Friday, April 10, 2020

Experience Your Own (Rebellious) Resurrection – Quarantine-Style

These are strange times we live in, the global pandemic, forcing us into a 'quarantined' life and a major economic re-calculation; the unexpected onslaught of authoritarianism – the bizarre betrayal of our standards of fairness and civility by our 'leaders' in what we thought was our solid democracy...and all of it concurrent to the synchronicitous celebration of Spring. Cooped-up like this, it's easy to be overtaken by a rebellious urge, an urge that arises from the underlying sensation that things just aren't the way they're supposed to be. Life is absurd and crazy. Life is harsh and unjust. And this enforced isolation can make us feel that we're living in a personal exile of sorts, separated by the unfair complications of material life from a source of contentment and wholeness that we're naturally heir to – a source from within that we're currently forced to seek (and that we may occasionally be succeeding in finding). 
For me it seems that seeking and finding almost requires my being troubled – experiencing this profound discomfort to force me down the hard path that may eventually lead to inner peace. Then in those liberating moments when I manage to get there – however brief they are – I find a familiar, comfortable knowledge, an understanding when I seem to I know why I'm here. 
That, in a nutshell, is my experience of Gnosis – that rebellious urge to root out and live within Life's greatest solution.

"Get outta that state – outta that state you're in!
             The B 52s, Private Idaho

Simply put, Gnosis (coming from the Greek, for knowledge) is that knowledge – that understanding of transcendent being and belonging-to – that naturally arises from within our hearts. Inspired by the inner longing to reunite with a serene, unifying power that we inherently know to be our benevolent source, Gnosis isn't a product of any science, or even philosophy or religion, really. Instead, Gnosis is a personal discovery based in self-exploration and inner experience, and as such, it's experienced both as a process, and as a state-of-being.

It's natural that Gnosis is the product of that rebelliousness – after all, it is a search that requires rocking the boat a bit (or in this case, being stuck in this shaky little boat), since you have to abandon the definitions and conventions of who you are supposed to be, and what society says is important in order to open to a state of inner completion that really isn't available through any outer norms, religions, or institutions. In all its incarnations throughout human history, Gnosis has been the product of that personal alchemy, likened not only to the Hindu process of samadhi sought through forms of yoga, but also to the spiritual rebellion that led The Buddha to nirvana.

That's also why the search for Gnosis was originally associated with the early growing Christian insurrection. These pre-Christian rebels developed a process, a mythology, and a language of metaphor (including the idea of 'resurrection') that would lead an individual to enlightenment through personal inner experience, completely at odds with all of the prevailing religious institutions of the time – even Christianity itself. 

"Yeshua said: Whoever searches must continue to search until they find. When they find, they will be disturbed; and being disturbed, they will marvel and will reign over All."
The Gospel of Thomas, Logion 2

"The Gnostics," as referred to by academics were specifically those pre-Christian Hebrews and early messianic Christians whose "Messiah" primarily took the form of an inward self-realization of God. Everybody was [and is] a "Christ" in a personal way, or is capable of realizing their very own "Christhood" through an initiation, in which an initiate could dis-identify with the difficulties of their material being by way of an alternative practice of personal ritual, absolute honesty and nonviolence, and unselfish service – which sounds a lot like the things many of us have been forced to realize in our "stay-at-home" surrender, doesn't it?

Of course, in the harsh light of the religious, political, and economic institutions of the day, these alternatives – the social and economic re-alignments, and the realization of a personal divinity – was absolute heresy. The most stubborn sacred cows aren't really sacred at all, they're political and economic. At that time, the Gnostics 'radical' suggestions led to the genocide of these rebellious, peace-loving "heretics."  

The nicest, and probably the most influential of these heretics were called "Essenes" (essence, essential), a "fringe" sect of Hebraism that were happy to let the Establishment Pharisees and Sadducees run the show around the second Temple in old Jerusalem, just before the Christian Era. I suspect that like the segment of citizens we today call "Progressives," Essenes also made up a much greater share of the population than reported, but because they rejected destructive commerciality (including slavery), ritual sacrifice, and phony spiritual authority, it was the guys with the hats and swords who miswrote their history, as usual. Theirs was – and is to this day – the essential rebellion of those seeking Gnosis. 
(Present day media academics pigeonhole the Essenes as heretics hidden away in the caves of Qumran, near the Dead Sea, where a particularly devoted community of ritual Gnostics made their last stand. In fact, Essenes were less a part of Hebraism and more a spiritual nation of their own, spread out across civilization, and bridging the east to west, and the many disciplines oriented towards enlightenment through inward experience)

Essenes established inns called hospitals, where anyone was welcomed, healed, and fed. They practiced hygiene, strict vegetarianism, and holistic medicine way before any of that was cool. Everyone – man, woman and child – was spiritually equal, possessing the same spark of divinity and spiritual potential for unification with The Divine as anyone else. All that was required was initiation into "the secret teachings" of inward exploration, and the willingness to live a life of compassion and integrity. They were absolutely non-violent, and only participated in commercial and agricultural efforts that benefitted everyone. In short, they lived the ideals of Christianity, before Christianity.

In other online articles I've told a version of the wonderful Gnostic myth of Sophia, the princess of Wisdom, and her descent to earth to elevate humanity through the example of her struggle back up to the light, and her gift of consciousness to mankind through the power of feminine energy. It is the classic myth of metaphor, describing Gnosis in a way that resonates in the heart and mind. Summing up the essential myth of the Gnostic inner journey goes something like this:

Humanity is an expression of a Divine Light imprisoned in a clunky, imperfect plane of existence, surrounded by the beauty of human life and the earthly realm, but victimized by the suffering that is such a big part of it all. Each human contains a spark of the Divine Light within, and enduring Life's painful challenges (pandemic, for example) inspires the desire to reunite that inner spark with the great field of Divine Light, our Source, called the pleroma. It sounds quite a bit like Buddhism, doesn't it? That's because it is, in a way – there are ways, in ritual, action, and practice, that the suffering can be avoided.

The self-realization of the light within requires a more austere approach, a set of principles designed to merge the earthly ego with the eternal self; and a community of shared consciousness – individuals who are cooperatively seeking the same state of happiness, wholeness, and purpose. 
I find the elemental directness of Gnostic myth and scripture very helpful and instructive in these times of quarantine:

"Yeshua said: When you bring forth that within you, then that will save you. If you do not, then that will kill you.
The Gospel of Thomas, Logion 70

This is what attracted people like Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung to Gnosis and Gnosticism, the fact that it pre-dated every form of modern depth psychology with its remarkable synthesis of human experience into an applicable framework, and an alternative process of rebirth, recovery, and "resurrection" – like that which is forced on us at times like these. It's the timeless story of every authentic spirit's journey from a fearful, semi-conscious "death,” to the wholeness of a compassionately conscious “re-birth.” It symbolizes every individuals shared journey to wholeness and happiness, and the hard path we have to discover to lead us out of this darkness. 

"[Mythology inspires] the natural metaphysical impulse to transcend the illusion of separation."
Joseph Campbell

The Gnostics' understanding of Life was finally symbolized not as the iconic early Christian fish logo (submerged in the depths of the divine mystery), but as The Crucifixion Cross, symbolizing the horizontal experience of Life on earth – and the ego-death that's necessary to transcend it by way of the vertical inner knowledge and realization of our true ascendant nature and potential. That's what the cross really means (the Romans actually crucified people on short, X-shaped crosses, to save wood).

So Gnosis begins with an uncomfortability about Life (easy to imagine in the "stay-at-home" mode), and a rebellious dis-ease that moves us to reunite our selves with a wholeness and comfortable being that we're all entitled to. In this way, Gnosis is both a subtractive process – intentionally eliminating the unsupportable expectations and constraints of this style of human life; and it’s an expansive process – bringing us into the consciousness of our limitless potential by merging our damaged, earthly egos with a pure, eternal Love, accessible through our hearts.

But unfortunately, you may have to get a little pent-up first...

"When you make the two into one, when you make the inner like the outer, and the high like the low; when you make the male and the female into a single One…when you have eyes in your eyes, a hand in your hand…and an icon in your icon, then you will enter into the Kingdom."
The Gospel of Thomas, Logion 22

Discover the true Gnosis of the Gnostics, with all its ancient metaphoric mythology, and applications to contemporary spiritual psychology in Gnostic scriptures such as: The Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of Phillip, The Pistis Sophia, The Gospel of Truth, The Gospel of Mary, and in many fine resources, like: Elaine Pagel's The Gnostic Gospels, Stefan Hoeller’s The Gnostic Jung, and Jung and the Lost Gospels, or in Carl Jung’s Seven Sermons to the Dead, and Answer to Job.

Read about concepts like these and much more in: How to Get to Heaven (Without Really Dying), Wisdom From a Near-Death Survivor  from Llewellyn Worldwide available direct on this page, or online. The first book: How to Survive Life (and Death), A Guide To Happiness In This World and Beyond is available the same ways – but ask for it at your local bookstore!

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Jesus, The Easter Bunny, and the Real Renewal of Spring

At the time of the earliest stirrings of the philosophy that was to become Christianity there were numerous centers of nascent world religion, from the Gandhara region of India thru Asia Minor, Persia, and Greece, to Alexandria and Jerusalem – and other spots within and beyond the Roman Empire and the rest of the known, civilized world. To literate religious academics of the early Christian era, all of this knowledge was available. Christianity, like all religions, was not born in a vacuum.

You'll notice in the retellings of the Passion Play that Christians celebrate each spring, as well as throughout the New Testament, there are plenty of references to the Pharisee sect of Hebraism, the proletariat and middle-class Jews of the time. The Sadducees, the bourgeois, aristocratic sect get very little airtime comparatively – despite making up most of the temple priesthood. Edited out of the story completely are the Essenes, which were not actually a single sect but instead a collection of differing gnostic beliefs grouped together generically.

Beyond their numbers, which were significant throughout the middle east at the time, the Essenes were the original Christians, eschewing sacrifice and materiality, living simple lives based in practices of healing and service. They were dedicated to cleanliness, to communal, all-inclusive dining, to the practices of foot washing, vegetarianism, and holistic herbal healing. Their "inns" and white robes were the inspiration for our present-day hostels and hospitals, and doctors' white coats. It's likely that the Jesus of mainstream Christianity was drawn from this model. 

Most sects labeled "Essene" fully embraced a more personal, inward, mystical path to the realization of a divine simplicity, and so were the foundation of the esoteric forms of Gnosticism and Kabbalistic practice. In some groups, Buddhism was very influential, and in fact "Theraputae" Essenism was likely one in the same as the Buddhist community located near Lake Mareotis, outside of Alexandria (from Theraputta, sanskrit meaning "from the old ones"). Buddhism was alive throughout the region for hundreds of years prior to Christian mythology, and it's very important to note that the Buddha sat in the wilderness alone and was tempted by the devil, walked on water, fed the multitudes from a single basket, and drank at the well of an outsider (and more) 500 years before the Christ story came about.

It's very likely that the teacher Yeshua, whose philosophy – resurrected in the  discovery of very early pre-canonical scripture like The Gospel of Thomas – serves as the basis for the teachings of the Jesus of the canonical, Roman gospels.

The selectivity of Christian myth runs roughshod over much of what is actually known, as is the case with most inventions of organized religion. This is not limited only to religion, the same is true for organized historical dogma, organized cultural dogma, and organized social dogma. In a contemporary American context, for example, we have the assertion that Ronald Reagan brought down the Soviet Union, or that John Kennedy was killed by a lone assassin; both nascent myths that aren't based in fact, but still canonized as historical truth by many. 

Likewise, American frontier identity was actually rooted in the genocide of the indigenous Americans, whose culture was, so to speak, crucified by "Rome." The positivity and popularity of much of contemporary American culture is based on the transcendent adaptations of African people held in slavery for hundreds of years. The implications of these truths are truly biblical, but not in the self-enhancing way traditional white male American historians would have us remember it.

So the suggestion that the Christian Passion Play is mythic, and was created in the centuries following the decline of Rome to serve political purposes by commandeering an authentically mystical path actually makes much more sense than the assumption of the canonical gospels as historical fact. The first big tip-off is the fact that the eventual authors of those gospels weren't actually named Mark, Matthew, Luke, or John – those were pseudonyms of journeymen writers of their day. If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, chances are you might want to duck.

More recently there are the examples of Mormonism, whose co-creator Joseph Smith is not hard to prove as a plagiarist, philanderer, arsonist, and possibly worse, but not at all proven to be a prophetic witness to an early ancient American Judaic civilization; Scientology, whose inventor was unquestionably a hard-drinking, womanizing, egomaniacal science fiction writer – but highly questionable as an enlightened channel of godlike alien entities; and, going back a little further, Islam, the transcendent, mystical heart of which is regularly betrayed (like the other Abrahamic religions) by random acts of violence. 

Sadly for true believers, the historical references to the actual existence of the Jesus of the canons is still limited to the scant testimonies of Pliny, Tacitus, Suetonius, and Flavius Josephus, whose less-than-second-hand accounts came well after the fact, and were subject to powerful political and cultural influence, and countless subsequent rewritings. The most compelling testimony of Josephus has been known to be a forgery for a long time now, while Judeo-Roman historians contemporary to the times, like Philo, never mention the man or events, despite having every reason to. Josephus, in all his authenticated accounts in fact, mentions at least twenty different people named Jesus.

Then what should we really be resurrecting today? If the religious establishment now neatly sequesters the whole of the ancient Essene world into the austere walls of the community at Qumran, and the timeless teachings of philosophers like Gautama and Yeshua are respectively redefined as platitudes and tragic morality plays, rather than as the radically effective calls to action they truly are, then clearly what requires resurrecting is the spirit of divinely shared consciousness that Aldous Huxley called the "Perennial Philosophy." 

"The All came forth from me and the All came into me. Split the wood, and I am there. Turn over the stone, and there you will find me."
The Gospel of Thomas, Logion 77  

It's forgivable human nature to transmute certain realities into conveniently avoidable practices, or for people suffering from the fearful manifestations of low self worth, greed, and delusional self-centeredness to act out in our shrinking world, but what we really need is to rebirth the elemental compassionate unity, the eternal springtime of human spiritual evolution alive in each Easter every day, if possible. That is the message continuously carried by the spirit of Yeshua (not to mention the Buddha, Krishna, Gandhi, et al).

We can all "sit in the wilderness" – take the inward path to realization of our shared being; "walk on water" – rise above and make foundational our psychic afflictions;  "feed the multitudes" – know that we have plenty with what we always have;  and "share water from the well" – understand the eternal that unifies us, regardless of our outward labels. The Jesus of the Christian Easter is purely a symbol for the real power for transformation each of us carries within – all the time...not just every Spring.

"Whoever seeks will find; whoever knocks from inside, it will open to them."
"When you bring forth that within you, then that will save you."
"What you are waiting for has already come, but you do not see it."
"Whoever drinks from my mouth will become like me and I will become them and what was hidden from them will be revealed."
The Gospel of Thomas, 94, 70, 51, 108

Since I believe that we all only die to this world, and so resurrection is a simple, personal realization that we will all get to experience, is it possible that the spirit of the Easter Bunny could actually be a better shepherd? The brand we want to revive each Spring? Could that be a better metaphor than the image of a good man suffering – the gentle lapine, the playful, prolific, vegan creature of the woods and meadows? Could a bunny be smart and wise enough to easily share that level of consciousness? For the answer to these, and possibly other questions, I invite you to watch this video:

Happy Easter! 

[re-edited and reposted from an earlier time]

The latest book: How to Get to Heaven (Without Really Dying), Wisdom From a Near-Death Survivor from Llewellyn Worldwide can be ordered direct or online; and the first book: How to Survive Life (and Death), A Guide To Happiness In This World and Beyond is available the same ways – but ask for them it at your local bookstore!