It has been said that Jesus is to the West, as Buddha is to the East. Certainly for the past two thousand years he has occupied a central position in our culture. Yet today churches, clergy, and monastic communities are in rapid decline. One reason for this, is that over the last fifty years our obsession with historical accuracy of every part of the Jesus story has taken away from the meaning of the story.
I believe that it is misguided to look literally, instead we need to look symbolically. In other words, stop reading the bible as a historical document and start reading it mythologically in the same way as we would, say, Greek myths and legends. Plus, to expect 1st century ideas to travel and translate word for word across time is ridiculous.
We need to look at the metaphors and symbolism of the story; that way the transformative power comes forth. With the best will in the world, churches have failed to capture the sacred dimension of life in the hearts and minds of their congregation.
When Jesus said, “My Kingdom is not of this world”, he did not mean that it is floating around somewhere up in the sky. Jesus was very clear when he said, “the Kingdom of God is within you”. In other words he invites us into a larger dimension of living than we commonly inhabit.
Transcendant awakening is a bit like the path of enlightenment in Buddhist philosophy. By directing the light of our consciousness beyond the current frontier of our knowing, we begin to allow the great unknown dimensions of life to find us.
According to Revolutionary Mystic Adyashanti, the Kingdom Jesus speaks about is not of this world, but is very much present within this world. He considers it is ever present and everywhere upon the Earth, but people do not see and experience it because they have become attached to the things of this world; things like power, greed, hatred, envy, judgement, control and violence.
By stepping away from our own divinity and projecting it exclusively on to Jesus as the one and only son of God, we simply perpetuate the very suffering that Jesus came to dispel. Buddhism too is concerned with suffering (dukka). To the Buddha the entire teaching is just the understanding of suffering, the unsatisfactory nature of all phenomenal existence, and the understanding of the way out of this unsatisfactoriness.
Just as with mindfulness and other meditation practices we are striving to cultivate true awareness, so too Jesus calls us to awaken and embody the living presence of eternity and enlightenment here on Earth. If we can find the courage to step away from the security of what we think we know, and look at this story with fresh eyes, it can speak to us in ways that can really resonate at a deep level. As adults in our western society many of us have almost entirely forgotten that story telling and myth are powerful ways of conveying spiritual and existential truths that cannot be conveyed in ordinary language.
Living in this moment is something taught in many (if not most) traditions, and it is a great antidote to suffering. The Buddha tells us, “Don’t chase after the past, don’t seek the future; the past is gone, the future hasn’t come. But see clearly on the spot, the object which is now, while finding and living in a still, unmoving state of mind.” Jesus said, ” Consider the lilies. They neither toil nor spin…let tomorrow take care of itself.”
Let us see the words of the story for what they are – mere pointers towards a reality that the limitations of words always distort and never capture. There is a transcending reality not only present in the story, but also in the very heart of life. This reality is within each of us, within the stillness of our internal space and stands for the limitless of Being itself.
If mindfulness has emerged as a powerful practice embracing business culture, schools, health and many other secular environments, it is because Religion as a system of belief is not seen as the doorway to the everlasting as it was. When mindfulness does not claim to hold the Truth or be the Way it resonates more easily with people in this secular society we live in. On the other hand because language can never do more than point to that which it seeks to describe, looking at the story as a symbolic message can offer the disenchanted a transcending reality which is present in the very heart of life as a limitless symbol of hope if we listen to that still and quiet place within.
Until next time, very best wishes, Steve.
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Steve Clifford Senior Accredited Integrative Psychotherapist. Accredited Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist.
Adyashanti (2014) “Jesus: A Revolutionary Mystic,” Watkins Mind Body Spirit, Issue 38, Summer 2014, 30-31.
Spong, J. S (1999) Why Christianity must change or die, Harper, San Francisco.