St. John of the Cross

Juan de Yepes y Alvarez, later to be St John of the Crossknow as Juan de la Cruz (John of the Cross) was born to an impoverished, but love-rich couple in the small town of Fontiveros, Spain on June 24, 1542.  Juan became an attendant at a smallpox hospital, whose director, impressed by the boy’s compassion, offered to pay for his religious education.  Juan studied with the Jesuits and then entered the Carmelite order.  He was ordained at twenty-five.

Soon after his ordination, he met with Teresa of Avila, a great mystic who took a liking to the young priest and enlisted him in her attempts to reform the Carmelite order.  They formed the Discalced sect of the Carmelite order.

In 1575, the traditional Carmelites outlawed the Discalced sect and two years later seized Juan.  He was imprisoned and tortured.  His persecution ended in 1578.  However, after the death of Teresa (1582) he was stripped of his offices, which allowed him to return to a contemplative life.

He died on December 14th, 1591 in Spain, was beautified in 1675, canonized in 1726, and named a doctor of the church in 1926.

Given the spiritual and non-party-line nature of his writing, I am surprised he has official church sanction.  However, like any organization there appears to be substantial diversity in beliefs within the Catholic Church.

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CREDITS
This biographical excerpt is based on the front notes of The Dark Night of the Soul, Dover Thrift Edition© 2003 page v.  It has been edited.

Photo from Wikipedia – public domain

Definitions

I was at the Harmony Center on Sunday chatting with people after the celebration.  At one point, in the middle of a conversation regarding my recent degree in Addictions and Substance Use Disorders, I remarked, “Everything is an addiction”.  One of my fellow conversationalists, Gerry, emphatically agreed.

Later, a group of us met for continued socializing at a local eating establishment.  Gerry and I started talking about addiction again.  This time I inquired about his definition of addiction.  I wanted to be sure we were talking about the same thing.  He told me that “addiciton is mistaken identity”.

I argued that this could not be a definition of addiction since it would mean that if I saw him at a distance and mistook him for Edward I would be an addict.  In reflection, I can also discount this defintion by pointing out that many addicts, especially those trying to quit, do not mistake their drug of choice for anything but trouble, yet still the compulsion to use exists.  I suggested he try again.

He made a couple more attempts to provide a definition of addiction that matched his understanding of the term and I shot those down in a similar fashion.  Our ability to reach a mutual understanding of the term was not successful.  Finally, Gerry remarked that back at the Harmony Center when we agreed that everything was addiction we seemed to have an effortless understanding and agreement.

Actually, based on Gerry’s definition of addiction, our supposed agreement was actually a misunderstanding.  I believe he really did mean that everything is addiction, while I was refering to ubiquitousness of addiction.  I’ve observed that most people have something that they turn to compuslively that prevents them from getting something else that they would claim is more important to them.

Despite the fact that I was arguing Gerry’s definition of addiction was invalid, it really is none of my business to tell someone their defintion is wrong.  However, it is really hard to communicate with people that have redefined words.  Since Gerry and I have different definitions of addiction, we cannot possibly talk about addiction since we use the same word to talk about different things.   It would simply be too confusing.

Clear communication begins with a shared understanding of what terms mean.  In the beginning, we sat around and decided what things would be called.  For instance, we decided that the color red would be called red.  Now sometimes you might run into someone that thinks an object you think is orange is actually red.  You could argue your point and perhaps check the wavelength to see if it is red (620-750nm) or orange (590-620nm) or you could simply learn your friend has a different defintion of red.

I used to go to Twelve Step meetings and listen to people go on and on about God.  I was baffled by the things they would say.  Then I started asking them what they meant by “God”.  They told me that God meant “nature” or “love” or “spirit”.  Everyone had a different idea and none of them matched the dictionary.  That is when I learned that “God” was a meaningless word.

This is one of the reasons I try to define the terms I use in this blog.  I want to be able to communicate clearly with whoever is reading.  Many terms in Buddhism have become commonplace, but the accurate definitions can be surprising.  In addition, I do not make up defintions to suit me, I use defintions that I have learned from authorities.

Quietude

Quietude, also known as shamata or samatha (Sanskrit), shi-ne (Tibetan), samatha (Pali), and calm abiding, is defined as:

The single-mindedness that is imbued with the exceptional bliss of practiced ease due to deep, single-pointed meditation on its object.

Shamata is considered the mental platform necessary to achieve insight into reality and the direct experience of emptiness or ultimate reality.  Shamata is characterized by pleasant physical sensations, effortlessness in holding one’s meditational object in awareness, the ability to move fluidly and intentionally between objects and the occurrence of this state as soon as one sits down to meditate.  It is a bright, vivid, and exceptionally calm state and not trance like in anyway.

Meditators progress towards shamata by passing through nine stages starting with complete scatter-mind, moving to the ability to hold the object in awareness at all times, then the disappearance of narrative or discursive thoughts and increasing calm until finally shamata is achieved.