The Way Home
These pages offer definitions to help visitors to this site understand what we think we are saying. They are not exactly dictionary or encyclopedia definitions, although some of it will be drawn from those sources, but rather explanations of what we mean by certain words.
Here you will find words beginning with the letters M, N, and O. To jump to other pages, please click on the appropriate link above. If you are looking for a particular word, please click on “Words Index” or on the green circle below, where you will find an index of all the words defined in these pages. For a partial list of our sources, go here.
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MANTRA, JAPA, DHIKR & REPETITIVE PRAYER: Mantra (sometimes mantram) is Sanskrit for a word or a phrase given to a seeker by a Teacher or Guru as an indication of initiation to the spiritual process. The word or phrase (sometimes a name of God or a quotation from scripture) is considered sacred, and is to be kept secret. The seeker is instructed to meditate on the word or phrase, repeating it regularly and devotedly, which practice ultimately leads to God Realization. Japa (sometimes japam), also a Sanskrit word, refers to the devotional repetition of any name of God, and specifically to the repetition of a mantra, whether aloud or in silence. In Hinduism, the great mantra – or MAHAMANTRA – is simply “Ram Ram”, invoking the name and presence of Ram. (In the book By His Grace, Babaji is quoted as promising, “Everything is accomplished by taking the name of Ram”.) In Islam, dhikr (sometimes zikr) is Remembrance of God, which may take the form of devotional acts or the repetition of divine names (please see La Ilaha Il-Allah). Similarly, repetitive prayer is a common practice in Christianity, such as, “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” or simply the name “Jesus”, or the Hail Mary. Compare in Judaism the Shema, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” See also “Take But A Little Word” in The Quiet Room. For more, please click here.
MARY MAGDALENE, MARY & MARTHA: This biblical Mary is commonly referred to as the Magdalene after Magdala, the town of her origin. By tradition, she is considered to have been a prostitute, although there is no biblical authority for that conclusion. She was among “some women” who, along with the male twelve, traveled with Jesus; and it was they who financed the ministry, “out of their own means” (Luke 8). She is presumed to have been the woman who “wet his feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them” (Luke 7:38 RSV). Mary Magdalene was clearly a sincere seeker, a devoted and close disciple of the Teacher. She was present at the crucifixion; she helped prepare him for burial; and she was the first to see him after he rose. Among scholars who believe that Jesus was married, Mary Magdalene is considered the most likely to have been his wife. Many biblical scholars believe that Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, are the same person. The Gospels image of Mary of Bethany is of a contemplative, while her sister Martha is presented as an active (See Luke 10:38, John 12:1; see also the reference to bhakti-yoga and karma-yoga here. See the items The Best Part and Jesus by Rembrandt in The Quiet Room, and the Kahlil Gibran selection at Ampers&nd. Also, see “Mother of God”.) There is a website devoted to Mary Magdalene here. Lots has been written about her; here are a few titles. Some scholars suggest that the legend of the Holy Grail, commonly considered to be the cup held aloft by Joseph of Arimathea at the foot of the cross to catch blood flowing from the wounds of Jesus, is actually a reference to a child born to Jesus and Mary Magdalene, that the English words “Holy Grail” are a mis-translation of the French sangraal, which more properly translates “blood royal”, thus a reference to the “royal bloodline” carried by the child. Those interested may wish to read Holy Blood, Holy Grail and/or this article.
MAYA: In Hinduism, maya (a Sanskrit word meaning “deception, illusion, appearance”) is the power to produce, or the power that produces, the illusion that our separative self (“I am me, and you aren’t”), its life (what each of us calls “me” and “my life”), and its world are real. Maya is sometimes perceived as a veil that deludes the Divine Itself. (The Sufi poet Hafiz of Shiraz writes, “There is no veil between the lover and the Beloved; thou art thine own veil”. Likewise Ibn ’Arabi: “His Veil is [only a part of] His oneness; nothing veils other than He.”) Mahamaya is the goddess who personifies this power. Compare the cloud of unknowing. See also samsara.
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MEHER BABA: Born Merwan S. Irani in 1894 in Poona, India, Meher Baba is considered by his followers to have been an avatar. In 1925, he began a period of silence which he observed for forty years, although he continued to write, and to travel extensively. In his own words, “I have come not to teach but to awaken … I have come to sow the seed of love in your hearts so that, in spite of all superficial diversity which your life in illusion must experience and endure, the feeling of oneness, through love, is brought about amongst all the nations, creeds, sects and castes of the world”. An internet search of his name yields many responses, among which are http://www.meherbabainformation.org/ and http://www.meherbaba.co.uk/. See also Meher Spiritual Center. For a few book titles related to Meher Baba, please click here.
MOTHER OF GOD, MOTHER GOD: In virtually every tradition, there appears the Mother Goddess, or God as Mother. This Feminine Principle of the Universe, before Whom and without Whom there is and can be no thing, goes by many names and exhibits various characteristics and tendencies. She is powerful and fierce; She is a protector and a teacher; She is generous, nourishing, and merciful. Whether as Juno, Aphrodite, Maya, Mary (also Maryam), Isis (also known as Myrionymos, Greek for “she of many names”), Kuan-yin (who is sometimes male, sometimes female) or some other, the Mother Goddess is the Omniscient Omnipresent Omnipotent Queen of all we imagine there to be, of Heaven & of Earth & of Hell. For countless seekers treading countless paths over countless centuries, “Mother” is safe harbor. See also Shakti, God’s Gender. In many traditions, “Holy Mother” is a title of respect and adoration given to female Teachers. See also Annapurna. In our opinion, a truly wondrous book about Mary, the woman and the mother of Jesus, and the ever-present, ever-potent place of the Mother in spirituality, is Mary – A Flesh-and-Blood Biography.
MUHAMMAD: Muhammad (sometimes Mohammed, Mahomet) (570? - 632 CE), the founder of Islam, is regarded as the “seal of the prophets”, meaning the last of the line of prophets that begins with Adam and runs through the prophets of the Old and New Testaments, including Abraham, John the Baptist, and Jesus. At about age forty, Muhammad was visited by the angel Gabriel, through whom he received and recited the Qur’an. See also Hadith. Countless books have been written about the Prophet; here are a few titles.
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MYSTICISM: Sometimes called the interior life, mysticism is a way that reaches for immediate (meaning no mediator or other mediating influence) awareness of God, and beyond that, for identity in God (in the words of Catherine of Siena, “My me is God”). Mysticism implies an intense spiritual commitment but recognizes that progress along the path is attained by Grace alone. A mystic’s relationship with God is intimate, constant, and boundary-less, until finally only God remains. Mysticism is at home in all traditions. It is not a religion, a theology, or a philosophy in itself, but a way to traverse any of those. A classic text on the subject is Evelyn Underhill’s Mysticism. See also seeker.
NAGARJUNA: Although details of his life are evidently not known, Nagarjuna (2nd? Century) is one of the great Teachers of Buddhism.
NAMASTE: This is a Hindu expression meaning, in Sanksrit, “(I) bow to thee”. It is delivered while holding the palms together in front of the bosom or heart, or in front of the face, or at the crown of the head, each position having a slightly different spiritual significance. As we see it, namaste provides an opportunity upon meeting anyone or anything to remind ourselves that we and it (whoever or whatever we may be greeting, whether it be a person, animal, plant, event, idea, etc.) are One and the Same One, differently appearing and distinct from us only apparently. Further, as seekers (spiritual students) we take the expression to include this thought: “I thank the Teacher for the Lesson your presence in my life represents, and I look forward to learning it.” The expression of this kind of sentiment upon meeting is common to most (if not all) spiritual traditions. For example, in Islam: “In the name of Allah, peace be upon you” (Arabic: “Bismillah, As-Salamu alaika”); and in Judaism: “Shalom” (peace). See also here.
NAMES OF ALLAH, LA ILAHA IL-ALLAH: In Islam, it is said there are ninety-nine names that belong to Allah or God alone. Among them is Ar-Rashid, sometimes Ar-Rasid, the Righteous Teacher. For the others, see The Most Beautiful Names compiled by Sheikh Tosun Bayrak al-Jerrahi al-Halveti (Threshold & Amana). The Arabic word Allah is composed of two words, Ilah which means “God”, and al which is the article “the”; thus, Allah translates literally to “the God” (that is, the God than which there is no other) and as such it is God’s or Allah’s Primary Name. In Islam it is said, the best way to Remember God is to repeat La ilaha il-Allah, which translates “There is no god but God” (see also here). Here, compare shema. Inshallah (in sha'Allah) is Arabic for a prayer common in many, likely even all, traditions: “if God wills” or “God willing” — in Latin, “deo volente”. See also Prophet, Bismillah, God, and the prayer here. For a list of the names, please click here.
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NEEM KAROLI BABA: (sometimes Neeb Karori Baba) Also known as Maharajji (maharaja or maharajah means “great prince”, and is a term of respect) or simply Baba or Babaji, Neem Karoli Baba is perhaps best known in the West as the guru discovered in India by Ram Dass (Richard Alpert). (We suspect Ram Dass would rewrite that sentence to read, “the Guru by whom he, Ram Dass, was discovered”.) A sweet, simple man, an extraordinary Teacher, Maharajji is one of the few gurus about whom we have never heard a discouraging word. He died in 1973. Maharajji is known by his devotees to be an incarnation of Hanuman. For books about him, try Ram Dass’ Miracle of Love (Dutton), Dada Mukerjee’s By His Grace (Hanuman), of which there is an excerpt at Ampers&nd, and The Divine Reality of Sri Baba Neeb Karoli Ji Maharaj. For a few other titles, click here. Here are websites dedicated to him: Neem Karoli Baba Ashram, Maharajji Dot Com and Neeb Karoli Baba. See also maharaj
FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE: Best known for her enormous contributions to, even perhaps the creation of, modern nursing, Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) was an active, determined, and articulate seeker. Her inspiring and provocative book, “Suggestions for Thought” published only privately and not very successfully during Nightingale’s lifetime, has now been re-issued in a new version wonderfully edited by Michael D. Calabria and Janet A. Macrae (University of Pennsylania Press). For other titles, click here.
SRI NISARGADATTA: A simple, uneducated Teacher, Nisargadatta lived in India from 1897 to 1981 (although he insisted he was never born, and certainly could not die!). He made a living selling cigarettes! Books of his talks offer seekers some of the most incisive, consistent, inspiring, and powerful Teachings in print. A good start is I Am That - Talks with Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj translated by Maurice Frydman (Chetana), from which the quotations on this site are taken (unless otherwise indicated). Please click here to read an item at TZF’s Open Space about the book “I Am That”, and here to read an extended excerpt from the book at TZF’s Ampers&nd. Also at Ampers&nd is an excerpt from a book by a devotee of Nisargatta about the teaching; to read that, please click here. Other book titles are here. To visit a nice website devoted to Nisargadatta which includes onward links, please click here. See also Sri and Maharaj
NOBLE TRUTHS: The Buddha’s Four Noble Truths are: (1) All life is suffering, meaning that as we currently live our lives, suffering is inescapable; (2) Suffering is caused by desire or craving; (3) The way to eliminate suffering is to eliminate desire or craving; and, (4) The way to eliminate desire or craving is to live rightly, meaning follow the Noble Eightfold Path, which means adopting: Right Understanding, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration (Meditation). In concert, these weaken, reduce, and finally eliminate, our desires and their power over us by clarifying, purifying, focusing, and ultimately transcending our minds. Notice that, like so many other truly Realized Teachers, the Buddha here does not offer us an elaborate cosmology, with layers upon layers of deities and planes and other stuff, but rather he prescribes a simple (which is not to say easy) path that, when followed dutifully, joyfully, and with enthusiasm, brings us to a place (our Buddha Nature) from which we See as the One Sees, and where the question of suffering (like every other question) simply does not arise. To read more, please click here.
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OM: OM (sometimes AUM) is a Sanskrit expression for the ineffable, rendering any further discussion of it clearly pointless! Most dictionaries and encyclopedias dissect the word, and then discuss the esoteric relationship and meaning among the resulting parts. Thus, for example, the three sounds (vocalized by the A, U, and M, in the alternative spelling), or the three curves in the written form , are said to reflect the Divine Trinity, as, Brahman-creator Vishnu-preserver Siva-destroyer; or as, Creator (Father) Creation (Son) Creative Energy (Holy Spirit, or Mother); or as, the waking state, the dreaming state, the deep sleep state; and so on. These are usually understood to be followed by an unspoken, unwritten silence, representing the union, inherent indivisibility, or fulfillment of the parts. For a seeker, the important thing is that OM is not a word in the same way that spider is a word, and neither is it a sound in the same way that the noise made by a wine glass dropped to a marble floor is a sound. OM is the sound of the Universe, the seamless entirety, and as such, it is well beyond the range of the biological ear. But the inner or spiritual ear can hear it. Likewise, OM is the Word of God, the Logos (the Greek word for “word”), and as such it does not appear in any library catalog, although you can find it there – or anywhere else you truly look for it. Ultimately, OM is God Itself – the Source, the Process, and the Presence (as in, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, … and the Word became flesh …” John 1 RSV). OM is commonly an element of, sometimes the entirety of, chants or mantras, and it is undeniably beautiful to express, to hear, and to consider. Those encountering it for the first time might think of OM as the sound and the image of themselves and God, sitting side-by-side on a warm blanket beneath an apple tree on a sunny, summer day, singing softly together to one another, in perfect harmony. OM
ORTHODOX, HERESY: From the Greek “ortho”, which means straight or correct and “dox”, meaning belief or opinion, orthodox refers to the approved form of a philosophy, ideology, doctrine, religion, and so on. Belief or opinion that does not conform to orthodoxy is labeled HERESY (from Greek for choice or to choose). For a seeker, the word orthodox raises the question, “Approved by whom?”, and the word heresy, “Am I bound by the disapproval of others?” (Whenever considering that general subject, we are always reminded of Terry Cole Whittaker’s superbly titled book, What You Think of Me is None of My Business.)
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update: December 23, 2016
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