Fly by Night Theology (12.21.10)
After that, Jesus makes another curious comment about how easy it is to walk around by daylight without stumbling, but "if one walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him."
Note that immediately after this cryptic comment about stumbling at night, Jesus abruptly decides to pick up and visit Lazarus, "who sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up." Then there is some confusion among the disciples about the meaning of Jesus' statement. Finally, Jesus says words to the effect of, "Get a clue, people. Don't be so literal. When I said 'asleep' I meant 'dead.'"
Day, night, sleeping, waking, forgetting, darkness, stumbling, light, sickness. What's going on here?
Tomberg gnotes that in the case of the healing of the nobleman's son, Jesus' actual presence was not required. Rather, it was accomplished through the intermediary of the father's faith. But in this instance, the pattern is entirely different. That is, rather than healing Lazarus, he lets him go -- literally. He "forgets" about him for two days, banishing him from consciousness. Lazarus is not only gone but forgotten. Or is he gone because forgotten?
Then another curious statement, this one by Thomas, a fascinating character in his own right, who says, "Let us also go, that we may die with him." The "him" is ambiguous, but Tomberg feels that it is actually in reference to Lazarus, not Jesus; that is, "Let us share the fate of Lazarus, since it is the will of the Master -- that which can only intend the highest good."
Now, is Thomas suggesting that they all commit suicide? No, that makes no sense. Rather, he is talking about committing cluelesscide, i.e., "let us put put ourselves into the inner situation of Lazarus, identify ourselves with his path of destiny, so that we also may die."
Death represents the end of horizontal existence. As such, Lazarus represents pure verticality, detached from the world of sickness, suffering, and toil. In Buddhism, there is a concept that is similar to divine incarnation, that is, the bodhisattva principle. A bodhisattva voluntarily renounces his verticality for horizontality, willingly taking on the suffering of existence until all beings have achieved enlightenment.
Christianity takes this concept to its logical extreme, in that Jesus may be thought of as the ultimate bodhisattva, giving up a bach's seat in the front row of the heavenly choir to take his place with the struggling creatures below. If death is the foreclosing of the horizontal for the vertical, this is the opposite, the renunciation of the vertical for the horizontal. And as Tomberg says, "there is no greater love than that of the sacrifice of eternity for the limitations of existence in the transient moment" -- and which is why in the ainsoferable Godspiel of Bob, we are grateful for this undertaking of mortality, for our daily lessons in evanescence, for this manifestivus for the rest of us.
"Christian yoga," if we may call it such, is a strict balance between verticality and horizontality. One does not renounce the horizontal world. But nor does one cling to it as if it were the ultimate reality. Rather, one must always be in the horizontal but not of the horizontal. Excessive entanglement in the horizontal entails one kind of death; giving it up entirely for the vertical represents another kind of sleep, forgetting, and death: Lazarus' kind.
The immortal Shankara refers to horizontal men -- those who are "dead" to the vertical -- as “suicides” who “clutch at the unreal and destroy themselves. What greater fool can there be than the man who has obtained this rare human birth... and yet fails, through delusion, to realize his own highest good? Know that the deluded man who walks the dreadful path of sense-craving moves nearer to his ruin with every step.”
Similarly, the Upanishads say that “Rare is he who, looking for immortality, shuts his eyes to what is without and beholds the Self. Fools follow the desires of the flesh and fall into the snare of all-encompassing death.... Worlds there are without suns, covered up with darkness. To these after death go the ignorant, slayers of the Self.”
In other words, pure horizontality entails not just the end of verticality, but the death of the Self, or banishment to a world without sun, "covered in darkness." Let's refer back to Jesus' cryptic words in John 11:10, that "if one walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him." Note that one does not stumble because of an absence of external light, but because there is no interior light: the light is not in him.
I find it very interesting that Thomas is the disciple who supposedly evangelized India. Naturally, this would have been known when the gospels were written. But when Thomas says, "Let us also go, that we may die with Lazarus," he is saying something rather suggestive. Let's dispense with literalism for the moment, and interpret it to mean something like, "let's all die to the world and go entirely vertical, like one of those Upanishadic seers -- like Lazarus -- so that we too may be reborn 'for the glory of God, that the son of God may be glorified through our rebirth' (referring again to John 11:4). Let's be bodhisattvas!"
Now, since we are dealing with timeless truth, it is no cooncidence that the Isha Upanishad warns that "To darkness are they doomed who devote themselves only to life in the world, and to a greater darkness they who devote themselves only to meditation.” Rather, “Those who combine action and meditation cross the sea of death through action and enter immortality,” that is, through the sacred union of soul and body, spirit and matter, vertical and horizontal, male and female, mamamaya and papurusha (for those who know their punskrit).
I don't mean to get sidetracked, but I am reminded of a post from over a year ago, about those coal miners in West Virginia who were buried alive. Since I had no readers back then, I think I'll reproduce some of it here, because it seems oddly fitting to our theme.
Facing death, one of the miners left us with these beautiful, haunting words:
Tell all --
I see them on the other side
It wasn't bad
I just went to sleep
I love you
It wasn't bad. I just went to sleep.
Such a simple declaration of unwavering faith, calm courage, and even elegant beauty in the face of the abrupt end of horizontal existence. I've memorized those words. They are worth thousands, even millions of pages of secular fundamentalist drivel. I hope I can remember them in my final moments:
It wasn't bad. I just went to sleep.
Getting back to the subject of our post, it isn't that easy for most of us callous sophisticates to know God. It takes real effort, commitment, and discipline to begin to reliably cure ourselves of the materialitis and reductionosis that pervade contemporary life. It is really a moment-by-moment project of reorienting ourselves and turning things upside down and inside out -- back to the way they're supposed to be. When we do that, we can begin to experience the truth of the Upanishads -- that the universe is like a tree with its roots aloft, its branches down here below.
In our embodied state, we struggle with overcoming our default orientation to the surface, to the 'outside' of things. Both religious and non-religious fundamentalists are still unwavering materialists, living in deadening servitude to matter. Our higher faculties are easily hijacked and enslaved by the lower, and the problem is only worse in a society as abundant as ours, with so many seductive distractions everywhere. The 'I' that is pulled this way and that by these tempting distractions cannot remain the same and know God. Rather, we must close one I and open another, or transpose the melody of our life to a higher key, an octave or two above.
Intellectuals struggle with this, for one does not comprehend religious truth; rather, it comprehends us. The intellect must be 'raised up' to the realm from which religion emanates. Again, this is something the typical secularist utterly fails to understand. You must work to intensify your mental power and then transcend it, like building a very sturdy ship, and then launching it into the Ocean-- two very different things.
For you cannot know religious truth. You cannot even really understand it. Rather, you must undergo it. Secular fundamentalists know all about religion. But you can be sure that they understand nothing of it, for, as Blake wrote, truth cannot be told so as to be understood and not believed.
To understand is to apprehend an intelligible truth, and it is not possible to deeply understand something that isn't true. Thus, 'understanding God' -- or to be perfectly precise, 'being understood' by him, or 'undergoing spiritual truth' -- is the sufficient proof of God's existence. As one undergoes spirituality and this thing called understanding deepens, we move from line to plane and plane to sphere, from seeing to envisioning, from thinking about God to being comprehended by God, to where the interior horizon of the imploding universe flows within itself. The negation of negation!
Achieving this new depth of vision is not a matter of merely piling on additional surfaces and calling it depth, as the intellectual does. It is changing the nature of the knower, so that a new light-infused known may be won from the Wild Godhead. In turn, this divine light further elevates the mind so that we may better see divine things, the uncreated world from which the created world is a reflection dimly perceived through mirror and enigma.
Is it really possible to speak from the Ground, where we are unborn again and can know the youth of eternal spring within our hearts? It depends. As Meister Eckhart said, these things 'are false and absurd according to the imagination of opponents, but true according to true understanding.'
True understanding is the death of the conventional self. But don't worry.
It isn't bad. You just go to sleep.
Then you wake up. And remember. And live.
Lazarus, come forth!