Chapter 37: Fundamentalists and Mystics

Down the Rabbit HoleAt some point, many Fundamentalists undergo a psychological experience that transforms them into what are called born-again Christians. This experience can be quite dramatic and bring on substantial psychic release through tears, joy and ecstasy. In that moment, the believer utterly affirms a personal relationship with Jesus. Although the experience may be genuine, some believers insist on associating their experience with the forms of the metaphors, that of Jesus, and not their reference. They choose to see their experience in light of their inherited theology, tethering it to a particular form or concept and enslaving their experience to an ideology. They reject the notion - or never consider - that the experience itself is indifferent to and transcends the nature of the forms through which it comes; the experience has no theology. The forms are simply vehicles for the mind. Their function however is to bring forth the dynamic nature of life into the realm of everyday living. This is what the sage or mystic discovers, but the fundamentalist insists on binding his experience to the crystallized forms and by doing so kills the winged spirit as it begins to take flight. Of course these conversion experiences occur not only in Christianity but in other religions as well. Above all, it is a human experience. Believers of other religions also tend to associate their conversion with their particular deities. This is, in my opinion, the greatest pitfall or tragedy in the modern human endeavor for Truth. Many Christian mystics talk about this danger of confusing the forms of God for God. They warn against hanging on to the experience of the forms and neglecting the ultimate realization, which is unification with that which is beyond forms. Again, listen to Meister Eckhart who says: "Man's last and highest parting occurs when, for God's sake, he takes leave of God."

The Fundamentalist Christian faith calls for a discipline that is misdirected outwardly on the forms. The effort is placed on extinguishing or atoning for natural human instinct rather than making it transparent to some higher order or mystery. Believers become focused on altering their behavior rather than recognizing the root of their conflicts much like a doctor who treats the symptom and not the cause. This ideology is naturally rooted in the Jewish law and the Ten Commandments, which are basic laws of social behavior. The accent is on behavior and the material rather than on the quality of consciousness. Their faith is focused on the duality of good and evil, as reflected outwardly in the world, and therefore will not permit them to envision a reality of interconnected truths that transcend dualities. The result is a consistent failure in curbing and rehabilitating behavior. They get caught in an endless cycle of failure or "sin" and must return, time and again, to drink from the trough of their theology or ideology, to be forgiven and cleansed of their sins. In doing so, the believer becomes more entrenched in this hermetically sealed system of ideas that will not allow him to drink from any other source. Psychologically speaking, through conversion, the fundamentalist believer abandons one system of ideas or lifestyle for another. For example, he may leave behind atheism, materialism, alcoholism, or any other system of belief or addiction, in exchange for the adherence to another set of ideas, perhaps more "socially positive" but equally confining. This set of ideas, delivered from outside the believer, is quite dangerous because it toys with the psyche's ability to connect with its own authentic experience and make its own determinations. Once again, the believer has missed the opportunity to develop his own sense of being and experience the transformation of his consciousness rather than his behavior. He forsakes the organic development of his own inner experience in exchange for a "ready-to-eat" theology. Though the sky may fall and the mountains crumble and all of the rivers and oceans run dry, realistically, no amount of theology, no amount of religion or fear or heavenly temptations will modify his behavior and more importantly his consciousness. It is only through experience or a shift in perception that one can change and be "born again." Ironically, the orthodox Christian's only hope for redemption comes in the form of a lifeline, extended out from the very energies or "sins" that he has learned to push away and despise. In recognizing that he is powerless to change himself and keep these “evil temptations” at bay, he is left with nothing but the realization of this truth. And that realization itself is a dying to his old self, which simultaneously renews him. Once reborn, he recognizes that all the energies within him are sacred and transparent to a higher order of being. These energies are rooted in his psychology and biology. If the Christian can recognize their power to awaken Christ in him, then he will have gained his life. Nietzsche says that we must be careful in casting out demons from within us lest we cast out the best that is in us. I am not suggesting here that people give in to their "sins"; I am saying that we need to recognize them, illuminate them and make them transparent to a higher truth, to a phenomenal movement that is ever present.

Contrastingly, the sage attains his knowledge of God through an internal and intuitive process. In John 20:29, after Thomas touches Jesus' wounds, Jesus says to him: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” The orthodox interpretation of this passage tells us that we must accept by faith the Word of God and that Jesus was raised physically from the dead and stood physically in that room with Thomas. However, we can also read this passage from the opposite end, not from a physical or factual perspective but from an intuitive one. Jesus here is saying that, although they have never laid eyes on him physically, those who develop an intuitive and internal knowledge of Christ – not the ones who are fed from outside by priests and churches and other metaphysicians - are the ones who are truly blessed and are the true disciples. Those who do not take Christ as an external fact in history but as an ever-present, inner experience are the true disciples. They have, outside of time and space, attained a personal knowledge of Jesus' impulse to life or message that is not necessarily possessed by those who were with him physically. In other words, many of those who may have walked with Jesus and listened to his voice while he was alive may not have truly "seen" him or heard his message, may not have experienced him. To these people, Jesus may have been physically present but may not have had any impact upon their lives, may not have been “real” at all. And those disciples, who walked with Jesus but did not come to an inner experience of him, are no different than someone living in the 21st century who has never heard of Jesus. Recognizing this intimate knowledge is the most important point of Jesus' ministry. It transcends time and space. The perception of Jesus as a symbol for Truth, through personal, innate knowledge is more "real" than the perception of Jesus as a physical person who lived at a certain point in time, precisely because the intuitive knowledge has a certain revealing and empowering energy that ordinary intellectual cognition lacks. The Apostle Paul is a perfect example of one who has not seen and yet has "believed." And he was by far the most prolific proponent of the message of Jesus. A slight change in our thinking when reading the works of the Apostle Paul may reveal him as a Gnostic through and through. If we were to take the words "faith" and "belief" from the orthodox lingo, for example, and replace them with the word "knowledge" or “gnosis”, we may have before us the perspective of the sage.

The sage, then, is connected to Life through a metaphorical umbilical chord, which is this intimate knowledge. This connection is inherent in all of us; however we must travel through this mystical birth canal – symbolized by the ritual of baptism - and, by Jesus' own words, "enter through the strait gate." There is no outer theology, no outer creed, no outer ideology or path, no “savior” or guru, no magic prayer or incantation or trick of any sort. That is not to say that the inner life lacks a structure, a certain composition or demands of its own, as I mentioned earlier. It may be just as easy to idealize the ideas presented in this book and wrap them up neatly into a doctrine, as it is to subscribe to the traditional or orthodox form of Christianity or any other religion. As a matter of fact, there are many cults and religious sects that are based on some of the ideas presented here. But the true sage has to be brutally honest with himself, look within, and learn to differentiate between innate experience and intellectual knowledge, between true gnosis and speculation, upon which many perceived theologies are based. The inner life is a natural flowering, an organic growth unhindered by intellect and it comes through the recognition that one of himself has no real power or ability to control. This flowering at times can be a confusing, solitary, and sorrowful. In the Gospel of Thomas, passage 49, Jesus says: "Blessed are those who are alone and chosen, for you will find the kingdom. For you have come from it, and you will return there again." This solitary road bends the sage to the will of Life, crucifies him and utterly kills him. The sage's own will falls away and dissipates, like a dried leaf in winter. It is shut down, much like the artist's mind during the creative process or a body at death. Out of the ashes, the eternal self shines through, radiant with the light of Life. This revelatory, organic process involves several stages of illumination. Unlike intellectual reasoning and speculation, which are founded on deduction, revelations are grounded in experience and conviction, beyond the intellectual mind, and reflect a certain existential "awe" that can be subtly detected in the sage. Revelations involve steps of clarification and do not negate or counteract previous experiences. Revelations do not establish fixed points of reference (i.e. doctrines), rather they reveal interactions and relationships in a very fluid and subtle way. Revelations blend all together and give rise to a larger, interconnected and ever-dynamic pattern, a web of experience, which we may recognize as wisdom. As this wisdom grows, its discovery is endless, unpredictable and awesome. It is as if the sage's intuitive mind delves deeper and deeper into the mystery that is his psyche and it unfolds like a flower of countless petals.

This is an utterly creative experience, one that artists know quite well. Artists cannot take shelter for long in their completed works, which are often footprints of an inner journey, but must move on to new creations, new activity; otherwise they become stagnant. The sage also cannot rest on his laurels and dwell upon these revelations for long. For they too can crystallize, turn on him and imprison him because, once the mind catches up to assimilating or understanding the experience, it gives it form and theologizes it. In fact, oftentimes on the journey, the sage becomes entrapped into a web of fixed ideas, which he thinks are absolute; but this forms a prison around him and eventually kills him. With each death, he resurrects to move forward on his journey. The sage is essentially a wanderer in spirit. He must always move on, must look beyond that which has been revealed. He arrives at a point beyond the dualities of life, beyond psychological and physical pain and suffering. He goes past himself to perceive the world as an expression of the divine; he becomes that expression and recognizes that all that is visible in the world is a metaphor for something greater. The sage understands life to be like a constantly spinning, metaphorical wheel of fortune, a common image in the Middle Ages. Those who are on the outer edge of the wheel are at the mercy of its motion, namely chance or fortune. Some rise out of poverty to become kings while others descend into despair and lose everything. However, he who is living at the center of the wheel is in motion and yet motionless. That is to say, he who is living out of his center is moving to the rhythm of life, changing with it and constantly becoming. He is the king and the beggar, the saint and the sinner. And yet he is at peace, centered, not standing anywhere and untouched by chance or fortune.

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