In Luke 9:23 we read: "And he [Jesus] said to them all, 'if any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.'" This passage has been traditionally interpreted from a social perspective, in that those who follow Jesus may experience persecution from society or the outside world. For the first several centuries after Jesus, this statement was literally true. Christians were vigorously persecuted and put to death for their beliefs; however, today we live in a world where Christianity is mainstream. Supposed followers of Jesus rule a large part of the world. Interestingly enough, this statement still holds true for those who interpret it in unconventional or metaphorical ways. Of course the persecution is of a different nature. Those who do not hold the traditional view of Jesus are considered heretics today and are excommunicated from the church. They are ostracized in some families and social circles; they may even be told that, unless they repent, their end is in a perpetual pit of fire. A metaphorical reading of this passage speaks of an internal struggle, a struggle to remain truthful with oneself, to remain awake, to retain inward focus, and not to be completely taken in by the idea or concept as a substitute for reality. The goal is to consistently retain an experience of the wonder and mystery of life and live on a plane of awareness. But this cannot be done with effort and with the end goal of gaining some benefit. This view is supported by John 14:17 which says: "Even the spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it sees him not, neither knows him: but you know him; for he dwells with you, and shall be in you." Another related passage, Matthew 8:20, speaks from the point of view of the spirit of truth: "And Jesus said to him, 'Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.'" Most interpret this passage to mean that few are those who recognize the spirit of truth and give it shelter in their own homes. The passage implies a nomadic, suffering, and solitary character of the Son of Man and those who are born of the Spirit. But in that very passage also lies a paradoxical meaning. It suggests that the sage does not take refuge in this idea or that philosophy or that concept. He intentionally does not rest his head anywhere and in that way, he is always in motion and alert. In other words, comfort and security can have a numbing effect and therefore are a detriment to integral consciousness. In fact, Jesus encourages us to put ourselves in situations that force the unknown, deeper dimensions of ourselves to come out. In Matthew 19:21, Jesus says to a rich man: “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” In other words, we should dare to thrust ourselves into the unknown. This is neither acquiescence to suffering nor a call for a moral life dedicated to God; rather, it is a very practical way to discover who we are, by calling up our deeper impulses and reactions to a life that is not controlled and manipulated. We stand naked and unprotected by those ephemeral things that we have built, such as our social position and our wealth (spiritual or material). We dare to put our trust or “faith” in the same power of life that “clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire…” (Luke 12:28) For those who are able to do so, a new dimension of life opens up. It may be glorious or sorrowful or dangerous but it puts us in resonance with the very power of life.
There are several passages in the Gospels that reveal Jesus as an imaginative teacher who is talking about the kingdom of the Father in symbolic terms, as an inner landscape that is foreign to people of his day. An excellent example is contained in chapter 13 of Matthew. In this chapter, Jesus presents the parable of the sower and the parable of the weeds. Jesus explains these parables in detail to his disciples. Specifically, we read in Matthew 13:18 the way in which Jesus explains the parable of the sower: "Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty." Through this parable, Jesus affirms that people will hear the message and interpret it or internalize it in various ways, but for the one who takes it to heart, in whom it takes hold and sprouts into a beautiful garden, life becomes fruitful. The one who bears fruit is the one in whom the message lives, because the perception has awakened in him.
Consistently throughout the Gospels, Jesus says that you should not look to the outer world for salvation. We all must walk our own path and keep our focus. But the bridge to the Kingdom is not a path from one point to another; it is spaceless and directionless. You cannot look to your neighbor to see what he or she is doing. You cannot look to any guru or teacher or any self-proclaimed savior. How often in modern culture do we look at the possessions of others or what others are doing? How often is our focus thrown off track in an attempt to be like someone else, to gain the success that someone else has? Jesus tells us that in doing so we lose our way. Simply speaking, we must keep our eyes on the road, on our own road. In John 13:33, Jesus says: "Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You shall seek me, and as I said unto the Jews, where I go, you cannot come." This passage tells that we cannot look at the path that even Jesus might take, whether internal or external; we cannot use that as our own path because we will surely become lost. Jesus has his own personal path and destiny. Likewise, we all have our own personal story to bring forth that arises out of the unique impulse of our own life. Each one of us has to interpret for himself the meaning of the story of Jesus in context with his own life. This is precisely what a great artist does. We speak of great artists as having a unique style, an original voice, one of a kind. The artist creates his art with his vision, which is interpreted through his own distinctive life experience. The material that he uses is available to everyone; however, he bends it according to his own experience to give it his own personal touch. Great artists reveal some heart-felt truths, which are expressed with very personal language.
There are several passages in the Gospels that point to Jesus as the source of salvation, as the fountain of wisdom. These passages are perhaps the cornerstone of Christianity. We find in John 14:6: "Jesus said unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father, but by me." John 10:9 reads: "I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture." And John 11:25, reads: " Jesus said unto her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. He that believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.'" And in John 8:58: "Jesus said unto them, 'Verily, verily, I say unto you, before Abraham was, I am.'" The meaning of these passages in traditional Christianity claims that Jesus, the physical person who lived in the first century of our time, is the gateway to God, to salvation. It is understandable that the traditional Christian viewpoint should come to this conclusion keeping in mind its consistent and historical tendency to interpret Scripture literally. This interpretation poses some ontological questions and problems. A few of the questions that come to mind are: How can my eternal character or destiny be dependent on a temporal event in time? What of those who lived and died before the coming of Jesus? What of children who were born and died too young to understand this concept of salvation? And at which point do children understand the story of Jesus and therefore become accountable for their own salvation? This viewpoint opens a Pandora's box of issues that gets us mired in an orgy of philosophical and theological arguments that hint at a miscalculation or misunderstanding.
It is difficult for traditional Christians to accept any other perspective on Jesus than being the savior largely because they have readily accepted that which has been handed down to them without any further questioning. Accepting a different viewpoint means going against the grain of their education or programming, which can be very painful and even shattering. But it is precisely what Jesus asks of us. Before I present my point on this matter, we must differentiate between the figure of Jesus and of Christ. Jesus is the human figure, a child born in Bethlehem according to the story. Christ is not a person of flesh and blood but represents an integrated and whole consciousness or perception. For those who are familiar with physics, we can compare the dichotomy of Jesus and Christ to the nature of light. Physicists tell us that light presents itself to us in two different forms: a particle and a wave. A particle has a specific location. It is a fragment existing only at one point in space and time. The person of Jesus is like a particle. Our world consists of this way of thinking where it is composed of individuals existing in specific places and times. The understanding of light as a wave on the other hand requires a completely different perception. Here light exists everywhere as part of a field. Our minds, which belong to the other paradigm, can only talk about this state of light in terms of potentiality or probability. But in this field, there are no individual particles. A specific location in time and space simply does not apply here. Likewise, we can think of Christ as this field of uniform consciousness existing everywhere. Christ is ever-present. Christ is not a divisible, fragmented unit or individual. We can describe Christ metaphorically as the Pure Child who comes from the Father or from that Landscape where the Father lives. Therefore, Jesus is an individual, a man while Christ is the Perception of Reality or, to put it in more poetic language, the Perception of the Dance of the Universe. In the Gospels, we see the two merging. This union is reflected in other world religions. In Buddhism for example we see Prince Gautama, the man, awakening to become the Buddha or Christ.
It is from this awakened state, of this Perception, that Jesus often speaks. He speaks not from a single man's point of view but from an awareness that is the source of all wisdom, with which he is at one. The Christ consciousness is beyond personalities and egos, beyond personal fears and desires, beyond arrogance and humility, and beyond flesh and blood. As mentioned, it is that uniform and unified Breath that is ever-present in everyone. Traditional Christians often rebuke and reject this view as the "Christ-consciousness of the New Age movement." They recoil from the idea of everyone being equal with Jesus. This idea topples the hierarchical system that is the foundation of their metaphysics. In my opinion, this quick rejection is a reflection of the master-servant, king-slave, reward-punishment, and virtue-sin ideology that is inherent in the orthodox Christian belief system and that is responsible for today's troubled world. On the other hand, it would be a mistake to readily accept an inherent presence of Christ-consciousness in each human being. Conceptually, this may sound attractive and all-inclusive but it is far from our experience in the everyday world. Christ-consciousness lies within each one of us but very few are willing to open the door to it. Anyone who would follow a book or a methodology or a recipe , whether Christian, Muslim, New-Ager, or any follower of other cults, is missing the point of the Gospel.
Jesus himself tells us that we are capable of knowing the consciousness that is also in him. In John 14:12, Jesus says: "Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father." Orthodoxy interprets these "works" as miracles or healing or at least something external; however, I believe that they refer to something internal, a perception that is not of the rational intellect but of the Christ-consciousness. It is a continuous expansion in consciousness that unfolds and illuminates our lives as we age. And it is this sole consciousness that we must enter into in order to reach understanding of or to know the Father, the source of all things. It is the only door. Seeing and being gripped by it is itself the illumination. The first step and the last step are one as reflected in Jesus' statement in John 16:33: "In the world you shall have tribulation. But be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." Yes, there are sorrows and tribulations in the world but the Christ-consciousness keeps bringing us back to this Landscape, keeps beckoning us through all of our frustrations, pains, pleasures, sorrows, failures and successes.
We see here that the true sage risks everything in search of the Father and that Landscape. He may leave behind his former life, his family and friends, his country and home, haunted by a Rhythm, a Calling. But in the very act of risking his life, in gathering up the courage to take that first step outside of his comfortable abode, he has already found his Greater Life. Within the very beginnings of his adventure, he finds treasure and new possibilities that are unavailable to those who have not left the comfort of their homes and the familiarity of their shores.