As children, we were taught about the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross for our sins. We were taught to do good works, to be kind to others, and to obey our parents. We were also taught that the wrath of God could be severe, that those who do not obey Him may suffer eternal damnation and that those who follow His commandments will enjoy eternal life with Him in a heavenly place. Most of us are led as children to accept or believe in a deity whose characteristics are defined by someone else, namely the minister, our parents, or our teachers. Many of us may admit, at certain times or stages in life, to a nagging doubt or restlessness coupled with a craving or a need to know more, a craving that may not be satisfied by the god presented to us in our local churches or temples or mosques or synagogues. There is an inherent curiosity in us that drives us, which we see clearly in children. After all, we really know little about ourselves except for what we have been told.
Many fall in line with the social norms and habits and accept the mainstream interpretation of human evolution, religion, history and psychology, while others question them and seek a more meaningful or personal answer. Some may find themselves disenchanted, suspended somewhere between this impulse to know more and the demands of daily life within their social paradigm. The world often gets the best of them. They live out their lives acting out of fear and desire and reacting to society's messages and needs. Many become the victims of their own egos or their adopted deities as this tiny spark, this curiosity, fades into the shadows of their distractions. Virtually everything that we do and think is motivated by fear or desire. We only have to look back to our own childhood to see that we have been raised on reward and punishment. The desire for toys or wealth, the desire for acceptance and recognition, the desire for heaven, the fear of death, damnation and hell, the fear of rejection, and the fear of poverty are all examples familiar to us. The list of course is endless but it is quite clear that we find ourselves constantly suspended between the two polarities. It is rare indeed to find ourselves living or acting out of sheer freedom or creativity or vitality.
Fear and desire force us to react and drive many to subscribe to a particular religion or faith. While faith may have different definitions, it is traditionally defined as the belief and hope in something or someone without logical proof or material evidence. The orthodox faith that I refer to in this book is a belief largely held by the masses, one that is externally determined or taught and professed by many in conjunction with an accepted theology but not shaped or tested by deep, personal knowledge or experience. It lives only on the lips, becomes a part of the social persona, and gets entangled with defining morals and ethics. This faith, driven by the devotee’s desire to believe, is nothing less than the leaping of intelligence and sensitivity from the edge of a cliff. It is in short a suicide of the mind that puts a wedge between all of the human faculties. However, there is a contrasting faith that can make that leap to that higher dimension or perception. This type of faith, which I call authentic or existential faith, has nothing to do with belief or hope. It is nothing less than trust in the process that is one's life. It is the ability to question the paradigms that have shaped our very perceptions. It is the courage and willingness to identify the false, whether it is an inherited education, religion, social norm, etc., and abandon it for the unknown. This type of faith is not tied to any religious dogma or divine authority but to a resonance with an inner conviction that runs through our veins and transcends mental constructs and institutions. Those who have authentic faith let go of crystallized beliefs or the faith of the masses, turn away from the false, willingly explore their world through their own experience and unconditionally accept whatever may arise, even through pain. Such people stand in their place naked, utterly alone with no crutch. But it is this vulnerability and solitude that reveal something never before seen. This shattering of their previous, predetermined vision of themselves or their beliefs is the birth of a new perception and of the inner sage (or mystic). Sages are quite practical people who truly make a "leap of faith" by losing their lives - or their inherited vision of life - to something greater and inexpressible. They cannot be pinned down or defined by the world outside. At one point they may have been Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists or even atheists. Through their "conversion" they become truly free human beings, open and creative expressions of the whole dynamic movement of life.
Sages open themselves to an "intelligence" or sensitivity that is vastly different than the ordinary intelligence with which we are familiar. It is the intimate comprehension and “touching” of something that cannot be conceptualized. It is an active participation or an unmistakable conviction that is affirmed through daily life. Certainly this intelligence brings about a major change in one's life or makeup because it blurs the lines between the process and the person, the experience and the one who experiences. Sages are keenly aware of an interdependence between the world they perceive and who they are. That vision or awareness or intelligence drives their lives. How powerful is it? In Luke 21:33, Jesus says: "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away." That is to say, should the gods command the sky to fall and the mountains to crumble and the world to be set ablaze against me, I will stand in my conviction of this vision, unmoved. In other words, this vision is the ground of my being, of my existence; I am changed and defined by this conviction and it is occurring NOW, not as a belief or concept that I hold in my mind or hope for future salvation, resurrection or afterlife, but as active and current participation. It is more real than anything I know, even more evident than my own physical senses or the idea of my own impending death. In fact, it renders death as meaningless because this vision is ever-present. In this way of being, I have stepped out of the flow of psychological time altogether. No one can move me from my center; neither gods nor devils nor an army of preachers condemning me as a heretic can shake my conviction in my perception.
All of us are always in touch with this perception or awareness. Compassion perhaps is the greatest connection to this vision or Jesus' Kingdom of Heaven. Compassion is not a goal to be achieved and is not a product of fear or desire; rather, it is a sign of the inherent unity of all of life and one of the most existential, profound, and paradoxical human experiences. It is seemingly paradoxical because of its personal and impersonal nature. It can catch us by surprise and drive us to magnificent acts that bewilder our own minds and contradict our will for survival. In his essay, The Foundation of Morality, the 19th Century German philosopher Schopenhauer affirms that compassion, at its core, is a metaphysical realization that "I" and "the other" are somehow connected as one. All of us have perhaps at one time or another felt utter compassion for others whom we did not know personally but we openly and joyfully participated in their sorrow. It is an instantaneous spark or connection that bypasses thoughts, morals, personality, analysis and judgment. It is an intimate involvement and participation, beyond our personal prejudices, in another creature's passion or suffering that transcends our judgment of the source of the suffering. Its reality touches us at our core. And it is beyond the reasoning of the intellect and beyond time and space and personality. Compassion is markedly human and has the ability to empower, change, and liberate us. And yet it does not have any intrinsic, self-preserving motive behind it. Compassion is a natural outward manifestation of a profound inner reality or truth that supersedes our individual or fragmented physical existence.
Why do I speak of fear and desire, of faith and experience? Here they play a role in the ability, or lack thereof, to understand and decipher the message of Jesus. Any good Catholic child has experienced fear in the image of a fiery pit of hell that consumes and tortures the sinner for all of eternity. No one can deny that modern Christianity lives behind this veil of two extremes, the fear of perpetual punishment and the desire for eternal life. Very few have had the courage to glance behind this veil of fear and desire, to draw back the curtains, and embrace the natural light of personal experience.