Sunday, April 27, 2008

Brother Paul

In many posts on this blog, as well as in my books I have touched on the role of Paul. Equally, I am writing about him in my upcoming book Closing The Circle, as an example of bypassing part of the experience of inner growth which Jesus really represents. The Course's section on the development of trust in the Manual for Teachers (Ch. 4), provides a description of a growth process in six stages, which in reality is not an orderly sequential experience, but nevertheless is a good general guide for what happens in this journey. One of the challenges is to prematurely run with our learning along the way, and to claim achievements which aren't solidified. It is a bypass from stage two to stage four of this process, whereby a difficult period of "relinquishment" in stage three is short circuited, and such experiences are another example of the ego's having its cake and eating it too. In the book Take Me To Truth, by Nouk Sanchez and Tomas Vieira this bypass manoeuver is clearly identified, and explained in a very concrete and tangible way.

Many religions and sects in fact are founded by people who trade on their insights gained along the way, and build a souvenir stand halfway up the mountain, instead of continuing the climb. Thus they also hold up others with distractions, and people can get sidetracked by such road-side attractions on the journey. In fact, there is an interesting book about this phenomenon, with the title Halfway up the Mountain: The Error of Premature Claims to Enlightenment (1999 Hohm Press, by Mariana Caplan). So Christianity is no exception, founded as it was by Paul, who came after Jesus, but was not one of the original apostles, but who clearly had the drive, and the powerful speaking ability to popularize the message, or at least a message: as he understood Jesus at that time.

On one hand Paul clearly has a right mind too, as becomes clear when he speaks of a notion like "the peace of God with surpasses all understanding," and other beautiful passages, but for the most part with Paul starts a process whereby the teachings of Jesus, which were directed purely to finding the way home to Heaven, to a Kingdom not of this World, start to become re-framed into a world religion, and one ultimately suited for the service to Caesar in the form of the Emperor Constantine the Great some time after Paul. Constantine's dream experience of In hoc signo vinces may have been a triumph for would-be "Christianity," as much as it inspired military victories for the Emperor, but on another level, it was the final burial of anything to do with the teachings of Jesus.

The process is one of mental re-framing, of "powerful" concepts about Jesus, which get in the way of our ability to experience Jesus. This kind of conceptualization of the separated mind is always passed off by the ego as understanding, but it is in fact a defense mechanism against the direct experience of truth (and/or Jesus), thus protecting us from the vital need to surrender the ego's judgment in favor of the first hand directness of experience. It boils down to pulling Jesus down to our level instead of us coming up to his. In Paul's work all of this dialectic deliberation culminates in numerous theological positions, which have come to define Christianity, the most notable of which perhaps is his final position that the resurrection is an event of the body. The certrality of the crucifixion in and of itself is a dead giveaway (pun intended). It is not for nothing that the Course cautions us not to let theology delay us on our journey. (cf. ACIM:C-in.4:5) And the Course also offers plentiful, not to mention humorous, advice on putting the dialectic mind in its proper place, such as:

It is this that makes the holy instant so easy and so natural. You make it difficult, because you insist there must be more that you need do. You find it difficult to accept the idea that you need give so little, to receive so much. And it is very hard for you to realize it is not personally insulting that your contribution and the Holy Spirit's are so extremely disproportionate. You are still convinced that your understanding is a powerful contribution to the truth, and makes it what it is. Yet we have emphasized that you need understand nothing. Salvation is easy just because it asks nothing you cannot give right now. (ACIM:T-18.IV.7)
Finally it also makes it clear what the meaning is of deferring the ego's judgments, and listening to Jesus first, as the way to true understanding, when it says:

The real world is the state of mind in which the only purpose of the world is seen to be forgiveness. Fear is not its goal, for the escape from guilt becomes its aim. The value of forgiveness is perceived and takes the place of idols, which are sought no longer, for their "gifts" are not held dear. No rules are idly set, and no demands are made of anyone or anything to twist and fit into the dream of fear. Instead, there is a wish to understand all things created as they really are. And it is recognized that all things must be first forgiven, and then understood. (AC IM:T-30.V.1)

This is a process that will happen to all of us in our spiritual growth, and in that sense Paul stands as a powerful reminder of how we will compromise the teachings if we follow our own mental constructs and rationalizations, and thus not only cause ourselves endless painful delays on the journey, but potentially mislead many others in the process. Hopefully, we will catch ourselves in this, before we end up fooling ourselves, and others as well. Clearly, the mature attitude is such as is evinced by Ken Wapnick, and other teachers, like also Jeddu Krishnamurti was one in my experience, who simply know they are a channel for the teaching, but who know they are not important, and their insights are nothing that is not accessible by anyone.

Whenever we catch ourselves becoming preoccupied with someone else's understanding of the Course or the truth, we know that we have sided with Paul, for we are then caught up in the ego's game of professing concepts about the truth, rather than remaining in the experience of the truth. At these times Paul can be a mirror, and hopefully we can return to doing the inner work. At times we may remind ourselves that Paul's name means "little man," and that the "tiny mad idea" (cf. ACIM:T-27.VIII.6:2) unfortunately spooks around in much of what he says, or else there would be no need to be so strident or convince anyone, since the truth needs no defense.

The true teachings are accessible by anyone in the sense of the Course's correction of the Bible, when it says:

I cannot unite your will with God's for you, but I can erase all misperceptions from your mind if you will bring it under my guidance. Only your misperceptions stand in your way. Without them your choice is certain. Sane perception induces sane choosing. I cannot choose for you, but I can help you make your own right choice. "Many are called but few are chosen" should be, "All are called but few choose to listen." Therefore, they do not choose right. The "chosen ones" are merely those who choose right sooner. Right minds can do this now, and they will find rest unto their souls. God knows you only in peace, and this is your reality. (ACIM:T-3.IV.7:7-16)

And the Holy Instant, the moment of forgiveness when we truly see ourselves as one with our brother, that is the moment when Jesus' direct teaching occurs, because his vision is then imparted to us, even if we can only stand it for a split second, this is not material, for becoming aware of the experience, we become more and more clear of the difference between the pain we experience if we take the ego as our guide, versus the peace we experience when we take Jesus for our guide. And Jesus in the Course counts on this very Pavlovian reinforcement process, in hopes that we will want to make the other choice more and more often, since ultimately the peace of the Holy Spirit will be more attractive than the pain of the ego.

And so it is our own personal experience which is really all that matters, and this is why the Course emphasizes that it is practical, and geared to practicing what it teaches, today, tomorrow, and for the rest of our lives. It is also clear that the book is something we will ultimately leave behind (see lesson 189). So, it is not about the book, or any other idol, and not about the theory, or theology, but about the experience.

As we rediscover this aspect of Jesus' teachings, we will then leave the rationalizations, the propaganda, and the judgments as well as the proselytizing of the Pauline tradition behind us, because it will become clear to us that the only reason for convincing anybody else, is because we do not believe what we profess, and we have work to do healing our own split mind in this regard, and it is simple forgiveness work.

Paul can thus be a perfect mirror and a teacher for us if once again we fall into the trap of convincing anybody else of one of our rationalizations of what the Course really says. You can rest assured it doesn't say that - whatever it is. It is just another partial understanding along the way, so it is time to keep moving with our journey, and not to exploit the fears and uncertainties of our brothers, but instead to become a living example by truly taking Jesus's hand ourselves. If we do, we would also find that it is possible to agree to disagree, like I happen to like coffee, and you like tea, or vice versa, but it does not threaten my piece of mind, nor do I have to convince you, and thus we can maintain the connection and be brothers who just happen to have different tastes or viewpoints.

Once we become strident, we raise differences to the level of separation, and it is a sure sign that the ego has us by the short ones once again. Our positions are uncertain if they are based on mental projections of the ego, for it has no foundation, except the putative "tiny mad idea" which never really happened in the first place. Finding witnesses, convincing others and proselytizing are only the ego's bad substitutes for the certainty of Knowing which is of the Holy Spirit. Raising such differences then also serves to make the ego real, and convince ourselves that our false identity is real, and you and I are difference. A little willingness to forgive would be helpful to get us out of this mess.

Copyright, © 2008 Rogier F. van Vlissingen. All rights reserved.
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