Jesus.and.Devil

The Christianity through which I was born and raised – White Anglo Saxon Protestant, Mom a Southern Baptist, Dad Pentecostal-turned-Presbyterian – never missed a chance to frighten and threaten little kids like me. If we did not shape up RIGHT THIS INSTANT, there was every chance we’d go straight to Hell, where absolute and constant misery would accompany an eternity of separation from Father God in Heaven.

It’s not like I was constantly under the shaking finger – I didn’t need to be, so thorough was the programming. Through weekly Sunday School and church services, through school teachers, coaches, family elders and mass media imagery, I joined millions of others who grew up believing that, if one does not “accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior,” one will “die in his sins” and end up in a place of “everlasting punishment” that is never quite described in the Bible, but implied through every theological interpretation that came down the pike.

Questioning the “obvious” truth that “Jesus Saves” is not only dangerous to one’s salvation, it is tantamount to doubting the very existence of God – and this is not permitted.

This indoctrinated way of thinking has led to countless wars, the prison industry, racial suppression, ghettos and every other “divide and conquer” policy that has ever been forced upon the human family.

On a personal level, this indoctrinated way of thinking has created a guilt complex that assumes we are all evil at the core, that, unless we are watched like a hawk and herded in the “right” direction, we will always make the wrong choices and end up in Hell.

That is, unless we say the magic words and are welcomed into the Christian Club as dues-paying members. “I accept Jesus Christ, who died on the cross to save me from my sins, as my personal Lord and Savior.” Say those words, have some old guy sprinkle a little water on your head… and you’re in the clear! Aside from “blaspheming the Holy Spirit” (huh?), there’s nothing you can do to screw up your salvation, once you’ve said the magic words and gotten a little wet in the process.

Someone who grows up in the Church seeking genuine, firsthand “spiritual experience” is bound to run up against a brick wall, over and over and over again. Someone asking what it must’ve been like to follow Jesus when he walked the Earth – to witness the miracles, to be filled with the Spirit, to transcend “normal” human experience – won’t find answers in biblical interpretations developed by theologians down through the centuries. There is no Department of Direct Spiritual Experience down at the local Presbyterian Church. There is no enlightened Elder or Master who will help us navigate the inner Mystery realms of prayer, contemplation and communion. There is just a Bible and its official interpreters, and if we can’t get by with that… tough luck.

The Bible itself, of course, is a collection of writings that was allowed cannonical status through a series of contentious gatherings of “early fathers” who, ultimately, decided what was “inspired” and what was “heretical.” The original languages went through official translations into Latin – and as the Roman Empire transformed into the Catholic Church, only priests could read the Bible – who were themselves indoctrinated to use the threat of eternal Hell to keep the masses in line. When the Bible was translated into common European languages in the 1500’s and 1600’s, the doctrine of “everlasting Hell” persisted and deepened, such that it is nearly unheard of to challenge the notion that “belief in Jesus Christ” is all that separates a human being from an eternity in Hell.

With all this emphasis on going to Hell if we haven’t purchased “heaven insurance” through saying the magic words, an even more elemental question goes unasked:  from what does salvation save us?

The “consequences of sin,” you answer?

Hell?

This is what the guardians of orthodoxy always say, of course… but what does it mean, really?

What does it mean in terms of the experience of “being delivered” by Jesus Christ?

Is it just a vast sense of relief that, when I die, I won’t go to the Hot Place?

Or is there some quality that salvation imparts to the seeker?

It seems to me that what I’m being delivered from is an eternity of blind belief that I am in any way separate from the totality of existence.

The Gospel books of the Bible show how Jesus railed against the religious hierarchy of his time, knowing that the priesthood was filled with pretenders who did not have a direct connection with God, but who hid behind “holy books” that were used to bludgeon the people with threats and intimidation.  When Jesus said, “I am the way,” he wasn’t saying that his eventual death on the Cross would open a path that would allow The Elect into heaven, while the rest of us would roast in eternal fire.  When he said, “I am the way,” he was showing that we don’t need a book or a priest to deliver us from “sin.”  He was showing that the Father is available to each and every one of us, right here in our hearts, never separate, always One.

His message of salvation, in other words, amounted to directing his followers to go within, to pray, commune and contemplate, to open themselves to the Source of all.  When we make this connection, we are saved from our separate state.  When we remain in our delusion of separation, we are cut off from the Source, and we are doomed to flounder under the thumb of priests and books that enforce our delusion, smothered under threats and intimidation that may literally last lifetimes here on Earth.

There really is a perennial teaching when it comes to spiritual salvation/enlightenment.  This teaching, whether it comes from Krishna, Buddha, Christ Jesus, Rumi or Nisargadatta Maharaj, not only encourages “blasphemous” questions about the nature of existence and ultimate meaning of life, but insists that the answers will always be found within.  We are encouraged to turn away from the world “out there” to a place inside our hearts that is far more “real,” more alive, more connected with the Infinite than anything offered by this room full of mirrors… and there will always be a religious authority that condemns such teachings, seeking to relegate the rest of us to an eternity of separation from the one and only Source.

It’s not easy to wake up from our indoctrination, but if nothing else, Jesus showed us that it can be done.

He didn’t come to threaten; he came to enlighten.

 

 

Holy Spirit

In Buddhism, the practice of mindfulness is an attempt to take sitting meditation out into the world of everyday life. We learn to focus on the object of meditation – usually the breath – such that, when the mind naturally wanders, we gently bring our attention back into focus. We do this over and over until, eventually, the “monkey mind” calms down enough for true meditation to happen.

When we leave the cushion to head out into “normal” waking life – into traffic jams, dish washing, bill paying, grocery shopping and strange objects in the sky – we are encouraged to continue meditation practice as best we can, using whatever is present as the object, learning slowly how to bring our full attention to this very moment, right here, right now.

“I am watering the flowers.”

“I am brushing my teeth.”

“I am steeping my tea.”

“I am looking at dust bunnies behind my bedroom door.”

Ecstatic Buddhists who, either through long wrestling with the demons of meditation, or through some unknown mechanism of activation, have given rise to the bliss, joy and ecstasy of jhana/samadhi – these contemplatives are gifted with an object of meditation and mindfulness that can’t be beat. We bring the focus of our attention to the “pleasant arisings” that have evolved into a saturation in bliss, joy and ecstasy. We acknowledge whatever manifestation of these sensations happens to be present. This manifestation may be visual, tactile, olfactory, auditory or some combination thereof – and when it appears, we allow our attention to rest on it. We allow our connection with it to guide our awareness.

“I am aware of pleasant vibrations in and around my head, centered between the eyes, dripping down the spine, flowering in the heart.”

“I see streams of shimmering energy trailing behind that passing blue bus.”

“I hear sublime, indescribable music from the Celestial Choir.”

“I smell heaven.”

“I feel a blanket of bliss all over my body, inside my body, beyond my body.”

Jhana/samadhi – the indwelling expression of spiritual effulgence that rewards fervent and skilful seeking – finds an equivalent in the Christian experience of the Holy Spirit.

John 14:17 He is the Spirit of truth. The world is unable to receive Him because it doesn’t see Him or know Him. But you do know Him, because He remains with you and will be in you.

John 14:26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit — the Father will send Him in My name — will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you.

John 20:22 …He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Acts 2:4 Then they were all filled with the Holy Spirit….

That the Holy Spirit is “real” and offers an actual experience of the Divine is not something my church upbringing acknowledged. As a teenager I used to complain to my father – a Presbyterian minister – that there’s no “direct experience” in church. Dad had grown up in the Pentecostal church, however, so he was able to tell me about ecstatic experiences associated with revival meetings and such – men, women and children spinning on the ground, whaling strange utterings, tears of ecstasy streaming down their faces.

Wikipedia:

Pentecostalism or Classical Pentecostalism is a renewal movement within Protestant Christianity that places special emphasis on a direct personal experience of God through the baptism with the Holy Spirit. The term Pentecostal is derived from Pentecost, the Greek name for the Jewish Feast of Weeks. For Christians, this event commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the followers of Jesus Christ, as described in the second chapter of the Book of Acts.

During his years in the Pentecostal church, Dad had become convinced that much of what he’d witnessed was faked, but he did not discount the very “real” presence of the Holy Spirit.  That there is an entire Protestant Christian tradition that is largely centered on a living experience of the Holy Spirit is, for me, validation of Christianity as a genuine vehicle for connecting with our truest Divine nature.  It says that I am not alone in craving direct experience of Spirit.

Thomas a Kempis, the great Christian mystic who wrote The Imitation of Christ, said:

“THE kingdom of God is within you,” says the Lord.

Turn, then, to God with all your heart. Forsake this wretched world and your soul shall find rest. Learn to despise external things, to devote yourself to those that are within, and you will see the kingdom of God come unto you, that kingdom which is peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, gifts not given to the impious.

As an ecstatic Buddhist contemplative with a Christian heritage (and a continuing daily immersion in the Bible and prayer), it brings deep healing and joy to practice mindfulness of the Holy Spirit, which is none other than the spontaneous arising of bliss, joy and ecstasy born of silence and surrender.  In a world filled with diversions, constant mindfulness of Spirit is a vehicle that delivers us from chaos, confusion and aimless wandering.  This is the refuge we not only seek, but need in the deepest possible way.

Prayer.Bliss.Light

Like many who early in life started asking hard questions about the religion of their upbringing, I spent years and years receiving less than adequate answers. Asking questions was often viewed as an act of alienation, a sign of faithlessness, backsliding or apostasy.

At some point, I realized that the discomfort caused by my questions was related to the fact that no one really knew the answers – other than to (basically) say, “The Bible tells me so.” I would then ask, “How do you know that the Bible is true?” The answer would always, of course, circle back around to, “Because the Bible tells me so.”

Period.

Beyond questions about the existence and nature of God, the veracity of the Bible, the mystery of the Trinity and so forth… what I really wanted to know was, “Where is the direct experience of God in all this?”

Crickets.

So, I determined to leave the religion of my upbringing. I stopped going to church and watched football on Sundays instead. I got jobs, made friends, went to concerts and Dodger games, parties, bars, softball leagues, bowling leagues, bookstores, coffee shops, etc., etc., etc. – all the things that offer an illusion of individuality. I honestly thought I’d left all that church stuff behind – except when I paused to notice that a vestige of “all that” remained intact.

This vestige was, I now know, the presence of God – the common LIFE-NESS that animates and breathes into all existence, perfectly, mysteriously, miraculously.

I may have sought a direct experience of God through spiritual traditions outside that of my upbringing, but my own sense of the Absolute never changed. I may have been reading the Bhagavad Gita, Yoga Sutras  and Upanishads, but when I looked inside of myself, I found that these writings pointed to the same direct apprehension of “God” that I’d always known. Same thing with Buddhism, which purports to be a system without God. When the Buddha talked about jhana/samadhi, which is self-arising bliss, joy and ecstasy, it was the same bliss, joy and ecstasy I’d always felt when the presence of God was most undeniably upon me.

Fact is, no matter how far afield I strayed from the religion of my upbringing, the more stark the realization that God is omnipresent.

Many years after leaving the fold, while putting the pieces together through a renewed pursuit of answers, it occurred to me that, if God – the presence of self-arising bliss, joy and ecstasy that is a constant reminder of the Infinite – is omnipresent and has never abandoned my field of awareness – shouldn’t I stop running and open a line of communion with the LIFE-NESS of all existence? Wouldn’t this be the direct experience I’d always desired?

They call this line of communion “prayer.”

I’m not talking about the rote recitation of thanksgiving over dinner – although that’s a wonderful and healing thing to do. I’m not talking about the conditioned imperative to ask for forgiveness so that one’s transgressions may be wiped clean – although, of course, this provides a profound sense of relief, as we humans are always transgressing in this way or that, followed by a burden of guilt whether acknowledged or not.

For me, prayer is a conscious availing to That which is always nudging from within, the Great Soul that lives inside all of us and is just waiting for our attention. Prayer is a form of surrender that says, “I’ve been acting like a separate entity all this time, pretending that I can – in and of myself – find ultimate contentment and satisfaction… but now I realize that my consciousness is just a minuscule fraction of the One Consciousness, and the wisest choice is to align with That.”

When we clear away the theological inquiries, the metaphysical riddles and the myriad practices that flood the spiritual marketplace, we are – in my opinion – stranded in a loneliness that feels like checkmate. We possess all this knowledge and witnessing of sages, saints and scholars who have either found their way Home, or who seem to know the path – but what does this knowledge get us? Does it bring us any closer to God? Or does it provide yet another diversion from a direct experience of God?

At a certain point, our prayer, meditation and/or contemplation must put us into immanent union with the Ultimate – with God – and it must provide a constant remembrance of our true relationship with That. Further, it must lead us to utter surrender – even when it means years and years of struggle (Dark Night of the Soul), as our false sense of separateness is whittled to the bone.

In the end, a life of prayer leads to genuine relinquishment, where all false beliefs go to die.  Constancy in prayer, meditation and contemplation provides the intelligence, power, guidance and communion that alleviate the utter loneliness that meets me at every turn. I cannot ultimately rely on myself, nor can I rely on other flailing humans – but I can rely on the LIFE-NESS that was, is and always will be in and around me, making Itself available as the Answer to the deepest questions I could possibly ask.

All that is required is to continually die to myself, either through conscious letting-go or through kicking and screaming every step of the way.

This is my notion of prayer.

Jesus and the Tax Collectors

A retelling from a master… about The Master:

Levi, a disciple

On those who would confound Jesus

Upon an eventide He passed by my house, and my soul was quickened within me.

He spoke to me and said, “Come, Levi, and follow me.”

And I followed Him that day.

And at eventide of the next day I begged Him to enter my house and be my guest. And He and His friends crossed my threshold and blessed me and my wife and my children.

And I had other guests. They were publicans and men of learning, but they were against Him in their hearts.

And when we were sitting about the board, one of the publicans questioned Jesus, saying, “Is it true that you and your disciples break the law, and make fire on the sabbath day?”

And Jesus answered him saying, “We do indeed make fire on the sabbath day. We would inflame the sabbath day, and we would burn with our touch the dry stubble of all days.”

And another publican said, “It was brought to us that you drink wine with the unclean at the inn.”

And Jesus answered, “Aye, these also we would comfort. Came we here except to share the loaf and the cup with the uncrowned and the unshod amongst you?

“Few, aye too few are the featherless who dare the wind, and many are the winged and fullfledged yet in the nest.

“And we would feed them all with our beak, both the sluggish and the swift.”

And another publican said, “Have I not been told that you would protect the harlots of Jerusalem?”

Then in the face of Jesus I saw, as it were, the rocky heights of Lebanon, and He said, “It is true.

“On the day of reckoning these women shall rise before the throne of my Father, and they shall be made pure by their own tears. But you shall be held down by the chains of your own judgment.

“Babylon was not put to waste by her prostitutes; Babylon fell to ashes that the eyes of her hypocrites might no longer see the light of day.”

And other publicans would have questioned Him, but I made a sign and bade them be silent, for I knew He would confound them; and they too were my guests, and I would not have them put to shame.

When it was midnight the publicans left my house, and their souls were limping.

Then I closed my eyes and I saw, as if in a vision, seven women in white raiment standing about Jesus. Their arms were crossed upon their bosoms, and their heads were bent down, and I looked deep into the mist of my dream and beheld the face of one of the seven women, and it shone in my darkness.

It was the face of a harlot who lived in Jerusalem.

Then I opened my eyes and looked at Him, and He was smiling at me and at the others who had not left the board.

And I closed my eyes again, and I saw in a light seven men in white garments standing around Him. And I beheld the face of one of them.

It was the face of the thief who was crucified afterward at His right hand.

And later Jesus and His comrades left my house for the road.

Spirit of Life
In these days of shifting perceptions, dawning awakening and the recognition that we as a species are wrapped in the midst of sweeping change, many of us worry about making rent next month, about paying the heating bill, about putting nourishing food on the table. News headlines are filled with portents of doom — something we’ve grown accustomed to over a lifetime of increasingly pervasive media, but also something that takes a hidden toll on our coping abilities.

So this morning during my devotions, I came to the twelfth chapter of Luke, where Master Jesus (like Master Buddha, with whom we check in below) reminds us to step back from the drama and to remember the Source of life itself.

Luke 12:22 He said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, don’t be anxious for your life, what you will eat, nor yet for your body, what you will wear.
Luke 12:23 Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing.
Luke 12:24 Consider the ravens: they don’t sow, they don’t reap, they have no warehouse or barn, and God feeds them. How much more valuable are you than birds!
Luke 12:25 Which of you by being anxious can add a cubit to his height?
Luke 12:26 If then you aren’t able to do even the least things, why are you anxious about the rest?

My conditioning says that this is a quaint set of sayings, but that I can’t really believe them because I live in the “real world” and I have “responsibilities” and I wouldn’t want to “fall through the cracks.”

My knowingness, however, understands that what the Master says here is absolutely true — that all my paycheck-to-paycheck jobs down through the years were nothing but props, that my sense of security was NEVER derived from a so-called “steady job,” but, rather, from the One Life that expresses through me every moment of my life.

Luke 12:27 Consider the lilies, how they grow. They don’t toil, neither do they spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
Luke 12:28 But if this is how God clothes the grass in the field, which today exists, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith?
Luke 12:29 Don’t seek what you will eat or what you will drink; neither be anxious.
Luke 12:30 For the nations of the world seek after all of these things, but your Father knows that you need these things

If I assume that the Master is not telling me to sit around doing nothing, expecting manna to fall from the heavens… then, what?

Luke 12:31 But seek God’s Kingdom, and all these things will be added to you.
Luke 12:32 Don’t be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.

Ah — seek God’s Kingdom, and all these things will be added to you.

But what does that mean, to seek God’s Kingdom?

Luke 17:20 Being asked by the Pharisees when the Kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The Kingdom of God doesn’t come with observation;
Luke 17:21 neither will they say, ‘Look, here!’ or, ‘Look, there!’ for behold, the Kingdom of God is within you.”

The Master teaches us that true security is never found through external means, but is always located within — beneath the surface illusion brought about by our belief that we are the body.

I believe that the Master taught us to trust in the still, small voice inside, which is our connection with the Creator — our tether to Truth. We are to derive our sense of well-being from the God within — the Spirit of Life that is always the same, never wavers, animates our every moment from cradle to grave. We are to hand over our problems and troubles to the Spirit, to talk to the Spirit, to pour our souls out onto the Spirit… and to the extent that we maintain a habit of doing this, we will see our external reality transform into conformity with this ever-strengthening Union.

Luke 12:32 Don’t be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.
Luke 12:33 Sell that which you have, and give gifts to the needy. Make for yourselves purses which don’t grow old, a treasure in the heavens that doesn’t fail, where no thief approaches, neither moth destroys.
Luke 12:34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

The Buddha, of course, spoke of this Union with Spirit in terms of jhana/samadhi, which is literally an absorption in the blissful Spirit of Life of which we speak here. Here is are some typical pointers from the Buddha about the need to form this Union:

Aranavibhanga Sutta, MN 139

9.”Here bhikkhus, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, a bhikkhu enter upon and resides in the first (absorption) jhana”… (through 4th jhana). “This is called the bliss of renunciation, the bliss of seclusion, the bliss of peace, the bliss of enlightenment. I say of this kind of pleasure that it should be pursued, that it should be developed, that it should be cultivated, and that it should not be feared.”

Just as Jesus says to “Sell that which you have, and give gifts to the needy. Make for yourselves purses which don’t grow old, a treasure in the heavens that doesn’t fail, where no thief approaches, neither moth destroys…,” the Buddha encourages us to go “all in” with the Spirit of Life (jhana/samadhi), and to know that this is the ground for wondrous outcomes beyond our limited ability to desire.

It is true that the Buddha goes more deeply into the mechanics of how this works, but I believe that he and Jesus are talking about one and the same thing — and that Jesus assures us that, if we give our trust to the Spirit, if we rely on the Spirit to unfold all good things in Life… we will encounter the bliss, joy and ecstasy of perfect security, perfect peace, perfect Union.

There’s no worry here, no stress, no dread, no belief one way or the other.

Just a direct connection with the Source, which is our eternal Home.

Gary keeps after it, engaging the “war within Christianity” as to whether God sends sinners to eternal torment… or do we find salvation at some point along the soul’s journey?

Hebrews 4:12: For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

Albert Barnes says about this verse:

It is to show that we cannot escape the notice of God; that all insincerity, unbelief, hypocrisy, will be detected by him; and that since our hearts are perfectly open before him, we should be sincere and should not attempt to deceive him.

Why do we act like God won’t see into our hearts? Why do we live as though God can’t see us?

After all:

James 1:18: Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

None of us is truly separate from our Creator.

We may as well acknowledge this truth, and live each moment accordingly — as best we can, giving to the effort all that we have.


2Cor 9:15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

How I’m feeling at the moment.

‘Nuff said.

Matt 23:8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. (NRSV)

Many English translations say “brothers” or “brethren” instead of “students.”

While I appreciate the NRSV’s editorial policy of inclusiveness, I think “you are all brethren” better highlights the brotherly and sisterly responsibility we have toward the 7 billion siblings around us.

Matt 22:36-40 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”

He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’

This is the greatest and first commandment.

And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Spirit — the loving, divine, transformative, impossible-to-adequately-describe energy that continually beckons from the moment of birth, sometimes coming through in torrents — …Spirit directly and unmistakably delivers the fruits of the Teacher’s guidance to those who surrender completely.

Unwinding the hopelessly-tangled string of our existence is usually a long-term project.  Our highest calling, then, is to become surrendered as often as possible — recognizing that some days will be better than others, and that “failure” sometimes kicks us hard.

Healing and transformation happen in an environment of surrender.

Pain and suffering happen in an atmosphere of resistance.

The way to love our neighbor is through practicing surrender.

1Thess 5:17 Pray without ceasing.

Meditate, contemplate… commune… pray… surrender, as often as possible.

But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. John 16:13 (NASB)

Feeling the need for knowledge of the Will of God, I searched the Bible this morning, following a handful of passages. This is the one that hit me hardest.

The bliss, joy and ecstasy of charismatic phenomena — meditative absorption, samadhi, jhana, kundalini, chi, pranha, shakti — is none other than the Presence of the Spirit of God.

If we surrender to it, and agree to follow its guidance, life will open up in beautiful and unforeseen ways.