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Christ and the Mystery of the Cross

by T.J. White
February, 2012

hat is the Christ? What is the meaning of the Cross? Many definitions have been given heretofore, some more resonant and more redolent with richness of meaning than others. We shall here propose one more such definition, though this new meaning is not really new with us; it is in fact old, very old. Wise sages from many ages past have spoken of it, long before this poor messenger ever contemplated proclaiming it anew. Behold, I tell you a mystery

Faith and devotion prepare the worshipper's mind for perceiving the ray of Godhead at its point of intersection with the particular fragment of matter before him.
Thus wrote Twentieth-Century writer Aldous Huxley, in his little-known gem, The Perennial Philosophy (p.72). In other words, says Huxley, the Cross of Christ is a symbol representing the union or juncture between God (the Divine) and Man (the Earthly, or Physical.) Each of us, then, becomes a Christ by taking up our Cross with the realization, fully and deeply, and at all times, of our dual nature as both god and man: Whoever drinks from my mouth will be like me, and I shall become that person, and what is hidden will be revealed to that one, uttered the Living Jesus in the recently-rediscovered Gospel of Thomas (Saying 106). God called me by his grace, [and] was pleased to reveal his Son in me, wrote St. Paul, some two thousand years ago (nearly) (Galatians 1: 15-16). He continues this line of reasoning, by saying further that

I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. (ibid., 2:20) Christ, then, both as concept and as metaphor, lives and becomes an active agent for good in the life of the one who daily crucifies the old man of sinful flesh, the purely blind, thoughtless, physical desires of the flesh (in an ascetic sense), and who instead puts on the new man of Christ by thenceforth living a new, fully-conscious, fully-informed (and therefore sin-free) life devoted to seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Christ thus lives and has an active life in the one who becomes Christ-like, who lives a Christ-like life. Each of us has the potential to become a Christ. Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, Here it is, or There it is, because the kingdom of God is within you. (The Gospel of St. Luke, Chapter 17: verses 20-21) Jesus said, If your leaders say to you, Behold the kingdom is in the sky, then the birds of the sky will get there before you. If they say to you, It is in the sea, then the fish will get there before you. Rather, the kingdom is inside you and outside you. When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and will understand that you are children of the living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you live in poverty, and embody poverty. (The Gospel of Thomas, Saying 3) His disciples said to him, When will the kingdom come? It will not come by looking for it. Nor will it do to say, Behold, over here! or Behold, over there!

Rather, the kingdom of the Father is spread out on the earth, but people do not see it.
(The Gospel of Thomas, Saying 112) This last version of this famous utterance makes an important point, namely, that the glories of the kingdom of Heaven are all around us alreadywe just merely fail to see Heaven all around us! If the doors of perception were cleansed, said William Blake in one of his more famous oracular utterances, man would see everything as it is, infinite. But our doors of perception have not always been as clouded as they are now; once, upon a time, they were pristine; we must merely unlearn much of what we have learned in our ordinary life-spans (to our detriment): Heaven lies about us in our infancy, wrote Wordsworth; and then, as we grow and develop by degrees, the magnificent vision of the glories of Heaven-Right-Here-On-Earth fades, and shades of the prison-house begin to close upon the growing boy We become blinded and entrancedhypnotized even--by the experience of being alive here on this Earth, the more so the longer we live, until

eventually--we have forgotten our former capacity to wholly experience the Divine in our daily walk. We are born with the capacity of Wise Sages, but most of us live out our lives, and eventually pass from this life (sadly), as either self-consumed misers, or as abject blind leading the blind. Yet this situation need not be so! Things can changewe can achieve enlightenment! Yet the path to doing so is difficult, and not for the faint of heart. Straight is the path and narrow the way to Sainthood, and few there be that find it, yet it can be done! Perseverance and sincere dedication will win the day! Your enjoyment of the world is never right, wrote English mystic poet Thomas Traherne in the agony-wracked Seventeenth Century, till every morning you awake in Heaven; see yourself in your Father's palace; and look upon the skies, the earth and the air as celestial joys; having such a reverend esteem of all, as if you were among the Angels. The bride of a monarch, in her husband's chamber, hath no such causes of delight as you. You never enjoy the world aright till the sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens and crowned with the stars; and perceive yourself to be the sole heir of the whole world, and more than so, because men are in it who are every one sole heirs as well as you. Till you can sing and rejoice and delight in God, as misers do in gold, and kings in sceptres, you can never enjoy the world. Till your spirit filleth the whole world, and the stars are your jewels; till you are as familiar with the ways of God in all ages as with your walk and table; till you are intimately acquainted with that shady nothing out of which the world was made ; till you love men so as to desire their happiness with a thirst equal to the zeal of your own ; till you delight in God for being good to all; you never enjoy the world. Till you more feel it than your private estate, and are more present in the hemisphere, considering the glories and the beauties there, than in your own house; till you remember how lately you were made, and how wonderful it was when you came into it; and more rejoice in the palace of your glory than if it had been made today morning. Yet further, you never enjoyed the world aright, till you so love the beauty of enjoying it, that you are covetous and earnest to persuade others to enjoy it. And so perfectly hate the abominable corruption of men in despising it that you had rather suffer the flames of hell than willingly be guilty of their error. The world is a mirror of Infinite Beauty, yet no man sees it. It is a Temple of Majesty, yet no man regards it. It is a region of Light and Peace, did not men disquiet it. It is the Paradise of God. It is more to man since he is fallen than it was before. It is the place of Angels and the Gate of Heaven. When Jacob waked out of his dream, he said, God is here, and I wist it not. [quoted in Huxley, The Perennial Philosophy (p.80)] Or, as the poet William Blake famously put it,

To see a World in a Grain of Sand And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour.

(from his Auguries of Innocence) Thats a tough trip, said journalist Bill Moyers, in a famous series of conversations some years ago with mythologist and teacher Joseph Campbell, referring to this journey to Illumination, or the Path to Enlightenment. Thats a heavenly trip, responded Campbell. But is this really just for saints and monks? replied Moyers, doubtfully. No, said Campbell, I think its also for artists. The real artist is the one who has learned to recognize and to render what Joyce has called the radiance of all things, as an epiphany or showing forth of their truth. But doesnt this leave all the rest of us ordinary mortals back on shore? Moyers pointed out. Oh no, said Campbell: I dont think there is any such thing as an ordinary mortal.

Everybody has his own possibility of rapture in the experience of life. All he has to do is recognize it and then cultivate it and get going with it. But neither art, religion, or even
philosophy are by any means the only ways to achieve this enlightened understanding of existence; it can begin by just living with ones heart open to others in compassion which path is a way wide open to all. So the experience of illumination is available to anyone, not just saints or artists, says Moyers. But if it is potentially in every one of us, deep in that unlocked memory box, how do you unlock it? You unlock it, replied Campbell, with his usual sage wisdom, by getting someone to help you unlock it. Do you have a dear friend or good teacher? It may come from an actual human being, or from an experience like an automobile accident, or from an illuminating book The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure. The adventure of the hero? asked Moyers. Yes, the adventure of the hero, replied Campbell, the adventure of being alive. (The Power of Myth, pp.162-3, emphasis supplied) But what becomes the case if one happens to fortunately achieve this enlightened view of existence? How has ones view of the World and of Existence changed? How, moreover, has ones dealings with, and relationship to, ones fellow-man been changed? To the pure, all things are pure, said St. Paul, again (Titus 1:15). The world is transfigured, and all the heavens are full of joy, wrote Nietzsche early in 1889, after his ecstatic vision which unfortunately cost him his sanity in the end. (Not insignificantly, he signed off this famous final letter to Gast as The Crucified. That his contemporaries uniformly misunderstood Nietzsche as having claimed immediate identity with Jesus the Christ notwithstanding, it is now apparent that he had merely, in point of fact, realized in a deeply personal way the truth of St. Pauls assertion that in dying to the old, sinful man, we are born anew as a Christ, as one who has been crucified with Christ.) Having

permanently achieved a view of life and reality in which all things have been transformed into a newness and purity of existence, the earnest seeker of Truth, then, behaves thenceforward in a radically new and different manner toward his contemporaries.

How so, one may ask? By realizing, deeply and intimately within ones own personal self, the fact that thou art that (tat tvam asi), that you and the other person are, in fact, of the
same identical God-substance, and that one cannot cause harm (or joy) to another, without directly or even indirectly affecting oneself. This may seem like a minor and even obvious observation to some casual readers, yet we can be assured that the intimate experience of this realization causes a profound and permanent kaleidoscopic shift in the component pieces of the reality of ones perception and experience. The one thus changed has indeed been reborn to a newness of life. All the world has indeed been then transfigured, and for such a one, the heavens do indeed then sing ecstatically with joy! The pattern of Jesus' life is essentially similar to that of the ideal sage, whose career is traced in the 'Oxherding Pictures,' so popular among Zen Buddhists. The wild ox, symbolizing the unregenerate self, is caught, made to change its direction, then tamed and gradually transformed from black to white. Regeneration goes so far that for a time the ox is completely lost, so that nothing remains to be pictured but the full-orbed moon, symbolizing Mind, Suchness, the Ground. But this is not the final stage. In the end, the herdsman comes back to the world of men, riding on the back of his ox. Because he now loves, loves to the extent of being identified with

the divine object of his love, he can do what he likes; for what he likes is what the Nature of Things likes. He is found in company with wine-bibbers and butchers; he and they are all converted into Buddhas. For him, there is complete reconciliation
to the evanescent and, through that reconciliation, revelation of the eternal. But for nice ordinary unregenerate people the only reconciliation to the evanescent is that of indulged passions, of distractions submitted to and enjoyed. To tell such persons that evanescence and eternity are the same, and not immediately to qualify the statement, is positively fatal for, in practice, they are not the same except to the saint; and there is no record that anybody ever came to sanctity who did not, at the outset of his or her career, behave as if evanescence and eternity, nature and grace, were profoundly different and in many respects incompatible. As always, the path of spirituality is a knife-edge between abysses. On one side is the danger of mere rejection and escape, on the other the danger of mere acceptance and the enjoyment of things which should only be used as instruments or symbols. Thus Aldous Huxley again, in the same The Perennial Philosophy (pp. 84-5). Man is a rope stretched over an abyss, wrote Nietzsche again, and by man he evidently meant the bermensch, or Overman (i.e., the seeker of Truth). Let him stray by ever so much as an inch, either way, and he fails in his Quest of Spiritual Enlightenment. He descends into either rejection and sterile asceticism, or else into rank and mindless hedonism, and thus fully deserves the censure of his fellow-beings (as was often pejoratively applied to the ancient Gnostics, whose complete and utter lack of concern with the lusts of the flesh was grossly misunderstood by their contemporaries as a horrifying acceptance thereof, and indulgence therein). Again, to become an enlightened Christ or Buddha,

one does not indulge in the sinful appetites of the flesh, one becomes oblivious to such infantile and uninformed categorizations, and such appetites, moreover, become as holy and transformed as all the rest of physical reality. This is not to say that one ceases to live in the real World, or ceases to be human, thereby ceasing to experience the sensations and desires which affect (and afflict) all human beings. Nosuch a one still feels joy and pain, suffering and sorrow, but he has transcended and been transfigured by the experiences, so that he feels a tinge of sorrow in every joy, and even the deepest, most wrenching sorrows have a certain sweetness and familiarity to him. Nothis is merely to say that one is no longer mastered by such fleshly desires; they, along with fear, have no longer any control or sway over the mind of the Seeker. There is no fear in love, wrote the Evangelist nearly two millennia ago; but perfect love casts out all fear. the one who fears has not been made perfect in love. The Enlightened Seeker who has discovered such a manner of Christ-like loving and has thereby been freed from all fears (and desires), has indeed found the way straight and narrow of which there be few who find it, that way which discovers the encrypted keyhole in between the two flaming Cherubim who guard the Gates of Paradise day and night against those who have no right to enter (and whose names, as Joseph Campbell rightly pointed out, are Desire and Fear). Thus does the Seeker earn the power and authority to unlock and throw open the Gates of Heaven for himself. As with St. Paul, such a Seeker has, by having been crucified and reborn with Christ, been freed from the curse of the law; he has thus transcended that law and its definitions. All potential human activities have thus become equally permissible for him, becauseby having become Christ-like--he no longer desires anything which will accrue to the harm or detriment of his fellow-beings. All things are permissible for me, declared St. Paul, once again (in 1 Cor. 6:12), but not everything is beneficial, [and] I will not be mastered by anything. The Enlightened Seeker may still sometimes act in a most unconventional manner (even, perhaps, occasionally appearing sinful in the eyes of some of his unenlightened neighbors, and thus causing them considerable consternation), but he will not act in an unchristlike manner! Sin as such is impossible to one who knows not the law which defines sin, (or who has been redeemed from the curse of the law) as St. Paul argued! All becomes Brahman, or holy. Again, let us be reminded that to the pure, all things are pure! Though this may indeed sound impossible and even sacrilegious to some, it is indeed the experience of the Enlightened Sage or Mystic. But thanks be to God, wrote St. Paul, again, who giveth us the Victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! The Christ is, in fact, identical with the Buddha, or Enlightened One. And St. Paul obviously knew what we are here talking about. The Divine, however, is not just capable of being eternally present and realized within oneself, within the physical body of the Saint or Mystic, for

God is [also] in the hog trough no less than in the conventionally sacred image. 'Lift
the stone and you will find me affirms the best known of the Oxyrhinchus Logia of Jesus, 'cleave the wood, and I am there.' Those who have personally and

immediately realized the truth of this saying and, along with it, the truth of Brahmanism's 'That art thou' are wholly delivered. Aldous Huxley, The Perennial Philosophy (p.73) (The complete form of this Logion [in its original Greek form] is as follows: I am the light that is over all things. I am all: all came forth from me, and all attained to me. Pick up a stone, and you will find me there. Split a piece of wood, and I am there. [[] [], , , ] From The Gospel of Thomas, Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 1 [recto]; cf., Nag Hammadi Codex II, 2, Saying 75) Black Elk, said Joseph Campbell again, was a young Sioux boy around nine years old. Now, this happened before the American cavalry had encountered the Sioux, who were the great people of the plains. The boy became sick, psychologically sick. His family tells the typical shaman story. The child begins to tremble and is immobilized. The family is terribly concerned about it, and they send for a shaman who has had the experience in his own youth, to come as a kind of psychoanalyst and pull the youngster out of it. But instead of relieving the boy of the deities, the shaman is adapting him to the deities and the deities to himself. Its a different problem from that of psychoanalysis. I think it was Nietzsche who said, Be careful lest in casting out the devils you cast out the best thats in you. Here, the deities who have been encounteredpowers, lets call themare retained. The connection is maintained, not broken. And these men then become the spiritual advisers and gift-givers to

their people.
Well, what happened with this young boy was that he had a prophetic vision of the terrible future of his tribe. It was a vision of what he called the hoop of the nation. In the vision, Black Elk saw that the hoop of his nation was one of many hoops, which is something we havent learned at all well yet. He saw the cooperation of all the hoops, all the nations in grand procession. But more than that, the vision was an experience of himself as going through the realms of spiritual imagery that were of his culture and assimilating their import. It comes to one great statement, which for me is a key statement to the understanding of myth and symbols. He says, I saw myself on the central mountain of the world, the highest place, and I had a vision because I was seeing in the sacred manner of the world. And the sacred central mountain was Harney Peak in South Dakota. And then he says, But the central

mountain is everywhere.
That is a real mythological realization, continues Campbell,

It distinguishes between the local cult image, Harney Peak, and its connotation as the center of the world. The center of the world is the axis mundi, the central point, the pole around which all revolves. The central point of the world is the point where stillness and movement are together. Movement is time, but stillness is eternity. Realizing how this moment of your life is actually a moment of eternity, and experiencing the eternal aspect of what youre doing in the temporal experiencethis is the mythological experience. There is a definition of God which has been repeated by many philosophers. God

is an intelligible spherea sphere known to the mind, not the senseswhose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere. And the center, Bill, is right where youre sitting. And the other one is right where Im sitting. And each of us is
a manifestation of that mystery. Thats a nice mythological realization that sort of gives you a sense of who and what you are. What you have here is what might be translated into raw individualism, you see, if you didnt realize that the center was also right there facing you in the other person. This is the mythological way of being an individual. You are the central mountain,

and the central mountain is [also] everywhere.


(The Power of Myth, pp.88-9) For the benefit of the beginning Explorer of the Spirit, we may add that the true mystical nature of the Cross of Jesus (as opposed to the traditionally understood merely physical nature) has been most clearly enunciated, perhaps, in the very lucid explanation provided by modern-day Theosophist Stephan Hoeller in his notable commentaries on the collected essays known as Echoes from the Gnosis, by the justly-celebrated scholar of the early Twentieth Century, G.R.S. Mead. We can do no better, by way of closing, than to quote Hoeller: In the version of the [Passion] story embodied in the Acts of John, the death and suffering of Christ are not primarily of a physical nature. They do not imply the agonizing death of the body of Jesus, but rather his descent into the painful limitations of embodiment, for the purpose of gathering the seeds of light languishing in the dense and dark prison of matter. Christs death is only a seeming demise, an appearance (a docetic phenomenon, from the Greek dokein, to seem, to appear as if). Moreover, this appearance hides the true suffering and mystical death of the supernal messenger, who allowed himself to be crucified on the cross of materiality when he came into the world. (Echoes from the Gnosis, Introduction to Book Seven, pages 251-2, emphasis supplied) (Quest Books edition, 2006) In this Passion of the Christ story, then, what we have essentially is the story of us all, the story of Everyman. All of us are crucified with Christ by virtue of having been born into

this physical world of duality, of opposites. All of us need to be rescued from the reality of this dark, destructive material existence, shown the way back to our true Divine Nature. For the Gnostic Christians, it is the Christ figure, as a wise teacher and guide, who accomplishes this task of redemptionbut not by a physical death on a physical cross! Indeed, the human being, imprisoned in a world of opposites, lives in a state of crucifixion, from which only the salvific experience of Gnosis can redeem him. (Ibid., emphasis added) All life is suffering, rightly say the Buddhists, and few will deny that this life can often be a brutally Hellish existence indeedparticularly due to Mans inhumanity to Man. Pernicious human cruelty to its own kind has no equal in the known Universe as a measure of the awful potential of Brutality and Sadism. Hell doesnt so much exist in a posited afterlifeit is right here with us right now, in this very moment. But Heaven is also all around us, as shown above, if we can only allow ourselves to see it through the eyes of Love. In order to be saved, then, from this daily, constant, Hellish mortal crucifixion, to truly enter the Kingdom of Heaven, one must, as intimated above, be able to move past the twin Guardians of the Heavenly Gate of Duality known as fear and desire, and thus become freed of such limiting motives. Only the person who has managed to achieve this level of enlightenment within a single human lifetimemoving with Love and Compassion forever beyond this world of opposites--has truly entered the Gates of Paradise. Sadly, very few ever do. That, then, is the real tragedy of Life: that so few ever come to realize their true Nature as sparks of the Divine, truly partaking of the Divine Nature and Essence, but rather remain wholly trapped and imprisoned in these transitory fleshly tabernacles of clay. To transcend the limitations of our bodies and of mortality, then, is our task while alive on this earth. Moreover, to do so with Christ-like or Buddha-like love and compassion for those still lost in the labyrinthine maze or fog of human imperfections and limitations, is also (and no less) the task before us. The physical human body is not quite the pure evil and object of outright scorn which it was for many of the ancients, as it is truly a vehicle whereby we gain experience and wisdom in this lifetime; nor is it, as it unfortunately is for so many people, merely a pleasure-boat given to us in this brief span, to be mindlessly wasted for endless entertainments. It is a chance for us to prove ourselves worthy of having it in the first place, by using it wisely, to the proper ends. The flesh should neither be scorned nor fled from, nor should it be mindlessly, hedonistically, wantonly and frivolously wasted. The way straight and narrow, as always, is a divinely-informed middle ground between these two opposites! May each person reading these words come to realize the potential of God-Within-Us. May each person bring to life the potential Christ within himself and herself!