I have a delightful ongoing back and forth with a friend – a scientifically minded fellow who Alan Watts would refer to as a “prickly” person, as opposed to myself, a “gooey” person. The gist of our debate I guess could be called ontological as its substance is essentially whether or not the spiritual realm can qualify as “existing” and if so, in what form. My friend’s take on it is that the neurological mechanisms can cause what seem to be spiritual states and/or feelings whereas I posit that there is a miraculous a priori that expresses itself in the form of our relationship with the universe and that we tap into when we engage.
As an illustrations of our conflicting viewpoints; he thinks that the “words” of Jesus are suspect at best and likely irrelevant due to 2000 years of transcribing, re-transcribing, meddling, mistranslation and co-opting; whereas I see, regardless of the obvious problems of separation from the source through time and space, something of universal truth shining through. I have been trying to make the point that some of what Jesus supposedly said has much validity for transforming our consciousness to a higher state. Naturally, this assertion prompted him to ask me for an example. Grasping (with my limited knowledge of NT scripture) for a teaching that was obviously relevant, I brought up Matthew 6:28, “consider the lilies of the field” to which I described, in a simplistic and Pollyannesque way as, “having faith that everything will work out”. As my friend looked at me with bemused and deserved skepticism, I realized how embarrassingly off the mark I was.
The interpretation I proposed, implies that Jesus was saying have blind, sheep like belief in the benevolence of a higher power (God) to provide for you because you are a follower. This interpretation is both naïve and in fact, nihilistic – in the sense that nihilism is making and active decision to passively open yourself to the randomness that fate dishes out without thus manipulating the material world. Not only that, but it is in the same sense of forcing your relationship with the universe as you would be were you to grasp for an outcome (the guarantee of food/clothing/shelter). By asking his followers to consider the natural beauty and being of the lilies, he implies that by going with the flow of the world as it presents itself, you will not have to worry about that world not providing for you.
If this illustration does not clarify any further what he means by being provided for, consider it something more akin to advice given by the Tao de Ching:
Open yourself to the Tao
Then trust your natural responses
Everything will fall into place.
On the basis of this excerpt, consider that Jesus meant, the world provides within it a natural unfolding that results in the beautiful lily, which, being an expression of nature is provided for by that very nature of which it is a manifestation. We too are manifestations of nature, no less than the lilies. However, our survivalist minds, not being assured of being provided with means of survival, worry ourselves into a sense that we must control what the world doles out to us by forcing it to give us what we need. Neither Jesus nor this excerpt is advising us to give up and let things mow us over like victims. On the contrary, the advice is to engage by trusting – “trust your responses”, which are in themselves what we have been given by nature to guide us along.
Jesus advises, rather than worry and grasp for food, clothing, shelter:
Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
This passage seems to negate my earlier assertion that the teaching does not recommend a passivity, and can be interpreted to mean “just be holy and God will give you stuff”, but in fact, what is meant by the “kingdom of God” and “righteousness”? I again assert that the meanings here is parallel to “opening yourself to the Tao”. At the time Jesus was giving these teachings, the church was hundreds of years away from co-opting what Jesus said and formulating a series of “do’s and don’t” of social behavior. This passage not a behavioral directive, this is a call to allow something transcendent to guide you, not the world to act upon you. That transcendent “something” cannot, like the Tao, be named, so Jesus and/or subsequent translators have chosen “the kingdom of God”, meaning this world right now but viewed through a very different lens – one in which you are aligned with the realm of Nature; the kingdom of its own creator. In righteousness- alignment, you are opened to receive that “kingdom”, the Tao. This alignment opens you up to things as they are and your nature guides you appropriately to respond as needed to what is happening now.
It is such a tragedy to me that clues for living a decent, compassionate life are available (albeit somewhat cryptic) in the book that I see people reading on the subway and underlining with a neon highlighter. I would hope they are getting this message of transformation, but I fear what they understand is encapsulated in the following verbatim threat from a pamphlet left on my windshield yesterday:
Admit you are a sinner and you are going to hell unless you accept the Lord Jesus Christ as your savior.
When really they could have interpreted the Golden Rule as this passage in the Tao de Ching:
See the world as your self
Have faith in the way things are.
Love the world as your self;
Then you can care for all things