[Note: This is part one of a two-part essay on the topic of Christ Consciousness]
Quite frequently, in homilies, lectures and writings, I use the phrase, “Christ Consciousness.” Some weeks ago, a parishioner asked if I might deliver a full ‘sermon’ on the topic. So, I did; and this blog, in two parts, is the result.
I don’t believe for a moment that Jesus of Nazareth was the only ‘avatar’ to exemplify and teach on this topic. Very similar ideas can be found in the terms, “Buddha nature” (in Buddhism) and “Self-realization” (in Hinduism). And I would claim that even the Christian term “Salvation”, properly understood, is really the same idea. Of course, all of these articulations of the great mystical traditions have been misinterpreted and even abused as control mechanisms. More about that anon.
In this article, I will focus on the Jesus’ version, with occasional forays into other wisdom traditions. The core text and very powerful articulation of and injunction to “Christ Consciousness” can be found in the mystical poetry of St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians chapter 2. Here are two versions of the text. The first one is from the NIV (New International Version) and the second is my own free-flowing version of it.
Have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Have that consciousness in you which was also in Christ Jesus,
who, although he was God, did not cling to his divinity
but emptied himself and incarnated as a human;
accepting his mortality even unto death.
Because of this,
God identified the characteristic
which is above all other attributes,
so that every sentient being
in heaven and on Earth
will bow the knee
and proclaim, ‘Namaste,’
– the recognition of God
in all of Her children.
So, to use parallel terms, Jesus is the exemplar par excellence of true Self-realization and of a fully-awakened buddha nature. I will parse the effects of Jesus’ teaching by viewing it through three basic lenses: “Religio-theology”, “Socio-morality” and Psycho-spirituality.”
1A. Religio-theology – the gift
If I were to collapse Jesus’ self-proclaimed job description to two phrases, they would be (i) to preach Good News and (ii) to Heal Sickness. ‘Good News’ has to be both good and new. In other words, it should raise the listeners’ spirits, and it should not be the ‘old hat’ of finger-waving preachers warning us about the temperature of hell.
In one of his most passionate challenges to the religious teachers of his own tradition – a tradition which he deeply loved – he pointed out the ways in which they burden the ‘laity’ with heavy loads but not lift a finger to help them. Even more devastatingly, he upbraided them for closing off the doors beyond dogma into mysticism – not venturing in there themselves while forbidding others from entering. Alas, it is an accusation that is still valid, as we compare all three monotheistic religions and their treatment of their mystics.
As competing theological movements attempted to identify where precisely the kingdom of heaven was located and how it could be attained, Jesus said simply, “the kingdom of God is ‘en mesoi’ (within you and among you.)” So, even mysticism is not about mastering arcane, esoteric practices, it is simply about changing focus. It’s how you look, not where you look. Faithful rabbi that he was, with a profound knowledge of Torah, he avowed that he had not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. Then, he went on to complete it, not by a slavish adherence to legal literalism but to radically transform it e.g., “you have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘an eye for an eye’… but I say to you, love your enemies…” He took some of the most important of Torah’s 613 precepts and significantly ‘upgraded’ them; for example, kosher foods and the Sabbath rest.
And he wasn’t offering a one-size-fits-all-for-all-ages, he was demonstrating the fact that ‘good news’ must continue to evolve in order to be ‘good’ and ‘new’ in all eras. He wasn’t giving us a new law, he was advocating a new mindset – a ‘Christ Consciousness’ mindset.
Like the Buddha, he preached a form of ‘anitya’ (impermanence). However, this too is a concept that is regularly misunderstood. Impermanence is not simply the lugubrious lamentation that everything that is born will die. That is only Act I of the drama. Act II is the knowledge that everything that dies will resurrect, transform or reincarnate. Only the present form is impermanent, the essence is eternal. He not only taught that, he also demonstrated it. There is even an Act III – Ascension, the evolution of even the soul’s sense of separate self into the oceanic Unity Consciousness of Source.
Like Prigogine’s ‘dissipative structures’ and Shiva’s role in the Hindu trinity, love continues to express itself in ever more complex Logos-directed ways.
1B. Religio-theology – Historical Aberrations
As I mentioned earlier, even the word ‘salvation’, properly understood, could be a synonym for ‘Christ Consciousness’. Unfortunately, it got reduced to the notion of ‘redemption’ (from the Latin meaning to ‘buy back’). Now, the all-loving Source has been reduced to a cosmic monster who made a bargain with Satan to trade ‘his only-begotten son’ in order to buy back the sinful human race, dismiss the security detail (cherubim with fiery swords) outside of paradise and re-open the creaky, rusted gates to the Garden of Eden. Satan didn’t just get his pound of flesh, he got 150 pounds of it. What a weird waste of millennia of exegesis of the divine mystery of God’s unrelenting love for us!
Now, salvation is an outcome that can be ‘gamed’ by a whole series of tricks e.g., circumcision, the Hajj, the Nine First Fridays and – the pièce de résistance – indulgences. The Vatican, in its infinite, infallible wisdom, created a kind of pay-to-pray and pray-to-play spiritual practice, where you could persuade God to commute (partial indulgence) or even cancel (plenary indulgence) a sinner’s stay in purgatory. These ran the gamut from 300 days off for good behavior to ‘papal pardons’ with an Uber escort to the pearly gates. All, of course, for a little fee to raise money for the pope’s pet projects – mainly self-glorifying construction enterprises.
The latest version is that you can win indulgences by following Pope Francis’ Twitter account – and the Facebook page – of his papal journeys. What a combo, Zuckerberg, Dorsey and the Roman Curia! I hope that God’s computer never gets hacked or some ne’er-do-well could steal your identity and bilk you out of your hard-earned seat in heaven.
In between redemption and indulgences, the church managed to turn a simple group of nomadic ‘good news’ spokespeople – men and women – into a patriarchal, hierarchical, dogma-inventing institution which was fear-based and law-centered. In the ultimate abuse of power, based on later-inserted ‘biblical’ teachings such as “whatever you bind on Earth will be considered bound in heaven…”, we then got theocracies which claimed jurisdiction of not only your mortal life but your eternal afterlife. You can run or even die, but you cannot hide. In a nice, neat 2X2 matrix, they created four living quarters for the deceased – heaven, hell, purgatory and limbo.
In order to separate the family of God even further, they instigated wars on the pagans, infidels and ‘perfidious Jews’ through crusades, conquests and conversions. And, when they ran out of foreign enemies, they created, tortured and torched internal enemies in the inquisition of heretics.
2A Socio-morality – the Gift
This is where the rubber meets the road. ‘Christ Consciousness’ proposes an extraordinarily elevated ethical system in which the cornerstone is forgiveness – even of the enemy. This is a one-two delivery because it is predicated on reframing ‘enemy’ as ‘neighbor’. This is beautifully articulated in the parable of the Good Samaritan where the enemy, the Samaritan (read: Palestinian Arab) is the one who responds with compassion for the injured Hebrew (read: Jewish Israeli). Moreover, the journey in which the story is embedded begins in Jerusalem and ends in Jericho – the exact reverse of the conquest of the ‘promised land’ 1200 years before. Now the hero is a Canaanite and the needy traveler is a ‘child of Moses’. In this power-packed parable, Jesus is showing that the priest and the Levite, who protected their ritual cleanliness by not touching a possibly-dead body, failed to realize that God values compassion much more highly than She values human rules.
While allowing that they must ‘render unto Caesar the things that are Caesars’, Jesus proposes a moral code called, ‘The Beatitudes’ which, I believe has never been surpassed and which, unfortunately, has never really been tried.
2B Socio-morality – Historical Aberrations
The two greatest aberrations to this ethical system were (i) our treatment of nature and (ii) our treatment of fellow humans. Nature had gotten off to a very rocky start once God gave us ‘Radah’ over nature. The Hebrew word, ‘Radah’, can mean, ‘to exploit’, ‘to control’ or ‘to be responsible for’ – as in loving stewardship. God, himself, didn’t help initially when he punished the sin of Adam and Eve by setting even nature against them, “Both thorns and thistles it will yield you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow will you eat your bread…” He didn’t help much either with his own version of the Permian Extinction when he callously wiped out all of life except for a small, floating zoo. Jesus’ insistence that not even a sparrow falls from the sky without our heavenly father being concerned for it, and his injunction to “look at the lilies of the field…” was an attempt to heal the ancient rupture between ourselves and nature. It’s even absurd to try to differentiate between the two. It’s like the head speaking of everything south of the chin as a foreign body.
Most of Jesus’ parables are drawn from his intimate connection with and deep appreciation of nature – its flora and fauna and lifeforce. The accelerating pace of technology, from nomadic to horticultural to agricultural to industrial to informational societies, has seen nature reduced from a partner to merely a resource to be sucked dry and then discarded.
The second great aberration in this elegant moral code is the treatment of humans by humans. All manner of superficial differences – which are merely the tones on God’s palette – have been pressed into the service of creating pecking orders with accompanying privileges and punishments. Caste, creed, color, class, gender, race, socio-economic-standard, IQ and religious affiliation have all been deliberately magnified and used to justify everything from disparity of wages to outright slavery – often by people who pay pious lip service to the Carpenter from Galilee.
Unscrupulous wannabe empires from ancient Akkadia to current corporatocracy have used fellow humans as pawns in their bloody wars. It’s almost as if compassion has been bred out of these oligarchical lineages.