Man ought to become a God-seeker in all things and a God-finder at all times. — Meister Eckhart (1260?-1327?)
There is much wisdom in the New Testament that can be of help in these times of intellectual ferment and soul searching, but to find it we must look beneath the allegories and parables to the underlying meaning. Philosopher Jacob Needleman addresses the importance of the individual's own experience in bringing to life the realness in himself. More emphasis should be given in Christianity to the development of the human soul, for "deep in man, at the core of his being, there exists the need for experiences of truth. Around this need everything else in him is arranged like planets around the sun" (Lost Christianity: A Journey of Rediscovery to the Center of Christian Experience, p. 61).
"Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free," said Jesus, and what did he mean? For me, truth is the divine in all things. It is everywhere, within, and around us, in the glory of sun and stars, in the promise of a mustard seed, in the splendor of human fulfillment. We become as free as we let go of limitations and doubts that prevent our seeing with inner vision and understanding.
The search for truth began in mythological ages when godlike beings (represented by Lucifer, the lightbringer in the New Testament) quickened our then dormant minds, awakening reason, will, discrimination, and the power of choice between good and evil. W. Macneile Dixon, champion of the "mighty opposites," of darkness and light within us, that spur us to growth and change, and cause our amazing unpredictability, has stimulating thoughts on the Adam and Eve allegory:
If we were to interpret the so-called Fall of Man as a fortunate rather than a lamentable occurrence, if we were to call it rather his coming of age, the moment at which he took upon himself his natural duties and responsibilities, matters might begin to wear a sensibly brighter appearance. — The Human Situation, p. 277
Dixon believed that human beings have a bigger purpose than remaining in paradise, "loitering for ever through fields of asphodel, . . . a more honourable role assigned them, and a more adventurous journey through the Cosmos, . . ." This coming of age of the human race, struggling to distinguish between the angel and the demon within while seeking to discover the real Self, has already involved us in innumerable lives of soul-learning. There is assurance in knowing that in our complex nature we are problem-maker and -solver and in command of our destiny.
Inner transformation and spiritual rebirth are the dominant themes in the New Testament. "I am the way, the truth, and the life," said Jesus, referring to the Christ spirit in him that speaks to the Christ spirit in every human heart. Maurice Nicoll gives a fresh insight into the word metanoia in the original Greek text. Sometimes translated "repentance," sometimes "conversion," metanoia — from mesa, "beyondness, transformation," and noia, from nous, "mind" — means essentially "transformation of the mind." This rendering contains no hint of sorrow or feeling of pain, as does repentance. It refers rather to "an entirely new way of thinking, new ideas, new knowledge, and a new approach to everything in life." (The Mark, p. 93.)When this comes about, even in small degree, a more hopeful light is thrown on suffering, tragedies, the sense of inadequacy, and all human tribulations. There is a re-turning inward, close to the inner Self, a conversion, not by persuasion from without, but by awakening from within.
The most telling example of this process occurs in the story of the prodigal son. We all take devious routes from time to time, but it is the will to learn and change as the result of these experiences that is important. Paul refers to this principle of transformation in Romans (12:2): "Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, . . ."
Before we begin to seek truth, there must be a thirst for it. This thirst is a sign that there is an opening within one's nature to receive more light. One way to begin is suggested in the Sermon on the Mount: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself," (Matthew 6:3 3-4). As we grow in awareness of the light within, a unique kind of symbiosis develops between ourselves and our circumstances. We are then more ready to discover the magic of each day, and give each moment "the attention of the heart," as one theologian put it. Living in the now rather than expending valuable energy worrying about the past or the future is a discipline few of us have developed, but it is worth attempting. It is a happy way of participating more self-consciously in the daily unfolding events. Speaking of the value of the present moment, it may be well to emphasize that the kingdom of heaven or of God, and hell, are states of consciousness within ourselves here on earth and after death. In a similar way God and Satan are forces within rather than outside ourselves.
Practicing the virtues is a continuing discipline and a most necessary prelude to spiritual awakenment. Without these as a groundwork for living, any effort to experience higher levels of consciousness is not only ineffectual, but spiritually dangerous. Of the virtues, love is the most important — impersonal love, which transcends all. If one were to follow this one commandment of Jesus consistently, it would occupy one's full attention. It is the heart of the Christian message:
Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. —Matthew 5:44-5
This commandment speaks for itself. The quality of love implied here is the purest and most impersonal form of its expression. The analogy of the sun, rising on the evil and the good, and of the rain bestowing its blessings on the just and the unjust, impresses the soul with the truth that nature's laws are just and impartial. Karma is one of these laws: it operates on all levels of evolution. We receive exactly what we are inwardly ready to receive: there is no favoritism.
In Chapter 7 in Matthew three stages in the process of seeking are indicated:
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.
And then Jesus questions: "Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?" As bread gives strength to the body when it is digested and assimilated, so wisdom, or nourishment for the soul, must be absorbed and understood. In asking with humble heart, seeking with unselfish motive, not standing in judgment of our fellow human beings, we shall in time knock and come to know that we are worthy of moving on. As the experiences of life unfold, each step will make new demands on us. There is nothing like being on the firing-line of life to bring out strength of character. Through conflict and suffering we learn more about ourselves than any other way, and our sympathies for others are aroused. Patience is required to allow time and adversities to prove one's worth. "Consider the lilies of the field: . . ." nature's quiet, measured patterns of growth follow steadily the ways of the spirit without haste; the same principle, heeded by us, can lead to spiritual rebirth and the flowering of humanhood.
He that findeth his life shall lose it; and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it. — Matthew l0:39
Many are the stages of spiritual awakening and each stage involves a deeper commitment, a keener sense of responsibility to one's fellow humans and to oneself, and an ever greater sacrifice of the lesser self, a giving up of all that is temporal. But in these days when having one's own guru is popular, it is well to "beware of false prophets." There are always those who are eager and waiting to exploit the sincere individual who is unschooled in the disciplines necessary to develop discrimination and selflessness. "Ye shall know them by their fruits."
Spiritual egoism and selfishness by their very subtlety can cause blindness and ambition, delusions of high and special attainments. It is not by chance that two of the Beatitudes address the subject of humility. "Blessed are the poor in spirit," and "blessed are the meek," for true humility is the mark of a genuine teacher: it embraces love, forgiveness, compassion, and all the finer virtues. Such a teacher lacks vanity and egoism and discourages them in his students. When virtues are spontaneously expressed in deeds, then they are beginning to become a part of us. The total commitment to universal love demands giving with one's whole being and with absolute trust:
And thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. — Mark 12:30-31
Letting go of restrictions of the mind, examining within whether the love of the heart is attached to treasures of earth or aspiring toward treasures of the spirit, feeling a reverence for all life, reminding ourselves often of the prayer "not my will but thine be done," these are some of the steps toward inner transformation which the New Testament gives us. Taking one day at a time and endeavoring to absorb the lessons of wisdom it brings, we will find our own truth. A few moments of quiet each day to enter into our "closet" or inner sanctuary and shut the door to life's countless distractions, can bring equilibrium and a growing feeling of closeness to our Father or higher self which sees and knows what things we have need of. Ultimately it is not what we know with our minds that is of first importance, but what we are and are seeking to become through the understanding heart.
(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 1986. Copyright © 1986 by Theosophical University Press)