Only one thing is necessary: to possess God – All the senses, all the forces of the soul and of the spirit, all the exterior resources are so many open outlets to the Divinity; so many ways of tasting and of adoring God. We should be able to detach ourselves from all that is perishable and cling absolutely to the eternal and the absolute and enjoy the all else as a loan. To worship, to comprehend, to receive, to feel, to give, to act: this our law, our duty, our happiness, our heaven. –
The art of letting things happen, action through non-action, letting go of oneself, as taught by Meister Eckhart, became for me the key opening the door to the way. We must be able to let things happen in the psyche.
A Mystical Retelling of John 1
The old master walked along the path with his students. “Tell us what happened long ago” one said, “in the very beginning”
“With God there is no beginning” replied the master, “neither is there any ending. The transient forms of finite things in this world begin, and they end. These forms are like the words of a story told by God. They begin and they end, but God does not begin.”
“Tell us about the beginning of these forms then” said another student.
The master gazed far off at the horizon, as if casting in the depth of his mind for a distant memory. “In the beginning, the Form came to exist. The Form was with God. And the form WAS God. This was the beginning. All finite things in their infinite variety came to be, flowing from these forms. For God became the Form, without ceasing to be God. None of the finite forms exists apart from his infinite existence.”
“Does that include evil forms? Forms of darkness and destruction?” asked one student.
“If God did not withdraw his light in some forms, he would have nowhere to manifest his light in other forms. All would be indistinguishable. God separates his being into light and darkness, and each have a part to play. He withdraws from a void of darkness and death, so that into the darkness, his light may shine, and the darkness can never overcome it. The purpose of the darkness is to be overcome by the light.”
“If all the forms also God” asked another student, “then what of us, who are forms as well?”
“God, the Form becomes flesh, and dwells within you,” said the master. “He is in the world, and he creates the world. He is in you, and he creates you. You are his own body.”
The students murmured among themselves. “How can we accept this?” said one of the louder ones. “We aren’t God! We don’t see God dwelling in ourselves!”
“You will never see it by identifying with your finite self. That is because you remain in the darkness in which God hides from himself” said the teacher. “To overcome this darkness, God sends a special demonstration. He unfolds for humanity a story in which his presence is manifest in all its glory in a single human being, a Christ, full of grace and truth from his birth – the glory as of God’s only son. Those who accept God’s glory in him are given power to become children of God themselves – not by their own finite efforts, but by God within.”
“Are you this special Son of God, this Christ?” Asked his students.
The master smiled. “I am not that light. Like you I began in darkness and awakened to the light. I remain here to testify to you of that light. You are as much children of God as I. You have all received of his fullness, but don’t yet realize it.”
“If we follow the morals of our religious tradition, will we find this light? Will we see God?” asked a hopeful student.
“The finite self does not see God in the finite world” said the teacher. “But in the Christ, God is manifest, and seeing him in Christ, you have the grace to see him in all things, even yourselves. And when God awakens in you – you will have no need of your moral tradition. Grace will flow from you.”
This project is an ongoing effort to gather those verses in the Bible, particularly the New Testament, which we believe have a hidden (or even direct) metaphysical or mystical meaning. We also hope to comment on these verses, as well as gather commentary from various mystical writers on these verses and topics, and parallel passages from the writing of other religions. The point of this project is to demonstrate that the “Perennial Philosophy” is, in fact, something that can be illustrated from the pages of the Bible.
In collecting these passages, we will follow the general outline of the “Perennial Philosophy” – which is described by Huxley as “— the metaphysic that recognizes a divine Reality substantial to the world of things and lives and minds; the psychology that finds in the soul something similar to, or even identical with, divine Reality; the ethic that places man’s final end in the knowledge of the immanent and transcendent Ground of all being” We have established, then, the following outline, into which we wish to collect and organize the passages in question. This outline is reproduced in the menu selections for the “Hidden Gospel” project. Please feel free to comment on any section, and we will consider your comments in future versions. :
Metaphysics: There is a Divine Reality behind the world of things and lives and minds It is uncreated It pervades all things It is paradoxical (panentheism) It uses both good and bad It leaves us free but compels us It is beyond reach or description, beyond all opposites
Psychology: There is something in the soul that is similar to or identical with the Divine Reality It is divine It is separate from the ego The ego is selfish, insatiable and craves divinity It is the true self It does not have the desires and limitations of the ego
Ethics: Man’s final end is knowledge of that imminent and transcendent Being. The ego must be killed By purification By detachment and selflessness By humility and obedience But it cannot be achieved by effort It is a gift It is by grace It is a realization Mystical union is achieved It is a rebirth It is the kingdom of heaven now Two kinds
Effects: Effortless morality Extraordinary powers Supreme peace and happiness Absolute freedom Identification with the divine
All the Christian mystical authors, from John of the Cross to Eckhart to Merton, see mystical meanings in scripture that most of us miss. Seeing we see not and hearing we hear not. Based on their ideas, I though it would be interesting to rework the major ideas of sections of the scripture into narratives that emphasized their mystical character.
These pages explore those mystical meanings.
by Ken Wilber
The witnessing of awareness can persist through waking, dreaming and deep sleep. The Witness is fully available in any state, including your own present state of awareness right now. So I’m going to talk you into this state, or try to, using what are known in Buddhism as “pointing out instructions.” I am not going to try to get you into a different state of consciousness, or an altered state of consciousness, or a non-ordinary state. I am going to simply point out something that is already occurring in your own present, ordinary, natural state. So let’s start by just being aware of the world around us. Look out there at the sky, and just relax your mind; let your mind and the sky mingle. Notice the clouds floating by. Notice that this takes no effort on your part. Your present awareness, in which these clouds are floating, is very simple, very easy, effortless, spontaneous. You simply notice that there is an effortless awareness of the clouds. The same is true of those trees, and those birds, and those rocks. You simply and effortlessly witness them. Look now at the sensations in your own body. You can be aware of whatever bodily feelings are present-perhaps pressure where you are sitting, perhaps warmth in your tummy, maybe tightness in your neck. But even if these feelings are tight and tense, you can easily be aware of them. These feelings arise in your present awareness, and that awareness is very simple, easy, effortless, spontaneous. You simply and effortlessly witness them. Look at the thoughts arising in your mind. You might notice various images, symbols, concepts, desires, hopes and fears, all spontaneously arising in your awareness. They arise, stay a bit, and pass. These thoughts and feelings arise in your present awareness, and that awareness is very simple, effortless, spontaneous. You simply and effortlessly witness them. So notice: you can see the clouds float by because you are not those clouds-you are the witness of those clouds. You can feel bodily feelings because you are not those feelings-you are the witness of those feelings. You can see thoughts float by because you are not those thoughts-you are the witness of those thoughts. Spontaneously and naturally, these things all arise, on their own, in your present, effortless awareness. So who are you? You are not objects out there, you are not feelings, you are not thoughts-you are effortlessly aware of all those, so you are not those. Who or what are you? Say it this way to yourself: I have feelings, but I am not those feelings. Who am I? I have thoughts, but I am not those thoughts. Who am I? I have desires, but I am not those desires. Who am I? So you push back into the source of your own awareness. You push back into the Witness, and you rest in the Witness. I am not objects, not feelings, not desires, not thoughts. But then people usually make a big mistake. They think that if they rest in the Witness, they are going to see something or feel something-something really neat and special. But you won’t see anything. If you see something, that is just another object-another feeling, another thought, another sensation, another image. But those are all objects; those are what you are not. No, as you rest in the Witness-realizing, I am not objects, I am not feelings, I am not thoughts-all you will notice is a sense of freedom, a sense of liberation, a sense of release-release from the terrible constriction of identifying with these puny little finite objects, your little body and little mind and little ego, all of which are objects that can be seen, and thus are not the true Seer, the real Self, the pure Witness, which is what you really are. So you won’t see anything in particular. Whatever is arising is fine. Clouds float by in the sky, feelings float by in the body, thoughts float by in the mind-and you can effortlessly witness all of them. They all spontaneously arise in your own present, easy, effortless awareness. And this witnessing awareness is not itself anything specific you can see. It is just a vast, background sense of freedom-or pure emptiness-and in that pure emptiness, which you are, the entire manifest world arises. You are that freedom, openness, emptiness-and not any itty bitty thing that arises in it. Resting in that empty, free, easy, effortless witnessing, notice that the clouds are arising in the vast space of your awareness. The clouds are arising within you-so much so, you can taste the clouds, you are one with the clouds. It is as if they are on this side of your skin, they are so close. The sky and your awareness have become one, and all things in the sky are floating effortlessly through your own awareness. You can kiss the sun, swallow the mountain, they are that close. Zen says “Swallow the Pacific Ocean in a single gulp,” and that’s the easiest thing in the world, when inside and outside are no longer two, when subject and object are nondual, when the looker and looked at are One Taste. You see?
– Ken Wilber
The following chart of consciousness is taken from David Hawkin’s book Power Vs. Force
While thinking about the issue of Gnosticism and the problem of evil, I suddenly had what was (to me at least) a very powerful “ah ha” moment. Of course, once written down and shared, it will probably seem mundane or even stupidly obvious. But at the time it was like a bolt of lightening from heaven.
The insight was this: Whatever the literal truth or falsehood – Gnosticism is actually a very perceptive metaphor on the problem of pain and evil. It hit me as I was reading something in a Gnostic text and realized it was very similar to something both Robert Pirsig and Ken Wilber had said. Both these writers point out a particular hierarchy of being – one I think we would all agree with. You can divide it up in more than one way – but it goes something like this:
The Hierarchy of Being
The foundational structures of the cosmos are physical – in the sense of being governed by chemistry and physics. Then there are biological structures built from the physical. Then there are social structures built from the biological. Then there are the mental structures of ideas that are built from social dialogue. You can add a layer of spiritual structures, but since that will be an item of dispute, let’s just lump it in with mental for the moment. Each of these structures is built on the preceding ones. Biological systems use physical systems. Social systems use biological systems (people) and physical systems (technologies). Mental systems use social systems (communal dialogue), biological systems (our brains) and physical systems (the neurochemistry of the brain).
Now for a critical observation – each of these levels have entirely different – even contradictory – purposes, laws and goals. For example, entropy (The tendency for all matter and energy in the universe to devolve into a state of inert uniformity and disorder) is a fundamental principle of the physical cosmos. But biology is in a state of war with entropy. Biology is a system for increasing the order and energy in the small local pocket of it’s own system. Biology has its own laws and goals – which center on the survival of the individual organism and its reproduction at the expense of all else. But at the social level, these biological goals – unchecked, become evils. Societies may choose to sacrifice their own individual members for the good of the society – if they threaten the social stability, for example. Then from these societies and their interactions, systems of ideas arise. And what a society may see as “good” for its survival and prosperity (slavery for example) the arising system of ideas may see as evil. In the West, we have a developed a system of ideas which demands that we tolerate (for the sake of the IDEA of liberty) the existence of certain things which may pose a danger to the social order – reformers or crackpots as the case may be.
The point is, at each point in the hierarchy of being, the “good” and “evil” of the lower rungs on the ladder may be (and often ARE) very contrary to the “good” and “evil” of the higher rungs. Let’s take a bad genetic illness like Harlequin Baby Syndrome. From our point of view in the social and particularly mental spheres of being, this seems quite obviously evil. It is hideous and causes great physical and emotional suffering. On the other hand, from the point of view of biology, it’s not bad at all. Genetic variability is what drives the whole process. If we didn’t have a thousand mutations or genetic combinations that resulted in death and pain, we wouldn’t have the one that turned proved to be useful in some particular way. Suffering and death are simply failed experiments that weed out unfit genetic combinations.
The higher levels cannot normally disregard the rules and laws of the lower levels. They simply find ways to work around them or compromise with them to achieve their purposes.
Let’s return to the Gnostic metaphor, then. The Gnostics saw the god of creation, the demiurge or “half-maker” as a somewhat ignorant figure, full of arrogance, petty jealousy and capriciousness. From the ideas above, we could say that the demiurge represents the physical/biological systems, as seen from the point of view of the mental/spiritual systems. It’s interesting that as gnosticism developed from its earlier roots, the demiurge was increasingly seen as not just immature and ignorant, but positively EVIL, along with the material world he organized. Orthodox Christianity has been more reluctant to condemn the material world, but still tries to insist that God governs the whole cosmos in accordance with the higher (mental/spiritual) notions of “good”. The idea that “good” changes from one level to the next would probably rub the wrong way and be seen as making morality “situational”.
A Symbolic Example
This idea of good and evil changing from one level to the next has an interesting illustration in world symbology – specifically the symbol of the snake. Ken Wilber points out that serpents can be seen as symbols of good OR evil in many different religions – including Christianity. For example, the serpent represents Satan in the garden on the one hand, but when Moses raises up a serpent on a pole to heal the Israelites, it is taken to be a symbol of Jesus.
In Hindu/Buddhist symbolism, the snake represents Kundalini energy – the basic life/god force of the cosmos, which works it’s way up the energy centers or “chakras” of the human body as it spiritually progresses. It’s starts at the base of the spine, at a center representing the physical systems, and works it’s way up to above the crown of the head, representing the highest spiritual centers. Wilber points out that when the snake symbol is used as representing “evil” it is seen at the lower levels of the body (the typhonic gods, for example, or the goat-god baphomet), and at the higher levels of the body, it represents “good” (Buddah and other deities are seen with cobras shading the crown of their heads). It is not that the physical levels are “bad” – they are only seen as bad when we fixate on or descend to the lower physical/biological or social levels as the expense of the mental/spiritual levels.
The categories I have been using, by the way, need not be divided so broadly. Within each level of being, there may be many sub-levels. For example, there are many types and classifications of social and mental systems. A new and higher social or mental system may find its notions of “good” and “evil” quite different from an earlier one.
How do we view the problem of evil from this hierarchical perspective? What looks to us humans as “unnecessary suffering” from our perspective is usually the “good” of a lower order interposing itself in our own “good”. Theoretically, of course, it could always be the good of a higher order interposing itself in our own “good”. For example, our programs of selective breeding produce species that, while they serve our purposes nicely – are actually LESS fit for survival. If biology had an independent mind and could speak, it might accuse us of corrupting things. Which brings up another point. A lower level is utterly incapable of reacting according to the “good” of a higher level. If there are levels of being above our own – we might be quite unequipped to understand “good” and “evil” with respect to them – until we reach that level ourselves. In fact, if the system I have mapped out here has any predictive value, it would probably say that at the next level, the “goods” and “evils” of our MENTAL or philosophical/religious systems are quite incidental to a much greater spiritual good. The angels or higher beings may be as unconcerned about the truths of our philosophies and dogmas as we are unconcerned with “corrupting” natural selection by breeding prize milk cows.
If we look at God as being present at every level of this hierarchy, working within it – we are simply faced with the fact that there are different ideals of “good” at different levels of being.
“Evil” is simply the interplay of different levels of “good”.
Suppose you were to die and find yourself in a typical version of “heaven”. There you can do anything you like, have whatever experiences you like, etc. Everything is wonderful for a very long time. You have fascinating conversations, relive all sorts of wonderful experiences, etc. After a few trillion or so years, however, things just aren’t quite as “fresh” as they used to be. You’ve read every book ever written, talked to every person ever born, sampled every food, seen every play. There simply aren’t any experiences you haven’t tried already. Even if you could have “new” experiences, they would remind you of old ones. Things begin to get downright stale. Then an idea hits you. If only you could put yourself into a temporary state of forgetting – where you could experience things in a fresh way, without the baggage of all that previous experience. This brings new joy to you. You try it again and again, each time experiencing things through new eyes. After another few trillion years, however, it occurs to you that it would be fun, while in your “forgetting” state – to try out a few scary experiences, or perhaps a few tragic ones. After all, like watching a movie or riding a roller-coaster, it only lasts a short while, and then you “wake up” again and everything is alright. You realize it is perfectly “safe” to try out all the infinite experiences that infinite possibility allows, knowing that no real harm can come to you, and that you will “wake up” safe again in your blissful home. Sure, while you are in the middle of the forgetful state, you may be in deep pain or despair. You may even curse whoever got you into this mess (I’ve had the same feeling on many a roller-coaster myself) – but it’s all an illusion. You wake up safe and sound every time.
In effect, this is exactly what God does. He puts on the forgetful mask of you, or me, and has a wonderful time, or a scary time, or a heart-wrenching time. And then he wakes up.