The Easterly Wind Blows Where it Will
People argue about Jesus -- it is easier than to let yourself be scorched by contact with him. --Henri Le Saux (Swami Abhishiktananda)
All that is true, by whosoever spoken, is from the Holy Ghost. --St. Ambrose
In Christ the Eternal Tao, Hieromonk Damascene makes the claim that "we today are given much more than those who were born before Christ, for while pre-Christian prophets and sages were united with the Tao after their death, we have the potential of experiencing a foretaste of that eternal union during our earthly life. During his life on earth, Christ gave special means -- physical 'channels' of immaterial, Uncreated Teh -- by which to help effect this union."
Yes, the Christian message is universal, but it seems an unavoidable conclusion that it possesses an exoteric side and an esoteric side -- an outer teaching and an inner teaching, a primarily informational component and a more transformational component. Obviously, this can lead to charges of elitism, but in reality, it seems that the inner teaching is surrounded on all sides by cherubim with flaming swords who only allow those with sincere humility and childlike innocence to pass through: amen for a child's job!
And while no one should devalue the informational, or dogmatic, aspect of Christianity -- any more than one should devalue the foundation and structure of a beautiful house -- I guess I agree with Abhishiktananda, who wrote, "let us not confuse the vessel with the treasure it contains.... as long as man attempts to seize and hold God in his words and concepts, he is embracing a mere idol." Thus, "in every religious experience there is a beyond, and it is precisely this 'beyond' that is our goal."
In Matthew 13:10, the disciples ask Jesus why he speaks in parables to the multitude, the implication being that he doesn't speak that way to them. "Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.... I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand." Evidently, teaching to the converted is different than preaching to the perverted.
Of course, everything Jesus said was provocative and well worth pondering. But it would appear that the exoteric teaching -- the parables -- are there to instruct those who can discern their meaning. But they are also vague and ambiguous enough to serve as a sort of protective covering over the esoteric side -- like the shell of a seed that surrounds and protects the kernel. In fact, Jesus proceeds directly to a parable involving a seed. When this seed is planted in "good ground," it "indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty" (Matt 13:23).
In Mark 4:33, it says the same thing: "And with many such parables He spoke the word to them as they were able to hear it.... And when they were alone, He explained all things to His disciples." This in itself has an inner meaning, for who is a disciple? And what does it mean to be alone with Jesus?
Exoteric teaching works from the outside in. But esoteric teaching works from the inside out. Clearly, this is where the third person of the trinity comes in, the "helper" promised by Jesus. There is no way to reconcile this helpful uncreated energy with anything found on this side of nature. It is intrinsically esoteric. Aligning oneself with it is perhaps the principle aim of the Christian life, without which nothing else is possible, not even faith.
Hieromonk Damascene quotes a number of eminent authorities on this matter, for example, St. Seraphim of Sarov, who says that when Christ assures us that "The Kindom of Heaven is within you," he is "referring precisely to this seed of the Grace of the Holy Spirit implanted in the human soul."
Of course, we would all like to purchase a luxury corps at pentecost, but there's no such thing as a free launch. For it is like a treasure hidden in a field: "In order to acquire it, one must sell all that one has, buy the field, and then patiently and diligently dig." Apparently, no one's vehicle crosses the phoenix line unless it is first repossessed and amortized.
But if aligning oneself with the Holy Spirit is the principle aim of the Christian life, "digging" into ourselves is the principle method -- tilling the ground, planting the seed, nurturing it, and, especially, watching over the field. For, according to Hieromonk Damascene, "we still carry within ourselves the inclination and habit to return to our former condition." It is a law of embodied existence that, no matter what, we still fall downward 32 feet per second per second. It seems that the lower self digs itself so much, that it creates its own existential hole and then jumps right in.
Another way of expressing it is to say that there is an inevitable circularity, or "curvature" to our worldly existence. That is, if we make an initial step in the right direction, that is not enough. Without a second step, a third step, a fourth step, etc., a certain inertia will set in that returns us to the place we started.
This inertia is a force that must be constantly countered. In order to alter its inevitable pressure, it must be acted upon by a force external to it. Repeatedly. This is why being "born again" just once will not cut it. Rather, one must pent and repent as necessary.
Hieromonk Damascene calls this "continuous metanoia." In order to achieve it, the ancient Christian ascetics developed the idea of "watchfulness," which involves "a state of inner vigilance, attention and sobriety." This kind of "inner attention" has very obvious parallels to raja yoga and Buddhist mindfulness meditation (while by no means being identical to them).
Jesus did not just say "pray." Rather, he said to "watch and pray." It's easy. First watch. Then pray while watching.
Hieromonk Damascene quotes one of the greatest authorities, St. John Climacus. In his The Ladder of Divine Ascent, he wrote, "Close the door of your cell to the body, the door of your tongue to speech, and your inner gate to evil spirits. Ascend into a watchtower -- if you know how to -- and observe how and when and whence, and in what numbers and what form, the robbers try to break in and steal your grapes.... Guarding against evil thoughts is one thing, keeping watch over the spirit [nous] is another. The latter... is far more difficult to attain. Where thieves see royal weapons at the ready they do not attack the palace lightly. Similarly, spiritual robbers do not lightly try to plunder the person who has enshrined prayer within his heart."
Hieromonk Damascene eliberates on this point, writing that watchfulness involves pulling our awareness "back into an objective state of observant mind, thus keeping watch over [the] spirit or 'higher mind'." In essence, it is a reversal of our primordial fall -- our worldward descent into distraction, fragmentation, and dissipation -- or, alternatively, congealing, thickening, and hardening. "Attention" and "distraction" are opposites. In the words of Christ, our eye must again become "single," so that the "whole body will be full of light."
Man is a microcosm, and only by opening up in a man the foundation of his being can the Spirit transform and spiritualize the cosmos to its depths. --Swami Abhishiktananda
Ferret in tree: