After examining the different stages of spiritual development, and now thinking on the passion story of Christ, it seems to me Jesus probably told his most beautiful and moving parable to humanity not with words, but in his actions and what he endured and experienced on Good Friday through Easter Sunday. We have all heard traditional Christianity’s interpretation of the Easter story, but I have been seeing a quite different interpretation to that story develop in my consciousness as I have been writing these chapters and contemplating what God, Love, Truth has revealed itself for what it is not rather than what so many say it is.
The passion story of Christ begins in the same setting as the symbolic creation story of humanity – in a garden. A garden is a place of life… with trees, flowers, plants, water, fruit, and animals. It is an ideal setting – just like a mother’s womb. It is also a place we are cast out – as we were cast out of Eden, as Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, as we were born, ripped out of our mother’s womb if you will. In a way, leaving the garden symbolizes the process of being born into this material world, with all of its dangers and pain as well as potentialities for amazing spiritual awakening. In each case, we cannot go back to this perfect environment, but can only go forward.
When Jesus was taken to several hostile trials throughout the night, he was accused and mocked, spat upon, and interrogated relentlessly. When we are born, we are confronted with the realities of physical life, and as we grow are sometimes abused verbally, sometimes physically. We gradually develop an awareness of being separate from others, as Jesus was aware of being alone – truly alone at his trials. His disciples in fear had abandoned him, Peter denied him, Judas betrayed him by selling him out for thirty pieces of silver. We too experience betrayals and are taught both positive and negative ideas about life and ourselves from imperfect parents and other adults and peers growing up. Within this process of gradual conditioning, we begin to build our “cross” we carry with us – the burdens of our beliefs and prejudices. This happens to everyone whether we like it or not. It is the price we pay for our humanity – for existing as a being who can measure change, create time, and identify with our self-created beliefs and prejudices. Early in this stage of our development, we take things literally and very personally, believing everything good or bad is the direct result of us. It is an ego-centric time, and mirrors the “Stage One” aspect of spiritual development. Everything is about me.
Jesus was eventually handed over to the authorities who would ultimately put him to death – the Romans. As in Stage Two stage of spiritual development, Jesus now submitted to worldly authority. He did this of his own free will because he could see the bigger picture, knowing that submitting instead of resisting was the way to show not with words, but with actions, that to break the cycle of evil, he must not resist evil, as he preached. Jesus broke the chain of violence by not resisting, as those who move from the chaos of Stage One to Stage Two in their spiritual development find a measure of solace by not resisting authority. Pontius Pilate, the Roman Procurator, to appease a restless crowd of people who demanded Jesus’ death, choose to instead have Jesus flogged, as he did not believe Jesus was guilty of any crime deserving of death. Evidence from the Shroud of Turin, if authentic, reveal Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ” rendition was probably close to the facts of how badly he was beaten. The shroud reveals over 120 bruises all over his body from the flogging. We who suffer relentlessly within our daily struggles of physical disabilities, addictions, or personal circumstances, often feel this way – taking a beating day after day, and wondering when, if any deliverance will take place. After this, the Roman soldiers made a sport of fashioning for Jesus a crown of thorns and placing it upon his head, hailing him “King of the Jews,” dressing him up in a scarlet robe and striking him with a scepter repeatedly. After this, Jesus was presented before a crowd by Pilate, who asked the crowd to choose for execution either Jesus or Barabbas, a notorious murderer whose name, ironically means in Aramaic, “of the Father.” The crowd’s choice to set Barabbas free and to crucify Jesus symbolizes how we all have chosen to go our own way – to follow the lie, our beliefs and prejudices while murdering Truth. At the same time, Pilate, who ultimately ordered Jesus’ crucifixion, “washed his hands” of responsibility of Jesus’ death, “passing the buck” to the crowd, as Adam did to Eve, as we all so often do when we would rather not face our own responsibility and complicity in the murdering of Truth. Truth really cannot be “murdered” persay, but we can turn away from Truth by the choices we make. When we turn away, we are in a sense “killing” ourselves.
After Jesus had his clothes thrown back on him, he was led out to be crucified along with two other criminals. The practice of the day was to have each prisoner carry their own crossbeam. We each carry our own cross throughout our mortal lives. And this cross is both self-made and inherited, as some of us are born with physical or mental disabilities, or other ailments, and all of us, rich or poor, from any and all backgrounds, carry the cross of our beliefs and prejudices which must be transcended to know True Freedom. It is interesting to note that prisoners to be crucified were either led like a dog by a rope or a chain, or sometimes tied to each other so they would not be able to run away. All of these miserable physical realities of this awful death sentence speak in profound metaphors of the way in which we are all burdened and chained, restricted by sin, which is identification with any and everything but God, Truth, Love itself. If the prisoners did not move to the speed of the Roman soldiers’ liking, they could pull the prisoner forward, causing them to fall. It is no wonder Jesus is said to have fallen at least three times on his way to Calvary. We all fall, stumble, then get back up again in life, and we all do this far more than just three times in our lives. I have lost count at how many times I have fallen and stumbled through life. We must continue on, no matter how many times we fall, and get back up to carry on again.
While on the way to Golgotha, the “place of the skull” as it was known, Jesus eventually could not carry his 125 pound crossbeam on his own, as the severity of the scourging, which I have read was equivalent to being shot seven times with a .44 caliber pistol, rendered Jesus too weak to carry his cross alone. Simon of Cyrene was in the crowd, and was made to carry the cross for Jesus. There are times when we cannot carry on without help from others, when the burdens of our life are more than we can bear, and we need help, as the Apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 6:2, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” I have often contemplated what an immense privilege it would have been to have helped Jesus carry his crossbeam as Simon did. When I have contemplated this, I have often tearfully realized the answer from within, which tells me we can every day help Jesus with his cross by helping each other, by following Love, by answering the call of Truth within us instead of the selfishness of our egos. As Jesus said in Matthew 25:40, …”whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Another beautiful moment while on the way to Golgotha for Jesus was when a woman known as Veronica wiped his face with a cloth, which after that bore the image of Jesus’ face. In Latin, the name “Veronica” means “true image,” and the naming of the woman who wiped his face was likely so named due to the legend of the image on the cloth than the name of the woman herself. Here again, we see a beautiful act of kindness amidst a time of great pain and suffering. We all have moments in our lives when we need someone to unexpectedly offer us respite, refreshment, a time when we see the best aspects of the human heart when we feel like quitting. I am sure a moment like that gave Jesus the strength to carry on.
Eventually Jesus made it to the site of his execution, and was stripped of his garments, reopening wounds from the scourging. This is reminiscent of when one makes the most painful conversion to Stage Three of spiritual development, in which we are “stripped” of all we once believed to be true. It is typically an incredibly painful experience. Jesus was then likely thrown down on the crossbeam left on the ground by Simon of Cyrene. Based on evidence from the Shroud of Turin, if accurate, the executioners pounded a metal spike through each wrist, then raised him hanging from the crossbeam to the top of the stipe permanently fixed in the ground. Once the crossbeam was fixed on top of the stipe, Jesus’ feet were placed, left foot over right with legs slightly flexed on the stipe, and another spike driven through both feet, leaving him to die. The crucifixion of Jesus’ body can mean many different things. Among them, it can mean the necessity for flesh, that which is of ego, prejudice and belief to be “crucified,” or put to death for us to know True Salvation, knowledge of Truth. It can also represent the attempt to “murder” Truth, no matter how futile this attempt is.
While nailed to the cross, Jesus was not only in immense physical pain, but spiritual pain as well. And while his mother Mary, Mary Magdalene, and his apostle John were present at the cross, Jesus was essentially left alone to die, abandoned and “thrown in the middle of the ocean without a raft” if you will, as one often feels when entering Stage Three of spiritual development. Here, there is no perception of God; only emptiness, pain, fear, and loneliness. This is reflected in one of Jesus’ seven words spoken from the cross, as reflected in Matthew 27:46…”My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It is a sentiment we all feel at times, and especially in our darkest hours. I felt this in a profound way when I had my existential crisis at the age of 22 when all I believed to be true about God was torn away. The Psalm from which Jesus’ words came, Psalm 22:1-2 spoke to my feelings better than my own thoughts at the time…”My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.”
After Jesus died, he was taken down from the cross, and wrapped in a shroud of linen and buried in a tomb of Joseph of Arimathaea. When the stone was rolled to seal the tomb, it appeared the forces of darkness, the people of the lie had succeeded in murdering Truth. That is, until the next Sunday morning. Whatever actually, historically happened during the event known as the “resurrection” is a mystery perhaps nobody will ever know for sure. Regardless of the facts, the story of Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday symbolizes the indestructibility of the Truth, the fact it never dies, and even if “buried,” will always “rise again,” appearing to those who wish to see It, as Jesus appeared to his disciples on Easter Sunday morning and beyond. I had mentioned before that the transition in spiritual development from Stage Three to Stage Four was a kind of “resurrection” if you will, mirroring the resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday. When Christ appeared to his disciples after the resurrection, he was the same, yet different, as his disciples did not quite recognize him immediately, just as we, who move on to a new phase of spiritual development to Stage Four, “return to God” as it were, yet not at all with the same perspective we had within Stage Two. We truly see more in Stage Four than we saw in Stage Two, and the salvation of Stage Four is seeing the beauty of Truth which is Universal and Inclusive, not exclusive to just one person, one culture, one “chosen people.”
The common view of salvation within traditional Christianity is to view the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the purchase of the souls of those who believe Jesus is the Son of God who offered himself as a necessary sacrifice to God for the forgiveness of sins so we would not spend eternity in Hell, but in Heaven. For this theology to work, Jesus must be the only begotten Son of God, conceived of the Holy Spirit, and without sin to be the only acceptable sacrifice God required as just payment for the sins of the world. Jesus himself had something to say about this notion in the Secret Book of James 7:2-3, “Damn you who require an intercessor. Damn you who stand in need of grace. Congratulations to those who have spoken out fearlessly, and have obtained grace for themselves.” Of course, all of this scripture was left out of the New Testament because it completely dismantles the foundation of traditional Christianity’s belief system. As I have said before, this theology contradicts itself and makes no sense since a “just God” could never by definition be unjust, which is exactly what it means to punish the innocent for the sake of the guilty. This belief also requires the notion that God, Love can be bought, which everyone knows deep down is not Truth. Since God, Love cannot be bought, then no “transaction” of money, blood, or whatever have you can ever “pay” for “salvation” or anything else of God. God, who is Love alone, cannot act in any way which is contrary to love, so to punish the innocent for the sake of the guilty would compromise God’s integrity, by causing Him to act outside of His nature, which is impossible. Love only brings Love – nothing else. As found in Proverbs:15, “Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent – the Lord detests them both.” Yet this is exactly what traditional Christian doctrine purports when it claims Jesus, as the innocent spotless Lamb of God was sacrificed to save the guilty from their sins. When looked at from the perspective of the Old Testament Proverb, it is easier to see why those of the Jewish faith reject the notion Jesus of Nazareth died for the sins of the world. This also makes no sense, as sin always pays its own wage, since all actions bring their exact consequences in perfect measure. It is the natural law of karma, perfect and absolute. When this is understood, then the notion of additional “payment” for sin is meaningless, and makes no sense.
It is not important whether or not Jesus of Nazareth was without sin, or conceived without the seed of a man, or even whether or not he actually, historically, ever even existed. It is the story of Truth which ultimately matters, not what name or face Truth may emobdy. That is a concern of ego, not love. What made Jesus of Nazareth different from other men was that he was a man who understood he needed to empty himself, to not identify with his beliefs and prejudices to know his True Identity as Love, God Himself within. It is our misunderstanding of the definition of sin which causes many problems for so many people. Sin is simply not identifying with our True nature as Love itself, and all the misery and sorrow which come through our actions resulting from this ignorance. Sin is the product of mistaking our egos – the mirror as that which is reflected in the mirror – God, Truth, Love. The mistake of thinking the mirror is in itself that which is reflected in the mirror is a mistake of perception everyone makes sometimes. It is not possible for any human being to be without sin their entire lives – that is, to never identify with their limited egos. Even Jesus of Nazareth had to have done this in his life, as we all do. Nobody is “born enlightened,” as Jesus of Nazareth is said to have been. This is shown in the Dialogue of the Savior 19:11-12, “But the garments of life were given to such people because they know the way by which they will go. Indeed, for me too it is a burden to reach it.” Emphasis of this fact that even Jesus too must walk the path is found further in Dialogue of the Savior 38:6,8, “And you will travel the way that you have come to know….But look! For me too it is a burden to reach it.” It is striking none of this language appears in any of the four Gospels. That is not surprising since such words would be inconsistent with traditional Christian theology of the Jesus who was “born enlightened,” never having to walk the path. This alone reveals the non-truthfulness of such theology .
Buddhism does not deny the path of the Buddha, as traditional Christinanity conspicuously keeps silent Jesus’ path. Gautama Siddhartha took the path of extreme denial, as well as the path of extreme excess to finally realize that the path to Enlightenment, the way to the realization of his True Buddha nature was the “middle path.” We all must walk the lonely path to Truth, and no stage of spiritual development can be skipped by anyone, even Jesus of Nazareth. Each of the four stages of spiritual development as described by M. Scott Peck must be experienced in order. Some may pass through some stages faster or slower than others, but all must be experienced to reach the “promised land.” And that “promised land” is not a place we “arrive” and just remain forever. We all can move backwards or forwards to different stages depending on choices we make, our state of being, and numerous other factors we are not even conscious of. There are days I tend towards a “Stage Two” feeling, wanting a “tried and true” God in the sky I can count on, and other times I feel so scientific minded, I feel like a Stage Three person demanding logical explanations for everything. “Salvation” is an ongoing process, not a destination, always moving and changing. We must move with the rhythm of Life and Love, always moving with it to know Salvation. As recorded in Isaiah 43:5-7, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth – everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” How different these beautiful words describing Universal Salvation are from the exclusive notion of only the “elect” being saved. I never cease to be amazed and saddened at the childishness and selfishness of such exclusive theology which fails to recognize the Universality of Truth.
All that being said, Jesus Christ is, has been, and always will be ever pure and without sin, as Jesus Christ is the perfect state of being in which the human flesh recognizes and acts in the knowledge of it’s True origin as Truth, God, Love. Jesus Christ is conceived by the Holy Spirit, not the human being Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus of Nazareth is one person who realized the Truth of his identity as God, Love, Truth, the Christ within. Like Jesus Christ, Gautama Buddha is also not limited to just the human being Gautama Siddhartha. “Christ” means “the anointed One” while “Buddha” means “the Enlightened One.” They are essentially two different cultures’ expression of the same fact through different names. It is not the identity of the people, the names themselves which are important, but the Truth to which they point. We all can realize the Christ, the Buddha within us, but nobody ever experiences and lives in this realization all of the time. Some live within this more than others, and from what we have of the gospels, Jesus of Nazareth likely spent almost all of his time within this knowledge. There are times I feel like John Christ, while other times I feel like John Cross. Christ is our True identity, while our earthly last name represents our ego identity. That is why Jesus said in Luke 14:26, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.” Jesus did not mean for us to literally hate our families, but to recognize our True family, our True identity is with God, Love, Truth, not our limited egos from our earthly, physical being.
In order to see the Truth, we must be willing to do as Jesus commands – to lay down our very life to find our True Life, knowledge of our True identity, as Jesus says in Luke 9:24, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.” We must remember when Jesus said “me,” he meant “God,” as Jesus, as a truly Enlightened One who identified with God, Love within him would have never referred to the necessity of following him, the actual person, as that would be egotistical. This is why I question traditional Christianity’s interpretation of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. It sees Jesus Christ as an ego, limited only to one person, Jesus of Nazareth – not the realization, the state of the perfect union of the human and the Divine in One Flesh available for All to realize. When thinking of this, I am reminded of a wonderful passage from the Apostle Paul which beautifully describes the path of our spiritual journey, from 1 Corinthians 13:11, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.”….