Heart of the Message - A Journal of Trans-Ethnic Spirituality - click to return to main page
return to library


By Prajapati O'Neill, Dean of the Universal Worship

So many have spoken so deeply and eloquently about the tragedy of September 11, 2001 it prompts me to wonder if more needs to be said. Perhaps
 the deep, rooted, embracing silence of prayer and compassion is most appropriate. What more can I add?

What comes from my own depth is to encourage each of us to feel fully what is in our hearts: shock, grief, disbelief, numbness, anxiety, anger, sadness, fear, consternation, determination, hope. What is remarkable about the
current events is the widely shared sense that we are truly all in this together, this event is a wake-up call to every human being that cannot be ignored. At the same time, each of us is also experiencing this in our own way and this is totally necessary and appropriate. We can listen to the many wise and clear voices around us, take in the guidance and teachings available, attune to what is happening on all levels, and then find our own way to go forward. Each of us is a spiritually sovereign and morally responsible being and we must answer ultimately to our own inner call and guidance.

We have all been deeply moved by the chorus of voices of the leaders and
 adherents of every faith community speaking out as one speaking out against hatred and violence, speaking out for healing and love. This outpouring of care and compassion in every language and every form shows conclusively that there is truly one religion, the religion of the heart, the religion of the common ground of human experience that unites us deeper than all of the distinctions and differences that divide us. 

Clearly, if the spirit of this Message which is the spirit of the Universal Worship, the Church of All and of All Churches were universally recognized, events like this could not happen, nor could many of the events that lie behind them as "causes." And yet we humans go on in this insane cycle of violence, hatred, and fear. The world is an excruciatingly complex place; simple and certain answers (which are what fundamentalists seek above all else) rarely match the reality of life.  On one hand we all know how to respond with compassion for the victims, true justice for those who act in this manner, determination to work for the forces of tolerance and light. On the other hand, it seems to me part of the experience also is to be overwhelmed, bewildered, and conflicted. This puts us in that precarious place of holding the darkness in one hand and the light in the other, of saying "no" to one and "yes" to the other, and finally "yes" to both the "no" and "yes;" and, ultimately, "yes" to life.

and an earlier message...

      I find myself still deep in the shock and grief of the events of September 11.  Living so close to NYC it is an especially powerful presence. Even as life begins to return to "normal" I realize somehow things will never be the same.  I also realize that we are experiencing the kind of tragedy and destruction that millions around the world have had to live with throughout human history.  Finally I realize that the perpetrators of these actions were motivated not just by hatred and evil but must have had a deep conviction that what they were doing was right and good.  This is perhaps the most shocking realization of all -- how much evil is done in the world in the name of good, in the name of God, in the name of making the world a better place.  How should we grasp this?  That is one of the deepest koans of the inner path. 

      I would like to share a poem that expresses my realization about this whole experience.  I have posted it to several other lists and received encouragement to share it with a wider circle, so it goes out to all of you from my heart, with love and tears. 

      Peace, peace, peace, 

      Prajapati O'Neill 


"One who recognizes all men as members of his own body 
Is a sound man to guard them."  (Tao Te Ching) 

So caught by my own reflection 
I rarely look into the mirror carefully enough, 
I neglect the face beyond my face. 
But for a moment this morning, 
as if seeing from outer space: 

We have always been only one life, you know, 
when seen from the proper distance. 

Programmed for animal survival we forget 
what our fragile life cannot withstand: 
the unceasing surge of history's tragic current 
through overloaded nerves and eroding flesh. 
How can I contain the screams that color our nights, 
the bullets and disease, the resignation and black despair? 

Butcher and victim reside in every house, 
in the room right next door; 
we try to make our own safe, 
we bar the door, paint it white, slumber through alarms. 
We find refuge in numbing sleep, 
and yet in the night, 
in quiet times when survival seems assured, 
in dreams and stories, 
memory sometimes shakes the body awake to witness: 

In Hiroshima bodies vaporized by atomic light 
left their shadows behind. 
At Auschwitz, rooms overflow with suitcases, shoes, toothbrushes, 
photographs of unwilling ghosts row after row, 
and, worst, human hair for mattresses; 
In Cambodia skulls litter the ground like bleached pearls: 
a harvest, a quota, the price of an idea, 
mass produced on command. 
Somewhere in Africa a leathery child 
sucks instinctively on a breast long dry, 
without hope enough even to cry out. 

Of course there is always natural loss, the payment to inevitable time, 
ripe lives that have given life 
ready to fall to earth, to compost the future  
these inspire natural tears of mourning, then peace; 
but what tears fall for the untimely taken: children, young men in love, 
women awaiting birth? 
and what peace? 

Seen from afar this morning 
our one human body must hate itself: 
its slow suicide is monstrous but consistent, 
year after year ripping cells from its flesh, 
imagining it will shine more perfectly after every loss. 
I cannot look, nor look away, 
I am dying from the same vision that will save me.