Love the hell out of this world — "Make someone happy, make just one, someone happy"

An old but still highly relevant Universalist hope
Readings: Mark 12:28-34


Fa Tsang and the Hall of Mirrors

In Frederick Franck's book of translations of the poet and mystic Angelus Silesius, he tells the story of how the Empress Wu decided to ask one of the founders of the Hwa Yen or Kegon School, Fa Tsang (632-712 CE) if he could possibly give her a practical and simple demonstration of the cosmic interrelatedness, of the relationship of the One and the Many, of God and his creatures, and of the creatures one to another.

Fa Tsang went to work and appointed one of the palace rooms so that eight large mirrors stood at the eight points of the compass. Then he placed two more mirrors, one on the ceiling and one on the floor. A candle was suspended from the ceiling in the centre of the room, when the Empress entered, Fa Tsang lit the candle. The Empress cried: “How marvellous! How beautiful!”
  Fa Tsang pointed at the reflection of the flame in each one of the ten mirrors and said: “See, Your Majesty: this demonstrates the relationship of the One and the Many, of God to each one of his Creatures.”
  The Empress said: “Yes indeed, Master! And what is the relationship of each creature to the others?”
  Fa Tsang answered: “Just watch, Your Majesty, how each mirror not only reflects the one flame in the centre. Each mirror also reflects the reflections of the flame in all the other mirrors, until an infinite number of flames fills them all. All these reflections are mutually identical; in a sense they are interchangeable, in another sense each one exists individually. This shows the true relationship of each being to its neighbour, to all that is! . . . Of course I must point out, Your Majesty,” Fa Tsang went on, “that this is only a rough approximate, and static parable of the real state of affairs in the universe. For the universe is limitless and in it all is in perpetual, multidimensional motion.”
  Then the Master covered one of the infinite numbers of reflections of the flame and showed what we are now, perhaps too late, to realise in ecology—how each apparently insignificant interference affects the whole organism of our world.
  [. . .]
Then Fa Tsang, in order to conclude his command performance, held up a small crystal ball and said: “Now watch, Your Majesty, how all these large mirrors and all the myriad forms they reflect are mirrored in this little sphere. See, how in the Ultimate Reality the infinitely small contains the infinitely large, and the infinitely large the infinitely small, without obstruction! Oh, if only I could demonstrate to you the unimpeded mutual interpenetration of Time and Eternity, of past, present and future! But alas, this is a dynamic process that must be grasped on a different level . . .” (The Book of Angelus Silesius, Bear & Company, Santa Fe, 1985, pp. 36-37)


What I Have Learned So Far by Mary Oliver

Meditation is old and honorable, so why should I
not sit, every morning of my life, on the hillside,
looking into the shining world? Because, properly
attended to, delight, as well as havoc, is suggestion.
Can one be passionate about the just, the
ideal, the sublime, and the holy, and yet commit
to no labor in its cause? I don’t think so.

All summations have a beginning, all effect has a
story, all kindness begins with the sown seed.
Thought buds toward radiance. The gospel of
light is the crossroads of — indolence, or action.

Be ignited, or be gone.

(New and Selected Poems. Vol. 2 p. 57)


Make Someone Happy
Music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green,

Make someone happy
Make just one, someone happy
Make just one heart, the heart you sing to

One smile that cheers you
One face that lights when it nears you
One man (girl) you’re everything to

Fame, if you win it
Comes and goes in a minute
Where’s the real stuff in life to cling to?

Love is the answer
Someone to love is the answer
Once you’ve found him (her)
Build your world around him (her)
And make someone happy
Make just one, someone happy
And you will be happy too


Jesus memorably taught that the greatest commandment was that there is One God and that we should love God with all our soul, mind and strength and our neighbour as ourselves.

Though this is a very familiar and, apparently, very simple teaching there have been and still are, in fact, many ways to interpret it, each one of which may, or may not, be close to what Jesus was actually trying communicate to us.

Of course, we now have no way of truly knowing what Jesus fully meant by uttering them but, in any case, in our own circles his proclamation of the oneness of God was taken to mean that the Trinitarian idea that Jesus and the Holy Spirit were also God was, to put it as gently as possible, not at all echt, not pukka, just not quite right.

In the sixteenth-cetury, when this Unitarian claim was just beginning to take hold within certain influential sections of European culture, it was still (for all its heretical qualities) understood to be taking the standard, theistic line that God was a supernatural supreme being above, beyond and distinct from the natural world. But, there was always in play amongst us a mystical strand that strongly felt this dualistic world view (whether proclaimed by Unitarians, Trinitarians or other orthodox monotheists) was, again to put it as gently as possible, not at all echt, not pukka, just not right.

These mystics, if they may be called this, generally held that either everything was God (pan-theism) or that everything was in God (pan-en-theism). This had a massive impact on how they began to understand the second part of Jesus’ commandment concerning the need to love our neighbour as ourselves because, if God was the world, or even if everything was in God, then God was always our neigbour and our neighbour was always God or in God as we, too, were always God or in God. This understanding of reality has never gone-away and in fact, if anything, it has in us only deepened and strengthened.

As some of you will know, a couple of days ago on Christmas Day, through the image of a manger that is both always full and always empty, I myself tried to gesture towards some underlying, all-encompassing non-dual reality that allows the full and the empty, being and not being always-already to be arising together and which allows the divine and the sacred to be seen and experienced not just in the “Christ-child” of Christmas Day but everywhere and in everything.

But I’m not so naive as to think that this will easily, or wholly, be understood and embraced by everyone because there has always been a strong resistance to this kind of non-dualistic insight in Western European culture.

Despite this, drawing on some words that Robert B. Burch used to use to introduce his lectures on mysticism, Robert E. Carter reminds us that there exist for our culture three types of experience:

“. . . empirical, rational, and mystical. An example of an empirical experience would be the seeing of a house. An example of a rational experience would be recognizing the truth of the Pythagorean theorem in geometry. An example of a mystical experience is the realisation of the oneness of all things. This may be stated differently in various traditions, such as union with God or with the absolute, but the experience of the oneness of all things remains the simple core of mysticism. 
One who cannot see a house is blind. One who cannot grasp the truth of the Pythagorean theorem is mathematically challenged. One who does not experience the fundamental oneness of all things, is normal” (The Kyoto School: An Introduction, SUNY Presss, 2013, p. 54).

As Carter notes this account suggests "that mystical experience is available only to those who, in some way, move beyond normal everyday experience, even though the experience is potentially open to all. However, the vast majority remain unaware even of the possibility” (ibid. p. 54).

So, how are we to become aware of this possibility, to move beyond normal everyday experience? Well, one thing is for sure, we have no choice but to start with normal everyday experience and individual things. We have to find ways to let the things of the world speak to us, firstly, about how intimately intertwined with each other they are and then, secondly, to trust that this is capable of suddenly igniting the flame of enlightenment so that we can see that there is no separation between things and that "emptiness is form form is emptiness."

I started today with the twelve every-day objects you heard about in Frederick Franck’s retelling of the the story, “Fa Tsang and the Hall of Mirrors”, namely the room filled with ten mirrors, one candle and a crystal ball.

Fa Tsang’s genius is found here in his ability to take these otherwise everyday objects and yet, with all their differences, allow them to speak about and startlingly show the fundamental oneness of all things.

I do not know whether you experienced something of this on hearing the story this morning but, just supposing you did suddenly catch a glimpse of this possibility and felt the need to exclaim, as did the Empress Wu, “How marvellous! How beautiful!”, there will nearly always quickly follow the question, “OK, but now what? What, on earth, are we supposed to do with this realisation of non-duality?” We experience the truth expressed by the American Unitarian minister, Frederick Lucian Hosmer (1840–1929) in his hymn we sung this morning, “Not always on the mount may we/rapt in the heav’nly vision be.”

The truth is that we are always going to come back from any  such realisation of the fundamental oneness of all things to the everyday world of individual, differentiated things and that can be difficult and painful. Again, there is a Zen story which amusingly illustrates just how difficult and painful this can and, perhaps at first, must always be.

It concerns a Zen master who asks a novice monk to tell him about the his understanding of the Heart Sutra — a sutra which famously tries to gesture towards and even speak of this oneness. The novice replies that he has, for example, understood that there are no eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body or mind and that there are no forms, sounds, smells, tastes, feelings, or objects of mind. When he had finished talking the Zen master asked him whether he believed what the sutra said? The novice replied that, yes, he truly did believe it. The Zen master beckoned the novice monk to come closer to him and, suddenly and without warning, he grabbed hold of the novice’s nose and twisted it very hard. The novice yelled out in pain and protested loudly. The Zen master looked at the novice and said, “Just a moment ago you told me that your nose doesn’t exist. But if it doesn’t exist then what’s hurting?”

As the master reveals it’s important to be clear that any experience of the fundamental oneness of all things will not get rid of individual things but rather, instead, allows us to see and begin properly to live by the insight of the fundamental oneness of all things.

No. 3—Perceiving the Bull 
In the light of our vision (even if we have had only the merest and fleeting glimpse of it [like the ox disappearing in the third of the ox-herding pictures]), we cannot now but sense the world in a completely new way and be irresistibly drawn into exploring this ever more deeply. More than that, we can no longer behave towards the separate, individual things (whether inanimate or animate) of the world in the way we used to because we have glimpsed that, somehow, they are also us and we are also them. Each of our acts towards each individual thing are going to be reflected in everything else just as Fa Tsang’s candle was reflected in every mirror and every reflection in every mirror was also reflected in every other mirror and reflection of the mirror.

Again, I realise that all this will not easily be understood or embraced by everyone because it can sound all impossibly esoteric and ungrounded. I might easily be taken as being nothing more than the cliched, spaced-out hippy who sits around all-day meditating upon the oneness of everything doing nothing except, now and then, making the sign of peace and saying to anyone who might be listening, “Chill out, relax man, it’s all one, it’s all one” only to return to a detached, blissed-out state.

But please don’t be seduced by this “normal” view of the matter because, properly understood, the experience of the fundamental oneness of all things is to be helped to re-ground, re-activate, re-animate and re-enable ourselves and to re-enter the world of things with a new sense of wonder, meaning and purpose. I know of no better expression of this than that found in Mary Oliver’s poem “What I Have Learned So Far”:

Meditation is old and honorable, so why should I
not sit, every morning of my life, on the hillside, looking into the shining world? Because, properly
attended to, delight, as well as havoc, is suggestion.
 Can one be passionate about the just, the
 ideal, the sublime, and the holy, and yet commit to no labor in its cause? I don’t think so.

All summations have a beginning, all effect has a
story, all kindness begins with the sown seed.
Thought buds toward radiance. The gospel of
light is the crossroads of — indolence, or action.

Be ignited, or be gone.

Oliver’s shining words bring me, finally, to the song, “Make Someone Happy”. Understood one way, one normal way, it might be taken merely to be just another sentimental love song. But, with all that you’ve heard today in your hearts and minds, might not the ignition of love in our hearts, a love that calls us selflessly to make just one, someone happy, be to light a light that is, like Fa Tsang’s candle, also somehow going to be reflected endlessly in everything else? Might it not be a song we can understand to mean that, when we properly love that one someone, we are also somehow expressing that love to the whole of reality? Is this not also simultaneously to love God and your neighbour who is also the sea and the sky, the moss and the lichen, the unimaginably distant star and planet and the very near lilies of the field and birds of the air?

One of the great hopes of our eighteenth Universalist forebears (and still alive in places today) was that we could somehow love the hell out of our world (click here to read a splendid post by the Unitarian minister, the Rev. Joanna Fontaine Crawford on this subject). There are many days when we feel this to be an impossible task and, God knows, this last year has been one in which I, and I know many of you, have felt this acutely. But, if Fa Tsang is right about the fundamental oneness of all things — and even on my bad days I feel he is — then all is not lost.

The New Year beckons so why don’t I, why don't we all,  try again to find again ways to let go of the despair, of the pain in our hearts (and noses!), and allow ourselves be enlightened by Fa Tsang’s candle. And then in its light, at the very least, try to make just one, someone happy, risking everything on the hope that “Love is the answer” and around that love we can build a better world for all beings, sentient or not.

Go out into the highways and by-ways.
Give the people something of your new vision.
You may possess a small light,
but uncover it, let it shine,
use it in order to bring more light and understanding
to the hearts and minds of men and women.
Give them not hell, but hope and courage;
preach the kindness and
everlasting love of God.

Attributed to John Murray (1741-1815)


Before the address we listened to Barbara Streisand's version of "Make Someone Happy" (see the video at the top of this post). Immediately after the address we listened to an instrumental version by Bill Evans and then, at the end, Jimmy "Schnozzle" Durante's cheering interpretation. I paste them below for your enjoyment.