Thursday, December 10, 2009

Gospel of Saint Luke Chapter 17

I wanted to continue to share some more thoughts about how the teachings of Jesus relate to the attainment of a light body. These thoughts are in response to some discussions that periodically happen with friends and people that I meet. A number of people have shared that they would like to see some of this get into writing, preferably in a book, about what I had learned during the intensive 8 year study of the Bible that I did and in which involved getting into the original languages (Aramaic, Hebrew, Chaldee, Koine Greek, and Classical Greek) of the texts involved. I would like to say, too, that, inspite of the intensive focus, I do not consider myself to be a biblical scholar. I feel that in order to really be a scholar you would need to take doctorates in all the languages I mentioned above, plus doctorates in Archeology and Ancient History. Even with this, it would be good to take some courses in carbon dating, geology, and forensic science. But having understood this, it is possible to track some of the research done by people with such backgrounds and find out what they have to say. Although there are a diversity of opinions to sort through, there are some interesting points of consensus also.

In the Gospel according to Saint Luke, chapter 17, verses 20 to 37, the Pharisees ask Jesus when the kingdom of G-d is coming. Jesus answers them and says, "The kingdom of G_d is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, 'Look, here it is!' or 'There it is!' For behold, the kingdom of G-d is in your midst." This section in the New Testament is interesting, because Jesus, again, uses the present tense. He sees the kingdom as something already here, already present within and among everybody (the Aramaic word used means both "within" and "among " at the same time, Aramaic words can carry multiple valid simultaneous meanings, whereas in English a word usually has only one meaning in one context). He also negates the looking for signs of its coming. Given the popularity of looking for signs of prophecies being fulfilled that certain popular apocalyptic books have had and which are keyed into using the Book of Revelation as source material, this message feels relevant to modern times. Jesus is basically saying that the kingdom is within us and all around us right now. This links in with his first message to "repent" (metanoia aka "change consciousness") because the kingdom is "at hand" (again present tense and within reach). This suggests that a change of consciousness is needed to feel its reality. Jesus further tells people to not chase after signs when people say, "Look here!" or "Look there!". Yet it seems like this does happen a lot. In verse 27, Jesus says that people will be living pretty much as they always have before the advent of the son of man (the next evolution of the species). They are eating, drinking, buying, selling, marrying, planting and building. He shares that the advent will be like lightning striking and illuminating everything all at once. This is a favorite metaphor for satori, the flash of enlightenment that Zen meditation opens one up to. In verse 33, Jesus gives his own Zen koan, "Whoever seeks to save his or her life shall lose it, whosoever loses his or her life shall preserve it alive." This release of "self clinging" is at the heart of Buddhist meditation. It is the way beyond feeling anger, fear, and sadness.

In verse34, 35, and 36, there are parables about pairs of beings, two men in one bed, one taken and one left, two women at a place of grinding, one taken and one left, two men in a field, one taken and one left. Evangelical Christians have taken this verse as referring to the "rapture" where true believers are taken up into the sky and the nonbelievers are left behind. But it would be odd for such an anti-homosexual religion to have a believing male in bed with another male. The curious thing is that this "one taken, one left behind" theme is that it is also found in the Upanishads of the Hindu religion. It refers to two parts of our inner self. The outer personality self (jiva) drops away, while the witness self remains. The witness self, the atman, is the eternal part of our being. The coming of the son of man, the next evolution, is based on the witness self becoming conscious of itself, while the outer personality self is seen to be an illusion that disappears. When we look within, we do not find a personality self, but only transitory thoughts, emotions, sensations, and reactions. There is a moment, "in a twinkling of an eye," where all this changes and the eternal shines forward in our experience. The bed and the field are symbols for consciousness in general. It is the part of our being that we rest in whether we are aware or not. The grinding of grain into flour is a symbol of emotional work in meditation, of making our coarse emotional experience experience more and more refined.

It is interesting that Jesus uses the term "son of man" to describe the advent of the kingdom and not "son of g_d". He talks in verse 25 about the son of man suffering and being rejected by "this generation". This could be a symbol of how the present human species usually rejects the next evolution which wants to happen and will continue to do its own thing, like buying and selling, marrying, and building. The next evolution will have different values and different abilities, and most especially a different kind of consciousness. There is a temptation to "turn back" mentioned in verses 31 and 32. In Nicherin Buddhism, this is called "sansho shima," where we quit the process right when the mutational shift is happening, right when the "son of man" is revealing itself. The hidden potential is coming forward from within. Again, if the advice were meant to refer to a literal outer apocalypse, it would not make much sense. If you are on top of a housetop or in a field, and fire and brimstone is coming down from heaven, it is the last place you would want to be. You would want to go for some shelter and even this may not do any good. But the key theme is not quiting the process, to keep "watching and praying" until the very end. Jesus talks about persistence in prayer, about not losing heart, until the death and rebirth fully happens. It is interesting that he recommends "watching and praying", because in Buddhism, awareness is key to meditation. You do not "know the hour" which the son of man will be revealed. This is because it is different for everyone. Some people may need to persist for a long time and others get it in only minutes. There is an inner ripening at the heart of this process and the harvest cannot be hurried.

Staying on the rooftop of a house is a symbol that connects with the parable of the burning house in Buddhism. The personality is on fire, is suffering, and you want to stay above it. You do not want to be submerged by your personality. Going back into the house is returning to the personality, rather than to stay in awarness until the witness shines forth.

To further show the difference between this and the rapture theory, the people who are hearing Jesus talk ask where do the people who are taken go in verse 37. He replies cryptically, "Where the body is, there also will the vultures be gathered." The personality simply falls away or dies. He does not say that they get taken up into the sky to be with him. It is another way of saying that it is not about an outer event, but an inner one. There is some hint, though, of a mass awakening of humankind. The Nicherin Buddhists call this shift the "kosen rufu". It will happen when a kind of critical mass is reached, when enough beings become enlightened and radiate compassion. It hints that the "second coming" is about a mass awakening of the "son of man" in all of us, rather than the return of a single enlightened human personality. Verse 24 suggests that whatever happens will be seen everywhere and by everyone, and then lasting peace is possible. I say "hint", because the 17th chapter of the gospel of Saint Luke is more about individual transformation. Jesus is wanting to focus on something that is here and now, in the midst of everyone, and within everyone, and then points to the process of realizing it, of having it revealed to oneself. He talks about the "self clinging" that makes one retreat from the process of dying and being reborn, and how it is important to "not turn back". These themes have been explained in other passages and connect with them, like Jesus talking about the need to "watch and pray", to "persist to the very end", and "die daily". Looked at from one viewpoint, Jesus talks only about this process.

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