.  You attain this humility through the awe of God’s vastness, through realizing that ‘there is no place empty of it.’  Then you come to the state of Ayin, the state of humility.  You have no independent self and are contained in the Creator.  This is the meaning of the verse:  “Moses hid his face, for he was in awe.”  Through his experience of awe, Moses attained the hiding of his face, that is, he perceived no independent self.  Everything was part of divinity.

-from the Kabbalah (Jewish mystical writings)


Pondering the Vow of Obedience

 “I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them.  That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against his house but could not shake it, because it had been well built.  But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation.  When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house.                                   Luke: 6:  47-49

Sixty more gave up the training and returned to the lower life, saying:  “hard is the task of the Exalted One!”

Buddha  Anguttara Nikaya 7.68

There is only one way of approaching the spiritual path, unless you’ve already there, and that is through obedience…You take a vow of poverty: for instance, Jesus said to the rich young man, “Go sell all thou hast and follow me.”  “Follow me” is the command, as well as the first act of getting himself into a place where he had the poverty, in order to do it.  The poverty was a result of the obedience.

Humility is only learned and can only be taught through exposing the student to power and authority because without power and authority he cannot learn obedience…or humility.  He cannot do what the law or the rules say, no matter what organization he’s in, and hold to them without obedience.  But by so doing he gains humility.  Because in doing so, he is bowing to the fact that he is not the all-authority.  And without certain power he cannot learn humility.  Without certain authority, he cannot learn to release the authority only when it is necessary for him to use this for his office

To be chaste, it is necessary to be humble; it is necessary for you to have poverty; it is necessary for you to be obedient to these things, in order to be chaste—the chastity of mind.  Because the mind must obey in order to have that chastity, and that conformity through that vow which you have taken.  And the foundation of all these are obedience.

But that isn’t what we’re looking for.  The law without the Spirit, the letter of the law without the Spirit, is totally devoid of the reality of Creation and our Lord Jesus.  Laws and rules of this type are made for neophytes, because they have had no chance to do anything else, or learn anything else.  Now I know they stand on the books, and they are a guide to us, but what we seek is authority by divine right.  And that’s a lot different…


Q:  Obedience, I think, means serving God rather than trying to please man.

A:  That’s true.  You can’t serve God and mammon too, as far as that’s concerned.

Q:  How does that work with the vow of obedience?

A:  Obedience is not a matter of doing what someone says.  It is doing what is right, even though they are not able to see all the ramifications of it.  Obedience is obedience to the laws of creation, in reality, because no obedience should be inflicted on a person which is not in some way traceable back to the basic laws of creation.                –Father Paul


This is my prayer to thee, my lord—strike, strike at the root of penury in my heart.

Give me the strength lightly to bear my joys and sorrows.

Give me the strength to make my love fruitful in service.

Give me the strength never to disown the poor or bend my knees before insolent might.

Give me the strength to raise my mind high above daily trifles.

And give me the strength to surrender my strength to thy will with love.                         

 Rabindranath Tagore


 “To hold a thing with the intellect is not to believe it.  A man’s real belief is that which he lives by. What a man believes is the thing he does…

Supposing your theories right and containing all that is to be believed, yet those theories are not what makes you Christians, if Christians indeed you are.  On the contrary, they are, with not a few of you, just what keeps you from being Christians.  For when you say that, to be saved a man must hold this or that, then you are leaving the living God and His will, and putting trust in some notion abut Him or His will.

While the mind is occupied in inquiring, “Do I believe or feel this thing right?”  The true question is forgotten:  “Have I left all to follow Him?”

from Creation in Christ by George MacDonald.


Pondering the Vow of Service

And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?  Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will shew you to whom he is lie:  He is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock:  and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it:  for it was founded upon a rock.”   Luke 6:46-48


”So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants:  we have done that which was our duty to do.”  Luke 17:10


Jesus said:  Blessed is one who has labored and has found life.  Gospel of Thomas: 58


Jesus said:  The harvest is great; but there are only a few workers.  Ask the master to send more workers for the harvest. He said:  Master, there are many around the drinking barrel, but there is nobody in the well.

Gospel of Thomas: 73,74


“Those who wish to know the whole truth take joy in doing the work and service that comes to them.  Having completed it, they take joy in cleansing and feeding themselves.  Having cared for others and themselves, they then turn to the Masters for instruction.”

Lao Tzu


“There is the service on the earth of the material things and the needs of His people and their children.  This is a service, a distinct form of service.  The mundane things which we do for people.  Then there is the spiritual service on the earth, which is the performance of the sacraments, the holding of services, and teaching and so forth; of the work.  The conduct of bringing the Word of God to man.  This is a service…Then there is a spiritual service which is strictly a heavenly service, and this is the truly altruistic service.  The thing that nobody knows about.  This is where you reap, of course, your greatest yield of the fruits of the Spirit.  This is where you at night, in the quiet of your own chamber, pray for your neighbors which you know not.  Give peace to the man who is in tumult.  Heal him who knows not of Jesus.  The bringing of harmony and helping to improve the community which you live in, that knows you not…”

Father Paul

“Consciously or unconsciously, every one of us does render some service or other. If we cultivate the habit of doing this service deliberately, our desire for service will steadily grow stronger, and will make, not only our own happiness, but that of the world at large.”            Mahatma Gandhi


“Teach this triple truth to all: A generous heart, kind speech, and a life of service and compassion are the things which renew humanity.”

“Your work is to discover your work and then with all your heart to give yourself to it.”                                        Buddha


Once the Rabbi Rashab instructed his son the Previous Rabbi to travel to a particular place to help a particular mystic and businessman. When the Previous Rabbi returned he told his father, “I have done everything you told me. I did the favor in the best manner possible.” The Rabbi Rashab replied, “You are making a mistake. The favor you have done is a favor for yourself, not for the other. The A-lmighty has done the favor for the other; he arranged emissaries to fulfill the divine providence. The favor you have done is for yourself as it says in the Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 34:10), “More than the house owner does for the poor man, the poor man does for the house owner.”                           (Igros Kodesh of the Previous Rebbe, Vol. 4, p. 46)