Monday, January 21, 2008
There are some Christians who feel that the very word "esoteric" is a dirty word. The fundamentalists and Baptists I knew down in Georgia felt that anything that wasn't straight out of the Bible and taken literally was evil--possibly influenced even by Satan himself--and to be avoided at any cost.
They were so paranoid that any symbols they were not familiar with -- even ones traditionally associated with Christianity -- were threatening to them. I discovered this when I was showing some of my fairly symbolic art at a local show. (one actual example--it was at the selfsame show--is the illustration of the Sufi tale found at Doremishock.com.) It proved to be completely impossible to reassure them that I was, in fact, a lifelong Christian, and that all of my art dealt with positive religious understanding of one kind or another.
Fear. It's a beautiful thing.
In writing the preface to a book I am currently working on, I described esotericism as nothing more than "the search for the true heart, the core of Love that flows abundantly from mysterious and divine sources."
It is this search for God's Love itself that I believe defines esoteric, or inner, practice. We are all seeking to discover the original connection we have with the divine. It is a journey back to our origins, which actually lie not above, but within us: for God is within all things.
There may be different ways of approaching this, but in the end, every real journey must go in the same direction, and that direction is always towards Love.
It has been hammered home to me on a number of occasions within my life as to how inadequate I am to a real understanding of Love. As I am, as I live and breathe, I am unable to open my heart in the manner that is necessary. As I am, I am vain, arrogant, and bestow my "favors" on the others according to whim or opinion.
On those rare occasions when Love blooms within me, it is never because of what I am or what I do. It is always because of grace.
We cannot reach anything real without help. As we are, we are damaged, we are unable. This situation really is pretty ghastly, and the only hope we have is to turn to a higher power for assistance. In doing so, we have to agree to accept the experience of what we are, because it is only through this acceptance -- this suffering, this seeing of what we actually are -- that we can be purified in order to receive the radiant Force of Compassion that emanates from God at all times.
I suppose, that for many of us, the stern words of the Gurdjieff work may not seem to have a lot to do with love, but that is actually the very heart of the work. There is nowhere else to go. As I grow older, I am increasingly convinced that Mr. Gurdjieff was well aware of the fact. Some of you may recall that Ouspensky specifically said he left Gurdjieff because the Work was becoming "too religious" for him. It's too bad he didn't understand that there is no other way for a Work to be.
In Frank Sinclair's book "Without Benefit of Clergy", there is a passage where he shares a story about Gurdjieff telling his followers, at Christmas, to call on Christ for help. Gurdjieff may not have spoken much about Christ in general, but this one story tells me something absolute and incontrovertible about him.
He knew Christ was real.
A fact like this makes all the difference in the world, because once one knows that Christ is--not was, IS-- real, everything is called into question. For as long as Christianity remains a discipline, or a colorful, fabulous myth or a beautiful form, we hold it at arm's length. But if Christ is real -- available to us now--well, then what? What does that mean?
Isn't that the most radical question we can pose?
I have often said to friends that I think fundamentalists make us uncomfortable because they are a little closer to the truth than we want them to be. Not in their contention that God is stern and merciless -- heaven knows, we hear more than enough of that horrid nonsense -- but in their contention that there is only one path to the truth, and that that path leads through help. In the case of the Christians, that help comes through Christ.
This is not to dismiss the other great world religions. As you all know, I have a deep respect for Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism. Every single one of them is magnificent, and contains depths that we cannot really hope to penetrate in a single lifetime. Buddha, Krishna, Mohammed: they, too, are real, they are available, on levels we cannot sense or see, compassionately and patiently awaiting our efforts.
The fact remains that something was different about Christ. As I have said before, he was the only teacher who accepted his fate--an objectively horrible fate--and still continued to Love. And, as is said, thereby brought a new covenant to mankind.
Something on the astral level changed because of Christ's sacrifice. Interested readers can seek out a copy of Mouni Sadhu's "The Tarot," (now out of print, but a quite extraordinary book) in which he said that Christ's sacrifice was the greatest single deed ever done for mankind on the astral plane. As a guru for all of mankind, he took on the karma of the entire planet, because he was at a level where he was capable of that.
What does it mean, that Christ brought a new covenant, a new possibility, to mankind? I wish to understand that, but I am not able. I am too small and too selfish.
How can I change that?
Paul said it thus in Corinthians: "When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God in lofty words, or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling." (Corinthians 2:1-3)
Regardless of whom we commit ourselves to: Christ, Krishna, Buddha--only in that deep and wordless trembling and shaking of the soul, in abject gratitude and humility, can we hope to progress.
May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.