The Cloud of Unknowing

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After reading The Cloud of Unknowing, a 14th century English spiritual work, my life changed forever, eventually slipping away to a quite peace.

There were many "steps" and "missteps" along the way, but it started there, with "The Cloud".

The Cloud of Unknowing was written, it is believed, by an English Priest or Monk from the East Midlands, during the 14th century. Shortly after reading this small book, in the amazing wonder of the Living Absolute, after dedicating my life to the search for God, I was called to service work at Lincoln Cathedral, in the English East Midlands.

Completely unaware of the "Cloud's" origins, my partner and I began our Religious Community there.

The Cloud of Unknowing is a surprise to many who stumble upon it, as I did in the late 1970's. Not being raised Catholic, I had never heard of this book before, or had any contact with Christian Mysticism. It was a revelation to me. Not just the content, but the discovery that Western culture had produced, in one of the most "backward" times in history, a book of such profound understanding of the mystical.

Our simple Priest or Monk recommends putting knowledge behind "a cloud of unknowing", and waiting with great Love on the grace of God. He recommends , both playfully and in great earnest, to be "coy" with God, not letting him know of our "hidden" desire:

"So beware of behaving wildly like some animal, and learn to love God with quite, eager joy, at rest in body and soul. Remember your manners, and wait humbly upon our Lord's will. Do not snatch at it like some famished dog, however much you hunger for it. If I may use a funny example, I would suggest you do all you can to check your great and ungoverned spiritual urge; as though you were altogether unwilling that he should know how very glad you would be to see him, to have him, to feel him." - The Cloud of Unknowing, Chapter 46

Just as "new-age gurus" teach of release from sorrow at satsang, our little Contemplative writes of acceptance of sorrow as a way of not only releasing sorrow, but of escaping the "I AM":

"Every one has something to sorrow over, but none more than he who knows and feels that he IS. All other sorrow in comparison with this is a travesty of the real thing. For he experiences true sorrow, who knows and feels not only what he is, but THAT he is. Let him who has never felt this sorrow be sorry indeed, for he does not yet know what perfect sorrow is. Such sorrow, when we have it, cleanses the soul not only of sin (ignorance,), but also of the suffering it's sin(ignorance) has produced. (my italics) And it makes the soul ready to receive that joy which is such that it takes from man all awareness of his own existence." - The Cloud of Unknowing, Chapter 44

In one of life's little paradoxes, it took Nisargadatta Maharaj to burn into my heart and soul the Truth that was present in The Cloud of Unknowing. It is often some contact with the "exotic", or at least different, to shake us out of our learned responses to stimulation. Ramana, Nisargadatta, Advaita itself gave new life and images to things just waiting to be discovered. This is why so many Westerners, particularly Christians, find new hope in Eastern belief systems, as they "break" the images of crucifixion, resurrection, and other ideas that have lost all real meaning to most Christians. Without an understanding of the spiritual element behind these appearances, these are just meaningless, and bizarre beliefs. While Hinduism has it's share of the bizarre, Westerners often bypass these features to concentrate on the "heart" of what they conceive of as the "essence". Hinduism and Christianity are full of rituals that appear meaningless, not just to outsiders, but often to the ones practicing them. Westerners often "see" the meaning behind the "foreign" religions because they are not caught up in the "bizarreness" of the ritual, as it has no learned, emotional meaning. The learned, emotional meaning behind many of the Christian Church's rituals is only the external performance, and the spiritual meaning is often lost.

The Cloud of Unknowing lets us know that the Church has for a long time had a mystical side, and that Christ's message was about so much more than virgin births, crucifixion and resurrection. Christ taught Advaita, and The Cloud of Unknowing presents as clear a picture of both Truth and the path to it, as is presented in any text:

"So crush all knowledge and experience of all forms of created things, and of yourself above all. For it is on your own self-knowledge and experience that the knowledge and experience of everything else depend. Alongside this self-regard everything else is quickly forgotten. For if you will take the trouble to test it, you will find that when all other things and activities have been forgotten (even your own) there still remains between you and God the stark awareness of your own existence. And this awareness, too, must go, before you experience contemplation in it's perfection."
- The Cloud of Unknowing, Chapter 43

As I said above, it took Nisargadatta Maharaj entering the dream to ultimately "get it". His words were pure Truth to me. Pure Love flowed from every word. Maharaj taught me the importance of the "I AM", and the need to abide there while "waiting for transportation" beyond mind. But when the "transportation" came, it came in the formlessness of the "Cloud".

The Cloud of Unknowing, with it's emphasis on Love and devotion, prepares the "soul", seeker, for the openness required for being absorbed into the Truth. All must be removed, even the "I AM". This requires selfless, impersonal Love to step beyond the "I AM".

Be That, and except the invitation!

Peace, Namaste