Incredible as it may seem at first, there was a man who is a familiar figure to every reader of this book, whose life and thoughts have shaped the destinies of countless millions, around whom numerous world religious movements have been developed, and who saw and described the universe exactly as we have done, as least as I read him.
To be sure, many might argue with this interpretation of the teachings, but the fact remains that a fresh, objective reading of the material about him leads one almost unavoidably to this somewhat shakening and highly exhilarating conclusion. Shakening because the man is, of course, Jesus of Nazareth, and however much adulthood may assume fearlessness, all of us still live a bit in dread of the Sunday school instructor's scowl and rod; and exhilarating because so much of what was forced down us as youths and often made no sense, and clearly was being ignored by so many around us, finally does make sense. The man to whom so many pay ready lip service and so few any genuine attention; whose story has certainly seemed at best a highly fictionalized or embellished legend and at worst sheer mythology; who as an individual appeared weak, unconvincing, unrealistic, and even ridiculous - a way out for idealists and escapists, but hardly relevant to the rest of us achievers; this man about whom perhaps more has been said and less understand than any other, including it should be noted possibly even in this treatment, can emerge from the dust and cobwebs of our personal attics as nothing short of brilliant.
I said a new reading of the material about this man would bring one to this conclusion, and I urge upon every earnest seeker such an undertaking. For starters, I suggest an edition of the New Testament that is different from, and thus unencumbered by, our Sunday school experience. There are, of course, many on the market today, and for this purpose the best may be the one we have heard least about. The point is to approach the story as if for the first time, and as if we had never before heard anything about it or about the man. Consider it, in this instance, not as the unimpeachable utterings of divinely inspired instruments (all of which it may very well be), but as simply one seeker's guide to other seekers - one man's view of the spiritual struggle and search passed on to those he knew were trailing along behind. Looked at from this point and in this way, the Gospel accounts are unsurpassed in relevance and merit, and the man's teachings can be seen to have been and to be almost unbelievably clear, concise, consistent, sensible, and simple. And right on the mark. Everything they never before seemed to be, and more.
Many traditions teach that if we name a thing, we can come to know it, for a thing's name is its nature. But it is also true about names that once we have attached an understanding of a thing to the name we have given it, we seem to experience considerable difficulty if we ever need or wish to see the thing differently. And sometimes this resistance can become downright insurmountable, even crippling.
A name is a thing's nature, or at least comes to be it, partly because we thoroughly associate the two with each other whether or not it makes good sense or logic to do so. A rose by another name would smell differently, because much of the sweetness and pleasure derived from the odor stems from our association with the word rose, and that has less to do with the plant itself than with our own backgrounds and personalities. Likewise, the pejorative labels we use for other nationalities and racial groups tell us much more about ourselves than about their targets, and to change our view of others, we often must first change the labels we apply to them.
The name Jesus is just such a label. As a word, it has become for many of us fraught with meaning and energy which far exceed its purpose or value as simply a way by which to identify this man from other men. Few of us can utter or read the word without invoking much more than just an image of a first century figure. This phenomenon can be employed to good advantage on our search for truth, but it can also act as a terrible hindrance to progress for those who, because of their formal religious upbringing or other associations with the word, can barely bring themselves to voice the name without discomfort or embarrassment.
For this reason, I propose that we address the man in this inquiry not by his name but in his role as a seeker and a teacher. It is from that perspective that we want to draw from the New Testament at this time, and it follows that we should look at him in that way too. I hasten to note that we do not intend by this device to tamper with the nature of the man himself, but only to effect an emotional defusing for those for whom the name itself may be an obstacle to forward movement.
As I suggested at the outset of this chapter, what may be the most remarkable product of a fresh reading of the New Testament is a conclusion that the man seems to have been saying about reality very nearly exactly what we here have said, if infinitely better than we. And what we are now going to try to do is translate some of his lessons into our language, and, I suspect, be surprised at the fit. For this endeavor, we will look primarily to the first book of the New Testament, but other areas of the Bible are borrowed from, too. And, of course, it must be reemphasized that we are here interested in the man as a seeker and a teacher, and it is primarily in those roles that we will be looking at him. Whatever else he may have been, our major focus will rest there.
Additionally, we must remember too that if he saw the universe as I am suggesting he did (as we here have begun to do), then whenever he taught, his eye would have been on the Truth as it is, on the ”other” side of the prism we spoke of, even though his audience saw him and themselves as very much on “this” side, as part of and a product of the refraction. That is, if we are at least conceptually correct in what we said about the prism effect, we must assume that this New Testament teacher saw it too, if in different terms, and he would have intended his words to reflect and express that vision, Thus, even though he appeared to his listeners, and is presented to us by many Biblical writers as a separate, distinct individual just as we think of ourselves (and they thought of themselves), his point always would have been, and certainly seems to have been, that he was not what he seemed and neither are we.
The fact is that his lessons, if properly understood and followed, will improve our lot in this world (on this side of the prism), but it is quite clear that his aspirations for us went far beyond that accomplishment. Yes, he hoped to show us the way to better, more fulfilling lives, but beyond that he wanted us to see why and how his teachings about Truth could have that happy effect - because it is in our seeing, that the change must take place and will be evidenced. As the man himself said, he was in this world - that is, as we see it now - but not of it, and I believe he wanted us to see ourselves that way too. His lessons, then, were not so much a prescription as they were, and are, a statement about the nature of reality, a statement which could and will change our lives totally but only if we will seek to see it that way. Likewise, his assertion that the Creator and he are one was likely much more than the presentation of credentials that we generally interpret it to have been. Surely, it was an expression of Truth that the apparent many (he as an individual, we as individuals, and everything else) are one, that what lies beyond the appearance, beyond the prism, is all that there is. Not separate, not many, but One.
Finally, in our preparation for a new look at this teacher's lessons, we would do well to acknowledge that it is clearly not the story of just one man. It is the story of every man. Just as many of the individual lessons are presented to us in parable form, so can the full account of the man's life itself be seen as a parable for us. His birth, the events in his life, and his death, are as accurate a representation of what lies ahead for each of us on this search as they are simply a presentation of one man's experience along the universal way. And we detract nothing from the beauty and historicity of the story by looking at it too from this highly personalized perspective; indeed, it is clear from many of his words that the man himself intended and hoped that we would do just that.
He was a man, but too, as he told us, he was the way, and we should not hesitate to see him and his story as that, for in doing so are we better enabled to understand where we are, where we have been, and to anticipate what lies ahead along our own passage of the way. He is at once a guide and a map, and we should use him as both.
Not long after the Old Testament conversation referred to at the opening of this book, God is quoted as telling Moses that He will visit the iniquity of the fathers on their children and on their children's children. For many of us, this attitude has seemed untenable in a Creator said to love His creation, but if we reconsider it in the context of a universe that is plutonic, it comes out rather more comprehensible.
You will remember that in the last chapter we concluded that our reality is determined or shaped by the way we choose to see it, and that a change in the latter is reflected in the former. Conversely, no change in one renders no change in the other. Another way to put that might be, as the writer of Exodus seems to have done, that if we choose to see the world as our fathers did, we will live in the same world they did. Or, again, by deciding to employ the same perspective handed down to us on their knees by our parents (real and figurative) - to choose, as the saying goes, to be chips off the old block - we are condemned to inheriting their world. Condemned not by an angry or unreasonable God meting out cruel punishment, but by ourselves for accepting the choices of others in a universe in which our choices determine our reality.
Viewed in this way, the God who spoke to Moses here takes on the character not of a vengeful and insensitive judge unwilling to relieve us of the sins of our forebears, in whose guilt we could have had no part, but of a concerned Creator-Father explaining the way of things: See the universe as your fathers did, and yours shall be like theirs; see it as I do, as it is, and you can be freed of their misery. The same passage continues by observing that only the guilty, those who hate God (which we can understand to mean those who ignore or turn away from this lesson) are condemned; those who love God (who seek to understand, accept, and adopt this principle) will be forgiven, or made free.
Let us pause here just a moment to develop another illustration-device in an effort to clarify this essential point, for we absolutely must get a firm grasp on it if we are to understand and integrate into our lives the rest.
A paradigm is a model or a pattern, sort of like the preset design chosen by a seamstress against which she cuts and shapes a bolt of cloth. And for our purposes in this inquiry, we can say that a paradigm is a way of looking at the universe: the mindset or mental surround that determines our perspective, indeed that is our perspective - the preset design chosen by us against which we cut and shape our reality. Accordingly, everything we experience - every thought and idea; each action we take and all the actions of others; the events near and far however much, directly and indirectly, they may seem relevant to us; our understanding of how things are and how they might be; all this and everything else - comes to our awareness and is interpreted by us through the lens which is our paradigm. Clearly, then, we are talking here not just of a few biases, prejudices, and misconceptions (although at base it may amount to no more than that) but of the whole conceptual inheritance of humanity. Everything that any man ever said or did, or is saying or doing, in some way affects what we, you and I, say and do today - so long, that is, as we accept the paradigms of our fathers and of their fathers (and, of course, mothers).
Consider a newborn child. He enters the world with a clean slate, into an arena whose rules and dimensions he knows nothing about, unaware even that he is a he and that the remainder is the arena. We should note here that we are talking of a theoretical child and not a ”real” baby, for psychologists tell us now that adult patterns are set even in the womb and that the slate is far from clean at parturition. Almost as soon as he opens his eyes, this newly born child of ours is told how to see and what to believe, and so he does, until the slate is full and the paradigm set. Then, he looks about him, and sees the same world his parents see, a universe of competing elements of which he is just one part, threatened like the rest with hunger, disease, insecurity, and dissatisfaction of almost infinite variety (parental, marital, familial, sexual, vocational, governmental, environmental, and so on). To be sure, he will have some fun and good times along the way, but always lurking in the shadows will be reminders of his fragility - the fragility of life being the cornerstone of his inherited paradigm.
But what if, in the first moments of life, our theoretical child was blessed with an empty hospital room, and what if, in that silence, he heard not the voice of his parents urging that he grow up to be like them, but instead the voice of God which Moses heard, reminding him that he need not be what others tell him he is. What then? Is it not possible that we are being urged to seek just such an empty surgery for ourselves by the New Testament teacher's lesson that unless we become like children we cannot be saved? It is not the foolish carelessness and blind naivete of a child that is salvation, surely he is telling us, but the abandonment of all the baggage of adulthood, the paradigms of our fathers, for it is these in a plutonic universe that imprison us.
And it is in this light too that we can find one application of the otherwise disconcerting and inconsistent lesson that the truth will set a man against his father and a daughter against her mother, and that we must hate (turn away from) not only our families but our life itself - as they taught us, and we have agreed, to see it. And, finally, this is the sense in which we might understand the concept of being born anew, of the virgin birth itself.
The New Testament tells us that the teacher was born of a virgin mother, and was conceived by a divine act, and it is no mere coincidence that the lives of others of the world's most inspired and inspiring teachers are said to have begun in much the way. If these reports are as much parable as history, as I suspect they might be, then the account of the teacher's virgin birth can be understood to be describing too a spiritual event which we as seekers must experience also. The new child within us, born in that empty surgery and fathered by an inner yearning to see whose source we cannot quite identify, is the beginning, and marks the first genuine and irreversible step on our long journey forward.
Recall for a moment the first youngster we spoke of in these pages, frustrated and frightened in his darkened bedroom. At some unpredictable instant, sparked perhaps by an indistinct and hardly tangible memory (or reminder, from some unseen past or by divine intervention) of how the room was, suppose he decided to begin looking for the light switch. By that act, born within him but prompted perhaps by something beyond, he is changed. To be sure, he is still scared and groping, but no longer is he sitting quivering on a corner of his bed, reacting fearfully to each rush of wind through a window or shifting shadow against the wall. Rather than just accepting the menacing dark as his inevitable fate or even simply screaming aloud for help, he has set out to understand the true nature of his reality, and to change it, for himself. Our challenge is exactly like his, and so is our promise. The divine germ of a new life is always within us, thank God, but it is we who must mother it to fruition, and the moment we will choose, or be prompted, to do so is as impossible to predict as the moment of the child's resolve to find the light. But at some point somewhere, sometime, we too will decide that we have had enough of life as it has been painted for us, and that we want out badly enough that we are willing to find the way, to seek.
So, we cannot but come to recognize that the only way out of this world, out of the misery, frustration, and competition which we find wherever we are on the ladder to so-called success, is to reject as our own its values; for so long as we accept as reality the refraction in the prism it will seem real to us. Herein is the essence of the New Testament's teachings, and our own findings about the plutonic nature of the universe are confirmed by it. Numerous times the teacher asserts (and in virtually the same words so do others who have seen as he did) that only those who believe in him will be saved, and however else we may choose to interpret that assertion, it can be seen as saying what we have already observed. For it seems extremely unlikely to me that he intended it as a threat, neither as an attempt to build an empire based on his person, as that was not the nature of this man. Rather, this was a tautology, an equation in which the two sides are equal to each other: Unless we see as he did - not believe in him as a separate, distinct individual, but believe in the validity of his vision - we cannot be freed. This is a bit like saying that unless the sun has risen, there is no daylight, and when it has, there is. The one is the other. Seeing the universe as this man did, believing in him, is to become as he was, free of this world, because as we see, we are. I am the way; not the man but his teachings, not the flesh but the vision.
So, we have seen that the concept of rebirth, of becoming like children, is to be taken literally. It is not just a question of restructuring our ambitions within an already existing framework, of placing a bit more emphasis on piety, if you will, and a little less on the rest. We must instead start over altogether from scratch. And it is not an easy process (as any woman who has given birth can attest). Our New Testament teacher knew that, as he too had been where we are, and it was from a recognition of the enormity of the task before us that he likened our undertaking to the passage of a camel through the eye of a needle; for, each of us is the rich man in that story who pleaded for an easy way.
In this world, wealth is measured by the accumulation of things. Money, of course, is representative of wealth, but it is not wealth itself for money has no intrinsic value of its own. Its only worth lies in the extent to which it can be translated into things - goods (look at the word and what it says about us!), services, and whatever else we crave. The popular conception of a rich man, then, is a person who wants and has lots of things; a poor man is one who wants them but does have them. However, along the journey to the other side of the prism, so to speak, a rich man is one who has begun to see the truth of reality, and a poor man is one who has not. It is from both of these perspectives on wealth that we must read the teacher's lesson in the story of the rich man urged to sell all he had, and give to the poor. The teacher's intention could not have been simply that a man rich in a this-world sense liquidate his holdings and give the earnings to those without, however charitable an act that might be, because in the greater sense neither would benefit: the rich man would still want what he had given up, and would presumably instantly set out to amass another fortune, and the poor would merely have added to their previously meager accumulation. A simple game of musical chairs that is, and not sufficient to the spiritual needs to which the teacher's lesson is addressed.
On this journey, it is quite irrelevant whether or not we have things; what matters is whether or not we want them. So, when a rich man is urged in the story to sell all he has, we are all being told that the way to heaven - to seeing rightly - is by abandoning our current standards of wealth, our old values, our fathers' paradigms. Only by doing that can we become truly rich (it not being sufficient, you will remember the teacher told the same man, just to obey his religion's commandments, or simply to put more emphasis on piety). And when we truly have taken that essential step toward freeing ourselves from our own imprisonment, then and only then are we able to give to the poor - that is, to assist others who have not done so by alerting to their attention the true nature of their poverty. The teacher concluded and summarized this lesson quite logically with a beautifully gentle invitation - and, incidentally, nowhere does he suggest forced acquiescence - that we follow him, meaning that by turning away from the values of this world, and helping others to do the same, we will go where, and as, he went, and see as he saw. Once again, the one is the other.
This identical lesson appears in the New Testament over and over again. To be sure, it is often addressed differently and offered in different contexts, but always the message is the same: to get on the proper track, we have to start over, from square one. None of the values of this world, none of our old paradigms, can we retain, for all of them are predicated on the refracted image of Truth that we see in the prism and out of which we have created a reality that is simply inaccurate, misleading, and inherently frustrating. And so long as we accept any of these old values as real, we accept as real the false premise on which all of them are based; we accept as real what we think we see in the glass, and it isn't. With the values of this world, we are forever blinded to reality as it is; with a vision, even a glimpse of Truth, we can be freed. Or, in the teacher's words, with men (a this-world perspective) salvation is impossible; with God (Truth) all things are possible.
The personal responsibility each of us bears in initiating, permitting, and fulfilling our own rebirthing process is perhaps nowhere better affirmed than in the numerous accounts of healing in the New Testament. There is ample evidence in many of these passages that their purpose is primarily to illustrate the lesson that to change ourselves we have to change our belief structures. No one can do it for us because no one can see for us, and as we see, we are. Too often are we prone to interpret these accounts of healings simply in terms of one man performing a miraculous action upon another, and then to revere the former accordingly. But the teacher was aware of that danger, and repeatedly he called our attention to it by reminding the healed that it was not he, the teacher, who was at work, but their own faith.
Faith is a concept difficult to define and, if you haven't been there, virtually impossible to understand. Ordinarily, we think of faith as belief in something without any evidence to support it, and accordingly, we relegate faith to idealists and fools. But for our purposes in this discussion of the spiritual search, that definition of faith will not do, because if what we find to be true about the nature of the universe is not supported by the world we see around us, and does not explain that world for us, then what we have seen is not truth and is of little use to us. Remember that we said that a measure of truth is that it must be true wherever applied. Or, again, if what we see, or are beginning to see, on the other side of the prism is not evidenced on this side as well (albeit in a refracted way), then we are still not seeing either correctly, for they are at base the same thing - the one is the other. In this sense, faith about Heaven (Truth) is not pie-in-the-sky stuff, but conviction based upon understanding. Faith then is knowledge - not the ordinary, “book learning” knowledge of this world, but an awareness, realization, and application of the meaning of the plutonic nature of reality and of the prism effect construction. Faith is knowledge which can be and is supported by the evidence of this world when we begin looking at it properly. Faith is never blind; indeed, faith is vision, corrected sight.
In any conversation of a serious subject, it is quickly apparent whether the speaker truly sees what he is saying or whether he is groping about in the dark, repeating what he has heard from others, even just making noise. Throughout the New Testament there are many reports that the teacher, apparently unlike some other religious leaders of his time, spoke with authority. What he said he knew to be true for he had seen it. That is what is meant in this inquiry by faith, and anything less is something else.
By our faith are we healed, and as its root suggests, the word healed means to be made whole. In a universe keyed to our choices about it, if we wish to be made whole, to see ourselves as we are, not separate but One, then we must choose to reject the choices we have lived by until now and select instead the one that is the One, elect to seek and to live the kind of knowledge we have spoken of as faith. If we will examine the healing accounts in their parable sense, we can find in the characters and their conditions aspects of ourselves along the path: the teacher as healer is Truth which resides within us, and the infirm are our current state. It is no mere coincidence that the latter are portrayed as crippled, blind, disfigured, or even dead, all symbols of our inability to function properly in a universe seen wrong. And the reaching for the healing touch is the inner act by which we first reach for wholeness. In most, if not all, of the accounts, it is the sick who seek out the teacher, just as it is we who must initiate our search. And when the teacher said, as he did, to those he touched that it was their faith that healed them, we must understand that it is our re-awakening to Truth that renders us whole. Perhaps the account most illustrative of this interpretation is the one about the centurion who asked for help for a servant sick at home, and who said, when the teacher offered to go to the house, that it would be enough if he would just say the word, that he knew the man would then be healed. Here is faith as we have described it personified. The choice for Truth affects and changes everything in our lives, and when we see it anywhere, we see it everywhere.
All of what we have said in this brief examination of healing is true in a literal sense as well as the parable one we addressed. Faith healing can be an effective method of dealing with disease, and successful cases of it are known to most of us. And those involved with this practice generally agree that the degree and duration of success are directly a factor of the patient's confidence in the process, of his expectations of what will, what can, happen. In effect, the patient in these cases heals himself, by letting go of the conviction that his illness is inevitable, and adopting instead the possibility of wholeness. The healer simply assists, like a midwife at a birthing. By accepting the healer's version of reality - that he can heal the sick - the patient makes a new choice for his own reality, and the universe being plutonic, if the choice is certain, it works. What is true as parable is equally true as literal, for, once again, the truth is true everywhere and at every level of application.
Finally, as the word itself suggests, the ”rebirth” is just the beginning, and the newborn infant within us who has just barely opened his eyes to the light will require much attention, nutrition, guidance, reinforcement, discipline, and fondling - all the mothering of his literal counterpart. He should be exposed only carefully and gradually to inclement weather and to other external influences; and, until ready to stand on his own, he should be shielded from rowdies, bullies, know-it-alls, and their like. Once begun, this spiritual process is virtually irreversible, but there are hazards ahead which can delay, complicate, confuse, and misdirect it, and until we have a grasp on it, we do well to lay low. Quite understandably, most of us in a burst of initial enthusiasm over this momentous event are moved to shout it from the rooftops and to pass out cigars, as it were, to all and sundry. But we must restrain that impulse, for others are not likely to rejoice at the event as we do, seeing it instead as a threat to themselves and their values - the very abandonment of which, we are reminded, being what made possible the rebirth in the first instance. Rather than sharing our jubilation, they will try to dampen, even extinguish, it. Mindful of this danger, the New Testament teacher warned the newly healed to be silent about it, to say nothing to anyone, not to make known to others what has occurred within us. Like the newborn of any species, we are yet fragile, and can be too easily persuaded back to our old ways of seeing by the pressure, disbelief, and ridicule of others. Although we have changed, to be sure, we are still much the same, for a mere glimpse of knowledge is not enough to erase ignorance. And inevitably we will succumb from time to time to seeing again as we have been used to, to forgetting the reality of Truth and acknowledging the truth of error.
Two Gospel accounts, if we will look at them as parables for a moment, speak to this very normal tendency to waiver. In the first, the teacher and his disciples are described as being in a boat beset by a storm at sea. In fear for their lives, the disciples call out to him for rescue. We are told that the teacher is asleep at the time, and if we can understand him here to be representing the newly reborn knowledge of Truth within us, the lesson of the story becomes apparent. Likewise, in the second example, again set in a boat, one of the disciples is encouraged by the teacher to walk on the water as he himself had done; but, although successful at first, the disciple begins to sink when distracted and frightened by the wind and waves, the commotion, around him. In both of these cases, the teacher said it was the disciple's too little faith that brought failure. When awake and alert, we see, but when lulled again into sleep or distracted by the familiar old ways around us, we stumble.
It is the Truth that makes us free, as he said, but the extent of our freedom depends directly on the depth, certainty, and constancy of our faith. To be free we must acknowledge the Truth, we must know it so thoroughly and constantly that it becomes us, and only so much as we do so, does it. If what we see we are, then clearly if we want to be the Truth, we must not let our eyes stray from it. Or, again in his words, according to your faith is it done. And total faith (all pervasive, ever-present knowledge of Truth) requires time, effort, commitment, silence, and care, for healthy, full, and effective growth. Having made the choice for it, we must also make the choice to nurture it. Like the motherhood of the literal kind, this is no mean enterprise.
We live in a world, perhaps especially in the technologically industrialized West, governed by experts, and few of us make decisions without turning consciously or unconsciously to one or another of them for their opinions, advice, encouragement, or direction. From matters of health and finance to the selection of a brand of toothpaste, we permit our affairs to be guided, even determined, by others, most of whom earn their position of authority by little else than our own acquiescence. As the physicists tell us, nature abhors a vacuum, and if we will not take charge of ourselves, someone else will.
If only from habit alone, we are equally prone to look to others as we set out on the spiritual search. And others will be there, anxious for followers. The problem here is that, while allowing a rock-star to select a deodorant for us may seem harmless enough, permitting another to dictate our choices along the spiritual way is an abdication of personal responsibility fraught with risks. This is not suggest that we cannot benefit from the experience of others, or that we cannot learn from them, for we can. But learning is one thing; blind and thoughtless acquiescence is quite another.
The New Testament teacher was alert to the tendency among men to surrender their destinies to others, and he repeatedly warned us against it. There will be many, he said, and how right he was!, who will posture themselves as worthy of our devotion and allegiance; but we can know them, he taught, suggesting to us the best possible measure of a man, by their fruits. When one comes before us offering himself as our salvation, we should look not to his physical appearance, surface trappings, or apparent spirituality, but at his words and works, his actions and direction, and at those who have chosen to follow him. These are a teacher's fruits, and while they may be sweet to others, if they fail to speak to that inner yearning within us not for the security of abject surrender but for knowledge at whatever cost or difficulty, then we may find them a bitter harvest. And remember too that a teacher's disciple-become-teacher, whatever he may say or think about himself, cannot speak for anyone but himself. Too many would have us hear from their lips another's voice, but just as we can see only for ourselves based upon who and what we are inside, so it is with speaking. Every teacher speaks for himself alone and only as he himself sees the universe, whatever his training, references, and bibliography.
We might remind ourselves here of the parable about the son who, when instructed by his father to work in the family vineyard, agreed to do so but then did not. Likewise, there are inevitably some among us who profess to be working in the vineyard, perhaps even honestly thinking themselves to be doing so, but are not. Their focus is not on what lies beyond the prism, not on the One, and the thrust of their teaching is not to call attention to the distortion effect of the glass. Instead, they seek to convince us merely to substitute one erroneous interpretation of the refraction for another. New wine in old skins, and we can recognize the containers for what they are, whatever their fancy packaging and alluring labels, if we will remain alert to the taste of the wine that pours forth from them. Does it smack of all the old assumptions and values, however well disguised? Has a new piece of cloth, to change metaphors, simply been sewn onto an old bolt following the familiar pattern? Are we in short being urged to see the world as we always have - as separate, hostile, threatening, and impermanent - except in different language? We can know a tree by its fruit, and if we seem simply to be swapping apples for pears, we are likely in the same orchard we grew up in, and should move on. There is only one true vine, Truth, and while it may be known by various names and grow in a variety of shapes, its fruit is forever the same, vision. That is the fruit we seek, and we will know when we have found it.
If we must be so careful in our selection of guides and if, as we will, we need direction from time to time, where are we to turn? In a word, inward. Go into a closet, the teacher said, for it is there, not in the streets, that we can find true guidance. Behind the closed doors of our private sanctuary, away from the chatter and static of the world, there yet burns a light, if now only faintly, which will illuminate the path for us. In that surgery, empty of meddling and distractions, we will hear a voice which speaks of our rebirth, and will deliver us through it.
If this seems a lonely solution, it is because loneliness is of the separate and separative world we are used to. In the within, we are in the company of the One, and there loneliness is unknown, for there we come to see that the One and we are one, there being nothing else. And it is there that we can and must surrender; not to another, however, but to ourselves, to the Truth within, and that is, us - to the One that is God. We surrender the stubborn and crystallizing self-assurance which we have developed to protect us from our perceived competitors and predators without, to the quiet and releasing mystery of the new way. This surrender is not abdication of authority but assumption of responsibility, and it will seem, as it is, perfectly natural. And in our outer lives, our initial loneliness too will quickly vanish as we seek the company of, and are joined by, others along the same path. As like attracts like, this is a process which we should not force or hurry, but simply allow to happen, always mindful of the difference between fruit and fruits.
Already we have said a good deal, if indirectly, about sin, and by now our conception of it should be changed considerably. But still sin is an idea so integral to our culture, and one so thoroughly misunderstood with such frightening and disturbing consequences, that specific attention to it, even at the risk of some repetition, is warranted.
To put it as simply as possible, if The Fall (which some traditions refer to as Original Sin) can be represented as the choice to see the One as fragmented, to accept as real and as all there is our confusion about the image in the prism, then sin is nothing more, or less, than the choice not to question that first choice for error, and indeed to continue in it. Sin is the choice to see wrongly. And the punishment for sin is its consequence: the world and life as we know it now - fragile, insecure, unsatisfying, senseless, and erratic.
God does not judge our sins, and neither does He punish us for them, for we are told that He sees us as we truly are, as in His image, and thus as incapable of sin, or error. After all, only those (us) who see incorrectly see incorrectly! When we choose to see the One erroneously, we do not change its nature, and those aspects of the One which have not made that choice for error continue to be, and to see, as before. Or, again, when we choose to stand on this side of the prism, and then describe the One seen through it as many, that which is on the other side doe not and cannot see what we see, because it is not looking at itself or us through the prism as we are doing. Our error, then, is not transferable, and it is an integral part of the error to assume, as we do, that God too is subject to it, that He can see it.
As complicated as this reasoning may seem, it is crucial that that we get a grasp on it in order to free ourselves of the crippling fear of sin and of a vindictive, judgmental Divinity. God seems that way to us now because we see Him as separate from us (as we see everything else), as standing apart or above, looking down, meting out punishment and reward to His subjects. Again, He seems that way to us and to be doing those things to us because we view Him and our lives from a this-side-of-the-prism perspective. None of that is actually the case, of course, precisely because He does not see us as separate from Him as in Truth we are not. To recall again an earlier illustration, the parents of the child in his darkened bedroom do not see the dragons not because they, the parents, are insensitive or blind but because they see the room as it actually is and always has been, beast-free. You are mistaken, they will say comfortingly to the child, as God says to us, for you are seeing what is there altogether incorrectly; and to see as I do, you have only to turn on the light. No anger, no punishment, just loving counsel.
In at least one currently available version of the New Testament, the word sin is footnoted as being from the Greek for stumbling block, and if we portray the reach for Truth as a path we travel, as we here and others have done, we can see how appropriate a word that is. As we trip and fall over the obstacles in our way, inevitably is our attention distracted from the destination, and our pace slowed. But anyone who has gone through a forest with an accomplished woodsman has seen how the latter walks differently there than he might on an urban sidewalk. Here, in the woods, the professional is always alert to fallen trees, protruding roots, and moss-covered rocks. His pace is measured, his steps sure, and his attention keenly focused on the landmarks around and ahead of him. We too, in setting out on this path, must abandon our old ways of treading, our city habits, for what is appropriate in that world will cause us to stumble in this new one. Thus, the teacher urges us to cut off the limb or pluck out the eye which causes us to stumble, to abandon the values, habits, and perspective which are our stumbling blocks.
If God does not judge and forgive sins, then who does? We ourselves! But only our own. And we do so by recognizing, in the first instance, that we have chosen to see wrongly, and then, in the second, by determining to correct that error. We cannot forgive others, of course, because the very act of seeing them as others is an aspect of our own sin, of our initial and continuing choice to see the world and them as it and they are not. To the extent that we can forgive them, it is by finally seeing them as they are, one with us, one with the One, but our action then is internal, not external. And from all this it follows that no sins are greater than any others. In a world seen as separate and many, we think of our actions in the same way, but to suggest that there are degrees and kinds of sins is to miss the point entirely. Incorrect vision is incorrect vision, however often or differently it may seem to manifest. Whether we stumble over a pebble or a boulder, we stumble nonetheless, and it is not the pebble or the boulder which is the sin so much as it is the stumbling, the failure to see the obstacle for what it is, and to step over it. The woodsman, in those rare instances when he trips, does not curse the offending log (well, he ought not), but his own inattention, for he knows that only the ever alert pathfinder makes it to the other side.
Those familiar with the New Testament will by now have recalled the warning that of all possible sins, there is one that is unforgivable, to wit, blasphemy of, or speaking against, the Holy Spirit. We suggested earlier that God is not aware of our sins because He does not see as we are seeing, and yet, in a way we cannot understand, surely He is aware that an aspect of the One, of Himself, has somehow seemed to itself to have separated out from the whole, has chosen error. Recognizing that occurrence, but not acknowledging its reality, He would presumably create a corrective measure, and we might think, for a moment, of the Holy Spirit in that way. If we will imagine the Holy Spirit as being the Teacher of Truth - that is, that characteristic or aspect of Truth which constantly tries to call our attention to itself and to our true selves (a cosmic burr in our saddle, if you like) - we can see it or him (or, and here it must be said, her) as the one aspect of the One which is on this side of the prism and on the other side at the same time and knows it; and which, further, acknowledges this side solely to alert us to the error of it.
The Holy Spirit did not make the error we made and then seek to return to the Truth as we are doing. The Holy Spirit, we might say, comes from Truth to re-awaken us to it but never actually loses sight of it, as we do. The Holy Spirit can see the error and the Truth at the same time, and point out the difference to us. Again, a Cosmic Teacher, the Truth reasserting Truth. For our discussion here, we might consider the Holy Spirit to be a spontaneous self-corrective element in the prism effect. And if this description is anywhere near the mark, it becomes apparent that the choice not to listen to the Holy Spirit's constant prompting, indeed to turn away from it, dooms us. It is the one choice which by definition keeps us in the dark eternally, or exactly as long as we opt for it - that moment of choice, so long as we live by it, being all the time there is, or eternity. Further, this is an unforgivable sin in precisely the sense that we cannot be forgiven of it until we for-give (give up or release) the mindset which led us to it. So long, in a word, as we are deaf to the Holy Spirit, we are blind to the Truth. Forever, if that's how long we choose deafness. As the New Testament teacher put it, we are either for him, meaning, surely, his teachings or his vision, or against him. We either look to Truth directly or we accept as true our mistaken interpretation of the refraction in the prism.
Viewed from this perspective, the connection between sin and death which is so often made in the New Testament becomes clear. So long as we choose to accept the illusory or distorted sense of reality handed down to us by our fathers - that is, so long as we are determined to look away from Truth to error, or to sin - that long are we destined to live in a world manifested by that choice, by that paradigm, a world in which death so evidently plays an essential part. Indeed, we might amend the scriptural teaching that the wages of sin is death, to read, the wages of sin are death and life, with a lower case L, because our lives as we know them now and our death are both a product of our choice for error. Confirming this interpretation is the teacher's assertion that a man need not die to see the Truth. Again, death is simply one aspect of this world, of Truth seen wrongly, and it assures us of nothing but itself. What follows death depends upon what each of us believe is its aftermath, for death too is an aspect of a universe which reflects our beliefs about it. Once again, the answer lies not in trying to make sense out of, or find comfort in, what we have chosen to see in the prism, but in recognizing the prism for what it is and choosing to discard it altogether. Only by opting for Truth do we begin to recognize its manifestations and eventually to see it and ourselves as the One we are.
Finally, we might examine in this same context the almost overpowering proclamation that no man may see the face of God and live, an idea often portrayed in films by a shuddering desert shepherd peeking sheepishly through his fingers at the source of some blinding light or thundering voice, and being instantly turned to stone. To be sure, in a parable sense that image might be helpful in explaining this concept. But we can understand the assertion to be underlining what we have discovered - that in order to see reality as it is we must abandon all our old ways of thought, our old paradigms, and turn literally right around, and in doing so are we totally changed. Thus, the man who sees God, who turns from error to Truth, ceases by that act to be the man he was, or better, believed he was. The “old” man dies, disappears, when the light is turned on, and a new one, the real One, is re-born.
No man can see the Truth and live because what lives after the event is in no wise what lived before. We are changed by that ”event”. Not change within the old framework in which all change renders only more of the same, but change in kind, resulting in none of the same. Or again, we become as unlike what we were as what we thought we were was unlike what we actually are. Viewed from this side of the prism, of course, none of that makes any sense; but then, neither does anything viewed solely from this side of prism!
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