Jay Michaelson
How I Finally Learned to Accept Christ in my Heart, p.3

Of course, a cynic could argue that contemplatives project back their own experiences in order to validate them, or out of a lack of creativity. But I would assume that all serious mystics know full well that there are multiple flavors of mystical experience, simply because I've tasted them myself. The numinous experienced by way of seven days of silence feels a little different from the numinous experienced by way of prolonged orgasm. And yet, there is the rock at the center. Impossible to explain, and polytheists would disagree - in fact, to do so may be the core error of paganism according to monotheism -- but it's all the same God.

Projecting back, I came to understand Christ in this way myself. Suppose Christ was a fully enlightened being. He "got it" in a way that few others in his culture seemed to. (Actually, there were many itinerant, anti-establishment teachers wandering around Palestine in the days of Herod; Jesus was not as unique as we may think today). How, in the Jewish-Hellenistic culture of the day, would you explain the Dharma?

How do you explain enlightenment to Jews? You invert the laws of purity, and touch the leper. Everything is holy.

How do you practice the Path in Rome? You accept suffering, and explain that the suffering is that of the world, not of any particular individual. Suffering is suffering; you might say: I am giving myself for you.

How do you preach pantheism to people who've never heard it before? You say, this bread is my body; this wine is my blood. You call the disciples' full attention to every act of eating and drinking.

I want to take this a step further, though. I'm not sure I like the explicit translation of the Gospels into the Vedantic monism that holds sway today. It is too similar to the Christian Scientists, who saw the Gospels as nothing more than 19th century science and medicine, or the many others who sought to syncretize what Jesus said with whatever belief happens to be dominant at a particular time, from transcendentalism to fascism and everything in between. It's even a little similar to the Jewish "appreciation" of Jesus - it seems to say that we contemplatives know him even better than the Christians do.

So I want to return to the question of Jesus h/Himself. I want to say: take pantheism (or panentheism) seriously. If everything is God, or is, essentially, nothing but a radiant manifestation of the One, then the only distinction between an enlightened being and a less-enlightened one is realization. Actually, everyone and everything is fully enlightened, because you and this leaf are God. The only reason why you suffer is that you don't realize it; you don't actually believe that your true reality is God. There is a part of God, manifesting as your ego, which says "I don't get it." Or which says "I." What's more, even if you fully grant the ontological/epistemological truth of monism, if you've only "bought it" with your rational mind, you haven't really gotten it. Map is not territory. You have to feel it in your body to know it, and in your heart, mind, and spirit. (Conversely, it's not just enough to "feel spiritual" without articulation; leaving behind the mind is no less mistaken than leaving behind the heart.)

Notice that this realization is not spirituality in the conventional sense. The trouble with spirituality is that there really is nothing special you have to feel, and the trouble with esoterism (such as Kabbalah) is that there really is nothing special you have to get. But you don't have to feel a certain way to be fully realized. You do not need to know the zodiac or the enneagram to be enlightened. In fact, supposing that enlightenment is related to such mind-states or such special knowledge is an error. You are already enlightened. You just have to realize it - to realize the truth of what already is.

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Image: Christ the Savior, 13th C.

June 2004

Jeff Leavell

How I Finally Learned to Accept Christ in my Heart
Jay Michaelson

Playing Eve
Hila Ratzabi

Hyatt Regency Dead Sea Resort
Rowena Silver

Josh Breaks his Finger
Josh Ring

Mean to Girls
Dan Friedman

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David Stromberg

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From previous issues:

Are the Ten Commandments Really Carved in Stone?
Joel Shurkin

Some things have changed, some have stayed the same
Jay Michaelson

The Hamas Class of 1992
Michael Shurkin