The Flagellation of Christ
Fontenay Abbey, France
After writing the essay on the importance on establishing one’s undivided state, one’s individuality, a number of conversations on the subject took place. I can’t recount every single one of them; but a number of observations echo through me, and — once again sitting in a hotel room in the early hours of the morning in Shanghai — I wish to jot them down for my own purposes.
Perhaps I should stress that everyone thinks they are already a single person, undivided. This is where the trouble begins. The greatest difficulty lies in the fact that it is so challenging to see how we are not whole; everything in the personality militates against it. It might be said that the only way to understand how divided we are is by becoming undivided. Until then, everything is opinion; and afterwords, everything is fact. Perhaps this becomes a lesson in how absolutely committed we are to our opinions. It’s quite astonishing, really. From within an undivided state one sees how forceful opinion is — because, you see, it does not go away. The difference between a divided and an undivided state is not in the losing of things, but the seeing of them. In an undivided state one has no choice but to absolutely confront all of the fractured Being that one gave oneself an endless series of excuses about in the past.
In this sense, no one really wants to be whole, because it involves an intensification of suffering within Truth of Being. This brings us to contrast with teachings that speak about how all is one, everything is beautiful, and so on. From an objective point of view this is true. Those interested in a brief snapshot of how that can affect a man in extremity should read the new Conge book, Real Life Behind Appearances, and absorb his description of his war experiences.
Yet the problem isn’t with the nature of the universe, but in man’s nature. We constantly confuse our own nature with the nature of The Reality, and believe that because we are part of The Perfection there is some kind of an excuse available to us, and everything will be all right.
I want you to think this over very carefully and understand our mortality. Nothing is all right at all, and this needs to be looked at intimately and with a willingness to suffer exactly what we are.
There is an incredible amount of grace bestowed upon us in the very fact of our existence, and at every moment we throw this away as though it were a cheap thing that could be discarded after use, like a plastic bag. So we are beings with grace discarded all around us; yet we don’t see the mess we are living in. If we were able to see through individuality just how filled with grace every moment is we would treat them all as more precious; our attitude here is a serial failure, and until we come to grips with that, we actually see very little.
Perhaps I should warn you. The more you are willing to take your own suffering in and digest it, the more suffering will come. We develop this capacity in order to be of service, and this means we must give something of ourselves up. So don’t take this inward work lightly, because it will demand — and what it demands will not be what I want it to demand, but rather what is objectively demanded. It’s a worthwhile exercise to try and see that everything that I think is “demanded” in a spiritual work and an inner effort are things that I want to be demanded, not things that are actually and objectively demanded. That is to say, I construct a fantasy about what ought to be and will be asked of me in order to become spiritually obedient. If real spiritual obedience is demanded of me it will always be a shock because the demands are not familiar ones and I never thought them up while I was sitting around in my hotel rooms or at home dreaming about my spiritual work.
One will be able to recognize real spiritual demand by exactly this quality, if it should arrive.
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.