Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Rami: Response to Mike's 12/15 Post

Wow! I love the idea that heaven is a condition rather than a reward. This places it outside of time: heaven is not a place we go to, but a condition we awaken to here and now. This is what Jesus may have meant (and to my mind should have meant and must have meant) when he said, “the Kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21). This is comparable to the Pure Land of Shin Buddhism and Nirvana in Zen Buddhism. Both are states of mind, conditions of being, to which we awaken, rather than places to which we go. Going implies time and distance, awakening is either there or it isn’t. You can’t be a little awake, at least not in this context.

As for selflessness I agree that it is very difficult to act without considering what’s in it for me, but I would say that when we are totally present to the moment, when we are fully awake to the Kingdom within and among us (to blend the King James and NRSV translations) we do in fact act without self.

We can get a glimpse of this in what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his marvelous study Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience calls the “flow state.” In this state time stops, self-consciousness fades, and we act effortlessly and joyously. Living the Kingdom of Heaven is living seamlessly with the Now, acting in accord with the moment in such a way as to help manifest the potential for love present in each moment. I suspect this is how Jesus is trying to teach us to live in the Sermon on the Mount. I wish organized religion devoted itself to teaching this as well, each using its won language and all pointing toward the same way of life.

You do mention some reward for selflessness, but to me selflessness is the reward, for with the ending of self arises the oneness of God, woman, man, and nature that is true Reality. If this is how Jesus recast the rabbinic ideal of lishmah—yasher koach! May his power increase!

You also seem to pit selflessness against self-reliance, linking the former to those “who depend upon God for all they truly need.” I wonder if there isn’t still a bit of self-hovering around those who depend on God. Indeed the very fact that they posit a God other then themselves suggests that they are not entirely selfless. True selflessness means that there is no egoic “I” at all: “Not I but Jesus in me,” as Paul might put it. In a sense when the self is gone so is the Other, not that God is absent when the self is absent, but God is all there is and hence there is no room for any other.

My original question dealt with Jesus’ phrase “your Father who is in secret.” It is such an odd phrase (I assume the Greek says this as well) that it demands parsing, though you opted not to do so. So let me try some ideas off the top of my head.

Try this: In Jesus’ day the rabbis spoke of four levels of biblical interpretation: the literal, the allegorical, the homiletical, and the mystical. This last is called “sod,” which is the Hebrew word for “secret.” While the first three levels are taught public, the fourth is hidden, only revealed by master to student, or by God. Could Jesus be referring to sod? Could he be saying something like, “your God who is revealed only in the secret teachings of Torah”?

Or try this: Jesus wants us to practice and pray in secret and it is in secret that God is found. Could it be that God is found only when we withdraw from self (a paradox for who is the I that withdraws?); only, in fact, when we end the self and dwell in the greater reality out of which the self emerges?

Or this: A secret is unknown. Perhaps that is where God dwells: in and as the unknown. All that is known, all our ideas about God and godliness, are like a map that we mistake for the territory. The map is an approximation, not the thing itself. The religious worship the map, indeed insist that the map is God and do their best to keep themselves and others from seeing and walking the territory directly. Jesus is calling us to put the map aside and engage with God directly. Since God is the unknown and unknowable, God is found in secret, in mystery, outside the fixed notions and behaviors of the pious. Jesus may be saying that only when we step beyond the known and allow ourselves to confront the unknown do we discover the Unknowable One beyond all thought and theory.

Obviously I am guessing here. Any thoughts?

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